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Saturday, October 29, 2011

High Fives: Things We Learnt From United's Win At Goodison Park

[This post first appeared on BigFourZa.]

Manchester United faced their first real test on their road to recovery against Everton today. And they came out all smiles as they grabbed 3 points for the first time at Goodison Park since 2007. So here go the five of the few things we learnt from this victory –

Chicharito Scored The Lone Goal
1. The Recovery Has Begun

As I pointed out earlier, we had not won at Everton since 2007. United put up a disciplined performance against the hosts, and that was evident with no United player being booked. Everton had more shots compared to United's tally, but our skipper Vidic was a rock in central defence on his Premier League comeback & De Gea impressed once again as we held out to a vital win that helps keep the pressure on league leaders Man City.

2. Evans Was Shaky, But He'll Be Alright

I was not surprised when my fellow United fans on my Twitter timeline expressed sort of an outrage when both Evans & Evra were named in the starting lineup. I've been in the defence of Evans even after that red card last weekend, and I believe that Sir Alex was right to field him ahead of Ferdinand. His performance today was bit nervous & shaky, making some wayward passes which could've resulted in goal-scoring chances for the home side. Fortunately, we did not concede. Evans will need some more games to regain confidence after that derby fiasco. He's been our best defender this season, and he will eventually come good. So guys, just lay him off for a while.

3. Cleverley & Fletcher Can Click Together

The return of Tom Cleverley was welcomed whole-heartedly as Man United's midfield was desperately crying out for creativity. And boy, he almost carried on from where he left. That slick one-touch passing, that extra bit of endeavour & dynamism was back in United's gameplay. Until he pulled his hamstring at the stroke of the hour & was substituted as a precaution. As for Darren Fletcher, he was our unsung hero. He made important interceptions blocks on the Everton players throughout the game and seems to be finally getting back into his groove. Fletcher's energy should prove vital if we have to stay on course for a 20th league title.

4. Everton Need To Be More Clinical In Front Of Goal

Everton had 17 shots compared to United's 8, so the stats say. But they were still unable to find the net. Louis Saha often tried to do it all by himself, which shows lack of trust in his fellow teammates's abilities. Everton need to make most of their chances otherwise they will suffer by not scoring goals. On-loan Royston Drenthe was missed coz he is one possible outlet for goals for the Toffees. With limited resources in hand, it has to be seen if David Moyes can unearth someone from the academy ranks.

5. Wing Play Needs To Improve

Needless to say, Nani & Valencia weren't very effective while attacking today. Nani, when he shifted onto the left, was already less then half the player he usually is. Valencia seemed ineffective too most of the time. Maybe that's coz he played the whole 90 minutes at Aldershot during midweek. Ashley Young is out for two weeks due to injury, and he hasn't been so impressive either in the last few games. Giggs is also out & his experience was missed in big games like the Manchester derby. Manchester United's style of football demands our wingers to be on top of their form most of the time, and I personally feel it's time the players on the flanks stepped up their game by another level.

Hope you also enjoyed Arsenal's 5-3 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Always delighted to see those scum moneybags losing like that!

You can follow the author on Twitter @AbhinavCJ.

That's all!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fletcher - Derby Woe Could Linger

Darren Fletcher has admitted it could take Manchester United a while to recover from the 6-1 mauling at the hands of local - and title - rivals Man City on Sunday. United went down to their biggest defeat since 1955 as City ran riot at Old Trafford as they secured a famous triumph.

The win leaves Roberto Mancini's side five points clear of the champions but the manner of the performance and scoreline has caused shockwaves on the red half of Manchester with some suggesting the balance of power is now shifting. Those following the FA Cup betting odds may be wondering if the side can make a clean sweep of things this season, though United will be determined to stop them.

Fletcher admits the huge defeat is particularly difficult to stomach and feels for the United fans who will be subject to ridicule from their City counterparts.

He told MUTV: "Without doubt we realise how much stick and how much banter there will be for our fans.

"We know how much it is hurting, the players are hurting just as much.

"We have to live in the city as well so we are going to have to deal with it as well."

Fletcher, who scored United's consolation in the game, says they must bounce back from the heavy loss but conceded that may not necessarily be easy.

"We are disappointed, really disappointed, but we will have to bounce back.

"It is a problem to bounce back from a scoreline like this - nobody wants to lose by the margin we did."

United are next in action when they go to Aldershot in the Carling Cup on Tuesday and the football odds make them strong favourites to win.

However, boss Sir Alex Ferguson is likely to field a much-changed line up with the likes of Michael Owen, Dimitar Berbatov, Federico Macheda and Antonio Valencia among those set to get a run-out.

Monday, October 24, 2011

High Fives: Reactions To The Chastening Manchester Derby Loss

[This post first appeared on BigFourZa, where I write as a football columnist.]

Well, I'm speechless to think up even an introduction. From beating Arsenal 8-2 to getting run over 6-1 by City - how times change.  So let us just fast forward to the five things I observed from the humiliation this evening. Apologies in case you find your knees jerking after reading this.

1. Evans' Red Card Changed It All

Till the time Evans was sent off just after the interval, City were 1-0 up. With 10 men & chasing the scoreline, it was always gonna be an uphill task for United & they learnt it the hard way. City kept on launching counterattacks thereafter & the result was there for all to see. Also, our defensive discipline possibly took a flight out to Honolulu just alongwith Evans down the tunnel. Smalling at CB & Evra were caught out of position too many times, which is unforgiving in such a big fixture like this.

2. David Silva Can Be One of the World's Best Players

Everytime the ball fell to his feet, you knew that he'd do something magical. You just knew it. And boy, he didn't disappoint at all. Everytime he entered United's penalty area, most of the United players were confused whether to stop him or not as he dribbled past defenders with relative ease. He was pretty much unstoppable today & if he can carry on this sort of form throughout the season, he might be spoken of in the same tones as Messi & Ronaldo.

3. United Need That World-Class Defensive Midfielder

Anderson. Fletcher. Carrick. Cleverley. Gibson. Pogba. Now those names might be familiar to most Premier League fans, but they are quite short of the tag 'world-class'. Anderson went missing tonight completely, and he's too inconsistent for United quality. Carrick or Phil Jones is simply not the way out. Cleverley is blessed with creativity & the laid-back role is not for him. Pogba & loaned-out Tunnicliffe are still in their formative years & need more time. That simply means, we do need that hard man in midfield. Someone in the mould of Keane or Hargreaves, or say De Jong of our cross-town rivals City. Who can act as cover for the back four & can intimidate the opposition with crunching tackles. Whether one likes it or not, this kind of player has become a vital cog in most successful teams of modern football & we need one, that too desperately.

4. Balotelli Showed Why He Better Keep His Head In The Game

I read this morning that Mario Balotelli set his house on fire by blasting fireworks in the middle of the night. Well, that's nothing surprising given his history for keeping us entertained with his off-field antics. But he started the game ahead of Dzeko & justified Mancini's faith in him by scoring a brace. During his celebration after the first goal, he raised his shirt to reveal 'Why Always Me?' written under it. Well, I couldn't help but smile broadly thinking of the obvious answer. The problem with Balotelli is that he's just bit too eccentric for our tastes. If he can shift more of his focus to his on-field performances & maintain this kind of consistency (6 goals in his last 5 games), he's worth the trouble to hold on to at the club. Credit to Mancini for the way the Italian has handled him so far.

5. This is Not the End of the World, Please!

Okay, we were properly humiliated & now I know what it feels to be an Arsenal fan! (I'll make it a point to treat Gooners with more respect, I promise) Harsh reality check for the team who just gave in to City in the second half. But then, looking at it the other way, most of our toughest fixtures in the first half of the season are pretty much over, which will surely ease the pressure at the club. Let's not discount the fact that we had the toughest start to the season among all Premier League clubs, and we have emerged quite unscathed barring the defeat to City. Manchester United has always been about reacting to adverse situations, and I know in my heart that we will rise & fight back even harder than before. This is how it has always been, and I have immense faith in our manager that he will lift us out of the mess we looked against City. So cheer up my fellow Red Devils, and look forward to the occasion when our lads take the field next time. Go on, have a laugh about it. After all, you lived to see the day when United were steamrolled by City at Old Trafford. Coz you might not witness this EVER again.

You can follow the author on Twitter @AbhinavCJ. You can be friends with him on Facebook here.

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Rival Rendezvous: Battle of the Goliaths

It's being tipped as the biggest encounter in the Premier League this season, and rightly so. The powerhouses of Manchester lock horns & resume their rivalry this Sunday when Manchester City come to visit Old Trafford for the first Manchester derby (okay okay, the second!) against defending champions Manchester United. Being a top-of-the-table clash, this is no more David versus Goliath but Goliath taking on Goliath at the Theatre of Dreams. 

For this week's Rival Rendezvous, we managed to catch hold of Joe Moran, who is a lifelong City supporter, season ticket holder & also harbours a dream to be the CEO of his beloved football club one day. Joe gets candid, straightforward & quite blunt at times, as he answers the questions posed to him -

1. First up, what are your thoughts on the game this Sunday?

Joe: I think this Manchester Derby is one of the biggest in recent times, as well as being one of the biggest games of the season altogether. A win for either side will be priceless, not only in points, and obviously bragging rights, but a derby win can always become a platform for the side to use as momentum, and go on a winning streak.

With Mancini's new attacking ways, there will be goals. Not only is this derby one of the biggest, I think it will be one of the most exciting to date, too.

2. How do City fans view the Manchester Derby fixture? Has this become important only since the Abu Dhabi takeover (like in case of United fans) or has it been an important game to win always?
Joe: The derby has always been big for us, I feel, from when we had Macken upfront, to Sibierski, to Tevez. In the rather darker City days, the derby was the one time the team could give the fans something to shout about, as we wasn't exactly challenging for numerous titles.

To say United held the derby back then in the same regard would probably be false, as you could say then they had bigger fish to fry, but not anymore. The Manchester derby is again a more significant occasion than the Liverpool, Arsenal or Chelsea games.

3. Manchester City have spent over £300m in the last 4 seasons & won only a single trophy - the FA Cup last season. How much of that lavish spending is justified?
Joe: All of it. The majority of successful teams have established themselves through money. City are no different to Chelsea in terms of spending, and it's refreshing to see a new team challenging for titles.

4. Tell us your most favourite signing City has made since the Abu Dhabi royal family assumed reins at the club.

Joe: Top of the list has to be David Silva. He's only just completed his first full season here, and the first part of that was spent injured after winning the World Cup with Spain. Regardless, he was the difference last season and he has the ability to take us to another level. Right now he is one of the best players in the world, and £24m suddenly seems like a bargain.

Bargain for Brilliance
5. How do you rate Roberto Mancini as a manager?

Joe: I rate Mancini highly. I've had my doubts at points, but that's always going to happen. When he came, the team was just a collection of individuals, not anymore. He's assembled a very good team. He's managed to get some of the worlds best players together, as evidenced this season. I hope he remains at the helm for a long time to come yet. Roberto will only improve, and the team will improve alongside him.

Thumbs Up From The Fans Too!
6. Give us your thoughts on the Carlos Tevez saga.

Joe: I think how Tevez has treated the manager, team-mates and fans has been nothing short of a disgrace. You cannot get any lower than refusing to do your job. Tevez as a footballer is paid millions of pounds to do something he loves, how many of us would love this opportunity? Yet Tevez seems all too keen to squander it. He's a great player, one of the best to play for Manchester City, but when we rid ourselves of the poison that is Tevez, and his agent, Kia Joorabchian, the better it is for the club as a whole.

Sour Grapes For Everyone!
7. Back to the game, do you advocate City adopting an attacking style of play against Man United, also used against the lesser teams in the Premier League?

Joe: I really hope we adopt an attacking style for this game. With the attacking talents at our disposal, it would be a great shame if we did not exploit them. United's defence is nowhere near perfect, so by attacking we could really cause some serious problems.

8. Both Manchester teams played each other in the season's curtain raiser i.e. the Community Shield at Wembley & United won after making a fantastic comeback of sorts. What do you think went wrong for City that day?

Joe: I think we just lost concentration, and you could argue we were rusty, too. The City side you saw that day will be foreign to the one you'll see come Sunday afternoon. That's for sure.

9. Sergio Aguero is back in the team with a last-minute goal against Villareal in the Champions League. Will he be key against Manchester United, despite having never played them before?

Joe: Sergio could definitely be the key on Sunday. He's a world-class striker, one of the best in the world. His movement, control and finishing is second to none. If the game is a tight affair, he's the sort of player that could produce a moment of magic that could decide the game.

Can He Make The Difference For City?
 10. Who are the players you think will be significant for City, as well as United?

Joe: Firstly, Vincent Kompany will have to again put in a nearly perfect performance as the captain. Despite, his blip, Rooney is in top form, and he will be important in deciding which side of Manchester the three points go to. At the other end of the pitch, top scorer Sergio Agüero will also be a significant player for City. If Agüero maintains his form shown in the past few weeks, he could be the difference. The man supplying him, David Silva will also have a big part to play in proceedings. Without his creativity, we may become unstuck, but again, if David can carry on playing the way he has, the United defence will have their work cut out. Nani is a threat to us, he always seems to put in a sterling performance against us, and I'm worried if we can get to grips with him. If not, Nani can destroy us.

Talismanic Rooney - Saviour Again?
The Game Changers
11. Which has been your favourite Manchester Derby encounter till date?
Joe: My favourite derby so far has to be the first Etihad Stadium derby, where City ran out 4-1 winners. Back then, as I've said, it was one of the rare opportunities the team could give us something to shout about.

12. Tell us your predicted Manchester City starting lineup for the Old Trafford game.

Joe: Nasri and De Jong are doubtful, but if they are fit in time, I would slot them in for Milner and Barry, and push Yaya Toure back.
Joe's Predicted Man City Lineup
13. On a final note, your scoreline prediction for the game.
Joe: It's such a big game, nobody will want to lose, it will be a very anxious affair, so I'm going for a 1-1. Agüero for City, Rooney for United. It will be an exciting encounter, though.

I thank Joe for talking to Traffordshire County. You can follow him on Twitter @JoeMoran21.

You can follow the author on Twitter @AbhinavCJ. You can be friends with him on Facebook here.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

One Year On...

At this very moment on 20th October 2010, I started this blog then called ''. Then it became 'Traffordshire County', and yes - today we have completed a year! What a journey it has been for me since then! I'd like to thank everyone of our 20,000 readers in the past year who have loyally supported us all along, and also our well-wishers. And not to forget, my dearest friends on Twitter who always retweet links to my blog posts! We will keep doing our level best to ensure you enjoy reading the blog, besides making steady improvement in terms of content & quality.

Thank you once again, as I go back to devouring my cake...

That's all Folks!

You can follow the author on Twitter @AbhinavCJ.

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Ferguson Relishing Manchester Derby

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is licking his licks at the prospect of a domestic dust-up with local rivals Manchester City at Old Trafford on Sunday.

The Premier League champions huffed and puffed their way to a 2-0 Uefa Champions League win against Romanian title winners Otelul Galati in Bucharest on Tuesday thanks to two Wayne Rooney penalties.

The result moved the three-time winners into second spot behind Benfica in Group C - and the focus is now firmly on reminding Roberto Mancini's men that United remain the top dogs domestically.

A 4-1 rout against Aston Villa lifted City above United at the top of the table at the weekend and expectation is high among the blue contingent of Manchester that the Reds' rule of supremacy is nearing an end. Those looking at the football betting online will be expecting a close game on Sunday.

City have not beaten United at Old Trafford in all competitions since February 2008 – the 150th Mancunian derby – and on that day they snapped a losing run at the home of their rivals dating back to 1974. It was also the 50th anniversary of the Munich disaster.

Fans have seen Man United bowling over opponents this season their but the arrival of a raft of marquee signings, including the likes of David Silva and Sergio Aguero, has given weight to the suggestion that a power shift in Manchester is looming.

For his part, Ferguson will not entertain such a notion and is confident United's "noisy neighbours" will be brought back down a peg when the two sides clash on Sunday.

"The last couple of years they [the derbies] have become more intense and there is more importance attached to them," Ferguson told Sky Sports.

"On Sunday it's top of the league and second-top, and it really builds up into a fantastic prospect for everyone. I am looking forward to that."

Monday, October 17, 2011

EPL Weekly Round-Up: Even Stevens At Anfield, Man City Go Atop, Newcastle Still Unbeaten And More!

Defending champions Manchester United fared one better than their previous 3 encounters at Anfield when they managed to hold on to a 1-1 draw against arch-rivals Liverpool on Saturday. Sir Alex Ferguson
surprised one & all with his defensive approach when the team sheets were announced, by leaving regulars like Rooney, Nani, Chicharito & Anderson on the bench and giving Phil Jones his first start in midfield. Luiz Suarez, supported by the likes of Steven Gerrard & Charlie Adam continued to threaten the United defence without any result in a goalless first half. The second half brought out the best & worst of the Liverpool-Manchester derby, be it Suarez's unabashed theatrics, his alleged racial abuse towards Patrice Evra or some brilliant free-flowing attacking football on display. The hosts drew first blood in the 67th minute when Rio Ferdinand brought down Charlie Adam just outside the penalty box & captain Gerrard made no mistake in
sending his side ahead with the subsequent free kick. Manchester United sent on the attacking trio of Rooney, Nani & Chicharito, which paid immediate dividends when Chicharito headed in Nani's deflected corner to score the equaliser in the 80th minute. Liverpool tested Manchester United's young goalkeeper David De Gea in the final moments of the game, Henderson first with a well-measured volley & then when he failed to score with a free header. The final whistle meant that Manchester United have finally broken their losing streak at Anfield dating back to 2008.

How The Rivals Fared

Manchester City went on top of the league table, beating Aston Villa 4-1 at the Etihad Stadium. Mario Balotelli, who started as lone forward, scored with a magnificent strike in the 28th minute, followed by Adam Johnson & skipper Vincent Kompany in the second half. Stephen Warnock pulled one back for the Midlands club but former Villa midfielder James Milner inflicted further wounds with a 71st minute goal that sent the hosts two points clear of city rivals United, who are due to play them next weekend.

Chelsea strolled over to a comfortable 3-1 win over Everton at Stamford Bridge. Daniel Sturridge continued to impress one & all when he opened the scoring in the first half. John Terry & Ramires also registered their names on the scoresheet before substitute Vellios grabbed a consolation goal for the Merseysiders. The London club are still in third place, a point behind Manchester United.

Arsenal stumbled through a hard-fought 2-1 win at the Emirates over misfiring Sunderland. Talismanic skipper Robin van Persie scored both goals for the Gunners, one coming in the very first minute & the winner from a brilliantly-taken free kick. Ex-Arsenal player Sebastian Larsson's equally wonderful spot kick couldn't salvage anything for the hapless Black Cats, and Steve Bruce's side still float just above the relegation spots.

Newcastle held Tottenham to a exciting 2-2 draw at St. James Park & maintained their unbeaten streak in all competitions this season. Rafael van der Vaart put the visitors ahead in the first half but in-form striker Demba Ba equalised for the home side just after the interval. Defoe seemed to have sealed 3 points for the London club with a sleek left-footed finish but substitute Shola Ameobi struck for the Geordies four minutes from stoppage time to share the spoils. Newcastle United are still 4th in the league table, above the likes of
Liverpool, Spurs & Arsenal.

The current Top Four standings are as under:

Man City - 22 points

Man United - 20 points

Chelsea - 19 points

Newcastle - 16 points

The Weekly Verdict:

Team of the Week: Chelsea

Player of the Week: Robin van Persie

You can follow the author on Twitter @AbhinavCJ.

And do vote for the player you think is Wayne Rooney's best strike partner on the blog poll!

That's all Folks!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Rival Rendezvous: Paint It Red!

 The needless & boring international friendlies' break is pretty much over, and apart from Wayne Rooney's red card against Montenegro in a Euro 2012 qualifier, there wasn't anything that made headlines over the last few days. But I believe every Manchester United fan is now geared up for the big clash this weekend - yes it's Liverpool vs. Manchester United! So I searched Twitterverse & finally happened to catch up with Sid Alva, who has been an ardent supporter of Liverpool since he started watching the beautiful game. So here goes the first-ever conversation with a Liverpool fan on Rival Rendezvous -

1. First up, what are your thoughts on the game this Saturday?

Sid: Should be one hell of a game as usual. Looking forward to it this time because as much as I hate to admit it, United are in a rich vein of form at the moment which would make a victory for us so much sweeter.

2. Liverpool have made a fairly good start to the season. Do you think their current form will be enough to sustain a challenge for the top four?

S: We haven’t had an ideal start to the season, form wise it’s not been bad but I feel we still have to improve a little bit. We’ve got a lot more depth in our squad now and that is something we’ve not had for some time now, so that is definitely something that would help us because the battle for the top four gets tougher each season and like always it’s going to go down to the wire. Plus we have the added advantage of not having to make long European trips during the week. So I feel we should be able to mount a serious challenge for a spot in the top four.

3. Who do you think deserves most of the credit for Liverpool's surge in recent times - Dalglish, Comolli or FSG?

S: Tough to pick one actually. Kenny is the living embodiment of ‘the Liverpool way’ so there no one better to be in charge. His impact on the team and the way we play is there for everyone to see - right from bringing back ‘pass and move’ to adding quality to the coaching staff in the form of Clarke. Comolli’s done a pretty good job with the transfers so far [both in and out]. FSG are light-years ahead of our previous owners. Financially they’ve put us in a far better situation, they’ve invested quite a bit in new signings and just looking at the way they run the Red Sox, you know that the club is in good hands. So I’d say all 3 have had their part to play in our recent revival.

4. How happy are you with the signings the club has made in the last two transfer windows? Tell us your 3 favourite ones.

S: I don’t think you would be able to find any Liverpool fan that isn’t happy with the signings. Top 3 would be Suarez [the obvious choice], Enrique [cause LB has been a problematic position for us] and my last pick would be Downing [provides that natural width which we haven’t really had in some time].

5. Do Liverpool fans still miss Fernando Torres's once-upon-a-time goalscoring prowess, given Andy Carroll's Anfield career hasn't had the best of starts?

S: Fernando Who? I think Suarez has managed to flush out any residual feelings for Torres from our systems. Andy Carroll hasn’t had the best of starts here but I’m that he will come good and the goals will start rolling in soon.

6. Liverpool's fortunes have certainly changed under Kenny Dalglish. Do you think he can do better than Houllier & Benitez and bring the league title back to Anfield in say, the next couple of seasons?

S: It won’t be an easy task but I certainly think he can after all he’s done it before with us and with Blackburn.

7. Do you agree with the view that Liverpool have a problem of plenty in their midfield?

S: Not really. That was a problem before we offloaded the likes of Meireles, Poulsen, Cole and Aquilani. Right now the size of the midfield is ideal and there is healthy competition for spots which is great for the team.

8. Coming back to the game, who do you think will be the key men for both Liverpool & Manchester United in this game?

S: For Liverpool It would have to be Suarez, Carroll and Lucas. For United I’d say Rooney, Young and Nani.

9. Steven Gerrard is back from injury. Assuming he will indeed start, in what role would you like to see him in Liverpool's midfield against the Red Devils?

S: The wonderful thing about having a player like Gerrard is that he can pretty much play anywhere and still pull of an amazing performance - be it in the center of midfield, behind the striker or even on either side of midfield. For the United game I’d like to see him partnering Lucas in the center of midfield because I think defensively he gives you a little more than Adam does which I think we will need when facing a side like United.

10. Liverpool have had some problems at the back. Who do you prefer as the central defence pairing for the team?

S: I’d have to go with Carragher and Agger as my choice. Carra might be prone to the occasional mistake but no one comes close to his organizational skills, every team needs a leader at the back and Carra is that man. Agger when fit is one of the best ball playing defenders around.

11. Which is the most memorable Liverpool vs. Manchester United encounter you've ever watched?

S: If I was to pick only one it would have to be 1-4 at Old Trafford 2 years ago.

12. What's your probable Liverpool starting lineup for Saturday?

S: I think it should be Reina, Kelly, Carragher, Agger, Enrique, Lucas, Gerrard, Kuyt, Downing, Suarez, Carroll.
 13. On a final note, your scoreline prediction for the game?

S: Hoping for a Liverpool win but I'm going to have to say 2-2.

I thank Sid for talking to Traffordshire County. You can follow him on Twitter @4_ever_red.

You can follow the author on Twitter @AbhinavCJ.

The Traffordshire County app is now available on the Nokia Store. Click here to download it for free!