David Cameron Walker

Archive for the ‘Championship’ Category

We Are Actually Going Up

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Leicester players vs Yeovil

On May 15, 2004, the Invincibles of Arsenal brushed aside a plucky, but in truth, not good enough Micky Adams Leicester team, and the inevitable questions that relegation ask began.

The chief one asked was how long? And normally in these instances a doom monger will pipe in with comments like “it could be 10 years before we get back.” Well, all hail the doom monger!

Many have tried and failed. Micky Adams, Craig Levein, Rob Kelly, Martin Allen, Ian Holloway, Paolo Sousa and Sven Goran Eriksson. The answer was obviously a manager that was the only one who had a Leicester City promotion to his name in the last decade. After his League One triumph of 2009 he sailed straight into the play-offs only for Cardiff to break his and Leicester’s hearts.

With a sale to mysterious Thai owners on the cards Nigel Pearson was apparently a jilted lover with Paolo Sousa given the job. Off to Hull he went only to return at the Thai owners request in late 2011. He finished the season weakly but still in the top half. The following season seemed to be more solid until a second half season collapse saw us scrape into the top six only for Watford to break hearts this time. Numerous pundits and in truth most Leicester fans were expecting that to be Pearson’s last game in charge. Only it wasn’t.

Pearson and his Leicester City squad have been simply outstanding this season, with 27 wins from 40 league outings this season. Currently they are on a 21 game unbeaten run, of which 16 of those have been victories. The football has been scintillating right throughout the squad with quick intricate passing and an incisive, explosive counter attack.

The attitude from the players has been exemplary as their reaction to the Watford defeat last season spurring them on with every point. The squad also push each other on, as when injuries and suspensions occur their deputies outperform them and end up being first choice with Wasilewski, Schlupp and Mahrez profiting from Moore, Konchesky and Dyer’s absences.

When all the outfield players underperform against a tactically astute Yeovil Town, Schmeichel the second, rises like a salmon to inspire an equaliser wrongly given to the alert Chris Wood. The squad has also profited from the intelligence and experience of Gary Taylor-Fletcher, Kevin Phillips and Dean Hammond. As well as this quality we are blessed with captain fantastic Wes Morgan, the now impenetrable midfield partnership of Drinkwater and James.

Add this to Vardy’s rise and Nugent’s consistency and we’re only lacking a French wizard who finished last season in tears and returned this season with a maturity to his ability. Oh wait; we’re covered there as well with Anthony Knockaert.

Nigel Pearson has spent the last two-and-a-half-years crafting and sculpting this squad. Gone are the frustrating and the disruptive likes of Matt Mills, Jermaine Beckford and Neil Danns. We now have a squad of players playing for each other who actually like other. Several of them all met up on Saturday to watch Jeff Stelling and the Soccer Saturday team map out the drama.

As Derby faultered and the strangely unsackable Harry Redknapp‘s QPR went down at Bournemouth, promotion after 10 years was confirmed.  The players delight is emblazoned on social media for all to see as they screamed like girls and hugged each other en masse. This is a team that is in it together. Yes there has been money spent on this squad but it would be churlish and disrespectful to Nigel Pearson to label them as a team simply assembled with many “pound notes” (Sean Dyche I’m looking at you).

Pearson has had a careful scouting process coupled with a progressive coaching policy which has seen a move to a style of play more suited to success in a higher division. Pearson is also fully aware of the word “team” as he treats his coaching staff as equals and encourages debate. He is also guarded with the media but candid recognising that taking on the media in mini crusades serves nothing but his own ego (hello to Billy Davies).

What the future and the next 10 years holds can be debated another day, but with a season hopefully heading towards the league title and a 100+ points tally only an idiot or someone who hasn’t watched Leicester this season would proclaim that we’re certainties to come straight back down. Nigel Pearson and Leicester City have quite simply been the best in the Championship this season – so far.

Written by Damon Carter, We Are Going Up’s Leicester City blogger

Damon tweets at @dimski

12 seasons is a long time in football…

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

MM

As the Championship’s longest serving club, currently enduring their 12th season in the second tier – Ipswich Town fans have had relatively little to cheer about since relegation in 2002. Since the 2008/09 season they have been as mid-table you can imagine, with every season all but over by April Fools Day.

In that time Ipswich have racked up over £70m worth of debt, all owed to the clubs reclusive owner, Marcus Evans, as 3 managers spent big money chasing promotion. The last 2 (Roy Keane and Paul Jewell) ending up being sacked as the club looked to be exiting the league in the wrong direction.

Finally the club have a manager that has the club moving in the right direction, taking over in November 2012 with Ipswich cut adrift at the bottom of the league, Mick McCarthy led Ipswich to mid-table obscurity with a record that would have seen them in the play off zone if extrapolated for the whole season.

The big test was to see if he could stabilise the club which was overly reliant on loan players and those on short term deals – over the summer 10 new signings were made, with only £20k spent on transfer fees as the over spending of previous managers, coupled with the impending Financial Fair Play regulations meant McCarthy had to operate with one armed tied behind his back.

McCarthy has used the squad he has assembled and made us very hard to beat, while there can sometimes be a lack of flair on display no side will work harder than Ipswich, and the heavy beatings which were a regular occurrence under Paul Jewell are truly a thing of the past (Wigan, Leicester and QPR are the only sides to have beaten Ipswich by more than one goal this season).

After a difficult start to the season as the new players took time to gel, Ipswich went on an excellent run which culminated on them reaching the dizzy heights of 6th place on the 29th December – led by the rock-solid centre back pairing of Tommy Smith and Christophe Berra and the goals of David McGoldrick.

It was at this point the small squad and a lack of strength in depth began to catch up with them, a number of lacklustre performances and far too many draws saw them slide away from the play off zone and looking like another season of mid table obscurity was to occur. Again it seemed as though the season would be over by April 1st, especially when 16 goal top scorer McGoldrick was ruled out for the rest of the campaign after picking up an innocuous looking injury in added time against Blackpool.

As the season began to dwindle out, and thoughts began to turn to the 2014/15 season, McCarthy managed to bring in the very highly-rated Jonny Williams on loan from Crystal Palace. A defeat against Wigan left Ipswich 5 points of the play offs, and with a week that would define their season – fixtures against play off rivals Brighton, Derby and Nottingham Forest.

These games became must win matches, and the usually cautious McCarthy gave Williams a free role behind Daryl Murphy and tasked him with getting on the ball and making things happen – 2 Man of the Match displays and 6 points later, and with favourable results elsewhere – Ipswich are now 2 points off the play offs with a game against manager-less and out of form Nottingham Forest to come.

A win on Saturday, in what is due to be the last game of Williams’ loan spell, and who would bet against McCarthy’s boys making the play offs?

He has shown himself to be an equal of any manager at this level over last 18 months and his experience of taking teams out of this league will prove invaluable as we enter ‘squeaky bum time’ – he has been there, done that and got the t-shirt.

With Ipswich having a favourable run of games at home as the season ends Ipswich fans are beginning to believe that they can gate crash the play off zone, and no side would relish a trip to Portman Road to take on a side that may lack quality but never lack fight.

When McCarthy was Wolves manager he joked that the ‘MM’ on his jumper didn’t stand for Merlin the Magician – if he can take Ipswich from bottom of the Championship to the play offs in just 18 months, effectively using only free transfers – then the natives of Suffolk will begin to question that assertion.

Written by Joe Fairs

Joe tweets at @joefairs

Dreaming of the Arch

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

StuartGraySWFCSince I last wrote a blog the fortunes of Sheffield Wednesday have changed quite significantly; for the better.  Even taking into account a 3-0 defeat at home to Wigan, which somewhat flattered them, we can be happy with our current situation.  We have created a gap between ourselves and the bottom three.  Whilst there is still work to do, I am now more than confident we will secure another season of Championship football.

First and foremost we must praise the man who has led the turn around.  I don’t think there were many people who would have picked Stuart Gray as our next permanent ‘Head Coach’ following Dave Jones’ dismissal.  I’d go as far as to say more than a few didn’t want him at all.  I’m not keen on people now slating Jones for things he said and did as our manager.  He’s in the past now, we don’t have to look back and think I told you so.

It’s interesting when you look at the difference Gray has made to the team.  We’ve seen a change in the style of football we play.  There is definitely more intricate passing and keeping the ball on the ground.  Chris Maguire returned from a loan spell and is finally fulfilling his potential.  He’s scoring goals and producing good performances.  He has proven to be a key player in our recent good run.  Being brought in from the wilderness he seems re-invigorated and his confidence is there for all to see.  His injury time winner against Barnsley was testament to how he has worked hard and taken his chance.  I sincerely hope he pushes on from here, as he is clearly a talented footballer.

Liam Palmer is playing consistently well and has made the right back birth his own.  Personally, I think he has got to grips with physical side of the game as the season has progressed.  Lewis Buxton will have a tough task to regain his place in the team.  It’s a blow to lose Jose Semedo to injury as he has been playing the way he did in our League One promotion campaign.  It finally seems he has found his feet at this level.

The defence has looked better, despite numerous changes of personnel at the back.  It’s worth mentioning Joe Mattock too, another player who has played very little football since joining the club however he has recently shown his worth.  If we can get a settled partnership at the heart of the defence it will only serve to improve us further.

The biggest change for me is the confidence the players have.  Granted the wins have fuelled this, but the turnaround from before Christmas has been dramatic.  Beating Leeds 6-0 also helped!

We now have a break from the rigours of Championship football and entertain Charlton in the FA Cup.  It’s a very winnable game; Charlton will feel that way too.  The winners of this tie will be rubbing their hands, and will be one game away from Wembley.  With one other Football League team guaranteed a place in the final eight, possibly our cross-city rivals, and the Premier league top four facing each other, this is our best chance yet of making our first visit to the national stadium.

We’ve had a while in the doldrums and outside the elite of English football.  Since relegation in 2000 we haven’t faced any of England’s top clubs.  We played Manchester City in 2006 but that was a very different prospect to the team they have today.  Even if Wembley isn’t to be, playing against Chelsea, Arsenal or Liverpool would certainly be welcomed

Some people say the semi-finals shouldn’t be at Wembley.  If you go regularly you may feel that way, but for me and the rest of our support, we dream of heading under the arch for the first time.  We would sell our allocation without question and offer a nice reminder that there is life outside the Premier League.  The magic of the cup will always exist.  It may not be as prominent as in the past, but in certain circumstances it will come to the fore.

Before any of that, there’s the small matter of Charlton.  An expectant Hillsborough will need to remember that they are on a par with us and will be equally motivated to advance.  We will need to get behind the team and hope they can keep the Wembley dream alive.

It’s a long time since we had some national recognition in a cup competition.  2014 could see that happen

Written by Carl Mullooly, We Are Going Up’s Sheffield Wednesday blogger

Carl tweets at @MulOwl

Ginger Mourinho has littlest horse at a canter

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

SD

Jose Mourinho recently described his Chelsea side as a “little horse” in the race for the Premier League title. The analogy was met with varying levels of scorn from around the game, but Burnley’s answer to the Special One must have read the description with a wryer smile than most. Sean Dyche, known to Clarets fans as the “Ginger Mourinho”, has spent a little over £700,000 during his tenure as Clarets boss, this spent over a year after he became boss, and yet he has guided one of the pre-season relegation favourites into the top two of the Championship for almost the entire season. Compared to the thoroughbreds of Leicester, QPR, Derby and Nottingham Forest, with foreign owners, big crowds and bigger budgets, Burnley are a mere pony, and yet the Clarets have been taking hurdles at blistering pace and look set, against all predictions, to stay the course.

Dyche himself deserves a huge slice of the credit for Burnley’s league position. His position at the end of last season was, and it seems strange to reflect on this now, slightly shaky – the Clarets only secured Championship football with 7 points from the last 3 league games at the end of last season, and the months preceding it had been marked by inconsistency, some mind-numbingly boring games (the 0-0 bore draw with Middlesbrough a particular lowlight), and an over-reliance on the goals of Charlie Austin that saw the Clarets limp to a flattering 11th place finish. Dyche was not well liked by a sizable minority of supporters (some of whom nicknamed him “Yawn Dyche”), and when the manager attributed poor home form to the over-expectation of Clarets fans, there was a noticeable tension between the two camps, which is still in evidence on occasion this season- “They weren’t calling me that last season!” was Dyche’s reaction to a recent question about the “Ginger Mourinho” moniker. This is perhaps, in part, a reaction from Burnley supporters to the devastating way Owen Coyle went from hero to zero in one fell swoop, but an atmosphere of mutual respect with the odd outpouring of love seems to have developed, and it has been fairly impossible for Clarets fans to resist Dyche’s charm offensive in the form of results since the start of the season. Dyche has the players well-drilled, super fit, and playing a terrific mix of long and short passing, flair and panache in the attack with a rock solid defence, and has brought the best out of some old favourites while bringing in some terrific new additions.

While these new additions have been low price and yet high quality (Tom Heaton and David Jones, solid top-end Championship performers on free transfers, were steals, and Scott Arfield, released by lowly Huddersfield last year, has been an all-action revelation), some praise must be given to previous manager Eddie Howe, who when given money spent it, for the most part, extremely wisely. Danny Ings and Sam Vokes, at £1.4m between them, are the only strike partnership in the country to rival Liverpool’s SAS for goals, and both have become sterling performers from bit-part players under Dyche’s management- Ings is supremely talented and has added goals, goals and more goals to his game, while Vokes has been transformed from a slow, lumbering, Grant-Holt-without-the-goals to a lean, powerful heading machine who has already chipped in with more goals than his most prolific ever season, that achieved at third-tier Bournemouth. Dean Marney, signed for £500,000 by the much-maligned Brian Laws, looks a new man, a box-to-box ballwinner and sprayer nicknamed “Deaniesta” by the same fans who grumbled when Dyche handed him a new contract in the summer. £1m a piece full-backs Ben Mee and Kieran Trippier rarely look troubled by opposing wingers and Trippier has continued his scintillating attacking form from last season, already achieving double figures in assists from the right-back berth. £1m captain Jason Shackell looks a class above in every department and he is assisted ably by 36 year old Michael Duff- an incredible performer in his testimonial year, and a steal 10 years ago for £30,000.

Dyche didn’t inherit as bad a squad as the pre-season doom mongers would have you believe, then, but the credit for adding to it and moulding it into the team which has only lost 3 games this season, has an unbeaten home record stretching back to March of last year, and has kept much larger clubs with frankly obscene squads (QPR reserve keeper Julio Cesar could probably rival Dyche’s transfer budget with the spare change down the back of his sofa) at arm’s length with a mixture of superb attacking football, a miserly defence, and a winning mentality belongs squarely at his door. It would take a collapse of Devon Loch proportions for the littlest horse to finish outside the top 6 now. Don’t bet against them pipping the favourites to the finishing post.

Written by Tom Whittaker, We Are Going Up’s Burnley Blogger

Tom tweets at @tomclaret

Second season syndrome not a problem for Terriers

Monday, February 10th, 2014

549754330After last season’s heart stopping final day, where at one point Huddersfield Town were going down with 57 points, this season is by far a more enjoyable experience!

Manager Mark Robins is showing himself to be a very adept manager, making some quality signings while also making good tactical decisions and substitutions to affect games. The recent 1-0 win against FA Cup holders Wigan Athletic showed his acumen as a manager. With his side being overrun, he took off Nakhi Wells and brought on Danny Ward, thus changing his attack from two strikers to one, and bringing the wingers into the game. Five minutes from time, a stunning strike from Adam Clayton sealed the points, and cemented Town’s place in midtable.

As for his transfer dealings, Robins has made some exciting signings, most notably that of Bradford City starlet Wells. The 23-year-old has been a key part of The Bantams’ revival in recent seasons, playing a pivotal part in their sensational League Cup run and playoff Promotion last season. He has cost Town an “undisclosed club record fee” (our previous record is £1.2m) and has made a decent start to life in the Blue & White, scoring in his first two appearances and showing signs of his potential.

Also joining in the winter window is Joe Lolley, the forward widely regarded as the hottest prospect in non league football. Signed from Kidderminster for £250,000 plus add-ons, he is definitely one for the future. He turned down Peterborough United to move to West Yorkshire, and when you consider Posh’s track record with non league players, Town fans should be very excited about this young man.

Of course, the biggest success story for Robins has been the permanent signing of James Vaughan. Previous manager Simon Grayson initially signed the former Everton man on loan for last season, and Robins made the deal permanent last summer. Vaughan has been fantastic in Town’s attack, scoring fourteen goals last season – his best ever return both in terms of goals and appearances – and has hit a dozen so far this campaign. He is now refinding his form and fitness after a spell out injured. His return for the run in could be crucial for the club’s outside hopes of a playoff push.

It is often described as the “difficult second season” but so far for Town, it is looking to be a season of midtable safety and after four heart attack inducing seasons, I for one couldn’t be happier! We are currently ten points off the top six, and thirteen clear of the drop, so in terms of season-on-season progress, it is fantastic.

In chairman Dean Hoyle – a lifelong Town fan and season ticket holder – we have the best possible leader for our club, and the entire hierarchy at the club points to slow and steady progress. We are unlikely to overspend like we have under previous regimes, instead trying to pick up young talented players, and eventually bring through our own academy products.

It is a very good time to be a fan of Huddersfield Town, and I am excited for what the future holds.

Written by James Bartaby, We Are Going Up’s Huddersfield Town blogger

James tweets at @jamesb5374

Another chaotic 48 hours in the life of Leeds United

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

cellino
I know the last day of the transfer window is chaotic at all clubs, but at Elland Road on Friday night it was taken to a different level. With the imminent takeover of the club by the eccentric Italian Massimo Cellino, the decision was made to relieve Brian McDermott of his duties as Leeds United manager.

But who actually sacked him?

GFH strenuously deny approving McDermott’s dismissal, and all of a sudden Cellino has claimed he didn’t want to sack him, but that it was the current owners who wanted the manager out. The ins-and-outs of it all are near to insanity. Plus to put the icing on the lunacy cake, McDermott is back at the club, as the board revealed after Saturday’s 5-1 hammering of Huddersfield that he was still in charge of Leeds.

Cellino’s name has been associated with Leeds United for less than a week and he has already tarnished our reputation. To start, he tried to get former Middlesbrough defender Gianluca Festa in the dugout for Tuesday’s game against Ipswich, immediately undermining McDermott before he even had the reins of the club. Cellino works on the ideology of a “coach not a manager”, again signalling his intent to get rid of the McDermott.

Off the field, his track record hardly shows him as a saint. With previous charges of fraud and a case of embezzlement looming over him, is he really the man to be trusted in running this precious club? He has had 20 years experience at Serie A side Cagliari investing millions into the club. So from another perspective, isn’t this what Leeds need, a man willing to pay the money to make us better?

His introduction to English football couldn’t have gone much worse, with hoards of Leeds fans chasing and barricading his taxi at the Elland Road complex after the news of the sacking broke.

But it was the public execution of Brian which really caused the chaos. The manner in which McDermott handles the players, the team, the media and the club is impeccable. He holds Leeds with the highest of honour, and the fans hold McDermott in the same light. He loves Leeds, and Leeds love him.

His bond with the fans is second to none, his philosophy of Leeds needing to be “one club” involving fans, players and staff alike has rejuvenated Elland Road. The support McDermott received at Saturday’s game was outstanding, and the fans were a credit to themselves. For 90 minutes, the Kop end choir sang “Oh Brian McDermott” and “We want out Brian back”, not even stopping to celebrate a Leeds goal, but continued belting out the hymns louder and louder.

McDermott has the foundations of his team laid and this season has shown at times it is beginning to mould into shape. The Barcelona 3-4-3 has been ditched after dreadful performances against Rochdale and Sheffield Wedneday; at the end of the day we have Michael Brown and Lee Peltier, not Xavi and Dani Alves. The favoured 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 is the Leeds United way, pace down the wings and solid down the spine. And with the form of newly appointed captain Ross McCormack, surely things can only get better after one of the worst weeks Leeds have ever faced off the field.

But with the Football League still to make a decision on Cellino’s proposed takeover, will it be Forza Leeds United, or Arrivederci Massimo?

Written by Josh Westerman, We Are Going Up’s Leeds United blogger

Josh tweets at @MJoshWesterman23

Til Death Do Us Part

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

QPR_2981575Considering my grand pop lived in the dark and dingy high rise flats in Brentford, overlooking Brentford’s Griffin Park, I consider my self incredibly lucky that I am a Queens Park Rangers fan. Not that I have anything against the Bees, but the following events that led to my passion for QPR will never leave me.

My grand pop would take the pilgrimage to Loftus Road every other Saturday, walking the five miles there and five miles back with a paper tucked under his arm on the way, and a match day programme tucked under his arm on the way back. He was a quiet man, with a twinkle in his eye, that could turn any small boys mood instantly, much like my father today. That programme, would end up in my hands and as I flicked through the pages showing Ray Wilkins, Clive Wilson and Les Ferdinand, I had a connection before I had even ventured to W12. My father and grand pop would talk at length about the Rs, and I would sit, wide eyed listening intently to every word spoken. I knew then, it would never leave me.

On the 26th of October 1991, my grand pop collapsed and died on the corner of Blomfontien Road and Uxbridge Road, having watch his beloved Hoops beat Everton 3-1. I can distinctly remember watching teletext, giving a cheer with my dad when the FT icon popped up, and then a few hours later a knock at the door. Her majesty’s constabulary stood there, informing my dad that Grand pop had died. What happened in the immediate aftermath, is almost as hazy as the aftermath of most away trips now, but out of the empty feeling I had developed, and the crying myself to sleep for weeks, came a beacon of Rangers-tinted happiness.

My grand pop lived next door to a beautiful Afro-Caribbean girl, who always smiled and said hello whenever we visited. She was devastated when he passed away, and then found a way to ease this small boys pain. Her boyfriend had played for Dover FC with Les Ferdinand and was still in contact with him. So as Christmas passed and spring followed, I was told I would be going to my first game at Loftus Road in March of 1992. My grand pops next door neighbour’s boyfriend hadn’t just got me and my dad tickets. He’d got a stadium tour, top seats and the chance to meet all the players both before and after the game. I got a free scarf and was looked after like a celebrity.

QPR beat Man City 4-0 (Ferdinand 2, Clive Wilson pen, Simon Barker) and the smile never left this nine year old boys face. It grew bigger when I met Les Ferdinand after the game and he stood for half an hour talking to me. It grew bigger when he then made time for me after every game I attended to come outside and talk to me and my dad, never forgetting my name.

I had a new family and it wore blue and white hoops. And why do I still love QPR? Because it is still a family. I cried my eyes out when rangers secured promotion and shrugged my shoulders when they were relegated two years later. Through all the turmoil, all the Jo*e Bosin*was and Ma*k Hug*es, all the Flavio and Bernie, and all the rubbish I can still shout “You Rs” across the street at someone and have a conversation about the club, I can take my girl and my friends to the upper loft and they are welcome, I can call the supporters my family. Because we are QPR.

And on the pitch? We continue to stutter our way to a decent season, with nervousness from the stands transmitting to the pitch, and less than convincing victories papering over our frailties. Will we get there? Who knows.

Still, can’t wait to see the family again.

Written by Paul Mitchell, We Are Going Up’s Queens Park Rangers blogger

Paul tweets at @MitchtheMod

A Fine Mess

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

BWFC

After last Saturday’s humiliating defeat at Reading it leaves Bolton Wanderers supporters wondering what can be salvaged from a wreckage of a season. Bolton started the season as one of the bookmaker’s favourites for promotion and with good reason. A strong finish to the previous season saw Bolton just miss the play-offs on goal difference and the summer saw a supposedly strong squad strengthened with what looked like a few decent signings.

However after 26 games Bolton have only managed a meagre 28 points and currently sit 4 points above the bottom three. With confidence shattered after the mauling at Reading it could become a lot worse for Bolton as bigger clubs have dropped out of the championship in recent years.

The one hope to cling to is that the club can somehow shift some of the players who are earning Premier League wages, in return for sub-standard performances on the pitch, to make room for some new signings in the remainder of the transfer window and freshen up the squad. Following last Saturdays game Dougie Freedman was very critical of his players claiming a nucleus of them where not good enough for the championship. This echoes his comments after a heavy defeat at Blackburn Rovers earlier in the season. That time he claimed that players would be sold and big changes were about to happen, they didn’t. As hard as Dougie Freedman tries to move on players other clubs aren’t willing to touch them, as was the case back in August. This transfer window has been equally disappointing so far with the only business being an extension to Neil Danns’ loan and little rumour of new players being brought in.

One player I’m sure most Bolton supporters would like to see back at the club is Kevin McNaughton whose loan spell coincided with the some of the team’s best performance’s this season. It seems to be characters like this that the Bolton squad lacks, players who know how to win in the championship and are willing to work hard for it, although it would be nice to have any players who knew how to win at the moment. With only four fit ‘defenders’ this is an area that desperately needs strengthening, especially at full back and a proper centre half wouldn’t do any harm. Further forward with Jermaine Beckford injured and David N’gog looking likely to leave another striker is a must with Danny Graham so far the only player linked.

As for Bolton’s current managerial situation there seems to be a difference of opinion between supporters as to whether Dougie Freedman should be relieved of his duties or be given more time. I personally would give him a little more time to shift the big earners from the squad and bring in his own players. However with the size of the clubs debt’s that were recently in the news it may be a lot more difficult to bring players in than Freedman could have possibly imagined when he first took the job. He often speaks of developing young players and his plans for turning Bolton into a trading club but there hasn’t been much evidence of this so far. He has signed a number of young players for the development squad who have achieved some eye catching results but Freedman seems reluctant to blood them in the first team. I’m sure they could not do any worse than the current first team and with injury problems again hitting the squad now would be as good a time as any to get them involved. His record with permanent signings has been mixed so far but he does seem to have an eye for a player as shown from his time with Crystal Palace where he was able to build a solid efficient team.

In terms of his tactical approach to games Freedman seems to strongly favour a cautious style of play often with one striker and a player in the ‘hole’ just behind. This has not been successful so far this season and helps to explain why Bolton has won just two games at home. Visiting teams are happy to sit back and have often look comfortable whilst always looking a threat on the counter attack up against a Bolton defence that does not keep many clean sheets. Away from home Bolton have picked up a reasonable four wins but have also suffered heavy defeats at Blackburn, Leicester and Reading. Freedman seems to be trying to find a happy medium between defensive solidarity and attacking flair but it would seem his instincts will always favour a more cautious approach. Towards the end of last season when Bolton were making a play-off push the manager seemed a lot more flexible with his tactics and would pick the team depended on the opposition, with several different formations used. When Bolton adopted a more traditional 4-4-2 in the recent FA cup victory over Blackpool they looked more fluent and it was surprising that many of the stand out performers from that game were than left out of the following match. Freedman may find himself looked upon more favourably by the dissenters if he was willing to adopt a less cautious approach in home games and involve some of the younger players in the first team.

As for the rest of the season hopefully Bolton can avoid relegation and start to climb the league with the help of some new signings in the remainder of the transfer window. An FA cup run would also give the supporters a much needed boost and with Cardiff City at the Reebok Stadium this weekend a place in the last 16 is achievable.

With the eye watering debts that the club has managed to accumulate despite a sustained period in the Premier League, a return to the top flight looks to be a long way off and if the current players don’t knuckle down a drop into the third tier could be a real possibility.  For all of the Bolton squad’s supposed ability, “hard work will always beat talent if talent doesn’t work hard”.

Written by James O’Loughlin, We Are Going Up’s Bolton Wanderers blogger

James tweets at @james_O_L

Wilson latest to be charged with working miracles

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

DW

There were mixed feelings around Oakwell when Danny Wilson returned to the club in mid-December and five games into the second coming of the Messiah those sentiments still exist.

One win from five contests hardly represents a stellar turnaround in form but two clean sheets in those matches is in fact a big improvement given that the Reds managed just one in 20 beforehand. This may well be the vast experience of Wilson paying off where those with less know-how that came before him have failed.

It cannot be ignored though that there have already been two more home defeats under Wilson  and the side are still rooted to the bottom of the Championship table. The former Northern Irish international has also employed a pretty risky strategy in the transfer market putting the vast majority of the squad up for sale.

Scott Wiseman, David Perkins, Jim McNulty and Chris Dagnall have already been shown the exit door and there could be one or two more following them before the end of January. In their place have come Ryan McLaughlin and Brek Shea on loan whilst Liam Lawrence has signed on a free transfer.

The two loanees from the Premier League are largely unknown qualities but have shown promising signs early on whilst Lawrence, surprisingly only just 32, could turn out to be a very shrewd signing.

Shea and McLaughlin join Marcus Pedersen and Peter Ramage on loan at Oakwell which suggests the club are hardly looking long-term in their planning. This is no change from the norm though with every season since the return to the Championship in 2006 being about avoiding relegation and little else.

Wilson is simply the next on an ever-growing list of managers brought in to work a miracle in keeping the team up and then attempt to maintain it the following season. David Flitcroft produced the ultimate escape act last year but when he could not maintain those performances at the start of this season he was dismissed, the same as Keith Hill, Simon Davey and to a lesser extent Mark Robins before him.

These men have received little reward for their efforts and ironically it could be that Wilson is given more time than they ever were for failing to achieve what they did. In all likelihood Barnsley will be relegated this season but, bar a complete capitulation, Danny will most likely keep his job. As long as he competes in the upper echelons of League One, which he has a good record of doing, then he will hang onto the role still further and potentially return to the Championship a hero again.

Whether the Messiah can work a miracle or not, he is set for a longer stint at the helm than any of the mere mortals before him.

Written by Phil Haigh, We Are Going Up’s Barnsley blogger

Phil tweets at @philhaigh_

Uwe’s Revolution

Monday, January 20th, 2014

uros

I had a slightly different article in mind before Wigan Athletic’s disappointing 3-0 defeat at Doncaster on Saturday, but one game doesn’t make a season, as Uwe Rosler continues his attempts at rescuing ours. From what we’ve seen since he was appointed, how we performed in the Doncaster game wasn’t typical of a Uwe team.

We seemed sluggish, poor defensively and devoid of any creativity. Yes we can make excuses – we still have three centre-backs out injured, we’ve played a lot of games already and Grant Holt wasn’t there to offer any encouragement from the bench (and to eat most of the biscuits) but excuses don’t put points on the board. Plus Doncaster were by far the better team and one of my bugbears is not seeing the winning team given any credit, so fair play to them.

Let’s put the defeat down as an inevitable slip – as fans, I think we shouldn’t have got over-confident at beating Bournemouth 3-0 last week and similarly we shouldn’t get too downhearted by a defeat at Doncaster – it’s just one game in a season of many. Prior to that, we had gone eight unbeaten and if we want to get in that top six, we must get back to stringing those results together as soon as possible and use this game as a lesson.

Prior to the weekend, things have looked great. Uwe came in and installed his straight-talking, no-nonsense pressing style of play and the players responded. We’re scoring goals now, something that Owen Coyle couldn’t get us to do, and we’re actually setting up with a game plan in mind. The recent win at Derby saw us change the way we play in order to ‘do something different’ and surprise the opposition.

The last time we saw a team surprised with a debilitate game plan was when Derby hit us with high-tempo and three goals in the first half at the DW a month beforehand. We’re no longer setting up and playing the same tactics week-in week-out, which was one part of Coyle’s downfall. The main question Wigan fans have been asking though is: What if Uwe was appointed in the summer, would we be in the same position? With the desire and professionalism shown from the players since his appointment (apart from Saturday!), I’d say not.

I genuinely believe the players, the majority of whom have come from the Premier League, have found it difficult to adapt to the Championship. There’s been many a moaning about a refereeing performance, as we’ve seen other sides getting away with challenges that would be worth a yellow in the Premier League, and it’s just got me thinking that perhaps the players we have

lack that Championship knowhow and struggle to control games. We were a team in the Premier league who had to absorb pressure and hit teams on the counter attack, in this division, we have to attack and take the game to the opposition. Maybe that’s the problem?

Maybe it’ll take a new squad a couple of years to adapt to that role? You’ve seen the qualities of Leicester, who have been knocking around the top six for the last few years, but are now leading the way. Cardiff, another team who spent a couple of years just missing out, finally got promotion last year. What we need is stability, under a competent regime, one that can get the team playing good football; and after barely 10 games, Uwe already looks like the man who can provide it.

We’ve already done some business in the transfer window, the biscuit stealer has gone to Aston Villa for the season and this release in wages has seen us bring in young defender, Ty Browning on loan from Everton and Nicky Maynard from Cardiff. Browning is a promising defender, but Maynard is the experienced Championship one. Hopefully he can be the fit Nicky Maynard that was scoring the odd goal at Bristol City, rather than the injured one at West Ham and Cardiff.

Speaking of the transfer window – I’ve been thinking back to the summer and to be fair to Owen Coyle, he brought in some decent players, Leon Barnett and Nick Powell have been superb. Then there’s the others. Even though I was happy at the time to sign such a revered Football League goalscorer like Grant Holt, I was mystified as to why he was offered a three-year contract. He’s 32, doesn’t have the best fitness record and presumably on a massive wage.

It’s not the Wigan way of doing things (not since Paul Jewell started the strategy of signing ‘up and coming’ players and getting rid of the expensive ‘has-beens’ that we collected during the early part of Dave Whelan’s reign at the club.) Maybe that’s another reason why Coyle left? Perhaps he persuaded the club to go for Holt and said that the deal was worth it?

Two goals, one deflected off his thigh, the other a penalty, suggest different. Whatever the reasons, the new manager has only been left with the option of pursuing loan deals, in order to keep the club’s profits intact, which makes a mockery of people’s arguments that ex-Premier League sides spend parachute payments like Holty does on greyhounds. Unlike his predecessor though, you get the feeling that Uwe relies on his own judgement (rather than on ‘contacts’), knows the Football League and what we need to progress, so it should be interesting to see where we are after the January window.

Reaching the playoffs is the target and up until the weekend, I was confident of doing that. I’m more cautious now, but we have 21 games left, so still plenty of points to play for.  I am confident though that Uwe is the man to lead the charge again next year. Unless he falls out with everyone and signs players that are less fit than me, on huge contracts.

Written by Daniel Gee, We Are Going Up’s Wigan Athletic blogger

Daniel tweets at @danieljgee