Soccer AM/MW - the home of lively and humorous discussion from the Football and Non Leagues

Monday, August 31, 2009

Big Match Review - Barnet 1 Notts County 0

League Two
Barnet 1-0 Notts County (Att: 2,858)
Saturday August 29, 15:00, Underhill

Big-spending Notts County were humbled by Barnet as Jake Hyde's injury time goal saw the League Two leaders slip to their second successive away defeat.

Off the back of two wins, it was the home side who started brightly, with John O'Flynn heading over Albert Jarrett's cross early on. Ian McParland's side responded though, with Lee Hughes' drive from just outside the box being tipped over by Bees keeper Jake Cole.

Just before the break, Notts thought they'd beaten Cole, when, after neat approach play, Ben Davies' cross was knocked in by Hughes at the far post. However, Davies was adjudged to be offside in the build-up and the sides went into the interval level.

O'Flynn once again wasted a good opportunity to give the Hertfordshire club the lead when a ball over the top caught out the County defence, but the forward could only drag his shot wide of Kasper Schmeichel's upright.

Down the other end, Ricky Ravenhill was denied when one-on-one with Cole, his low shot being parried away then cleared away from danger.

And Notts were punished for their profligacy in injury time. A cross from the right was headed down into the path of Hyde, who managed to spin and shoot through the legs of Schmeichel to steal the points for Barnet.

A reality check for the league favourites at Underhill, but a third win on the trot for Ian Hendon's men that sees them move above Notts in the table and into fourth.

Talking Points - August

All our articles from August 2009:

To be or Notts to be
Turls talks five year plans and why Notts County's ambitious plans are doomed to fail.

Getting Excited
Burton, Forest, and Newcastle, just some of the topics Turls discusses on the eve of the new season.

Norwich fans feeling sick as a Canary
Lakes on a traumatic weekend for Norwich as the Canaries slump to a 7-1 opening defeat.

Knee-jerk Norwich fire Gunn
Nobes reflects upon the sacking of Bryan Gunn as Norwich manager.

Palace rue luck of the bounce
Turls blasts the officials after they cost Neil Warnock's Palace at Ashton Gate.

Time to shake things up
Nobes explains why he wouldn't miss the 'big four' and suggests it's time to make a few changes to English football.

Ambitious Lambert accepts Norwich challenge
With Norwich appointing Paul Lambert as their new manager, Nobes takes a look at the Canaries new boss.

Is it ever about performances?
The lads discuss whether there's a time, in such a results driven industry, when performances actually matter? Or is just about those three precious points?

Supporting your side
Up on his soapbox, Nobes on why fans should be supportive of their side, rather than getting on their back.

Tykes call time on Davey
Nobes reflects on Simon Davey's departure as Barnsley boss, and the task of young managers at smaller clubs.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Tykes call time on Davey

If the delight of football is often in its unpredictability, Simon Davey's departure by mutual consent from Barnsley was anything but surprising.

Rooted to the bottom of the Championship with just a point from their first five matches, the Welshman always appeared to be on borrowed time.

Despite their stunning run to the FA Cup semi finals in 2008, constant battles against relegation have taken their toll on the Oakwell faithful, and the prospect of another was too much to take for owner Patrick Cryne.

Indeed, it seemed the 38-year-old never really won around Tykes fans. There are some managers that fans instantly warm to, even if they don't get results. For Davey, it seemed he had to win games to even begin to win support.

His situation reminds me of the final few weeks of Paul Simpson's reign at Preston. Towards the end of his Deepdale tenure, Simpson's side lost 1-0 at Davey's Reds, missing a late penalty. It was typical of the kind of luck that goes against managers when their time is nearing an end.

Back then, after a promising start to the season, it was Davey who was in the ascendancy, a contract extension soon followed, as did those heady Cup wins over Liverpool and Chelsea.

Championship survival was once again secured, and his stock was so high he was even linked with the assistant manager's job to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. Less than two years later, and he is out of a job - that's how quickly football can change.

Similarly for Simpson, after a great start with PNE, he was being touted for a return to former club Manchester City to take on the manager's job at Eastlands. In reality, he's now currently trying to rebuild his reputation in League Two with Shrewsbury.

What also links both however, is that they were both young managers at smaller second tier clubs. Simpson had only previously managed in League Two and the Conference before the move to Deepdale in 2006. Davey had only been the Academy boss in South Yorkshire before stepping up to the top job.

Attempting to get a club with few resources and a small budget competing is a difficult act, and even moreso for a young manager without the experience. Both struggled to adapt tactically, and whilst Davey's recruitments were often better, both failed to get the best out of the players they signed.

Barnsley was rookie Davey's first managerial job

However, while Preston fans may be frustrated by their side's constant play-off failures, and Barnsley supporters disappointed by their team flirting with the drop, are they expecting too much?

If there was some kind of award for overachieving at this level, then North End would probably get it. Crowds at Deepdale averaged around 13,500 last season - but Alan Irvine still managed to guide the club to their fourth play-off finish in nine seasons.

Across the Pennines, Barnsley attracted a similar average crowd to their home matches, and finished 20th. However, these was comfortably dwarfed by the attendances at all three of the clubs who went down - Norwich, Southampton, and Charlton.

It's further evidence of the fantastic job Irvine did last season, but also that Davey, or any Barnsley boss, will always have a tough task on his hands. However, try telling that to a Reds fan.

No club has spent longer in the second tier of the Football League than Barnsley. And why should they be satisfied with merely staying in the division when they attracted better gates than Burnley - who ended up being promoted to the Premier League.

If the Clarets, through a mix of fine management and a team of hard-working and talented players can do it, why not the Tykes? Resources do not have to be a barrier to success if the right recipe on the pitch, if not off it, can be found.

With a solid core of players already in place, that's what they'll be hoping for from Davey's successor.

As for the former manager, his record at Oakwell, as well as the exposure from that Cup run, should ensure he returns to the game sometime soon. However, for all the badges and courses, and the Welshman has them all, management is about much more than qualifications.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Nobes' Trivia Question Two

Here's another link for you to put your football knowledge to the test and try and work out.

Arsenal, Manchester City, Southampton, Leicester City, and Fulham are the only clubs to do this in the Premier League. What am I referring to?

The answer will be revealed on September 11.

And here's the ubiquitous Mastermind music to listen to whilst you ponder.

Nobes' Trivia Question One - solution

Two weeks ago, Nobes set his first trivia question:

Aston Villa, Chelsea, Ipswich Town, and Swansea City are part of a five club group. What links these clubs and which other Football League club completes the quintet?

Did you get the answer?

Well, the answer actually changed in the two weeks since the question was set! If you said Colchester United, then you would have been right, although the answer now is Norwich City.

That's because the U's were managed by Paul Lambert, who has now moved to Carrow Road.

Like Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill, Chelsea supremo Carlo Ancelotti, the Ipswich boss Roy Keane, and new Swansea gaffer Paulo Sousa, Lambert won the European Cup as a player.

He collected his medal with Borussia Dortmund, O'Neill won it as part of Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest side, Ancelotti was twice victorious as a player with AC Milan,
Keane at Manchester United, and Sousa with both Juventus and Dortmund.

Congratulations if you got the right answer, and Nobes will be testing you with another trivia question very soon.

Prediction League - Week Four

Things are getting officially exciting.

After a storming midweek session, Lakes has narrowed the gap at the top of the table to just a single point. His spot-on prediction for Preston's League Cup tie with Leicester saw him edge closer to the summit and continue a fine run of form predicting North End's fortunes.

Onto this weekend, and all three teams are in league action, including the big East Midlands derby at the City Ground. Boston also have an extra game on Bank Holiday Monday. As ever, three points are on offer for a spot-on scoreline, and one point for the correct result.

Ipswich Town vs. Preston North End

Lakes: Ipswich Town 2-1 PNE
Ipswich Town 1-2 PNE
Turls: Ipswich Town 1-1 PNE

Nottingham Forest vs. Derby County

Lakes: Forest 2-1 Derby County
Forest 2-1 Derby County
Turls: Forest 3-1 Derby County

Guiseley vs. Boston United

Lakes: Guiseley 1-1 BUFC
Guiseley 1-1 BUFC
Turls: Guiseley 2-1 BUFC

Boston United vs. Hucknall Town

Lakes: BUFC 2-0 Hucknall Town
Nobes: BUFC 2-1 Hucknall Town
Turls: BUFC 3-1 Hucknall Town

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Big Match Preview

League Two
Barnet vs. Notts County
Saturday August 29, 15:00, Underhill

Everyone, it seems, is talking about Notts County. Middle Eastern owners, big money being spent on big name signings being paid big wages, they're the closest thing League Two has to having a Manchester City.

The club that employ former England boss Sven Goran Eriksson as some kind of football director are currently riding high at the top of the basement division. However, County beware, a game against the men from Underhill has proved more than a banana skin for prospective League Two champions in the past.

Indeed, Barnet have had an encouraging start to the season themselves. After an opening day defeat to Lincoln, the Bees have collected seven points from their last three games, including successive 2-0 victories over Morecambe and Torquay.

Now under the guidance of popular former player Ian Hendon, the Hertfordshire club are targetting a place in the play-offs come May themselves. And with the goals of veteran Paul Furlong and the considerably younger but equally threatening John O'Flynn, scoring shouldn't be a problem.

They must almost be wishing this weekend's game was at Meadow Lane though. Since promotion back to the Football League, Barnet have beaten three of the four League Two champions on their own patch, and
last season were one of only two sides to win at champions Brentford.

As for the visitors, if new signing Sol Campbell didn't realise the level he's now playing at, a trip to Underhill should be good for concentrating the mind. With its infamous sloping pitch and antiquated feel, he'll be under no illusions that Notts are a long way from the Premier League dream they harbour.

Sol Campbell turned down offers from Premier League clubs to join Notts

However, barring a huge disaster, the squad assembled in the East Midlands should be more than good enough to secure the first of those three promotions come May. With the firepower of Lee Hughes, creativity of Ben Davies, Campbell at the back, and Kasper Schmeichel in goal, County have an embarrassment of riches.

Manager Ian McParland, who will undoubtedly be under huge pressure to deliver, needed a strong start and has got one. Three victories from their four games, including 5-0, 4-0, and 3-0 wins, see County at the League Two summit at this early stage.

However, you get the feeling if the side endure a bad run of form and look like wobbling, it won't be long before Sven finds himself in the dugout replacing the Scot. After all, it's hard to believe players like Campbell and Schmeichel signed for Notts because of their relationship with McParland.

Expectations are huge at Meadow Lane at the moment, and they will certainly be expecting to go to Barnet and win. However, the home side will always be competitive and will be full of confidence after their last couple of games.

This season won't be a procession for County, and although a win at Barnet could be an early marker that they have the steel needed to gain promotion, I think they may have to settle for just a point.

Nobes' Prediction: Barnet 1 Notts County 1

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Greatest Board in the Whole Wide World

Here it is, for your delectation and delight, an exclusive peek at the first entry from The Diary of the Greatest Board in the Whole Wide World, aka the Conference.

"I'm a little bit excited today. All of my buddies are coming round for a couple of cocktails. I also think me and some of the lads might play a bit of Pro Evo. I'm going to make sure I'm Liverpool because I love Fernando Torres. I wish Torres was in the Blue Square Premier!

"I'm trying to enforce a law where every Number 9 in the BSP has to grow their hair and wear a headband. It has to be better than this stupid 39th game idea that is being bandied around in the Premier League. Who knows, this revolution might finally get me noticed by Lordy T..... or maybe even Papa Blatter!

"Why can't someone like Chester City sign Torres. Bastards. I suggested that we impose another 25 point penality on them because of their refusal to play sexy football and sign sexy players, but everyone else thought it was a little harsh.

"On the upside, we put the names of all the clubs in the BSP in a hat and chose one of them to be our bitch for the 2009/10 season. I liked it so much that I had to go to the toilet for a bit.

"When everyone had gone home, I thought about how hard it is to be in charge of a football league and felt that I was one of the most under appreciated people in the country. No-one seems to realise how difficult it is to come up with ridiculous penalties and it's even harder to make sure they are properly enforced.

"When I was tidying up, I noticed that I had ran out of tonic water... decided to blame Chester City."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Supporting your side

On Saturday afternoon, over 1,500 fans watched Boston United open their UniBond League season with a 0-0 draw against Kendal Town.

To put that attendance into context, it was a better crowd than any other side at this level of the pyramid, as well as AFC Halifax Town beneath us. It also bettered every single attendance in the Conference North and South, and was higher than eight of the twelve Conference fixtures.

Only the matches at Oxford, Mansfield, Luton, and Wrexham, all former and traditional Football League clubs, were watched by more people than the game at York Street.

Furthermore, Pilgrims fans turned up in greater number than the 1000 Macclesfield fans who saw their game at home to Port Vale recently. The crowd was also more than the number of Barnet fans who saw their home win over Morecambe, and more than the crowd who saw Accrington's win over Lincoln.

All three of these were, of course, League Two games, where it must also be recognised that, as well as the quality and level of football being higher, the away club also brings more away fans with them to boost the attendance.

All this then is testament not only to the size of the club at Non League level, United are certainly a top half Conference club, but also the loyalty of the supporters in this corner of south Lincolnshire.

Few teams in Non League boast bigger gates than at Boston's York Street

So why then was Pilgrims joint boss Rob Scott criticising the United faithful in his post-match interview? Churlish surely, when so many had turned out to support their side during an economic recession where unemployment figures are some of the highest in the region.

Well, not in my view. After all, it's all very well having large attendances, and it's financially crucial to the club to keep getting gates which wouldn't look out of place in the Football League. However, what's the point in lots of fans turning up if they're not going to actually support the team?

Scott was unhappy with the impatience of the crowd towards a side radically overhauled during the summer. With so many new players on board, of course it is going to take for them to gel and for combinations and partnerships to click.

Fans should understand this, and support the players, not criticise and shout at them when a pass is mis-placed. When a striker misses a chance or a keeper makes a mistake, why barrack them? They're professionals, but they're human and make errors.

Can any of them honestly say they've never made an error during their job? I doubt it. And if they did, they didn't have 1,500 people there watching over them, ready to get on their back for doing so.

It's one of the reasons, I think, why our away form and performances was so much better last season than our home form. Now we are the big fish in a small pond, sides come to York Street to frustrate us, and get the crowd on our backs. It's a classic away side tactic.

Away from home, the pressure is off, the players feel more freedom to perform and express themselves, knowing every error won't be greeted with a chorus of boos and moans. It's all very well having a great quantity of support, what we need is quality support.

Some clubs are notorious for it. Years of underachieving at Wolverhampton Wanderers led to fans being very quick to turn on the players in Old Gold when they didn't get off to a good start. Molineux became a ground players weren't inspired in, but shrank and wilted under the pressure.

And what about Bradford City? Playing in-front of 13,000 in League Two might be great for the coffers, and good when the side are playing well. But when you're not, that's a lot of extra people to give the Bantams players grief. They must wish they were playing their football at the Moss Rose or Crown Ground.

Bradford attract the biggest crowds in League Two - but is it an advantage?

You only have to look at the success of Stoke City and Burnley to know the difference that a passionate, partisan, vociferous, and above all, supportive home crowd can make to a team.

Those players walking out at the Britannia Stadium and Turf Moor respectively must feel twelve feet tall (and with Stoke, some of them probably literally are) knowing they are going to have the full backing of their fans for 90 minutes.

And that's when 27,000 Potters fans, and 17,000 Clarets supporters become far more important and special than any number of Japanese tourists and glory hunters who set record top flight attendances at Old Trafford.

It's no surprise that both Burnley and Stoke have spent the majority of their recent years in the lower divisions, it's the home of true football supporters after all. But there's that word again, supporters - time to put the support back into it.


Prediction League - Week Three continued

As we speak, the lads are currently undergoing drug tests (not the first time, for one of them) to determine just whether or not their current good form in the prediction league is entirely legal.

Another stonking weekend of predictions saw both Lakes and Turls pick up four points, both predicting Preston's 2-0 win over Peterborough and then picking up a single point for predicting the correct result at York Street and Loftus Road, respectively.

However, it was league leader Nobes who extended his advantage at the top with a five point haul, correctly predicting Forest's 1-1 draw at QPR and getting the results for PNE and the Skyrockets right too.

Onto the action this midweek, and two League Cup games and one league game on the menu.

Nottingham Forest vs. Middlesbrough

Lakes: Forest 1-3 Middlesbrough
Nobes: Forest 1-2 Middlesbrough
Turls: Forest 0-2 Middlesbrough

Preston North End vs. Leicester City

Lakes: PNE 2-1 Leicester City
Nobes: PNE 1-1 Leicester City (PNE win on penalties)
Turls: PNE 1-1 Leicester City (PNE win on penalties)

Frickley Athletic vs. Boston United

Lakes: Frickley Athletic 1-2 BUFC
Nobes: Frickley Athletic 1-3 BUFC
Turls: Frickley Athletic 1-3 BUFC

Monday, August 24, 2009

Fan Files: Rochdale

Here at Soccer AM/MW, we like to believe we're the voice of lower league fans. Of course, in reality, we're probably not.

However, we do like to gauge what's really happening in the lower divisions, so what better way to find that out than ask the people who know best - the fans themselves.

In the first of a new series, we get the inside information on what life is really like in League Two, and who would know better than a Rochdale supporter.

Jon Hudson has been following the Dale for 15 years. He ranks the play-off semi final win
on penalties over Darlington in 2008, which took them to Wembley for the first time, as the greatest moment supporting his team.

The 2003/4 season holds less fond memories though as, after defeat to relegation rivals Macclesfield, and with struggling York having two games in hand, the Lancashire club were staring relegation to the Conference in the face.

Of course, they survived, and are now embarking on their 36th consecutive season in the basement division.

So then Jon, what's it like never having seen your team win promotion or be relegated? There must be a good percentage of Dale fans who've never seen either?

It is strange actually, because most other football fans have experienced the emotions that come with both situations. I wouldn't know how to approach a new season going into a new division because everything I have ever known has been geared towards League Two football.

You would need to be at least 40 to remember the last time we changed divisions, which is amazing really, so you would think that at least a quarter of Dale fans have never seen us in a different division.

What's it like seeing sides like Hull in the Premier League, and Plymouth and Scunthorpe in the Championship? These were sides you were playing regularly not so long ago?

Again, it is a bit odd because, as you say, we were playing these sides every year for a long time. It does make you a bit jealous, but the reality is that Hull and Plymouth are far bigger clubs than ourselves and always had much more potential.

I suppose we should be looking at what Scunthorpe have achieved in trying to become a side that can challenge at the top end of League One, but I can't see it happening any time soon!

Re-developed, but Spotland has been a
basement division ground since 1974

League Two has a reputation for being a division of cloggers and ruffians, is that fair and accurate?

I think that would have been fair about 15 years ago. When I started supporting Rochdale all that seems to stick in my mind is rock hard centre backs that just hoofed anything that came near them as far as possible!

Our average age was probably just over 27, and full of journeymen. If you look through our team today you find a squad of young, very technically gifted players and over recent years this approach seems to be gaining popularity as a new breed of manager seems to be appearing.

If you look at the likes of Andy Scott, Jim Gannon, our own Keith Hill, and even Alan Knill at Bury, everyone seems to carry such a fresh modern approach to things, which is good to see.

The division seems to be a mix of stars of the future, and stars of days gone by. Any names stand out that you never expected to see Dale playing against, or who you never expected to make it big?

I think the most high profile player that I ever saw at Spotland has to be Peter Beardsley when he played for Hartlepool at the end of his career.

I remember it creating interest at the time, although he obviously didn't add many onto the 1,943 crowd at ours! Paul Gascoigne joining Boston was another big surprise, although he didn't play against us.

There have been a few transfers from this division which I have questioned, to be honest.

The most recent one is Reuben Reid to West Brom. He is a good player, but his attitude has always been in question and I would have never had him down as Premier League standard, which is obviously what they are aiming for at the Hawthorns.

I also never expected to see Patrick McCourt (right) make it after he left us, but credit to him. He went home and got his life back together and is now playing for Celtic! I saw him playing for them in the Wembley Cup in pre-season and he went on a trademark mazy run past four Spurs defenders. I'd love to see him break into the side and do really well there.

So, back to the current day, and what about your manager, Keith Hill, tell us about him. He doesn't seem to have put a foot wrong since he took charge?

It's funny how things can turn out sometimes. I had my doubts when he was appointed, how often do you see the usual honeymoon, but after two 4-0 wins, how can you not give the guy the job full time?

The second half to the 2006/7 season was the best football we have ever played, in my opinion. We just went into every game with no pressure and scored so many goals it was untrue. To go from second bottom to just missing out on a play-off space in 23 games is amazing.

The pressure was on us to achieve in our centenary season, and it would have been easy to revert to typical Rochdale, but Hill put together a great squad and took us to Wembley for the first time in our history - and all in his first full season as a manager.

Again, the pressure was on after the play-off final defeat, but we went again and finished in the top seven in successive seasons for the first time since the 1940s.

He will have a tougher job this year as budgets have been cut, but he has to go down as our best manager ever for me. What he has done throughout this club has been absolutely first class.

Rochdale boss Keith Hill has enjoyed great success in Lancashire

So, after a couple of recent misses, could this finally be Rochdale's year for promotion?

If I'm honest, no, I don't think we will get promoted this season. The cut in the playing budget has left us thin in terms of numbers, but we still have a quality starting line-up.

However, the sale of Adam Le Fondre has left us short of a quality finisher, and we are still looking for a replacement for Glenn Murray. I still think we will be top half, but can't see us pulling up any trees this time around.

Any other tips for League Two this season? Sides you expect to struggle or succeed? And which teams have impressed you to date?

Well, I don't think I'm going to surprise many people with my tips here.

It's looking like Notts County are just going to have too much quality in the long run. I didn't think they would actually start that well with so many new players, but they just have so much money that surely they can't make a mess of it, although questions still remain over their manager Ian McParland for me.

Again no surprises, but Accrington are going to be in for another long, hard season. With their crowds and low budget they've done well to stay here for three seasons, but I think this time is going to be one too far.

So far I have personally seen Port Vale, Aldershot, and Cheltenham, and haven't been impressed with any of them. In fact, if we hadn't been missing that slight cutting edge, we'd have comfortably beaten all three of them.

So finally then, Jon, tell us, what's the best thing about being a Rochdale supporter?

It might sound odd, but I think it has to be our uniqueness in never moving anywhere. It is our unique selling point and sets us apart from other small league clubs.

We are a small bunch of fans, but very loyal and with a good sense of humour, and there is just the pride in following our home town team that is very unsuccessful but has achieved simply by surviving.

I believe that if we do achieve that elusive promotion it will mean far more to us than it would to the supporters of any other club.

Jon, thanks very much for your time.

Soccer AM/MW would also like to thank Jon for his expert IT skills in creating the banners which adorn the top of this blog.

If you'd like to represent your club in The Fan Files, get in touch with us.

Is it ever about performances?

The new football season may only be a few weeks old, but results are every bit as important now as in May. With one Football League manager already out of work, it's imperative to get off to a good start.

So, as we prepare ourselves for bosses up and down the country declaring that, "this afternoon wasn't about the performance, it was about the result," the lads discuss whether, in such a results driven business, it's ever about the performance?

Nobes: Surely it's just about results? Whether it's at the start of the season when new players are trying to gel, or January on a poor pitch when you've half your team out, or when it's Spring and you're in the promotion push or relegation scrap.

It's just about putting points on the board, isn't it?

It's hard to pick, isn't it? I suppose one way of looking at it is: if you get the result then you've put in the performance, regardless of how pretty it looked.

But are football fans really going to be willing to pay £30-40 to watch a diabolical game which you manage to win 1-0? An excellent case in point is the attendances of Birmingham City.

They had a very good year last year and although they averaged over 18,000, they finished behind Nottingham Forest and Derby in the attendance table (who both finished in the bottom half of the league.)

Admittedly, Forest and Derby are well-supported clubs with rich histories, but Birmingham's attendance's this year have also been disappointing.

That's true, with rising ticket prices, a quality performance and "day out" experience becomes more paramount with each passing season.

Does anyone seriously want to pay £26 to watch a no-score draw, or a 3-0 home drubbing? Fans sometimes get angry at wins, because we haven't won by a substantial enough scoreline (although that's more common with clubs like West Brom.)

Turls: And that brings me to my point. I think it all depends on the team you support. As the team becomes more consistent in its success, expectations get higher, this means that your team is expected to not only win, but to win in style.

Compare this with a team who is battling relegation. Teams become "ugly" to try and get the win and the fans don't care how they win, as long as they stay in the league.

A West Brom fan is more concerned with performance than a Blackpool fan. however, this doesn't mean Blackpool fans don't expect a good performance, it just means that the definition of a "good performance" differs. In football, "good" is a sliding scale.

Alex McLeish's Birmingham won promotion last season
despite many unconvincing performances

Nobes: Could you say then, that successful sides are expected to give good performances? If we take your earlier example of Birmingham last season, they played dreadfully in many games, but still got the results, and were promoted.

Did their fans really care at the end of the season how promotion had been achieved? Surely the end justifies the means. All fans really care about is their team doing well - playing well is a bonus.

Lakes: Performances are important for a number of reasons, though. Firstly - if you've got a team that's scraping through games week-in, week-out how do you pick your best players? There's a difference between individual and team performances.

But surely individuals can play well even if, as a whole, the team wasn't very convincing? I hate to use Birmingham again as an example, but they weren't playing well and keeping clean sheets. Therefore, Alex McLeish knew his defenders were playing well.

I suppose the main question is, as Turls says, what actually quantifies a good performance?

For Preston, a win for me is a good performance. But there are fans that differ in that opinion - you only have to log on to the PNE forum to see that. Some fans complain the passing isn't fluid enough, some disagree with the formation, others think individual players could have done better.

Turls: I think fans tend to have differing ideas over what to expect whether you are at home or away.

If you're at home to Scunthorpe on a Saturday afternoon, then you expect Forest to play good football and entertain the fans with an exciting win.

However, if you're away to Scunthorpe on a Tuesday night in December, the fans are looking for a result more than anything. Away from home it is more difficult to play the football the fans want and I think a good fan accepts this.

Yeah, I'd definitely agree with that. I expect to be entertained and the side to give a better performance at home than away. There's nothing worse than a long trip home after an away game without anything to show for your efforts.

Ultimately though, when you come out of the ground at 5pm and your team has won, you feel fantastic. When they've lost, you feel down.

And often, those times when you've won and played poorly feel the sweetest, and the times you've played well and lost feel the worst.

That's true, at the end of the day, football is all about doing well in your league. And doing well in your league is all about getting the three points, regardless of how you manage it.

I've heard empty promises of attractive, fluid, expansive football before. What really matters to me as a North End fan is grinding the results out and getting to the top of the league, against all the odds, season after season.

Turls: For me, as long as the lads give 100%, you can't ask for anymore than that and if they end up losing, then it was always meant to be.

Big Match Review - Cardiff 3 Bristol City 0

Cardiff City 3-0 Bristol City (Att: 20,853)
Sunday August 23, 13:15, Cardiff City Stadium

Rampant Cardiff made it two wins out of two at their new ground as they returned to the top of the Championship table on after a convincing win over previously unbeaten Bristol City.

The home side were dominant in the first half, and could have taken the lead within the first quarter of an hour when Liam Fontaine blocked Chris Burke's shot after the midfielder had rounded Robins keeper Dean Gerken.

Gerken then made a great save to deny Joe Ledley before getting himself into a bit of a pickle with a poor clearance that Paul Quinn could only send wide of the vacant goal.

It was no surprise when Dave Jones' side eventually did take the lead then - Jamie McCombe turning in Adam Matthews' low cross into his own net, eight minutes before the interval.

It seemed to stir the Westcountry side into action, and after David Marshall saved a McCombe header from a free-kick, Marvin Elliott hit the post with the rebound.

And City were soon punished for their profligacy as Michael Chopra lifted the ball over Gerken and into the net in first half stoppage time to double Cardiff's advantage.

2-0 became 3-0 midway through the second half, Burke's through ball allowing Gavin Rae to slot the ball low past the keeper and send the home team top on goal difference.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Big Match Preview

Cardiff City vs. Bristol City
Sunday August 23, 13:15, Cardiff City Stadium

You wouldn't be too far wrong describing this as the biggest game at Cardiff City's ground. Then again, this being just the second game at the club's new 22,000 capacity arena, that's not too risky a statement to make.

However, as the cities of Cardiff and Bristol prepare to do battle in the Severnside derby, both sides know this season there's more than local bragging rights at stake. Three games in and the Bluebirds and the Robins are flying high.

It's been an excellent start to the season for Dave Jones' side. Cardiff missed out on the play-offs by virtue of scoring one goal fewer than Preston last season. And, allied to having to settle into a new stadium, and many observers expected a bit of a hangover effect and for them to get off to a slow start.

A thumping 4-0 opening day win over Scunthorpe, followed by a point at Blackpool and away win at Plymouth in midweek, and the Welsh club top the table at this early stage.

Striker Michael Chopra, signed on a permanent basis in the summer, scored a hat-trick in that game at Home Park, and has already bagged six goals this term. Along with the attacking power of Jay Bothroyd, Joe Ledley, and Ross McCormack, and it's no surprise why Cardiff have been tipped to do so well this season.

A new era for Cardiff: City's new 22,000 stadium

However, Sunday's game is likely to be their toughest examiniation of the season to date. Gary Johnson's visitors have also notched up seven points from their first three games, and also sit in the top six.

City squandered a two goal advantage late on to draw at Preston on the opening day, but have followed that up with two 1-0 home successes over Crystal Palace and QPR.

The first of those, of course, featured the highly controversial refereeing decision where a clear Palace goal was missed by all the officials. Nicky Maynard's goal at the death eventually sealed the win for City, and with luck like that, perhaps this could be a good year for the Westcountry club.

Manager Johnson has been operating with a 3-5-2 system that proved successful during pre-season and with Maynard and summer signing David Clarkson up front, along with former Celtic man Paul Hartley pulling the strings in midfield, Bristol will travel over the Severn confident of getting a result.

This game has the potential of being very exciting, with both sides liking to play attractive football with plenty of attacking power. It'd be very surprising if we don't see any goals, and this one could well end all even.

Nobes' Prediction: Cardiff City 2 Bristol City 2

Prediction League - Week Three

A dramatic midweek round of predictions saw Nobes' lead at the top cut to three points, but it could have been down to just one.

After a seemingly audacious prediction of Watford winning at Forest 3-2, Lakes was on course, along with a point for predicting a Preston win at Barnsley, for four stunning points. However, a fourth Watford goal deep into stoppage time meant he only had one from the match at the City Ground.

Nobes scored the first blank of the competition, and Turls picked up a solitary point for the correct result for North End's game in South Yorkshire

Onto this weekend, and all three teams are in league action with Boston hosting their first home game of the campaign, Forest on the road as they search for their first win, and Preston at Deepdale, hoping to register their first victory on home soil.

Preston North End vs. Peterborough United

Lakes: PNE 2-0 Peterborough United
Nobes: PNE 2-1 Peterborough United
Turls: PNE 2-0 Peterborough United

QPR vs. Nottingham Forest

Lakes: QPR 1-2 Forest
Nobes: QPR 1-1 Forest
Turls: QPR 2-2 Forest

Boston United vs. Kendal Town

Lakes: BUFC 2-2 Kendal Town
Nobes: BUFC 1-1 Kendal Town
Turls: BUFC 2-1 Kendal Town

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ambitious Lambert accepts Norwich challenge

Norwich City, it seems, are determined to make this season a memorable one. Just two weeks into their first campaign in the third tier for 50 years, and Carrow Road has witnessed another remarkable twist.

After a 7-1 opening day defeat to Colchester, and the sacking of boss Bryan Gunn, his replacement is Paul Lambert, the man who led the Essex club to that resounding victory. A funny old game, indeed.

Forgetting whether or not the result was the catalyst for Gunn's departure, the question surely must be asked, had Colchester not beaten Norwich on the opening day, or even only won by a single goal, would Lambert be taking over the reins at the Canaries?

Rarely in the history of the game, it could be said, can one result seem to have had such incredible consequences.

Perhaps that's harsh on the 40-year-old though, who has so-far shown an increasing capability as a manager. After a spell at Livingston, the former Celtic man joined League Two side Wycombe in 2006 where he led the club, unsuccessfully, to the play-offs.

After resigning his post at Adams Park, he returned to the game in October last year to replace the sacked Geraint Williams at the Weston Homes Community Stadium.

Lambert will be expected to win promotion with Norwich

The U's, who were 20th in the division when he took over, eventually finished the season in the top half, and currently top League One after two wins out of two this term. Lambert's stock has never been higher.

His relationship with new City chief executive David McNally, whom the Scot knew from his time at Parkhead, is also crucial in this move. McNally, who was influential in the removal of Gunn, always wanted his own man in charge.

The move is a gamble on a young manager who has never won promotion in his managerial career though. And, with the Canaries needing to return to the Championship as quickly as possible, the pressure will be on Lambert from the off.

Unlike his predecessor, and Peter Grant, who also suffered a torrid tenure in Norfolk, Lambert does at least have experience of management. Crucially too, he knows the lower divisions and what it takes to get a side challenging at the top end.

Also important is a sign that he is learning as a manager. In his first season at Wycombe they finished 12th, the next season 7th. And it's difficult to imagine he would have led Colchester to a lower position than last season.

As for Colchester, this represents a huge blow for the club, who appeared to be in for a season of challenging for a return to the second tier they were relegated from in 2008.

Challenging at the top is now what will be expected from Norwich. And, should Lambert's career continue on its current upwards trajectory, then both him and City can look forward to bigger and better things in the future.


Time to shake things up

Next May, two of Europe's biggest clubs will meet in the final of the Champions League. Nothing new there, you say, and you're right. However, for the first time in the competition's history, the game will be played at the weekend.

It's my personal view this is the latest step towards the creation of a competition that will see these so-called European giants break away from their respective domestic competitions and create their own Super League.

Now Arsene Wenger's admission that he believes such a competition is likely to be formed 'maybe in 10 years' gives further credence to such an idea. And you know what - it might be a good thing all around.

You wouldn't know it, but English football is in its most worrying condition for a long time. At a time when the world is suffering the greatest economic challenge since the Great Depression of the 1930s, the beautiful game appears oblivious to the outside struggles.

As lower league clubs like Darlington and Bournemouth struggle to stay in business, Manchester City have being spending hundreds of millions of pounds on players, and Chelsea have decided John Terry is worth paying £200,000 a week to.

League Two Darlington came close to
going out of business this summer

How can English football, celebrated all over the world for its history and 92-club Football League system, sustain itself in its current state? As the haves become fewer, and the have-nots increase almost by the day, it is simply a matter of time before competition in football is determined purely on money.

All in all, the game is in need of a bit of a shake-up.

So, if Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool et al. want to go and join a European League, let them. The monopoly of the big four has become so boring that it's taking any joy and surprise out of the wonderful unpredictability of football.

In the meantime, before they do join their league, let's open up the Champions League cash cow by giving a place in it to the FA Cup winners. In one fell swoop the glory of the greatest cup competition would be restored, and with just three league places - one of the big four will miss out - unless they win the Cup.

At least then we'll see some rotation in who is receiving all this European money, and it may force the big clubs to run themselves more properly, not relying on the Champions League they need and expect to get. Leeds gambled on receiving it every year - and look what happened to them.

It's also time to restore some worth back to the League Cup. If it's the trophy representing the Football League, then let's make it purely a competition for the 72 teams below the Premier League.

Scrap the Johnstone's Paint Trophy, and let's see League Two and League One
sides making the semi-final and final. We've seen in recent years that Cup runs for sides like Burnley, Wycombe, and Tranmere mean so much more to fans of those clubs than the top ones.

It's time to see clubs like Oxford
(in 1986) winning the League Cup again

How refreshing and enjoyable would it to start out in a competition not knowing who is likely to be in the last four? How much better was the FA Cup in 2008 when the likes of Cardiff, West Brom, and Barnsley were in contention? This is how the League Cup could become every year.

A League Cup run could then become as profitable as one in the FA Cup, giving clubs life-preserving money. And I for one would be far more interested in seeing Sheffield Wednesday and Coventry in a final than the same old teams we see now.

It's time to restore some unpredictability and excitement back into football. If variety is the spice of life, then the game is badly lacking some at the minute.

If United, Arsenal, and Chelsea fans think they're excited about the prospect of a European Super League - they should take a look at the rest of us.


Prediction League - Week Two continued

The lads all continued their impressive start to the Prediction League at the weekend, but it was Nobes, with a six-point haul, who re-established a lead at the summit.

Two late goals for Doncaster against Preston, and FC United against Boston, saw him move four points clear of Turls, with Lakes a further point behind.

Two Championship games this evening for the lads to forecast.

Barnsley vs. Preston North End

Lakes: Barnsley 0-1 PNE
Nobes: Barnsley 1-1 PNE
Turls: Barnsley 1-2 PNE

Nottingham Forest vs. Watford

Lakes: Forest 2-3 Watford
Nobes: Forest 2-0 Watford
Turls: Forest 3-1 Watford