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

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Talking Points - August 2010

The lads always like to speak their mind, and here's what they thought about events in August:

Pre-season Previews
All of the pre-season previews from the Championship to the Conference North and South - including the thoughts of Enron Turlman.

Predicted Tables
The lads predict what the Championship, League One, and League Two will look like this season.

Lions Pride of Promoted Trio
After the opening weekend of the season, Nobes looks back on the success of newly promoted Millwall.

Getting The Breaks
The managers in the Football League
who Nobes believes could do a job in the top flight - if given the chance.

Up For The Challenge
Nobes on why Steve Coppell was right to resign from Bristol City and retire from management.

Less Waste, More Speed
Thoughts from Nobes on the task facing new Sheffield United boss Gary Speed after replacing Kevin Blackwell.

Something to Torq About
Top of the early League Two standings, Nobes hails the defensive strength of clean sheet-kings Torquay United.

Know Your Place
After Chris Turner's resignation from Hartlepool, Nobes suggests all football fans need to reduce their expectations.

Nobes' Trivia: 1

Nobes is back for the new campaign with more football trivia. This season, he'll set you three questions to ponder over each month.

So answers for the following posers will come, along with three more questions, on Tuesday September 30.

Question 1 - Odd One Out

Which of these clubs is the odd one out, and why?

Barnet, Kidderminster, Macclesfield, Stevenage.

Question 2 - Hidden Link

What have the following clubs got in common?

Bristol City, Carlisle, Coventry, Exeter, Northampton, Norwich, Stockport.

Question 3 - General

Accrington Stanley and Barnsley were the only teams to do this in the Football League last season. What?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Big Match Review - Port Vale 1 Torquay 2

Port Vale 1-2 Torquay United
Saturday August 28, Vale Park, (Att: 5,750)

Torquay failed to keep an eleventh straight clean sheet, but maintained their 100 per cent record - and top spot in League Two - with victory at Vale Park.

Paul Buckle's side got off to a dream start when taking the lead within the first five minutes.

Sloppy play in midfield saw Chris Zebroski seize the ball and his surging run into the box was only stopped by a foul from home keeper Stuart Tomlinson.

Nicky Wroe stepped up to send Tomlinson the wrong way and put Torquay 1-0 up.

That advantage was soon doubled. The Valiants failed to deal with a long throw into the box and the ball broke for Zebroski to poke home with just 28 minutes played.

However, their long stretch without conceding was finally ended as Vale pulled a goal back before the break.

Anthony Griffith's long range screamer from 30 yards beat keeper Scott Bevan down low to his right as the Devon team conceded their first league goal since April.

However, a resolute defensive display in the second period ensured the Gulls weren't to be denied a fourth straight win as they inflicted a first loss of the season on Vale.

Prediction League Week 4 continued

It was a good Saturday for Nobes and Turls who both collected a couple of points as Lakes registered a blank.

With it being the Bank Holiday weekend, there's an extra game this afternoon as Boston are in action at home.

Boston United vs. Eastwood Town

Skyrockets 4-0 Eastwood Town
Skyrockets 3-0 Eastwood Town
Turls: Skyrockets 3-0 Eastwood Town

Friday, August 27, 2010

Editorial 11

Hello lower league fans.

It's time for another installment from inside the blog you can't help but like. Then again, you're not alone.

No, let me assure you, the Irn Bru bottles have been popping like there's no tomorrow at Soccer AM/MW towers this month as we had even more reason to feel good about ourselves.

The launch of the Guardian's excellent Football League blog has given much needed coverage to the work ourselves and many others do in turning the spotlight on life outside the greed of the top flight.

Being listed on their 'sites we like' section is the kind of coup Lakes will be dining out on in the fanciest restaurants as he schmoozes with the Smoke's finest.

In all seriousness, it's a nice recognition for something we enjoy doing. A quick look at the Guardian's site and you might well find other Football League content which interests you.

We like to think that, here at Soccer AM/MW though, we offer more than just a vehicle for serious discussion. We always endeavour to do something different, and find a more unique way of covering events.

That's why we were pleased to introduce Enron Turlman to the world this past month as he gave us his thoughts on how the new season would be panning out across the Football League.

It's also reflected in our new 'What if...' section as we pose the hypothetical questions which look at how things could have turned out very differently.

That irreverence we so dearly love will also be in great supply as we make regular check-ups with our good Doctor Lakes.

He'll be getting out his equipment and doing the kind of physicals most GPs expect to be paid for. He does it simply for pleasure though - too much pleasure, if you ask me.

Of course, with the return of the new season some of the old favourites are back, including the Big Match Previews and Reviews and the Prediction League.

I'm feeling a new sense of pressure this term as I try and defend my title from last season. You can keep check with our progress with the table permanently on the left hand side.

A new feature for the season is the regular trips down Memory Lane as we look into the footballing archives. I kicked things off this week with a look at a former Football League club. Stay tuned for more of that kind of thing.

I can also exclusively reveal we'll be getting a new look soon with new banners to adorn the top of the page. Stay tuned for that. I don't want to get your expectations too high, but they're going to be sensational.

We're always on the lookout for you to get involved, too. So if you want to get in touch then drop us an email at
soccerammw@gmail.com or poke us, or whatever folk do to one another, on that Twitter thing.

That especially goes for if you'd like to be interviewed for our Fan Files section. More of those to come during the season, too.

No reason to stop liking us then, eh?


Prediction League Week 4

No further points picked up in midweek means things remained the same in the Prediction League at the end of Week 3.

That leaves Turls with some early ground to make up as Nobes and Lakes hold a slight advantage.

This weekend all three teams are in action with Preston and Boston travelling and Forest on home soil.

Nottingham Forest vs. Norwich City

Lakes: Forest 1-0 Norwich City
Forest 2-0 Norwich City
Forest 3-0 Norwich City

Sheffield United vs. Preston North End

Lakes: Sheffield United 1-1 PNE
Sheffield United 3-1 PNE
Sheffield United 2-1 PNE

Harrogate Town vs. Boston United

Harrogate Town 2-2 Skyrockets
Harrogate Town 1-2 Skyrockets
Harrogate Town 0-2 Skyrockets

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Big Match Preview

Port Vale vs. Torquay United
Saturday August 28, 15:00, Vale Park

It's still very early days, but two of the frontrunners in the embryonic League Two standings meet in the Potteries this weekend.

Both Port Vale and Torquay have made promising starts to the new campaign, with this game pitting 4th against 1st. It also gives the away side the chance to write their names into the footballing history books.

Torquay have kept clean sheets in their last 10 league games - stretching back to April last season. An 11th at Vale Park would see them match Millwall's record dating back to the 1925/6 campaign.

That defensive solidity has been at the heart of Paul Buckle's side's impressive beginning to the season. As well as not giving anything away, the Gulls have taken maximum spoils from their first three games.

A crushing 3-0 victory over Northampton on the opening day was followed by a 2-0 win at Lincoln. Then, last weekend, pre-season favourites Bradford were swept aside by the same scoreline at Plainmoor.

The Devon side travel to the West Midlands brimming with confidence therefore, as they look to maintain their excellent early form.

Central to their rock solid backline has been the influence of experienced centre half Guy Branston. After making his loan move from Burton permanent in the summer, he has once again helped United look resolute at the back.

Alongside Mark Ellis, Chris Robertson, and Kevin Nicholson, and with the very able Scott Bevan in goal behind them, Buckle will be confident he has the unit to frustrate their hosts.

With strikers Elliott Benyon and Chris Zebroski both in goalscoring form, too, the Gulls will hope to cause a threat of their own down the other end of the pitch.

Can Micky Adams and Port Vale end Torquay's clean sheet run?

In their way stand Micky Adam's Vale side - looking to bounce back from last night's 6-0 thumping against Fulham in the League Cup.

Despite that heavy loss, they had progressed through to the tie at Craven Cottage after a shock win at Championship leaders QPR - a sign of their credentials.

In the league, the Valiants remain unbeaten having taken seven points from nine. That includes two away wins from two at Bury and then last weekend's 3-1 success at Southend.

Their one home match so far saw a 1-1 draw with Chesterfield, and the former Leicester boss will be looking to secure their first triumph at Vale Park - where they struggled to win at times last term.

Up front, Vale boast the Richards double-act with strikers Justin and Marc scoring three and two goals respectively to date.

The Staffordshire outfit have also looked solid at the back, with just two goals conceded in their three league games.

Goalkeeper Stuart Tomlinson, a summer signing from Barrow, is protected by defenders John McCombe, Gareth Owen, and Lee Collins - who grabbed Vale's winning goal on the opening day.

It promises to be a tight encounter between two well organised sides who look to build from the back. It's difficult, therefore, to see too many goals.

Vale are a difficult team to beat, although they may well suffer for their midweek cup excursions. The first goal will be vital, and if Torquay get it they can hold on to make history.

Nobes' Prediction: Port Vale 0 Torquay United 1

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Where are they now - Workington?

In the first of a new series, we look at what happened to clubs who used to grace the Football League in the dim and distant past.

Nobes kicks things off with a look at Workington.

For people of my generation it's hard to imagine that, once upon a time, the largely rural county of Cumbria had three Football League clubs.

Of course, these days it's only an away fixture at Carlisle United which prompts fans to embark on those long - and seemingly never-ending - trips up the M6 to follow their side.

However, for 20 years between the 1950s and '70s, United were joined in the Football League by both Barrow and Workington.

For the former - currently back in the Conference Premier - their FA Trophy success at Wembley in May, as well as good recent FA Cup runs, have brought them back into people's minds.

Workington have not been as fortunate. However, between
1951 and 1977, they spent a quarter of the century in the Football League - and almost made it all the way into the second tier.

Workington AFC were voted into the Football League at the expense of New Brighton. However, they struggled in their first season in the regional Division Three North - finishing bottom - just below Darlington and Accrington Stanley.

Twelve months later, and they finished next to bottom - this time just above Accrington. Adjusting to life in the higher divisions was proving tricky for the Borough Park outfit.

By 1955, they had firmly established themselves though - finishing 8th and, crucially, above local rivals Carlisle for the first ever time. It was achieved under the management of the legendary Bill Shankly - the one season he spent at the club.

Post-Shankly, Workington finished 10th and then 4th in a division which, at one time or another, included the likes of Barnsley and Derby - both in today's Championship.

With the restructuring of the pyramid in 1958, they became inaugural members of the new Fourth Division, but finished a disappointing 17th.

After years of regional competition, they were now adjusting to long away trips to Watford, Aldershot, Millwall, and Exeter, as well as more regular northern opponents Bradford Park Avenue and Southport.

Ken Furphy led Workington to their one and only Football League promotion

Eventually, the Reds, as the club are known, got to grips with their new platform - holding down a place in the top half until securing their one and only Football League promotion.

In 1964, player-manager Ken Furphy's team finished third - behind Gillingham and Carlisle - and made the jump to the third tier.

After consolidating in their first season, the Reds finished 5th in the Third Division - finishing above future top flight clubs Reading, Swindon, and Brighton & Hove Albion.

They also enjoyed great success in the League Cup at this time - reaching the last eight in successive years before bowing out to West Ham and Chelsea respectively.

It was to prove Workington's zenith. As, a year after missing out on promotion to the second tier, they finished bottom of the Third Division and were relegated back to the Fourth Division after just three seasons away.

The decline continued, and the Reds finished just a place off the bottom of the Football League the next term.

In the next years, their best finish was 6th and their last four Football League seasons were a tale of woe.

Successive finishes of 23rd were followed by finishing bottom the next two terms. In 1977, with attendances dropping and the team performing poorly on the pitch, the Cumbrian side were voted out of the Football League.

Borough Park - home to the Reds - and, once upon a time, the Football League

Interestingly, the club who replaced them were a small outfit from London who would go on to enjoy unbelievable success. They were called Wimbledon.

Back in the Non Leagues, Workington struggled on their return to the Northern Premier League, ending their first campaign back in 19th.

Ten years later, they dropped down to the Northern Premier League First Division and then, another decade later, the Reds were relegated to the North West Counties League in 1998.

However, they immediately won their place back in the First Division the next season and, after restructuring of the Non League pyramid in 2004, they were moved into the Northern Premier League.

With some upward momentum at last, the revival on the Cumbrian coast continued twelve months later as they made the inaugural NPL play offs.

After beating Prescot Cables in the semi final, Tommy Cassidy's side saw off Farsley on penalties to gain a place in the Conference North - the second tier of the Non Leagues.

Since then, they've twice finished in the play offs losing out in 2007 to Hinckley in the semi finals and then, last season, Darren Edmondson's men were beaten by Alfreton at the same stage.

After falling so far down though, the Cumbrian club are now in their strongest position for more than 30 years.

It may not be days of holding Chelsea at Borough Park, but Reds fans can once more be proud of their present as they are of their past.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Prediction League Week 3 continued

After a profitable weekend of four points each, Nobes and Lakes extended their advantage over Turls in the Prediction League.

However, it's still very early days, and the former Champion will be keen to start bridging the gap.

This evening, Preston are on the road in League Cup action while Boston have a home match in the league.

Bradford City vs. Preston North End

Bradford City 0-1 PNE
Bradford City 1-2 PNE
Bradford City 0-3 PNE

Boston United vs. Nuneaton Town

Skyrockets 3-0 Nuneaton Town
Skyrockets 2-1 Nuneaton Town
Skyrockets 2-0 Nuneaton Town

Know Your Place

Following under-pressure Chris Turner's resignation from Hartlepool United, Nobes rails at delusions of grandeur in the game.

Chris Turner has ended his second spell in charge of Hartlepool

A question to begin with: Where is a respectable finish for a club who attract the smallest attendances in their division?

If you answered somewhere in the top half, a place on the board at League One Hartlepool awaits. If you answered somewhere in mid table, get yourself onto the terraces at Victoria Park.

If you answered avoiding relegation, then welcome to the real world.

Chris Turner's decision to resign as Pools boss last week was the classic example of a manager under intense, and wholly unwarranted, pressure who decided to jump before he could be pushed.

The North East side avoided relegation on the final day of last season by virtue of a superior goal difference to Gillingham.

It sounds like a close shave, but the fact is no club in League One attracted fewer fans through the gates than Hartlepool in 2009/10.

It's not like fans to let cold, hard realism get in the way though. Not with football, the game of dreams and ambition.

The modern day opiate of the masses - an opiate which seems to affect some people's reason.

This is a club, after all, who sacked previous boss Danny Wilson when they "slipped into the bottom half" of the League One table. A laughable move which has worked out far better for the current Swindon boss than his former employers.

Pools, and their fans, are a club suffering from delusions of grandeur usually associated with another stripe-donning United hailing from that part of the country.

Consecutive play off finishes - largely orchestrated by then boss Neale Cooper - in 2004 and 2005 was a huge overachievement for a club more accustomed to life in the basement division.

Along with Rochdale, United hold the record for spending the most number of seasons in the Football League without ever reaching the second tier.

Although getting there is not impossible, it remains highly unlikely. Their defeat to Sheffield Wednesday in the 2005 Play Off final may well turn out to be the closest they will ever come.

Disappointing, but not the end of the world. Indeed, relegation back to League Two would not be the end of the world to Hartlepool. That is the reality they, and other such clubs, must wake up to.

It may go against the very heart of any sporting competition - striving to be the best you can be and improve constantly. However, there must be a place for simply being content with where you are.

Don't rest on your laurels, don't get complacent, but also don't get carried away.

Overachievement should be celebrated - but not become expected. Fans must recognise when their team has punched above their weight and not lose perspective.

Take Preston supporters - spoiled by constant fights to finish in the Championship play offs under a succession of managers.

Competing to finish in the top six became taken as the norm for North End fans still living off the glory of the 19th century.

Did they not stop to realise that, actually, just staying in that division was more than acceptable for a club of their resources? Sometimes you don't realise - or refuse to admit - your club is overachieving.

Instead, success goes to the head. Fans come to expect more and more, and expect their club to continue to chase the success they crave.

Scunthorpe's success must be recognised as a short-lived exception

It puts clubs in a difficult position. They must always strive to find the right combination of showing enough ambition without being reckless.

If fans think relegation to a lower division is a disaster, they are wrong. Having no club to support is. Running a stable club and business must always supersede any dreams of competing at a higher level.

It's just the way things are in the lower divisions. You will always have teams, such as Scunthorpe currently, who punch well above their weight. They should be cherished and recognised - and serve as an inspiration.

However, Scunny fans, deep down, know their club is mixing with a crowd that, given their resources, they don't belong in.

It shouldn't stop them from trying to do so but, equally, not doing so should also not be seen as failure.

Across the board, at all clubs, there is a need for greater patience, understanding, and realism among football supporters.

Accept the size of your club, accept their limitations, and recognise how high they can realistically go. Enjoy any success, but know that failure is only ever just around the corner.

It may completely go against the grain of sport - the unpredictable stage where anything can happen. However, if fans did act in such a manner, just imagine how different things could be.

Managers may not come under so much pressure and resign or be fired by chairmen sensing unrest amongst supporters.

That in turn can lead to them trying to play more attractive and open football - rather than adopting a 'win at all costs' policy that threatens to stifle and spoil the game.

They would know going a certain number of games without winning would not lead to the sack but, instead, they would have time to turn things around and develop a team and pattern of play.

Matches would be more enjoyable, young players would be encouraged to express themselves and show more skill, and the entertainment the fans get for their money would also increase.

Clubs, too, would not feel under as much pressure to spend money they don't have to try and appease supporters who, wrongly, believe their club should be doing better than it is.

When you consider so much of the financial mess clubs find themselves in these days is as a result of over-stretching, and it could only be beneficial for their future financial health.

Of course, you'll always have loony chairmen or rich benefactors who believe differently and use a club as their play thing. Taking it to places they'd never have got to without significant investment.

Peterborough will never be a Premier League club, even if they reach the top flight with Darragh MacAnthony's money.

The moment when Wigan fall back into the Championship, too, they should be recognised as nothing more than a lower league club who bought a temporary place among the big boys.

Why? Because there are only a certain number of big boys in every division. The sooner fans of smaller teams begin to accept that fact, the better.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Big Match Review - Preston 1 Portsmouth 0

Preston North End 1-0 Portsmouth
Saturday August 21, Deepdale, (Att: 9,666)

Preston North End secured their first points of the season as a Paul Hayes goal earned them a deserved victory over Portsmouth.

After a poor start to the season, it was no surprise to see such a sparse crowd at Deepdale. However, those absent missed a dominant performance by Darren Ferguson's side.

Ultimately, they had to settle for just the one. Paul Hayes grabbing the winner after just 18 minutes as he converted Billy Jones's low cross from close range.

Firmly in charge, the home went searching for a second and went close with a volley from Hayes and an acrobatic overhead effort from Jones.

Pompey were also indebted to keeper Jamie Ashdown for pulling off a number of good saves, including thwarting Josh King when the North End striker was through one-on-one.

However, one goal was to prove enough for the Lancashire side as they got they finally got off the mark for the new campaign. For Steve Cotterill's Portsmouth though, the search for a first win continues.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Prediction League Week 3

Just the third week of the new Prediction League campaign, and things are typically tight with just a single point separating each position.

This weekend sees Boston and Forest on the road with Preston back on home soil for their game.

As ever, three points are up for grabs for the right scoreline and one point for the correct result.

Preston North End vs. Portsmouth

PNE 0-2 Portsmouth
PNE 0-1 Portsmouth
PNE 1-3 Portsmouth

Reading vs. Nottingham Forest

Lakes: Reading 1-1 Forest
Reading 1-1 Forest
Reading 1-2 Forest

Redditch United vs. Boston United

Lakes: Redditch United 1-3 Skyrockets
Redditch United 1-2 Skyrockets
Redditch United 1-2 Skyrockets

Something to Torq About

With Torquay riding high at the top of League Two, Nobes looks at the miserly defence helping the Gulls upset the odds.

Plenty to celebrate: Torquay are enjoying a fine start to the season

It's not the kind of thing a professional footballer wishes to be reminded of. Putting the ball into your own net can be embarrassing at best and, at worst, very costly to your team.

Pity poor Chris Zebroski, then, who holds the unfortunate tag of being the last man to score a league goal against his own team - Torquay United.

Particularly unfortunate given the goal came all the way back on April 3 last season. Thankfully, on that occasion, it wasn't to prove costly, with United beating Shrewsbury 2-1.

Since then though, the Devon club haven't conceded in 871 minutes. A run of nine clean sheets on the trot - with seven victories in those matches.

Number nine came in Saturday's 2-0 victory at Lincoln. It was a result which saw the Gulls maintain the top spot in League Two they gained after an opening day 3-0 success over Northampton - the team their clean sheet run began against.

A 0-0 draw against the Cobblers was followed by a remarkable 5-0 crushing of soon-to-be-promoted Rochdale before Aldershot, Grimsby, Macclesfield, and Bury were comfortably seen off without reply.

A final day goalless draw against free-scoring Champions Notts County was further proof of the mettle of Paul Buckle's men. It has not been a run built on the good fortune of the fixture list.

Nor has it been a backs to the wall job with United sitting men behind the ball. The impressive way they demolished Dale before hitting three past both Grimsby and play off chasing Bury evidence of their attacking intent.

Indeed, the hard work and tireless running of their forward men - Zebroski and the free-scoring Elliott Benyon - has been key to a team who put into practice the idea of defending from the very front.

Benyon, in particular, has thrived with the confidence surging through the Torquay team - with three goals to his name already, including both in their weekend success at Sincil Bank.

It's form which has seen links of a move to Championship side Swansea renewed. Although he is out of the contract at the end of the season, manager Paul Buckle will be keen to retain his services a little longer at Plainmoor.

That's because Torquay's solid defence has given the Devon club, in their second season back in the Football League, a chance to compete for a top seven spot - something most fans would have felt was beyond them just a couple of weeks ago.

After consolidating in mid table last season following winning the Conference Play Off Final in 2009, Buckle's side seem to be one moving in the right direction.

Torquay boss Paul Buckle is the architect of their impressive defence

Twelve months ago they struggled on their return to the big time. Having decided that some of the players who helped them to promotion needed to be moved on though, the manager re-structured his team in the January transfer window.

Their improvement has not gone unnoticed either, with the boss himself linked to the vacant post at Colchester last term. However, he was expressed his desire to continue his work in the South West.

Much credit must rightly go to the manager. Organising a solid defence is no mean task. It requires time and patience spent on the training ground. It needs time spent drilling into players team shape, keeping a tight line, and defending balls into the box properly.

Not only has his work on the training pitch paid off, but his efforts in the transfer market also seem to be paying off.

The capture of experienced centre half Guy Branston on loan from Burton last term
may have risen some eyebrows, but it proved to be the catalyst behind shoring up the United defence.

A typically uncompromising lower league defender, the 31-year-old's organisational and leadership qualities have been central to helping younger players like Chris Robertson and Kevin Nicholson improve their defensive game.

Now signed permanently, his partnership in the middle with Mark Ellis has also given the Gulls a dominant presence in the air against the many high balls lofted in their direction by League Two opponents.

Torquay's impressive defensive run is made even more remarkable, though, by the fact the Gulls have, for one reason or another, been forced to field three different goalkeepers during their long shutout.

Scott Bevan began the run before injury saw loanee Michael Poke take over responsibility.

Even an injury to Poke and the emergency drafting in of Bristol City's Steve Collis for the final game of last term didn't disturb United's defensive solidity though.

Now with Bevan back in goal behind a settled back four, and with a striking force proving ruthlessly efficient, Buckle will hope further clean sheets will be the basis for an assault at the right end of the table.

Not only that, but Torquay's form has seen Millwall's 85-year old record of 11 consecutive clean sheets firmly enter their sights.

Shut outs in their next two games against Bradford and Port Vale would ensure this Gulls team enter the record books. You'd think even Zebroski won't mind if that happens.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Big Match Preview

Preston North End vs. Portsmouth
Saturday August 21, 15:00, Deepdale

Two sides hoping to kick start their season meet in Lancashire this weekend as Preston and Portsmouth go in search of their first three points of the new campaign.

It's too early to be speaking of the match as a relegation six pointer, but with it pitting the teams in 24th and 21st against one another, both will be keen to ensure they're not at the wrong end for too much longer.

The home side have got off to a shocking start to the season under Darren Ferguson. After two games they remain the only team in the Championship yet to secure a point.

They're also the only team who haven't found the back of the net in the division - both statistics Ferguson will hope to rectify on Saturday afternoon.

The manager is already under pressure - particularly after the shambolic 4-0 defeat to Swansea last week where North End put in a feeble performance.

That followed a 2-0 opening day loss to Doncaster at Deepdale - which has led to the manager downgrading his pre-season optimism into talk of a difficult campaign for Preston.

It was a summer of huge upheaval in the North West as the club survived a winding up order and then shipped out many of last season's players as Ferguson looked to re-shape his squad.

That's seen the likes of striker Paul Hayes and defenders Wayne Brown and Craig Morgan brought into the PNE ranks.

The manager will also hope to welcome the likes of key defender Sean St Ledger and midfielder Paul Coutts back into the team after injury for the visit of Pompey.

Preston have endured a miserable run under Darren Ferguson's watch

If Preston feel they have had problems over the summer, then they pale into insignificance compared to the much-publicised troubles of their South Coast opponents.

Survival off the pitch, not on it, was the issue occupying the minds of Portsmouth supporters during the close season as the relegated top flight club faced up to their mammoth debts.

Indeed, they were unsure whether they'd survive a High Court date with the HMRC - unhappy at the club's proposals to exit administration and the arrangement of their CVA.

With that battle now won, the mission for new boss Steve Cotterill is to get things right on the pitch at Fratton Park.

However, they've just a single point to their name so far, with an opening day defeat at Coventry followed by conceding a last gasp equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Reading.

The manager was pleased with the effort shown by his charges, however, and Portsmouth will travel with confidence that they can return from Deepdale with something to show for their efforts.

Much attention will focus on the return of former Preston striker David Nugent, who enjoyed a fruitful spell with North End before making the move to Pompey.

He spearheads a first XI which, with the likes of Aaron Mokoena, Ibrahima Sonko, Michael Brown, and Hayden Mullins, has a solid and experienced spine to it.

Cotterill, as his way, will no doubt have his team well organised and very competitive and they will hope to frustrate a Preston team badly in need of a confidence boost.

If they can withstand the home team's attacking style then they have the quality to take advantage of Preston's suspect back line and take all three points back to Hampshire with them.

Nobes' Prediction: Preston North End 0 Portsmouth 1

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Less Waste, More Speed

With Sheffield United replacing Kevin Blackwell with Gary Speed, Nobes looks at the state of play at Bramall Lane.

Kevin Blackwell had been in charge at United for two and a half years

So the dubious honour fell to Kevin Blackwell. Discounting Steve Coppell's resignation from Bristol City, it was the Sheffield United manager who became the first in the Football League to be fired this season.

Trying to justify sacking a manager two games into the season is never an easy task. Why, just 180 minutes into a new campaign is the man who began as manager now not up to the job?

What has happened, too, in the first two matches to suggest that a managerial change has to be made?

More often that not,
such decisions are nothing more than a delayed reaction to the previous campaign. As is the case with United's decision to part company with Blackwell.

In such scenarios, giving the manager the start of the new season is nothing more than a token gesture. He is a dead man walking - simply waiting to be sacked at the first convenient time.

For the South Yorkshire club, that convenient time was a midweek League Cup loss at Hartlepool followed by a painful 3-0 home defeat to QPR. Painful, not only because it was all over after only half an hour, but because of the opposition.

The return of former boss Neil Warnock always guarantees a spicy occasion - a feeling only heightened with keeper Paddy Kenny also coming back to Bramall Lane with the Rs.

It was a game Blackwell desperately didn't want - and now it's apparent he couldn't afford - to lose. Albeit so early in the season, his dismissal wouldn't have come as a surprise to the 51-year-old.

With two Championship Play Off finals on his CV, the former Leeds and Luton manager shouldn't worry too much about finding employment again.

Ultimately though, his departure from South Yorkshire is the result of last year's underachievement. He failed to get the most of a talented squad that should have at least made the play offs.

Had he left last May, nobody would have been surprised had the manager had paid
with his job for the lack of a top six finish.

Indeed, surely removing him then would have been more beneficial to United, too. Giving them time to find a new manager, who could bring in his kind of players during the summer and have a full pre-season behind him.

If the Blades didn't want to fire him but, instead, give him time to make amends this term, then giving Blackwell two games is hardly fair or realistic.

It's the kind of managerial policy which bemuses onlookers and frustrates supporters. Where is the thought? Where is the planning? Where is the replacement?

On that last issue United can, at least, defend themselves though. With Blackwell's first team coach, Gary Speed, being promoted to take overall control.

Indeed, the former boss probably knew the writing was on the wall when United vigorously fought off interest in Speed from Championship rivals Swansea to fill their managerial vacancy this summer.

Why were they so keen to hold onto, not their manager, but just a first team coach? The answer is now clear - he was always their manager in waiting - the ready made replacement when Blackwell felt the Blades' axe.

The Welshman has long been spoken about as a potential manager and now has the opportunity to prove himself in the top job.

It is arguably not the identity of the new manager which is the most interesting question at Bramall Lane though. Rather, it is about the whole identity of the club itself.

Like it or not, and most fans resent the tag, the Blades have become a club associated with playing the game a certain way.

From Dave Bassett in the '90s, through Neil Warnock's long tenure, and lately under Blackwell, United have always been seen as a big, physical, perhaps even dirty team, playing a long-ball style.

Not that they would have cared. When it brings about success, fans are never too bothered about how it is achieved.

Under Bassett they spent four years in the top flight and reached the FA Cup semi finals in 1993.

Warnock, after plenty of near misses, took them back into the top flight in 2006, after memorably guiding them to both the League Cup and FA Cup semi finals.

Under Blackwell they were within 90 minutes of reclaiming a place in the top flight but lost out to Burnley in the 2009 Championship Play Off final.

The truth is, while not pretty on the eye, United have always been at their most competitive when they've adopted such tactics.

Blades coach Gary Speed has been promoted into the manager's job

With a change in the managerial chair an opportunity to change the culture of the club presents itself though. The appointment of Speed can herald a new approach to playing the game.

He must try and find the happy medium - a combination of achieving results with football that is both exciting to watch, but also of a higher technical quality than United have been playing.

True, it would be folly to try and change too much too quickly. Changing the style of a team can be a lengthy and expensive process, often involving the shipping out of players unable to make the transition and bringing in other individuals more suited.

It can sometimes mean sacrificing a year that could be spent gunning for promotion in the hope that, in the long term, you will be better placed to achieve your goals.

It was notable though how, in their play off final with Burnley, the Blades couldn't respond to Owen Coyle's side's combination of physical strength allied with a craft and guile sadly lacking in their own team.

Percentage football has its strengths, but the most worrying percentage for the Blades is the 100 per cent record of losing Championship play off finals - three in total.

United have been here before, too. After Warnock's departure following relegation from the top flight in 2007, they turned to Bryan Robson as his replacement.

Is was with the intention of trying to play a more attractive and patient style of game. However, when the results didn't come, Robson was dismissed and the club turned to Blackwell and his more direct methods.

There was even talk that Blades supporters had, instead of warming to Robson's footballing philosophy, found the lack of penalty box action and chances created frustrating to watch.

Years of watching the fiery Warnock, barking orders on the touchline for his team to put the ball into the box towards the big men, had become so ingrained in their football culture that they didn't care about how attractive their play was.

Of course, had Robson's football been winning matches, such stories and feelings probably would have drowned out by the positivity towards the new regime.

They didn't, and Blackwell's appointment meant Bramall Lane once again became a venue where visiting teams could expect an aerial bombardment to contend with.

That kind of style wasted the attacking array of players which were the envy of most other Championship teams twelve months ago though.

Once again, with the likes of Ched Evans, Jamie Ward, Richard Cresswell, and summer signing
Daniel Bogdanovic, United have one of the most potent attacking line-ups in the division.

Leon Britton, another summer capture, also has the ability to provide the spark of invention and quality so badly lacking in a midfield too frequently bypassed.

His partnership in the centre of the park with the robust Nick Montgomery has the potential to be one of the Championship's most effective, too.

It presents new boss Speed with a playing squad more than capable of challenging for the play offs.

For the future of the club though, how they make their challenge will be just as interesting as whether they're successful or not.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What if... ITV Digital hadn't gone bust?

Our series which looks back at pivotal moments which changed the course of football history continues as Turls asks how different could things have been had ITV Digital not gone bust in 2002.

Boom to bust - all smiles as ITV Digital is launched in 2001 - it lasted a year

Imagine the scene: the Premier League is becoming wealthier and wealthier with every passing season as the Football League continues to drift away from its big brother.

Sky were turning the top flight into a financial beast - a beast that the Football League could not tame. They need a hero. A knight in shining armour. A company willing to go toe-to-toe with the evil Murdoch.

In 2000, in stepped ITV Digital. Its name with dynamic - in a simple sort of way - and it was offering the paying public a chance to watch football outside of the top flight.

Finally, Preston fans could see their team bottle it without having to leave their home. Grimsby supporters could watch their team from the comfort of their fishing boat.

And let's not forget the glorious opportunity of watching Walsall look majestic in the West Midlands.

The turn of the decade was a wonderful time. The Millennium bug hadn't rendered all technology as a piece of crap, and the country was moving into a bright new era under the inspired leadership of Tony Blair.

However, we all know how it turned out. Today, it's time to imagine if ITV had been a success. What would have happened to the clubs who were pillaged by the false promises?

Would the Football League still find itself in a financial mess? And, most importantly, what would have happened to Andy Townsend's Tactics Truck?

ITV Digital signed a multi million pound deal with the Football League - which would be distributed between the 72 clubs. This meant that chairmen and managers up and down the country thought that more money would be coming into the coffers.

This money, as is usual in football, was spent before it was received and when ITV Digital went tits up - so did a lot of clubs.

The likes of Bradford, QPR, Crystal Palace, Barnsley, Lincoln, Nottingham Forest, Swindon, Notts County, Sheffield Wednesday, Watford, Bury, and Chesterfield were just some of the clubs to be deeply affected by the meltdown.

Now, some of these clubs had financial issues before the collapse of ITV Digital and to blame all of their problems on one event would be inaccurate and unfair.
However, it was a major player in a lot of the problems that followed.

Every club had factored into their accounts the TV money and, when it disappeared, it made the balance sheet look like a see-saw with Vanessa Feltz on one side and Russell Brand on the other.

Looking at the list of clubs above, it's interesting to see that every one of them has had a period of trouble over the last decade. Although Watford did have a season in the sun when they got promoted to the Premier League.

Bradford are tucked away in League Two now but, at the time of the ITV Digital collapse, they had just been relegated from the top flight.

The club was in financial difficulty anyway, what with them paying ridiculous wages on mediocre players, but the £3 million to them at the time could have gone a long way to helping them re-align their balance sheet.

As a result, they entered administration and have been on the slide ever since. Only now does it look like they're on their way back to where they once were.

And yes, you did read it right. Just £3 million. That's less than Yaya Toure will be earning at Manchester City. A lot less.

Bradford's Valley Parade ground is a reminder of their once loftier standing

Bradford weren't the only club in trouble before the collapse. Sheffield Wednesday were like the Titanic - big in size, but couldn't plug the gaps when the s*** hit the fan.

Again though, the ITV Digital money could have covered 20 per cent of their debts, and they might not have found themselves dropping in and out of League One.

Lincoln were close to living on the street after the ITV Digital fallout, too. By losing the £150,000 they were due, they found themselves in a situation which forced the staff to become gigolos and prostitutes just to stay afloat.

Of course, this isn't true, but the fans did dig deep into pockets to raise £12,000. It was a tough time for the Imps and it definitely rallied the support.

If it had taken a different route, the fans would all be a little bit better off and they might have been able to buy a new car or go on holiday - thus further improving the booming economy.

Although, given the recent state of affairs, I doubt Tony Blair or Gordon Brown would have made the most of their £12,000.

Another club deeply affected by the dead TV deal was Barnsley. A club who had a history of being well-ran soon found themselves staring at a mouldy Pret A Manager sandwich, having to fight Derek - the fattest hobo - to get the last Chicken Salad wrap.

It was such a dark period that the club knew exactly when they would run out of money and the fans knew when they could start to mourn their club's demise.

November 30 2002 was the date of destiny and, with two weeks remaining, the club looked dead. Fortunately, someone stepped up to the plate and, although they've not exactly covered themselves in glory ever since, they've not looked back.

It was Barnsley's mayor who bought the club and his way into the hearts of the townsfolk. Without ITV Digital, he would have probably been booed out of office.

I don't know why and I'll admit he probably wouldn't have, but what type of story would this be if I didn't bow down to hyperbole and sensationalism?

Oh, how it might have been different at the City Ground, too, home to former Anglo-Scottish Cup winners, Nottingham Forest.

After allowing David Platt to spunk approximately £12 million on Italian 'veterans,' Forest were in a hole well before ITV Digital ran into the middle of a busy motorway, but it didn't help.

The money was going to be used to pay off debts and would have accounted for a third of Forest's turnover the year it went pear shaped.

As a result, Forest were forced to become a selling club, seeing Michael Dawson, Jermaine Jenas, and Andy Reid leave for a hefty sum of money. It helped the finances but ruined the team.

However, the most tragic result of the ITV Digital collapse has to be Chesterfield. Having been saved by the fans not long ago, the Spireites found themselves in serious trouble when their TV money was pulled.

This angered the commercial director, who urged fans to boycott Blind Date in retaliation. The insolence of the man. Blind Date was an institution, ingrained into the fabric of the British public.

I can't help but thin that if ITV Digital had survived, I'd still have the pleasure of watching an unsuitably dressed Scouser running the world's most elaborate dating company.

Instead, I'm forced the watch the disgraceful shambles of television that ITV chooses to offer up on a Saturday night. God bless Cilla Black. We'll never forget you.

Another thing we'll never forget - not through lack of trying - is the infamous ITV Tactics Truck. This was quite possibly the most glorious aspect of ITV Digital and should have had every football fan reaching into their pockets to subscribe to the substandard network.

Now I understand that the Tactics Truck was associated with The Premiership, but it became a hit in the Football League.

Andy Townsend - on a rare excursion from the Tactics Truck he called home

Andy Townsend would park his Tactics Truck - and what would later become his home if the rumours are to be believed - outside the ground of the televised match and would sit in it from the start of programme until the end.

He would offer such valuable insight as drawing a circle around a man who scored a goal, telling us the goalscorer should be chuffed for scoring and joking about what crumbs he had spilt onto his keyboard.

It was magical. I touched it once. In a way it touched us all. A truly remarkable machine. What of it now? Sitting on Townsend's driveway, I think.

Had ITV Digital not duffed up, we could be enjoying the Truck ever week. Who knows, it might have branched out and created its own show. The Tactics Truck Takeover with Andy Townsend. Has football ever been as it brilliant as it was then?

The Tactics Truck and Blind Date aside, it's difficult to know what would have happened had the revolution taken shape. Murdoch might have killed himself at the thought of losing out to Townsend and Robbie Earle.

The Premier League might have choked and become a shadow of the Football League. Or, quite possibly, everything might have stayed the same.

One thing in for sure though: ITV Digital sparked a chain of events from which football is still reeling from. The saddest fact is that not many clubs appear to have learnt from their getting their fingers singed - and in some cases, completely fried.

Clubs have been spending beyond their means for too long, and the ITV Digital situation did nothing to hammer this point home.

As it stands, a hatful of Football League clubs are in financial peril, a shedload of Non League clubs are on the precipice of disaster, and non one seems to realise why this is happening.

In truth, it's like ITV Digital never existed at all.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Prediction League Week 2 continued

The first three points of the season were scored by both Nobes and Lakes as they leapfrogged Turls in the Prediction League at the weekend.

However, there's an instant opportunity for more points scoring as Boston face their first away game of their season tonight.

Hinckley United vs. Boston United

Lakes: Hinckley United 1-0 Skyrockets
Hinckley United 1-1 Skyrockets
Turls: Hinckley United 0-0 Skyrockets

Big Match Review - Colchester 1 Sheffield Wed 1

Colchester United 1-1 Sheffield Wednesday
Saturday August 14, Weston Homes Community Stadium, (Att: 6,011)

Neil Mellor's individual goal seven minutes from time earned Sheffield Wednesday a point after Colchester appeared on course for their first league win of the season.

Wednesday, buoyed by two wins from their opening two games, began the game on top and were unfortunate not to take the lead through Clinton Morrison.

Neat play in midfield saw Marcus Tudgay unleash Gary Teale down the left and, when his cross was parried onto Morrison by home keeper Mark Cousins, the ball ricocheted off the post before being desperately hacked away.

However, the Owls were made to pay when the Essex team took the lead just five minutes into the second half.

Good play in the middle of the park saw the ball worked out to the right and Andy Bond unleashed an unstoppable swerving effort with the outside of his boot
into the net from 25 yards.

Ahead, John Ward's men scented a scalp and could have wrapped things up but David Mooney saw his low shot from outside the box come back off the post.

It was to prove costly, as Wednesday snatched a draw late on. Mark Beevers headed into the box and Mellor showed great control, with first his chest and then his head, to work the space and smash home the equaliser.

A valuable point for Alan Irvine's side, who remain unbeaten so far. Colchester were still left searching for their first three points of the campaign though.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Up For The Challenge

After Steve Coppell announces his resignation from Bristol City and retirement from football management, Nobes considers the importance of motivation for a manager.

Steve Coppell was in charge at Ashton Gate for just two games

On his appointment as Bristol City boss at the end of last season, Steve Coppell spoke about the ambition of his new club and the "challenge" of taking them into the top flight of English football.

However, his resignation just two games into the new campaign - citing an inability to become "passionate" about the role - suggests the 55-year-old himself wasn't up for such a challenge.

It's not the first time the Liverpudlian has departed a club after such a brief stint - he left Manchester City after just 33 days in 1996 because of the pressure involved with the job.

His decision on this occasion to pack in management altogether though illustrates a man who has lost the fire and determination required to succeed in this most cut-throat of industries.

It is the kind of hunger that friends and colleagues speak about in amazement in regards to the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson - who at 68 continues to have the same desire to succeed that he always had.

That passion to continue working in such a demanding and pressurised environment - where expectations are always so high - is not for everyone.

For Coppell working in it, as part of a long-term plan to build a team capable of reaching the promised land, was clearly something he felt he no longer wanted to engage in.

It was no doubt a feeling heightened and a decision accelerated by a poor start to the season that saw City thrashed 3-0 on the opening day at home to Millwall before being knocked out of the League Cup in midweek to basement side Southend.

Of course, there will understandably be a sense of anger, bemusement, and even embarrassment in the West Country at this briefest of encounters. Why, they will be thinking, did Coppell even take on the job in the first place?

Here, his previous record at Manchester City will probably count against him, with observers suggesting he is someone who lacks the bottle and, when the going gets tough, he inevitably walks.

That would be harsh on a man who felt, after leaving Reading in 2009 and spending a year out of the game, he had re-charged his batteries and was ready for another crack at management.

Perhaps he had to get back on the training field and in the dugout to realise that, actually, it wasn't a break he had required, but a permanent hiatus from football management.

This is also a man who showed loyalty to Reading after relegation from the Premier League. Reports suggested he wished to leave the Madejski Stadium, but the support of fans persuaded him to stay on and try and get the club promoted.

Only after being beaten in the play offs and failing to re-capture their spot in the top flight did he hand in his notice and bring to an end his five-and-a-half-year association with the Berkshire outfit.

Some might suggest that it would have been better had he left after relegation - as he cut the figure of a man drained from his efforts with the Royals.

It would also be worth remembering, too, that Coppell has worked in the industry for nearly 30 years after being made Crystal Palace boss aged just 28. Football management can take it out of even the strongest characters.

Keith Millen and Steve Lansdown will now pilot City's top flight dream

On reflection therefore, his decision to part company with Bristol City early doors could, for all the current turmoil, be beneficial to the club
in the long run.

Just as there is no point in keeping a player at a club who wants to move, there is no point having a manager at the helm who isn't completely committed in his position.

City have able to respond quickly, too, with assistant Keith Millen - who oversaw a good run of results as caretaker last term - taking over permanently. Ambitious Chairman Steve Lansdown will hope it is a smooth transition.

Millen, so long the Number Two at the club to former bosses Brian Tinnion and Gary Johnson, now has the opportunity to take the Robins into the Premier League for the first time in their history.

It is the kind of challenge that requires great drive from a manager - and Millen will undoubtedly be keen to prove that he is up to the task of being in sole command and worthy of the role.

Unlike Coppell he is a man with no real track record who will have to prove the doubters wrong and ensure his first attempt as a manager is a successful one.

Of course, there is no knowing whether he will do a good job or not - but he at least will bring the hunger to succeed that Coppell was, by his own admission, bereft of.

I spoke last season after Southend's demotion to League Two of the need for their long-serving boss, Steve Tilson, to have the required drive for the re-building job at Roots Hall.

A manager only thrives when he is aiming high and pushing himself to succeed in the same way he pushes his players.

It is the same reason why fans should never, despite their disappointment, begrudge their manager for moving onto a new club - even if it turns out to be a wrong move.

Taking a new opportunity at a bigger club or accepting a fresh challenge can help re-invigorate a manager and help them improve themselves. It can even help cure any staleness surrounding his former employers.

That desire to better oneself and, at the same time, improve a club's fortunes are essential to a successful managerial appointment. It's why managers can leave a club in a higher division, or even leave a bigger job, to accept one lower down the table.

Simon Grayson knew exactly what he was doing in leaving Blackpool for Leeds in 2008.

He wasn't just taking over at his boyhood club, he was accepting the challenge to resurrect a sleeping giant, albeit one who were, and still are, at a lower level than Blackpool.

He felt unable to take the Seasiders any further after consolidating with them in the Championship. How long before things became stale at Bloomfield Road and he was simply going through the motions?

Ultimately, it was a beneficial move for both club and fans.

After all, supporters want their manager to reflect the same kind of passion and hunger for the club's fortunes that they do. That's why, for both Coppell and City, this decision was the right one.