16 – Marcus Rashford has had a hand in 16 goals in 27 games in all competitions for @ManUtd this season (9 goals, 7 assists); one more than he did in 53 games last term (11 goals, 4 assists). Rising. pic.twitter.com/nDkh40tuAX
It was a good day to be on home soil as home teams won eight of the nine UEFA World Cup qualifiers on Monday afternoon. Most teams were expected to win handily, and that they did, with two four-goal margins of victory, two three-goal margins, and one six-goal margin.
England 2-1 Slovakia
Marcus Rashford shook off a poor start to score a fabulous winning goal, bursting into the attacking third and finishing expertly into the top corner as England moved five points clear at the top of Group F with a big 2-1 victory over 2nd place Slovakia.
The home side went down in just the third minute, as Rashford inadvisably tried to dribble out of his own half, instead dispossessed, and a wonderful ball over the top saw Stanislav Lobotka score around a poor Joe Hart. England fought back, however, as they would level things up before halftime with Eric Dier heading in a corner from a tight angle. Then Rashford’s goal on the hour mark signaled the winning touch.
The defending World Cup champions rolled from start to finish as they trounced Norway to move closer to mathematical qualification. Timo Werner scored twice and goals from Mesut Ozil, Julian Draxler, Leon Goretzka, and Mario Gomez rounded out the match.
The win keeps Germany five points clear of Northern Ireland, with everyone else in the group eliminated.
Northern Ireland 2-0 Czech Republic
Northern Ireland kept its automatic qualification hopes alive with a smooth 2-0 win over the Czech Republic. Jonny Evans scored a diving header from a tight angle to start things off, and Chris Brunt dispatched a bouncing free-kick just before halftime. The win is the fifth in a row for Northern Ireland in UEFA qualification.
Poland 3-0 Kazakhstan
A trio of strikes from Arkadiusz Milik, Kamil Glik, and Robert Lewandowski saw Poland ease by Group E minnows Kazakhstan. Milik hit a diving header similar to Evans’ 11 minutes in, and as Poland pummeled David Loria’s net all game, they would eventually grab a second in the 74th minute with Glik delivering a powerful header off a corner. Lewandowski finished things off from the spot with four minutes remaining.
Poland’s position is still in question as they sit just three points above both Montenegro and Denmark in Group E.
Scotland 2-0 Malta
Christophe Berra and Leigh Griffiths gave Scotland a comprehensive win over point-less Malta. The win keeps Scotland alive in crowded Group F, even on points with Slovenia at 14 and a point back of 2nd place Slovakia.
Armenia 1-4 Denmark
Denmark got a quick scare as lowly Armenia scored just six minutes in, but they righted the ship not long later and cruised to a 4-1 victory. After Ruslan Koryan’s opener, Thomas Delaney scored not 10 minutes later with his head to level things back up, with the assist coming from a deep Henrik Dalsgaard cross. Christian Eriksen provided the eventual winner in the 29th minute via a free-kick, but the day was Delaney’s. He scored his second on an impressive left-footed drive from outside the box, and picked up his hat-trick in stoppage time heading in off a corner.
Just Friday, Delaney had picked up his first goal for Denmark in his 18th cap, and the hat-trick makes this a memorable international break for the Werder Bremen midfielder.
Montenegro 1-0 Romania
Stevan Jovetic grabbed the game’s only goal in the 75th minute as Montenegro picked up all three points to keep pace with Denmark. The former Manchester City man headed in a cross from Lazio winger Adam Marusic to secure the vital win. The game featured plenty of wastefulness from both sides, with the teams combining for 27 shots, but just five of them on target.
Slovenia 4-0 Lithuania
Slovenia kept in stride with Slovakia as they downed eliminated Lithuania on a pair from Atalanta attacker Josip Ilicic, plus late goals from Benjamin Verbic and Valter Birsa. The brace doubled Ilicic’s international goal tally in his 45th cap, and keeps Slovenia even with Scotland on points and just one back of Slovakia, with all three countries trailing England in Group F.
Azerbaijan 5-1 San Marino
Azerbaijan may be eliminated, but they showed strength as they brushed aside Group C minnows San Marino. Afran Ismayilov hit twice while Araz Abdullayev and Rasad Sadiqov each added to the goal tally which was rounded off by an own-goal.
The Baggies have forced themselves into the yearly top flight conversation, as they make their way towards their seventh consecutive season in England’s top flight, but could this be the year things go sour?
Since promotion in 2008, West Brom have gone from perennial relegation candidates to mid-table contenders. However, yet still to take that next step towards a top-half finish, a poor finish to last campaign and a quiet transfer window has supporters worried headed into the 2016/17 season.
West Brom failed to record a single win in their final nine league games of the season headed into this summer, and the stretch run is often a relatively solid litmus test of what is to come.
The club has added Matt Phillips from QPR in the summer to replace the departed Stephane Sessegnon, but still have yet to find a reinforcement for Nigerian striker Victor Anichebe, and with Saido Berahino coming off a very poor season, the attacking ranks are quite thin. The club was ready to break its transfer record for Diafra Sakho, but the player had some fitness concerns and the deal was scrapped.
Chris Brunt, a Baggie since 2007, is coming off an ACL tear that left his chances of playing in Euro 2016 in tatters, and could be replaced by one of a host of different West Brom defenders in the squad.
The Baggies will make a move up the table if…they grasp Pulis-ball to the fullest, play for their manager, and get a few attacking reinforcements. The squad as it stands is not relegation quality, but without another attacker and a focused Berahino, the strike unit is very underwhelming. If this team can figure out how to score goals to go along with the defensive work rate, the club will end up with more than a few impressive results.
More likely, however, they’ll be near the bottom again…Berahino still could be off. While the club usually leaves things to the end of the transfer window, the way things stand is somewhat worrisome. Nobody outside of Rondon hit double-digit goal tally last season across all competitions, and a right-back was their second-leading scorer. Goals are the key to success this season.
Best Possible XI
—– Myhill —–
— Dawson — McAuley — Evans — Chester —
—– Yacob —–
—-Phillips —- Gardner —- Fletcher —- McLean —-
—— Rondon ——
Transfers In: Matt Phillips ($7m, Queens Park Rangers).
Transfers Out: Victor Anichebe (Free, Unattached), Anders Lindegaard (Free, Preston North End), Stephane Sessegnon (Free, Unattached).
Last Season: The Baggies did just enough last season to remain relatively obscure for most of the year. They hovered around the 12-15 position for almost the entire year, Tony Pulis‘s first full campaign with the club after saving them from relegation the last. Unfortunately, the nine-match winless run to end the year is most fresh on the supporters’ minds, and Pulis will need to put that to bed with a solid start to this new season to keep in the good graces of his bosses.
Star Player: Saido Berahino – Salomon Rondon was last year’s top goalscorer, but the brightest talent on the squad is the 21-year-old…or so we thought. After the club fought tooth and nail to keep him at the Hawthornes, fending off interest from plenty top-tier English clubs, Berahino rewarded them with a paltry four league goals last season, including just one after November. It was looking like he could be headed elsewhere should the club sign Sakho, but with that transfer off, they may not be able to afford selling Berahino, meaning they’ll need him to produce. He seemed disinterested for much of last season, and was a fringe player as a result. If he wants to return to the starting lineup, he’ll need to prove his intentions are pure, and the best way to do that is by putting the ball in the back of the net.
Coach’s Corner: Tony Pulis is known for his direct style of play, and it fits perfectly with the squad available to him at the Hawthornes. Pulis-ball will be back and bigger than ever this year, and they’ll need to deliver for their experienced boss if they have any hopes of staying in the league. Pulis is an expert in avoiding the drop, but not much else, having personally finished between 11th and 14th for eight consecutive seasons.
PST Predicts: West Brom will find them outside the relegation zone, but only because there are even thinner squads out there. It’s going to be a struggle this year, with few attacking options outside the unsettled Berahino, but the squad has enough defensive experience and depth to make it through unscathed. Pulis just flat out doesn’t get relegated.
Chris Brunt could have been seriously, seriously injured — we’re talking loss of vision in one eye — on Saturday, when a coin was flung from the away end, by one of his own West Bromwich Albion fans, no less, at the Madejski Stadium.
Had the coin hit Brunt just an inch higher, it would have been his left eyeball that took the full impact of the metal coin, rather than his cheekbone as it turned out to be. Such irresponsible and dangerous actions have consequences, as one attendee of Saturday’s game will have undoubtedly learned on Tuesday.
TVP and Hants Police made an arrest today in relation to a coin throwing incident at @ReadingFC vs @WBAFCofficial FA match on Saturday.
Police confirmed they are treating the incident as a matter of assault. The English Football Association’s investigation is still ongoing.
Brunt was rightly furious and held nothing back following Saturday’s 3-1 FA Cup fifth-round defeat at the hands of Championship side Reading: “I was walking towards our supporters at the end, and they thought it was okay to throw a coin at their own players. I’m disgusted.”