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

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Talking Points - November 2010

There's always plenty for the lads to get off their chests. Here's what they vented their spleen over in November:

Don't Ever Change
With Cardiff and Swansea riding high in the Championship, Nobes looks at how continuity is playing a big part in their success.

Ideal World
Why Middlesbrough's selection of Tony Mowbray as their new boss goes against the grain with struggling teams, as explained by Nobes.

Wherever I Lay My Hat
The fortunes of three League Two teams leads Nobes to discuss the various different impacts a new home ground can have.

You Spin Me Right Round
Lakes on why League One leaders Brighton & Hove Albion's story offers inspiration to other clubs in crisis.

Magic Moments
With plenty of Non League sides still in the FA Cup, Nobes wonders whether the competition still retains its magic for such clubs.

Editorial 12

Hello Soccer AM/MWers.

It's been a while since I put pen to paper and let you know what's going on here at your first source for all lower league chat - as well as anti-FA Cup rhetoric courtesy of yours truly.

Indeed, I'm led to believe my article on why the Cup has lost its magic for Non League teams was actually re-tweeted, whatever that means, on the FA's official twitter thing for this season's competition.

I'm not the sort of person to let this semi-fame go my head, but remember the email for any autograph requests is:
soccerammw@gmail.com. Indeed, it's the way to get in touch for every other reason, too.

Anyway, as the 'most wonderful time of the year' - the thoughts of the song, not me - approaches, I felt it was a good time to look back on the first half of the campaign on the blog.

I'm proud to say that as we approach the New Year, we'd have already covered the fortunes of 58 of the 72 Football League clubs by the end of this week.

Whether featured in a Big Match, discussed as a Talking Point, highlighted in our Fan Files, or maybe even sent to visit Doctor Lakes, our reach across the divisions is unparallelled.

So, for fans of the 14 clubs we've not yet covered, fear not, it's my pledge that we will have by the end of the season - and hopefully long before then.

Now, I'm not a Liberal Democrat MP, so I won't be signing anything to make that pledge official, and sometimes compromises have to be made in our coalition of three.

I'm confident though that we'll be able to deliver on that promise despite the recent cuts made to our Irn Bru budget which have left working conditions in the Soccer AM/MW office almost unmanageable.

In saying that though, it recently came to my attention - well, I looked myself - that we recently passed a significant, and very pleasing, milestone.

No, not the number of Twitter 'followers' we have, rather that October 29 2009 was the last time this blog was not updated with fresh content on a weekday - well over a year ago.

So Monday through Friday
you can be sure to log on and find something on here. Sometimes it might even be worth reading, too.

This season that's included a new feature where we take a walk down Memory Lane - not only rejoicing in the days gone by, but also expanding our Non League coverage - looking at sides who, ordinarily, wouldn't get a mention.

In the coming months we'll be expanding our looks into the history books as we look at Classic Campaigns. So stay tuned for that one - as well as the usual goodies we'll have on offer over Christmas.

Right, before this breaks all records for its self-congratulatory tone, I'll call it quits, except to thank you for logging on and reading. What'd say about continuing doing so?


Monday, November 29, 2010

Big Match Review - Dover 2 Aldershot 0

Dover Athletic 2-0 Aldershot Town
Saturday November 27, Crabble Ground, (Att: 4,123)

An Adam Birchall brace earned Dover the shock of the FA Cup Second Round over Aldershot Town as the Non League outfit secured a place in the Third Round draw.

A bumper crowd at the Crabble saw kick off delayed, but when play did eventually begin it was the home side who started the stronger.

Indeed, they had a goal ruled out in the first ten minutes when defender Olly Schulz was deemed to be in an offside position when heading in Harry Baker's free kick.

Birchall then had a shot down the throat of Jamie Young saved before the Shots responded with a Luke Guttridge effort from distance sailing over the bar.

The hosts took the lead on 54 minutes when Town failed to deal with a long ball forward and, when the ball broke to him, Birchall unleashed a low drive into the bottom corner from 25 yards.

The goal inspired Athletic, as they went in search of a second - Birchall forcing Young to turn an effort round the post and then having a volley saved by the keeper.

Kevin Dillon's visitors struggled to create many opportunities, although Jermaine McGlashan went close from a deep cross but saw his effort blocked by Dover keeper Ross Flitney.

Instead, it was the Kent side who wrapped up victory in the last minute of normal time. Danny Hylton's handball in the box from a Baker cross allowing Birchall to send Young the wrong way from the penalty spot.

It sealed a memorable afternoon for Martin Hayes's side whose memorable cup run continues at the expense of a second League Two team.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Prediction League Week 17

A fine four points for Lakes saw him move to within a point of top spot in the Prediction League as a genuine three-horse race begins to emerge.

Just three points separate the lads, as leaders Nobes sees his long-held position at the top under threat.

This weekend, there are home games for Preston and Boston while Forest hit the road for a local derby on Monday evening.

Preston North End vs. Millwall

Lakes: PNE 2-2 Millwall
PNE 0-1 Millwall
PNE 2-1 Millwall

Boston United vs. Redditch United

Lakes: Skyrockets 2-0 Redditch United
Skyrockets 3-0 Redditch United
Skyrockets 4-0 Redditch United

Leicester City vs. Nottingham Forest

Leicester City 0-1 Forest
Leicester City 1-1 Forest
Leicester City 1-1 Forest

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Big Match Preview

Dover Athletic vs. Aldershot Town
Saturday November 27, 15:00, Crabble Ground

Conference South outfit Dover Athletic will be in search of another League Two scalp this weekend as Aldershot Town make the short trip to Kent in the FA Cup second round.

Athletic were 2-0 winners at Gillingham in the last round and the Shots will be wary of falling victim to another shock with a possible tie against the big boys in the next round potentially just 90 minutes away.

Dover's run to this stage has seen them see off the likes of Erith Town, Cambridge City, and Farnborough before their stunning success at the Priestfield earlier in the month.

It was a particularly spicy encounter, not just because of county pride being at stake, but the Whites were able to gain revenge on former bosses Andy Hessenthaler and Ian Hendon - the managerial team at the Gills.

The win included a stunning long range strike from Adam Birchall to open the scoring and - with 19 goals in all competitions so far this term - he will be again be a key man.

League experience comes from the likes of ex-Barnet man Nicky Nicolau and powerful striker Ben Hunt, who had a spell on the books of Bristol Rovers.

In the Conference South, Dover currently sit just outside the play off positions in 6th - largely due to an excellent away record with six wins from seven.

Manager Martin Hayes may well wish this game was being played on the road, too, therefore, with Dover already suffering home defeats to Eastleigh, Dartford, and Chelmsford.

Dover shocked Gillingham in their grudge match in the previous round

Visitors Aldershot come into this game in mixed form, although Tuesday evening's 2-1 win at Burton moved Town up to 12th in League Two - and six points clear of the relegation zone.

After reaching the play offs last term though, it's been a more difficult time for boss Kevin Dillon in his first full season in charge at the Recreation Ground.

The Shots have particularly struggled for goals, registering just 16 in their 18 matches - only Lincoln have scored fewer.

Their record on the road is, unsurprisingly, patchy with wins being achieved at Oxford and Torquay prior to their Pirelli Stadium victory. However, defeats have been suffered away to Port Vale, Crewe, and Macclesfield.

They also saw off League One side Brentford in a replay to face Dover - the first time the phoenix club had ever beaten a team from a higher tier of English football.

Outstanding performers for the Shots include striker Marvin Morgan - a powerful and pacy striker who's found the back of the net five times - and former Sheffield Wednesday wide man Wade Small - who bagged a brace against Burton.

This could be a difficult encounter for the League team who are unpredictable at the best of times, and struggled for any kind of consistency.

However, Dover have also been poor on home soil and may well find taking a second scalp a step too far. A replay wouldn't be a surprise though.

Nobes' Prediction: Dover Athletic 1 Aldershot Town 1

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Magic Moments

With 11 Non League sides competing in the FA Cup this weekend, Nobes considers whether - when compared to Cup exploits of the past - the competition is still "magic."

Hereford's victory over Newcastle in 1972 has gone down in history

Maybe it's because my club are notoriously poor in it, or perhaps, as Turls so often points out, it's because I'm dead inside, but the FA Cup doesn't particularly hold much excitement for me.

Excuse me for not thinking a competition which, since the inception of the Premier League, has managed to conjure up just six different winners in 18 years is "magic."

After all, we all know what happens, when it comes to the crunch - it's the big guns who are left standing. Only once, when three Championship clubs reached the 2008 semis, has the competition had any diversity.

Of course, by then, the teams at the lower end of the ladder have long since departed - after getting far too many people overly excited and waving around ridiculous home made FA Cup cut-outs covered with tin foil. Seriously, nothing better to do with your time?

Still, before risking another broadside from Turls and, in an attempt to prove I do have something inside me, I'd thought I'd take a little time to reflect on the success of Non League sides in the oldest cup competition in the world.

Who knows, too, the likes of Swindon Supermarine, Droylsden, and Chelmsford could cause an upset of their own if things go well for them this weekend.

While those three, and other, Non League outfits will be hoping to make the back pages on Sunday however, they will be do well to go down in the history books. Giant killing just isn't what it used to be.

Any talk about Non League giant killers, inevitably, must include the names of Yeovil, Altrincham, Hereford, and Sutton United.

Yeovil, now in League One of course, claimed 20 Football League victims during their time in the Non Leagues. It's a record that's still not been beaten.

Most famously, more than 16,000 saw them eliminate top flight Sunderland in 1949 at their old Huish ground with its infamous sloping pitch.

Alty, meanwhile, have knocked out 16 League teams over the years - which is a record for a club who have exclusively played all their football outside the top four tiers of the game.

They're still the most recent Non League side to dump out a top flight side on their own patch, too - beating Birmingham in 1986 at St Andrews. The likes of Wigan and Sheffield United have also suffered at the hands of the Manchester outfit.

Indeed, there was time when Non League sides could knock out top flight clubs. Need I really mention the words "Hereford," "Newcastle," and "Radford again," again?

Yes, that infamous 1972 game at Edgar Street which earned the Bulls so much kudos it helped them gain election into the Football League. It also launched the commentary career of a certain John Motson. Some have been cursing that match ever since.

In all seriousness though, could you really envisage Newcastle losing to the likes of Conference clubs Gateshead or Bath these days? Of course not. They wouldn't even lose to Hereford - currently struggling in League Two.

Will we ever again see the like of Sutton United defeating the FA Cup winners of just two years previously - as they did when overcoming Coventry in 1989? I doubt it.

Not that Non League clubs haven't come close since. Nobody will ever forget the heroics of first Exeter and then Burton, during their respective times in the Conference, holding Manchester United to 0-0 draws.

They both lost their replays, but had caused a storm along the way - as well as raising some serious cash.

However, perhaps that's the saddest thing of all now, is the FA Cup a "magic" competition because of the results it can throw up on the pitch or for the coffers?

Money is always spoken about when it comes to the draw - getting the plum away tie in front of the biggest gate possible, and maybe getting some live TV coverage, too.

Havant & Waterlooville led at Anfield - but they ended up losing

Any serious talk of the top flight club being tumbled would see the Non League manager carted off by the men in white coats. They know it's never going to happen again.

Instead, for the intrepid 11 Non League teams who go into battle over the next few days, an FA Cup run is about pocketing as much money as they can and then returning to their league campaign.

It's cynical but, in these harsh economic times, probably an understandable point of view. Better to just accept it rather than talk of "magic" though. Yes, ITV, I'm looking at you.

Of course, I would expect any accusations of a lack of "magic" in the Cup would be vehemently denied by supporters of Havant & Waterlooville or Kettering.

The former famously led twice at Anfield against Liverpool in the fourth round of 2008 before going down 5-2. The Kettles, too, reached round four in 2009 when they gave a scare to top flight Fulham before eventually losing 4-2.

Indeed, two years ago, eight Non League outfits were still in the competition when the big boys of the Premier League and Championship entered the fray - breaking the previous record dating back 30 years.

That's where the run stopped for the likes of Blyth Spartans, Eastwood Town, Forest Green, and Histon though. Not quite as magical a cup as it once was.

The best a Non League side can do, it seems, is try and emulate Kidderminster - the last team from outside the Football League to reach the Fifth Round having seen off both Birmingham and Preston on their 1994 route.

In recent years, too, Chasetown became the lowest ranked side ever to reach the Third Round when they faced Cardiff in 2008 as a Southern League Division One Midlands team - the eighth tier of the game.

Given the right draw and a bit of luck on the day, a Non League side can upset the odds and put together a good run.

Has the gap between the haves and have nots become so large though that the real upsets - those of the like of Yeovil and Hereford - will never be seen again?

Even my own Boston United managed to write themselves into the FA Cup record books with a 6-1 win at Derby in 1955. The biggest win for a Non League side away at a League team.

Such a convincing margin would never happen in the 21st century. Certainly not courtesy of the Skyrockets anyway, after our customary October exit.

Which leads me onto a concluding thought - if a Non League side doesn't really need the money and have bigger fish to fry - namely winning promotion or avoiding relegation - is an FA Cup run really desirable?

It can lead to a pile up of games due to postponements and a huge backlog of fixtures in the second half of the campaign when injuries and suspensions begin to hit home.

Could we see the day that, like a top flight club with the League Cup, a Non League team simply throws away a FA Cup run. If it's only about getting the money, then what's the point progressing in a competition you've no real chance in?

After all, is the possibility of winning a title or promotion really worth sacrificing over chasing a day out at one of the top grounds where an inevitable defeat awaits? Could the magic die even at the lowest levels?

Something tells me that won't be occupying the thoughts of those Non League teams still competing this weekend though. History is ready and waiting to be made - and me proved wrong.

Just excuse me if I'm focusing on my bread and butter.

Big Match Analysis - Norwich 1 Leeds 1

We think defending is on the slide in the Football League this season. So, in order to test our theory, every week Turls looks at the rearguard play from our Big Match.

Norwich City 1-1 Leeds United
Saturday November 20, Carrow Road, (Att: 26,315)

Do you know what I've seen in my ten years of service? Too much. Way too much.

However, I always felt that the work I was doing was making a difference. Having said that, it doesn't look like anyone is listening to me and my tasty words of advice.

It bothers me because, when people don't listen, goals are scored. I was at Carrow Road on Saturday and, despite feasting on some of Delia's delicious Fish Pie, I couldn't help but feel as if I was being smacked in the face with a wet kipper at times.

Norwich City 0 Leeds United 1

Paul Lambert can't be happy with the goal Norwich conceded. It was a direct ball from the halfway line played up towards the Leeds striker and it looked like Norwich had a few chances of clearing the ball.

It's a bit harsh to be picking up on these slight faults, but these are paid professionals and near(ish) the top of the game. They need to deal with these situations better if they harbour any ambitions of getting promoted.

That said, they shouldn't blame themselves too much because the keeper should have saved it. Terrible effort, truly terrible.

Norwich City Defending:

Leeds kept up the pressure later on in the first half. The ball was played down the right and the Norwich defender should have cleared it easily. He was under absolutely no pressure and should have just booted it into touch.

That would have been the easy option but, instead, he decided to fluff his lines. He managed to tap it into the striker's path who proceeded to play the ball to the edge of the area where an attacker was waiting to blaze it over the bar.

Why do players seem scared to boot the ball into touch? Now I know you're only delaying the attack, but it allows your defence to regroup and reorganise. Don't bother trying to make a clever pass to a team mate, just put it into Row Z.

Let little Jimmy go home with a nice little souvenir. It'll save his Dad having to buy him a present and, in these difficult times, that's the best thing a player can do for his fans.

Leeds United Defending:

Norwich got better in the second half and, when the ball was played in from the right, the striker managed to work himself a little bit of space on the edge of the area and get a shot off.

One defender dived in and the other wasn't tight enough for my liking. You need to give a striker a little bit of space, but not too much.

It's a fine line because too much space means he can get a shot off, and if you're too tight he'll turn you easily and find himself with a golden opportunity.

Norwich City 1 Leeds United 1

The goal came from a corner, and I have not got a clue what happened in the box. It was bizarre. It was four on three at the back stick and two attackers were free.

The keeper was on the floor - maybe having a hissy fit about the fact his defenders were mucking about - and the attacker had the easy of job of heading it, under no pressure, into an empty net.

Leeds United Defending:

Norwich had a chance to win it when the ball was played in from the left. The striker had time to bring the ball down and get off a shot.

The Leeds defence will be very grateful that the striker blazed the ball over the because because, if he had scored, then Simon Grayson would have given his troops a right rollicking.


If you don't agree with what I've said, or if you think my advice is amazing, then leave a comment or drop us an email at:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

You Spin Me Right Round

With Brighton & Hove Albion riding high at the top of League One, Lakes observes how things are finally looking up for the Seagulls.

Gus Poyet is making a success of his first managerial role at Brighton

In the great washing machine of life, Brighton & Hove Albion have been put through a fair few cycles.

In 1997/8, some plonker washed them on too high a heat and they almost tumbled out of the Football League and into liquidation. Sad times for a club with definite potential.

Undeterred, Brighton fought on under new owners - eventually reaching the dizzy heights of the second tier of English football in 2002.

It was a breath of fresh air, and surely the start of great times to come. The shrunken Brighton underpants suddenly looking accommodating and roomy.

Football's a notorious game though. It picks you up, tosses you about, and spits you out.

In washing machine terms, the colours all ran and Brighton left a fiver in the pocket - setting a 12-match record streak for defeats before slumping to relegation - albeit with a bit of a fight at the end.

That sloppy fiver itself became a metaphor for Brighton's next few seasons.

It sat drying on the radiator, the Queen's face sagged and uncomfortably skewed, rendered with a twisted mouth making her look saddened by Brighton's toils. A single drop of water hung from her eye - a tear in the rain.

Off the pitch, things started to look up - only to then be viciously poked in the eye.

John Prescott gave two very chubby thumbs up to Brighton's plans for a new stadium, only for Lewes District Council to intervene - based on a minor error in the proposal outlining car parking jurisdictions. Prescott sagged into his beanbag, pork pie in hand.

However, a twinkle of light was shining at the end of the tunnel. A judicial review in favour of the stadium and Albion were back in business. The gloom lifted, the fans cheered, and Brighton were onwards and upwards.

Today, the Seagulls are a few months away from moving into their new, if boringly named, Falmer Stadium.

Work is well underway on Brighton's impressive new 22,500 stadium at Falmer

On the pitch, the team are performing way above expectations. Gus Poyet, the ex-Chelsea and Spurs midfielder, is showing an assuredness in charge that indicates he might have the makings of a good manager.

Brighton sit firmly at the top of the table - a large cushion protecting their healthy lead. In 2011/12, they will move into their new stadium - a real work of art and a million miles away from the misery of the Withdean.

The same could be said for Poyet's trendy scarfs - surely a sign that the good times are due to return to Brighton. Football is fashionable again down on the south coast.

It's a thought that was perhaps inconceivable when Brighton were on the slide. Fans get wound up in emotional turmoil and ever increasing cycles of misery when their team isn't doing well.

Perhaps Brighton will be the example to other clubs and other supporters though - you can go through the wash and come out the other side even brighter.

This season, they have punched above all expectations. Our own financial analyst, Enron Turlman, had them down for a "year of mediocrity." The lads predicted Brighton would finish between 9th and 7th in their pre season tables.

Last season, Nobes said he "worried" for Brighton under Poyet, but so far this season the signs look good that the club - and Poyet - will far exceed the relatively low predictions bestowed upon them.

None of us saw it coming and there's no question that the managerial rookie deserves a lot of credit for the club's success this season.

Perhaps it's an indication of his success, in fact, that Poyet has been repeatedly linked with the a return to Chelsea as assistant manager. That speculation, it seems, has died down, with Poyet focused on bringing the good times to Brighton.

There's no doubt that the Uruguayan has brought a touch of class to the club. A stunning 4-0 away win at Charlton perhaps the pinnacle of the season so far. Beating Woking on penalties in the FA Cup kept their season running in two competitions, too - although Poyet is adamant his focus is on the league.

If Albion continue their strong start to the season and win League One, there can be no doubting that they, and he will have had an incredible season. Then the real challenge will begin - keeping hold of the man in charge.

That's a problem for another day though. Right now, Brighton fans are just looking ahead to the end of the season - and at least the fiver's dried.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Big Match Review - Norwich 1 Leeds 1

Norwich City 1-1 Leeds United
Saturday November 20, Carrow Road, (Att: 26,315)

Leon Barnett's second half header earned Norwich City a share of the spoils against fellow play off chasers Leeds United in an entertaining game at Carrow Road.

Both sides began on the attack, with United's Jonny Howson forcing John Ruddy into an early save before Andrew Surman responded by testing Kasper Schmeichel with a deflected effort.

The visitors eventually broke the deadlock on 13 minutes. When the Norwich defence failed to properly clear a ball pumped forward to the edge of the box, Max Gradel was on hand to pick up the ball and fire a low shot under Ruddy.

Buoyed by their advantage, the Yorkshire side began to take charge and Ruddy had to be alert to stop another Gradel effort just before the interval.

Paul Lambert's men stepped up the pressure in the second half as they sought a leveller and went close when Grant Holt's header from Simon Lappin's left wing cross came back off the post.

However, they eventually did back on level terms just past the hour mark when Barnett made a decisive connection with David Fox's corner to head past Schmeichel.

Norwich pressed for a winner late on, and could have taken all three points with chances for Elliot Ward, Holt, and Andrew Crofts all being spurned.

Ultimately, it ended in a fourth successive draw for City who, despite lying 8th, remain just a point shy of a Leeds team sitting 5th.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Prediction League Week 16

Things are becoming tight in the standings after a good weekend for Turls and Lakes in their pursuit of Nobes at the top.

Remarkably, Nobes has been at the summit since Week 2 and continues to hold a three point advantage as we enter the second third of the campaign.

Although on equal points, the fewer number earned from his own team has seen Turls move ahead of Lakes in the table.

This weekend, Boston are in FA Trophy action while both Preston and Forest are in league action away from home.

Cardiff City vs. Nottingham Forest

Lakes: Cardiff City 2-1 Forest
Cardiff City 1-1 Forest
Cardiff City 0-0 Forest

QPR vs. Preston North End

Lakes: QPR 3-1 PNE

Boston United vs. Gainsborough Trinity

Skyrockets 2-0 Gainsborough Trinity
Skyrockets 2-0 Gainsborough Trinity
Skyrockets 2-0 Gainsborough Trinity

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Big Match Preview

Norwich City vs. Leeds United
Saturday November 20, 15:00, Carrow Road

Two Championship teams eyeing a place in the top six go head-to-head this weekend as Leeds United make the trip to Norwich City.

It's a meeting between the two sides automatically promoted from League One last term, with both eyeing a return to the top flight they formerly competed in.

For the home side, whose sensational second half of last season saw them secure the League One title ahead of Leeds, they go into this game a point and three places behind their opponents.

They also come into the match off the back of three successive draws - including a late comeback against Burnley and being denied by an equally last-gasp goal at Millwall.

Last weekend, too, they threw away a 3-1 lead at Reading to draw 3-3 - albeit the harsh dismissal of striker Grant Holt played a major part in City's surrender.

It's been a mixed bag on home soil so far for Paul Lambert's side, who've enjoyed wins over Leicester, Swansea, Barnsley, and Middlesbrough. However, they've also been beaten at Carrow Road by Crystal Palace, Hull, and Watford.

Lambert has experimented with formations this season, sometimes sticking with the diamond formation that served Norwich well last term, and on other occasions opting for a flat 4-4-2.

Key players include Wes Hoolahan - often given a floating role behind the front two, and one of strikers Simeon Jackson and Chris Martin are a dangerous foil to leading scorer Holt.

Paul Lambert's Norwich are aiming for successive promotions

In an incredibly tight division, Leeds find themselves in 5th despite one of the most inconsistent records in the Championship.

Simon Grayson's men have scored and conceded both 31 goals in their 17 matches, but do make the trip to Norfolk off the back of a four game unbeaten run.

United have found things easier going on the road than playing in-front of an expectant Elland Road audience so far this term though.

Away wins have been collected at Scunthorpe, Coventry, Middlesbrough, and Watford, as well as draws at Doncaster and Nottingham Forest.

Top scorer for the Whites is Argentine Luciano Becchio, a hat-trick hero in last weekend's win against Bristol City, who has nine goals to his name.

Other stand out performers include South African forward Davide Somma with seven goals and local lad and captain Jonny Howson, who has chipped in with six from midfield.

It's impossible to see this one not being full of goals, with both sides liking to play the game the right way and attack.

Leeds are coming into the game in the better form and that may well see them edge things in an entertaining contest.

Nobes' Prediction: Norwich City 1 Leeds United 2

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Big Match Analysis - Tranmere 1 Plymouth 0

Our weekly analysis of our Big Match is back, with Turls reflecting upon the defending from both teams.

Tranmere Rovers 1-0 Plymouth Argyle
Saturday November 13, Prenton Park, (Att: 4,840)

Here we go again, cleaning up another mess that has been made by a bunch of sick, twisted, individuals. Just when you think you're out of the hole, another catastrophe happens and drags you back into the mire.

I want my holiday for crying out loud. I'm meant to be in the Bahamas, lapping up the rays and checking out the fine Bahaman ladies.* Instead, I find myself at Prenton Park, Tranmere, examining what's going wrong with the state of defending in English football.

Where shall we start? Well, in truth, this crime scene isn't as bad as some of the ones we've seen. For a start, there was only one goal. Makes me think that some of the managers and coaching staff in the Football League have been reading my wise words.

Actually, having just looked at the league table, it could just be down to the fact that both sides are pretty awful up top.

Tranmere Defending:

The goal didn't come until the hour mark, but there was the occasional example of sloppy defending.

Tranmere gave away a free kick on the half way line. Plymouth's Craig Noone took a quick free kick and slotted the ball straight down the middle of the pitch to Bradley Wright-Phillips.

The shot was saved well, but let's rewind the action back to the quick free kick. It was good thinking by Noone, but Tranmere should have had the presence of mind to deal with it.

They had enough bodies back when the ball was played to deal with such a simple ball down the middle. It was along the deck and wasn't going at a rate of knots, so it should have been cut out at some point.

However, that's not my main problem with the play. What I'm concerned with is, that when the free kick was given three Tranmere players were standing within five yards of each other and not one of them hurried to get back into position.

I'd be fuming to find so many of my team in close proximity to each other. The gap between the defence and the midfield was enormous and it was because of this that the goal almost came.

Plymouth Defending:

Tranmere hit back with a cross from deep on the left. Ian Thomas-Moore was able to bring the ball down without any pressure on him and lash it over the bar.

I don't know where to start. How can a striker have so much time and space to shoot inside the box? Plymouth weren't short on men and it wasn't like Tranmere had overloaded the box with attackers. They got lucky - it should have been a goal.

Still in the first half, and Dale Jennings picked the ball up on the half way line and went on a direct run towards Plymouth's goal. No one closed him down, no one pressured him, and he was allowed to shoot from distance.

It was a speculative effort and should have served as a warning to the Plymouth defence. It didn't.

Tranmere Rovers 1 Plymouth Argyle 0

Tranmere worked the ball around well before slipping it to Jennings on the left flank. The teenage sensation - it's required that all middle-of-the-road journalists refer to a teenager as that - picked the ball up.

He cut inside the right back - who was found to be a little square-on for my liking, and then proceeded to wander across the face of goal before putting the ball past the Plymouth keeper.

There is no doubting the quality of the goal, but if I were in the Plymouth dressing room after the match, I may well have got a tad upset. No one really pressured him and no one even gave the impression that they were planning on tackling him.


Some other stuff did happen in the match, but it wasn't terrible defending - so I won't bore you with the details. In terms of defence, the put forward a good case, but they'll have to be a lot sharper before I let them go unpunished.

* If Turls's girlfriend happens to be reading this, then let it be known that he had no plans to check out any other women and only has eyes for you. Baby, you're his world.

Wherever I Lay My Hat

Nobes on three League Two teams - Chesterfield, Morecambe, and Rotherham - and the impact of the places they call their home ground.

Chesterfield moved into the b2net stadium over the summer

There's no place like it, so goes the old saying, anyway. In football terms, your form there can make or break a season - the difference between success and failure.

And, if you're a Gillingham fan, it's the only place you've seen your side win a league game at in the past 18 months. It's difficult to downplay the importance of home matches.

Which is why the current trend of clubs moving to new purpose built stadia - a topic I discussed towards the end of last season - throws up the fascinating scenario of a 'bedding in' period.

After all, a new stadium doesn't just affect off the field issues - bringing the all-important incremental revenue that a seven-day facility offers a lower league club.

It also provides the team, players, and coaching staff with the kind of facility they should enjoy playing in. A facility which should make all of their lives more comfortable and easier. Anything to inspire them to perform better when they cross that white line.

Inspire it can, too - as a quick glance at the League Two table can tell you. Despite Saturday's 2-1 loss to Burton, Chesterfield sit proudly top of the division largely thanks to an imperious home record.

While the Brewers may have left the new b2net stadium with maximum spoils last weekend, the home side have pocketed seven wins and a draw from their other eight games there.

The Derbyshire club really have made themselves at home - crucially continuing the fine home record at former ground Saltergate which saw them finish just a couple of points shy of last term's top seven.

In truth, that was a third season of underachievement from a squad which should have made the play offs at least.

Indeed, the Spireites are currently experiencing somewhat of a prolonged spell in the fourth tier of the English game, having spent 11 out of 12 years in League One between 1995 and 2007.

This is a club who feel they belong at a higher level and, with the aid of a new ground, hope to finally get things right on the pitch to return to it.

It certainly seems to have captured the attention of the Chesterfield public - with attendances massively increased as the town seem to reflect the mood - that this new stadium is the start of better things for their club.

Contrast their mood though, with that of League Two rivals Morecambe. The Lancashire outfit also moved grounds in the summer - from the antiquated Christie Park to sparkling new Globe Arena.

Morecambe have struggled to find their form at the Globe Arena

It appeared to come at just the right time for the Shrimps, too. A couple of years of consolidating in the Football League following promotion in 2007 had been followed by an outstanding 4th placed finish.

Although Sammy McIlroy's side were eventually unsuccessful in their promotion attempt, the future appeared bright for the men from the Bay. Morecambe were a club moving forwards both on and off the pitch.

However, much of their success had been built on a solid home record belying the resort famous for its shifting quicksands. Only Champions Notts County and runners-up Bournemouth had better home form than the Shrimps last season.

Just three sides managed to leave with all the spoils. However, after Saturday's 2-1 defeat to Lincoln, two away teams have already won at the Globe in the nine league games played to date.

The loss to the Imps leaves Morecambe sitting just a couple of points above the relegation zone. True while they've been slow starters in previous seasons and recovered, they could always rely on their home form to see them through.

Not any more. Unlike with Chesterfield, Morecambe's relocation has so far not transferred to an improvement on the field of play.

Perhaps that's because, like so many smaller clubs in a division, an old-fashioned and dilapidated ground can actually be used in their favour.

Christie Park, although full of character, was a tight ground. The home fans were close to the pitch, the dressing room facilities not the best, and the pitch unreliable.

In short, it was not the easiest of away grounds for teams to visit. By moving, Morecambe may have increased their options off the pitch, but have surrendered an advantage on it.

At the Globe Arena, visiting teams are afforded brand new facilities and a good, big pitch on which to play.

Unlike at Christie Park, where the home players would know about any kinks in the pitch they could use to their advantage, or where the ball might bounce higher or run faster, they are still getting used to their new surroundings.

Morecambe's home might have their name on the entrance, but they've yet to find their slippers.

Rotherham are in their third season at the Don Valley Stadium

Imagine then, the difficulties of a third League Two outfit, Rotherham, to get to grips with their surroundings.

Ground-sharing isn't a new concept, the likes of Brighton & Hove Albion and famously Bristol Rovers at Bath's Twerton Park have found themselves playing outside their home town because of ground issues.

Like Albion though - who thankfully finally move to their impressive new ground at Falmer next year - Rotherham are currently trying to make an athletics stadium their home.

Disputes with landlords at their traditional Millmoor ground forced the Yorkshire club to use Sheffield's Don Valley Stadium as their temporary home.

The vast, often wind-swept, arena is hardly conducive to hosting football - with large parts of the 25,000 seating uncovered and difficult to make a noise from.

The typical problem of an athletics track surrounding the playing area also detaches fans from the action.

Despite their impressive league performances in the two seasons they've been playing in the Steel City, the Millers haven't won as many games as they have won in their temporary home.

Last season was a case in point - United were the only one of the top seven teams in League Two to win more games away from home than on their own patch.

While fans will rightly point to the team and tactics of manager Ronnie Moore perhaps lending themselves better to playing away, it's hard to imagine that playing at the Don Valley actually helps the Millers.

News earlier this year then that the club revealed plans for a new 12,000 capacity stadium to be built in Rotherham in the next couple of years can only be seen as a massive boost to United's future.

Of course, they'll be hoping any settling in period to their new home will be significantly more like near neighbours Chesterfield's rather than that of Morecambe's.

That's because even in these days where packed midfields and lone strikers seem to lend themselves to life on the road, good home form makes life so much easier. Just ask a Gillingham fan.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Where are they now - Bradford Park Avenue?

Our series looking at the fate of former Football League clubs continues as we turn the spotlight on Bradford Park Avenue. Nobes looks at what happened to the the Yorkshire city's other club.

It's probably a mark of how important the oval-balled game is up north, but ask a sports fan to name a club from Bradford, and City and rugby league's Bulls will probably be the first couple mentioned.

In association football at least though, Bradford is a two-team city, with Bradford Park Avenue playing second fiddle to the Bantams.

There was a time, too, when the city was able to boast two Football League clubs - two clubs who had, albeit at separate times, graced England's top flight.

City were already in the Football League when, five years later, the Avenue were accepted in - finishing an inauspicious 16th in their debut campaign in the Second Division.

Indeed, mid-table in the second tier became their regular finishing position until the 1913/4 season when the club secured their first Football League promotion.

That year, Tom Maley's side finished the season in 2nd behind Notts County - pipping Woolwich Arsenal by virtue of a greater goals average - to secure elevation to England's First Division.

It seems remarkable to think that there was an occasion when BPA finished above such an illustrious name, however, also that year founder members Wolves finished only in mid-table and bottom of the Second Division were Nottingham Forest.

How times change, and things were changing in the world in 1914 with the onset of the war in Europe. It overshadowed Park Avenue's maiden season with the big boys where they finished a more than creditable 9th.

With competitive football on hold until 1919, it could be argued that Bradford's best years were probably robbed from them by the Great War.

However, on resumption they posted another impressive finish of 11th and made it through to the last eight of the FA Cup.

It was as good as it got for Bradford Park Avenue - named after the address of the club's original ground - however, with relegation from the top flight in 1921.

Bradford were in free fall and a second successive relegation followed as they tumbled into the Third Division North.

Now it was the likes of Ashington and Nelson on the fixture list - with the West Yorkshire side finishing second behind the latter in their first season at their new level.

The Park Avenue ground which gave Bradford's second club their name

They remained one of the stronger sides in the division and after some lofty finishes secured their only and one Football League title as Third Division North winners in 1928.

The club were back on the way up, and spent the next half a dozen seasons comfortably holding down a place in the top half of the Second Division, even finishing 3rd once.

Things became tougher towards the end of the '30s but, just as the outbreak of the First World War had been a hindrance, the start of the Second World War worked in the club's favour.

They were bottom of the division when football was suspended and the season cancelled in September 1939. Who knows how the season would have ended had War not occurred?

As it was, the Avenue enjoyed a further four seasons in the Second Division after the end of the War. Eventually though, they finished bottom and were relegated back to the Third Division in 1950.

There they spent the next decade before becoming inaugural members of the new Fourth Division upon its creation in 1958.

Three years later they secured their third and final promotion in the Football League as they moved back into the Third Division. It lasted just a couple of seasons though, and they were soon back in the basement division.

The final seven years of Bradford's Football League story were played out in the Fourth Division, with the club posting bottom two finishes and narrowly winning re-election three successive times.

Ultimately, after another bottom placed finish, they lost a re-election vote in 1970 and were replaced in the League by Cambridge United.

The Horsfall Athletics Ground - the current home to the Avenue

Just four years later, and with financial debts of £57,000 that forced them to sell their Park Avenue ground, the Avenue went into liquidation and resigned from the Northern Premier League.

Despite playing in Sunday League football under the same name, the Avenue didn't return to playing in the Saturday League game until 1988 - when a new BPA joined the West Riding County Amateur Football League and later North West Counties League.

In 1995, the new Bradford were crowned winners of the division and re-joined the Northern Premier League at Division One level - just over 20 years after its former incarnation had been forced to resign.

The club also re-located to its current home at the Horsfall Athletics Stadium and in 2001 the phoenix club regained its predecessor's place in the Northern Premier League.

After Non League re-organisation in 2004, Park Avenue were given a place in the Conference North but struggled to compete at a higher level - which set about successive relegations back.

However, with the wealth of Bob Blackburn behind them, they returned to the Northern Premier League in 2008 as Champions.

Park Avenue also announced plans for a new 20,000 stadium and targeting a return to the Football League by 2012.

Unfortunately, the club's defeat on home soil by Boston in the Northern Premier League play off final last year scuppered what most observers believe to be an impossible dream.

After so many ups and downs over the years though - including a period when they didn't they have a club - you can almost excuse Avenue fans for dreaming.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Big Match Review - Tranmere 1 Plymouth 0

Tranmere Rovers 1-0 Plymouth Argyle
Saturday November 13, Prenton Park, (Att: 4,840)

A great individual goal from Tranmere's Daniel Jennings was enough to secure all three points for the home side as they moved out of League One's bottom four.

The visitors has the first opportunity when quick play released Bradley Wright-Phillips but he saw Rovers 'keeper Peter Gulacsi save his low shot.

Les Parry's men then almost took the lead themselves, with Ian Thomas-Moore's lob narrowly going over the bar.

When the deciding goal did come on the hour mark, however, it was in spectacular style.

Jennings picked up the ball just inside the Argyle half and set about a mazy run which saw him beat five Pilgrims players before slotting the ball past Roman Larrieu and into the bottom corner.

Peter Reid's side pressured for an equaliser and came close when Reda Johnson's header was cleared off the line as the hosts defended desperately to hold onto their advantage.

The win sees Tranmere move level on points with Argyle just outside the relegation zone with both sides still firmly under pressure.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Prediction League Week 15

It was a good midweek for top of the table Nobes as he stretched his advantage over Lakes and Turls to six points.

Onto Week 15, where Preston kick things off this evening with Forest on home soil tomorrow and Boston back on their travels.

As ever, there's three points available for a spot-on scoreline, and just a single point awarded for the right result.

Preston North End vs. Hull City

Lakes: PNE 0-2 Hull City
PNE 1-1 Hull City
PNE 2-3 Hull City

Nottingham Forest vs. QPR

Lakes: Forest 2-1 QPR
Forest 1-0 QPR
Forest 1-1 QPR

Droylsden vs. Boston United

Droylsden 0-0 Skyrockets
Nobes: Droylsden 1-1 Skyrockets
Turls: Droylsden 1-0 Skyrockets

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Big Match Preview

Tranmere Rovers vs. Plymouth Argyle
Saturday November 13, 15:00, Prenton Park

Two sides who've had indifferent starts to their League One campaigns meet on the Wirral this weekend as Tranmere Rovers entertain Plymouth Argyle.

With just three points separating them in the bottom half, both managers will be aware this is a game they can't afford to lose.

For Tranmere, currently in the bottom four, it's looking like a second successive battle against the drop at Prenton Park.

Les Parry's men only survived on the final day of
last season after the former physio was left to turn around a torrid start to the campaign under John Barnes.

However, they've struggled again this term, and last week exited the FA Cup at the first hurdle after a topsy-turvy 5-3 loss at Bournemouth.

Parry will be aware Tranmere's hopes of staying up will largely depend on their home form, where they've enjoyed mixed results to date.

Wins have been earned against MK Dons and Peterborough, but they've also been beaten at Prenton Park by Bournemouth, Brentford, and Oldham.

Once again, much rests on the shoulders of striker Ian Thomas-Moore who is joint top scorer with six alongside much-travelled summer signing Enoch Showunmi.

Peter Reid is battling to turn around Argyle's fortunes after relegation

While Rovers might have expected to have a battle on their hands, it's been an underwhelming start to the campaign for their opponents this weekend.

Plymouth were relegated from the Championship last term and hoped to challenge for an immediate return after the appointment of the experienced Peter Reid.

However, it's been a struggle to date for the former Sunderland boss with the Devon side currently sitting in the bottom half and closer to the relegation zone than the top six.

They also suffered a heavy 4-0 loss at home to Swindon in the FA Cup last weekend, so will be keen to bounce back on their travels on Saturday.

Their away form includes impressive victories at Swindon and Southampton, but they have also lost at the likes of Walsall, Oldham, and Notts County.

That inconsistent form has been tempered by the superb form of Bradley Wright-Phillips, however. The striker has 10 goals already, making him the top scorer in the division.

This is a meeting between a Plymouth side who seem more suited to playing away against a Tranmere team who are better at Prenton Park than on their travels.

For that reason, along with the fact that the two teams have been in and around each other this term, this one has draw written all over it.

Nobes' Prediction: Tranmere Rovers 1 Plymouth Argyle 1