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

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Talking Points - September

Chewing the fat in September 2009:

Boothroyd aims to bounce back with U's
As he's appointed the new manager at Colchester, Nobes examines the career of former Watford boss Aidy Boothroyd.

Impatient Imps dismiss Jackson
Stand well back... Nobes in full flow as he sticks the boot into Lincoln for sacking manager Peter Jackson.

Cobblers give Gray the boot
Nobes reacts to the fourth sacking of the new season - Stuart Gray at League Two Northampton Town.

The Sack Race
With four managers already gone in the Football League, the lads sit down to discuss the 'Sack Race' and the pressure on managers to succeed.

Robins' Reds Test
Nobes assesses the appointment of Mark Robins, as the Rotherham boss makes the move to become Barnsley's new manager.

Stanley strive to survive
Nobes reports on financially-striken Accrington's fight to raise the money they need to survive.

Billy Davies - Saint or sinner?
Controversial, talented, a saint or a sinner? Turls and Lakes discuss former Preston, and current Nottingham Forest, boss Billy Davies.

North End ruled by the bottom line
After the sale of defender Sean St. Ledger to Middlesbrough, Nobes argues Preston's problem is a lack of courage, not money.

A Lost Sol
Nobes' observations on Notts County after big-name signing Sol Campbell walks out on the club after less than a month.

Millers go back for Moore
As Ronnie Moore returns to manage League Two Rotherham, Nobes looks at his re-appointment.

Back To The Future?
Nobes considers whether or not it's a good idea for managers to ever return to a club for a second spell in charge.

Lincoln take gamble on Sutton
Chris Sutton's appointment as Lincoln boss represents a huge gamble, says Nobes.

Editorial 2

It's been another hectic month here at Soccer AM/MW.

Yet again, we've produced our usual smorgasbord (that's my new favourite word) of lower league football related content. Particular highlights for me were putting the current Forest and former Preston manager Billy Davies in the spotlight.

Also, our experiment in seeing how far a transfer rumour could go was a piece of genius from Lakes. It's good to see three years of work and thousands of pounds worth of debt on a journalism degree have finally come to good use.

In slightly less good news, things have begun to stall on the prediction league, with all of the lads' fortunes taking a turn for the worse.

Judging by discussion in the Soccer AM/MW office (not a real one) it's almost become the competition that everybody wants to, but nobody thinks they will, win. Somehow I'm still leading, but I don't expect that to continue. See what I mean?

We'll all be fighting fit for the coming month's fixtures though, especially after, I regret to report, Dr Lakes, ironically, came down with a bout of the old swine flu this month.

Thankfully, he made a full recovery and will be back monitoring the fortunes of clubs in the near future. We'll also have the latest from dodgy agent Harry Small, who has a new client to ruin the career of.

Also coming up in October we have the Soccer AM/MW quest for the ideal Championship. Usually people like to discuss who the biggest 20 teams are in the country, well we're going to construct the division below, including the next biggest 24.

Something else we're looking at is creating an email service that you can subscribe to, allowing us to let you know about all the great and not-so-great content that we've been sticking up on here. We'll keep you posted on that.

As ever, if you want to get in touch with us, whether it's to say how great the site is (send those in especially), how I shouldn't be giving Lincoln such a hard time (not going to happen), or how accurate my Big Match predictions have suddenly become (had to slip that fact in) then drop us an email.

The address to send anything to, including if you wish to take part in our Fan Files is: soccerammw@gmail.com. And despite the first two, you don't have to be called John to take part!

Thanks for reading and have a good October.


Fan Files: Chester City

Our series of interviews with supporters continues with a look at what's going on at Conference crisis club Chester City.

The Cestrians were relegated from the Football League last season, and began the season with a huge points deduction. We spoke to City fan John Murray to give us the lowdown on events at the Deva.

He first went to see City play 17 years ago, and rates their promotion to League One in 1994 and reclaiming their Football League spot in 2004 as his best moments.

Unsurprisingly, he sees the current crisis engulfing the club as the lowest point during his time following Chester's fortunes.

So then, John, from the outside looking in, it seems like there's been a total horror show experienced at Chester. Can you try and sum up exactly what has happened at the Deva in the past year or so, and what it's been like to be a fan?

I think there's a genuine fatigue and sense of hopelessness at the moment. For as long as I've supported the club, we've never had a chairman who has cared about the club at all and I think the fans are beginning to get a bit sick and tired of having to fight just for the club's existence again and again.

On the field, we had a disastrous campaign last year and the fact that we still went down even though four teams had points deductions says everything.

For reasons best known to the board or managerial team - who assembled the squad is anyone's guess - we put together a young, inexperienced team full of small central midfielders, leaving us woefully exposed at the back and without a recognised striker.

This problem was never addressed, in fact we only signed one player during the season, Eddie Johnson, who left a few months later.

Predictably, the inexperience of the squad was often exposed and we were on the wrong end of several thrashings, most notably at Rochdale and Dagenham both of whom put six past us.

What's the story with your owner Stephen Vaughan then? He seems to be at the core of what's rotten at the club?

He came to us accused of crippling Barrow and has done the same to us. He's an absolute nightmare and the worst kind of chairman possible.

The previous three chairmen, Eric Barnes, Mark Gutterman, and Terry Smith, were all bastards but they were fairly easily hassled out of the club and had the fans united against them.

Vaughan (left) has divided the support to an extent, partly by giving us an admittedly enjoyable first couple of years which seem a long time ago now, but also by maintaining a small but very gobby and aggressive bunch of 'brown-nosers' who act as his spin machine on Devachat, the most popular internet fans' forum for the club.

Also, unlike the previous three, people are afraid of Vaughan. It's no secret that he has strong links with the criminal underworld.

He is mentioned in the biography of notorious gangster Curtis Warren, and in a game a couple of years ago, we were asked to observe a minutes' silence for a Colin Smith, apparently a generous club benefactor.

News broke in the local papers shortly after that Mr Smith was a former right hand man of Warren and one of Liverpool's most well known gangsters. Curiously, the club's funds have also dried up since his demise.

I just can't understand why Vaughan is still here, he's an unfathomable man. I've come to the conclusion that he's just a thug and a bully who always has to be the 'main man', and doesn't care how badly the ship is sinking as long as he's still the captain.

So, are Chester out of the woods when it comes to off-the-field issues then, can everyone get back focussing on matters on the field of play?

Not really. It's very hard to focus on the football side of things when there are serious doubts over whether we'll even last the season.

Recent accounts published by the club make grim reading and suggest that no-one at the club has a clue - one classic example that jumps out is that we are apparently paying more money to produce matchday programmes than we are generating by selling them.

Crowds are dwindling - some fans are boycotting, others are just fed up. It's a very worrying time for the club and it's got to the stage where I'm not even that bothered about results anymore.

How was relegation from the Football League greeted, and how is everyone taking being back in the Conference?

It feels like the start of a slow death. I think most of us knew we weren't going to last long in the League the way we were being run, we had pushed our luck a bit in previous seasons and this time it ran out.

It didn't feel the same as the first time. When we went down in 2000 it all seemed so unfair, this time it almost felt like it served us right.

Chester were relegated from the Football League for a second time last season

Playing in the Conference again is gutting because we worked so hard to get back into the League, but Vaughan's attitude since then has been pathetic and he's totally undone all the good work put together during those years through his own stubbornness, arrogance, and stupidity.

But it's not really the standard of football or the level we're playing at that bother me, it's the off the field events that really upset me.

There are things that happen at this club that you just don't expect to have to deal with when you start following a football club, like hearing about fans being threatened, using the official website for humiliating supporters and, as mentioned, holding minutes' silences for gangsters.

Tell us about your manager, Mick Wadsworth, the job was a bit of a poisoned chalice. He's got a tough task on his hands, so how's he doing?

As well as can be expected really. I like Wadsworth (right), but no manager has been allowed to manage this club since we got back into the League, there's just so much interference from above.

If it's not to do with Vaughan's useless sons occupying the starting eleven, it's his ridiculous declarations in the press about who we're trying to sign.

It's odd that despite going through so many managers, we continue to be linked with the same players.

At the end of the day, he has no budget, no support from the board, home crowds are dropping below 1,000, and he's being asked to asked to claw back a 25-point deduction with a team of kids and Scouse has-beens/never-weres.

Fair play to him for taking the job, but he can't do it and neither could anyone else.

You started on -25 points, that's now down to -14, what do you think your chances are of beating the drop on the pitch? Can you catch up with enough teams to survive?

Absolutely not. We need play-off form just to stay up, and we don't have a squad with anything like enough depth and quality to achieve that, in fact we'd probably be battling against relegation even without the deduction.

We're still 24 points from safety, so in effect we're going into October having only moved a point nearer to 20th place than we were to start off with. A realistic target this season would be not to finish bottom.

I think that's doable as, although the Conference is getting stronger and stronger, there's still some real dross in it.

On another note, I'd also like to say that I think these massive points deductions are completely counter-productive.

They're still happening often enough to suggest that they're not working as deterrents and all they do is punish everyone connected with the club for something that's entirely the fault of one man who doesn't care anyway.

What do you see the future of Chester City FC being?

It has to be a fans-run club in one shape or form.

Positive movements have been made by the supporters' clubs in recent months. For a start, the Independent Supporters' Association and the Supporters' Trust are merging under the name City Fans United.

I think this is a step in the right direction as part of the problem is that we're too divided as a set of supporters and a club the size of Chester doesn't need fragmented supporters' groups.

The club just can't continue with Vaughan at the helm and I think we need him out at any cost.

Times are still tough at Chester's Deva Stadium

So finally, what's the best thing, if anything at the moment, about being a Chester City supporter?

What makes me more proud than anything to be a Chester supporter is that we've always managed to pull through eventually.

There can't be many clubs who've had as much flung at them at us over the last 20 years or so, including losing our ground, spending two years in exile, two relegations out of the league, four awful chairmen, countless winding up orders, nepotism, boycotts, embargos, and almost not being allowed to kick off this season.

We're still just about clinging on though, and that's because the supporters have always cared even when no-one else did. And even now I know that Vaughan won't be here forever but Chester City FC, one way or another, will.

John, thanks for speaking with us.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Prediction League - Week Eight continued

Another poor weekend saw just a point apiece accrued for Nobes and Turls, and Lakes register nothing. Nobody saw Boston's defeat at Lowestoft in the FA Cup on the horizon, nor Preston's impressive win at Leicester.

Forest's win at Plymouth meant that Nobes opened up a two-point advantage at the top though, and Turls moved level on points with Lakes as the race intensifies.

Two games this midweek, with both Preston and Forest in league action at home.

Nottingham Forest vs. Scunthorpe United

Lakes: Forest 1-0 Scunthorpe United
Forest 2-1 Scunthorpe United
Turls: Forest 2-0 Scunthorpe United

Preston North End vs. Reading

Lakes: PNE 3-1 Reading
PNE 1-0 Reading
PNE 2-0 Reading

Monday, September 28, 2009

Big Match Review- MK Dons 0 Leeds 1

League One
Milton Keynes Dons 0-1 Leeds United
Saturday September 26, stadium:mk, Att: 16,713

Leeds continued their impressive start to the season as Robert Snodgrass scored an injury time goal to see off 10-man Milton Keynes and keep United top of League One.

The home side started brightly, putting the West Yorkshire club on the backfoot and visiting keeper Shane Higgs was being kept busy, including a save low down from Aaron Wilbraham's shot.

Higgs was then at full stretch to turn away Jason Puncheon's low stinger down to his right as Paul Ince's side continued to impose themselves on United.

However, their hopes were dealt a severe blow in first half stoppage time when Puncheon was giving his marching orders. His two-footed tackle on Michael Doyle, despite getting the ball, was deemed dangerous by the referee and he saw red.

With a man advantage, Leeds took control of proceedings and thought they had gone ahead when a ball was slipped through to Jermaine Beckford who placed the ball beyond Willy Gueret only to be foiled by the linesman's flag for offside.

Beckford also shot over after a surging run towards the Dons goal, and with time running out it seemed as though Simon Grayson's team would be forced to settle for a point.

However, deep into added on time, Bradley Johnson's free-kick from the left was powered in by the head of Robert Snodgrass to snatch maximum spoils for Leeds and inflict a second home defeat for Milton Keynes.

Lincoln take gamble on Sutton

Chris Sutton's successful strike partnership with Alan Shearer at Blackburn was affectionately known as SAS by Rovers fans.

Now the former England international has answered League Two Lincoln's SOS in taking his first steps into management.

The Imps, who sacked manager Peter Jackson earlier this month, have lost their last three games, and lie just three points off the drop zone.

Vice chairman Bob Dorrian, in outlining the search for Jackson's replacement, said the club were looking for a, "young, up-and-coming manager with good coaching skills."

And, although all of the former two can be applied to the 36-year-old, Sutton is a complete managerial novice and resembles a huge gamble by the City board.

Even his assistant, Ian Pearce, has no managerial experience, and both will be unfamiliar with the goings-on in the basement division. Indeed, a lack of experience seems rife throughout the club.

After failing to impress last season with a more experienced squad, Jackson's summer transfer policy turned towards recruiting younger, hungry players. However, after two wins in their opening three games, a poor run saw the club lose to Dagenham and Burton and drop out of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy.

It was enough to see the former Huddersfield boss dismissed. Caretaker Simon Clark bemoaned the lack of experience amongst the playing staff though, and the need for more experience.

Why then have the Imps board chosen a novice to guide the way for a young group of players? Youth has its advantages, but the need for a solid spine of experience, players with nous, who are streetwise in League Two, are required for success.

Lincoln's sole win in the last seven games has come against rock-bottom Darlington, and when a young side gets onto a poor run, it can be hard to recover confidence. Youth may have no fear, but it lacks the experience in handling defeat.

Unsurprisingly, the appointment has been met with a combination of anxiety and disbelief. Former Nottingham Forest coach John Pemberton and ex-Cambridge boss Gary Brabin had been strongly linked with the post before Sutton's shock appointment.

It's difficult to see how either could have been less qualified for the position than Sutton (left). However, after the controversial sacking of Jackson, Lincoln appear to be willing to take a punt on a younger manager coming good.

Failure, and chairman Steff Wright, whose tenure has largely been poor, will face more calls to fall on his sword, as well as Sutton departing. The stakes are even higher for the club who became the first to be automatically relegated from the Football League in 1987. A repeat cannot be allowed to happen this time around.

Lincoln have rolled their dice.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Nobes' Trivia Question Four

Here's another question to keep you thinking, and a nice simple one for you this time.

Four clubs did this in the Championship last season, five in League One, and two in League Two. What?

And we'll reveal the answer on October 9.

As ever, the soothing strains of the Mastermind music might help you think.

Nobes' Trivia Question Three - solution

Two weeks ago, we asked the question:


Here's what he told you.

This week I'm at a football ground. This stadium was opened in this Millennium, and the first team to win a league game here played in blue.

This ground, which isn't in the Football League, saw its record attendance in a game against Leyton Orient. Oh, and there's a big bronze statue outside this ground too.

Did you get the answer?

Nobes was at Oxford United's Kassam Stadium!

The ground was opened in 2001, and Rochdale, playing in blue, beat the home side 2-1 in the first Football League game there.

The U's now play in the Conference, a division they were relegated to after a final day loss against Leyton Orient, where they had their record attendance. The big bronze statue outside the ground is of an Ox.

Well done if you got the answer right, and Nobes will have another poser for you shortly.

Back To The Future?

As Ronnie Moore prepares to take the reins at Rotherham United for a second time, Nobes considers that old adage in football that you should never return.

There's something about football fans that, every time they have a vacancy in the managerial chair, it makes them look to the past. Through misty eyed glasses, looking back warmly on days gone by, they petition for a former manager to once more take on team affairs.

Of course, it goes against all beliefs that, in football, you should never return. Just don't go back. So why do
managers do it all the time? If you've had success somewhere, why go back? Why risk spoiling things? Why take the chance of tarnishing the the high-regard you are held in?

We'll never know for sure. Perhaps their own arrogance or self-confidence that they will be a success wherever they go, and really won't be putting their reputation at a club at risk.

Either way, it's just one of those elements of football that we'll never understand. However, perhaps we're the wrong ones. Maybe going back isn't always the disaster it's cracked up to be. So let's consider the evidence.

Jan Molby

The Dane was appointed manager at Conference club Kidderminster in 1999, and won promotion to the Football League in his first season at Aggborough. There, he helped establish the Worcestershire club in the fourth tier, before getting the call from ambitious Hull City.

His tenure at the Tigers was a short and unsuccessful one, and with Harriers struggling towards the bottom of League Two, Mobly returned to help keep the club up.

However, with Kiddy once again struggling the following season, Molby departed for a second time. Harriers were relegated at the end of the season and are still in the Conference today.

Verdict: Should never have returned. Fans felt betrayed when he left to Hull, and despite keeping them up when he first returned, he left them staring the Conference in the face.

Graham Taylor

Former England boss Taylor made his name at Watford when, after taking charge in 1977, he led the club from the Fourth to the First Division in just five seasons. He established the Hornets at that level and took them to an FA Cup final.

Left for Aston Villa after a decade in Hertfordshire, but returned via England and an unsuccessful spell at Wolves. Won the League One title in his first season back, and then took the club up to the Premier League the following year.

Couldn't prevent an instant return to the second tier though, and retired from the game in 2001.

Verdict: An unqualified success. Taylor once again weaved his magic at Vicarage Road, taking the club into the Premier League for the first time in their history. Man and football club went together perfectly.

Steve Parkin

Parkin took over at struggling Rochdale in 1999, and led the club to 9th in his first season. The next year they finished 8th, missing out on the play-offs by a point, and were riding high the following season when he left for Barnsley in 2001.

He failed to keep the Oakwell club up, and after a poor start the subsequent year, he left the Reds before returning to Spotland 14 months later. He helped stave off relegation, and led the club to 9th again in 2005.

A mid-table finish was secured the next season but, with Dale struggling, he was sacked in 2006 and replacement Keith Hill has enjoyed great success.

Verdict: Take away his final few months, and Parkin didn't do too badly on returning. Things had become stale before he left the club, but not a disastrous second spell.

Tony Pulis

Welshman Pulis joined Stoke City in 2002 with the club battling relegation from the Championship. He took them to successive top half finishes before parting company with the Potters in the summer of 2005.

Joined struggling Plymouth and turned around their fortunes before being persuaded back to the Britannia Stadium. Narrowly missed out on the play-offs in his first season back, before securing automatic promotion in 2008.

Kept City in the Premier League last season, where he continues to establish them.

Verdict: Pulis's departure first time around was controversial, and his return was greeted with a mixed response from fans. However he's worked wonders since and made the right decision to return.

Micky Adams

The current Port Vale manager took over at basement division Brighton in 1999 and, after finishing mid-table in his first campaign, won the league the next.

Albion were top of League One when he left to become assistant manager at Premier League Leicester, and the side Adams left won promotion at the end of the season.

He returned to the Withdean in 2008, but took a side who finished in the top half of League One the previous season into a relegation battle and he left after less than a year back with the Seagulls.

Verdict: A prime example of why managers should never go back. Adams enjoyed great success in his first spell, and was it always going to be hard to repeat that.

Steve Bruce

Bruce's first spell at Wigan Athletic came in 2001, when he helped the club into the League One play-offs. However, after losing in the semi finals to Reading, he walked out on the Greater Manchester club to join Crystal Palace.

Six years later, and he returned to the JJB Stadium with Wigan a Premier League outfit. Staved off the drop and then consolidated the Latics in mid-table before departing for Sunderland this summer.

Verdict: A difficult one to judge. His first spell was very short, and the club were transformed once he returned.

Paul Sturrock

Sturrock was appointed Plymouth manager in 2000 with the club struggling in the basement division. After a mid-table finish in his first season, the Pilgrims stormed to the League Two title with 102 points.

Two years later, the club were on the brink of promotion to the Championship when the Scot left for Southampton, but Argyle went on to win another title and promotion.

Re-joined the club in November 2007 from Swindon, and maintained the Pilgrims battle for the play-offs before eventually finishing the season in 10th.

However, last season the Devon side finished 21st, just a few points off relegation, after sliding down the table in the New Year. Sturrock remains at Home Park, but Plymouth currently prop up the Championship with just two points from eight games.

Verdict: If reports are to be believed, Sturrock is close to getting the axe at Argyle. Should it happen, it will confirm what was a mistake to return to a club where he was once so revered. Past success counts for little when relegation is in the offing.

So then, what does all that tell us? Well, perhaps unsurprisingly with the beautiful game, it's unpredictable and a mixed bag.

Interestingly though, all the managers who won promotion or a title with their club in the first spell, failed in their second coming. Those who didn't achieve as much first time around fared better on their return though.

Perhaps that's the problem. A successful manager returning raises hopes and expectation levels and it's always unlikely that lightning will strike twice. It just makes it all the more painful where a former hero ends up getting the sack.

So, unless you've some unfinished business and something to prove, let the good times and memories live on, and please, don't go back.

Millers go back for Moore

The managerial merry-go round came around full circle yesterday as Ronnie Moore returned as boss at Rotherham United.

The 56-year-old spent eight years with the South Yorkshire club, taking them from the basement division to the Championship and keeping them there before his departure in 2005.

Now, with the Millers back in the fourth tier, he has been lured back by the task of taking them up the pyramid once again.

It's a return to the game that won't surprise many though.

Despite leaving the club bottom of the Championship with relegation inevitable, fans recognised Moore's efforts in first getting them there, and then making a small club punch above their weight for so long.

So, when Mark Robins, who played under Moore, departed to Barnsley, he was the overwhelming choice amongst fans to return. However, whilst United are third in the division and looking strong promotion contenders, it remains a risky move for the Liverpudlian.

Failure to win a promotion most expected Robins would have delivered would tarnish his reputation at the club. Golden memories count for little at 5pm on a Saturday when three points have been lost.

It would also fuel the critics who believe that managers should never return to a club where they've enjoyed previous sucess. For a manager whose teams play the percentage game, Moore is taking a bit of a gamble.

Indeed, his reputation has been built on producing hard-working, uncompromising sides - difficult to play against, and sometimes difficult to watch. His departure from Oldham in the summer of 2006 was blamed on fans not taking to him and poor season ticket sales, despite a 10th placed finish.

Then a return to his spiritual home, Tranmere, saw Rovers secure top half finishes for three successive seasons, only missing out on the play-offs on the final day of last season.

His shock sacking in June was met with incredulity from those in the game. The current failure of his replacement, John Barnes, only serving to confirm what many believed to have been a poor decision on the Wirral.

Moore won successive promotions with Rotherham in his first spell at the club

However, Moore's return to Rotherham is not wholly straightforward. He has always been a manager who has preferred to build his own side. Will he be smart enough to sacrifice his preferred 4-3-3 system and direct football to continue the good work Robins was doing with the current crop of players at Rotherham?

A quick glance towards Prenton Park and his old club should be enough to convince him that a style that suits the players, not the manager, is the way to success.

Moore, a typically old-fashioned manager, should place faith in that old adage about not fixing unbroken things. Instead, a passionate and infusive character, he should be able to inspire a honeymoon period for the Millers as he settles back into things.

If the team who currently play at Sheffield's Don Valley athletics stadium can hit the ground running under their new manager, then
their promising early form and promotion hopes can be further strengthened.

On leaving the club four years ago he declared that Rotherham "would always have a place in my heart." When he leaves a second time, he must hope they'll still have a place in theirs for him.


Prediction League - Week Eight

It's becoming one of the great mysteries of life - just how is Nobes still top of the Prediction League? A blistering start has given way to a few rounds of very low points scoring, yet he retains his lead by a single point.

It could have all very different had Preston not leaked two late goals against Tottenham in the League Cup on Wednesday evening. If they hadn't, it would have been Lakes going into this weekend top of the tree.

All three sides away from home this weekend, Boston are in FA Cup action, and Forest wait until Sunday to get into the action.

Leicester City vs. Preston North End

Lakes: Leicester City 1-0 PNE
Leicester City 2-1 PNE
Leicester City 2-1 PNE

Lowestoft Town vs. Boston United

Lakes: Lowestoft Town 1-2 BUFC
Lowestoft Town 1-3 BUFC
Lowestoft Town 1-3 BUFC

Plymouth Argyle vs. Nottingham Forest

Lakes: Plymouth Argyle 1-1 Forest
Plymouth Argyle 0-2 Forest
Plymouth Argyle 1-2 Forest

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Big Match Preview

League One
Milton Keynes Dons vs. Leeds United
Saturday September 26, 15:00, stadium:mk

League One pacesetters Leeds United make the trip to Buckinghamshire this weekend to take on fellow high-flyers Milton Keynes Dons in a battle between two of the division's fancied sides.

It's also a clash between two young and up-and-coming managers. Leeds' Simon Grayson built his reputation taking Blackpool into the Championship, and then keeping them there before moving to Elland Road and his boyhood team.

Across Lancashire, Paul Ince failed during his brief tenure at Blackburn, but has had previous success at Macclesfield and in his first spell with the Dons before returning to the club during the summer.

And MK, losers in the play-offs under Roberto Di Matteo last season, have got off to a good start this time around. Five wins have been collected in their first eight games, including an unbeaten away record where they've only conceded one goal.

Their form has been a little more patchy on home soil though, including a defeat to Huddersfield and a win over Norwich in their last couple of games at stadium:mk.

Leading lights in the Dons side include striker Jermaine Easter, a summer signing from Plymouth, who has already bagged seven goals in all competitions.

Indeed, no other MK player has scored more than one, so much will depend on the former Argyle man finding the back of the net. The midfield creativity of Jason Puncheon and Jemal Johnson should also prove a threat to the visitors.

Their defensive solidity, emphasised by their 1-0 win at local rivals Wycombe last weekend, is built on erratic goalkeeper Willy Gueret, and defensive pair David McCracken and Darren Powell.

Leeds boss Grayson led Blackpool to promotion from League One in 2007

They're likely to be busy too. Leeds are averaging two goals a game in League One so far this season, with top scorer Jermaine Beckford on six, and Bradley Johnson chipping in with five from midfield.

Grayson's squad is enviable, with the likes of Jonny Howson, Robert Snodgrass, and Luciano Becchio to call upon, the West Yorkshire club look to be the strongest contender for promotion to the Championship come May.

Their success has arguably been built from the back though. Just four goals have been conceded, with keeper Shane Higgs, a summer signing from Cheltenham, in top form. Centre halves Leigh Bromby and Patrick Kisnorbo have also struck up a sound understanding.

The side's home form is almost impregnable, with last weekend's 4-1 win over Gillingham their 15th consecutive league victory at Elland Road. However, the unbeaten Whites have also already taken maximum spoils on the road at Colchester, Wycombe, and Walsall.

Grayson was also pleased with his side's performance in their League Cup defeat to Liverpool on Tuesday night, when Rafa Benitez's side were more than matched in the 1-0 loss.

With both sides liking to play football, Saturday's game has all the makings of a classic. The emphasis will be on Ince's side to take the game to Leeds, which may well leave them vulnerable to the away team on the break and another United victory.

Nobes's Prediction: Milton Keynes Dons 1 Leeds United 2

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Lost Sol

Sol Campbell, it appears, didn't enjoy being beside the seaside this weekend. His long-awaited Notts County debut ended in a 2-1 loss to Morecambe, with both goals for the home side being conceded via set-pieces.

Now, less than a month after joining the League Two club on a five-year deal and declaring his ambition of reaching the Premier League with them, Campbell has left by mutual consent.

Defeat at Christie Park saw County slip out of the top-seven, piling more pressure on manager Ian McParland. And in the Lancashire resort famous for its quicksands,
the former England international defender seems to have had that sinking feeling too.

Having spent his entire career in the top flight of English football, Saturday was bound to be a culture shock for the 34-year-old. Playing in front of packed houses at Wembley must have seemed a long way away when stepping out at Morecambe's less than salubrious surroundings.

The Shrimps were also searching for their first win of the season, and are a committed and hard-working side under Sammy McIlroy. Defenders, being pressed and harried, don't have the luxury of having time on the ball to pick out a pass.

Likewise, if Campbell didn't look forward to facing the like of Didier Drogba in the Premier League, big, strong centre forwards are the order of the day in League Two. Any journey up the pyramid was always going to be a rough ride on the pitch, if not off it.

Perhaps Campbell underestimated the physical challenge he would be facing? Or perhaps the experience of playing with professionals below the standard he was used to, who struggle to do the things he considers basic, or who are just not on the same wavelength, was simply 90 minutes too long.

The prospect of toiling his way through the last years of his football career in the bottom divisions was something that, suddenly, didn't appeal to him very much. The challenge he described as "refreshing" may soon become very stale,
£60,000 a week wages or not.

Campbell signed a five-year deal at Meadow Lane in August

The cynics would suggest money was the greatest motivating factor behind his move to Meadow Lane, although Campbell himself cited the chance to link-up again with his former England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson, now working at Notts, as one of the reasons for joining the club.

No mention, interestingly, of current County boss McParland. Earlier this week, Executive Chairman Peter Trembling intimated that the manager's position was under pressure and is being reviewed "all the time" following their third successive away defeat.

A manager constantly looking over his shoulder and a set of players knowing that the man who picks the team could change any week is not the sound basis that a successful club is built upon. McParland's days, it seems, are numbered.

Is this just a sign of things to come for the oldest Football League club though? With great riches comes great oppurtunity, but also massive pressure. Any Notts manager will be expected to deliver instant results.

And are the board likely to be patient with the current group of players should they win promotion to League One? No. They will radically overhaul the squad in order to gain promotion to the Championship as quickly as possible.

Clubs need stability and continuity, not constant changes. Success requires a sensible transfer policy, not signing big-name players on huge wages. They need a manager too who will be given the support and time he needs, who knows what the lower leagues are all about, and that's not Sven.

County's dreams need a solid foundation. After all - shifting sands are no place to build on. They need only ask Morecambe that.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Prediction League - Week Seven continued

Another disappointing weekend for the lads saw Lakes and Turls collect just a single point respectively for Preston's comeback victory over Coventry. Nobes failed to register anything, but continues to lead the way into Week Seven's midweek games.

All three teams are in action, with Forest and PNE having League Cup games at home to Premier League opposition. As ever, a correct scoreline earns three points, the right result just one.

Boston United vs. Retford United

BUFC 2-0 Retford United
BUFC 1-0 Retford United
BUFC 1-1 Retford United

Nottingham Forest vs. Blackburn Rovers

Lakes: Forest 1-2 Blackburn Rovers
Forest 0-2 Blackburn Rovers
Forest 1-2 Blackburn Rovers

Preston North End vs. Tottenham Hotspur

Lakes: PNE 1-3 Tottenham Hotspur
PNE 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur
PNE 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur

Monday, September 21, 2009

Big Match Review- Darlington 0 Bournemouth 2

League Two
Darlington 0-2 Bournemouth
Saturday September 19, Northern Echo Arena (Att: 1,999)

Bournemouth made it four wins on the bounce as two goals from Brett Pitman saw off Darlington and kept the Cherries riding high at the top of League Two.

The away side started brightly, with veteran striker Steve Fletcher scuffing a shot at Darlo keeper Russell Hoult when well placed. It was little surprise then when Pittman did put them ahead just a quarter of an hour in.

A long throw into the box was flicked onto the Cherries forward, whose acrobatic overhead kick beat Hoult and found the bottom corner of the Quakers net.

Darlo hit back, former Carlisle striker Kevin Gall
shooting over after a strong run, and then a fizzing long-range effort from Jamie Devitt forced visiting keeper Shwan Jalal to parry and collect at the second attempt.

Darlington manager Colin Todd brought on his assistant Dean Windass in the second period, and it was the former Premier League man who wasted the home side's best effort to equalise. A cross from the right from pulled back for Windass, who failed to connect from just a few yards out.

Then Devitt was foiled from close range by Jalal again, and Darlo were made to pay for their profligacy. Anton Robinson's charge forward was halted illegally by defender Tony Kane, and the referee awarded a penalty.

Pittman stepped up to send Hoult the wrong way and collect his and Bournemouth's second of the match to keep Eddie Howe's team on top of the table, and Darlington rooted to the bottom.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Greatest Board in the Whole Wide World III

It was super exciting this week! I got to make a really important decision and although I was under pressure, I'm 110% confident that I delivered the right verdict.

I chose for the weekly board meeting to have caviar sandwiches rather than cheese and ham. Although it's slightly pricier, I felt that they would help the boys work better and stuff.

I was a little upset when I saw Steve running to the bathroom but he has never been able to keep down his Mexican food.

At the board meeting I remember us talking about Isaac Hayes or something like that. Apparently, a little tinpot club refused to carry on playing a game because their goalieman broke his leg.

Seems a bit cowardly if you ask me but the Hayes & Yeading boys insisted they get the three points.

It turns out the game was 0-0 with 15 minutes to go when Gateshead had a little cry so I thought it would be fair if we gave H&Y the three points. Why? Well if they had kept on playing then they would have easily scored past a goalkeeper with one leg.... duh!

Again... my decision making was flawless and I even got a phone call from Papa Blatter commending me on my bravery. Reinforced by Papa's decision.... I'm looking to punish Gateshead by deducting a point for every week that their goalkeeper is out injured.

I applied for a job at UEFA today...... hopefully I'll hear back from them soon. I told them about my caviar sandwiches so I'm bound to get the job.