Middlesbrough’s hot streak credited to lucky hamster

imagePhoto: Action Images

For all of you Championship followers, Middlesbrough has made a vicious assault on the rest of the English second division, going undefeated in their past six games (winning five) and jumping from 19th up to 9th place. Now just five points shy of a place in the top six, Boro are vying for a surprise spot in the promotion playoffs.

Now, to most observers it’s been the play of the defense, in particular goalkeeper Shay Given, that has been the catalyst to Boro’s rise. Given posted six clean sheets in ten games since coming on loan from Aston Villa. But if you listen to the 37-year-old, the Teessiders’ luck has changed thanks to a new team mascot — Holly the Hamster.

Indeed, Boro are unbeaten in the Championship since Holly scurried into the training ground “thanks to a secret Santa team-bonding game at Christmas,” whatever that means.

Given told the Daily Star:

“She seems to be our lucky mascot at the moment.

She came into the training ground over Christmas as a bit of a joke from one of the lads, but we’re unbeaten since, so we’re all taking looking after her very seriously now.

She’s got a nice home in with us at the training ground, and we’re making sure we feed and water her every day. She’s got an unbeaten record so far, so we’ll make sure she stays happy and keeps working her magic.”

If Middlesbrough can keep their hot streak going all the way to the Premier League, hopefully we can turn this into a movie or something.

Next stop: Holly-wood?

H/T Dirty Tackle


Harry Redknapp gets hit in head with ball, QPR promptly concedes equalizer

Poor Harry. He just can’t stay out of the way from comical incidents at his expense.

On Saturday, with his QPR side up 2-1 at Millwall, a fan tried to throw a ball back onto the pitch, but hit Redknapp in the head instead. As you can see, Harry was none too pleased about this stunt, and began cursing out the fan.

Those sly Millwall hooligans, always up to some mischief! They must’ve known how much I hate getting hit by balls

Compounding Harry’s headache, QPR promptly conceded the slim lead just seconds later (while Redknapp was still giving it to the fan), and in stoppage time no less.

He shouldn’t stay too mad for too long, considering QPR are still unbeaten in Championship play. Let’s just hope the knock to the head doesn’t stop Harry from churning out his next autobiography.

H/T 101GG


DC United upsets RSL, wins third Lamar Hunt US Open Cup


DC United entered Tuesday’s night Lamar Hunt US Open Cup final at Real Salt Lake with a clear and concise game plan honed by heavy underdogs the world over.

Keep it tight. Prevent the opposition from playing. Wait for the right time to snatch the winner.

United — holder of three meager wins in MLS play this season and pursuer of a fourth in Open Cup competition on this night — executed Ben Olsen’s instructions doggedly and produced a resolute performance worthy of its 1-0 victory to complete the 100th edition of this competition.

Lewis Neal scored the winning goal shortly before the interval with a first-time effort, but the difference between failure and triumph on this evening hinged with United’s commitment to its defiant and organized work inside its own half.

Real Salt Lake enjoyed plenty of possession without testing United nearly often enough before the frantic late stages. United’s ability to retain its 4-4-2 shape against RSL’s extensive, if somewhat lackluster, work on the ball heaped pressure on the home side to engineer a breakthrough. RSL mined its preferred route between the center backs and the fullbacks — all in a bid to either create numbers out wide to play behind the fullbacks or use the fissures to slot players directly through the line — often enough in a bid to crack apart the United rearguard.

Olsen trusted his central core – defenders Dejan Jakovic and Ethan White, midfielders Perry Kitchen and John Thorrington — prevent RSL from combining deftly in the final third and producing chances in more dangerous areas. Those four players justified that faith and stymied RSL in the process. Their success in the middle of United’s two banks of four forced RSL’s fullbacks forward (they often join in support anyways) to provide hopeful service from the wide areas and left room for United to counter on those rare forays into opposition territory.

It only takes one goal to validate the thought process behind such a display. Neal (an astute selection in midfield in place of Luis Silva due to his considerable work rate) supplied the winner moments before the break after good work from Thorrington down the left created modest chaos inside the RSL penalty area. RSL couldn’t hack clear after shifting somewhat aggressively to halt Thorrington’s run and watched Neal slot home first time for the only goal of the game.

United conceded most of the play on the night and soaked up a furious late siege from RSL with help from Bill Hamid and the goal frame, but the final whistle made the toil worthwhile. United has endured a wretched season in league play. This achievement — fueled by grit and organization — at least provides some tangible relief ahead of the extensive rebuilding project ahead during the winter.


Images: Jim Urquhart / USA Today Sports


Millwall forgets to pack, has to wear Sheffield Wednesday’s old kits


Championship side Sheffield Wednesday must have been quite confused while playing Millwall today. After all, their opponents were also clad in Wednesday’s kits!

After Millwall’s kit man forgot to pack the one thing he’s supposed to make sure show up at a match — the kits —the Lions were forced to wear Wednesday’s away yellows from last season. Millwall did somehow manage to get their alternate kits to the stadium for the start of the second half, but it was too late to prevent a thoroughly embarrassing situation:

This, of course, is just as hilarious as when Crystal Palace had to loan their away kits to Barnsley last year after the visitors brought the wrong-colored shirts. That match ended up resembling a preseason intra-squad scrimmage:


(H/T Daily Mail)


Support a small soccer club? So does Jennifer Aniston

Following up on an adorable interview in which he invited movie star Mila Kunis to a local soccer match, amateur interviewer Chris Stark once again defaulted to talking about soccer when confronted by an intimidating interview.

Sitting down with the world famous Jennifer Aniston, Chris was supposed to focus on the actress’ new film, but very quickly turned to a comfortable topic: soccer. 

Handing Aniston a personalized Watford jersey, Chris tried to convince her to support his local club before admitting that Watford are "only a small club…they’re in the Championship." For her part, the actress was gracious, and promised to wear the jersey when flying out of the country. 

Based on their start-studded list of supporters, it seems that you could say that Watford are very quickly becoming the Los Angeles Lakers of English soccer; well, minus the success and all.


The Championship play-off final is sometimes referred to as the most valuable game in soccer for the windfall that teams enjoy once they make it to the Premier League. While that’s a justifiable perspective, it also overlooks the purity of what fans experience as they support their teams in the lowest dredges of the English soccer pyramid.

From the lowest of the lows, to grinding through the Championship, the path to the Premier League is a difficult one, and one that relies on a long-term commitment from a club’s supporters.

That experience can be difficult to explain to fans outside of English soccer, but this video, which chronicles last season’s Championship play-off final between Watford and Crystal Palace, makes a good attempt. From the pre-match nerves, to the stress that both fans and players alike feel in the stands during the match, to the simultaneous eruptions of joy and sorrow once the final whistle blows, this is the Championship experience.

It captures the drama of promotion like nothing you’ve ever seen before.


One Direction star signs contract with pro soccer team. No, really.


Image via: doncasterroversfc.co.uk

More like New Direction.

Louis Tomlinson of the popular English-Irish boy band One Direction has officially signed on as a non-contract player with Championship side Doncaster Rovers. This is not a joke.

Tomlinson, who gained fame with his bandmates on the British TV singing competition The X-Factor and then signed with Simon Cowell’s record company (we can only guess what Simon thinks about this), joined the club as a way to raise money for Bluebell Wood charity.

The 21-year-old, who hasn’t played at any level higher than Sunday League, will appear for the club’s reserve squad at some point this season and wear jersey number 28 (ladies, don’t get this kit for your boyfriends). There’s practically no chance he will feature for the first team, as Doncaster would probably rather not risk their status as a Championship side after gaining promotion just this past season. Still, the Doncaster native said the opportunity has been “a dream come true” for him.

No, girls, he will not be leaving the band because of this. You can all relax now. But let’s just hope that this goes a lot better than Justin Bieber’s foray into professional hockey.


Copa Libertadores Preview: Ronaldinho seeks elusive club title

By Kyle McCarthy, FOXSoccer.com

Ronaldinho returned to Brazil with one rather glaring omission from his staggering list of honors. And now the Copa Libertadores is within his grasp.

The veteran schemer will lead Atlético Mineiro into uncharted territory in Asuncion on Wednesday night. Both he and his club hope to emerge triumphant in this competition for the first time at the end of this two-legged tie. It will not prove an easy brief to fulfill with three-time champions Olimpia standing in the way of Libertadores glory.

“We have no greater wish than to bring the title to Atlético,” Ronaldinho Tweeted on Monday.

Atlético enters the final as slight favorites after engineering a great escape in the second leg against Newell’s Old Boys in the semifinals a week ago. Guilherme struck in the sixth minute of stoppage time to draw level on points in the series. Ronaldinho then converted the winning penalty to ensure Galo booked its place in the final.

The ample talent with Atlético’s ranks – including Brazilian internationals Bernard (expected to depart for a major European club after this tie concludes), Jô and Réver – warrants significant attention, but the Paraguayan outfit possesses the resolve to create significant problems for its lauded competition. Olimpia proved its mettle by securing its place in the final with a 1-0 defeat against Independiente Santa Fe in Colombia last Wednesday and underscored its ability to claim the title by holding out under significant duress in the waning stages of that affair.


Ronaldinho seeks his first Copa Libertadores title (Photo: Victor R Caivano/AP Images).

Ever Almeida’s side must produce similar heroics over these two legs to set the stage for another Libertadores triumph in these trying circumstances. The contrast in styles – Atlético with its array of attacking weapons, Olimpia with its reliance on organization and shape – presents the possibility for an intriguing final if the two sides play to their strengths over the two legs.

Those technical concerns, however, fall well down the pecking order of priorities for the former Barcelona star. His focus – as always – remains on the overriding objective and the prospect of adding this elusive title to his protracted level of success.


Soccer Fan Winds Up With Tattoo of Rival Club’s Emblem - For Charity


People often make extraordinary sacrifices for charities, but this one might take the cake.

After committing to a 100-mile bike ride to raise funds for a local charity, lifelong Ipswich Town fan Andrew Glover jokingly promised to get the emblem of Ipswich’s rival, Norwich City, tattooed on his arm if he raised more than £1,000.

A bit unexpectedly, commitments poured in and Andrew raised just over that number, bringing in £1,136 for his cause, the Norwich-based Hamlet Centre Trust.

A man of his word, Andrew honored his pledge, and despite an initial reluctance, had Norwich City’s recognizable ‘Canary’ inked onto his arm.

Despite the psychological setback, Andrew’s perspective remains practical, as he was quoted after the tattoo session as saying, “I’ll be wearing long sleeves now when I go to Portman Road. And I’m going to have to get an Ipswich tattoo.”

(H/T: North Norfolk News)