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

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Talking Points - October 2010

Never ones to keep their opinions to themselves, here's what the lads thought about goings-on during October:

Give Me Just A Little More Time
After the sacking of Paulo Sousa, Nobes hits out at Leicester chairman Milan Mandaric's managerial policy.

In Defence
With goals flying in across the Football League, Turls looks at whether defending is what it used to be.

Something Old Something New
Nobes reflects on Exeter's continuing success - thanks to an up-and-coming manager and some traditional tactics.

City Stickers
With Steve Tilson their new boss, Nobes considers whether Lincoln can finally escape the division they're beginning to call their own.

Top Of The Flops
With pre-season Championship favourites Middlesbrough floundering and managerless, Nobes remembers other teams who flopped.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Prediction League Week 13

Things are beginning to tighten up in the Prediction League after Lakes and Turls both made up ground on long time leaders Nobes at the summit.

Just five points separates the three lads now, meaning we could have a new leader at the end of Week 13.

With Boston not in action until midweek, it's once again just Preston and Forest in action in the Championship this weekend.

Leicester City vs. Preston North End

Leicester City 2-2 PNE
Leicester City 3-1 PNE
Leicester City 4-2 PNE

Portsmouth vs. Nottingham Forest

Lakes: Portsmouth 1-1 Forest
Portsmouth 1-1 Forest
Portsmouth 1-2 Forest

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Big Match Preview

Northampton Town vs. Gillingham
Saturday October 30, 15:00, Sixfields

It's a meeting between two sides who are failing to match expectations at Sixfields this weekend as League Cup giant killers Northampton Town entertain Gillingham.

While the Cobblers go into the game currently in the division's bottom two, the Gills go in search of ending a winless away run now stretching to a club-record 33 games.

Indeed, not since victory at Chesterfield in April 2009 have Kent's sole Football League outfit returned to the Priestfield with maximum spoils to show for their efforts.

It was that dire away record which cost them their place in League One last term - leading to the sacking of boss Mark Stimson and return of legend Andy Hessenthaler to the manager's chair.

However, it's been a struggle for Hessenthaler on his return, with the Gills - tipped for promotion in pre-season - only sitting in 15th going into Saturday's game.

Their defensive frailties on the road have been a large part of their struggles - with 14 goals leaked on their six trips, including five at Bury and seven at Accrington in recent weeks.

Goalless draws at Hereford and Port Vale and another point picked up at Morecambe are all the Gills have to show for their travels this term.

Key to ending their barren away run will be striker Bayo Akinfenwa - who returns to the club he left in the summer - their joint top scorer, alongside Cody McDonald, with four to his name.

Despite their League Cup run, Ian Sampson fears for his job

For the home side, the arrival of Gillingham signals a return to their bread and butter after the end of their League Cup odyssey.

Tuesday night's at Ipswich brought to an end a run which had included the infamous defeat of Liverpool on penalties at Anfield in one of Town's most famous games.

Those exploits may well have proved somewhat of a distraction to Sampson's men though. Since then, they've collected just three points and head into the weekend off the back of five successive league defeats.

Their home form has been somewhat of a mixed bag too with wins against Southend and Bradford, draws with Accrington and Wycombe, and recent losses to Chesterfield and Hereford.

All of which means 41-year-old Sampson, a club legend as a player, is under big pressure to get from the Gillingham game.

Central players for Town this term have been midfielder Kevin Thornton and striker Billy McKay - both have notched four goals to date this season.

With Cobblers in such poor form and the Gills woeful on the road, this is a game both sides would love to win but probably can't afford to lose.

That may well dictate that a tight game ends all square which, although not ideal for either, will at least see them avoid another defeat respectively.

Nobes' Prediction: Northampton Town 1 Gillingham 1

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fan Files: Yeovil Town

You might be under the impression we actually know what we're talking about. Sometimes we do.

However, there's no substitute for first hand experience, so, once more, it's time to delve into the Fan Files and ask those in the know about what's really happening at their club.

On this occasion, we turn the spotlight on League One strugglers Yeovil Town.

Glovers fan Ben Barrett has been following the fortunes of his side since 2001.

So Ben, what's the best moment been following Yeovil?

Actually, it came during the first season - not to say I haven't had more. To be at Villa Park to watch us win the FA Trophy against Stevenage was pretty special.

I was in the front row and the late Adam Stansfield ran straight into our section of supporters after scoring. That was the moment I was hooked and a fan for life.

The whole day showed me what supporting Yeovil can be like - the fun of an early morning pounding up and down motorways, an incredible atmosphere, and seeing Gary Johnson's men triumph was nothing short of awe-inspiring.

What about the worst moment?

I've been very lucky. I began supporting after the horrible season in the mid-1990s which saw us relegated from the Conference - so I have seen nothing but a rise through the leagues.

I've seen us win the FA Trophy, the Conference a year later, and then League Two not long after that.

I was convinced a couple of years ago that we were destined for the drop from League One - but even that had a happy ending when a returning hero, 'keeper Chris Weale, scored against Hereford to ensure our survival.

On a personal note, the worst day for me was in 2004 when I missed the Yeovil/Liverpool FA Cup game just a day after my birthday.

Gary Johnson was the architect of Yeovil's rise up the divisions

I've been unfortunate to miss that, and the epic FA Trophy semi final against Doncaster - which some fans speak of as a better day than the final itself.

I'm a generally positive supporter and can honestly say that we might not always win or play particularly well, but I can usually find some positives.

Losing 4-0 and 5-0 to Leeds and Brighton within a few days of each other during Terry Skiverton's first season was about as depressed as I have ever been.

How's this season going then? On the face of it, lower mid-table and keeping your head above water looks just about par-for-the-course for Yeovil?

It's probably been the hardest season to comment on. We've played out of our skins against sides like Huddersfield, Southampton, and Sheffield Wednesday.

Then there have been howling performances against Exeter and Hartlepool - who are teams we should consider beatable.

Being a lower mid-table side is pretty much spot on for a club of our size, value, and budget - although that's probably not in the hearts and minds of our supporters and the biggest of them all is Terry Skiverton.

At the start of the season the key word was 'progression.' We wanted to get ourselves safe and secure as quickly as possible and push on.

Most pundits would have us favourites to finish rock bottom and slowly wither away back into Non League where we belong. I don't think that's in Skivo's script.

On a tiny budget we have brought together one of the best squads I have ever had the pleasure of watching.

Dean Bowditch is a key man up front for the Glovers

I have fallen in love a bit - okay, quite a lot - with Adam Virgo who, despite not being the quickest, has filled filled the gap Skiverton created by taking the step into management.

We've got some great wingers for this level and Dean Bowditch - who has the ability to finish a chance off at the drop of a hat.

If everyone is honest, to still be talking about League One next season would be nice. To be playing sides dropping out of the Championship rather than the ones getting promoted out of the Conference is always preferable.

I genuinely think there is a belief in the squad that we can cause some teams whose size, fan base, and history suggests they should finish above us problems, and push towards the top half of the table. Beyond that - who knows?

You famously defeated Nottingham Forest on the way to play off final heartbreak against Blackpool in 2007. Could you see the Glovers ever hitting those same heights again in League One?

That night in Nottingham is tattooed on the inside of my eyelids - I see it when I sleep, I remember it as if it were yesterday.

You just don't go to Nottingham Forest and put five past them, you just don't. Will we ever see that day again? I would love to think so. The club certainly thinks so.

I was lucky enough to spend some time at the club a couple of years back and staff, supporters, and players that I spoke to were 100 per cent sure that Yeovil are a Championship club in the making. They didn't know when it would happen, they were just sure it would.

Putting things into perspective, for Yeovil to go up would be another story much like we have seen with Scunthorpe and Blackpool.

We haven't a young squad, one with some key players that we would have to keep hold of for a while yet - players like Bowditch, Virgo, and Paul Huntington.

Russell Slade guided Town to the play off final in 2007

Ones we've also had for a while like Nathan Smith and Craig Alcock would have to turn transfers down and remain loyal for things to really move forward.

We all need to remember that Skiverton and his management team are learning as well, so a few mistakes might well creep in from time to time.

I am convinced we can, and will, take the 2007 experience, build on it, then better it. It might not be this season, or next, but it will happen.

Of course, your boss Terry Skiverton stepped up to be manager after many years as a player. How has he found it, and how have the fans had to adjust to now criticising a much-loved figure?

Terry is Mr Yeovil. He arrived at the club in 1999 as a bit of a squad booster, but he has never looked back. He has done it all at the club - from cleaning boots, to lifting trophies, to running the side in the space of ten years.

That meteoric-level of rise can bring the odd mistake, but supporters were made aware of this by his own honesty and pleas to bear with him and assistant Nathan Jones as they mould the club the way that they want it.

At first, people doubted his contacts book and there were concerns that we were in for a line of Non League nobodies and Gary Johnson's 'hand-me-downs.'

Credit to him though, he is out most weeks of the night watching football somewhere, whether it is Bristol City's first team or a Tottenham under-18's you can find him or one of his team out.

He might not always be scouting, sometimes he just wants to learn or add another number to his phone book.

Fans trust him because he loves Yeovil. Nathan Jones still plays occasionally, while Darren Way is another legend, and Ben Roberts has come in and bought into the idea. When everyone sings from the same hymn sheet the result is usually much better.

Skiverton and Jones are the young managerial team at Huish Park

Supporters have voiced their concerns on some things - like why Virgo has played up front or why we don't have a permanent goalkeeper on the books.

It seems we all agree, though, that the club has someone at the club who feels every loss as much as we do and so wants to get it right. In Skivo we trust.

How about your early impressions of this season's League One? Any surprise packages at either end, or is it, like most divisions, increasingly becoming a case of the haves and have nots?

It has been an odd season. Southampton and Sheffield Wednesday stuttered while Exeter and Bournemouth flew out of the traps. Plymouth can't buy a string of results while Brighton lead the way.

It is the cliche of the season to say: "Anyone can beat anyone." It's true though. Our recent form has been nothing short of shocking - we rarely win away from home and often we don't take many fans. To beat Walsall and Rochdale on their own patches then was incredible.

The sides will probably begin filtering out into their rightful positions by Christmas and it'll be interesting to see which clubs remain where they are.

Getting a run of six or seven games unbeaten together could be the difference between 5th and 15th come May - so it's hard to predict.

What I saw of Huddersfield and Southampton recently suggests they have enough to go up. I fear for Tranmere though.

Yeovil have had some success over recent years loaning youth players from Premier League sides like Tottenham. Do you think this is the way forward for smaller clubs in the lower divisions?

Personally, I love having these young loanees. Tottenham recently gave Steven Caulker his first start in a white shirt and he deserved it for the way he played at Yeovil last season.

It's that sort of impression that has led Arsenal to send us Luke Freeman and Manchester United send down Cameron Stewart.

Steven Caulker impressed at Yeovil before being given his break at Spurs

Players like Owain Tudor-Jones and Shaun MacDonald have not just come on loan once, but sometimes two or three times.

It is becoming more and more evident that these teams are seeing Yeovil as a perfect place to give these young lads a taste of proper football. It is then up to the gaffer to find the right mix, something which I think he has got right this time around.

Would we prefer Gavin Williams to be ours rather than Bristol City's? Of course. The same applies to others. I know some people don't like it, but I do.

To finish with then, what's the best thing about being a Yeovil Town

There are many good things about supporting Yeovil. My personal favourites are that it is never boring - we are always doing something interesting.

Mostly though that other clubs come to us and go home with or without three points and say stuff like, "Yeovil are a credit to the Football League," or, "I can't wait to go back there next season."

To see our fans clap Nottingham Forest supporters out of the City Ground the year after the play off game was incredible.

Forest had secured promotion by beating us, yet Glovers fans lined up along their coaches clapping, shaking hands, and enjoying Forest's moment just as they had allowed us to do 12 months previously.

That is what makes Yeovil one of the best clubs in the League, that and Adam Virgo's enormous shorts.

Ben, thanks for chatting with Soccer AM/MW.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Big Match Analysis - Watford 0 Scunthorpe 2

We continue our look at defending in the Football League with special guest analysis by Lakes from our Big Match.

Watford 0-2 Scunthorpe United
Saturday October 23, Vicarage Road, (Att: 12,366)

On the back of a fine win against Preston, Scunthorpe meant business in this brisk Championship encounter and Watford's defence started to show one or two creaky elements.

After shipping two goals in midweek, keeping a clean sheet was clearly a priority for Scunny - and their defence held robustly throughout the match.

Watford 0 Scunthorpe United 1

It was all about the volleys at Vicarage Road - and the bar was set pretty high early on. But what was the Watford defence doing?

Scunthorpe delivered a long ball into the box, it was headed across the centre of the 18-yard box before being headed again back out to the edge of the box.

What were Watford doing? Chasing air - that's what. For when Cliff Byrne - not to be confused with snooker pro Cliff Thorburn - unleashed his volley, it flew through the Watford defence like a mildly warm knife through slightly chilled butter. Poor show Hornets.

Watford 0 Scunthorpe United 2

Long balls and looping headers seemed to be the order of the day, and Scunthorpe's second was no exception. WHOOSH, a long ball, THWACK, a header out, and BLAM, a volley into the bottom right corner.

Watford's defence all at sixes and sevens again.


Watford are something of an enigma at home - rarely threatening the opposition and conceding via simple defensive mistakes.

A man on the edge of the box closing down the opposition could've easily blocked the two volleyed goals from Scunthorpe, and the lack of learning from the first goal ultimately cost them dearly.

Not a sexy show from Watford, but Scunthorpe remained solid at the back throughout and knocked the Hornets down a peg or two with a very simple, well-executed game plan.

If I were a Watford fan I'd worry about how easily this defence was usurped by the footballing fundamentals.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Big Match Review - Watford 0 Scunthorpe 2

Watford 0-2 Scunthorpe United
Saturday October 23, Vicarage Road, (Att: 12,366)

Volleyed goals from Cliff Byrne and Martyn Woolford helped Scunthorpe United on their way to an impressive win at high-flying Watford.

In a tight opening, it was the visitors who had the first opportunity when Scott Loach stopped Freddie Sears's shot. However, the Iron were ahead
soon after.

After Michael O'Connor had pumped a ball in the box, the home side failed to clear their lines. The ball was headed back to captain Byrne on the edge of the area who unleashed an unstoppable right footed volley into the bottom corner.

Malky Mackay's men tried to respond, but found themselves frustrated by a determined rearguard display from their Lincolnshire opponents. Michael Bryan going closest with a volley wide.

Instead, it was Scunny who doubled their advantage in spectacular style in first stoppage time. When a poor headed clearance from another deep cross fell to the feet of Woolford he acrobatically volleyed the ball home.

In the second period, Loach was called upon to make another stop from Sears as the away side threatened to further increase their lead.

A couple of efforts from range from Stephen McGinn was the closest the Hornets came to beating Tony Warner all afternoon as the Iron comfortably saw out the rest of the game.

A second away win in a week then moves United further away from trouble, but puts a dent in Watford's top six ambitions.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Top Of The Flops

With Gordon Strachan resigning as Middlesbrough boss following a disastrous start to the season, Nobes looks at pre-season favourites of the past who failed to live up to expectations.

Things went badly wrong for Gordon Strachan at the Riverside

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by Middlesbrough, most bookies favourites for the Championship title, struggling towards the start of the season. After all, they received the ultimate kiss of death when even the Soccer AM/MW backed them.

Gordon Strachan should have been preparing to pack his bags there and then - and I'm reliably informed he frequents the site often. He'll have even more time to do so now.

Granted, there's still plenty of time for things to turn around at the Riverside - but failure to do so and, after some heavy summer spending, this Teessiders team will go down in history as one of the game's biggest flops.

Not that they're the first team to fail to live up to such huge pre-season hype though. Here's my rundown of the Top Ten Flops of recent seasons.

10. Millwall - 2006/7

After relegation from the Championship the previous season, the Lions overhauled their squad - investing good money into bouncing back at the first attempt.

Alas though, they decided to hire Nigel Spackman as their manager, and he continued his woeful managerial record at the start of the campaign.

The Londoners collected just five points from their opening ten games, earning Spackman the boot and replacement Willie Donachie having to pull them out of the mire.

They ended up 10th, way short of even a spot in the play offs.

9. Oxford United - 2001/2

There was an air of gloom around Oxford United in 2001 - the club had ended their time at
Manor Ground with relegation from the third tier.

Step forward former Oxen player, local boy done good, and ex-England international - Mark Wright. He had impressed in his first manager's job at Southport and seemed like the man to get Oxford moving again.

He wasn't. The squad looked strong, vastly experienced, and well capable of challenging at the right end.

With 19 games played and sitting just three points off the bottom, Wright - already suspended by the FA after alleged racist comments to a match day official - resigned.

Successor Ian Atkins inherited a shambles of a squad which ended up a pitiful 21st with just 47 points to their name.

8. Hull City - 2002/3

Tigers Tigers burning bright. The future looked optimistic for Hull in the summer of 2002.

Their money troubles behind them, a new ground on the way, and a big name manager proven in the lower leagues.

Everyone was tipping City to finally realise their potential. However, things didn't quite go according to plan for Jan Molby.

The Tigers registered just 12 points from their first 12 games and a loss at Kidderminster - the club Molby had walked out on
months earlier to join Hull - saw his reign brought to a quick end.

Peter Taylor assumed control, but even he failed to turn around their fortunes. Despite resources the envy of the rest of the division, they ended the season in 13th.

7. Leeds United - 2006/7

Leeds had ended the previous campaign as losing play off finalists to Watford. Hopes were high that Kevin Blackwell's side could now go one better.

Perhaps it was a reaction to their close miss a few months earlier, but the Yorkshire side got off to a miserable start and the manager was fired after just eight games.

He left United in the bottom three, but with enough time and a squad more than capable of getting themselves out of trouble.

So you'd think. Replacement Dennis Wise failed to get the most out a team that had come to within 90 minutes of the Premier League and Leeds dropped out of the division with a whimper having entered administration.

6. Sheffield Wednesday - 2003/4

How the mighty had fallen. Wednesday had been a staple of the top flight during the previous decade, but fell down to League One in 2003.

Boss Chris Turner revamped his squad - aiming to steer his home town club back up at the first attempt.

They almost did make it out of League One - but at the wrong end. The Owls ended up 16th - just three points above the relegation zone and a place in the basement division.

Financially troubled off the pitch, perhaps, but Wednesday's squad's toiling and finishing below the likes of Wrexham and Hartlepool was embarrassing.

5. Bradford City - 2007-10

Still flopping. The pre-season choice for League Two winners of every national newspaper for the past four seasons, City continue to disappoint.

They were relegated to the basement division in 2007, promptly installed legend Stuart McCall as manager, and sold 13,000 season tickets on the cheap.

McCall failed to get them even challenging for the top seven for two-and-a-half years before Peter Taylor was appointed his successor.

Last season's positive end has been followed by a dreadful start this term though - they currently sit in 19th. Still time to turn it around and avoid another flop.

4. Ipswich Town - 2009/10

Resources. Check. Money invested. Check. Decent crowds. Check. Proven manager at this level. Check.

Everything seemed set up for Ipswich last season. How they could fail to challenge now Roy Keane was manager?

How? Try not recording a win in their first 14 games - a run which left them bottom of the table.

Albeit there were plenty of draws in that run - which saw Keane avoid an early axe - but Town fans were not getting value for considerable money.

The Suffolk outfit ended the campaign in 15th - well short of a place in the top six, which had been the minimum requirement.

3. Nottingham Forest - 2005/6

Forest made history in 2005 when they became the first winner of the European Cup to drop into their country's third tier of domestic football.

Their embarrassment didn't stop there though. Despite the lower league experience of manager Gary Megson, Forest failed to get to grips with life in League One.

When Megson was eventually sacked - they sat just four points shy of the bottom four and a possible second successive relegation.

Ultimately, a late rally at the end of the term saw them just miss out on a place in the play offs. A talented squad had made a complete meal of the season though.

2. Coventry City - 2001/2

He may yet get onto a future list with Boro but, for now, Gordon Strachan will have to make do with this failure at Coventry.

The Warwickshire side had just been relegated from the top flight under the Scot after over 30 years amongst the country's elite.

However, they were determined to bounce back immediately - ambition illustrated by the £5 million signing of West Brom striker Lee Hughes.

Three losses in their first five games saw Strachan dismissed though, and replacement Roland Nilsson was unable to coax any consistency out of one of the division's strongest squads.

An end of season 11th place was well below-par, particularly as a Hughes-less West Brom went on to gain promotion.

1. Bristol Rovers - 2001/2

You could probably excuse Rovers for still being in a state of shock when they began their League Two campaign in 2001.

Just 12 months after finishing 7th in the third tier, they had been relegated down to the basement division. Unthinkable.

Still, at least they had retained a strong squad - including promising striker Nathan Ellington. At least they would walk all over opponents and gain promotion with ex-Spurs boss and club legend Gerry Francis in charge.

How wrong they were. Francis was a flop, and the Gas ended the campaign in 23rd - second bottom of the entire 92 club and the lowest position in the club's entire history.

Had they done the same 12 months later, they would have been relegated into the Conference. Rovers got lucky.

Prediction League Week 12

Despite leaving his predictions down to averages, Lakes was the big winner in midweek as he secured four points from a possible six.

That saw him leapfrog Turls into second place and reduce the gap between him and Nobes to just four points. We can only his tour of Down Under is going equally as well.

Onto this weekend where, with Boston not playing, it's Forest and Preston in home action again for the second time in five days.

Nottingham Forest vs. Ipswich Town

Lakes: Forest 1-0 Ipswich Town
Forest 1-1 Ipswich Town
Forest 1-1 Ipswich Town

Preston North End vs. Crystal Palace

Lakes: PNE 1-2 Crystal Palace
PNE 1-2 Crystal Palace
PNE 4-1 Crystal Palace

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Big Match Preview

Watford vs. Scunthorpe United
Saturday October 23, 15:00, Vicarage Road

Two of the Championship's smaller outfits currently enjoying differing fortunes meet in the Home Counties this weekend as high-flying Watford entertain Scunthorpe.

While the Hornets go into the game sitting in 3rd, their visitors from Lincolnshire sit just three points above the drop zone in 18th.

When considering the resources and budget at Scunny however, a similar finishing position come the end of the campaign would represent a huge success for the division's minnows.

It would arguably be an even greater achievement than last season's survival, too, after the Iron lost hugely influential manager Nigel Adkins to Southampton last month.

His replacement was first team coach Ian Baraclough who, although part of Adkins's staff, is stepping up into his first ever managerial role.

It's tough to imagine a greater baptism of fire, but the 39-year-old has responded well to the task so far - with two wins, two draws, and three defeats from his seven games.

That's included a thumping 4-0 victory at Sheffield United and Tuesday evening's 3-2 comeback win at Preston. They also secured three points on the road on the opening day at Reading.

United will be confident, therefore, that they can come back from the trip down south with something to show for their efforts.

Key to their hopes will be attacking pair Chris Dagnall and Martyn Woolford - both of whom were on the scoresheet at Deepdale in midweek.

Ian Baraclough is charged with keeping Scunthorpe up this season

They'll be facing a stern test at the other end of the pitch however, with the Hornets the Championship's top scorers. They've notched up 25 goals in their 12 games to date.

Top scorer David Graham has already bagged eight goals. He and Marvin Sordell - just one behind on seven - will be a real threat for the home side on Saturday.

Despite their fine form in front of goal, Malky Mackay's side have a patchy record at Vicarage Road so far, with two wins, two defeats, and two draws from their half a dozen home games.

They returned to winning ways in Tuesday's 2-1 win over Ipswich. They've also seen off Middlesbrough at home, but Leeds and Swansea have both left with maximum spoils from their trips to Hertfordshire.

Like his opposite number this weekend, Mackay is a young manager in just his second full season in charge at Watford. He will be keen to address his side's home failings to ensure they remain competitive.

However, after a difficult second half of last season, he will be optimistic that he has a squad capable of avoiding being involved towards the wrong end again.

It's fair to say, too, that most pundits would have expected these two teams to be struggling towards the foot of the division, but both sides are confounding the critics to date.

This promises to be a hard-fought encounter between two hard-working sides, but Watford's greater striking power may just edge it in their favour on the day.

Nobes' Prediction: Watford 2 Scunthorpe United 1

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

City Stickers

With the appointment of Steve Tilson as their new manager, Nobes looks at whether Lincoln City can finally move onwards and upwards.

Steve Tilson gained back-to-back promotions at Southend United

There's a new league in town. With Rochdale's promotion and Darlington dropping into the Conference, the two longest serving members of League Two both departed
last term.

Step forward a new club. After 12 consecutive seasons - and 22 of the last 23 campaigns - spent
in the fourth tier, say hello to the Lincoln Division.

It's hard to say whether it's a desirable tag or not. After all, while the Imps have floundered in the basement division, they've seen themselves passed by smaller clubs with much less history.

Equally, however, they've seen the likes of Oxford and Luton - clubs who competed in the top flight and both won the League Cup during the '80s - drop into the Conference.

Maybe there's something to be said for consistency. Consistency is something City fans know all too much about though.

They set a new Football League record in 2006 when they became the first club to lose out in four successive play offs. Twelve months later, and they made it five on the spin.

However, if the play offs really are a lottery, it seems in recent years that they've stopped buying tickets at Sincil Bank. Since defeat over two legs to Bristol Rovers in 2007, they haven't finished in the top half of League Two.

It's a big fall for a set of fans who became accustomed to enjoying an extension to their season under the management of the late Keith Alexander.

In truth 'Big Keef' raised expectations at Sincil Bank to a level not seen for many years. After coming so close to going out of business in 2002 after the collapse of ITV Digital, the club seemed to be re-born.

Reaching the Millennium Stadium in 2003 for the play off final was one of the great achievements of lower league football. Alexander had built a squad of cast-offs and Non League punts that had taken the division by surprise.

The fact he managed to repeat the trick - albeit steadily improving and refining his team as his budget steadily increased - for the next three years, too, was a performance never truly given the credit it deserved.

However, over-achievement led to higher demands. His successor, Jon Schofield, also guided the Imps into the play offs but a poor start the next year cost him his job.

Indeed, the club appear to be decline ever since their fifth play off loss with recent seasons seeing them struggle towards the bottom and battling to avoid relegation.

For a generation brought up on the success under Alexander, recent managerial incumbents - the experienced Peter Jackson followed by rookie Chris Sutton - were never going to be given much time from the terraces to get things right.

Now the mantle falls to Steve Tilson - whose Southend side beat Lincoln in the 2005 play off final - to try and bring better times to the Cathedral City.

Tilson was always the front-runner in an extensive hunt for a replacement for Sutton that included former boss Steve Thompson, Dave Penney, and Accrington's John Coleman.

The latter eventually signed a long-term deal to remain in Lancashire, but spoke about the potential of City's fan base as "massive."

Lincoln have the potential for bigger crowds at Sincil Bank

It's an interesting point. The city and area around it has a population of around 250,000. The university, established in the '90s, is providing an historic city with a modern and dynamic future.

Unlike smaller clubs in areas like the North West, Yorkshire, or London, too, Lincoln are not surrounded by a whole host of much bigger clubs playing at the highest levels. There are fans out there for them to attract.

During the good times under Alexander they attracted crowds around the 5,000 mark. That's now down to just under 3,000 - with the economic situation as well as the team's poor form not helping to fill the stands at the Bank.

However, it's clear that, if the team is successful, the potential is there for Lincoln to pull in crowds good enough to sustain a higher level of football.

Imps supporters could also be excused for a few envious glances up the road to Scunthorpe - currently enjoying life in the Championship and in their third season out of four in the second tier.

Also, despite now being in the Conference, Grimsby enjoyed a prolonged spell in the Championship during the '90s and early Noughties.

Of Lincolnshire's three senior clubs, it seems as though City are the poor relation. If their county rivals can do it, then why not them? Tilson must attempt to finally realise that potential.

Certainly his credentials are impressive. He took over at Southend in similar circumstances to the ones he finds Lincoln in - stuck in a rut and struggling towards the foot of League Two.

However, after keeping them up, he led them to promotion in his first full season. A year later, and they had returned to the Championship as League One champions.

It was a spectacular turnaround in fortunes - achieved through a stylish brand of football and inspired by the goals of Non League bargain buy Freddie Eastwood.

Although he failed to keep them in the Championship, Tilson had marked his card as a promising young manager and was linked to bigger jobs including the regularly vacant hot seat at Norwich.

Financial problems ultimately saw Southend tumble out of League One last term and - although it seemed harsh to blame a manager working with his hands tied - he left the Essex outfit during the summer.

With a play off finish in League One
also achieved during his time at Roots Hall, the 44-year-old probably felt he'd get back into the game at a higher level. Instead, he must now play the resurrection game again - both for himself and City.

Working on a budget will be a challenge he is familiar with.

However, for someone who likes to play a footballing game, he must also find a way to bring success to a club who, ever since the days of Graham Taylor in the 1970s, have only ever prospered under long ball managers.

It's time to change the record all round - but it will take time and patience.

Club Chairman Bob Dorrian spoke in the summer about ambitions of making it into the Championship. They now have a manager in place who has done it. The question is - can Lincoln?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Prediction League Week 11 continued

Two points all round on the Prediction League at the weekend saw no movement in positions.

Onto this evening, where both Preston and Forest are in Championship action at home.

With Lakes still in Australia, his predictions are again averages.

Nottingham Forest vs. Middlesbrough

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

Preston North End vs. Scunthorpe United

PNE 1-2 Scunthorpe United
PNE 2-1 Scunthorpe United
PNE 3-1 Scunthorpe United

Big Match Analysis - Dagenham 1 Walsall 1

As part of our series on the state of rearguard play in the Football League, and with Turls away this week, Nobes steps into the breach to analyse the defending from our Big Match.

Dagenham & Redbridge 1-1 Walsall
Saturday October 16, Victoria Road, (Att: 2,666)

It's the in-vogue thing in football these days. No, I'm not referring to the ridiculous guards of honour of flag waving kids that greet players onto the pitch.

Rather, I'm talking about high scoring, care free, goal crazy matches.

It was a trend continued this weekend: Bury beating Torquay 4-3 and Hereford winning at Northampton by the same scoreline.

Sheffield United and Burnley shared the spoils in a 3-3 draw and Peterborough edged out Swindon in a remarkable 5-4 contest.

There were also 3-2 scorelines in games at Accrington, Macclesfield, Portsmouth, Cardiff, and Bournemouth. The League's gone goal crazy.

Things were a bit more routine at our Big Match this weekend as Walsall travelled to Dagenham & Redbridge. Here's my take on how the defences performed for the goals:

Dagenham & Redbridge 1 Walsall 0

Daggers striker Bas Savage - not nearly as scary as his name - is an awkward customer and does well to shield the ball from his defender on the far right touchline.

It could be argued the Saddlers defender who goes to double up on him leaves a man free on the wing to cross it in.

However, where Walsall really let themselves down is allowing Darren Currie to have the freedom of London to head the ball in. There's no one within five yards of him.

The defence have got sucked towards the ball and left a big hole in the middle. It's a good cross, but you can't allow someone that much time and space.

Also think the keeper, who seemed to get a hand on the ball, could have done better and turned it around the post.

Dagenham & Redbridge 1 Walsall 1

Dagenham out-Dagenham-ed here with a long ball punted forward leading to the equaliser from Walsall.

The ball bounces - always dangerous for a defender - but he allows himself to be out fought for it by Jon Macken.

Now, I know Kevin Keegan once spunked £6 million of Manchester City's money on Macken - and that was in the days they couldn't afford to waste millions. Seriously though, you can't allow yourself to be beaten up by him.

Seeing his pal make a mess of things, the left back comes towards Macken to try and make amends - leaving a nice big gap in behind for the striker to slide the ball onto Devaney - the on-rushing right winger.

Still work to do from here, with two defenders busting a gut to get back. He gets a shot away which seems to squirm under or through keeper Tony Roberts.

True, Roberts probably qualifies for a bus pass he's so old these days. It takes him a while to get to ground probably. However, it's a tame shot to let in. There's not much pace on the ball, and it's not aimed right in the corner.


Early season form suggests these two could have a long hard winter ahead of them as they battle to avoid the drop into League Two.

It's no surprise to see both sides struggling to keep clean sheets - just one each this term so far.

However, they're going to need to make themselves harder to score past if they're to avoid relegation. Both teams were punished because they lost their defensive shape.

Why? Because players made mistakes and others tried to help them out. While that's natural and right, it means that the whole team needs to cover. Where is the man checking the run of Devaney for Walsall's goal?

Where, too, is the midfielder keeping tabs on Currie's run into the box? It's not like he moves particularly quickly these days.

Both managers can feel aggrieved with their respective team's defending. The happiest person after this result? Me. I predicted the scoreline beforehand - and that so rarely happens that I'm going to make the most of it.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Big Match Review - Dagenham 1 Walsall 1

Dagenham & Redbridge 1-1 Walsall
Saturday October 16, Victoria Road, (Att: 2,666)

Early season strugglers Dagenham & Redbridge and Walsall were forced to share the points after a tightly fought encounter left both sides in the bottom four.

The Londoners were dominant in the early stages, and it was no surprise when they took the lead on 26 minutes. Veteran Darren Currie getting on the end of a right wing cross to power a near post header past Jonny Brain.

John Still's men almost doubled their advantage before the interval but Danny Green saw his delightfully executed free kick rattle the cross bar and bounce out of harm's way.

Just five minutes into the second period though, and the Saddlers had restored parity.

Jon Macken capitalised on a long ball forward to set up Martin Devaney to slide the ball past Tony Roberts.

The men from the Black Country improved after the break, but they were indebted to David Davis for a goal line clearance from Romain Vincelot's header.

Chris Hutchings's side almost stole maximum spoils in stoppage time when Reuben Reid's shot came back off the post.

It ended all square though, with a point not helping either side much in their quest to get out of trouble.