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Russian Frustration

Friendly Match: Crystal Palace v FK Tolyatti
Last week in a friendly game we beat FK Tolyatti from Russia 4-0. It was by far our best friendly performance of the season, against a hard working and intelligent Tolyatti team. Taurean Roberts scored a hat-trick with the other goal coming from under 16 midfielder Jon Williams.

Jon is a great little player who is so highly rated amongst us players. He doesn’t stop running, he is clever going forward, he has a great attitude when it comes to defending, and he’s not frightened of throwing himself into a tackle. Considering he’s not the biggest, he is one brave guy! He’s already playing for Wales under 17’s and he is one of those players that you’d hate to play against, but love to have in your team.

We were 2-0 up at half time and we did very well to come out in the second half and get another couple of goals. Some say 2-0 is a more dangerous score line then 1-0, as at 2-0 you feel that little bit more comfortable and may be more likely to take your foot off the gas. It was very important that we came out after half time and kept going. It would have been easy for us to take the second half easier and just make sure we got the win, but we came back out with the right attitude and carried on from where we left off.

It was extra pleasing that we also kept a clean sheet. As a defender, when your 2-0 up at half time, whilst the forwards are talking about getting three, four or 5, all your concerned about it keeping a clean sheet. Personally, I’d much rather win the game 4-0 than 5-1. I think that one goal you concede slightly takes the shine off it, (although this isn’t always the case – Germany 1 – 5 England couldn’t sound any better!).

The game was played at Chelsea’s Cobham training ground and Roman Abramovich watched the game from the side. He has links with Tolyakki and he paid for them to come over and it was good experience for us all to get the chance to play against them.

I also got a lovely elbow in the face from one of their forwards to go with the win. I got the better of him the whole game and just kept winding him up, as I knew he would lose his head and do something stupid. He put himself about from the start and didn’t like the ‘English way of playing’. Our left back Kedel crunched him in a tackle early on and I think it was from that moment his head started to go.

I put in a few tough tackles on him and although they were fair challenges in which I won the ball, he hated it and demanded a free-kick every time. He consequently ended up getting injured after he came out second best in a 50/50 with one of our midfielders, and had to be taken off mid-way through the second half. They replaced him with another forward and I am certain their coaches told him to test me and try and wind me up.

I found it quite funny actually how blatant he was trying to catch me and hurt me. He was shorter and more slight then me, so if anyone was going to get hurt I knew it wasn’t going to be me. He did catch me once however in a very cowardly way. It happened from a goal kick, and as I have jumped to head the ball back in the direction of Tolyakki’s goal, without jumping he threw out his arm and elbowed me in the face.

I didn’t want to show him I was hurt, so I gritted my teeth and got straight up. He could see I wasn’t happy with him and knew he shouldn’t have done what he just did. He came straight over to me apologising and offering to help me up thinking I would be fine with it. You’re going to blatantly elbow me in the face and then offer your hand to pick me up? Sorry, but I don’t work like that.

I knew what he was doing and refused his hand and got up myself. All of a sudden he burst out in to laughter right in front of my face as if to say ‘good, how do you like that’. Remember – this guy was about a foot shorter than me so if he thought I was going to get intimidated and shirk out of the next tackle he couldn’t be more wrong.

In the end I just had to laugh off his petulance and immaturity; the 4-0 score-line spoke for itself. We were always in control and they never seriously troubled us, I didn’t need to say any more to him.

The main frustration about playing a foreign team is their eagerness to drop like flies as soon as you get within a yard of them. Time after time the ref fell for their stunts which I thought was so unnecessary and disrespectful to us. Maybe it’s the tough ‘British bulldog’ mentality we have that it winds us up so much. My football history isn’t too bad, and my dad has shown me a lot of videos of tackles and games from the 70’s and 80’s. I’d love to see how some of today’s players would get on if they played against the likes of Ron Harris or Billy Bremner.

I’m sure the ref must have Russian in his blood as he was only too happy to blow up and give them the free kick. I don’t know if Russia will have a diving team at the 2012 Olympics, but if they are looking to put together a team, then they should look no further than some of the players on display in this game. One dive in the second half was so blatant we didn’t even bother appealing; we just laughed it off and waited for the next one. I’d have scored him at least an 8.5.

This is a perfect example of how the game is changing and how poor it has become in some areas. Without mentioning any names, I do blame certain footballers in the top divisions who simulate and go down too easily. These are 16/17/18 year old lads diving and falling on the floor – not world renowned superstars. It’s sad that they feel they need to do this and think that its part and parcel of football. It does filter down, no question. These lads see them doing it on the TV and think its part of football – its not.

This is why I can fully appreciate how angry Lee Carsley of Birmingham City felt when his challenge on Liverpool’s David Ngog was deemed a penalty. Carsley was nowhere near him but Ngog went down as if he had been caught. For us it’s okay because we aren’t playing with the pressures of money and relegation, but that incident cost Birmingham all three points and that three points could be the difference between them staying up or going down at the end of the season.

So do you add video replays or have countless officials placed all over the pitch? No, neither. It’s down to the players to play football the right way and not cheat your way to success. If players don’t dive then you don’t need video replays. Simple.

Something I did find very refreshing last week was Roy Keane’s interview on Sky Sports about the Republic of Ireland’s failure to reach the world cup. Love him or loathe him, he talks sense. He was frank and honest and wasn’t scared to upset anyone in what he had to say. The main thing he was trying to get across in the interview was about being strong mentally and not making excuses for your own faults/mistakes.

Yes Ireland we’re incredibly unlucky with Thierry Henry’s hand ball in the build up to their goal, but as he said, if they took their chances and defended the French free-kick, they would be heading to the World Cup regardless. I find it very frustrating and petty when people make excuses for themselves when they don’t get what they want.

Just like when you blame referees – yeah they may have a big part to play in the game, but at the end of the day it is what you do for yourselves. The referee will do his best to make the right decision, but can you rely on him to score a one-on-one or defend a straight ball from a free-kick? No.

Also -asking for the game to be replayed? How ridiculous. If you’re going to replay that game then whilst you’re at it you can re-arrange a game for us against Bristol City please?

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