Wingman’s Match Day 28 Premier League predictions


It was one of those days for Manchester United, who were unable to score in their second straight away match on Sunday.

United lost to Newcastle 1-0, who won their first home match in about four months. The Toon army were full value for the win, although United missed three or four golden scoring opportunities.

Jose Mourinho after the game said it was one of those games where his side could have played for 10 hours without scoring. He’ll get no argument from the Wingman about that obvious assessment.

Mourinho, Aka the Boring One, can’t seem to get his personnel decisions, or tactics, right. Paul Pogba needs to be let off his leash, with either Nemanja Matić or Ander Herrera sliding in as the side’s the sole defensive midfielder.

Until Mourinho contradicts his very nature,  United won’t ascend to the heights many people expect, even with an excess of star power and overpaid talent.

Who will win on Match Day 28

The Wingman was a missed Charlie Adam penalty away from predicting another correct parlay last week. Regardless, he has still correctly predicted seven of his last nine picks and is looking to improve his winning percentage on Match Day 28.

Coming off the big victory at home, Newcastle travel to Bournemouth in an important match on the south coast. The Wingman likes Newcastle for the win, even with the Toon Army sitting at massive +275 underdogs. After a great run of form, Bournemouth got thrashed by Huddersfield on the weekend and will experience a slight dip in form, which includes impending defeat to Rafa Benítez’s side.

For his second pick, the Wingman focusses his attention on the match between Burnley and Southampton.

Both sides are struggling dearly, completely devoid of confidence. This match has draw written all over it, as both teams cannot afford to lose, particularly as the plot thickens at the foot of the Premier League table.

Wingman’s Match Day 27 Premier League predictions


The Wingman has predicted correctly six of his recent seven Premier League picks and he looks to continue the momentum into Match Day 27, where he chooses a tasty two-game parlay.

But first, if you haven’t seen the Liverpool vs. Tottenham match, do yourself a favour and watch the highlights.

It was one of the wildest finishes to a Premier League game you’ll ever have the joy of witnessing. You won’t get much joy watching the highlights if you’re a Spurs or Reds supporter, though, as it was as unnerving as it was suspenseful.

The Wingman discusses some perplexing moments from the grand finale, including the contentious first penalty decision.

Harry Kane, while in an offside position, was played onside when Reds’ centre back Dejan Lovren touched the ball on his attempted clearance.

Wingman picks Tottenham and Stoke

The first comes from Wembley, where Tottenham host Arsenal in another highly anticipated North London Derby. Pick the home side to win this match, particularly due to Arsenal’s woeful away form this season. Contrastingly, Spurs are firing on all cylinders after bossing Manchester United and Liverpool off the pitch.

In the second game, the Wingman backs Stoke to take all three points in their home match against Brighton.

Paul Lambert recently took the helm at Stoke, and has somewhat steadied the ship. He has a lot of work to do for Stoke to climb out of the perilous situation they currently find themselves in.



Calgary Flames road trip couldn’t come at a better time


After losing five of six at home since Jan. 20, heading out on the road for a six-game trip is the perfect tonic for the Calgary Flames. 

The importance of beating the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday should not be overstated. It was, in a way, a peace-offering for Calgary’s fans, who, over the last three weeks, watched helplessly as their beloved team dropped into 10th place in the Western Conference.

Sean Monahan’s overtime winner on Saturday will restore belief in the locker room, injecting confidence as the boys depart for the second half of the back-to-back with Chicago.

In a recent interview, Glen Gulutzan said his team doesn’t mind playing on the road. His answer is a candidate for biggest understatement of the year. He does, however, get points for modesty.

Calgary Flames’ impressive road record

The Flames head to the Windy City with the third best away record (13-5-5) in the league in terms of winning percentage, trailing only Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston. Eight games above .500, the Flames have won four of their last five away encounters.

Maybe suffering from holding their sticks too tightly at home, Gulutzan’s team can get back to basics during the forthcoming trip.

Winning four of six would be a successful stint, particularly considering the Flames have to play on back-to-back nights against two teams – the Rangers (17-9-3) and Devils (15-8-3) – that are tough to beat at home.

After that the Flames play the Islanders, Bruins and Predators before returning home on Feb. 17. As you can see, none of those games are of an easy variety, with the final two offering especially difficult tests.

But don’t put anything past the Flames, who have proven time and again to be worthy of their road warriors moniker. It’s crucial to sweep the mini-series against the Blackhawks, the worst of the six at home (12-10-3).

Mike Smith, with a league-leading .948 road save percentage, has been lights-out in unfriendly confines all season, and Gulutzan’s men support their all-star netminder proficiently on the road, locking it down in their own end.

In five recent away games, the Flames have conceded only nine goals, which equates to 1.8 goals against per game. In comparison, the Bruins, who concede 2.38 goals on average, lay claim to the league’s stingiest defence this season.

Those paltry numbers combined with Calgary’s propensity for finding the back of the net bode well for the current road trip.

The Flames have scored 3.8 goals per game in the last five away outings, which, albeit over a small sample size, tops the Lightning’s league-best 3.56 per game.

If they can maintain those impressive numbers at either end of the ice, the Flames will further cement their status as one of the league’s most dangerous road teams.

(This piece originally featured on Flame for Thought. Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

What impressed most about Tottenham’s 2-2 draw at Anfield?

Opinion, Sports

It was by no means a perfect away performance but Mauricio Pochettino can be proud of his side for the way they refused to capitulate in unsavoury conditions. 

Firstly, I’ll talk about the elephant in the room, getting the negative aspects of the draw off my chest.

Spurs have won a single match at Anfield in their last 24 visits; that win came back in May 2011.

Tottenham haven’t kept a clean sheet against a top-six side in 30 matches on their travels and have a single win to show from 21 away contests versus the élite six.

Some disconcerting trends from the match also reared their ugly head. Eric Dier and Davinson Sánchez endured miserable matches, akin to the weather on Merseyside. But Sánchez is still only 21 and is bound to have uncomfortable outings, while Dier’s performance can be considered a mere blip for the time being.

On to the positive for Tottenham

But overall, Mauricio Pochettino is probably walking some extra pep in his step today after watching his side thoroughly outplay one of only two teams in England who remain unbeaten at home.

Speaking of Pep, Manchester City is the only other unbeaten home side.

Jurgen Klopp’s game plan was effective in the first half. Liverpool’s relentless high press disturbed Tottenham’s flow, stifling their ability to play enterprising football for which they’re renowned. But Spurs didn’t bat an eyelid, steadfast and defiant in their approach.

While the first half was fairly evenly played, the exact opposite is true of the second 45 minutes. Tottenham bossed proceedings, knocking the ball around like they were in a Sunday training session.

It’s one thing to enjoy the lion’s share of possession against Liverpool, but it’s altogether different to accomplish that feat at Anfield, one of the most difficult places to play in Europe. Overall, Spurs enjoyed 66 percent of possession. Those numbers underpin just how comprehensively the away side outshined their Merseyside counterparts.

Spurs received their just deserts when Victor Wanyama scored what will certainly be the goal of the season to level the score.

Harry Kane then had a chance to put Spurs ahead, but the marksman, usually a sure thing from the spot, missed his penalty.

And then the unthinkable happened: against the run of play, Mohamad Salah came up with a genius moment, scoring to put the Reds up late in injury time.

My nerves totally shot, I was consigned to defeat.

But then Tottenham displayed in a few minutes how far they’ve come as a unified collective. A never-say-die attitude, combined with the skill, gumption and bit of good fortune, pulled off the grandest escape against all odds.

I’m not going to analyze whether it was a penalty. That matters little at this point. What does matter is how Tottenham reacted to Salah’s goal, a moment that would have killed off permanently most other sides.

But Tottenham are not most other sides.

They have a fortified togetherness other teams can only dream of. While the point Spurs left Anfield with is invaluable, the resilience the team showed is far more important in the long-term.

Wanyama’s wonder goal and Erik Lamela’s contribution on the second penalty also mark the first time all season Pochettino’s substitutes have affected decisively the outcome of a match. It’s yet another good omen to take away from Merseyside.

It was exactly the type of away performance that should spur Tottenham on, and, with Juventus beckoning in the Champions League, it came at the most opportune time.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pochettino’s side use this result as a springboard, lofting the team to eminent heights on all three remaining fronts.

(This piece originally featured on Tottenham HQ. Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Calgary Flames’ Mike Smith hopes to start enjoying some home cooking


Mike Smith, looking for a bounce-back game, is hoping to reproduce his impeccable away form when the Calgary Flames host the Blackhawks tonight. 

Overall, Smith has enjoyed a stellar season between the pipes. He’s unarguably one of the team’s most consistent performers and rarely takes a night off, with the exception of a frustrating evening against Tampa Bay on Thursday.

A large discrepancy, however, does exist between Smith’s home and away outings.

The 35-year-old has a .948 save percentage away from home, the best of any NHL netminder in unfriendly environs.

He is the embodiment of a road warrior, going 9-3-3 in 15 away starts. Smith’s paltry 1.83 goals against average (GAA) in road games would, in isolation, put him behind only Carter Hutton (1.70 overall GAA) and Marc-Andre Fleury (1.79 overall GAA).

Smith hasn’t been able to match those otherworldly numbers in front of Flames’ faithful at the Scotiabank Saddledome. The contrast is stark, with Smith’s save percentage dropping almost five percent, to .905. His GAA swells on home ice to 2.89, a large enough gulf to warrant further inquest.

What’s wrong with Smith’s Calgary Flames home cooking?

Firstly, the sample size probably has something to do with the existing chasm between Smith’s home and away performances. He’s played in 28 games at home, while only making 15 road starts.

That caveat isn’t reason enough to explain his drop in form at the Dome, though. While not nearly as demanding as Montreal fans, Flames’ faithful have high expectations of their number one netminder. But Smith’s expects just as much from himself, if not more, than the exacting Calgary crowd.

Plus, you wouldn’t expect a wily, well-versed veteran like Smith to succumb to pressure, no matter how immense. You can’t put it down to bad fortune either, as the gulf in numbers is too big to substantiate that reasoning.

That leaves me with one clear-cut explanation: Smith is only as good as the support his team offers in front of him. Calgary, as a collective, have been poor in what are supposed to be friendly confines. The Flames have a grotesque 12-13-3 home record, the fourth worst in the Western Conference.

For Smith to assimilate unconditionally to life in Calgary, his team must improve markedly at the Dome, making their relatively new netminder feel more at home.

Until that happens, Smith won’t be able to enjoy and appreciate the home cooking Calgary has to offer.

(This piece originally featured no Flame For Thought. Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

What is behind the Flames’ recent third period collapses?


Before consecutive third period collapses against Las Vegas and Tampa Bay, the Flames were one of the most reliable teams in the league at shutting down shop when leading after two. 

What a difference a few days can make.

Flames fans, prior to Jan. 30, could rest easy with the lead going into the third, knowing their team were almost certainties to secure the win, evinced by their 89 percent winning ratio in such situations.

The Flames, who boasted a 17-0-2 record when up after two, led the Golden Knights 2-1 with 1:47 to play.

Then came Michael Frolik’s moment of madness, his wayward backward pass turning into a shot on his own netminder. Understandably caught off guard, Mike Smith was only able to push the puck back into harm’s way.

Erik Haula couldn’t believe his luck and dually obliged, punishing Frolik for his haphazardness. It’s impossible not sympathize with Frolik, who had just return from a long injury layoff. Too outrageous to avoid further punishment, it was a eureka moment that burst Calgary’s bubble.

Ten seconds later the Golden Knights scored the winner, obliterating the Flames’ unbeaten regulation record when taking a lead into the third. Calgary enjoyed an otherwise near flawless performance against the top team in the Western Conference, dictating play until that fateful moment.

Those type of heartbreaking losses are more difficult to recover from, the devastating defeat compounded by the fact the Flames had already lost four on the bounce.

Worrying third period signs against Tampa

The signs were more worrying in the third against the Lightning, symptomatic of a team devoid of confidence and assuredness. Smith, usually one of the team’s most consistent performers, looked apprehensive and unsure.

Uncharacteristically, he conceded two weak ones from bad angles in just over five minutes, turning the game in Tampa’s favour. The initial momentum shift occurred in the second when Matthew Peca halved Calgary’s lead, but it was Alex Killorn’s leveller in the third that totally deflated Glen Gulutzan’s team.

In coughing up a second successive third-period advantage, the Flames fell from 14th to 24th in holding the lead after two.

They have lost six in a row and must overcome and extinguish quickly any feelings of self-pity or skepticism. Because at this level the difference between winning and losing has a lot to do with confidence and self-belief.

The Flames have the talent, depth and skill set to make a run to the playoffs, so long as they swat sternly away the devil currently perched on their collective shoulder.

(This piece originally featured on Flame For Thought. Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

Dominant Dane sparkles as Tottenham topple United


It took Christian Eriksen less than 11 seconds to make an unforgettable statement on his return to the lineup, showing how much Spurs have missed his presence of late. 

Eriksen is the lone Tottenham starter blessed with an artist’s creativity and an entrepreneur’s vision.

Though his opening goal, the third fastest in Premier League history, had more to do with anticipation, canniness and, as his gaffer put it, a teachable sense of belief. Talking about belief, his goal – which he finished with the killer’s instinct – injected Tottenham with exactly that.

Eriksen’s goal, taken in context with his overall performance, was a mere drop in the ocean. The masterful maestro made six key passes according to Who Scored, but it felt like he was ripping apart Manchester United’s defence like a butcher’s blade through bone every time he had possession.

Eriksen played a first-time ball to Harry Kane in the first half, delivered a stunning free kick that Eric Dier headed over and threaded the needle in the second half, putting Son Heung-Min through on what should have been Spurs’ third.

Eriksen, back to his inspirational best

It reminded me of his performance against Ireland in the World Cup playoff qualifier, when he scored a hat trick while concurrently breaking a nation’s collective heart. Sure, he didn’t score against United, but his performance had the same creative spark, youthful energy and decisive dominance.

But last night’s showcase came against one of the world’s best clubs, not a mediocre nation whose hopes of making the World Cup were more aspirational than realistic.

United, even after being exploited by Spurs, still lay claim to the stingiest defence in the Premier League, having kept a clean sheet in four straight encounters before last evening’s match. Only their Manchester counterparts have conceded as few goals.

The dazzling Dane, after two weeks off through illness, looked fresh and full of life. Maybe it was burnout that weakened his immune system and led to him contracting the flu. Regardless of what caused the sickness, it looks like a case – based on his supernatural display against the Red Devils – of short-term pain for long-term gain.

If Eriksen continues in this rich vein of form, Spurs will be guaranteed a top four spot to go along with a deep run in the Champions League.

(This piece originally featured on Tottenham HQ. Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

NHL Back to the Futures: Wingman discusses the Jets’ Cup chances


The Winnipeg Jets are ascending to new heights in the Western Conference, currently sitting in second place behind the upstart Las Vegas Golden Knights.

They sit atop the Central Division, ahead of the 2016-17 Stanley Cup finalist Nashville Predators. And all this without their first-line centre Mark Scheifele, who has been out of the lineup for over a month with an upper body injury.

Blake Wheeler has dominated in Scheifele’s absence, the American transitioning to centre seamlessly. He is 11th in league scoring and is the most integral member of this high-flying Jets unit.

Wheeler bullied the Flames last week in a 2-1, the sturdy centre scoring the shootout winner in Calgary on a dandy deke which wrong-footed Mike Smith.

Patrik Laine is also playing well, but maybe the most pleasantly surprising factor to the Jets’ success is the play of Connor Hellebuyck. The American netminder is seventh in the league with a .924 save percentage.

Bodog currently has the Jets pegged at +1600 to win the Stanley Cup and are the most likely Canadian team to win it all this season. Watch out for the Jets, who are dominant on home ice, once they get Scheifele back on the ice.

No wonder opposing players hate travelling to Winnipeg. It’s not just the cold, bitter weather that is unwelcoming in Manitoba’s capital.

Nathan MacKinnon: Canadian of the Week (COW)

The Canadian of the Week, #COW, goes to Nathan MacKinnon, who helped the Avalanche to a nine-game winning streak, the best in the league this season. He scored two game-winning goals and has been instrumental in Colorado’s unlikely success story. The Canadian is second in league scoring and has benefited massively from the departure of Matt Duchene, who is enduring an endless real-life nightmare since going to Ottawa.

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Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino playing a dangerous game with Kane

Opinion, Sports

Mauricio Pochettino, by starting Harry Kane unremittingly regardless of the occasion, is a playing an exceedingly dangerous, yet necessary game.     

Pochettino’s decision to start Harry Kane was once again proven correct, with Spurs’ precious asset scoring Spurs’ only goal against Newport County, delivering an FA Cup stay of execution. One question, unanswerable in nature, is whether Kane would have come up with the goods had he come on from the bench.

It’s a question that could stoke an endless debate among Spurs supporters. The more meaningful question, though, is when, if ever, will Pochettino rest his leading man.

If Pochettino can’t afford to rest him against a team of Newport County’s negligible pedigree, then when will Kane be able to recharge a battery that will, sooner or later, start to deplete.

It’s obvious the gaffer has no trust in Fernando Llorente, and who can blame him? The Spaniard has been an abomination since signing for Spurs in the summer. The argument that Llorente hasn’t been provided the platform to succeed is no longer valid. That ship has long since left the dock.

His listless, beggared performance against Newport is further proof of his inadequacy. Which leaves Pochettino with an unrelenting quagmire. While youthful and vibrant, Kane, like any other professional footballer, is not entirely indefatigable. And with compounding wear and tear comes increased susceptibility to injury.

Regarding Kane, I’m not sold on Pochettino’s ride-it-until-the-wheels-come-off mantra. The overt lack of strategy is palpable, caused solely because of an absence of viable alternatives.

No rest forthcoming for Kane

I can’t envision Kane being rested any time soon, so hopefully he’s able to maintain his present otherworldly form devoid of a rest in the run in. Jostling for a top four spot in the Premier League, combined with a Champions League round of 16 tie with Juventus, guarantees Kane’s interminable on-field presence.

The potential of burnout, with playing two games a week, even for a 24-year-old at peak fitness, increases considerably.

But maybe Pochettino knows something the rest of us don’t. If Kane starts in the Wembley replay against Newport on Feb. 7, a match sandwiched between playing Liverpool and Arsenal and less than a week before facing Juventus, my suspicions of him being from another planet will be confirmed.

And if that’s the case, Gareth Southgate can rest easy knowing England’s only hope of winning the World Cup is immune to a human’s imperfections.

(This piece originally featured on Tottenham HQ. Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Could every Tottenham supporters’ worst nightmare become reality?

Opinion, Sports

Loyal, long-term Tottenham supporters waited for what seems like eons to see their team transform into a contender, so try imagine what it would feel like if everything came crashing down in an unbearable foul swoop.

My mum, in my formative, impressionable years, always told me to hope for the best but to prepare for the worst. The worst-case scenario for Tottenham, though, makes me wish I never thought in a prudent way, as it would resemble a scene from the Day After Tomorrow.

It includes Mauricio Pochettino being poached my Real Madrid, with Harry Kane as the Argentinian’s first purchase for the Galácticos. The thought of that catastrophic moment causes recurring, lucid nightmares.

While improbable, pessimists will direct you to the irrefutable and persuasive arguments as evidence of the armageddon-like moment becoming an eventuality. And those arguments shouldn’t be ignored, or overlooked: Mauricio Pochettino spent the peak of his playing career in Spain with Espanyol; he returned to Espanyol for his first managerial job, coaching the La Liga side from 2009-2012; Espanyol is to Barcelona what Arsenal is to Tottenham; Real Madrid is Barcelona’s main competition, and other than Espanyol, their fiercest rival. Real Madrid are back-to-back Champions League holders; and, as blatantly obvious as it might sound, Spanish is Pochettino’s native tongue.

Have the involuntary sweats started yet?

I won’t fire off the reasons Kane could be enticed to the Bernabeu. However, suffice to say that if Pochettino goes, so too does Kane.

You hear it all the time; no player is bigger than the club they play for.

Pochettino and Kane’s club

But what about the world’s most valuable forward and sought after coach, together as one?

That venerable, superstar package comes close to vetoing the rule. Pochettino and Kane, even in tandem, still aren’t bigger than Tottenham Hotspur Football Club; though it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say the pair, particularly Pochettino, are the glue that holds the squad together.

Pochettino is the primary reason Spurs were able to sign Dele Alli, Davinson Sanchez, Juan Foyth, Fernando Llorente, Victor Wanyama and Toby Alderweireld.

He is the principle reason Tottenham have been able to hold on to Hugo Lloris, Eric Dier, Christian Eriksen, Jan Vertonghen, and to this point, Alderweireld.

And the Argentinian is also the main reason Harry Winks, Kane, Alli, Eriksen, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Dier, Wanyama, Ben Davies, Son Heung-Min and Kieran Trippier have fulfilled their respective potentials.

It doesn’t take a neurosurgeon to foresee a potential player exodus if Tottenham’s charismatic boss leaves for pastures anew.

Would Tottenham recover if the duo leave for Madrid?

The club, knowing Spurs as I do, is, as a collective, blessed with the resilience and never-die persona to recover from such a disaster. But, like in the aftermath of a Category-5 hurricane, that recovery certainly wouldn’t happen overnight.

Some might consider the comparison of Pochettino and Kane departing for sunny Spain and the world coming to a violent, cataclysmic end as sensationalistic, even dramatic.

You obviously haven’t been a Spurs supporter long enough if that’s the case.

(This piece originally featured on Tottenham HQ. Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)