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

Monday, May 31, 2010

Talking Points: May

Here's what the lads have been talking about in the final month of the season.

Survival Sunday
Turls and Nobes look ahead to the crucial Sheffield Wednesday and Crystal Palace relegation decider - and Lakes covers it live.

Championship: Final Day
Looking ahead to the climax to the Championship season as relegation and play-off issues wait to be decided.

The Soccer AM/MW Vote
The lads campaign for their adopted division to be named the best in the Football League.

Wise to leave Owls
Nobes on why it might be best for Alan Irvine to leave relegated Sheffield Wednesday.

League Two: Final Day
Previewing the crucial top seven and relegation battles taking place on the final weekend of the League Two campaign.

Ever Changing Moods
With Coventry sacking boss Chris Coleman - their eighth boss in nine years - Nobes looks at other clubs who are also always in the mood for a change of boss.

League One: Final Day
Issues at both ends of the table still have to be resolved - Turls looks ahead to the final day in League One.

Play Offs
The previews, analysis, discussion, and reviews of everything regarding the Football League and Conference Premier play offs.

Can't Buy The Foootball League's Love
As the Premier and Football Leagues debate over a new financial deal, Turls reports on the dangers to the lower leagues from the new plans.

A Penney For Their Thoughts
Oldham's sacking of boss Dave Penney leads Nobes to question the difficulty of football management.

Shrimps hope for fond farewell
As Morecambe gear up for their final match at Christie Park, Nobes looks at how other clubs have said goodbye to their grounds.

Long Ball Managers: A Short Story
Nobes explains why long-ball managers, like new Coventry boss Aidy Boothroyd, face a tricky task winning over fans.

Brief Encounter
Nobes on the breakdown of trust between League Two winners Notts County and their departing manager Steve Cotterill.

Quote unquote
We take a comical back at some of the things the lads have said during the season. The times they've called it right - and badly wrong.

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As the curtain falls on another season, we decided to take a bit of time to reflect upon events over the last nine months.

It'll come as no surprise to anyone that the lads have had plenty to say for themselves over the course of the season.

Here we reflect upon some of the lads' pearls of wisdom - and some of the things they wish they'd never said.

On Reading's fight against Championship relegation:

"Reading would stay up if they hired a good manager, but I can't see them pulling away while a plump Heston Blumenthal stays in charge." Turls

"I don't see their new manager being able to save them." Nobes

In fact, Reading went on a rapid rise up the division under new boss Brian McDermott - eventually finishing 9th.

On Lincoln chairman Steff Wright's stewardship of the club

"Imps chairman Steff Wright should resign for his continued mis-handling of the club." Nobes

Nobes spoke, and he listened. In March, Wright announced he would be stepping down at the end of the season.

On Darren Ferguson being sacked by Peterborough:

"Darren 'back to back promotions' Ferguson getting the old heave ho? Ridiculous if you ask me, even if I do hate anything remotely connected to his whiney old father." Lakes

Ferguson went on to be appointed as the new manager of Lakes's team Preston. Nothing like a warm welcome, eh?

On Northampton's managerial change:

"Are Northampton doing any better now Stuart Gray has been replaced by club playing legend Ian Sampson? Not at all.

The fans might have a hero at the helm, but he cannot match his playing career with his managerial performance.
" Nobes

He wasn't at the time, but Northampton went on a strong run in the second half of the season. They eventually ended up 11th.

On Notts County's Premier League dream:

"The Notts County experiment will fail - because they are trying to achieve too much in too short a space of time." Turls

Bang-on! The Notts dream ended in tears, departures, financial ruin, and much embarrassment. They still managed to win promotion to League One as Champions, however.

On Mark Cooper's appointment as Peterborough boss:

"The Cambridgeshire outfit will pay with relegation to League One next spring playing ugly,
long-ball football." Nobes

Peterborough were indeed relegated - although Cooper had long been fired for his unattractive football and lack of results.

On Blackpool's hopes of a top six finish:

"I don't fancy [Ian] Holloway as a play-off quality manager.
" Lakes.

Not only did they make the Championship play-offs, they won all three matches to secure promotion to the top flight.

On the League One play-off race:

"I reckon Paul Ince will guide the MK Dons on an inspired end of season run which will see them glide into the play-offs." Turls

Or not. Instead Ince announced his intention to resign at the end of the campaign and the side ended the season with an 11-match winless run finishing up a disappointing 12th.

On Norwich naming Paul Lambert as their new manager:

"Should Lambert's career continue on its current upwards trajectory, then both him and City can look forward to bigger and better things in the future." Nobes

Paul Lambert and Norwich romped home to the League One title and promotion.

On Newcastle's bid for promotion:

"If they're top at Christmas they'll storm the league." Lakes

They were, and they did.

On the fight for promotion to the top flight:

"Newcastle to romp home with a few games to spare and WBA to wrap up second place around the same time. Forest to be ruing the play-off system." Turls

Three months before it happened, Turls knew what was around the corner for his beloved Forest.

On the future of Oldham boss Dave Penney:

"After underachieving this term, Penney has every right to feel nervous about his long term prospects." Nobes

He wasn't wrong. Penney was sacked the very next day.

Turls' pre-season predictions:

"With the current economic climate, it seems inevitable that more and more clubs will be going into administration and folding."

Morbid, but he wasn't wrong. Both Chester and Farsley went out of business and Crystal Palace entered administration.

Lakes' pre-season predictions:

"Boston to go bankrupt. Fergie to announce his retirement and name his successor as David Moyes."

They didn't... and no news on Ferguson's retirement.

Nobes' pre-season predictions:

"Sven will be managing Notts County before the season's out, Burnley will indeed stay up, Oxford will set a new Conference attendance record on their way to the title, and Soccer AM/MW will become an internet sensation, of course."

He didn't, they didn't, they also didn't do either, and did it? We like to think so!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Brief Encounter

As Steve Cotterill leaves League Two Champions Notts County, Nobes looks back on his time at Meadow Lane and why it's come to this.

Steve Cotterill won 14 of his 18 games during three months in charge of Notts County

At the start of the season, Turls compared the takeover at Notts County to a relationship. The brief reign of Steve Cotterill as County boss can be viewed in a similar context.

The 45-year-old's departure from Meadow Lane came after he failed to sign a contract extension to his short term deal.

It's unclear exactly why Cotterill was unwilling to extend his Magpies tenure.

He rejected overtures from Coventry last week, although he is now being linked with Portsmouth - newly relegated from the Premier League.

He had always been reluctant to be too emphatic on his Notts future though. Quite understandably too - the East Midlands outfit have been on a financial rollercoaster since their now infamous takeover last summer.

That fell through, leaving Sven Goran-Eriksson and their Premier League dream in tatters. They couldn't even be sure of League One football next term. Enter Cotterill.

His professionalism and ability to forge a winning mentality amongst the County squad propelled the team on an extraordinary end of season run - taking them to the League Two title.

However, he was always unsure of just what the future held for Notts under new owner, Ray Trew. Could they provide assurances about holding onto key players? Could they guarantee he'd have funds to strengthen and push the former top flight club on further?

It's fair to say that he was keeping his options open. This relationship certainly wasn't exclusive as he seemed to openly flirt with other clubs. Coventry clearly didn't take his fancy, perhaps Pompey will.

However, both Notts and Cotterill can look back on their few months together as a mutually beneficial coming-together. The club had been floundering in League Two and flagging in the promotion race after a succession of under-performing managers.

For the man too, the chance to take over at County gave him a route back into the game after more than two years out. The former Stoke boss had almost been a forgotten figure since departing Burnley in November 2007.

That was despite a record at Cheltenham - taking them from the depths of Non League to the third tier that proved he knew how to manage in the lower leagues

A solid performance at Turf Moor further illustrated someone who could work on a tight budget and keep a club in the Championship.

As any manager will tell you, too, the longer you spend out of football - the harder it is to then get back in. You are forgotten, your achievements consigned to the history books. You suddenly find yourself yesterday's man.

If you are lucky enough to get another job, you can suddenly find that things have moved on quickly. Cotterill has used his break back in to great effect though.

The chance to take over the best, but underperforming, squad in League Two and take them to a promotion most expected back in August, was too good an opportunity to turn down.

Now County can look forward to life back in the third tier after a six year absence. Cotterill, too, is suddenly flavour of the month - seemingly with his pick of clubs.

Notts chairman Ray Trew must find a new manager for their return to League One

In the end though, this relationship ended, as many do, because neither party trusted one another.

Cotterill didn't trust Notts to provide him with the backing he felt he needed. The club didn't feel their manager was loyal enough and couldn't be kept waiting.

For County they must try and find someone who will ease the transition up from League Two and ensure last year's hard-won promotion isn't thrown away.

There will surely be four teams worse than Notts in next season's League One, but they can't afford a poor appointment.

They were expected to run away with the basement division this term, but it was only when they found the right guidance that their expensively assembled squad began to fulfil its potential.

It is true that the club couldn't allow Cotterill to simply treat them as a 'last resort' if he didn't receive a more attractive offer. However, he will be a very difficult man to replace.

On the face of it then, it is the manager who has come out of this union the better. He will have another chance to manage in the Championship - although he will be up against it if Fratton Park is his destination.

Portsmouth are a sinking ship and in financial peril. The loyalty and backing of their fans cannot be questioned - but they have also been notorious for chopping and changing managers with regularity.

Cotterill cannot be certain of being given a prolonged spell to get things right.

Trips to Scunthorpe and Doncaster will still sting hard to a club that has been in the Premier League for seven years and appeared in the FA Cup final in two of the last three seasons.

Some might suggest that just a brief period to prove himself would be ironic. Cotterill's departure from Notts has led further credence to the thought that, for him, the chance to further his career comes above any club loyalty.

When he took Cheltenham up to League One in 2002, he left to take on the Stoke job in the Championship. Just a few months later, he answered the call to be Howard Wilkinson's assistant at Premier League Sunderland.

Now he has left the club who gave him a route back into football to, in all likelihood, make the jump to the second tier.

Perhaps it is the kind of 'striking when the iron is hot' mentality that is understandable from a man who spent so long out of the game. How often will a chance like this present itself?

However, in an era when managers are always quick to fire a broadside at club chairmen for not giving them enough time, they too could show a greater degree of loyalty and stick with a club.

If not, managers like Cotterill are in danger of creating a reputation for themselves, and no club will wish to hire a manager who could up sticks a few months later - however good he is.

Only through both manager and chairman creating an atmosphere of mutual trust can a football club function properly. Let that be the lesson in love from this particular brief encounter.

Nobes' Trivia Question 20 solution

In his final trivia question of the season, Soccer AM/MW's Nobes asked you this question:

What links Football League clubs Swansea City, Leeds United, Oldham Athletic, Bournemouth, Bradford City, and Rochdale?

Did you get the answer? All of the six teams are Association Football Clubs, so are either suffixed or, in the case of Bournemouth, prefixed by the initials AFC.

Congratulations if you got the right answer. Nobes will have more football trivia for you next season.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Old Heads Still have Moore to give

Ahead of the League Two play-off final, Nobes looks at two older managers who keep going strong.

Dagenham boss John Still has vast experience in the Football and Non Leagues

Football is more fashionable than ever however, football, like fashion, has its trends. Whether it's for certain formations or certain players or for a certain type of manager.

Recently, it's the up-and-coming young managers which have become the 'in-thing' for club chairmen to pursue. You can understand why too - they've been successful.

Promotions in the Football League this season have been achieved by Messrs Di Matteo, Lambert, Grayson, Hill, and Howe - all young managers.

However, the final curtain of the 2009/10 campaign on Sunday is being brought down by two of the older statesmen who've graced technical areas up and down the country this term.

The Dagenham & Redbridge boss, John Still, is 60, and his Rotherham counterpart, Ronnie Moore, is only two years his junior.

Of the permanent managers in the Football League this term, only QPR boss Neil Warnock is older.

It's that experience and years working in the game which have served both managers, in their differing circumstances, so well. It is also part of the reason why they've led their respective clubs to the brink of League One.

Dagenham's success this season has been against all the odds. The East London outfit have one of the smallest budgets in the division and attract some of the smallest crowds.

If football, as so many believe, is determined by wealth and resources, then the Daggers shouldn't be at Wembley this weekend. They have punched above their weight and then some.

Much of the credit for that achievement must go to Still. In a managerial career spanning 30 years, he has cultivated an understanding and knowledge of the Non League circuit working at places like Dartford and Maidstone United.

He expanded his knowledge of the Football League during his time at Peterborough and Barnet. It's been the club he considers as 'his' which have really reaped the benefits of his years of experience though.

Still took Dagenham to the Conference title in 2007, and last season they missed out on the play-offs by a single point. This term they've gone one better.

Using his Non League contacts, he's managed his small budget to construct a side of young, hungry players determined to show that they can cut it in the Football League.

No side works harder, no team has forwards that run more tirelessly, no side has a better team spirit. If Dagenham are a family club, then the players are part of that family - and Still the father.

The decision of top scorer Paul Benson to turn down the advances of big-spending Shrewsbury last summer to stay at Victoria Road was testament to the positive atmosphere around the club.

It's also a sign that the Daggers can survive and prosper at this level through bringing through and nurturing young players from Non League and selling them on for a profit.

Critics can, and will, point to an unattractive long-ball style - but it is an example of the pragmatism which accompanies Still's experience.

Dagenham are not an attractive side to watch but, on their budget, they would struggle to be sign the footballers who could play a fluid and competitive style of play.

Now, the wise old head of Still has led his young team to within 90 minutes of the third tier of English football - and in doing so demolished Morecambe 7-2 over two legs in the play-off semis.

Ronnie Moore could secure his third promotion as Rotherham boss

His rival in the opposite dugout at the national stadium will also be hoping to count on his many years as a manager to help his side over the finishing line though.

Like Still, he has also worked in the Non Leagues - his first job coming at Southport, close to his native Merseyside, in the mid '90s.

However, it wasn't long before he moved to take over as manager of Rotherham, where he enjoyed a successful three seasons as a prolific striker.

His achievement in taking the Millers to successive promotions and into the Championship between 1999 and 2001 confirmed his status as a hero amongst the fans.

On a tight budget he also helped them survive in the second tier and enjoy, against the odds, four successive seasons amongst some of the big guns of English football.

When he returned to the club to replace Mark Robins in September, he also showed wisdom in not changing a winning formula too much. It would have tempting to have put his own stamp on the team - but he has resisted the urge.

No doubts he will also have the good grace, should they go up, to pay tribute to the work that his predecessor - and former player - did before moving across South Yorkshire to Barnsley.

Moore's experience in dealing with tight promotion races and relegation contests has also been important in what was a uniquely close contest for the top seven places in League Two this term.

Indeed, as the Millers hit a rocky patch in the last couple of months and even looked like slipping out of the play-off places, the manager kept his cool and was steadfast in the confidence he had in his team.

That confidence was repaid as Rotherham showed a clinical touch and rock-solid defence in their play-off semi final with Aldershot.

They rose their game for the big occasion as their opponents floundered - winning both matches without conceding.

It would also be fair to say that his bitter experience at Tranmere last term - finishing just outside the play-offs only to be sacked - has acted as motivation not to miss out on a chance for promotion this time.

Whoever emerges with another promotion to add to his CV after Sunday's match though, Still and Moore have shown that experienced managers still have a lot to offer.

League Two Play Off Final: Preview

League Two Play Off Final
Dagenham & Rebridge vs. Rotherham United
Sunday May 30, 15:00, Wembley

Hands up who predicted these two would contest the League Two play-off final all the way back in August? No, I didn't think so.

That's the beauty of the unpredictable nature of football, I suppose. However, here it is - rank outsiders Dagenham against a Rotherham side most people expected to be already promoted. One will be playing in League One next term.

I'd be lying if I said I was a complete neutral on this one. The Daggers are old rivals of the Skyrockets. I can't pretend that I'd be over the moon to see a club no bigger than us competing in the third tier next year.

However, it'd be churlish of me not to recognise what an immense job the wily old John Still has pulled off this season with Dagenham. They came so close to the top seven last season that you felt they'd missed their chance. Not so.

Having said that, you think his greatest concern in training this week would have been whether the Wembley roof will be closed on Sunday. Daggers play the kind of route one game that would make even Sam Allardyce blush.

In some ways, I think it's kind of appropriate. They're from the unfashionable East End of London. This is Steptoe and Son in footballing terms. Jellied Eels replace the half time oranges and the players get into the zone pre-match with a chorus of 'Knees Up Mother Brown.'

Indeed, if Del Boy and Rodney were playing football then you'd fully expect them to be running around like headless chickens waiting to see where the ball would bounce after being launched into space from the back. That's the Dagenham way.

To be fair, it's been the majority of League Two that's been left to look like plonkers though - particularly Morecambe who were thrashed 6-0 in the first leg the semi final.

They've already massively overachieved on their resources and crowds to get here. A squad of young, hungry Non League gems and a smattering of League experience has taken them to the brink of games against Southampton and Sheffield Wednesday next term.

Ironically, their only other play-off campaign - in 2003's Conference - started with a semi final against Morecambe and ended with defeat to a South Yorkshire side - Doncaster - in the final.

Rotherham did the double over Dagenham & Redbridge during the regular season

This time, it's Rotherham United who will provide the Yorkshire opposition. For the Millers, this is their chance to make up for slipping out of the automatic promotion race they expected to triumph in.

It's been a strange campaign for Rotherham. It began with Mark Robins at the helm and expectations high after recovering so well from starting on -17 points the previous campaign.

Those expectations looked likely to be fulfilled after a good start but Robins was poached by neighbours Barnsley. So, United turned to the past for their future.

Back came the popular Ronnie Moore - who took them into the Championship in 2001. To a certain extent though, he's struggled to reach the same heights in his second coming.

However, after they came off the rails towards the end of the regular season, they firmly got back on track in the play-off semis against Aldershot. Clinical and efficient, they won both legs without conceding.

That gives them confidence ahead of what is really a game they will be expected to win. Millers fans should comfortably outnumber their Dagenham counterparts, and Rotherham did the double over Dagenham this year.

For those hoping that one side will be able to provide them with some entertaining football, then they're in for a disappointment. Moore's teams have always put substance before style.

They don't quite reach the same levels - quite literally - as Dagenham's long-ball style, but those celebrating come full time can expect a sore neck as well as a sore head the following morning.

Who will be celebrating though? You get the feeling that one team will just be happy to be there, whereas the other know they simply have to win.

There's also a trend of sides punching above their weight playing a long-ball style in League Two but finding the final a game too far. It's happened to Lincoln, Grimsby, and Shrewsbury in recent years.

All which doesn't bode well for the Daggers. Rotherham also seemed to raise their game against Aldershot and perhaps just have the experience to take this one.

Nobes' Prediction: Dagenham & Redbridge 0 Rotherham United 2

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Every Loser Wins

Ahead of Saturday's League One Play Off Final, Nobes looks at two managers who have a chance of redemption at Wembley.

Kenny Jackett has taken Millwall to successive League One play-off finals

As Swindon Town and Millwall prepare to fight over the last place in next season's Championship, only one thing can be certain.

Come full time, one of Town manager Danny Wilson or Lions boss Kenny Jackett will have ended his personal play-off nightmare.

In some ways, the two couldn't be further apart. One was once rated as one of the brightest young managers in the game, the other has stepped out of the shadows in recent years to show he is a fine manager in his own right.

Both, however, are united in having suffered play-off misery in League One in the past. This weekend however, one of the bridesmaids will finally get the chance to be the bride.

For the Swindon boss, it will signal the recovery of a career which never fulfilled its early promise. In 1997, Wilson brought top flight football to Barnsley for the first time in their 110 year history.

However, he was unable to keep them in the Premier League and, after an unsuccessful spell at Sheffield Wednesday ended in similar fashion, he was cast from the highest echelons of English football.

It was at League One Bristol City where he chose to resurrect his fortunes a few months later. In four seasons at Ashton Gate he twice led the Robins to 3rd place and the play-offs.

However, in 2003 they lost out to Severnside rivals Cardiff in the semi finals, and 12 months later were 1-0 losers to Brighton in the final. On both occasions, City had come so close to automatic promotion only to fail in the end of season lottery.

He left the club to take on the challenge of the newly formed MK Dons - but suffered relegation to the basement division in 2006. However, a year later he was celebrating promotion to League One with Hartlepool.

The decision to end his reign with Pools in 2008 because the side had 'slipped into the bottom half of the table' looks all the more baffling considering they only narrowly avoided the drop this term.

Now at the County Ground he is 90 minutes away from restoring his reputation - and having another crack at the higher end of the Football League.

It is a chance the 50-year-old probably thought wouldn't take this long. He has always had a reputation for producing sides that are attractive to watch and play positive, attacking football.

Swindon have more than lived up to that reputation this term too - finding the back of net on 73 occasions, although they have also leaked 57 at the back.

It was that positive approach which served them so well in the second leg of their play off semi with Charlton. Wilson made a tactical change to take off top scorer Billy Paynter, and released the rest of his side to chase the goal they required to level the tie.

The decision paid off handsomely, and an assured display from the penalty spot in a shoot out booked them their place at Wembley.

The dignified manner in which Wilson consoled the home players - particularly captain Nicky Bailey whose penalty miss proved so costly - was a sign of a man who knew the pain they were suffering all too well.

Danny Wilson has been managing in the lower divisions for the past decade

It's also a pain that his opposite number at Wembley on Saturday afternoon has felt as recently as last year. Kenny Jackett's Millwall are making their second successive appearance in the League One play-off final.

Twelve months ago, they threw away a 2-1 lead in the last 20 minutes to succumb to Scunthorpe. It is to everyone's credit at the Den that they have bounced back from that disappointment so well this term.

It was not the case for Jackett at his previous club. He took Swansea to promotion from League Two in his first full season in charge in 2005.

A year later, and the Welsh club were on the brink of successive elevations having seen off Brentford in the play-off semis and heading into the final.

However, the Swans surrendered a 2-1 advantage against Barnsley and eventually lost on spot kicks to the Yorkshire side. Less than a year later, and he had left the Liberty Stadium after a poor run of form.

Prior to Swansea, the 48-year-old spent many years as an assistant, first to Graham Taylor at Watford and then as Ian Holloway's number two at QPR.

It was at Rangers where he first suffered play-off misery, losing to Cardiff in extra time at the Millennium Stadium in the 2003 League One final.

Since going it alone though, his success with Swansea and now Millwall has helped Jackett forge a reputation as an up-and-coming manager in the lower leagues.

His sides are always well organised and prepared, boasting a tight defence. While Millwall's direct style is not always the easiest on the eye, their high tempo game cannot be accused of being negative.

Indeed, despite being away from home, they were not afraid of taking the game to opponents Huddersfield in the first leg of their play off semi final. Had a couple of refereeing decisions gone their way, they would have taken a lead from the Galpharm.

As it was, the ease with which they contained their free-scoring opponents in the second leg while being ruthless at the other end was testament to the work that Jackett has done on the training ground.

Promotion on Saturday would present the Lions boss with the opportunity to prove his worth at a higher level. Failure, and clubs already in the Championship could do much worse than to give him his break.

However, failure won't be on his, or Wilson's mind this weekend. They've had more than enough of that in the play-offs already. For one of them - their time has finally come.

League One Play Off Final: Preview

League One Play Off Final
Millwall vs. Swindon Town
Saturday May 29, 15:00, Wembley

A place back in the Championship awaits one of Millwall and Swindon this Saturday as Wembley witnesses a classic clash of cultures.

One's badge is that of a roaring Lion, the other has images of a steam train and a little robin. You get the feeling Millwall could eat their opponents alive.

Indeed, I actually don't think you could find two more dissimilar clubs.

In the blue corner Millwall -
a club rooted in the London Docking industry and notorious for their partisan fans who can always ensure a cold welcome to away fans at their New Den ground.

In the red corner, Swindon, famous for trains and roundabouts, and being twinned with Disneyland. In the north east of rural Wiltshire, are they Westcountry bumpkins or Thames Valley commuters? Maybe both.

The two teams are also very different in their style.

Kenny Jackett's Lions - a physical and imposing opponent. No quarter asked and none given. If you're not up for the fight against Millwall, then you're unlikely to get anything from the game.

Resolute at the back, pragmatic in their play, they're not afraid to bombard their opponents with a succession of well drilled set pieces and high balls up front to their dangerous attacking duo of Neil Harris and Steve Morison.

Swindon, as is the way of their manager Danny Wilson, preach the message of good football.

They never waive from a belief in playing the game the right way - they might find Wembley's expansive, if not smooth, pitch to their liking.

Where the Robins are, you can be sure of goals too - at both ends. Strikers Billy Paynter and Charlie Austin have both been in red hot form to fire Town to Saturday's final.

Millwall took four points off Swindon Town during the regular League One season

They'll be in for a tough time against Millwall though. The Lions had the joint-best defensive record in League One this term, and comfortably saw off Huddersfield in the semis without conceding.

Jackett's side have also been here before - just 12 months previously in fact - where they were 3-2 losers to Scunthorpe.

If experience counts then, finally, at the fifth time of asking, Millwall will emerge victorious from a play-off campaign.

Or will Wembley simply bring back bad memories? As with last May's match, the Londonders will again start favourites - albeit slight ones - particularly after defeating Swindon 3-2 on the final day of the regular season.

A high-scoring match that day, I don't envisage Saturday going along the same lines. Both sides know there's simply too much at stake.

With both having benefited from financial backing, they will be hopeful a win will be the gateway to establishing them back in the second tier of English football.

Swindon haven't been there in ten years, Millwall dropped out of the Championship more recently - in 2006. Life in the third tier has generally not been kind to two sides who regularly competed for the top flight 20 years ago.

Who will have the opportunity of competing in the Championship next term though?

Part of me thinks that things have clicked for Swindon this season, they weren't one of the pre-season favourites, but their penalty win over Charlton in the semis shows that fate is on their side.

However, only one side - Leicester in the early '90s - have lost play-off finals in successive seasons. Usually, a side triumphs second time around, so it's unlikely Millwall will lose again.

It wouldn't surprise me to see it go into extra time, but I'll go for Millwall to edge it. Although they probably won't.

Nobes' Prediction: Millwall 2 Swindon Town 1

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Dr Lakes' Season Review: Championship

As another season draws to a close, Soccer AM/MW's very own General Practitioner, Doctor Lakes, gives his diagnosis on all this season's Football League teams.

They've been given a comprehensive physical over the past nine months, have they emerged with a clean bill of health, are they on the mend, or do things look pretty bleak for the future?

Starting with the Championship.

Barnsley (18th)

The Tykes were flying high for the best part of the season but they slowly faded away towards the end.

The fans can't complain too much because they finished higher than a lot of people expected.

They will be disappointed that they just faded into obscurity though.

Dr Lakes' Diagnosis: "Healthy: I was expecting this Yorkshire lad to be calling me up three times a day complaining of a headache and stomach cramps.

"Instead he kept himself to himself and I didn't hear from him until he called a few weeks back - and that was just to tell me that he just caught my wife banging the postman."

Blackpool (6th)

It has been an incredible season for Blackpool. In fact, incredible doesn't do justice to the job Ian Holloway has done.

Having been tipped to struggle, few can believe that they made it to the play-off final. Even fewer can believe that they'll be playing in the Premier League next season.

No-one can argue that this has been the remarkable achievement of this season.

Dr Lakes' Diagnosis: "Fully Fit: I've sent a letter to the police, informing them that the entire Blackpool squad have been taking illegal drugs. Of course, this is utter tosh, but I am disgusted to see them doing so well.

"I can't deny that they have been a picture of health recently, but I will do everything I can to make them ill again."

Bristol City (10th)

Solid season for the Robins, not a lot to say. Evander Sno looked pretty good, and yet he looked pretty rubbish at times as well. Got Steve Coppell in charge now, so he should help them push on.

They continue to establish themselves as a good, passing team - and even get the referees to look away when someone scores against them.

Dr Lakes' Diagnosis: "Healthy: Not a lot to say really. They look sturdy and reliable. I've seen them have better days, but at least they don't look they're going to throw up on my loafers.

"They're Italian loafers, so need a lot of love and care."

Cardiff City (4th)

Knackered financially because of overspending on Premier League cast-offs.

Cardiff shouldn't be where they are today. Why? Because they are frivolous and refused to learn from the lessons that have been lain out before them by Leeds et al.

As it is, they lost out in the play-off final and are in all sorts of trouble as a result of not getting promoted to the promised land. They've had an excellent season, but what about the long term?

If they'd have gone up, they wouldn't have cared. However, the future could start to look very grim for the Bluebirds.

Dr Lakes' Diagnosis: "All Clear: These Welshies spent a hell of a lot of money on innovative drugs and it's paid off for them. The medicine work a treat.

"It didn't completely heal them though and, the problem is, I don't think they read the warning signs on the side: Possible Side Effects - Death."

Coventry City (19th)

Oh dear. Hopes were high at the Ricoh's Roughnecks Arena - it's a Starship Troopers reference, in case you're interested. A few people fancied a stab at the play-offs, and it looked like it could be achieved.

However, the Championship is a cruel and unforgiving mistress and the Sky Blues soon found themselves plummeting down the table. They never looked in danger, but they'll want a better season next term.

Dr Lakes' Diagnosis: "Diarrhoea: Not a lot to say really. It got very messy, very quickly. We tried starving them, blocking the trap door, removing their stomach - nothing worked.

"No matter what we tried, it wouldn't stop flowing out. Eventually, we realised you just need to let nature takes its course."

Crystal Palace (21st)

The play-offs were on the horizon for the Eagles. Cue a financial disaster and a ten point deduction and Palace were forced to battle for survival on the final day of the season.

Neil Warnock jumped ship and left the club in even bigger trouble. They may have avoided relegation in the last game but popular belief is that it will just delay the inevitable sound of bankruptcy.

Dr Lakes' Diagnosis: "Leprosy: I've never seen leprosy occur so quickly. They were doing fine, then his nose fell off in my hand.

"Once I'd stopped screaming and cleaning myself, I realised that I could stave off death for at least another year, but I'm not sure it's in the best interest of the patient."

Derby County (14th)

People who understand how football works would have realised that it was going to be a difficult season for the Rams. They got off to a slow start as Nigel Clough tried to make his mark on a team going backwards.

After a poor first half to the season, Derby started to the click and, following a derby victory over Forest, they started to climb the table. Not a great year, but not an unexpected one either.

Dr Lakes' Diagnosis: "Diarrhoea: What was initially diagnosed as Swine Flu can now just be labelled a bad case of the runs. It looked dangerous but they pulled through.

"I thought I was going to have to call the International Medical Facility (IMF) for help. What? The IMF doesn't stand for that? Then where have I been sending patients with severe medical concerns for the past five years?!"

Doncaster Rovers (12th)

Another solid season in the Championship can be chalked up by the South Yorkshire club. They've got a good boss, a good stadium, and a good team.

It'll only be a matter of time before the Vikings start working their way further up the table.

Dr Lakes' Diagnosis: "All Clear: I haven't seen Donny in ages. How's he doing? I thought he'd moved to California? He's not been in my office since 2008, so he must be doing well.

"I've just checked his file and there are no underlying health issues to worry about. I probably should pay more attention to my patients."

Ipswich Town (15th)

Roy Keane brought in a lot of former Manchester United and Celtic players last season. He also raided Ireland. In truth, he signed a lot of dross and it didn't pay off.

Having said that, the Tractor Boys were very difficult to beat and didn't lose that many games. Shame they drew nearly half their games.

Dr Lakes' Diagnosis: "Diarrhoea: Farm Life doesn't agree with Mr Keane. He's complained of a bloated stomach all season and it hasn't gone away. His bathroom looked like a mud farm. It was disgusting.

"I prescribed him a healthy amount of medication but it didn't seem to do anything. If it continues, I may have to try something more serious."

Leicester City (5th)

After winning League One last season, even the most optimistic of Foxes fans must have thought the play-offs were out of reach.

Leicester would have settled for safety at the start of the season but, after an impressive return to the Championship for Nigel Pearson's boys, more will definitely be expected of them next season.

Dr Lakes' Diagnosis: "Fully Fit: Incredible improvement. I remember them coming in to see me a couple of seasons ago and they were looking worse for wear.

"I was genuinely concerned I would never see them again. Strong heart rate, impressive muscle strength. There is life in the old Fox yet."

Middlesbrough (11th)

Bloody Nora! What the hell happened here? One minute Boro are looking solid and only a few points off the top. The next, they're sacking Gareth Southgate and bringing in an angry Scotsman.

It's been a season to forget for the Riverside club. Many expected them to go straight back up. After sacking Southgate though, it all feel to piece and it took them too long to recover.

Dr Lakes' Diagnosis: "Leprosy. This was a shock to me. I thought I would be giving the all clear but I find myself sending the poor sod off to leper island!

"I turned my back for one second and, when I'm looking at him again, limbs are falling off faster than I can deal with."

Newcastle United (1st)

The Magpies did exactly what they set out to do - bounce back at the first attempt. They made it look easy in the end and Chris Hughton certainly made a good first impression with the Geordie faithful.

Dr Lakes' Diagnosis: "In remission: After the bad news last year, I'm amazed at the progress they've made. They look fighting fit and have lost a lot of weight."

Nottingham Forest (3rd)

The Tricky Trees had an excellent season and were ultimately beaten to the automatic places by two teams who had more money, more depth, and more experience.

They will be very disappointed with how they got dumped out of the play-offs but, if they can keep Billy Davies and the core of the squad, they should do well again next season.

Dr Lakes' Diagnosis: "All Clear: Nice to see the old boy on the mend. Spent the last few years bed-ridden and I was very concerned for his overall condition.

"However, a new health care worker has seen Mr Forest make a remarkable recovery. Barely recognisable from the man I saw last season."

Peterborough United (24th)

Back-to-back promotions followed by a relegation. It's exciting being a Posh fan.

Eventually they got found out for spending a lot of money on sub-standard players and, when Darren Ferguson spat his dummy out, it took the club time to find the right man to fill his shoes.

Although relegation would have been expected, to finish bottom will be a very tough pill to swallow.

Dr Lakes' Diagnosis: "Swine Flu: Never got out of bed. They just lay there all year looking like someone had come into their house on Christmas day and urinated on their kids.

"They never looked like rousing out of his state of lethargy. Fortunately, they've got a good house doctor who can afford to look after them all the time. Will he stay if things don't look like improving, or will he just pull the plug? Not my problem - I'm just a GP."

Plymouth Argyle (23rd)

For a club that has spent the past few seasons punching above their weight, relegation will come as no great shock. What will be worrying is that it could be a while before they find themselves back in the Championship.

A poor seasons always looked likely, and relegation was always a possibility. They good news is Exeter didn't get relegated, so they won't have to travel as far for one of their games next year.

Dr Lakes' Diagnosis: "Diarrhoea: I've been prepared for this for quite some time now. I was always expecting trouble, I was just a little surprised it took this long to arrive.

"Fortunately, they're not in too much danger and should maintain a reasonable level of health. Can they return to their former glory? If they stock up on vitamins and minerals, they could do."

Preston North End (17th)

Bit of a mixed bag for PNE. In reality, this is the type of season that Lilywhites fans should come to expect. A solid mid-table finish without too much to get excited or nervous about.

Sacking Alan Irvine was a bit of a shock and appointing the detestable Darren Ferguson was even more of one.

The winding-up order at the end of the season would have upset a few fans, but that's part and parcel of the game.

Dr Lakes' Diagnosis: "Healthy/Diarrhoea: They were looking very healthy for a large portion of the year. They had a few scary moments, but nothing serious.

"However, it was when they were leaving my office that panic started to set in. As soon as the door was closed I heard something resembling a broken faucet - and then the smell hit me.

"It could be a worrying summer, but I reckon they'll pull through."

Queens Park Rangers (13th)

Another year gone, another five managers gone through. The Hoops are believed to be rolling in money but don't appear to spend any of it.

That's because all of it goes towards the firing and hiring of managers.

Another disappointing season and, to make it worse, season ticket holders can look forward to watching Neil Warnock dance about in the technical area next season.

Dr Lakes' Diagnosis: "Swine Flu: I told them that a nice relaxing weekend would sort them out but would they listen? Would they b*******!

"They only went out and splashed an obscene amount of money on someone who hasn't got a real medical degree. He got it from UCLan for crying out loud. I despair of some people."

Reading (9th)

Terrible start to the season. Awful. Truly ghastly. They did dump Liverpool out of the FA Cup, but I reckon Soccer AM/MW could have done that.

They did give their fans hope towards the end of the season as they started to put a very tasty run together which almost gave them an outside shot at the play-offs.

Dr Lakes' Diagnosis: "Diarrhoea: They looked like death when I saw them at the beginning of the year and it was streaming out of them like a leaky tap. Must have had some dodgy paella.

"I recommened a butt plug and a new chef. Fortunately they listneed to half of my advice and now they have Heston Blumenthal cooking them mock turtle soup and duck a l'orange. Tasty."

Scunthorpe United (20th)

An excellent season for the Iron was confirmed when they realised their season target with games to spare.

Everyone thought they'd take the plunge but they shocked everyone by putting in solid performances towards the end of the season. It'll be tough next term, but now they know they can do it.

Dr Lakes' Diagnosis: "Fully Fit: Wowzers. When I was running cardio tests on this patient I kept increading the speed of the treadmill - expecting him to stop.

"However, he just kept running and running and running. Extraordinary levels of fitness, but I'm not sure he'll be the same next year."

Sheffield United (8th)

The Blades have to be disappointed with their season. They had high hopes that they could get promoted agaun, but it never really got going for them.

They were always there or thereabouts, but could never find the extra push to lift them into the danger zone. Should be slightly disappointed, but that's probably a bit harsh on them.

Dr Lakes' Diagnosis: "Healthy/Diarrhoea: It's been an up-and-down past few months and they'll be glad that the season is over now. They can get some rest and come back stronger.

"I'm a bit concerned at how they looked groggy coming to the end of the term, but I've given them a massive dose of antibiotics to help."

Sheffield Wednesday (22nd)

Losing out on the final day is painful. What will be more painful for Wednesday is that they're returning to a place which they thought they'd left behind.

League One will be waiting and the long-term ramifications are yet to be discussed.

It was a horrible season - one to forget. What's more depressing is that they won't even win the league next year - that honour will go to Southampton.

Dr Lakes' Diagnosis: "Swine Flu: In trouble, but it's not fatal. They've been confined to their house and told to get lots of rest.

It's been a tough nine months for Mr Wednesday and hopefully he can use the summer to recuperate and come back stronger. I'm worried that Tamiflu won't do the trick though."

Swansea City (7th)

New boss, new striker, new playmaker. It would be easy to have thought the Swansea would have a rebuilding season this term. However, they were one result away from making the play-offs.

The cardigan-wearing Paulo Sousa got his team churning out results - even if it wasn't overly exciting for the neutral.

Dr Lakes' Diagnosis: "All Clear: After extensive surgery over the summer, I was expecting Mrs Swan to lie low this year.

"I'd planned for her to gradually settle into her new body but she blossomed into a beautiful, erm, swan. She is definitely on the up."

Watford (16th)

Not a great season for Watford. They were invovled in a relegation battle for a while but Malky Mackay eventually helped steer them to safety.

Can't help but feel as if expectations have been blown out of proportion after their time in the top flight, but they should still be hoping for a little more than this.

Dr Lakes' Diagnosis: "Healthy: I've deemed them to be healthy, but I think I'll be keeping my eye on them for the next year or so.

"They showed some strength to fight off infection but I'm a little concerned that their immune system has weaknened significantly over the past couple of years. Could find themselves in a constant state of having the sniffles.

West Bromwich Albion (2nd)

I would write something new, but what was written for Newcastle applies to West Brom. Just swap Mags for Bags and you're onto to a winner.

Dr Lakes' Diagnosis: "All Clear: Had a good year health wise - but I'm worried about their long-term fitness. They'll probably be back next term."

Dr Lakes will be back with his diagnoses on Leagues One and Two in the near future.