Scottish Premiership: Motherwell close in on National League winger

Mark McGhee could make Forest Green Rovers star Elliot Frear his first signing of the January transfer window.

mark-mcghee-before-ko-v-celtic-15th-may-2016
Lacking in depth: McGhee has limited options in the wide areas and lost Marvin Johnson to Oxford United last summer (Picture from Sky Sports)

Scottish Premiership side Motherwell are reportedly closing in on the signing of one of the National League’s most sought after players.

Winger Elliot Frear has been a key component this season for a Forest Green Rovers currently second in the fifth tier of English football and challenging for a return to the Football League.

The 26-year-old has made 19 appearances this season but apparently took a Diego Costa and Dimitri Payet like stance by refusing to play in Saturday’s 2-0 FA Trophy win at Chester, amid growing speculation he is about to make a move north of the border.

Speaking about Frear’s absence, Forest Green boss Mark Cooper said: “Elliot has said he doesn’t want to play for the club anymore and we have to move on.

“There has now been interest as far as I know and we need players that want to be with us going forward.”

But in his defence, Frear tweeted: “Just to confirm I haven’t refused to play today, still struggling from injury last weekend. I’m a professional & would never refuse to play.”

The Englishman, who was linked with a switch to League Two Cheltenham in the summer, began his career with Exeter City before moving to Salisbury City in 2014.

A former England C international, Frear then signed a two-year contract at the New Lawn the following year and helped Forest Green reach the National League Promotion Final last season, when they lost 3-1 to Grimsby Town at Wembley.

He is set to become the Steelmen’s first signing of the January transfer window as Mark McGhee looks to boost his squad before next weekend’s Scottish Cup fourth round tie against Rangers at Ibrox.

With the Scottish top-flight currently on a three-week winter break, Motherwell lie ninth in the table, two points behind sixth-placed Ross County, but will be hopeful of securing a top-half finish in the second half of the season.

2016-17 Football Season: Predicted Tables

With one of the most unpredictable seasons in years in store, guessing the final outcome across England, Scotland and Spain has proved difficult.

2016-17 football season
Mouth-watering: Football fans can expect one of the biggest and best seasons in recent memory in 2016-17 in England and Scotland (Pictures from Sky Sports)

AFTER the briefest of breaks following the unexpected climax at Euro 2016, football makes a welcome comeback as the new domestic campaign begins in earnest.

2016-17 promises to be more dramatic, exciting and entertaining than seasons gone by with new managers, players and teams settling into their fresh surroundings and hoping to make an impact.

From Jose Mourinho’s arrival at Old Trafford to Burton Albion’s Championship debut, there are many intriguing sub-plots which could present more shocks and surprises – such as Leicester City’s stunning Premier League title triumph as relegation favourites last term.

Such is the uncertainty of how clubs will fare amid the hive of summer activity, unrivalled spending and the fall-out from last season’s outcomes, predicting the precise outcomes in the promotion, play-off and relegation pictures in all leagues is an incredibly tough task.

Here’s my rough guess on what the final standings might look like across the main divisions in England, Scotland and Spain when May eventually comes around…


Manchester United and Manchester City fans outside Old Trafford
Rivals: After battling each other for a Champions League place last term, United and City will hope to mount a title pursuit this time around (Picture from Getty Images)

Premier League predicted table:

  1. Manchester City
  2. Manchester United
  3. Chelsea
  4. Liverpool
    ——————–
  5. Tottenham Hotspur
    ——————–
  6. Arsenal
  7. West Ham United
  8. Leicester City
  9. Everton
  10. Southampton
  11. Stoke City
  12. Crystal Palace
  13. Bournemouth
  14. Middlesbrough
  15. Watford
  16. Sunderland
  17. Swansea City
    ——————–
  18. West Bromwich Albion
  19. Burnley
  20. Hull City

Rafael Benitez pre-match (v Man City - 19th April 2016)
Contrast: The former Real Madrid and Liverpool boss will hope to steer the Magpies to an immediate Premier League return in his first taste of the Football League as a manager (Picture from Sky Sports)

SkyBet Championship predicted table:

  1. Newcastle United
  2. Norwich City
    ———————
  3. Derby County
  4. Sheffield Wednesday
  5. Brighton
  6. Aston Villa
    ———————
  7. Nottingham Forest
  8. Leeds United
  9. Ipswich Town
  10. Wolves
  11. Fulham
  12. Reading
  13. Queens Park Rangers
  14. Cardiff City
  15. Birmingham City
  16. Wigan Athletic
  17. Blackburn Rovers
  18. Brentford
  19. Bristol City
  20. Preston North End
  21. Huddersfield Town
    ———————-
  22. Barnsley
  23. Burton Albion
  24. Rotherham United

Chris Wilder (Sheffield Utd boss at Wembley - 30th May 2016)
Possible saviour: The former Northampton boss is bidding to take the Blades back to the Championship after six years in the third tier (Picture from Sky Sports)

SkyBet League One predicted table:

  1. Millwall
  2. Charlton Athletic
    ——————-
  3. Sheffield United
  4. MK Dons
  5. Bolton Wanderers
  6. Coventry City
    ——————-
  7. Bradford City
  8. Peterborough United
  9. Gillingham
  10. Scunthorpe United
  11. Southend United
  12. Walsall
  13. Northampton Town
  14. Swindon Town
  15. Oxford United
  16. Bristol Rovers
  17. AFC Wimbledon
  18. Rochdale
  19. Fleetwood Town
  20. Chesterfield
    ——————–
  21. Bury
  22. Port Vale
  23. Shrewsbury Town
  24. Oldham Athletic

Derek Adams on sidelines (v Wimbledon - 30th May 2016)
Disappointment: Derek Adams, who has signed a new four-year deal at Home Park, saw his side beaten 2-0 by Wimbledon in last season’s Play-Off Final at Wembley (Picture from Sky Sports)

SkyBet League Two predicted table:

  1. Portsmouth
  2. Plymouth Argyle
  3. Doncaster Rovers
    ——————–
  4. Leyton Orient
  5. Luton Town
  6. Colchester United
  7. Notts County
    ——————–
  8. Wycombe Wanderers
  9. Cambridge United
  10. Carlisle United
  11. Exeter City
  12. Accrington Stanley
  13. Cheltenham Town
  14. Mansfield Town
  15. Blackpool
  16. Grimsby Town
  17. Crewe Alexandra
  18. Hartlepool United
  19. Barnet
  20. Yeovil Town
  21. Stevenage
  22. Crawley Town
    ———————
  23. Newport County
  24. Morecambe

Dover Athletic supporters before KO (v C Palace in FA Cup - 4th Jan 2015)
Positive: Dover Athletic fans will be optimistic their side can make up for failing to make the play-offs last season in non-league’s top tier (Picture from BT Sport)

National League predicted table:

  1. York City
    ———————–
  2. Tranmere Rovers
  3. Forest Green Rovers
  4. Wrexham
  5. Dover Athletic
    ———————–
  6. Eastleigh
  7. Braintree Town
  8. Dagenham & Redbridge
  9. Macclesfield Town
  10. Torquay United
  11. Lincoln City
  12. Woking
  13. Gateshead
  14. Chester
  15. Barrow
  16. Aldershot Town
  17. Bromley
  18. Boreham Wood
  19. Solihull Moors
  20. Southport
    ————————
  21. Guiseley
  22. Maidstone United
  23. North Ferriby United
  24. Sutton United

Stockport County sign outside Edgeley Park
Ready to rise: Former Football League club Stockport County will be hoping their fourth successive season in the sixth tier is their last (Picture by Adam Higgins)

National League North predicted table:

  1. AFC Fylde
    ————————
  2. Kidderminster Harriers
  3. Harrogate Town
  4. Stockport County
  5. Salford City
    ————————-
  6. FC Halifax Town
  7. Boston United
  8. Chorley
  9. Altrincham
  10. Stalybridge Celtic
  11. FC United of Manchester
  12. Nuneaton Town
  13. Bradford Park Avenue
  14. Curzon Ashton
  15. Alfreton Town
  16. Darlington 1883
  17. Gainsborough Trinity
  18. Tamworth
  19. Gloucester City
    ————————–
  20. Worcester City
  21. Brackley Town
  22. Telford United

Mark Warburton with trophy at Ibrox (v Alloa - 23rd April 2016)
Challenge: Rangers boss Mark Warburton will expect his team to compete with champions Celtic for the title after their long-awaited Premiership return (Picture from Sky Sports)

Scottish Premiership predicted table:

  1. Celtic
    —————-
  2. Rangers
  3. Aberdeen
    —————-
  4. Hearts
  5. St Johnstone
  6. Dundee
    —————-
  7. Motherwell
  8. Inverness CT
  9. Partick Thistle
  10. Ross County
    —————–
  11. Hamilton Accies
    —————–
  12. Kilmarnock

Jason Cummings (Hibs forward v Rangers - 23rd August 2015)
Key: Striker Jason Cummings, who has 48 goals for Hibs, will be a crucial factor in Neil Lennon’s side ending their three-year stay in the Championship (Picture from Sky Sports) 

Scottish Championship predicted table:

  1. Hibernian
    ——————–
  2. Dundee United
  3. Falkirk
  4. St Mirren
    ——————–
  5. Raith Rovers
  6. Queen of the South
  7. Dunfermline Athletic
  8. Greenock Morton
    ——————–
  9. Dumbarton
    ——————–
  10. Ayr United

Zinedine Zidane and Luis Enrique
Familiar battle: Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid and Barcelona coach Luis Enrique (right) will be leading the pack in the race for the title (Pictures from Sky Sports)

La Liga predicted table:

  1. Barcelona
  2. Real Madrid
  3. Atletico Madrid
  4. Sevilla
    ——————-
  5. Villarreal
  6. Valencia
    ——————-
  7. Athletic Bilbao
  8. Espanyol
  9. Real Socediad
  10. Malaga
  11. Celta Vigo
  12. Granada
  13. Sporting Gijon
  14. Real Betis
  15. Deportivo La Coruna
  16. Osasuna
  17. Eibar
    ——————–
  18. Las Palmas
  19. Leganes
  20. Alaves

Referee Robert Jones promoted to Football League list

Merseyside-based official Robert Jones will be refereeing in the SkyBet Football League from the 2016-17 season after being promoted following two years in the National League.

FOR a football team, gaining promotion to a new league at any level is an achievement worth celebrating.

And it’s no different for referees – so Robert Jones will be delighted after receiving the call to find out he will be officiating in the SkyBet Football League from the 2016-17 campaign.

The Merseyside-based official has spent the last two seasons taking charge of matches in the National League – the fifth tier of English football – and the Women’s Super League One.

He was the man in the middle for the National League Promotion Final earlier this month and delivered an assured display in Grimsby Town’s 3-1 win over Forest Green Rovers alongside Aaron Jackson, Natalie Aspinall and fourth official Ollie Yates.

Jones dished out 63 yellow cards but only one red card in 21 games in non-league’s top tier during the regular league season while he only issued one booking at Wembley.

He was also the man in black for an Inter League Cup Final at York City’s Bootham Crescent ground on May 8.

And, as if life isn’t already sweet enough for him right now, Jones was also appointed as an assistant referee to Stuart Attwell for the League One Play-Off Final between Barnsley and Millwall on Sunday.

The news of his promotion was confirmed by his County Referee Association on Twitter.

It’s a well-deserved reward for a number of consistent performances in key games since he was promoted to Level 2A in the summer of 2014.

Jones has ran the line on over 100 Football League matches since 2009-10 but now he will be the main decision maker – another level entirely.

He is one of six referees who have been elevated to oversee Championship, League One and League Two matches from August onwards.

John Brooks flags for offside (Man City v Spurs - 14th Feb 2016)
Able assistant: Brooks has been a Select Group linesman for four years and fulfilled the role for the FA Cup Final at Wembley on May 21 (Picture from Sky Sports)

They include Leicestershire’s John Brooks and Lancashire’s Michael Salisbury – who have both served as Premier League assistant referees.

Ollie Yates (Staffordshire), Brett Huxtable (Devon) and John Busby (Oxfordshire) are the other whistlers who will operate in the Football League for the first time next term.

Michael Oliver to referee 2015 FA Trophy Final

Premier League referee Michael Oliver has been assigned to referee the 2015 FA Trophy Final between Wrexham and North Ferriby United on March 29.

Michael Oliver referee (Chelsea v West Ham - 26th December 2014)
Familiar face: Oliver has handled 20 Premier League matches so far this season – the fourth highest total out of the 17 Select Group referees

MICHAEL Oliver will be the referee for the 2015 FA Trophy Final between Wrexham and North Ferriby United at Wembley Stadium later this month.

The Northumberland official will be assisted by Select Group linesmen Stuart Burt (Northamptonshire) and Marc Perry (West Midlands) while Football League referee Simon Hooper (Wiltshire) will be the fourth official.

It will be a fifth appearance in the middle at the national stadium for Oliver, who began his season officiating the Community Shield as Arsenal beat Manchester City.

Michael Oliver uses vanishing spray for first time (2015 Community Shield)
First time: Oliver was the first referee to use the vanishing spray mechanism in England in this season’s Charity Shield curtain-raiser

He was also in control of Arsenal’s FA Cup semi-final win over Wigan on penalties last term,  Wigan’s FA Cup semi-final victory over Millwall in 2013 and the 2009 League One play-off final between Scunthorpe and Millwall.

The appointment came on the same day that his outstanding display in Manchester United’s FA Cup quarter-final defeat to Arsenal was roundly praised – particularly on social media.

Michael Oliver
Exceptional: Oliver was congratulated for getting the big decisions right amid an intense atmosphere

The Ashingdon-based whistler booked both Angel di Maria and Adnan Januzaj for diving at Old Trafford and sent off the former for appearing to grab at his shirt as he turned away.

Di Maria shirt tug on Michael Oliver
Grab: Manchester United midfielder di Maria pulls back the shirt of referee Michael Oliver
Michael Oliver reaction to di Maria shirt tug
Reaction: Michael Oliver’s expression towards di Maria following the shirt tug says it all – the official’s words were lip-read as “Woah, woah, woah, woah, woah”
Michael Oliver sends off Angel di Maria
Seeing red: di Maria was subsequently given his marching orders just moments after being booked for simulation

After taking a two-week holiday to New York with his fiancee – fellow referee Lucy May – for his 30th birthday last month, Oliver returned to action after almost a month out when Tottenham entertained Swansea in the Premier League at White Hart Lane last Wednesday.

Widely regarded as one of the best officials in the country, the youngest Select Group referee has been regularly considered for the big games having overseen a North London derby, Manchester derby and a Capital One Cup semi-final second leg.

The latter was another impressive showing from Oliver at Stamford Bridge despite him failing to spot a stamp by Chelsea striker Diego Costa on Liverpool’s Emre Can.

Oliver has officiated 27 games in all competitions so far in 2014-15 – brandishing 107 yellow cards, sending off six players and awarding 11 penalties.

Michael Oliver at White Hart Lane (Tottenham v Everton - 30th Nov 2014)
Under pressure: Like any official, Oliver has received his fair share of criticism and been shrouded with controversial moments

The highly-rated official – who quit as head of Northumberland FA’s referee academy in November – was also in the middle for the League Cup quarter-final between Sheffield United and Southampton after being called up as a late replacement for Chris Foy.

Oliver – inspired to take up the whistle by his father Clive, who is a retired Football League referee – quickly established himself as an accomplished top-flight official with a confident and assured but less flamboyant approach.

He has embarked on a remarkable rise, becoming the Premier League’s youngest ever official in August 2010 after three successful years in the Football League and four seasons progressing through the non-league pyramid.

He is now a Fifa Category One official following his promotion in 2012 and has taken charge of several Europa League and international matches while he was also an additional assistant at the Uefa Super Cup Final in Cardiff back in August.

The final of the FA Trophy – competed for by teams in the fifth to eighth tiers of English football – is normally awarded to an up and coming referee among the Select Group with the recently-promoted Craig Pawson in charge of last year’s showpiece.

Michael Oliver referee (Stoke v Man Utd - 1st January 2015)
Records: Oliver was in charge of the first Premier League match of 2015 as Stoke faced Manchester United

Unsurprisingly, Oliver has never officiated a North Ferriby United in the past but has encountered Wrexham on one occasion against Bradford in August 2007 when the Welsh side were in League Two.

Wrexham beat Conference Premier rivals Torquay United 5-1 on aggregate to reach their second Trophy final in three years.

Yorkshire village outfit North Ferriby – of the Conference North – overcame Bath City on penalties to secure their first ever Wembley outing after a 3-3 draw on aggregate in the semis.

The final will take place on Sunday March 29 with the 1:30pm kick-off live on BT Sport 1.

 

PREVIOUS TEN FA TROPHY FINAL REFEREES

2014:  Craig Pawson (Gosport Borough 0-4 Cambridge United)
2013:  Jon Moss (Grimsby 1-1 Wrexham * Wrexham won 4-1 on pens)
2012:  Anthony Taylor (Newport County 0-2 York City)
2011:  Stuart Attwell (Mansfield 0-1 Darlington)
2010:  Lee Probert (Barrow 2-1 Stevenage AET)
2009:  Mike Jones (Stevenage 2-0 York City)
2008:  Martin Atkinson (Ebbsfleet 1-0 Torquay)
2007:  Chris Foy (Kidderminster 2-3 Stevenage)
2006:  Howard Webb (Grays Athletic 2-0 Woking)
2005:  Phil Dowd (Grays Athletic 1-1 Hucknall * Grays Athletic won 6-5 on pens)

Preview: The best of this weekend’s Non-League action

FC United of Manchester host Whitby Town at their temporary home, Salford City take on Bamber Bridge and Stockport County are up against Gloucester at Edgeley Park in non-league football this weekend.

FC UNITED OF MANCHESTER V WHITBY TOWN

FC UNITED are seeking to prop back up the Evo-Stik Premier Division table when hosting Whitby Town at their temporary Bower Fold home in Stalybridge on Saturday.

Karl Marginson’s tenth-placed side have fallen nine points behind leaders Buxton in the seventh tier but have a game in hand on the leading pack.

Their inconsistent run of form has been evident in the past fortnight when they responded to their 4-1 defeat at Frickley Town with a confidence-boosting 3-1 home win over Grantham but were then dumped out of the FA Cup by lower-league Lancaster City last weekend.

The Reds can leapfrog fifth-placed Whitby, who completed the league double over them last season and can go nine games unbeaten, by taking three valuable points.


TRAFFORD FC
V RAMSBOTTOM UNITED

TRAFFORD FC will also be hoping to jump ahead of their upcoming opponents in the Premier Division table with a win against Ramsbottom United at Shane View.

The Flixton-based outfit secured their first home win of the season at the sixth attempt on Tuesday night with a 4-0 thrashing of Nantwich Town and scoring goals hasn’t been a problem having netted 11 times in their last four outings combined.

Twelfth-placed Trafford sit a point behind eighth-placed Ramsbottom, who make the short trip across east Manchester having lost more league games than they have won and scored fewer goals than they have conceded so far this term.

The Rams, one of five teams level on 16 points going into this weekend’s round of fixtures, are still smarting from a 4-2 loss at mid-table Frickley last weekend.

STOURBRIDGE V ASHTON UNITED

FRESH from beating Salford City in FA Cup qualifying in midweek, the Robins travel to the west Midlands on Saturday to face eighth-placed Stourbridge in the Northern Premier League.

Ashton, jointly managed by two player-coaches Paul Phillips and Steve Halford, are currently languishing in 19th place after accruing only 10 points from a possible 33 since the start of the season, amassing only two league wins so far.

The Hurst Cross club, who finished fifth last term, are searching for their third away win of the campaign so far in all but will be buoyed by knocking out the Ammies in the second qualifying round replay at Moor Lane on Tuesday night.

Although they will face a challenging contest against a Stourbridge side who booked their place in the FA Cup third qualifying round in midweek and have suffered just one defeat from their previous eight matches in all competitions.


SALFORD CITY
V BAMBER BRIDGE

SALFORD City will be aiming to bounce back from their first defeat of the season by extending their impressive league form against fellow promotion contenders Bamber Bridge at Moor Lane.

The Ammies were knocked out of the FA Cup at the second qualifying round stage by Ashton United (see above) as their 12-match unbeaten run in all competitions at the start of the campaign came to an end.

But the Evo Stik First Division North leaders – partly-owned by five members of Manchester United’s famed Class of ’92’  – have the opportunity to widen the gap at the top over second-placed Darlington, which currently stands at four points.

Lancashire-based Bamber Bridge occupied second spot themselves prior to their midweek 1-0 reverse at Northwich Victoria – their first loss since the opening weekend of the league season.

DROYLSDEN FC V CLITHEROE

DROYLSDEN will be looking to keep up the pressure on table-topping Salford when a Clitheroe side hovering perilously close to the relegation zone visit the Butcher’s Arms on Saturday afternoon.

The Bloods, who are joint second in the First Division North, responded to back-to-back home defeats in league and cup with a hard-fought 2-1 away win at Scarborough on Tuesday night.

Dave Pace’s men have scored double the amount of goals (26) as they have shipped (13) in their nine league games thus far and will be confident of another positive result against Clitheroe, who sit a point above the drop zone in 16th position.

Despite their indifferent league form of one win in five, the Lancashire club are in good spirits after thumping seven past Lancaster City to reach the FA Cup third qualifying round last time out.

FC HALIFAX TOWN V ALTRINCHAM FC

STRUGGLING Altrincham face a tough baptism when making the trip to second-placed FC Halifax on Saturday in the Vanarama Conference Premier.

Lee Sinnott’s side, who won promotion from the Conference North via the play-offs last term, ended a run of three straight league defeats with a narrow 1-0 victory over Macclesfield on Tuesday night but remain in the bottom four.

The men from Moss Lane have taken just 11 points from 13 league games this term and are still awaiting their first away win of the campaign.

It will be their first meeting with the Shaymen since the 2011/12 season as Halifax, who trail league leaders Barnet by eight points, seek to build on their four-match sequence without tasting defeat.


STOCKPORT COUNTY
V GLOUCESTER

Stockport are searching for a fifth straight home win when they host lowly Gloucester City in the Vanarama Conference North this weekend.

The seventh-placed Hatters currently sit one point and two positions adrift of the play-offs but could move into the top five with another victory at Edgeley Park in their first match for a fortnight.

Having won just once on the road this term – and with upcoming trips to Oxford City and Leamington – Stockport will be keen to extend their unbeaten run which stands at four games as Alan Lord’s side target a first Football League return since 2010-11.

Gloucester, meanwhile, sit in the bottom three of the sixth tier in English football following a solitary win in their first 10 league games.