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

Friday, December 31, 2010

Talking Points - December 2010

There's always plenty to talk about in the Football and Non Leagues, here's what the lads discussed in December:

Separate Ways
Using the fortunes of League One Charlton and Swindon, Nobes considers why some clubs have a play off hangover and others don't.

You Won't Find Another Fool Like Me
After appointing their fifth different manager in just over a year, Turls suggests instability is at the root of struggling Notts County's problems.

Return Of The Mick
With Mick Wadsworth confirmed as Hartlepool's permanent boss, Nobes looks at other managers who returned to the game after a prolonged absence.

Cup Half Empty
In the League Cup semi finals, but struggling for form in the Championship, Nobes analyses the state of play at Ipswich.

Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive
Is playing at a higher level always the best case scenario for a club? Using the example of League One strugglers Leyton Orient, Nobes investigates.

The Fixed Period
With Paul Trollope's five-year reign as Bristol Rovers coming to a close, Nobes wonders whether managers can have a shelf life at clubs.

It Ain't What You Do...
Riding high in the Championship, Nobes turns the spotlight on the methods of Coventry boss Aidy Boothroyd.

Predicted Tables: Half Way Review
How are the predicted league tables which the lads made back in August looking at the half way mark of the season?

Darren Fergus-off
After Darren Ferguson's sacking as Preston North End boss, Lakes reflects on his disastrous year in charge at Deepdale.

Future of Football
Over Christmas, the lads look at ways in which they believe the game should be changed for the better - both on and off the pitch.

Future of Football

For Christmas, the lads looked at ways in which they would make the game better.

Contract Killer
Lakes with his novel way of reducing player power.

Divide And Conquer
Turls on why regionalisation needs to be brought back.

Let Me Entertain You
Nobes suggests ways to make the game a better spectacle.

Let Me Entertain You

In the final installment of our series on the future of football, Nobes looks at how he would both liven up and clean up the game.

Back of the net - isn't that why we go to watch football?

Over the past week, Lakes and Turls have outlined how they'd like to improve the game off the field of play.

From how the game should be organised in this country to looking to curb the financial problems that beset football, we all know there's plenty of room for improvement in the sport we all love.

Today, it's my turn. However, I want to focus purely on the sport side. After all, a sport can be well managed and not have clubs appearing in High Courts almost as often as their home ground, but it's the game itself why we fans follow football.

Having said that though, I fear there currently two major ills in the game which threaten to strangle its credibility and the enjoyment it provides to millions around the world.

They stem from the 'win at all costs attitude' which led to one of the most anaemic World Cups in history earlier this year.

Its manifestations are two fold - the negativity which pervades how the game is played, and the on-pitch conduct of today's professionals.

However, I believe both are areas which can be tackled and, in the process, restore the beauty back to the beautiful game.

Let me first outline how I would improve the game as a spectacle. There's a common phrase you hear in any debate surrounding footballers' wages - people say they get paid so much because they're part of the 'entertainment' industry.

As footballers' wages have skyrocketed though, so have the prices that clubs demand fans pay to watch this entertainment.

It's priced some fans out of the market but, for those who can still afford to watch their team, I would ask whether they are really getting value for money?

In a sport where managers know they are only a few poor results away from the sack, it's only natural that caution creeps into their thinking. They can only afford to think about results. Entertainment is just an added bonus.

However, if football isn't entertaining, we risk a future generation turning its head away from the game in search of something more appealing.

We already have a situation of overkill in terms of the amount of football available for our consumption on TV. Ally this with an increasingly sterile product, and I begin to worry.

Of course, there are different ways you can look to increase entertainment.

Creating fixed managerial contracts where both club and coach are locked in an inseparable bond for a certain length of time - with hefty punishments for those who break said commitment - is one way.

Managers would then be able to relax and experiment - knowing they had time to develop a brand of good football and, however results went, they had job security.

However, as well as being impractical, it's rather more 'stick' than 'carrot'. Having thought long and hard about the process therefore, I've come to the conclusion the only way to encourage and increase entertainment on the pitch is to actually reward it.

After a dour World Cup in 1990, FIFA - when they actually ran the game for its, and not their own, good - decided that change was needed for their big event in the United States four years later.

It saw them change the points system to award three for a win, rather than the two which had been used in Italia 90. It led to more open games and plenty more goals and excitement.

Teams knew that wins would make an even bigger difference compared to draws so they went for maximum spoils. Now, 14 years later, it's time for more radical changes to once again nudge the game towards positivity.

We can start by making a simple change in this country, teams level on points at the end of the season should, once again, be separated by virtue of goals scored rather than goal difference.

If managers knew that promotion or relegation could be determined by how many goals their team scores, it's simple logic to assume they will send them out with the intention of attacking.

It may well lead to more goals being conceded down the other end, but isn't that what we go to games to see - entertainment and the onion bag bulging? After all, wouldn't you rather see your team win 3-2 instead of 1-0?

Video technology can help punish players the ref misses in such scuffles

Reward teams for attacking, and they will attack. Similarly, is it about time we looked again at changing the way points are allocated? Could two points be awarded for an away draw or perhaps a score draw?

The first would encourage sides away from home to venture forwards rather than 'parking the bus.' The second would, again, reward sides for scoring goals.

You could even take it further and, as in other sports, award a bonus point when, for instance, a side scores five or more goals.

I can already hear the purists balking at the very thought of introducing such ideas into the game. However, I would task them with this question - would they rather watch a dull game by the old rules or an exciting one with my modifications?

From the use of substitutes to the back pass rule to what constitutes 'offside,' the laws of football have always been changing. If they would help produce a better, more attractive, version of the sport, then surely they should be encouraged?

Which leads me onto curing the second ill blighting football. I speak of the diving, cheating, play-acting, and general gamesmanship which constantly challenge the ideas of fair play.

It's something which we should be particularly keen on stamping out. Fair play is part of what makes us British. Like queueing, always talking about the weather, and never talking about sex - playing by the rules is in our DNA.

Unfortunately, playing to win, rather than playing fair seems to have taken hold of football. It's time to put a stop to this distasteful trend and bring some sportsmanship back into the game.

Consider for a moment just how ridiculous a sport is that punishes someone for removing their shirt when they score yet refuses to take action against a player who cheats to get a fellow professional sent off?

If it wasn't true, it would be laughable. Well, it's time to stop it, not only be over-turning that ridiculous shirt-removing rule. Indeed, any laws preventing celebrations of joy, rather than those designed to incite, should be repealed.

Then, once the lunacy has been dismissed, we can begin to properly crack down on the real problems - with the aid of technology. We have it, so let's use it for the right reasons.

For starters, the incorrect allocation of cards should be instantly overturned. It's pure pigheadedness to refuse to. Who cares if it would take a long time, this is about fairness.

Then, let us use technology to punish individuals - and punish them hard. Caught diving? A five match ban. Caught feigning injury or hurt to get another player sent off? A ten match ban.

Wave a card at the referee to get him to book a player? Miss two matches yourself, pal. Commit a sly stamp, or spit, or kick during a scuffle that the ref misses? Well, who cares if he details it in his post-match report or not, you were caught on camera and will be punished.

Sometimes you have to use the stick, and the only way to cut out such poor conduct is to punish it. Managers would soon rail hard on any player who tried to practice such dark arts if they knew they would be suspended for two months.

For those who, again, question whether such ideas could be put into practice and suggest anarchy would be rife, I would ask, are you really willing to put up with these shenanigans and not try to solve them?

It's like the old argument about stopping shirt pulling and the various manhandling which goes on in a penalty box while waiting for a corner or free kick.

If you have to give 20 penalties a game, then do it. Madness? Maybe. Madder than a sport which has such a problem yet refuses to do something to stop it? No.

Let penalty records be smashed and such conduct will soon be curbed. It would probably also lead to more goals being scored from set pieces, which ties in neatly with my earlier argument.

There will always be opponents to such change - as they doggedly refuse to adapt or, even worse, admit there's a problem in the first place. However, this is the kind of change that football needs.

Change which dictates a fairer game, and change which rewards a more entertaining game. Change, as Turls spoke about, which produces a more sensible game, and as Lakes argued, a financially sound game.

Just for a change, it's time to embrace it.

Prediction League Week 22

A point apiece for Nobes and Turls in Week 21 sees them level on points - one ahead of Lakes.

It means Nobes enters 2011 with the slenderest of advantages as the closest title race in Soccer AM/MW continues.

For New Year's Day, all three sides are on home soil. As ever, three points are up for grabs for a correct scoreline and one point awarded for the right result.

Nottingham Forest vs. Barnsley

Lakes: Forest 2-0 Barnsley
Forest 2-0 Barnsley
Forest 2-0 Barnsley

Preston North End vs. Derby County

Lakes: PNE 1-2 Derby County
PNE 2-2 Derby County
PNE 1-2 Derby County

Boston United vs. Gainsborough Trinity
Skyrockets 2-0 Gainsborough Trinity
Skyrockets 3-0 Gainsborough Trinity
Skyrockets 2-0 Gainsborough Trinity

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Big Match Preview

Colchester United vs. Charlton Athletic
Saturday January 1, 15:00, Weston Homes Community Stadium

It's a return to his former club on New Year's Day for Charlton Athletic boss Phil Parkinson as he takes his top six side to Essex to face Colchester United - another side in the play off reckoning.

The hosts sit 7th in the division with their opponents in 3rd after the midweek games. Which, when added to Parkinson's return, promises a spicy encounter to kick off
2011 with.

Like many sides, United have been frustrated over the festive season due to the wintry weather - seeing their last three games postponed.

All of which means that Saturday's match will be the first time that the U's are in action since a 0-0 draw at home to Yeovil on December 11.

That's one of five games Colchester have drawn on their own patch this term, with Brentford and Huddersfield leaving with maximum spoils from a trip to the Weston Homes Community Stadium.

However, four wins have also been garnered, with Notts County, Leyton Orient, Tranmere, and away-day specialists Hartlepool all being seen off.

Top scorer for the U's this term is on-loan Reading forward David Mooney, whose nine strikes have proved invaluable. Andy Bond, a signing from Non League football over the summer, has also chipped in with six.

The presence of strikers Kayode Odejayi and Darius Henderson also ensure Ward's side can cause opposition defences problems in the air - with visiting sides needing to stand up to the duo's physicality.

Experienced Colchester boss John Ward has his side competing for a top six spot

Visitors Charlton enter tomorrow's match off the back of Wednesday evening's 1-1 draw against leaders Brighton & Hove Albion.

The Addicks experienced a slow start to the campaign, but have picked up over the last couple of months - although they recently suffered a shock home defeat to bottom placed Walsall.

On the road, Phil Parkinson's team have had a mixed bag of results. With wins being achieved at Leyton Orient, Swindon, Carlisle, and a remarkable 5-1 victory at Peterborough.

Draws at Plymouth and Tranmere have also been joined by defeats away to Exeter, Huddersfield, and Brentford.

Johnnie Jackson, a summer capture from Notts County, has been a leading light in the Athletic team this term, with ten goals from midfield already.

Scott Wagstaff and experienced lower league striker Paul Benson have both contributed with seven - part of the reason why Charlton have scored more goals away from home than anyone else in League One.

This is a difficult match to call, not least because of the interruptions to both teams' schedules because of the weather.

For that reason, I'll play it safe and go for a draw between two decent teams in a match both sides are more than capable of winning or losing.

Nobes' Prediction: Colchester United 2 Charlton Athletic 2

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Darren Fergus-off

With Preston parting ways with Darren Ferguson, Lakes takes a look at his tenure as Preston boss, explaining why it was simply never going to work out.

Not smiling anymore - Ferguson has been put out of his misery

It takes a special kind of man to make Craig Brown and Paul Simpson look like tactical masterminds, and that man has just sneaked out of Deepdale by the back door - and no, it’s not the man from the Milk Tray ads, although he probably would’ve done a better job in charge.

Darren Ferguson has nothing to be proud of. His tenure at Preston North End was little more than a disgrace and there can be no argument against it.

When Ferguson was hired, I, along with many other Preston fans, felt a wave of optimism surge over us.

This was the beginning of a new era – moneybags Hemmings in charge, Maurice Lindsay at his right hand and the messiah himself, Darren Ferguson, running on-pitch affairs.

Alright, messiah might have been pushing it, but there was certainly a belief and optimism that the new era at Preston might be a good one.

There was the promise of a sure link to a Premier League club in Manchester United and the potential for a wave a money that might accompany the owner of the club installing his own man.

Instead, we were lumbered with a messianic slate of turd.

Ferguson’s philosophy was this: attack. And that was it. Central defenders covering the wings, midfielders up front with the rest of the team, milling around with no objective other than to get the ball and run with it.

To put it simply, Ferguson was the master of Forest Gump football.
In fact, you could argue that the Gump similarities didn’t end there. There was a whiff of Gump about Ferguson’s general media handling style, too.

To be fair, he never blamed the players. But that’s because he didn’t have the right to. Everything that’s gone wrong on the pitch at Preston this season has simply been down to his ineptitude as a football manager.

Craig Brown was too nice and too conservative. Paul Simpson was out of his depth in the Championship. But the one thing you could say about both men is that they did know something, ish, about football. Ferguson can’t take the same plaudit.

Not spotted at Deepdale this season

Although you could argue that Preston’s squad isn’t fit for promotion, there will be those who feel he could have done a lot better than prop up the bottom of the table with the players available to him – not least because of the never-ending influx of youngsters from daddy.

The results speak for themselves. Ferguson won just 13 of his 49 games in charge, a pathetic 26% return.

The wins themselves seemed random, too, rather than part of a bigger pattern. If there was a pattern to be found it was in the huge number of goals Preston conceded under him – 42 this season alone.

When you consider where Preston fancied being this season, you have to say that’s rather a failure when compared with teams like Swansea, who’ve conceded close to the 20 mark.

So, rather than a delicious helping of Cadbury’s Milk Tray, Preston have simply had a cardboard tray of excrement shoved through their letterbox.

Let’s hope whoever’s next on the billing has a taste for the stuff, because there’s a lot more coming between now and the end of the season.

Divide And Conquer

As part of our Christmas series looking at the future of football, Turls argues that an idea from the past should be adopted to cure football's present day problems.

Torquay's Plainmoor ground - a long away day destination for many clubs

Football has been stolen from us by the financially motivated leeches that used to hang around with bankers and their ilk. Football is all about money: making it, earning it, spending it, finding it.

In the past few seasons we have seen a shedload of clubs have their financial woes thrust into the waiting bosom of the media - but only if it is a Premier League club?

Where was the coverage for the demise of King's Lynn FC or Farsley Celtic? Barely a whisper went around the sports journalists when yet another Non League club crumbled under financial pressure?

It's not just Non League sides that get overlooked either, Bournemouth appeared to be in a journalistic wasteland because their financial woes have been prodded on occasion - but only to discuss the larger problem that haunts football.

Club's financies are in meltdown and something needs to be done to address this problem. The FA's 'Fit and Proper Person's test' is a sham, so that isn;t the answer.

Very few clubs appear to be solving the problem themselves so it's about time someone forced them into action.

I want to merge League Two with the Conference Premier and then split them into two geographical divisions.

The Conference is just as good as League Two these days. When you consider the amount of traditional Non League clubs in the Football League and the ever-expanding list of ex-League clubs in the Conference, it's easy to consider both leagues to be equals.

In days of yore, the Football League was set up as Divisions One, Two, and Three split into North and South leagues.

Now, I can't comment on whether this was a good system because I wasn't around back then - I am only a wee nipper - but I look at the system and think it should come back.

I also think the mullet is due a comeback, but that's for another blog.

My propsal wouldn't affect the likes of QPR and Reading, but it would make a massive difference on the finances of clubs like Darlington, Torquay, and Barrow. For these clubs, an away day is, more often that not, a mammoth trek.

Let's take a look at Torquay's travels. It's not as bad as it has been in the past, but, when you consider they have to negotiate a 600-mile round trip for an away day at Morecambe, you have to understand the financial pressures that clubs in far flung locations are put under.

It's amazing to think that they have to travel over 200 miles just to get to the East Midlands!

The two leagues below the Conference are already divided into regional divisions, as is every division below them - so they don't need sorting out.

The leagues above the 'new and improved Leagues Two North and South' won't be changed and this means they won't feel the benefits of the new system.

It would have a range of benefits for all teams involved though, not just the ones who are on the edge of the country. However, before I start talking about the upside of this glorious plan, let's break it down and explain how it would work.

Stevenage celebrate winning the Conference - but should it be merged with League Two?

Fortunately, League Two's promotion and relegation system means that four teams go up and two teams go down. I'm proposing in each regional division that two teams would be promoted to League One.

The champions of each division would go up automatically and there would be a four team play off to see who would be the other team to progress.

In terms of relegation, there are a number of ways you can approach the situation and I'd opt for a change of system.

I'm proposing that two teams are relegated from each division - thus allowing the Conference North and South to keep their promotion system of two up.

Then the bottom two in League Two North and South would be relegated to either the Conference North or the Conference South. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

The most obvious benefit to this system is that each team will have less travelling to do. This means that they don't have to spend as much to travel to games.

It also means that more fans may attend away games because it's a closer fixtures. Immediately, this means less money spent on travel and more money earned from fans attending.

Not only this but, because of the new regional system, teams are more likely to face their local rivals on a more frequent basis. Thus providing even greater attendances and more revenue.

Another thing to consider when looking at a possible rise in attendances is that if the average attendance is raised by a significant amount - which is entirely feasible - then clubs would have the option of reducing the price of tickets.

Undoubtedly, this would be brilliant news for fans up and down the country and might even create the possibility of even more supporters attending games.

Of course, the bad side to this idea is that it would affect clubs who are close to the North/South border.

Every season, these clubs would be consulting with the FA to see which league they would be in. The fans would be in a constant state of flux as they faced the possibility of changing leagues every season.

There is also the danger that, if one team ran away with the league - like Newport County in the Conference South last year - that all the other teams would be left feeding off their scraps and battling for the play offs.

However, in truth, this is no different to how the Conference Premier works now.

The reality is that this looks like a good syste to adopt. However, I want to make it clear that I am not suggesting this as a long term answer to football's problems.

I'm suggesting this system is adopted for a fixed period of time - allowing every club to sort of their financial troubles. It would be a form of financial therapy.

Football is on its knees and this could help flagging finances and small attendances. Too many clubs are in a financial mess with no real hope of getting out of it in the neat future.

And don't worry, Doctor Lakes would be on hand if the change became too much to bear.

On Friday, Nobes looks at how he would improve the game as a spectacle.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Prediction League Week 21 continued

All three games on Boxing Day were postponed because of the wintry weather.

Week 21, hopefully, gets going this afternoon therefore with Preston and Boston on home soil. Forest have to wait until tomorrow evening for their East Midlands derby.

Preston North End vs. Middlesbrough

PNE 1-0 Middlesbrough
PNE 1-2 Middlesbrough
PNE 2-2 Middlesbrough

Boston United vs. Harrogate Town

Lakes: Skyrockets 2-1 Harrogate Town
Skyrockets 2-0 Harrogate Town
Skyrockets 3-1 Harrogate Town

Nottingham Forest vs. Derby County

Forest 1-1 Derby County
Forest 1-1 Derby County
Forest 2-0 Derby County

Monday, December 27, 2010

Contract Killer

In a special series over Christmas, the lads consider ways in which the future of football can be improved.

Today, Lakes begins by
looking at a novel way in which clubs can look at improving results on the pitch - and their financial position off it.

Coming to a football club near you soon. Well, Lakes can wish.

Football these days. It's all about the players. Overpaid, underworked prima donnas, the lot of them.

It's a criticism you hear time after time on the terraces. One-time 'star players' waste away on the bench, happy to pick up a hefty wage, bankrolled by the club you love.

With the security of a fat, long contract, players know they have a guaranteed wage for a certain number of years. All you can do is tear your hair out and bemoan your miserable life. Nothing personal.

How many wastes of space can you name at your club? I'll wager one or two at least. Wouldn't it have been great, with hindsight, to have signed those players to a shorter contract? Goodbye, Emile!

For a moment, let's consider my personal experience as a Preston North End supporter. We recently got taken for a violent ride on the HMRC's wide love rocket, owing hundreds of thousands of pounds to the tax man.

We were issued with two winding up orders. All the while, Darren Carter sat on the substitutes bench, picking up a rumoured five-figure weekly salary.

Carter had never really adapted to the hustle and bustle of the Championship and looked forlorn at the prospect of playing more than five minutes a game.

What a relief it would have been for both parties if we could've let him go easily. Like Rose on that wooden crate, releasing Jack's hands, he'd have slipped away into the murky depths with little more than a bubble of air escaping from his jaded lungs.

Instead, Darren was happy to pick up a wage for getting a slightly numb bench-backside, while we were too poor to sever his contract in one lump sum.

That's why I'm proposing mandatory one-year contracts for all footballers. Forget player power, it's time for a bit of club power.

This is the next generation of football: the generation that picks itself up from the floor, battered and bruised by the ITV Digital collapse, demanding agents, and boom and bust. The generation that finally takes affirmative action and kicks the prima donnas square in the balls.

Get rid of Carter: Preston's second most-useless employee called Darren

Here's how it would work. Players sign up to a club on a one-year basis. They have precisely that duration to impress. If a club wants to keep the player, they can give them another one-year contract.

If they want to get rid of them, there are no costly severance packages, messy backroom deals, or unsightly public rows - a player simply gets let go at the end of their contract.

It's not all doom and gloom for the players, either. With only a one-year commitment required from a club, they represent a low-risk gamble for sides looking for a solution to fill a problem position in their side, or looking for someone new to come in and shake things up.

The best teams, of course, will keep hold of their best players by offering them new one-year deals.

Into the deals they could build improved incentive-based clauses, such a "x amount more money and a guaranteed contract next year if you score 30 goals this season."

It would revolutionise the game, enabling clubs to keep their best players, but still provide players with the choice to move if it's not right for them.

Some will argue, wrongly, that players deserve a bit of stability in their lives. I'm afraid they sacrificed the right to that when they became overpaid sacks.

So what if player X feels he has to move up north? That's his choice - he became a footballer. It's hard to feel any real sympathy for players when the bottom line is they're paid thousands of pounds a week. I'm paid thousands of pounds a year. They can get lost.

There is, perhaps, a token bone of sympathy worth throwing to players in the lower division. League Two players, for example, might find it more troublesome to constantly uproot than players in the Championship.

But let's be clear: clubs have the option of retaining players they want for another year, and if a player really wants to stay then he needs to impress.

It would result in a greater effort from players, each playing for a new contract. Why shouldn't players give 100% effort? It would also mean the gravy train would stop for some less able, or less willing, players who put in minimum effort.

The kind of players who end up lurching from one club to another would quickly get a fair reputation as unemployable. That's exactly how it works in the real world - why shouldn't it be the case for footballers too?

Why should clubs owe players loyalty when players don't show any to their clubs? It's time to take a bit of that power back, football clubs of Great Britain. It's time for change.

On Wednesday, Turls makes his argument for bringing back regionalisation in the lower leagues.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Trivia Quiz

It's that time of the year again. Christmas - the most wonderful time of the year. A time for giving, thinking about others, and, of course, football trivia.

So, in our annual Soccer AM/MW special, Turls and Lakes go head-to-head with Nobes as the question-master to see who comes out top of the tree this Christmas.

If you'd like to play along, then the answers have been 'whited out' and can be revealed by highlighting the text after 'Answer:'

The first six questions all concern the Championship:

1. Which Championship side play at Carrow Road? (1)
Turls: Norwich Lakes: Norwich Answer: Norwich

2. Kenny Jackett manages which Championship club? (1)
Turls: Millwall Lakes: Millwall Answer: Millwall

3. Which Championship team are nicknamed the Bluebirds? (1)
Turls: Cardiff Lakes: Cardiff Answer: Cardiff

4. Which Championship side thumped Leicester 6-1 earlier this season? (1)
Turls: Portsmouth Lakes: Swansea Answer: Portsmouth

5. Keith Millen took over as boss of which Championship side this season? (1)
Turls: Coventry Lakes: Barnsley Answer: Bristol City

6. Blackpool, Cardiff, Nottingham Forest, and which other team made last season's Championship play offs?
Turls: Leicester Lakes: Swansea Answer: Leicester

Round One: Turls 5 Lakes 3

The next six questions are on League One:

7. Which League One side play at the Memorial Stadium?
Turls: Hartlepool Lakes: Notts County Answer: Bristol Rovers

8. John Ward manages which League One side?
Turls: Colchester Lakes: Tranmere Answer: Colchester

9. Which League One side are nicknamed the Glovers? (1)
Turls: Yeovil Lakes: Leyton Orient Answer: Yeovil

10. It ended 5-4, Swindon lost, but which League One side won that game this season? (1)
Turls: Charlton Lakes: Charlton Answer: Peterborough

11. Chris Turner resigned as boss of which League One team earlier this season? (1)
Turls: MK Dons Lakes: Dagenham Answer: Hartlepool

12. Gillingham, Stockport, Southend, and which other club were relegated from League One last season? (1)
Turls: Cheltenham Lakes: Shrewsbury Answer: Wycombe

Round Two: Turls 7 Lakes 3

The next six questions all concern League Two:

13. Which League Two team play at Gigg Lane? (1)
Turls: Bury Lakes: Bury Answer: Bury

14. Sammy McIlroy manages which League Two side? (1)
Turls: Morecambe Lakes: Morecambe Answer: Morecambe

15. Which League Two club are nicknamed the Silkmen? (1)
Turls: Macclesfield Lakes: Macclesfield Answer: Macclesfield

16. Which League Two team went almost 1000 minutes without conceding a goal towards the start of the season? (1)
Turls: Torquay Lakes: Chesterfield Answer: Torquay

17. Which League Two side sacked boss Simon Davey earlier this year? (1)
Turls: Hereford Lakes: Hereford Answer: Hereford

18. Notts County, Rochdale, Dagenham, and which other team were promoted from League Two last season? (1)
Turls: Bournemouth Lakes: Exeter Answer: Bournemouth

Round Three: Turls 13 Lakes 7

The next six questions are all multiple choice questions:

19. Which of these sides doesn't have a Scottish manager? (1)
A) Watford B) Oldham C) Southend D) Northampton
Turls: Oldham Lakes: Northampton Answer: Northampton

20. Which of these League Two clubs have a three-sided ground? (1)
A) Oxford B) Barnet C) Cheltenham D) Stevenage
Turls: Stevenage Lakes: Cheltenham Answer: Oxford

21. Which League One side didn't change manager last season? (1)
A) Tranmere B) Leyton Orient C) Colchester D) Carlisle
Turls: Carlisle Lakes: Carlisle Answer: Carlisle

22. Which Championship team haven't won away this season? (1)
A) Scunthorpe B) Burnley C) Barnsley D) Middlesbrough
Turls: Burnley Lakes: Burnley Answer: Burnley

23. Which League One side have the lowest average attendance this year? (1)
A) Walsall B) Dagenham C) Rochdale D) Hartlepool
Turls: Dagenham Lakes: Rochdale Answer: Dagenham

24. Which Championship side have the highest average attendance this season? (1)
A) Norwich B) Leeds C) Derby D) Leicester
Turls: Leeds Lakes: Leicester Answer: Derby

Round Four: Turls 16 Lakes 10

The next six questions were all about Preston for Lakes only:

25. Who finished last season as Preston's top goalscorer? (1)
Lakes: Jon Parkin Answer: Jon Parkin

26. Preston's first away this season came at which team? (1)
Lakes: Leeds Answer: Coventry

27. Preston have conceded four goals away from home this season at Leeds, Swansea, and which other team? (1)
Lakes: Leicester Answer: Burnley

28. Jon Parkin, Iain Hume, Callum Davidson, and who else got on the scoresheet in Preston's 6-4 win at Leeds? (1)
Lakes: Keith Treacy Answer: Keith Treacy

29. Who were the visitors for Preston's biggest crowd of the season? (1)
Lakes: Norwich Answer: Norwich

30. Preston have kept three clean sheets this season - against Millwall, Ipswich, and who else? (1)
Lakes: Coventry Answer: Portsmouth

Now Turls has six questions to answer about Nottingham Forest:

25. Who finished last season as Forest's top scorer? (1)
Turls: Rob Earnshaw Answer: Rob Earnshaw

26. Forest's first away win this season came at which team? (1)
Turls: Preston Answer: Preston

27. Forest have lost four times away this season - at Portsmouth, Leicester, Burnley and where else? (1)
Turls: Barnsley Answer: Barnsley

28. Who scored twice for Forest in the 3-1 win over Swansea? (1)
Turls: Lewis McGugan Answer: Lewis McGugan

29. Who were the visitors for Forest's biggest crowd of the season? (1)
Turls: Leeds Answer: Leeds

30. Forest have kept two clean sheets away this season - at Hull and where else? (1)
Turls: Cardiff Answer: Cardiff

Round Five: Turls 22 Lakes 13

The final six questions are more difficult - but are all worth more than one point:

31. Karl Robinson is the youngest manager in the Football League. Which club does he manager? (2)
Turls: Leyton Orient Lakes: Rotherham Answer: MK Dons

32. Which side made the JPT area final for a record eighth time this season? (3)
Turls: Carlisle Lakes: Wycombe Answer: Carlisle

33. Gilligham ended their long winless away run at which club earlier this season? (3)
Turls: Crewe Lakes: Hereford Answer: Oxford

34. What was the scoreline when Millwall hosted Watford this season? (3)
Turls: 3-3 Lakes: 2-1 Answer: 1-6

35. Which Football League club were the first to sack their manager this season? (3)
Turls: Southampton Lakes: MK Dons Answer: Sheffield United

36. Which side are top of the Conference Premier? (2)
Turls: AFC Wimbledon Lakes: AFC Wimbledon Answer: AFC Wimbledon

Final Score: Turls 27 Lakes 15 (out of 46)

So, a third straight win for Turls in our mammoth trivia quizzes. However, both lads improved their scores again. Will Lakes ever emerge triumphant? Hope springs eternal.

N.B. Lakes would like it to be known that he was going to revise before the quiz but forgot.

He also made it clear he'd prefer his specialist questions next time to, rather than concern Preston, revolve around British media personality Simon Mayo.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Predicted Tables: Half Way Review

The lads like to pretend that, when it comes to the Football League, they know their stuff.

That's why, at the start of the season, they like to try and forecast how the three divisions will look come the final game of the season.

However, just how accurate were their predictions? Which ones do they look like getting spot-on, and which teams have completely surprised them?

With the season nearing the half way mark, time to take a look at how their predictions are shaping up.

Here's how the lads thought the Championship would look like come the end of the term:

Starting at the bottom, and the lads appear to have been on the right track with many of their choices. Scunthorpe were picked to feature in the bottom three by all the lads - and the Iron do indeed sit in the relegation zone.

Nobes and Lakes look like they were both right to be pessimistic about Preston's hopes, and Turls's choice of Crystal Palace also seems wise. Palace and PNE make-up the bottom three with Scunthorpe.

However, all three were lured into believing that Middlesbrough would be challenging at the summit. As it is, Boro are flopping badly and look on course to deliver the most inaccurate pre-season prediction in the division.

Elsewhere, with QPR and Leeds both riding high as he forecast, Nobes so far has the top end most accurate.

Also, if the league table ended as it stands today, Nobes with Reading in 7th would also be the only one of the three to have a spot-on prediction.

Moving onto League One, which the lads felt would look like this:

Again, the lads all went for the same title winners - Southampton. A shocking start has left Saints playing catch up however and, while they may still win promotion, they don't appear the certainties the lads believed they would be.

Predictions of Huddersfield, Charlton, and Sheffield Wednesday to feature in the top six all appear well founded to date.

At the bottom, Yeovil and Dagenham were unanimous choices for relegation by the lads and currently lie in the bottom four.

Rochdale, currently outside the drop zone on goal difference alone, also appear to be justifying the lads' predictions of a hard season.

Surprises have come from Swindon struggling, and fine first halves of the campaign for Exeter and one of the promoted sides, Bournemouth.

In terms of spot-on predictions, if today's table is replicated after 46 games, Nobes with Huddersfield and Lakes with Sheffield Wednesday and Peterborough would be 100% accurate.

Finally, in League Two, here's how their pre-season thoughts looked:

Both Lakes and Turls predicted a struggle for Barnet - which looks accurate to date. However, their forecast of a tough season for Cheltenham looks less clever.

The likes of Morecambe, Accrington, and Lincoln were all expected to feature in the lower reaches and have indeed had a tough campaign at the wrong end so far.

Towards the top, the lads differed greatly but Lakes and Nobes with Port Vale have one of the sides currently residing in the promotion places in his predicted top three. Lakes's surprise choice of Torquay also looks inspired.

Turls's selections of Chesterfield, Rotherham, and Bury for the top seven look good - all three are currently in it. All three lads expected Bradford to be in there, too, but they have so far struggled to live up to their hype.

When it comes to spot on predictions, Lakes will wish the season ended now. He has Wycombe, Accrington, Morecambe, and Barnet's current positions absolutely correct. Nobes has the only other spot on, with Southend in 17th.

How will things finish up though? Will Turls mount a strong comeback to defend his Predicted Table crown? Or maybe, just maybe, Lakes will actually win at something? That alone has to be worth waiting for, surely?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Prediction League Week 21

History was made in the Prediction League last weekend as, for the first time ever, all three lads sit level on the same number of points.

With both Preston and Boston's matches postponed, Turls picked up maximum spoils from the Forest game and, with Nobes and Lakes each getting a point, all three lads are on 38 points.

When that happens, the number of points they have gained from games involving their own team is used to separate them.

Again, this could hardly be closer, with Lakes and Turls dead level with 15 points garnered from Preston and Forest matches respectively. However, Nobes had registered 14 of his points from Boston games, putting him ahead of the other two.

So, with things almost impossibly tight in the standings heading into the Festive period, who will sit where come 2011? It starts with the Boxing Day fixtures, where all three teams are on the road.

Middlesbrough vs. Nottingham Forest

Lakes: Middlesbrough 0-2 Forest
Middlesbrough 1-2 Forest
Middlesbrough 0-1 Forest

Scunthorpe United vs. Preston North End

Lakes: Scunthorpe United 1-2 PNE
Scunthorpe United 1-1 PNE
Scunthorpe United 2-1 PNE

Gainsborough Trinity vs. Boston United

Gainsborough Trinity 2-4 Skyrockets
Gainsborough Trinity 1-2 Skyrockets
Gainsborough Trinity 0-1 Skyrockets

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Big Match Preview

Torquay United vs. Cheltenham Town
Sunday December 26, 15:00, Plainmoor

It's a localish affair down on the English Riviera this Boxing Day as Torquay United host Cheltenham Town with both sides gunning for a place in the League Two play offs.

The two teams are separated by just a single point and place as they lie either side of the cut off point for the end of season play offs in 7th and 8th place respectively.

For the visitors from Gloucestershire, manager Mark Yates celebrated a year in charge at Whaddon Road this week and things couldn't be more different from when he first took over.

Twelve months ago, Cheltenham sat in 21st, and were fighting relegation. Now they travel to the South West challenging to reclaim the place in League One they lost in 2009.

It's been a dramatic turn around in fortunes in the Cotswolds - and they have impressed on their travels this season, too.

Indeed, only Bury have scored more goals on the road than Town this season, with 17 notched up in their 10 away games. Wins have been attained at Aldershot, Accrington, and Macclesfield.

They also come into the game four games unbeaten away from home. However, they have tasted defeat on the road at Barnet, Chesterfield, Bradford, and in an extraordinary 6-4 loss at Rotherham.

Key for the Robins has been striker Wes Thomas. The bargain buy from Dagenham during the summer is the club's top scorer having found the back of the net on nine occasions.

Mark Yates has turned Cheltenham from strugglers into play off candidates

Hosts Torquay have enjoyed a strange season to date, but the Devon side find themselves in the top seven in their second season back in the Football League.

Paul Buckle's men topped the table in the early weeks of the campaign, however a nine match winless streak saw them slide down the standings.

Just one defeat in their last six has seen them recover though, and the Gulls will be hoping to maintain their fine form to ensure they remain in the race for a place in the end of season play offs.

For that to happen, they'll need to improve upon a record at Plainmoor which has been patchy at best. Wins have been achieved over Northampton, Bradford, and Morecambe.

However, Macclesfield, Aldershot, and Bury have all returned home from a trip to United with maximum spoils.

Outstanding performers for Torquay this term include striker Elliot Benyon, whose ten goals has seen him attract interest from clubs higher up the pyramid. Chris Zebroski also has six to his name and is another goal threat for Buckle's side.

With Cheltenham's decent away form and Torquay's erratic record at Plainmoor, this is a difficult game to call. Throw in a big Boxing Day crowd and the recent postponements both sides have suffered, who knows what to expect?

Will one side come out fresh and the other rusty? Will the game even go ahead and beat the snow? If it does, then I think this one has 'draw' written all over it.

Nobes' Prediction: Torquay United 1 Cheltenham Town 1

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Doctor Lakes - Queens Park Rangers

Quick, somebody, call a Doctor! Actually, no need, there's one already here.

His name is Doctor Lakes and, equipped with his medical degree from the University of Hull, he's on hand to deal with any emergencies.

He's also an expert on checking-up on Football League sides and whether they're in rude health or not.

For his latest physical, he ventured to the Smoke to test whether Championship leaders Queens Park Rangers are really as fighting fit as they appear.

Prior to their game against Watford earlier this month, QPR were top of the table - four points clear of Cardiff with a game in hand. They hadn't lost all season and their defence had only conceded nine goals in 19 matches.

They had just beaten their closest rivals in their previous game and few people were prepared to bet against them winning the league.

Fast forward a few weeks and it's suddenly a different picture. Back-to-back defeats at home to Watford and away to Leeds hasn't had much of an impact on their league position - they are still three points clear with a game in hand.

However, it has certainly altered the way the rest of the league looks at the London club.

The game against Watford was shown on TV, and I was looking forward to watching it to see how Rangers were shaping up this season. It was the first time I had a chance to see them play since Neil Warnock took charge.

It's hard to argue with a club who haven't lost all season and are sitting pretty at the league's summit, but I wanted to see whether Warnock had altered his usual approach to playing football.

Now, I'll admit that I'm not the biggest Warnock fan and I will reluctantly admit that he is arguably the best manager in this division. That said, he teams don't always play the most attractive form of football.

It would be unfair to call his Sheffield United team hoof merchants, but they did have a tendency to resort to the long ball more often than not.

I wanted to see whether Warnock had transferred this style of play down south, or whether he was prepared to learn from QPR's past and play the fluid football of old.

Soccer AM/MW provided a live commentary on the game, and to say I was disappointed would be an understatement. I had heard all these plaudits flooding out about Adel Taarabt pulling the strings and QPR being a joy to watch when the Moroccan was on form.

I had gone into the game knowing that their defence was seemingly impenetrable and had not long finished reading an article on Football365 stating that Paddy Kenny was having an incredible season for the Hoops.

Of course, you're all aware that Watford came away from Loftus Road with three goals and three points. Taarabt was anonymous and it reached a point that I wasn't even aware that he had substituted.

He was trying hard to impress, whether that was because he was on TV or not, I don't know. All I do know is that it's easy to understand why a lot of people use the word 'frustrating' to describe him.

On too many occasions, the young Moroccan took the wrong option - opting to keep hold of the ball rather than pass it, choosing to shoot over an easier pass, just doing everything wrong.

I can't remember a moment in the game where I thought that this lad was worthy of a place in the Premier League.

Neil Warnock's QPR have had a slight dip in form after an excellent start

And it wasn't just him who had let me down. Defensively, they looked all over the place. It was shocking stuff for a team who were coasting the league.

The first goal came when the Watford striker was found unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box.

The QPR defence kept allowing their opponents time and space in and around the area. The Hornets could have scored four or five and nobody would have been shocked.

I was amazed that the league leaders were so disappointing, but I'm prepared to acknowledge that it was just one of those days for Rangers. They weren't at the races and just failed to get a foothold in the game.

I realise that this is part and parcel of the beautiful game, but the thing that disappointed me the most was how QPR were playing. They never looked like keeping the ball on the deck and passing it around.

They were always looking toward the top quickly, rather than building from the back. I lost count of the amount of times Paddy Kenny picked the ball up and then hoofed it down field towards his strikers.

Not one of his clearances found a man in a hooped shirt. It was ugly football at times and if a newcomer to football was to have watched that game, they would have thought that Watford were top of the table.

The Hoops then had to travel to Elland Road to face a Leeds team who appear to be getting better with every passing game. Not the type of fixture you want after having your behinds handed to you by a local rival on television. Another game, another defeat.

Having gone 19 games unbeaten, QPR have now lost their last two games, but it would be stupid to suggest they are in free fall. They still have the best manager in the league and one of the best squads, but why have they come unstuck recently?

Are their opponents finally finding out how to beat them or have they become too complacent? Is Taarabt itching for a move away, hence his abject performance against Watford, or was that game a 'miss' match for the hit-and-miss Moroccan?

These are questions that Warnock will be asking himself and his players over the next few weeks.

There's little doubt that QPR will be at the top end of the table come the end of the season, but whether they will occupy one of the top two spots is becoming a little less certain.

Two defeats on the trot is certainly not a disaster, especially when one of those games is away to Leeds, but Rangers fans might be a little worried about how abysmal their side were against Watford.

Having said that, these two defeats might force Warnock into wearing trousers.

Where are they now - Southport?

The latest installement of our feature looking back at the clubs of Football League days gone by continues with a look at Southport. Nobes looks back on the highs and lows of the coastal town's club.

Blackpool, Brighton, Bournemouth, Torquay, Morecambe. There's a proud history of seaside resorts boasting Football League outfits.

They offer visiting supporters a unique away day - with fans hoping to get their trip to the seaside when the weather is at its best.

For over half a century however, another seaside resort was able to stage Football League matches - that of Southport in Lancashire.

The Sandgrounders, as the club are known, had already been playing in local leagues for 40 years before, in 1921, they became founder members of the Third Division North.

They finished 9th in their inagural season - ahead of the likes of Tranmere, Chesterfield, and Lincoln.

It was a division they called home for the first 18 years of their Football League tenure - until football was cancelled after the outbreak of War in 1939.

In 1931 they recorded a notable achievement - becoming the first team from their division to reach the Quarter Finals of the FA Cup. There they were crushed by Everton 9-1, but it had still been a remarkable run.

During that time, they finished as high as 4th - in 1925 and again in 1939. They experienced their lean times too though, ending up second bottom in successive years from 1935.

They were to have a few more lean years after the resumption of the game following the end of the Second World War. In three of the first six seasons back, Southport finished 21st out of 22 teams. Things had become a bit tougher beside the seaside.

Then, in 1958, the Sandgrounders finished bottom of the Third Division North - and were subsequently relegated to the new Fourth Division after the re-organisation of the lower divisions.

Twelve months later, and they finished bottom of the entire Football League, but retained their place and gradually got to grips with life in the new national division.

They had to wait until 1967 before their first ever promotion, however. Port finished second to Stockport in the Fourth Division, pipping North West rivals Barrow to promotion by virtue of a superior Goal Average.

Southport's Haig Avenue hosted Football League games for over 50 years

It had been achieved under the guidance of manager Billy Bingham - who would later gain fame as coach of the Northern Ireland national team who qualified for successive World Cups in the 1980s.

Southport spent three years in the Third Division, posting finishes of 14th and 8th before suffering relegation in 1970, missing out on survival by a single point.

Back in the Fourth Division - and perhaps strengthened by their spell in a higher division - Port held their own in the top half and then, in 1972/3, secured their first and only Football League title.

The Haig Avenue outfit won more than half of their games that year to finish four points clear of runners-up Hereford. However, they were immediately relegated back down again just a year later.

It was the beginning of their decline, with crowds dwindling and finances tight, Southport finished second bottom of the Fourth Division for three successive years.

The third, in 1978, culminated in them being losing out on a re-election vote - the last ever side to do so. They were replaced by another small Lancashire club who had finished runners-up in the Northern Premier League. Their name was Wigan Athletic.

Southport took Wigan's spot in the NPL - where they recorded mostly mid-table finishes with two 5th spots their best campaigns.

Southport have won three titles in Non League football - including last year

However, in 1993 they were crowned NPL Champions - amassing over 100 goals as they ran away with the division to secure promotion to the Conference.

Port were strong performers on their debut in Non League's top flight - finishing 4th in their first year followed by 3rd in the next campaign.

They held their own in the Conference, finishing 4th in 2001 before relegation in 2003 ended their ten-year spell in the division. It was to mark the beginning of their yo-yoing between Non League's first and second tiers.

Port, under the management of Liam Watson, bounced back as winners of the new Conference North division in 2005, but struggled on their return and were relegated back down again two seasons later.

Successive defeats in the Conference North play offs followed before Watson's return as manager last season saw Southport edge out Fleetwood in a titanic tussle for the title.

This season they are, once again, involved in a relegation battle as they seek to remain in Non League's top division. It seems as though fighting promotion or relegation has just become part of the proceedings at Haig Avenue.

Perhap it's appropriate though that, after the resort's Pleasureland amusement park closed down, the local football club ensures life is never dull for a Southport fan.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It Ain't What You Do...

Riding high in the top six of the Championship, Nobes looks at how Coventry City boss Aidy Boothroyd is preparing to make history repeat itself.

Aidy Boothroyd has Coventry challenging for a return to the Premier League

December 25, 1969. That Christmas, the Queen decided against giving an address to the nation, and Rolf Harris surprisingly topped the UK charts with 'Two Little Boys'.

In England's first division, Coventry City were enjoying a solid campaign and would end the 1969/70 season in 6th place. Forty years later, and they haven't finished as high in any division since.

However, as Sky Blues fans sit down to enjoy their turkey and Christmas Pudding on Saturday, they can afford themselves a smile as they look at this season's Championship standings.

Even after last weekend's 2-1 defeat to Norwich, the West Midlands side sit sixth in the division and are firmly involved in the race for the play offs. These are uncharted times at the Ricoh Arena.

Not so for Coventry's manager Aidy Boothroyd though. Indeed, the 39-year-old will be having a distinct feeling of deja vu as he plots to recapture the top flight spot City held for over 30 years before relegation a decade ago.

Boothroyd sensationally led Watford into the Premier League in 2006 in his first full season in charge. One of the pre-season relegation favourites stunned much bigger and wealthier opponents to emerge victorious through the play offs.

The Hornets came straight back down - but once again finished in the play offs in 2008. This time, however, they fell short and were no match for Hull over two legs in the semi finals.

Still, it was a reminder that, at this level, the straight-talking Yorkshireman knows what it takes to make the end of season lottery. Now he's hoping to repeat the trick with his new employers.

Boothroyd himself is a complex character. Intelligent and friendly, he was virtually unknown when a then struggling Watford gave the former Leeds and Norwich coach his first managerial role in 2005.

He just about kept the Vicarage Road outfit in the Championship before implementing his whirlwind turnaround in fortunes. However, it wasn't just the surprise element that had people talking about Boothroyd's Watford.

At times, it seemed as though the manager was attempting to recreate history with a style of play reminiscent of the Hornets team which gatecrashed England's elite in the early '80s.

Back then, Graham Taylor's side were branded a 'kick and rush' team as they bombarded opposition defences with high balls pumped into the penalty area. Sophisticated? No. Effective? Extremely.

It was the same recipe for success for Boothroyd a quarter of a century later. Pundits who laughed when the managerial rookie set his sights on the Premier League were left with egg on their face as Watford muscled their way into claiming a place at football's top table.

It earned the new man the nickname 'Hoofroyd', a tag which has followed him around at Colchester last term and now in his latest role in Warwickshire. Not that it seems to greatly perturb him.

"I don't go in for 'playing the game the right way', because statements like that are usually made by purists who don't win very often." he argued. "As far as I am concerned, playing the right way is winning."

I spoke after his appointment - one met with disdain from some Coventry supporters - about the thinking of managers dubbed 'route one merchants'.

Managers for whom results and winning are everything. For whom it's steel, not style, which matters. Managers whose methods dictate they need results quickly - and often get them.

It was certainly the case with Boothroyd at Watford, and now too with Coventry. Only once in their previous nine seasons in the Championship have the Sky Blues had a better record before Christmas.

That was in 2001/2, when the team relegated from the Premier League, along with £5 million addition Lee Hughes, were battling for an instant return to the top flight. They failed, and it has been the same story ever since.

Boothroyd's Watford won promotion via the Championship play offs in 2006

Could that be about to change under City's ninth manager in ten years though?

As when he took over at Watford, Boothroyd is attempting to turn around a side used to finishing towards the wrong end of the division. Coventry ended up 19th last term, following on from two 17th places in recent years. They even finished as low as 21st in 2008.

Under Boothroyd, though, they've rarely been out of the top half all term. City have won 10 of their 22 games and have kept eight clean sheets along the way.

He was fortunate to inherit arguably the division's best keeper in Keiren Westwood, but bringing back experienced midfielder Lee Carsley for a second spell at the club was a particularly shrewd move.

He also returned to former club Colchester to bring target man Clive Platt with him and, typical of his steadfastness, took a gamble on controversial striker Marlon King.

The pair worked together at Watford where King scored 22 goals in their promotion campaign. The striker describes Boothroyd as, "the best manager I have worked under. He gives you belief there's nothing you can't do."

Certainly Boothroyd's methods, while not easy on the eye, ensure that Coventry will always be a difficult proposition for opponents and an emphasis on doing the basics right means they're always in contention in matches.

Sides who don't match their work rate and are unable to cope with their aerial assault will also get little change from a trip to the Ricoh.

While purists will snarl at the thought of City being promoted, credit has to be paid if a side through organisation and sheer effectiveness can upset others with bigger budgets and better players.

There is also more to Coventry's manager than your average long ball merchant. Boothroyd is an innovator.

In 2006, knowing his young Watford side were heading into the play offs, he used the Easter weekend games to rehearse the kind of training schedule necessary for the quick fire games of the play offs.

He also staged a mock penalty shoot out after a home game towards the end of the season.

Home fans were encouraged to boo and heckle the Hornets players as they stepped up to the spot - all designed to try and re-create the kind of atmosphere and situation they would face if Watford needed to triumph in a shoot out in the play offs.

In the end they didn't need one, but the manager argued that not only did it make his players better prepared, but it would also lay seeds of doubt into their opponents minds. They'd believe Watford were better placed to win a shoot out.

Then, for the final, Boothroyd's men trained on a pitch marked out to the exact dimensions of the Millennium Stadium venue,
went on a tour of the Cardiff arena, and even practised the pre-match handshake routine performed at such occasions.

You certainly can't accuse him of failing to do his preparation. "I like to pre-empt a lot of things so that when they do happen we are prepared for them," he explained.

In pre-season last summer, Boothroyd worked on various scenarios with his new charges including adapting to playing with ten men and - something which seems pertinent of late - how to deal psychologically with a game in threat of being called off because of an adverse weather.

At Watford, he even changed his touchline attire from a tracksuit to a smart suit because he believed it would gain his team an advantage.

During a game against Preston, he felt opposite number Billy Davies had received more respect
than him from the referee because of the way he had been dressed.

Indeed, the pair seem to share more in common than just what they wear inside the technical area.

Both pay great attention to detail, and Boothroyd's comments about Coventry being a work in progress and the need for more time are reminiscent of Davies's last season when describing his Nottingham Forest team.

Of course, Forest went on to make the play offs themselves. Boothroyd will be hoping to take another leaf out of the Scot's book this term by doing the same and ending Coventry's long wait for a top six finish.

One thing is for sure - he would have been preparing for it.