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

Monday, February 28, 2011

Talking Points - February 2011

The lads always have a word or two on the latest issues in the Football League, here's what they had to say during February 2011:

The Devil and the AFC
Nobes looks at why neutrals are especially interested in who comes out on top between AFC Wimbledon and Crawley in the Conference title race.

Tired Of Hanging Around
With a clutch of Football League sides battling for a second successive promotion, Nobes considers how previous teams have done after a quick ascent.

Let Me Hear Your Trumpets Ringing Out
With so many managers doing good jobs yet not receiving the acclaim they deserve, Nobes does his best to redress things.

Trouble Brewing
After a combination of bizarre circumstances sees Burton drop into the League Two relegation zone, Nobes reports on the perils of inactivity.

Always On My Mind
With three West Country sides battling to avoid the drop from League One, Nobes suggests psychology could play a crucial role in surviving.

Like The Fox On The Run
With Leicester surging up the Championship table, Nobes delves into the history books to look at the late runs which took sides to promotion.

The Great Escapees
As Crystal Palace look to stave off the drop from the Championship again, Nobes reflects on the sides who consistently pull off escapes from relegation.

Stuck In A League You Can't Get Out Of
With Grimsby sacking manager Neil Woods, Nobes wonders why relegated sides find it so hard to win promotion from the Conference at the first time of asking.

Everybody Hates Gary
Turls on why new Sheffield Wednesday boss Gary Megson isn't popular in Nottingham, Bolton, with footballing purists, and soon won't be with Owls fans either.

Everybody Hates Gary

With Gary Megson's return to football at Sheffield Wednesday, Turls vents his spleen and explains why he believes Megson isn't the right man for the Owls job.

Gary Megson is charged with taking Sheffield Wednesday into the Championship

As I sit here watching Scotland vs. Ireland in the Six Nations - it's a rugby tournament you don't really need to concern yourself with too much - I am seeing the ball getting booted as far down the pitch as possible.

This act reminded me of a man who has somehow found a way back into the world of football - despite being a bit of a tit and a mediocre manager. I give you the one, and only, Gary Megson.

Ah Megson, you irritatingly dull, worm of a man. How could any club appoint you to guide their team to glory? The only explanation that I can give is that the man who offered him the job was Milan Mandaric.

The chairman of Sheffield Wednesday is not the most liked man in the game, and hired and has fired 8,125 people during his footballing lifespan. Despite half of them coming at Leicester, it's still an impressive achievement.

Back to Megson who, I have no shame in admitting, I'm not a huge fan of. This is the man who was manager of Nottingham Forest when they were relegated to the third tier of English football.

The same man, despite everyone thinking that Forest would storm away with the League One title, could only manage to turn them into a struggling mid-table outfit.

He left the club closer to the relegation zone than the play offs and if you think that it was because Forest were a bit crap back then - which they were - then consider that his replacements took 28 points from a possible 39 and only just missed out on the top six.

Sheffield Wednesday, that proud and noble club, are now being managed by Gary Megson. What makes it a strange decision is that Megson's last spell in this division ended miserably at a club very similar to Wednesday.

Forest were the big guns of League One and were considered a major scalp by most clubs - despite being a shadow of their former selves.

The Owls are in a similar scenario and, although they are not the only scalp in the division - see Southampton - they still harbour aspirations of promotion.

Since taking charge at the start of February, Wednesday have played five league games and, up until the weekend, they had failed to win any of them. Fortunately, they recorded their first victory under Megson on Saturday.

That means the Owls have picked up five points from their last five games, currently sit 16th, and are 12 points behind MK Dons who are 6th. At the end of January though they sat in 12th and were just five points off the play offs.

Poor form saw Wednesday part company with boss Alan Irvine in January

Mandaric sacked Alan Irvine because he felt that he wasn't the man to get them promoted and yet he has hired a man who is taking them further down the table and further adrift of the play offs.

All of this will be very disconcerting for the Hillsborough faithful, not only because they would like to see their club moving up the table but also because they are now being subjected to anti football.

Megson was hounded out of Bolton because his style of football was rubbish. Although the results were good in the beginning, when you set your teams out to play like that you have to keep getting good results because you have no room to manoeuvre with fans. Win ugly, great. Lose ugly, goodbye.

The same problems will follow Megson around for the rest of his managerial career. It was a bad appointment, but not only for this reason. The man is not a very good manager.

Two promotions with West Brom - followed by two dismal seasons in the top flight - and a good spell at Bolton aside, he has achieved the square root of naff all. Sacking Irvine was a big mistake but hiring Megson is an even bigger one.

I'm biased because I want to see people like Megson leave football for good. He brings nothing to the national game and, no matter what people say, fans want to see their team at least trying to play nice football.

We know that no matter who you are, there is always a time and place for the long ball, but passing football should always be Plan A. He doesn't know any other way.

Ian Holloway used to set his teams up to play route one football but, since joining Blackpool, the man has been a slightly annoying revelation. He went away from the game and realised that long ball football invites pressure onto you as manager and as a club.

Blackpool leak goals for fun, but that's because they have a League One defence. They are playing attractive and, at times, breathtaking football though. Megson and several other long ball merchants should take notice of what he has done.

Sheffield Wednesday have had a rough time of it lately and, at the start of the season, many felt they were going to go straight back up.

However, it seems as if they are destined to be in League One for another year at least. Megson will not, I repeat not, guide any club - let alone Wednesday - out of that division.

Big Match Review - Middlesbrough 0 QPR 3

Middlesbrough 0-3 Queens Park Rangers
Saturday February 26, Riverside, (Att: 16,972)

Queens Park Rangers continued their march towards the Premier League as a Heidar Helguson brace helped earn them a comprehensive victory at struggling Middlesbrough.

Neil Warnock's table toppers almost fell behind on Teeside however, as keeper Paddy Kenny's sloppy clearance fell to Scott McDonald only for the Rs man to redeem himself with a vital save.

Boro were made to pay for that missed opportunity as they fell behind in unfortunate circumstances just before the interval. Helguson's shot being deflected off a defender and over Jason Steele in the home goal.

Rangers doubled their lead just past the hour mark when Helguson headed home Wayne Routledge's teasing cross from the left.

And they wrapped up all three points when Adel Taarabt was fouled in the box by Merouane Zemmama and the Moroccan picked himself off the floor to send Steele the wrong way from the spot.

The empathic win maintains QPR's five point advantage at the summit while Tony Mowbray's side still sit perilously close to the relegation zone in 20th.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Stuck In A League You Can't Get Out Of

After Grimsby part company with manager Neil Woods, Nobes considers why relegated Football League clubs find it so hard to bounce back quickly and gain promotion from the Conference.

Neil Woods was unable to keep Grimsby up or get them challenging for promotion

Out with the Woods, but not yet out of them. Grimsby's decision to part ways with boss Neil Woods came as little surprise.

However, nor should their struggle to mount any kind of promotion challenge in this year's Conference come as a major shock. The top tier of Non League football is notoriously difficult to escape at the first time of asking.

Indeed, since the introduction of automatic promotion and relegation between the Football and Non Leagues 24 years ago, just four teams have managed to achieve that particular feat.

When you consider that two of those instant returns, by Lincoln and Darlington, came in the first three years, and recent statistics are made all the more damning.

It has been the same story after the introduction of a two-up two-down in 2003/4. The first two years saw Shrewsbury and Carlisle win promotion at the first time of asking. Since then though, no club has managed it.

To put that into context, in the last five seasons five sides in the Championship, three in League One, and four in League Two have all done what no relegated team into the Conference has accomplished.

True, the obvious point to make would be all three higher divisions offer at least one more promotion place, and a couple in the case of League Two.

However, when you consider that very few relegated sides even challenge for a place in the Conference play offs, the issue of how many teams get to go up doesn't really figure in the debate.

The stats show that the Conference is the most difficult division to instantly gain promotion from - as Woods and Grimsby have found to their respective cost.

It's been a bumpy ride for the Mariners, who saw the curtain come down on their century in the Football League in May after an horrific season which saw them, at one point, go 25 games without winning.

However, if they thought that life would get easier as a big fish in a small pond, the Lincolnshire outfit have been given a rude awakening. In fact, their results paint a typical picture of a Football League club trying to adjust to life in the Non Leagues.

It's not as though results have been disastrous, they have taken four points off big-spending Crawley and kept two clean sheets in the process. High flying Luton, Wrexham and Newport have also all been seen off at Blundell Park this term.

Contrast that though, with embarrassing defeats to the likes of Tamworth and Hayes & Yeading. Struggling sides Southport, Eastbourne, and Barrow have all returned from a trip to the North Sea coast with a point to show for their efforts.

For fans whose club were, ten years ago, rubbing shoulders with some of England's finest in the Championship, this season they've seen Town fail to record victories at places like Gateshead and Forest Green Rovers.

The feats of Shrewsbury and Carlisle have proved hard for others to match since

Perhaps this is a major part of the problem which holds back relegated sides though. Nowhere else can clubs enter a lower division with such a superiority complex and expectation of success.

Most Football League fans probably couldn't even tell you where Forest Green are from, let alone expect their side to return from a visit to their trip to the Gloucestershire Cotswolds without maximum spoils.

It's part of the culture shock of adapting to life in the Non Leagues. Travelling to small, ramshackle grounds with antiquated facilities and some teams whose home support is the kind taken away from home in the League.

Fans have high hopes and expectations that such sides will be easily swotted aside - and players must undoubtedly learn to cope with the pressure that they are under.

They're also aware that the longer they remain in the Conference, the harder it becomes to escape - making the stakes in that first season all the more higher - and all the more difficult to meet.

Fans must also come to terms with games against their side being treated almost as cup finals. Non League stalwarts enjoy nothing more than taking a big Football League scalp - and cutting some egos down to size in the process.

It's also not uncommon for smaller sides to travel away and park the bus, supporters' coach, as well as their entire team and fan base in front of their goal in an attempt to claim a point.

Trying to break down such defensive tactics is hard enough - and the longer it goes on the more frustrated fans with high expectations come, and soon playing at home becomes more of a hindrance than an advantage.

Grimsby have only lost twice on home soil this term, but the seven draws at Blundell Park have undoubtedly been key in why they find themselves nine points off the play offs in 9th, albeit with a couple of games in hand.

Throw in an early exit in the FA Cup and a going out of the FA Trophy after a humiliating loss at Chasetown last month, and Woods's job always appeared to be hanging by a thread.

Now under-fire chairman, John Fenty, has the opportunity to make the right appointment to guide Town back into the Football League at the earliest opportunity.

He will be well advised to take his time when deciding his next manager though, as a quick look around the Conference Premier shows a whole host of ex-Football League clubs struggling to find their way back.

Mansfield are now in their third season in the Conference, posting finishes of 12th, 9th, and they currently lie in 13th. A fourth try to escape awaits the Stags next season.

Cambridge have spent the majority of this term looking over their shoulders towards the bottom, and will reflect on successive play off final defeats in 2008 and 2009 as hugely missed opportunities.

Last year's play off winners Oxford spent four seasons in the Conference

Same with York. Last season's play off final losers to Oxford are now in their seventh season in the Conference and as well as another play off appearance in 2007, they have also ended up in the bottom half on three occasions.

Wrexham are only now making an impact in the top five in their third season in the fifth tier, and Darlington - relegated alongside the Mariners last term - are only in mid table and finding life much tougher than they did in the '80s.

I must admit, I was someone who expected the Quakers to have performed better than they have with experienced and proven Conference manager Mark Cooper at the helm.

However, it has taken him time to turn around the sinking ship in the North East which fell to relegation with barely a whimper 12 months ago.

It's true to say as well as that, like the Quakers, often relegated Football League clubs enter the Conference in a shambolic state on the pitch and in financial disarray off it.

The loss of revenue relegation can cause inevitably means a turnover in playing squad, which can often mean a slow start as players gel and adapt to a new set-up.

No matter their size and history, they are simply not in a condition to quickly adapt to the rough and tumble and rigours of the great unknown that is the Non League game - and it shows.

And even when they do, the pressure to succeed can get the better of even the most illustrious and big clubs - Oxford took four years to escape the Conference.

Even the Luton side which, barring a 30 point deduction, would have finished in mid table in League Two in 2009 could only hold down a play off place last season - where they failed to progress through the end of season lottery.

Part of their problem had been holding onto a manager, in Mick Harford, who was so woefully incapable of orchestrating a promotion push. The same could probably be said of Woods - who was fortunate to keep his job after presiding over Grimsby's easily avoidable relegation.

Were the ageing Jim Smith and Brian Little really the men to lead Oxford and Wrexham's respective first promotion pushes, too? It was no surprise that the Oxen, when appointing the canny Chris Wilder, finally did escape the Non Leagues.

Even Shrewsbury had the foresight to hire an experienced Non League name in Jimmy Quinn to guide them back to the Football League at the first time of asking in 2004 - before rightly jettisoning him after struggling to make the step up.

Grimsby must now be similarly pragmatic - looking to select someone well versed in coping with the unique demands of the Conference, and winning promotion from it.

Stalybridge's Jim Harvey has an impressive CV at that level, and current Luton assistant Gary Brabin led Cambridge into the top five. Martin Foyle, in charge at York last season, has also been linked with the job and would seem a decent pick.

The wrong choice, and the Mariners risk settling in too comfortably to life in the Conference. Then the only Cod Army on the march to the Football League will be that of ambitious Fleetwood.

Prediction League Week 30

The lads seem to have forgotten how to score points with another low scoring midweek seeing little progress all round.

Lakes - currently on the other side of the Atlantic doing his impression of Sting - was the sole point scorer in midweek.

That one point was enough to move him ahead of Turls due to having more spot-on predictions.

This weekend there are away trips for both Forest and Boston as Preston face a tasty Lancashire derby.

Millwall vs. Nottingham Forest

Millwall 1-2 Forest
Millwall 0-1 Forest
Millwall 1-2 Forest

Preston North End vs. Burnley

Lakes: PNE 2-2 Burnley
PNE 2-1 Burnley
PNE 1-1 Burnley

Stafford Rangers vs. Boston United

Lakes: Stafford Rangers 1-0 Skyrockets
Stafford Rangers 1-3 Skyrockets
Stafford Rangers 0-2 Skyrockets

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Big Match Preview - Middlesbrough vs. QPR

Middlesbrough vs. Queens Park Rangers
Saturday February 26, 15:00, Riverside

Two of the Championship's pre season favourites meet in the North East this weekend with both teams looking for points to aid their respective quests at either end of the division.

While table topping Queens Park Rangers have lived up to their billing though, it's been a hugely disappointing season for Middlesbrough - who still find themselves battling to avoid the drop.

Boro had been expected to challenge for the Premier League after a summer of heavy spending, but a poor start to the campaign saw them struggling near the foot of the table - leading to boss Gordon Strachan resigning.

While his successor, Teesside legend Tony Mowbray, has managed to improve fortunes at the Riverside, they still lie just five points above the drop zone in 20th.

Unsurprisingly, Middlesbrough have struggled badly to find any kind of consistency, although they did manage to construct a six match unbeaten run at the turn of the New Year.

That erratic form is no better illustrated than by their 3-2 comeback win at Millwall last weekend following on from throwing away a 3-1 lead at home to Swansea to lose 4-3.

The loss to the Swans is one of five games at the Riverside they've lost this term, with Millwall, Bristol City, Leeds, and Ipswich also returning with maximum spoils.

Half a dozen wins have been collected though, with Boro seeing off Scunthorpe, Cardiff, Crystal Palace, Reading, Burnley, and Sheffield United.

Key men in Mowbray's side include striker Leroy Lita, who is the leading scorer on eight, as well as Australian forward Scott McDonald who seems to be finally finding his feet at the club.

Tony Mowbray is fighting to keep underachieving Middlesbrough in the Championship

In stark contrast, it's been relatively plain sailing for QPR, who have led from the front all season and currently sit five points clear at the Championship's summit.

With the experienced Neil Warnock at the helm, Rangers have finally begun to show their potential after flattering to deceive under a succession of short-lived managers.

Just three games have been lost all season, two of them coming on the road at fellow top six sides Leeds and Norwich during a sticky spell over Christmas and the New Year.

Since then, they've recovered and are currently on a nine-match unbeaten streak and, with 26 points from their 17 matches, boast the best away record in the second tier.

Victories for the Rs have been secured at Reading, Coventry, Ipswich, Leicester, Crystal Palace, and Sheffield United, although they recently slipped up only drawing 1-1 at bottom club Preston.

Without doubt, the outstanding player for the Hoops this term has been ingenious midfielder Adel Taarabt whose creativity and guile, as well as his 14 goals, have made him arguably the division's player of the season.

Warnock can also call upon the services of experienced forwards Heidar Helguson and Tommy Smith, as well as the Championship's tightest back line with just 20 goals conceded all season.

This is a more difficult game to call than simply a side at the top against one at the bottom owing to Middlesbrough's unpredictable nature. They have genuine quality and will be fighting hard for the points to move further away from trouble.

Add in the fact that, unlike QPR, they had the midweek off, and that Rangers are away draw specialists, and I'll go for another stalemate at the Riverside.

Nobes' Prediction: Middlesbrough 1 Queens Park Rangers 1

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Great Escapees

After Crystal Palace earn a precious win over drop zone rivals Sheffield United, Nobes looks at the clubs who have made escaping from relegation a habit.

Darren Ambrose's goal helped keep Palace up at Sheffield Wednesday's expense

Battling a team from the Steel City to avoid relegation to the third tier isn't new territory for Crystal Palace.

Last season, amid their financial meltdown, the Londoners sent Sheffield Wednesday down after a final day shoot out between the pair at Hillsborough.

Their 1-0 win at the weekend over Sheffield United opened up a five point gap between themselves and the Blades, and could prove crucial in maintaining their Championship status after a poor start to the campaign.

Palace also staged a great escape in 2001 to avoid relegation from the Championship, and will be hoping to make it a hat trick of successes come May.

Here's my rundown of some of the other teams who have made a habit out of fighting - and usually winning - battles against the drop.

Portsmouth - 1996, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2006

Three times in the 1990s, Pompey survived relegation to the third tier of English football on the final day of the season.

Firstly in 1996, a 1-0 win at Huddersfield along with Millwall failing to beat Ipswich saw them finish above the Lions on goal difference.

Two years later, and they were at it again. It had been a disastrous season with Terry Venables ending his involvement at Fratton Park and Alan Ball returning to the club to take over from Terry Fenwick.

Once more a final day win in West Yorkshire, this time 3-1 at Bradford, helped stave off relegation and send Manchester City tumbling down to League One.

Twelve months on, and Portsmouth went into receivership and would later only just avoid going out of business. On the pitch, Pompey finished the season in a four way tie on 47 points with Port Vale, QPR, and Bury.

However, it was the latter - with the worst goals scored record that took the tumble and Portsmouth were once again saved.

In 2001, they dropped into the relegation zone in the final week of the season and had to beat Barnsley in their last game to give themselves a shot of survival.

Fortunately, the Reds rolled over and Pompey's 3-0 win was enough to guarantee them a place in the Championship as Huddersfield went down instead.

Finally, during their top flight spell in the previous decade, Harry Redknapp engineered a stunning late rally in 2006 to keep Pompey in the Premier League. Where they remained until last season.

Carlisle United - 1992, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2009

No club masters in brinkmanship like the Cumbrians. It's an expertise only rivalled by their special ability to perform in the Football League Trophy.

The first of their great escapes came in 1992, when they finished bottom of the entire Football League yet avoided demotion to the Conference after Aldershot went out of business.

Their next great escape, and possibly the most famous of all, came in 1999. A 95th minute winner from emergency loan goalkeeper Jimmy Glass kept the Cumbrians in the Football League at the expense of Scarborough.

Twelve months later and they did it again, this time edging out Chester City by virture of goals scored to retain their place in the 92.

With finances biting and the club coming close to going out of business, Ian Atkins's side survived by three points in the 2000/1 campaign despite winning the fewest matches in their division.

Two years later and, in the first year of two-up-two-down between the Football and Non Leagues, the Cumbrians finished 22nd, just a point above relegated Exeter.

They had won a vital relegation decider 3-2 against Shrewsbury in their penultimate match to secure their Football League place.

Finally their luck ran out in 2004 though. An horrific start to the season saw them lose 18 of their first 21 games. Paul Simpson's men staged an heroic second half revival, but this time fell through the trapdoor by just four points.

Their most recent escape came in League One in 2009 when they went into the last game of the season needing a win and other results to go their way. They duly beat Millwall 2-0 at Brunton Park to edge out Northampton by a point.

The most famous great escape of all? Jimmy Glass for Carlisle in 1999

Hartlepool United - 1997, 1999, 2009, 2010

Towards the end of the last Millennium, Pools were fighting relegation battles towards the bottom of the basement division. Now it's the third tier where they try and stave off the drop.

In 1997, they ended up just four points above bottom place Hereford. No League Two side lost more games than United that term and with three games left they sat 23rd.

However, successive wins ensured they were safe going into the final day of the season.

Two years later, and Pools were propping up the rest of the Football League at Easter and looking doomed to relegation. New boss Chris Turner inspired his team to 11 points from their last seven games though to retain their spot in the division, ending up 22nd.

More recently, they have found themselves towards the wrong end of League One, including suffering relegation from the third tier in 2006. In 2009 an end of season slump saw them avoid the drop by just a single point.

Last term, Hartlepool were safe going into the final game until a points deduction for playing an ineligible player earlier in the campaign saw them thrown back into the relegation mix.

There they battled hard to gain a 0-0 draw against Brentford and avoid relegation by virtue of a superior goal difference to Gillingham.

Torquay United - 1987, 1993, 1996, 2001, 2006

The Gulls had finished bottom of the Football League for consecutive seasons in 1985 and 1986 but twice won their re-election bid.

The last side to finish bottom in back-to-back years, Workington, hadn't, so United were fortunate to still be in the Football League when automatic relegation was introduced in 1986/7.

They were even more fortunate when, on the final day, a police dog, Bryn, bit a Torquay player, producing enough injury time for them to score a dramatic last gasp equaliser against Crewe.

It secured the point they needed to stay up and send unlucky Lincoln down.

In 1993 they were indebted to a short spell in the dugout from Neil Warnock to guide the Devonians to safety in the basement division, but in 1996 they were struggling once more and finished bottom of the entire pack.

However, Conference winners Stevenage Borough were denied promotion because of the condition of their ground, and Torquay were given a reprieve.

In 2000/1, their fight against the drop went down to the very last game of the season in a final day shootout against Barnet with the losers going down to the Conference.

They raced into a 3-0 half time lead and withstood a second half comeback to see the match out 3-2 and send the Bees down.

Finally, in 2006, United sat six points short of safety with just five games remaining. However, Ian Atkins masterminded four wins and a draw to ensure they finished three points clear of the drop zone in 20th.

A year later, and the Gulls - mismanaged both on and off the pitch - finally took the plunge and spent two years in the Conference after finishing bottom of the division.

Gulls fans invade the pitch after securing survival yet again in 2006

Exeter City - 1992, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2010

The 1990s had begun brightly for Exeter City - they won the League Two title to gain elevation to the third tier.

However, once there, they struggled and twice came close to taking the drop.

Firstly, in 1992, they went into the final day of the season still in danger of relegation. Fortunately, while they were thumped 5-2 at Darlington, rivals Bury lost as well to go down by just two points.

The following season they finished just three points clear of relegated Preston. However, they were not so lucky in 1994 and did eventually drop down to the basement division.

There they ended up rock bottom of the entire Football League at the end of the 1994/5 season.

The Grecians almost went of business during the campaign, but were spared the Non Leagues after the Moss Rose ground of Conference champions Macclesfield controversially failed to meet the Football League's requirements.

They were not so lucky in 2003 though, as, in the first year of two-up-two-down, Exeter became the first side to finish 23rd and be relegated from the basement division.

Having bounced back to the Football League, last season Exeter staged another escape from the drop when a late winner in their final game against Huddersfield saw City stay in League One by a single point.

Crewe Alexandra - 1999, 2004, 2005, 2008

Dario Gradi's distinguished reign as Crewe boss has become synonymous with unearthing talented young players, an attractive brand of football, and the Alex punching above their weight.

Inevitably therefore, they have been involved in the odd battle against the drop, some won successfully and some not.

In 1999, the Railwaymen finished just a point above the Championship relegation zone in 18th - inspired by a late rally of ten points from their last four games to ensure their safety.

Just two points separated Alex in 18th from third bottom Walsall in 2004 as Gradi once again managed to defy the odds to keep the Cheshire club in the second tier.

Twelve months later and they staged a dramatic last day escape as a 2-1 win over Coventry, coupled with Gillingham drawing 2-2 at Nottingham Forest, saw Crewe finish above the Gills thanks to a one better goal difference.

They weren't so lucky in 2006, finally succumbing to the drop. And in 2008 they fought to retain League One football at Gresty Road.

Alex finished up just two points clear of relegated Bournemouth, despite the Cherries being deducted ten points for entering administration. A year later though, and relegation did catch up with them.

A clear warning to any side constantly flirting with the drop. One year, it will catch up with you.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Prediction League Week 29 continued

Just a point gained by Nobes and Lakes means there's been very little movement in the Prediction League over the past couple of weeks.

This evening sees potentially the last Soccer AM/MW derby for a while as Preston travel to Forest, and Boston are in home action.

Nottingham Forest vs. Preston North End

Forest 1-1 PNE
Forest 2-0 PNE
Forest 1-0 PNE

Boston United vs. Solihull Moors

Lakes: Skyrockets 3-1 Solihull Moors
Skyrockets 2-1 Solihull Moors
Skyrockets 2-0 Solihull Moors

Monday, February 21, 2011

Like The Fox On The Run

With Leicester City surging into promotion contention in the Championship, Nobes looks at other clubs who have come up with a late run to win promotion.

Sven-Goran Eriksson's Leicester are the form side in the Championship

Sure, Steve Claridge may have predicted as much on the BBC's The Football League Show, but so did our very own Doctor Lakes last month - Leicester City are on the march.

In fact, since Sven-Goran Eriksson took charge at the Walkers, no Championship side has done better than the Foxes with the Swede collecting 43 points from his 22 games at the helm.

Now lying 7th and just five points off the top two, City, who were propping up the rest of the division in the first few weeks under Paulo Sousa, are firmly in the promotion mix.

After his team's recent 4-1 loss in the East Midlands, Barnsley boss Mark Robins declared Leicester the best side in the division - and current form backs his judgement.

Should they indeed gain entry back to the Premier League though, they won't be the first side to win promotion off the back of a storming second half season run.

Here's my look at how some of their potential predecessors managed to do it.

Birmingham City - 2001/2

Perennial top six candidates, Birmingham parted company with long-serving boss Trevor Francis in 2001.

They then made an enemy for life in Simon Jordan in poaching Crystal Palace boss Steve Bruce to turn around their fortunes.

However, with nine games of the season remaining, it appeared promotion in his first season at the helm would be beyond former Blues player Bruce.

Not so. A combination of a late run coupled with rivals Preston, Burnley, and Coventry wobbling saw City get back into contention.

Five wins and four draws from their remaining matches secured 5th place and a shot in the play-offs.

There they saw off Millwall over two legs. Then they recovered from a goal behind to defeat Norwich on penalties in the final at the Millennium Stadium and reach the Premier League for the first time in their history.

Wrexham - 2002/3

When the Red Dragons went down to a loss at struggling Exeter at the beginning of March they were still just three points off 3rd in a congested top half of League Two.

However, they were a mammoth 21 points behind league leaders Hartlepool with only 42 points left to play for.

They dropped just eight of those points though, winning ten and drawing four, to finish the season promoted in 3rd.

They ended up three points off top of the table Rushden, a single point behind Hartlepool, and with the largest goal difference in the league.

It earned boss Denis Smith the Manager of the Year award in the basement division. In truth, had the season gone of for a couple more weeks, Wrexham would have been crowned Champions.

Remember when this man used to have the Midas touch? No, seriously.

Crystal Palace - 2003/4

God bless Iain Dowie.

You don't hear those words very often, but the remarkable run his Crystal Palace team went on in 2004 has provided great comfort to many a Championship club and boss since.

Should their side be struggling at Christmas, you can guarantee - in an appeal for more time to turn things around - that they will mention the dramatic turnaround in fortunes Dowie engineered in South London.

True, the Eagles were in the relegation zone at the start of December, but soon surged up the table until, with ten games left, they were just five points shy of the top six.

In those last ten, they won seven and drew one to end up 6th, having only moved into the play off positions for the first time in the penultimate round of fixtures.

Once in the play offs they saw off Sunderland on penalties in the semi finals before earning a sweet victory over Capital rivals West Ham in the final to end the season promoted to the top flight.

Sunderland - 2006/7

It was a run which made Roy Keane a legend on Wearside and established managerial credentials gradually destroyed over 18 months as Ipswich manager.

Still, before we discovered Keane's scouting network was reserved simply for former players, Irishmen, or Manchester United youngsters, he seemed to have the Midas touch in 2007.

The Black Cats rounded off 2006 sitting in 12th after a 1-0 loss to Preston at the Stadium Of Light. They sat six points off the play offs and a massive 16 behind leaders Birmingham.

However, in their final 20 games, Keane's charges won 16 and drew 3 to oust Birmingham from the top after game 42 and stay there to secure the league title and promotion.

The original late run and Blackpool play off win came under Simon Grayson

Blackpool - 2006/7

If Ian Holloway guiding Blackpool to play off success last term was a surprise, their promotion in 2007 was every bit as unexpected, and owed much to a good late run.

The Seasiders had only just avoided relegation the previous season and seemed to be in for a year of mid table mediocrity in League One.

A loss to Millwall in the back end of the campaign left them 10th, a full 12 points off second place.

However, Simon Grayson's men then went on a storming run of 11 wins and two draws to end up in 3rd spot, just two points off promoted Bristol City.

In truth, there was only going to be one winner in the play offs that season. Blackpool swotted aside Oldham in the semi finals before putting surprise package Yeovil to the sword 2-0 in the final.

Bristol Rovers - 2006/7

Clearly 2007 was the year of late runs, with Bristol Rovers filling that particular role in the basement division to win promotion.

When the Gas suffered a 2-1 defeat at Boston, they sat 16th in League Two with only 11 games of the season remaining.

Nobody could have envisaged what was to happen next. Rovers discovered a run of form and won eight and drew two in the run-in.

It culminated in them finishing 6th and they saw off play off veterans Lincoln over two legs to make the final.

There a 3-1 win at Wembley over Shrewsbury secured them the most unlikeliest of promotions to the third tier.

Coming to a concert hall near you soon - Phil Brown on top of the world in 2008

Hull City - 2007/8

Remember when Phil Brown wasn't known for being that eccentric orange-skinned man who enjoys berating his players on the pitch and singing badly?

I know, it seems hard to believe now, but Brown was making a name for himself in East Yorkshire - first saving Hull from relegation from the Championship and then progressing them up the table.

When they lost to table topping Bristol City at the beginning of March, the Tigers sat 11 points off 3rd place with 12 games of the campaign left to play.

Eight of those games were won, and another drawn, as Brown guided City to 3rd place, just four points behind promoted Stoke.

They went into the play offs strong favourites and, after casting aside Watford over two legs, a 1-0 win over, appropriately, Bristol City secured them top flight status for the first time in the club's history.

Notts County - 2009/10

Now, you might be spotting a pattern here - as well as rejoicing that we have the play offs in English football. Late run of form, qualify for play offs, win them.

You're not wrong. However, in the case of Notts County they didn't leave their chances to the end of season lottery.

In truth, County had been the title favourites last season with an expensively assembled squad that nobody thought they could afford - and they were right. They were also right about them winning the league though.

Notts did it the hard way, however. Their third manager of the season, Steve Cotterill, took over at Meadow Lane with them 7th in the division, trailing leaders Rochdale by a full 14 points.

In Cotterill's 18 games in charge, the Magpies won 14 and drew three of them. Coupled with Dale imploding, they secured the title by a decisive ten point margin.

While 14 games may be too few for Sven's men to close the ten point gap separating them and Championship leaders QPR, current form suggests that just points, rather than any other sides, will separate the Foxes and the Rs come May.

Big Match Review - Bournemouth 1 Huddersfield 1

Bournemouth 1-1 Huddersfield Town
Saturday February 19, Dean Court, (Att:7,923)

A Danny Cadamarteri goal two minutes from time earned Huddersfield Town a precious point in their promotion six pointer against fellow high flyers Bournemouth.

In a tight first half of few chances, Gary Roberts had the best opportunity to put the visitors ahead when his left footed volley from outside the box fizzed over the crossbar.

The Cherries stepped things up in the second half as they went in search of the win that would take them level on points at the top with league leaders Brighton.

Marc Pugh's deflected free kick brought the best out of veteran Town keeper Ian Bennett, but the Terriers custodian was powerless to stop the home side taking the lead 16 minutes from time.

Liam Feeney's cross from the right being powered home by the head of Michael Symes to put the South Coast side on course for their 12th home win of the campaign.

However, Lee Clark's men rallied and restored parity as Roberts and Cadamarteri played a one-two and the latter managed to squeeze the ball past Shwan Jalal for the leveller.

The Dorset outfit almost immediately responded though, with Feeney finding too much time and space to fire a shot in at goal, only to see the legs of Bennett deny him a winner.

It ensured Huddersfield remain unbeaten in 2011 and sit in third, three points behind a Bournemouth team continuing to defy the odds.