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

Monday, January 31, 2011

Talking Points - January 2011

Here's what the lads had to say for themselves at the beginning of 2011:

Made Some Mistakes, Had My Share Of The Breaks
After Micky Adams leaves Port Vale for home town team Sheffield United, Nobes looks at the pull of your roots.

FA Cup: Preston/Forest Histories
Ahead of Preston and Nottingham Forest meeting in the FA Cup Third Round, Nobes reflects on the record of both sides in the competition.

Young, Gifted, Attack
Surprise challengers in the top six of the Championship, Nobes salutes the work of manager Malky Mackay at Watford.

The PNE Factor
The lads take a satirical look at the candidates for the vacant Preston job in the style of a TV talent competition.

Please Stand Up
After Paul Jewell is unveiled as Ipswich's new boss, Nobes considers his chequered managerial career.

Gimme A Break
With Gary Johnson departing as Peterborough United manager, Nobes suggests that sometimes a break from the game is what bosses actually require.

Moving On Up
Dean Holdsworth's elevation from Non League Newport to manage League Two Aldershot has Nobes reflecting on previous managers who've made the same step-up.

Howe To Lose Friends And Alienate People
With Eddie Howe walking out on Bournemoth for Burnley, Nobes suggests that ideals of loyalty in the game are invariably misplaced.

Tigers Tigers Turning Bright
Nobes on the turnaround in fortunes both on and off the pitch at Hull City, and why Tigers fans have cause to be optimistic about 2011.

The Boyos Are Back In Town
Swansea and Cardiff in the Championship, Newport and Wrexham in the Conference, Turls looks at the revival in Welsh club football.

I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down
With Wycombe looking good for bouncing straight back into League One, Nobes considers the ups and downs of being a yo-yo team.

Big Match Review - Walsall 6 Bristol Rovers 1

Walsall 6-1 Bristol Rovers
Saturday January 29, Banks's Stadium, (Att: 4,023)

A first win in eight saw Walsall move off the bottom of League One with an emphatic victory over fellow strugglers Bristol Rovers.

The Saddlers took the lead just past the quarter hour mark when Andy Butler connected with Matt Richards's free kick to power a header past Luke Daniels.

Matt Gill doubled the home team's advantage on 34 minutes as he fired home from inside the box after Jon Macken played him through.

It was 3-0 before the break with Julian Gray converting from just outside the box after Rovers failed to properly clear a corner.

Dave Penney's side pulled a goal back early in the second period as midfielder Jeff Hughes was picked out by Will Hoskins to beat Dave Bevan.

However, no sooner had the Gas got themselves back into the game than they found themselves picking the ball out of their own net once more.

Walsall went straight down the other end and Matt Richards fired past Daniels from distance to restore their grip on proceedings.

They wrapped things up with a couple of goals in quick succession. Firstly, Alex Nicholls shot in from just outside the box, and then Butler got his second of the afternoon with another header, this time for a corner.

It completed a miserable day for Rovers, who find themselves three points off safety. Despite Walsall boss Dean Smith earning a first win though, the Saddlers remain seven points adrift themselves.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Prediction League Week 26

It was another good midweek for Nobes, who stretched his lead at the summit to four points. Turls now finds himself a full nine points off top spot though.

This weekend, Forest are in action in the FA Cup while both Preston and Boston are on the road for away league games.

West Ham United vs. Nottingham Forest

Lakes: West Ham United 0-1 Forest
West Ham United 2-1 Forest
West Ham United 1-0 Forest

Scunthorpe United vs. Preston North End

Scunthorpe United 0-2 PNE
Scunthorpe United 0-1 PNE
Scunthorpe United 1-2 PNE

Stalybridge Celtic vs. Boston United

Stalybridge Celtic 0-1 Skyrockets
Stalybridge Celtic 1-2 Skyrockets
Stalybridge Celtic 0-0 Skyrockets

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Big Match Preview - Walsall vs. Bristol Rovers

Walsall vs. Bristol Rovers
Saturday January 29, 15:00, Banks's Stadium

Two sides in desperate need of points clash in the Black Country on Saturday with League One's bottom side Walsall meeting a Bristol Rovers team who also find themselves in the relegation zone.

They're also two sides in the infancy of new managerial reigns, with Walsall recently promoting Dean Smith to manager until the end of the season and Rovers in just their fourth match under new boss Dave Penney.

It's been a mixed bag of results for the former Oldham and Doncaster boss so far with a win, loss, and draw to date.

After starting with a 4-0 thumping at Carlisle though, the Gas have earned a 0-0 draw with Hartlepool and last weekend secured a crucial 3-1 win in their West County derby against fellow strugglers Swindon Town.

That left Rovers just two points behind fifth-bottom Town as they seek to reverse the shocking run of results which saw them slip into the bottom four - and cost former boss Paul Trollope his job.

Central to their struggles has been a leaky defence, with no side conceding more on the road then their 28 goals. Aside from their loss at Carlisle, they've also gone down to defeat in five other away trips, at Peterborough, Swindon, Plymouth, Milton Keynes, and a crushing 6-2 loss at Sheffield Wednesday.

However, they've also picked up five draws and a couple of wins - at Dagenham and Huddersfield, so Penney will be confident they can at least extend their unbeaten run to three.

Key to their hopes of beating the drop is striker Will Hoskins. The former Watford man has been linked with a move away in the transfer window, and with 12 goals is one of the leading scorers in the division.

Dave Penney is looking to lead Bristol Rovers to safety in League One

For the hosts, a win this weekend is paramount if they are to stand even the slimmest of chances of staving off a return to the basement division they exited, along with Rovers, in 2007.

It's been a nightmare campaign for Walsall who, unsurprisingly, parted company with boss Chris Hutchings earlier this month. Dean Smith stepped in as caretaker and, after two draws from his first three games, he was appointed to the role for the remainder of the season.

However, last weekend's defeat at Exeter followed by Tuesday night's draw with Oldham has left the Saddlers bottom - seven points off their opponents on Saturday and nine from safety.

Their form at the Banks's has been woeful - losing eight in 12. Their record of 51 goals conceded is also the poorest in League One.

Wins on home soil have come against Carlisle, Exeter, and Plymouth, and Smith will know the name of Bristol Rovers must be added to that list if Walsall are to not be cut well adrift.

The stand-out performer for the Saddlers this term has been midfield Matt Richards, whose dead ball expertise allied with seven goals make him central to their chances of staying up.

The two sides only met as recently as January 11 - sharing a 2-2 draw at the Memorial Stadium - a game which saw Penney watch his new side for the first time.

Rovers have picked up since then and appear to be moving in the right direction. If they take confidence from last weekend's win over Swindon, then they can move out of the relegation zone by condemning Walsall to yet another defeat.

Nobes' Prediction: Walsall 1 Bristol Rovers 2

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down

With League Two side Wycombe Wanderers looking good to bounce back from relegation last season at the first time of asking, Nobes looks at both the positives and negatives of yo-yoing between divisions.

Wycombe boss Gary Waddock is on course to lead his side back into League One

"I will be the manager building a group of players to build for promotion. We need to to make sure we don't have that yo-yo effect where we get promoted and get relegated again."

They were the determined words of Gary Waddock after the former QPR boss saw his Wycombe Wanderers side relegated from League One at the end of last season.

After Saturday's 1-0 win over high flying Rotherham, the Buckinghamshire side strengthened their hold on second place in League Two - and moved seven points clear in the automatic promotion positions.

With the season moving into its second half, it seems it's a case of so far so good in Waddock's attempts to bounce back from relegation last term at the first attempt.

Then will come arguably the more difficult task though - ensuring Wanderers don't fall straight back down again. That's because Wycombe are in danger of becoming the latest club to gain infamy for their yo-yoing ability.

Having spent so many years in the Non Leagues, successive promotions under Martin O'Neill at the beginning of the '90s was the beginning of a decade playing in England's third tier.

They were heady days for the Chairboys, who even managed an appearance in the FA Cup semi finals in 2001 after a sensational run under the guidance of Lawrie Sanchez.

However, a succession of lower mid-table finishes and flirting with the drop eventually saw them drop down into the basement division in 2004.

Consecutive top seven finishes ended in play off heart break in 2007 and 2008 before Peter Taylor took Wycombe back up to the third tier in his first season at the helm.

A few months into last season and Taylor had gone with Waddock - fresh from establishing Aldershot Town in the Football League - drafted in as his replacement.

In truth, the 48-year-old was always fighting a losing battle in looking to stave off relegation. After a slow start to this campaign though, Wanderers are now starting to justify their tag as one of the pre-season favourites.

It begs the question just where Wycombe's place is in the Football League. Apparently too good for League Two, they have always been strong challengers for promotion in the basement division.

However, ambitions in League One seem to revolve around staying above the dotted line come May. Welcome to the territory of the yo-yo club.

It's a term which has more commonly been associated with the movement of certain clubs between the Premier League and second tier over the years.

The likes of Sunderland, Manchester City, Crystal Palace, Leicester and, most notably of late, West Bromwich Albion have, at times, all been considered too strong for the Championship but not good enough for the top flight.

However, could we about to see a new generation of yo-yo clubs lower down the ladder?

The narrowing gap between League Two and the Conference, allied to an increase in the number of promotion and relegation places between the two has heightened the possibility of clubs moving between the two divisions on a more frequent basis.

Scunthorpe have spent the last few years interchanging between the Championship and League One - promoted in 2007 and 2009, relegated in 2008 and, very possibly, 2011.

Scunthorpe have twice been promoted, and once relegated, in the past four seasons

The likes of current League Two leaders Chesterfield and perennial League One strugglers Yeovil are also two clubs, like Wycombe, who seem in a constant struggle to determine just where in the Football League they are most at home.

Not that's it's a struggle which should be seen as entirely negative though. After all, life doesn't get any more exciting than when you're a supporter of a yo-yo club.

Every fan has experienced the tedium of meaningless end of season games when their team has nothing left to play for. The sun shines, the players look like they would rather be on vacation, and the fans want to be drinking beer while watching the cricket instead.

However, when you're involved in promotion or relegation battles every season, you're guaranteed great box office. Seasons go down to the very last game, the very last minute.

Yes, some of those nail-biting relegation battles may eventually be lost, but some are won - and they are possibly even sweeter than the joy experienced with every promotion.

Besides, does relegation hurt so much when you know your side will be well placed to enjoy a profitable campaign next term - winning more matches, scoring more goals, and possibly winning promotion once more?

They are the dramatic moments and memories which live with supporters. Being there when their side wins promotion or loses relegation. They are the games we remember, the programmes for which we are desperate to have, the ticket stubs we receive and vow never to throw away.

It's about taking the rough with the smooth - tasting the glory of moving up a division and taking the pain of slipping back down again. Surely it beats season after season in the same division ala Rochdale though?

Campaigns are always fresh. Beginning with fresh hope or that anticipation of entering the unknown was more. Fixture lists have a different look to them - not the same tired monotony of that Easter trip to Macclesfield yet again.

Of course, that's me putting somewhat of a positive spin on that particular yo-yo. It's true, too, there are downsides to constantly fluctuating between two divisions.

Indeed, one of them was probably key to Wycombe's managerial switch last term - replacing the more defensively-minded Taylor for a manager in Waddock who sends his teams out to attack.

After all, if you're going to go down, you might as well do it in style - entertaining along the way. As current-Bradford boss Taylor discovered, dull football is excusable if it helps win promotion. Doing the same on the way to demotion isn't.

Never knowing what division you're going to be in causes other problems though. Building a settled side is challenging - one constructed to win promotion often requires a different make-up to one looking for survival.

It also requires players with strong character and, if they remain after relegation, needing to shift their mentality from a losing one to adopting a more positive frame of mind.

History shows the difficulty of many sides in making the transition from getting used to playing for three points in every game, rather than going away and shutting up shop. Handling the pressure of a sudden raise in expectation is another common problem.

It's the kind of scenario where a careful and prudent club must consider one-year contracts - with budgets understandably affected by the change in divisional status and the difference in financial benefits on offer.

Clubs can become stuck - afraid to push the boat out for survival in case they don't achieve their goal and they find themselves, instead, suffering for their overspending whilst back in the lower division.

Should they secure promotion this term, it is the kind of headache Wycombe may, once again, find themselves in ahead of next season. Just this time, Waddock will be determined to overcome it.

Editorial 13

Hello loyal Soccer AM/MW readers,

Not since last year have I let you know what's been happening here at your favourite lower league blog. I can tell you the answer - plenty, and some of it is even worth talking about.

It includes the day I received a call from a clearly animated Lakes, barely able to contain his excitement. No, he hadn't just found out Darren Ferguson had been sacked from Preston - that was to come later - but something even more thrilling.

Apparently, we had made it onto a list produced by those nice people at The Guardian of 100 football sites to watch out for in 2011. Now, I know what you're thinking, there are 99 others?

Apparently so. Let me tell you, for someone whose internet browsing only stretches as far as this blog and GilmoreGirls.org, I was surprised, too, to discover there were so many others out there.

I can assure you though, none of the rest of them stoop to our level of sensationalist journalism, nor have the amateurish ability to brand a midfield player a wide man.

Oh no, that's the kind of thing that we've made our own over the past 18 months. Alongside our love of all things both irreverent and irrelevant.

That included our short-lived but much-loved campaign to get Deadly Dazza Ferguson back into management after he was jettisoned by PNE.

I'm told by people who understand these things that we had plenty of traffic for these particular articles.

Sadly, this was cut short, and it took a heavy night on the Irn Bru bottle to comfort yours truly after realising a potentially legendary feature had to end so abruptly.

Still, that doesn't mean we won't keep endeavouring to bring you our usual coverage of the Football and Non Leagues.

Over the last month that's included looking at the brightening fortunes of Hull City, the current revival in Welsh club football, and our very own version of The X Factor.

We've also got the closest and most exciting Prediction League race in history to look forward to, where anything could happen and anyone could take home the crown at the end of the season. Yep, even Lakes.

I've also had plenty of questions surrounding some of the headlines and titles selected for articles on here.

You'll be pleased to know that a great deal of time and effort goes into coming up with them.

Indeed, while other sites may dedicate their resources into providing expert and in-depth analysis and coverage of important issues, we instead like to spend ours on unncessarily complex titles.

That's something that won't change in 2011, but it has been suggested to me that I put together something to explain how the titles work - and they actually do.

So, if you're at all interested in that, then watch this space and prepare for some fine pop culture references. We're the intelligent football fans' blog, you know.

As ever, if you are intelligent, or even if you're not, and would like to get in touch with us, there are plenty of ways to do so.

Abuse can be directed via Twitter, emailing us at
soccerammw@gmail.com, or even leaving a comment to any article you slightly disagree with. We promise to read them all - mostly because there's not that many to.

Here's to a sensationalist 2011!


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Prediction League Week 25 continued

For the second successive weekend Nobes racked up six points to move back to the top of the standings.

Will he still be there at the end of Week 25 though? Tonight's home matches for Forest and Boston will determine if so.

Nottingham Forest vs. Bristol City

Forest 3-0 Bristol City
Forest 1-0 Bristol City
Forest 2-0 Bristol City

Boston United vs. Redditch United

Lakes: Skyrockets 4-1 Redditch United
Skyrockets 3-0 Redditch United
Skyrockets 5-0 Redditch United

The Boyos Are Back In Town

Turls looks at the renaissance in Welsh football taking place not just in the Championship but also in the Conference Premier.

Wrexham are in Conference play off contention under Dean Saunders

In a land dominated by Tom Jones, rugby, leeks, and Katherine Jenkins' knockers, it's difficult for anything else to get a look in.

The Welsh national football team is rubbish, and is currently ranked as the 113th best team in the world football - behind Central African Republic and Qatar, and just ahead of Suriname. In fact, according to FIFA, Wales are the eighth worst team in Europe.

The Welsh Premier League is even worse, and probably on a par with the sixth or seventh tier of English football. I don't think most people could name many clubs who play in the WPL other than PMS and Airtours FC.

Welsh football has been seen as a bit of a shambles for quite some time, but there are a few clubs who are trying to rescue the state of football in Cymru.

The funny thing is that, while two teams are scrapping it out to leave the Football League, two others are doing their best to get into it.

Swansea City and Cardiff City are both having great seasons so far, with both teams looking likely to be in the Championship promotion shake up come the end of the season. But we all know about these two teams.

Everyone knows about what's going on in Wales' two biggest cities and I'll have a little natter about them later. What about the other two clubs?

No, I'm not referring to Merthyr Town and Colwyn Bay, I am of course talking about Wrexham and Newport County.

Both teams are in the hunt for promotion out of the Conference Premier, but each team have taken different journeys to get where they are today. One came up, and the other came down.

Wrexham are looking to get back into the Football League at the third time of asking. Their 87-year stay in the Football League was ended in the 2007/8 season, but the writing had been on the wall for them for a few seasons.

Since being relegated, Wrexham haven't really looked like rejoining the 92 club and many people, including our very own Nobes, thought that, under Dean Saunders, the North Wales club would be very lucky to find themselves in a promotion battle.

Not many thought he had the experience required to guide them out of the Non League pyramid. At the moment, Nobes is wrong.

We may only be half way through the season, but T-Wrex are sitting in the play off positions and look like they may have the strength to last the distance.

It's being achieved on the back of a mean defence. Saunders' men have only conceded 23 goals and have one of the tightest backlines in the division.

They may not score as many goals as some of the other teams in the promotion hunt, but Saunders has turned the Racecourse Ground into a fortress - with the Red Dragons losing just one of their 13 games at home.

Newport County stormed to Conference South title success last term

Over at Newport County, their success was founded by the work of another inexperienced manager.

Unlike Wrexham though, the Exiles will be forced to continue their hunt for promotion without the man who helped them cruise to the Conference South title last season.

Dean Holdsworth left for Aldershot not too long ago, and many feel that he has taken County's hopes of promotion with him. Everything he touches turns to gold at the moment, with the Shots in fine form since he took over.

Who gives a monkey's what's happening at Aldershot though, because County have been left in the lurch. Holdsworth took the Exiles to the Conference South title in style - winning the league with two months of the season to spare and averaging more than two goals per game.

It was ridiculously easy, and they carried their momentum into the Conference Premier - losing only one of their first 11 matches.

However, upon Holdsworth's departure, a few fans are starting to panic and I honestly heard one fan discussing the distinct possibility of relegation. That may be a little extreme, but you can understand the fear factor surrounding the club under new circumstances.

Many cite Holdsworth as the sole reason for the club's new found success, while others have claimed it is nonsense to suggest man is responsible for the a whole team's success.

They probably won't get promoted, and I wouldn't be surprised if they started to drift down towards the middle of the table, but Holdsworth leaves behind a strong team with a determined work ethic.

If they can keep the core of the squad together, which is always a problem when losing a manager, they have the ability to maintain a steady presence in the Conference Premier.

Welsh football is clearly on the up. Cardiff and Swansea are looking to get promoted out of the Football League, while Newport are Wrexham hope to gain entry.

Still, until Jenkins dumps that Blue Peter chap, I refuse to accept Wales into my heart.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Big Match Review - Stockport 3 Lincoln 4

Stockport County 3-4 Lincoln City
Saturday January 22, Edgeley Park, (Att: 4,348)

Ashley Grimes's hat trick ensured bottom side Lincoln City earned a precious three points in their fight against relegation in a pulsating match against fellow strugglers Stockport.

The Imps took the lead after just five minutes when an instinctive finish from Grimes saw him lob the ball from distance over a stranded Matt Glennon.

However, the home side were level 20 minutes later when Adam Griffin reacted quickest to crash home a loose ball after Trevor Carson failed to hold onto Greg Tansey's free-kick.

Lincoln made sure they went back into the break on top when Adam Watts finished from close range after Danny Hone's nod down from a free kick.

Steve Tilson's men stretched their advantage on the hour mark, Grimes getting his second as he tapped home Gavin McCallum's intelligent pull back into an unguarded net.

County reduced the deficit three minutes later though, with David Poole sweeping the ball home after City failed to deal with a deflected cross from the right.

However, the Cheshire side soon found themselves two goals behind again as Grimes completed his hat-trick - tucking away the ball away after Glennon had kept out Luke Howell's initial effort.

Stockport rallied and ensured a nervy end to the game for the visitors when Watts deflected in Ishmel Demontanag's effort from outside the box.

Lincoln held on for a precious three points however which, although not moving them off the foot of the table, sees them just two points behind 22nd-placed County with five games in hand.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Tigers Tigers Turning Bright

Moving into the top half of the Championship, a takeover off the pitch, and strengthening in the January transfer window, Nobes looks at why Hull City fans can look ahead to 2011 with optimism.

Nigel Pearson is beginning to turn things around at Hull after relegation last year

The poet, Philip Larkin, was once asked whether he enjoyed living in Hull. "I don't suppose I'm unhappier there than I should be anywhere else," he characteristically replied.

As the Championship season enters its second half though, there should certainly be an increasing happiness amongst the city's football fans.

After a miserable couple of years, things
for Hull City are finally beginning to look up again.

The East Yorkshire outfit's two-season spell in the Premier League came to end last May amid concerns over the club's financial predicament.

Promotion in 2008 under Phil Brown had been followed by a spectacular introduction to life among England's elite. City recorded wins at Newcastle, Tottenham and, most famously, Arsenal.

They also held Liverpool at Anfield on their way to collecting 27 points from their first 20 games. Hull began to get comfortable in their new surroundings and the riches it brought.

However, the club who had been in League Two facing the likes of Boston and Kidderminster as recently as 2004, had begun to lose perspective.

No action was more indicative of this 'head in the clouds' mentality than the signing of Jimmy Bullard in January 2009. Brown's £5 million marquee capture was handed a four-year deal with the club - worth £45,000 a week, whatever division City were in.

Seriously injured in his very first game, Bullard made just 14 more appearances in the Premier League for Hull.

After the most memorable 12 months in the club's history though, 2009 brought a turn for the worse. They collected just eight points from their remaining matches, avoiding relegation by a single point.

The rot that had set in continued last term, with Hull perpetually residing in the bottom three. Brown was removed with nine games of the season remaining, but replacement Iain Dowie failed to keep the Tigers up.

Figures began to be banded around about the loss of income the club would feel - £21 million some suggested.

Chairman Adam Pearson, no relation to the manager, was fighting to ensure a club who had spent almost £40 million of their £50 million turnover on their playing squad weren't going to go to the wall.

It was with some surprise, then, that Nigel Pearson opted to make the move from Leicester to the KC Stadium over the summer.

Why had he felt the need to leave the comfort of the East Midlands - where he had taken the club from League One to Championship play off semi finalists in two years - and joined an apparently sinking ship?

He was risking his burgeoning managerial career by looking to turn around a club paralysed from heady days of overspending in the Premier League.

Hull's former owner Russell Bartlett flanked by new owners the Allams

Despite the sale of winger Stephen Hunt, City's new boss found himself paralysed by the club's financial problems - being mostly restricted to the free signings of midfielders Robert Koren, Nobby Solano, and James Harper.

It was no surprise then to see a slow start to life back in the Championship on the banks of the Humber. A paucity of goals ensuring that, for all of their hard work and Pearson's organisation, winning matches was proving a challenge.

Defeat by local neighbours Scunthorpe left them just outside the relegation zone on goal difference with a third of the season gone. It has proven to be their nadir.

Since that loss to the Iron, Pearson's side have lost just one of their last 11 league matches - ironically enough to his former club Leicester.

Saturday's 2-0 victory over Barnsley propelled them into the top half of the table for the first time since August. Only second-place Swansea have conceded fewer goals at home than Hull's six in 13 games at the KC, too.

Pearson has even manage to cure the chronic travel sickness which saw City go 18 months between away wins. Trips to Norwich, Preston, Sheffield United, and Portsmouth have all produced maximum spoils.

Perhaps even more importantly though, the takeover of the club by local businessman Assem Allam and his son Ehab have helped secure the club's financial future.

A £30 million cash injection into the club has allowed the manager to make some impact in the transfer market and bolster his flagging attacking line. Striker Aaron McLean was snapped up for more than a million from Peterborough.

He has also returned to Leicester to bring forward Matty Fryatt to Yorkshire with the striker notably speaking of his desire to link-up again with his former manager being central to his decision to move to Hull.

Young Manchester United centre half James Chester has also joined Pearson's revolution for the sum of £300,000.

As well as backing him financially, the new owners and the chairman have also been vocal in their support Pearson.

It's in stark contrast to how other bosses have been treated following takeovers at clubs, particularly ex-Hull boss Phil Parkinson at Charlton.

Now, a rejuvenated City face a tricky trio of games against high-flyers Reading, QPR, and Leeds. They will all provide a good test of how far Pearson's side have progressed before they meet up again with Scunthorpe - and a chance for revenge.

A continuation of their fine recent form over the next month though, and Hull fans will be dreaming of a repeat of the kind of relentless charge under Brown which took them to the Premier League in the first place.

And even Larkin would have found that prospect something to smile about.

Prediction League Week 25

It was an incredible climax to Week 24 in the Prediction League, with injury time goals for Preston and Forest changing the entire complexion of the table.

Lakes appeared to be on course to stretch his lead at the top to six points, however, it was Nobes who ended up with six points to move him into second.

It was a dramatic return to form for the defending champion, with his first spot on predictions for ten weeks. Turls now occupies bottom place in the closet title race in history.

This weekend, there's a big local derby for Forest. Preston are also on the road while Boston face a third successive home match.

Derby County vs. Nottingham Forest

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

Middlesbrough vs. Preston North End

Lakes: Middlesbrough 0-1 PNE
Middlesbrough 1-1 PNE
Middlesbrough 2-1 PNE

Boston United vs. Guiseley

Lakes: Skyrockets 2-1 Guiseley
Nobes: Skyrockets 1-1 Guiseley
Turls: Skyrockets 0-0 Guiseley

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Big Match Preview - Stockport vs. Lincoln

Stockport County vs. Lincoln City
Saturday January 22, 15:00, Edgeley Park

Two sides deeply embroiled in the fight for Football League survival meet in the North West this weekend as Stockport County play host to Lincoln City in a big relegation six-pointer.

The visitors come into the match propping up the rest of the division - albeit having plenty of games in hands on their rivals, including a Stockport team sitting in 21st.

It's been a miserable start to 2011 for the Cheshire side who have lost four of their five games at the start of the New Year. That poor form led to the departure of boss Paul Simpson earlier in the month with assistant Peter Ward taking temporary charge of the Hatters.

However, he has only manage to oversee a 5-1 home thumping by Gillingham, followed by surrending a 3-1 lead to draw against Rotherham before last week's 3-0 thumping at fellow strugglers Hereford.

County have the division's worst defence, with 57 goals conceded, that includes 34 on home turf. That includes 5-0 wins for Port Vale and Hereford and Shrewsbury's 4-0 victory.

Only one win has been achieved on home soil, a 2-1 win over Barnet - also the last team Stockport beat, on December 28. No side has drawn more home matches than their seven stalemates, though.

County are also adjusting to life without top scorer, on-loan striker George Donnelly, who was sold by parent club Plymouth to Fleetwood. That leaves midfield Greg Tansey, on six goals, as their top scorer.

Steve Tilson has seen his Lincoln side slip to the foot of the Football League

For Imps boss, Steve Tilson, the trip to Edgeley Park see him takes on the side who provided the opposition in his first game in charge of City after taking over from Chris Sutton.

That game in October ended 0-0, however, since then a mixture of cup games and the wintry weather has ensured Lincoln have only played seven more league matches - including not playing at during December.

It's no surprise then that that inactivity has seen them slip to the foot of League Two - posessing five games in hand on Stockport alone.

City have lost their last three games though, and are without a win in the league since defeating relegation rivals Hereford in mid-November. That's one of just two wins Tilson has gained, the other coming away at Morecambe.

Lincoln have earned just one other away day success, at Gillingham, as well as a draw at Wycombe. Their other six trips have ended in defeat, however.

They have particularly struggled for goals this term, with just 17 in their 21 games being the lowest in the division. Three players, Ashley Grimes, Mustapha Carayol, and Andrew Hutchinson are joint top scorers with four.

This is a classic relegation dogfight, with two teams struggling for form but knowing the points are crucial. It also pits League Two's leakiest defence against the most shot-shy attack.

I just have a sneaky feeling that, despite their poor results, it's the away side who may well end up taking maximum spoils home with them.

Nobes' Prediction: Stockport County 1 Lincoln City 2

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Howe To Lose Friends And Alienate People

After Bournemouth's Eddie Howe leaves to take over at Burnley, Nobes considers the issue of loyalty in football and whether there's a way to overcome the loss of a manager.

Eddie Howe spent two successful years as boss of Bournemouth

It was the kind of dramatic U-Turn more commonly seen on an episode of Top Gear - or at a Lib Dem party conference.

A fall from grace so spectacular he went from Jesus to Judas in a matter of days. From hero to zero in less time than it takes to say: "A consonant please, Rachel."

The rare beacon of loyalty in a game with no morals who simply joined the queue of greedy opportunists only out for themselves and personal glory.

After the Bournemouth beach parties on Tuesday comes the hangover. Eddie Howe has upped sticks to the sticks - and moved to manage Burnley.

Believe it or not, the above sentiments will, more of less, represent the views of some Bournemouth supporters left feeling angry and let down by the man who, in just two years, has taken the club from second bottom of the Football League to third in League One.

Some may feel they are justified to be fuming after Howe's very public declaration of loyalty last Tuesday, informing fans that he had turned down the chance to join Crystal Palace and Charlton to stay on the South Coast.

Then, he spoke of the joy of being around the club and how he felt he couldn't leave the current squad of Cherries players. However, the courting of Dean Court's supremo didn't stop there - and this time nor did he he.

The chance to take over at Burnley, a club financially sound, strengthened by their season in the Premier League last term, and with the resources required to get back to the top level, was just too good for him to turn down.

You can hardly blame him, too. The Clarets were sensible in their approach to the top flight, and are now set-up to compete in and around the Championship's top six.

Indeed, if they are to return, they feel this year is their best chance - having retained the majority of their Premier League squad and still benefiting from parachute payments.

Brian Laws found to the cost of his job that simply competing for a play off place is not good enough at Turf Moor this year, chairman Barry Kilby has made it clear finishing in the top six is the minimum requirement.

After overachieving at Bournemouth in the last couple of seasons, Howe is walking into a club with big expectations and where he will be under pressure to deliver results - and quickly.

However, for a man who guided the Dorset club to safety despite the handicap of a 17-point deduction and then didn't even allow a transfer embargo to prevent him from leading them to promotion last season, it will be the kind of pressure he will relish.

Despite those sizeable achievements though, some Cherries fans, just as Burnley supporters felt last term with the departure of Owen Coyle to Bolton, will feel Howe has betrayed them by leaving.

Some, on hearing the news of his interest in the Burnley job, even declared that he shouldn't have anything to do with their Friday evening game at Colchester. It ended in an emotional 2-1 defeat in Essex - no doubt all Eddie's fault.

The problem is we perceive that, because we're loyal fans, so are others at the club. It is, of course, nonsense.

There is only one loyalty in football - and that is from fans towards their team. Everyone else connected with a football club, whether owner, manager, or players, are simply doing a job. It is their livelihood.

Bournemouth celebrate their against-the-odds promotion under Howe last term

They are not required to show loyalty. After all, would supporters be showing loyalty to their manager if he wasn't achieving results? Of course not. They would be calling for his head.

The recent spate of managerial sackings in the lower leagues, too, illustrates once again that chairmen often show their employees very little loyalty as soon as the team start to lose form.

Why then should a manager, in a job which seems under constant scrutiny and threat, have to show loyalty when they are presented with the opportunity to move to a new job?

And a job is the right word. This is how they make their living. This is how they put food on their family's table, how they can afford to put them through education, or go on holiday over the summer.

This is their profession. This is their career. How many of us, if offered a promotion in our work, a better job, more money, or just a fresh challenge would turn it down? How many of us wouldn't be interested or tempted to take it?

Even if we didn't, you can be sure an other half would be pushing us to take it - reminding us of kids to put through university, or being able to take that dream vacation, or being able to acquire that new 3D TV which won't buy itself.

We would be hypocrites to blame a manager for taking a chance he has rightly earned. As much as we might be disappointed by them leaving, we should wish them well and thank them for their good work.

My own club are in a similar boat - with a managerial team who have done a sterling job in the last couple of years, which has seen them linked with clubs higher up the football ladder.

Of course, it's a sign of how well we're doing, but I would be lying if I said the thought of them leaving, whilst not filling me with anger, is one that's worrying. After all, nobody wants to lose the services of a great manager, it's natural.

The fear is, like the Tower of London's ravens, as soon as the successful manager leaves the whole thing will come crumbling down.

It's understandable. A manager is the most important person at a football club. Get the right one, give him time and backing, and he can build a club up.

However, there's a danger in that scenario - the manager becomes the very heart beat of the club. The team is built in their image, to their preference, they become the embodiment of their manager and aren't the same without him.

Take Sean O'Driscoll, who now is Doncaster Rovers. Both in the way the side plays, and the way the club conduct themselves quietly and with dignity.

Paul Tisdale seems to be interwoven into not only Exeter City - a team that plays his brand of attractive football, but the people of the city of Exeter too - with a spirit and atmosphere unique to the Football League.

Is it any surprise, then, that both bosses have not shown much interest in opportunities to leave their posts? Both are intelligent men who would only depart when the time and club was right.

If, and when, they do leave their respective clubs, fans in South Yorkshire and Devon will be rightly concerned about the future.

What would the future hold for Doncaster without manager Sean O'Driscoll?

After all, how often have we seen clubs struggle when they lose an iconic long term boss? Crewe under Dario Gradi and Hereford with Graham Turner are two perfect examples of clubs who have suffered after long dynasties have ended.

In both cases, they were succeeded by their former assistants - Steve Holland at the Alex and John Trewick with the Bulls.

In the end, Gradi returned to replace Holland and Turner sacked Trewick and
temporarily took over until the end of last season.

While the two clubs did struggle on the pitch - they should be put into context. Holland was at a club on a downward spiral, and Trewick's efforts at Hereford were solid compared to this year's campaign.

It would also be fair to say that the fact both Gradi and Turner stuck around in upstairs positions at their respective clubs didn't help. As hard as they tried, they couldn't help but overshadow their successors.

However, despite the succession method not working in those instances, perhaps it could be the way to counter the occurrence of managers leaving clubs and showing a perceived lack of loyalty.

If the loss of one person isn't such a disaster, then fans would surely not be as unhappy when they left?

Of course, it was the foundation of the success Liverpool enjoyed in the '70s and '80s under a string of bosses. Passing on the torch to one manager after another - trained and schooled in the club's ways and principles.

Watford's Malky Mackay is a good example of this. The success enjoyed by Nigel Adkins at Scunthorpe when he was promoted to manager is another. True, it doesn't always work out, but it can.

These days though, managers seem to move in teams, taking their assistant and coaches with them to their new employers - leaving a club in disarray with almost all their staff leaving when a manager departs for pastures new.

It destroys almost all chance of continuity and stability with the heart of a club removed. In the case of Bournemouth, Howe has taken assistant Jason Tindall with him up to Lancashire.

However, perhaps the solution lies in a change in the way football clubs are run. Not only is losing so many staff damaging to one club, it is also expensive for a side to have to hire a whole new set when a new manager comes in.

The former England and Watford boss, Graham Taylor, has suggested that, instead, clubs should employ backroom and coaching staff and hire a manager independently. It's an interesting idea.

After all, in no other walk of business would someone take a whole group of people from his or her previous office into their new one. Only in football do managers travel around in groups with their coaches.

Plus, if part of being a good manager is to man-manage and work with players of different personalities and temperaments, then surely working with existing coaches and other unfamiliar staff can be overcome?

That way, if a successful manager decides to leave his job for another, the shockwaves sent through a club does not have to be as great - with the consolation that the coaching set-up will remain intact with just a new man at the helm.

They often say no one man is bigger than any club. Perhaps it's time to try and ensure that's the case.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Doctor Lakes - Leicester City

Here at Soccer AM/MW, we were relieved to learn that the Coalition Government weren't planning any cuts for the NHS.

Why? Because we didn't lose the services of our very own Doctor Lakes.

Some might say he's a danger to his patients, regularly displaying negligence and failing to spot even most the basic of diagnoses, but we fundamentally disagree.

No, our good Doc is actually an astute physician who is always the first port of call when checking on the state of Football League clubs.

His latest case took him to the East Midlands to check the pulse on Sven Goran Eriksson's Leicester City.

Happy New Year one and all. Sorry I'm a few weeks later with these remarks, I've only just finished my celebrations. It would appear I had one too many Tequila Sunrises and ended up in Peru - married to a young peasant girl.

Long story short, it took a while to sort a visa and we're now looking for a house in Woking.

Onto business. I've been told to pack my medical bags and head up the M1 to Leicester. After finding my stethoscope in my dog's kennel, I was on my way.

As I write this, Leicester are sitting in 13th place and are six points off the play offs.

It's not a bad position to be in but, when you consider the Foxes were a penalty shoot out away from the play off final last season, most Leicester fans will have disappointed with how the season has gone so far.

The problem has clearly been a lack of consistency. After winning League One and just missing out on promotion, Nigel Pearson packed his bags and left for Hull in the summer, leaving Milan Mandaric to look for another manager.

Fortunately for him, he found one in South Wales. Paulo Sousa put on his cardigan and made the journey to the East Midlands to build on the impressive foundations that Pearson had left.

He had a terrible start to the season, but this wasn't a massive shock at Soccer AM/MW towers, simply because we realised that Pearson and Sousa had two completely different ways of playing football.

Pearson preferred a direct approach - although I will need to add that it would be unfair to label his team as long ball merchants - while Sousa likes his teams to build slowly with the ball remaining on the deck.

It was always going to take time for Sousa's new methods to settle into the Leicester team, but Mandaric couldn't deal with the bad results - resulting in Sousa's dismissal in October.

A bad start to the season was starting to have an effect on the Leicester fans and it was with great relief that the next man to step into the managerial hot seat was the Swedish masseuse, Sven-Goran Eriksson.

He promised to relieve the aches and pains that had been plaguing the Leicester faithful and, slowly but surely, he is doing that. Leicester look good to make a dash for the play offs in the back end of the season.

They've just sealed a deal to take the Everton striker Yakubu on loan until the end of the season. Although The Yak has been dismal in front of goal this season, there's no doubting he has the ability to run riot in the Championship.

If he can score early on in his terms at the Walkers Stadium, then I have no doubts he will start banging them in for fun. Especially when you look at the men who are feeding him.

Yuki Abe, Andy King, and Richie Wellens have formed themselves into one of the best midfield combinations in the division. They completely dismantled Manchester City in the FA Cup and look very accomplished on the ball.

King has already scored ten goals in all competitions and is certain to be playing in the Premier League next season. King's goals have been helpful because, without them, Leicester have looked a little goal shy - hence the importance of Yakubu.

The experienced Sven-Goran Eriksson is plotting a second half of the season push

My only concern with Leicester's midfield is that it looks a little lightweight, especially on the road - and I think this has contributed to Leicester's dreadful away form.

Eleven points from 14 games is not the form of a team fighting for promotion and, although their home form - 25 points from 13 games - has kept them within touching distance of the play offs, I can't see them bridging the gap unless they start picking up points on their travels.

They leak goals away from home as well with 31 conceded. 31! Only Crystal Palace have conceded more on their travels and they're rubbish. This is something that has to be addressed before they can start to move forwards.

Sol Bamba has joined up with Sven's men and, at £250,000, he looks like he could be a bargain, but it might be more to do with how they set themselves up rather than a personnel issue.

I don't have the answers, but it looks like they don't keep it tight early on in games. In three of last five away games, they've conceded within the first 15 minutes - and have gone on to lose every one.

When you are playing away, you can't afford to be as expansive and as attacking as at home. You have to sit tight, see out the opening 20 minutes, and kill the crowd noise. Get a foothold in the game and build on that.

If you go a goal down in the opening 15 minutes, you're in trouble and the crowd are right behind your opponents.

I fancy Leicester to make the play offs. They seem to be getting better with every passing game and they are making some quality additions to their team during the transfer window - Kyle Naughton is a good acquisition.

They're playing good football and, although this season looks to be as tight as ever, I feel they will have the strength to shine when needed.

What could be a problem is their last five fixtures of the campaign. They travel to Reading, Doncaster, and Nottingham Forest, and host Watford and Ipswich.

They will be very lucky to get anything more than a few points in their away fixtures, as all three teams have impressive home records and Forest will be looking for revenge after losing 1-0 at the Walkers earlier in the season.

Although the Tractor Boys are a bit lame at the moment they're certainly not a pushover when they click and Watford, well, just ask QPR what Watford are capable of. They still seem to be reeling from that schooling.

They would like to be pretty secure in the play offs going into those final games, but the way this league works they could win or lose all of them - it's that difficult to call.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've just heard that Peterborough's owner is suffering from memory loss, so I've got to see how he is doing.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Moving On Up

With Dean Holdsworth swapping Conference side Newport County for League Two Aldershot Town, Nobes looks back at other managers who have made the leap from Non League to Football League.

Dean Holdsworth managed Newport to Conference South glory last season

Good things come to those who wait, so say a famous Irish stout company, anyway. However, it's even better when you don't have to wait. Instead, you can simply grab the first opportunity that comes your way.

That's the scenario Dean Holdsworth faced, when the 42-year-old boss of Conference high-flyers Newport County was approached to fill the vacant post at League Two Aldershot Town after Kevin Dillon's dismissal.

As soon as the Hampshire club came calling, Holdsworth was, appropriately enough, off like a shot. Swapping one phoenix club for another as he looks to establish himself in the 92 club.

He's not the first Non League boss to be in charge of a Football League club without having earned it via promotion though. Here's a look back at some of the others and how they fared or are faring.

Mark Yates

Yates served his apprenticeship in the Conference with Kidderminster Harriers - making steady progress towards the top five over two and a half seasons.

He was given his opportunity in the Football League with former club Cheltenham last term with the Robins struggling towards the foot of League Two.

Steered them to safety and, this term, has the Gloucestershire outfit competing for a place in the play offs.

Verdict: So far, so good.

Mark Cooper

His first job came at Tamworth where, although overseeing their relegation from the Conference, he took the Lambs on a memorable FA Cup run.

Achieved success at Kettering, winning the Conference North title and established them back in the Conference.

The Kettles also enjoyed two fine runs in the FA Cup.

After being linked with various League Two jobs, he was a surprise choice to fill the job at Championship Peterborough.

However, poor results and an ugly style of football saw him last just three months.

Now back in the Conference rebuilding his career with Darlington.

Verdict: Posh were the wrong club for Cooper to take the plunge with. He could still do a job in the lower reaches of the Football League some time.

Martin Allen

With Barnet challenging in the Conference's top five in 2004, Allen got the call from League One strugglers Brentford to help them avoid the drop.

He did just that, and then took them to successive play off finishes, albeit both times the Bees fell short and failed to gain promotion.

His next job came at League Two Milton Keynes, when he again came up short in the play offs.

A short spell at Leicester followed before returning to League One for Cheltenham's battle against the drop in 2008.

This time he failed to win it though and a poor start to last season cost him his job. He's still searching for employment.

Verdict: Downhill since leaving Brentford. His route one style of football aside, at the right club he could do well in the Football League.

Lee Sinnott

Farsley Celtic were in Non League obscurity before Sinnott took them to three promotions in four seasons to help them into the Conference Premier.

In 2007, he was offered a break in the Football League with Port Vale, who were struggling against relegation in League One.

He couldn't prevent Vale from slipping into League Two and he had departed after a few weeks of the next season - less than a year after taking the helm.

Returned to management in the Non Leagues at Northern Premier League side Bradford Park Avenue but was dismissed after failing to challenge for promotion despite a heavy spending spree.

Verdict: Lee Who? Short Football League tenure never likely to be repeated.

Mark Stimson

Stimson was hot property in 2007 after a spectacular start to management.

He had taken Grays Athletic to promotion to the Conference before successive FA Trophy wins and a place in the end of season play offs.

Failing to win promotion with the Essex outfit, he moved to Stevenage where he made it three FA Trophy successes on the bounce.

His penchant for an attractive, attacking based game also won him admirers.

However, when he made the leap up to League One Gillingham he found the going tough. The Gills were relegated - although he led them straight back up again via the play offs 12 months later.

A failure to win a single away win last season saw Gillingham relegated back down again though, and Stimson sacked.

He moved to Barnet over the summer, but left them at the start of the year with the London side rooted in League Two's drop zone.

Verdict: Once a rising star, but two relegations and a torrid time at Barnet have ensured the star has faded. A Non League return surely beckons.

Russell Slade

Gained fame by guiding cash-strapped Scarborough to the FA Cup fourth round where they faced Chelsea.

It earned him a crack in the Football League with Grimsby.

He took the Lincolnshire club to the League Two play off final in 2006, but they ended up on the losing side.

He then moved to League One Yeovil, who he also took to the play off final, only to lose once again.

Departed Huish Park in 2009 and joined Brighton - engineering a miraculous escape from the League One drop.

Was fired last season only to turn up at Leyton Orient, where he remains today after orchestrating another great escape from relegation to League Two last term.

Verdict: Made a niche for himself in the League as a fine fire fighter with an ability to work on a small budget.

Nigel Clough

The son of the legendary Brian spent a decade at the helm of Staffordshire side Burton Albion.

He guided them into the Conference Premier, establishing them as a top five side.

He left them in 2009 top of the table and in pole position to win promotion to the Football League - which they did.

However, he couldn't turn down the advances of Championship side Derby County, where he helped keep the Rams in the division before achieving a mid table finish last term.

With Derby occupying a top half place for the majority of this season, he is making slow progress towards their goal of promotion.

Verdict: Needs to keep progressing or the patience he has been afforded by Derby will begin to run out.