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Archive for the ‘League One’ Category

Zak is Back

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

Gab‘It was the right time to move on – some people have been here too long.’ Darragh MacAnthony, speaking about Gabby Zakuani after he left the club for Greek side FC Kalloni in a very frank interview on 3rd April.

Fast-forward through a miserable defeat over two-legs to Leyton Orient in the play-off semi-finals to the evening of the 6th of June…

Cue chatter across Twitter and popular forum londonroad.net being dominated by the return of Zakuani. Was Darragh just ‘fishing’ and Gabby acting as the bait, to dangle a Zakuani shaped piece of crill in front of Posh fans? Well two days later, after some more Huddersfield related ‘banter’, Posh fans got this news…

ZAK IS BACK.

Gabby signs a new two-year contract, citing that ‘re-signing for the club is like a homecoming’.

Second time lucky

‘I know the saying is ‘never go back’ but I don’t believe in that.’ The words of Darren Ferguson after his return to the club, just fifteen months after his sacking and the bumpy break-up-holidayish-thing which was Preston North End.

Did he believe it when he said it? Perhaps not. The man needed work. Especially after an awful season at Preston North End, which no doubt lowered his managerial stock considerably. However after Paul Taylor’s second spell and now the return of Zak, it’s got to be said that the man is not afraid of kicking a certain cliché right in the spuds and telling it to get stuffed.

Fergie’s immediate return was obviously lauded as a success. Posh stormed into the Championship after a second half of the season which involved some of the most exciting football seen at London Road – followed by the club staying in the Championship against all odds. But since then, Posh have seen relegation and a stagnant campaign in League One which led to many fans falling/jumping off the much subscribed #InFergieWeTrust wagon.

So with Zak coming back to Posh what does it mean for the sides fortunes next year? And what will it mean for the Posh players who are still at the club?

Where will Zak fit in?

One thing is for sure here. Gabby Zakuani has come back to London Road to be first choice in Darren Ferguson’s back four – alongside Jack Baldwin. The ex-Hartlepool defender impressed in his performances in the play-offs and in games against MK Dons and Coventry; performances which lead some fans to liken him to Ryan Bennett.

What was apparent though, especially during the play-offs, is that Baldwin struggles with extreme physicality. When Baldwin has come up against big strong centre forwards he has failed to hold his own – with Kevin Lisbie, in particular, dominating the slightly built defender. Baldwin is a ball player and a good defender. But with the physical battles which League One will throw-up in mind, Fergie has brought in Zakuani.

The advantages of bringing him back, over the importing of an unknown entity from the lower leagues, is that the coach, the fans and the players will know exactly what to expect from Zak. He’s not the classiest footballer and is a keen purveyor of the type of passes which are sure to make fans and Bobby O, if he is still around, sphincters tighten in earnest regularly throughout the season. But the man heads it and kicks it and gives 100%. Any Posh fan knows that without a doubt. His performances in the season past left a lot to desire – however the same could be said of most of the team’s top earners and most experienced players. On top form Gabby Zakuani will undoubtedly be a class act at League One level.

We saw him a few seasons ago, alongside Bennett in League One, play superbly. With Michael Bostwick he was solid. Alongside Craig Morgan he was a colossus. Posh fans will be hoping on that evidence, another cliché can take a bashing this season.

‘Form is temporary, class is permanent’

At this level Gabby Zakuani unquestionably has the class to make a huge impact for Posh.

What is Michael Bostwick?

With Zakuani’s arrival questions must be asked of the future of players who occupy a similar position. Are they considered to be good enough by Fergie? If not, why are they still at the club?

The question I want to answer though is one which has plagued me about a few Posh players in recent times. Most recently it has been ‘What is Danny Swanson?’ A fleet footed winger? A creative number 10 threading passes through? An agile midfield pivot on the right side of a diamond? Perhaps we’ll learn next season, eh? That’s of course if the much lambasted player signs a new contract.

The question for now is ‘What is Michael Bostwick?’. He arrived from Stevenage off the back of a campaign where he’d played almost solely in central midfield and scored seven goals. He then slotted into Posh’s Championship midfield the way a Cyclops foot would slide into a ballerina’s pair of point shoes. With Shaun Brisley flattering to deceive alongside Zakuani, Bostwick was moved back to centre-back and seemed to find his place there. In midfield he seemed to slow play down and often get left behind, whilst in defence – he wasn’t imperious – but he was certainly more proficient than he was in midfield.

Then after relegation and starting the season in League One at the heart of Posh’s defence, as arguably the club’s best defender Bostwick was moved into midfield. Why? That move followed Posh’s mid-season slide, so Fergie had to change something. Did moving Bostwick forward make much difference? Arguably not! He again looked sluggish and didn’t provide any of the incisive passing the McCann’s, Rowe’s, Coutts’ and even the Paynes’ have provided in the past from central midfield.

But, with Zakuani returning and Bostwick (last season’s most used outfield player, with 40 appearances) most definitely staying around the first team, it seems Posh fans should expect to see Bostwick in the midfield role for which he was expensively acquired.

Of course it is a worry that Fergie still after two seasons, doesn’t know where one of our most experienced and arguably most talented player’s best position is. But hey, Tommy Rowe played in central midfield a lot when he’s quite obviously a left-back… Or a left-winger… Oh god.

The end for Shaun Brisley?

Nathaniel Knight-Percival has left London Road, leaving Brisley, Baldwin and youngster Ricardo Santos as the only specialised central defenders at the club. As form goes it seems obvious that Baldwin will be a first team stalwart for the campaign to come, and as mentioned Gabby will not have been signed to warm the bench. So with the middle of the back-four effectively printed on the team sheet before the season starts in August where does that leave Shaun Brisley?

A bastion of petulance on the pitch – perhaps not in the same way Lee Tomlin was – and regrettably not the footballer he thinks he is, Shaun Brisley looks set for a season of strain upon the gluteus maximus.

He may have been Man of the Match in Posh’s Johnstone Paint Trophy Final – but indisputably his performances during the season have perturbed, frightened and even annoyed many Posh fans. He’s had good games for sure. Nevertheless he lacks the kind of consistency that top teams must demand of their central defenders. The blips in his concentration which have affected Posh over the past two and a half seasons have been plenty and without a move on the horizon (that I’m aware of) the ex-Macclesfield man will, absent of injuries, likely be third choice for the lion’s share of the campaign.

Is there anyone BETTER out there?

When Gabby Zakuani was signed again, Posh had only made one other signing. Jon Taylor from Shrewsbury – a superb young talent who ticks all the boxes of a MacAnthony/Fergie era signing; young, talented, hungry, petit and pacey.

More recently Peterborough United has seen Erhun Aksel Oztumer arrive. Boxes ticked once more.

Zak of course fits the bill far less than say a Baldwin, a Taylor or an Oztumer, but he brings with him bags of experience for the level at which Posh are competing. A quality which when coupled with the class Zakuani brings to the team, cannot be found easily or cheaply.
Baldwin is obviously a phenomenal talent – looking to emulate the feat of Norwich’s Ryan Bennett. Nonetheless he’s a player who will only benefit from the experience and guile which a player like Zakuani brings.

Darragh knows it:

And it’s quite obvious that Fergie believes it as well.

The verdict of course will be passed at the end of the season. But, in re-signing Zakuani, Fergie has made a bold statement and nailed his colours to the mast. There will be no mid-season departures without uproar, so Fergie will need to hope that his ‘Plan Z’ will come good. That, or he’ll most likely find Darragh getting ready to go over the side on the #InFergieWeTrust wagon.

Written by John Fernandez, We Are Going Up’s Peterborough United Blogger

John tweets @johnfernandez1

Relentless Reds back in the second tier

Saturday, June 7th, 2014

IMG_1768Well, how do you sum up a season like that?  Championship football beckons for the Millers but fans will be entitled to scratch their heads in disbelief at what has happened – not just this campaign but over the last six years.  There were certainly plenty of jaded and perplexed looks amongst the hordes hugging strangers and swaying to ‘New York, New York’ in the celebrations afterwards.  I confess to having a grin the size of the Wembley arch for much of the following week.  I must apologise to my work colleagues for that.

To go from the very real possibility of going out of existence to the two back-to-back promotions via being homeless for four years and the bright new dawn of New York Stadium has been nothing short of staggering.  Rotherham United have quite literally been reborn under Tony Stewart and I was so pleased to see him hold aloft the trophy after all the tireless work he has put in.  But of course Steve Evans deserves a lot of praise too, he’s known nothing but success for the last four years and if it wasn’t for his colourful history I’m sure we’d have a job on our hands keeping him at the club.

In my last blog I called on fellow fans to start believing in this team if they did not already (probably hypocritical of me in hindsight!), as we looked forward with trepidation to the second leg of our semi-final with Preston North End.  We needn’t have worried.  This team has spirit and desire, we know that, but it also has matchwinners all over the park.  1-0 down early on after losing concentration at a Paul Gallagher free kick?  We re-group, Ben Pringle gives a masterclass in crossing the ball – we win 3-1.

Two goals down at Wembley and staring down the barrel of defeat?  They come out for the second half fired up and are back on terms by the hour mark – thanks to a brace and a howitzer of an equaliser from Alex Revell.  Approaching the penalty shootout with players dead on their feet and miss our second penalty?  Adam Collin becomes our unlikely hero with two stunning saves to turn around our fortunes once again, but this time with a decisive blow.

OPTA stats have revealed that Rotherham this last year have recovered the most points from losing positions in League One, describing this as ‘relentless’.  I couldn’t agree more.  We had no real right to come back from 3-1 down at Crewe on the opening day but sure enough we did.  All the last minute goals that flew in were crucial to us keeping up the pace, the Revell winner against Leyton Orient at home in February being a particular watershed moment.

So, the Championship.  What can we expect?  We have been at this level on a few occasions in our history, most recently for 4 years from 2001 to 2005, but never for too long before we tend to tumble back down again.  The difference between this time and the Ronnie Moore era though is that the club is now an altogether more enterprising package.  I recall a period two seasons into our stay in the old Division One when Alan Lee and Darren Byfield were striking up a fine partnership between them and we sat in 6th spot in February – and many were calling for our chairman at the time, the late Ken Booth, to get his hand in his pocket to help sustain the challenge.

Of course he didn’t and we were relegated the following season.  Then we were at a crumbling Millmoor when funds were tight and prospects were slim.  Now we have a new stadium with room to expand, some money to spend and bags of potential.  The model to follow for lower league clubs looking to progress is most definitely Swansea City, who also came back from the brink before their ascent from the basement to the Premier League.  Why shouldn’t Rotherham be next?  Tony Stewart for one dares to dream.

The signings we are already making indicate to me at least that we don’t intend on just making the numbers up.  Not since Mark Robins played for us can I remember being wowed by a ‘name’ signing as with Matt Derbyshire.  He certainly knows where the net is and he’s what you’d call a seasoned pro at this level.  Add to that the solid acquisition of Scott Loach in goal and promising youngster Conor Newton in midfield and I think we’ve set the barometer reassuringly high for the type of player we’re looking to capture, and are capable of getting.  Top of the shopping list are the talents of James Tavernier and Richie Smallwood who were outstanding loan recruits for us last season – and if the papers are to be believed – SPL goal-getter Stevie May, who we might have to break our transfer record to sign.  Evans does like getting his business done early, so the next week or so will be interesting.

Of course I’m under no illusion about the size of the task ahead of us, a glance at the grounds we will be gracing next year is enough to send a shiver up the spine, many of them not long since hosting Premiership football.   It is hard though not to shake off the optimism that comes with winning games, or to not be swayed by Evans’ boundless enthusiasm and passion for the game.  And it’s a fact that there won’t be many teams looking forward to play us.

It is clear to many Millers fans that our sharp rise up the leagues is making some sit up and take notice, whilst others look on with envy.  I’ve no doubt that the increase in exposure that the Championship generates will bring with it more vitriol towards our club, the lion’s share aimed at our manager.  Our not-so-illustrious neighbours already delight in calling us Toytown, and I think the small fish in a big pond thing will be a factor we will relish facing up to – especially in the big games where we will be nailed on to not get a 90th minute penalty at Elland Road.

And let’s face it, Evans still gets up a lot of people’s noses.  It seems as though the sight of him running down the touchline Mourinho-style at Wembley with his trousers defying gravity and flab in tow was too much for some stomachs during teatime viewing!

Come August it’ll be time to prove everyone wrong again.  Bring it on.

Written by Michael Whitehead, We Are Going Up’s Rotherham United Blogger

Michael tweets at @mikew_83

Brentford are going up!

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

Optimized-_AJH0221I may be writing this over a month since we were promoted, but it still hasn’t quite sunk in. Little old Brentford are a Championship club. Wow. I have been supporting the club since I was nine-years-old and could never have envisioned what we all saw this season.

After THAT day last season, I couldn’t see us challenging for promotion and was proved right in the early stages of the season as early-October saw us languishing in 11th place. But it was a defeat away to Stevenage that marked the beginning of an incredible 19-match unbeaten league run stretching from October to February, which set the Bees on the way to automatic promotion.

Even a managerial change that threatened to challenge the promotion push, could not do so, and arguably further set the club up for a successful Championship season – the first in the second tier in 21 years – despite the disappointing reality that there will be no visit to Loftus Road to play bitter rivals, QPR. Meanwhile, this season’s archenemy, Russell Slade (of “They celebrated like they’d won the FA Cup” fame), whose Leyton Orient side fell at the final hurdle in last week’s playoff final, seems to have gained some respect for Brentford, telling the press, “I think the thing to do is to look at what Brentford did last season…we need to use that as a model.”

So how does Warburton plan on keeping us in the Championship? Firstly, in preparation for the start of the season, the squad will jet off to the IMG Training Facility in Florida on 2 July for ten days. Although no matches will be played during the training camp, the manager has been quick to point out that it is “not a team vacation”, with the players “undergoing three sessions per day for the majority of the stay”. Upon their return from the US, the players will face friendlies against Borehamwood, Barnet and Crystal Palace, with more to be announced in due course. Chief Executive Mark Devlin has this week taken to Twitter with news of  “a very exciting potential opportunity to play South American opposition on July 26”.

Unlike the Andy Scott years there will be no summer exodus, with the promotion-winning squad being given the opportunity to test themselves at a higher level. Nonetheless, ‘Warbs’ is on the prowl for a couple of new faces with the Bees reportedly chasing Yeovil Town’s former Arsenal trainee, Luke Ayling, who is out of contract at the end of June. The 22-year-old is, like Alan McCormack, capable of playing in both defence and midfield and could provide much needed Championship experience at the expense of Nico Yennaris. Caen and Mali international centre-back Molla Wague tops the list of defenders linked with the club along with Bristol Rovers pair Michael Smith and long-term target Tom Parkes, whilst Liam Ridgewell – close friends with Bees’ winger Sam Saunders – has been linked with the club after his release by West Bromwich Albion.

A number of the club’s young players have been offered contracts to be a part of the Bees’ ‘revolution’ and have important decisions abut their futures to make in the coming weeks. Luke Norris is a player I would love to see next season; now a proven Football League goalscorer the 21-year-old would fit into a side lacking a prolific striker. And whilst Clayton Donaldson weighs in with his fair share of goals, Norris adds youthful flair and will be given a chance, should he choose to accept. Millwall’s Simeon Jackson and Bolton’s Marvin Sordell are rumoured to have attracted Brentford’s attention, although judging by the social media reaction, fans would be less than ecstatic with either player making the move to west London. Aside from Norris, midfielder Manny Oyeleke and commanding central defender Alfie Mawson have also been offered fresh terms whilst midfielder Joe Maloney has been given a 1-year playing deal with coaching responsibilities for younger age-groups.

In terms of this season’s loan signings, Chelsea midfielder George Saville will almost certainly not be returning to the club, with Wigan (and former Bees) manager Uwe Rosler said to be keen on linking up with the 20-year-old once again. It was announced this week that Marcello Trotta has handed in a transfer request at Fulham and, as the striker has impressed for Italy’s U21s, a number of clubs are said to be eager to obtain his signature. One player who will be returning to TW8 however, is Alan Judge after he signed a three-year deal on Monday. The Irishman spent five months on loan from Blackburn Rovers and played an instrumental role towards the end of the season, including scoring the penalty against Preston North End that sealed promotion.

Left-back Scott Barron and terrace favourite Farid El Alagui, who both endured a torrid spell at the club plagued by injury, have been told that they do not feature in Warburton’s plans, along with goalkeeper Liam O’Brien who will sign a two-year deal with Skrill Premier side Barnet on 1st July. Former Manchester City right-back Shaleum Logan has signed permanently for Aberdeen, where he impressed on loan at the end of last season, whilst Development Squad defender Aaron Pierre turned down the offer of a new deal to sign for League Two side Wycombe Wanderers.

Written by Dan Long, We Are Going Up’s Brentford Blogger

Dan tweets at @_DanLong_ & also writes HERE.

2014/15: The season that kept on giving

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

Tranmere
When the final whistle blew against Bradford in our final game of the season, my first thoughts were ‘thank god for that’. In my twenty something years of supporting Tranmere, it has been the most frustrating and soul destroying season I have ever put up with. The fact that I have to write ‘put up with’ speaks volumes.

We went into the last match of 13/14 ideally needing a win and hoping that either Crewe or Notts County would be defeated. For around five minutes it looked like our old foes Oldham were about to do us a huge favour when they took a 1-0 lead against County. However, Oldham then went on to concede a penalty (which County scored) and have a man sent off whilst Crewe comfortably won 2-1 against Preston. So even if we had beaten Bradford, we still would have been relegated.

We finally managed to rid ourselves of Ronnie Moore back in February when he was found to have broken the rules on football betting ninety-five times. One of these bets involved Tranmere and it was a bet on us to win in 2013 (and we did!). How Ronnie Moore can claim he was unaware of FA betting rules is beyond me. He then had the stupidity to claim that Tranmere used the situation to their advantage by sacking him. Sacking Ronnie was the logical decision as since February 2013 we had been in terrible form and hadn’t even managed to win back to back under him in the 13/14 season. His recruitment policy for this season was shambolic, unprofessional and his tactical approaches belong in the dark ages. How he managed to get us to the top of the league back in 2012 now mystifies me.

John McMahon, Ronnie’s assistant was given the managerial position until the end of the season. For me, Tranmere got this completely wrong, we drastically needed a new face and approach as it could have saved us from the drop. The main explanation for McMahon being appointed until the end of the season seems to be a financial one. But now, we are going to take a much deeper financial hit by being relegated to League Two.

One of the few positives from the season was the form of local lad Ryan Lowe who had signed a two year deal when he joined in the summer of 2013. However, several weeks after relegation Ryan decided he would start bleating to anyone who would listen in the local media that he needed a new two year deal ‘for his family’. I was amazed by how many people lapped this pathetic lie up, as if Ryan Lowe and his family were somehow on the breadline. The phrase ‘rats leaving a sinking ship’ springs to mind. I shouldn’t be surprised though, as a look into Ryan’s club history proves him to be one of the finest mercenaries the lower leagues have to offer. Bury have decided to chuck all their eggs into one basket and offer him two year deal at the age of 35. Time will tell if that turns out to be a good or bad decision. At least Ryan’s family won’t need to raid a foodbank in Bury any time soon.

We sadly wave goodbye to Ian Goodison will go down as one of the best defenders the club has ever seen. The iconic Jamaican played 410 times for us and even at the age of 41, he still had it. I still believe we should have given him one more year, but maybe that is heart overruling head. His ability to read the game was as sharp as ever and he was one of the few ever present faces in the squad over the last ten years. A testimonial was discussed, but in typical relaxed Goodie style, he never got around to organising it (so the club said recently).

Contracts remain offered to James Wallace and Steve Jennings. We are unlikely to keep both, so I imagine Wallace will be off elsewhere, but I’m hoping that Jennings will sign on. Ash Taylor who had been with the club since he was nine has now moved onto Aberdeen after making over 200 appearances for the club. Ash was a very frustrating player at times, whilst competent at defending, he was extremely prone to punting the ball up field constantly, very rarely did the ball reach its intended target and he picked up a reputation as a result. A new start will do him good as I still believe he will make a decent player for Aberdeen. Joe Thompson who was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer in the first few games of the season recently finished his twelve rounds of chemotherapy. Joe aims to resume his playing career this season and is in discussing with the club and PFA regarding his contract.

The search for a new club owner sadly is still ongoing. A false dawn appeared in March when out of the blue, Chairman Peter Johnson announced an imminent sale. The day of unveiling turned into a rather sheepish ‘there is no sale’ announcement which was largely deflating. The Tranmere Rovers Trust were unsuccessful in their takeover bid after they failed to raise suitable funds. Peter Johnson later invited investment from the trust with the offer of a place on the board of directors and then, months later it was revealed that the board had been reorganised to vastly reduce the influence the supporters trust could have had. Personally, I find this hugely frustrating when the club is crying out for investment. Furthermore it pushes fans away that are very willing to contribute, which cannot be healthy for either party.

Robert Edwards was appointed the successor to Ronnie Moore on the 27th May and in his first ever managerial role, he faces a tough task as finances have been restricted even further. Rovers new Chief Executive, Jeremy Butler has announced a new strategy in player recruitment (whether we actually had a strategy prior to this up for debate though). Rovers now aim to recruit young players with potential with an eye to selling them on in the long term. We have a good record of this in the past with players like Jason Koumas, Ryan Taylor, Iain Hume and Aaron Cresswell collectively earning the club 4.6 million pounds. The strategy to me is obvious, but whether Tranmere have the backroom manpower required remains to be seen. However, it is good that the club are being more transparent than ever before and now hopefully we can progress on and off the field in 2014/15.

Written by Kenny Orr, We Are Going Up’s Tranmere Rovers Blogger

Kenny tweets at @That_Bald_Owl

After the Lord Mayor’s Show: Where Next for the “Group that Never Gives Up?”

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Leyton Orient v Rotherham

I write this on an overcast Bank Holiday Monday trying, as I suspect most O’s fans are, to rationalise how we came so close to promotion again in a play-off final and yet fell short, for the third time in a row, to northern opponents. Was it the West End of Wembley, the fact that the fourth team always seems to win playoffs or the fact that Slade didn’t bring on Robbie Simpson to score a 40 yard screamer in extra time?

This time we had real hope, unlike the dismal performance in 1999 or the team that fell short in 2001. Orient went into half time with a 2-0 lead after a shaky start, but a combination of bad refereeing, Rotherham persistence and a wonder goal from ex-O’s striker Revell pegged the O’s back. Despite being the better team in extra time, tiredness and a lack of cutting edge saw the game go to penalties, where Baudry and Dagnall missed to give promotion to Rotherham and leave us heartbroken.

Football is cruel, but in truth this game reflected our season; out ahead, only to be pegged back and out ahead on penalties, only to be pegged back and miss out. It goes without saying that what Orient have achieved this season is phenomenal. Joint LMA manager of the year, Russell Slade, has established a solid base of talented footballers that play good, passing football. With the vastly superior budgets of Wolves (and Brentford), it was always going to be hard to sustain an automatic push over 46 gruelling games, but third place was a massive achievement. Nevertheless, the reality is we’ll be playing in League One again next season, travelling to Crewe and Scunthorpe rather than Leeds, Fulham and Middlesborough.

As upset as I am, I’ll still get my season ticket, as I know many other Orient fans will, irrespective of what player or management changes happen in the summer. However, the question remains, where next for these players and this management team that came so close this season and how will Barry Hearn react to yesterday’s events?

Glass Half-full Scenario: Barry Hearn sees enough potential in Russell Slade and the key players to increase investment in the management team and playing squad to prevent fragmentation of the squad, very much as Brentford pushed on after falling short last season. Key players Moses Odubajo, Dean Cox, even though they are under contract, stay rather than leaving for fees. Out of contract players Lloyd James and Elliott Omozusi decide to stay at the club. Hearn persuades Russell Slade to stay longer term and allows him to add to the squad in several key positions, setting Orient up well for a push on promotion again in the 2014/15 season.

Orient finish top six again or pushing for automatic promotion.

Glass Half-empty Scenario: Russell Slade receives an offer from a Championship club and decides to leave move. Offers come in for Dean Cox and Moses Odubajo and are accepted, while Ellliott Omozusi and Lloyd James decide not to take up new contract offers and leave on free transfers. A new manager needs to come in an entirely rebuild the midfield and get the new team to gel. Hearn stays true to form and invests zero in new players or improving the squad.

Orient finish lower mid-table or fighting relegation.

Realistic Scenario: Russell Slade stays. One of Cox or Odubajo leaves for good money. Orient bring in a winger to replace the departing O’s player. James and Omozusi stay for another year. Most of this squad stays and Orient compete, once again, with a small squad. The team doesn’t replicate this season’s success but still manages a top 10 finish. Tough decisions then need to be made in June 2015.

Orient finish 10th

Where next for the “Group that Never Gives Up?”

Overall it’s hard to know what to predict will happen after such an emotional day. Most of the key players are under contract, meaning that for key players to leave, there will need to be good transfer fees, but this team has been in the shop window all season, meaning a club of Orient’s size will not turn down a £1 million offer if it comes in for Moses Odubajo or a high fee for Dean Cox, both of whom are critical to this team.

Much of this also depends on Russell Slade. He was keen to talk to Barnsley when they wanted to discuss the job with him and his stock is much higher after this season’s endeavours, which may make him hard to keep. He may also feel he cannot go further with Orient and want a new challenge, after the disappointment of missing out in the playoffs. May and June’s movements will tell us much about the chances of this Orient team next season.

If this team stays together, there is a chance it could compete again next year. In the background, however, the Olympic Stadium and Barry Hearn’s desire to sell the club still loom large leaving the long-term future of Orient questionable. Orient fans are hoping the squad will stay together and grow, very much as Brentford have succeeded, but for that to happen, Hearn will need to invest even more, not just in the running of the club, but also in the playing staff, which would require a change in his philosophy or a sustainable club that succeeds on its own merits. Either way, it has been a season to be proud of and I hope another is just around the corner. Up the O’s!

Written by Andy Brown, We Are Going Up’s Leyton Orient blogger

Andy tweets at @OrientMeatPie

Hope of the Lions

Monday, May 19th, 2014

jon-taylor-shrewsburyWell, it happened. Shrewsbury Town FC went down from League One with a couple of fixtures to spare and scraped 23rd due to having a better goal difference than Stevenage on the final day. A complete shambles of a season and being honest the Shrews have deserved going out the long, slow, painful and inevitable death we’ve had.

A mid season promotion within of young coach Michael Jackson from retiring manager, the great Graham Turner, was always going to be a hard sell and it caught up finally. Whilst there was decent football on offer, the over-reliance of loan players and relative lack of reinvestment in the squad after a good & young promotion winning side was slowly dismantled is the overall cause of Town’s drop back into League Two.

However dearest reader, I actually see hope of a different sort in this current predicament. Through my previous blogs for WAGU, I have probably focused on more of the negatives and yet in the one or two weeks since the season has finished, there’s been so much in an attempt to turn the club around already I can’t help but feel good. It can’t get any worse of course, can it?

First, Jackson was quite honest and admitted there were issues behind the scenes which stopped Shrewsbury from progressing. As a big club for League Two level, I’ve always thought it would be tough but achievable for Town to become a staple of League One unlike a lot of fans on social media who seemed to think in the fuzzy mindset we had money to go do something like sign Messi or Ronaldo. I’ll hold my hands up here and admit I’ve written pieces for the club to invest again in the team but aiming for a League One standard and above.

I guess it’s understandable frustrations boiling over from a vocal bunch of fans but there needs to be some real world logic applied there. I want to put on record my thanks for Michael at his tough time because whilst his hands were clearly tied and there’s been some quiet agreement from the board in what happened next, the failure to stay up was largely not his fault and I preferred most of the football on offer compared to Turner’s last offerings, even if results were against him.

The admittance was at least refreshing as there’s not usually too much that comes out nowadays in football and from there the club drew up “a root and branch” review into the club’s failings this season. But then, any Shrewsbury fan can tell you in a couple of simple numbers – 39 players used this season. 20 of them loanees – that there was no solid cohesiveness, consistency and team spirit  displayed at all. Also 14 different strikers  used over the last nine months in a bid to find a constant stream of goals which failed miserably. Always the way isn’t it? Have one of the best defences in the bottom third but just can’t find the back of the net.

From there, Shrewsbury have a new CEO on the board – former Blackpool secretary Matt Williams. With experience in commercial and media ventures for Blackpool, not to mention having a year working at the level of the Premier League, he is not a man to sniff at footballing wise. He seems very passionate about the subject from what I’ve  read about him so far and I doubt he would have left a decent standard club in Blackpool to come to Shrewsbury if he couldn’t progress the club.

The steak in this tasty dinner though is the managerial appointment of former Fleetwood manager Micky Mellon. I quite like Micky as he seems to have a good eye for talent from the lower leagues and transformed Fleetwood from a Conference North staple to a play off contender in League Two before being relieved of his duties in odd circumstances in the club’s maiden year in the Football League.

He’s also had experience with Championship coaching with Barnsley as David Flitcroft’s assistant. I’m not too sure whether it was wise on Salop’s end just to offer a one year rolling contract when he’s clearly a guy who can build a club up over a couple of years when given the chance, but we have to make do I guess. He’s kept on Jackson too which is a plus in providing continuity whatever happens.

Plus, I’m always inclined to think it could be so much worse. In these times of financial uncertainty thanks to Financial Fair Play, Salop don’t really have a debt at all. It’s not like we’re “doing a Leeds” and crashing down the leagues on financial fire or even our neighbours down the road in Hereford. Sure, you need to spend a bit on wages & the like to attract players and the board have responded that Mellon will be given that in the summer.

Such prudence perhaps over the last couple of years may pay off with a good summer’s recruitment now. There’s a core bunch of decent young lads available like Aaron Wildig, Jon Taylor & Ryan Woods but I  do  feel Mellon and Jackson will have to use their contacts and resources well to rebuild as we have just 10 senior players currently. Whilst they maybe good enough for the demands of League Two, it’s the future and a legacy I’m keeping an eye on beyond a quick fix attempt to get back into the third tier.

When the push came to shove, Shrewsbury Town by my own admittance deserved to go down but the board have responded well – very well in fact – with a big change with a big name on the board to go along with a damn good managerial appointment. For all the grief I’ve gone through this season watching Salop, I look at this summer with hope. And that’s not a lot I’ve had much of these past two years.

Written by Terry Lewis, We Are Going Up’s Shrewsbury Town blogger

Terry tweets at @lewisonlife

Alex Pritchard: League One to Premier League, without League 3

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

AP

From League One debut to a Premier League appearance inside a single season: for 21-year-old Tottenham winger Alex Pritchard it couldn’t be more perfect. It also seems to be the perfect repost to Greg Dyke’s claims about the impediments blocking the ‘player pathway’ for English talent.

However, using exactly the same evident, his journey from Swindon’s first team to Spurs’ could equally be used as evidence in favour of the FA Commission’s Strategic Loan Partnership (SLP) – the Trojan horse for virtual feeder clubs.

Firstly Pritchard’s example isn’t quite the Boys’ Own stuff it might first appear. Prior to this season the Spurs midfielder had three England U20 caps and played six games on loan at Peterborough. So he again went on loan again, this time to Swindon, playing 43 games, scoring 8 goals and being nominated for the Football League Young Player of the Year and Sky Bet League One Player of the Year. When his youth loan expired on turned 21, he returned to White Hart Lane, joined first-team training and earned himself seven minutes against Aston Villa.

And as everyone knows, Pritchard’s loan to Swindon was just one of three season-long ones between Spurs and Swindon in 2013/14; one part in an on-going relationship between clubs. Every match was overseen by Tottenham staff, undertaken with two older players others from the same development team, and followed a path trod by two ex-Spurs who transferred to Wiltshire after a loan spell the season before.

But there was more comfort to be found than just in those familiar faces around Pritchard,  “There are so many players from Spurs here that it does feel like home”. Swindon’s playing style had been chosen to appeal to Premier League technical directors, and in particular Tim Sherwood – for Town’s chairman is Lee Power, former player, agent and former house-mate of Sherwood. Power told local radio that his friend expressed his concern about his charges slow development while on loan, “He [Sherwood] said would you babysit my lads for me, more or less”.

So is the relationship akin to Greg Dyke and Danny Mills’ proposed SLP? Could it be called a Partnership? Possibly. Could it be called Strategic? Perhaps for Spurs, but for Swindon it seems to have been born of the necessity of a changed boardroom and a halved playing budget. Power himself set out the limits of the arrangement in the same interview saying, “I don’t think we can ever lose the club’s identity. Don’t get me wrong if we can beg, steal or borrow to try to get there and that is all we are going to try to do and nothing else.”

There are further key differences between the SLP as outlined by the FA Commission and these informal loan – not least that Football League regulations 85.2.3 prohibit any club “to be involved in any capacity or administration or that club” or: (85.2.4) to have any power to influence the financial, commercial or business affairs or the management or administration of that club”.

Strategic Loan Partnerships would very much go against those regulations. Under the SLP, coaches, facilities and sports science support would be provided to the partner club from the senior one. In Swindon’s case, Tottenham simply observed their players at the County Ground and treated them in Enfield when injured, they didn’t pick the side, coach the team or choose the formation. Swindon’s style wasn’t set by White Hart Lane, it came from a desire to be attractive and to make the best of the smaller, technical nature of so many of the players. Although Swindon’s manager Mark Cooper has admitted one element of de facto influence – that to ensure good relations remained with Spurs, it was wise to include their player at every opportunity.

Significantly, though accidentally, all three of the Spurs’ loanees rarely appeared together: Injuries limited Ryan Mason to just 13 starts and Grant Hall to 26. Instead Swindon also blooded a number of teenagers or used short-term loans of single players from Wolves, Peterborough, Norwich, Southampton. This meant that seeing even three loanees on the pitch – two less than is permitted – was an exception rather than the rule. This in turn meant that there was still space in the Swindon team for their own youth team players to progress, allowing both Miles Storey and Nathan Thompson, among others, to progress their own careers.

Contrast that with an SLP club who would be also be permitted five borrowed bodies in the squad but would be able to have borrowed eight, making multiple appearances of loanees a regular occurrence. And such pressure would be felt more strongly under SLP, especially as the proposals include the possibility for the senior club to own up to 25% of the equity in the junior one, rather than the 10% current permitted.

In the difficult task of judging Swindon fans’ attitudes to the relationship with Spurs, reliable measures are obviously hard to come by – especially when fans are second only in their pragmatism to football managers and chairmen. Anecdotally support for the relations seems to have waned as the season wore on: Initial results and the quality of the football on offer persuaded many at first only for a cynicism to return as Town’s form slumped around Christmas. Notably the side’s late season rally was attributed not to the Spurs connection but largely to a Town’s own players and the signing of another loanee – Jack Stephens of Southampton – only a short-term deal. Similarly Pritchard, despite his performances that so impressed many outside the club, lagged behind the local lads in the various player-of-the-year polls. In fact, not one placed him in the top three, and with one fan-site he only achieved 4% of the vote.

Perhaps most importantly, the number and length of the loans were always seen as an austerity necessity, not a permanent change to the club’s nature. “Never” was Power’s comment as to if Swindon would becoming a feeder club, adding in a separate interview, “If I supported Swindon I wouldn’t want to be a B-team for anyone else, and I don’t think there is any need to be. I want to compete, but I appreciate that we might not be Manchester United.”

The next steps in the journey are likely to be worth observing – for both Pritchard and Swindon. With Tim Sherwood no longer at White Hart Lane there is a chance that both Pritchard’s career and Power’s connection with both wither in the seasons to come.

However, Pritchard has made a major breakthrough and Town’s chairman has spoken of two other Premier League teams discussing similar loan arrangements as well as talk circulating within football of a number of League One clubs looking to mirror Swindon’s model. It is certainly going to be an interesting path to tread for any parent and junior clubs and their players.

Written by Alex Cooke, We Are Going Up’s Swindon Town blogger

Alex tweets at @STFConly

Time to start believing

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

Let’s face it – and I’ve said it often enough – this Rotherham team keep surprising us.  A joint 3rd finish in the League (OK it was 4th but that sounds better!), exhilarating football, beating local rivals fair and square, giving Champions Wolves a scare in a 10-goal thriller – there have been many highlights this season after which most onlookers might have said ‘Yeh but they’ll fall away soon’.

Steve Evans has been sure to tell us that there are naysayers amongst League One managers that think we’re not good enough for the Play-offs.  I’ve been guilty of a bit of pessimism at times, wondering whether the latest away day triumph will be our last.  And I confess to having looked at the play-off finalists and thinking ‘Whatever happens it’s been a good season’.  But now I’m beginning to believe we might just have enough in our locker to prevail.  I know I don’t speak for all Millers fans but it’s about time we put any doubts to the back of our minds and let the intoxicating and unwavering spirit that our lads have in abundance rub off on us.

It’s ‘half-time’ in the Millers’ semi-final Play-off campaign with Preston North End, and though the teams are evenly matched after a pulsating 1-1 draw, there are plenty of positives we can take from Saturday evening.

The nerves were jangling aplenty when we took our seats at a raucous Deepdale.  The Lilywhites, despite losing at Crewe on the last day, had warmed up nicely for this 1st leg with a few goal-laden home games, including a 6-1 and a 5-2 against relegated Carlisle and Shrewsbury respectively.  The Twitter feeds were buzzing with the news that League One Player of the Month for April Kieran Agard was not in the match-day 18.  Neither side had given an inch in the two league games with both finishing as draws – therefore the first goal in this tie you felt could be crucial.  Wes Thomas kept his place after grabbing a brace at Swindon.

The tension in the ground was palpable as the teams kicked off, and this transferred onto the pitch in the early stages.  Possession changed hands frequently and any quality on display was taking a while to show itself.  It was Rotherham though who gradually got a grip of the game as they started to get hold of the ball in the middle and cause the home side some problems.  It was a trademark lightening counter attack that led to the opener though as Ben Pringle collected a ricochet and lobbed the ball towards Alex Revell.  The no. 9 flicked it on but inexplicably ran after it (for possibly the first time this season) leaving Jack King for dead and with all the confidence in the world slammed it under the dive of Declan Rudd.  11 goals now then for big Alex who, when he does score, celebrates like he’s won the World Cup – and good on him!

Revell’s goal came at a key moment as the natives were getting restless, and it was a terrific solo effort fitting for the Sky Sports cameras – except that, as has been well-documented – Joe Garner decided to go one better.  In the first half, Rotherham had nullified any threat North End possessed up front with Garner and ex-Barnsley forward Craig Davies feeding off scraps.  An onslaught was expected in the second 45 minutes with Preston kicking towards their home fans and it duly came.  But no clear-cut chances had been carved out until Garner took a high ball on his chest, flicked it over Kari Arnason and curled an outrageous and ferocious volley into the net leaving Adam Collin with no chance.  Out of nothing, a goal of the season contender had broken down our stubborn resistance.

Such a goal would lift any team and the worry was that they would add to their tally and put the game out of sight.  But this Millers team doesn’t lie down, it rolls its sleeves up.  Much of Preston’s threat was coming down from the flanks usually through Gallagher – but even then James Tavernier, moving to right-back after Richard Brindley had his semi-final cut short, had been terrific in closing down Gallagher’s space on the left, forcing him to come inside and cross with his right foot nearly every time.  Their wonder goal aside, PNE were restricted to very few chances of note with grey shirts swamping the man in possession and always looking to turn for the counter.  Considering we had our top-scorer out and many were playing out of position as injuries piled up, this has to be a cause for optimism – the squad has depth in each position and the togetherness and will-to-win runs right through the camp.

Thomas had played like he had been up top with Revell all season, and was easily my man of the match, always proving a willing runner and linking up well with Lee Frecklington and Pringle.  It was Thomas’s through ball that led to our best chance to win it when he set up Frecklington for a one-on-one chance you would expect him to gobble up.  His bad touch meant the keeper could parry it away and Lee’s stretch for the ball led to him hobbling off early.  Claude Davis replaced him and did a sterling job marking the minimal danger posed by an out-of-sorts Kevin Davies – and by keeping himself on the pitch (!).  Rob Milsom had been very steady in midfield helping to stunt any build-up of attacks from deep and almost grabbed himself a goal after a flowing 4-man move.  Haris Vuckic also demonstrated his growing reputation by showing some clever flicks and forcing Rudd into a late save.

So it was all smiles in the away end after another spirited gutsy away display from the Millers.  If I was a Preston fan though I’d be disappointed by my team’s showing.  A near-capacity crowd, at full-strength and no advantage to show for it ahead of a trip to New York Stadium.  PNE’s away form has been patchy at best since March and Rotherham have been unbeaten at home since the turn of the year. So plenty to feel chipper about, even if the place will be a bag of nerves.

Evans of course is doing all he can to take the pressure off his team. Ahead of the Deepdale trip the mantra was ‘we are rank underdogs’ and now the word is that half our first team are doubtful to make the squad. Agard is still struggling, Frecklington has a knee injury, Pringle and Adams are unlikely to feature.  Is this true or is he trying to wind up Simon Grayson?  Who knows.  But whichever way, this team works best when the chips are down.  Believe.

Written by Michael Whitehead, We Are Going Up’s Rotherham United Blogger

Michael tweets at @mikew_83

The greatest of great escapes

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

6075149-largerWow. What an outcome for Notts County Football Club. Words fail to describe the sheer emotions felt during the final stages of the season, but I’ll give it a try.

March began with arguably the most horrendous result of the season – a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Rotherham United, with four goals shipped in the first 30 minutes.

A creditable 0-0 draw against high-flying Leyton Orient followed, but then two consecutive defeats, against MK Dons and Tranmere Rovers, saw us at our lowest ebb.

Following the 3-2 defeat away at Prenton Park, the Magpies were seven points from safety, having played a game more than four of the teams in the bottom six, with just nine games to go. It truly appeared to be game over. Even the most hardened, optimistic fan had to be somewhat delusional to honestly believe that the club could still survive.

However, that wasn’t to be the end of the story. As has happened many times this season, a poor run of results gave way to a spell of form comparable to that of a title-winning team.

First, Carlisle United were dispatched 4-1 at Meadow Lane thanks to a double by young defender Haydn Hollis and a stellar display by Gary Liddle, who had recently returned to the squad after a long-term injury.

The veteran midfielder then struck another goal in a 3-1 win away at Crewe Alexandra as young Irishman Ronan Murray announced himself to the league with a brace, before struggling Colchester United were beaten 2-0, with youngsters Murray and Hollis again responsible for getting on the scoresheet.

At this point, talk of The Great Escape was well and truly underway, as the Magpies climbed out of the relegation zone. However, there was still a lot of work to do if Shaun Derry’s side were to survive, not least a trip to high-flying Brentford.

Fate dealt us a very cruel card that day, because lining up against us was none other than Alan Judge, the stellar ex-Magpies midfielder, a player who should have been plying his trade in the Championship with Blackburn Rovers, but instead found himself in the Bees starting 11. And sure enough, his brace proved the difference between the two sides, and down we went again into the drop zone.

A 4-2 defeat of Port Vale – and another latecomer to the squad making the headlines, two-goal Jimmy Spencer – was followed up by another daunting fixture and another loss, 2-1 away at Bristol City. Cue more despair. Three games to play, three points from safety, Carlisle United above us with a game in hand.

But rather than give up at the final hurdle, Notts went on to secure two wins from their next two games, home advantage proving crucial against Crawley Town and Swindon Town. Carlisle subsequently drew their game in hand against Crawley, and thus the stage was set. Win or draw, and we would be safe. Even a loss wouldn’t be catastrophic – unless Crewe and Tranmere won both their respective games.

Now, don’t forget, this is Notts County we’re talking about. Things are never simple for the Magpies. Come the final match, Crewe and Tranmere take the lead. Notts, playing Oldham Athletic, concede in the 68th minute. The permutation we dreaded was coming true. We were relegated.

Or were we? With 15 minutes to go, Jonathan Grounds of Oldham handled in the area. Penalty to Notts. Would we score? Alan Sheehan stepped up – and blasted home. We were level. We were safe, as things stood.

Things would get even better for the Magpies, as Adam Lockwood was sent off after getting a second yellow card, and Tranmere conceded twice in the final ten minutes to lose 2-1 to Bradford. The Birkenhead outfit were down. Carlisle were down. Notts were safe – and this time, it was official. The Magpies would remain in League One next season.

So there you go. After nine months of pulling my hair out, fretting, giving up hope, finding hope again only to lose it a few weeks later, it all worked out in the end.

A lot will need to be done in the close season – the team will need to be rebuilt. Too many players just didn’t have the fight in them. Former captain Dean Leacock will be leaving. Other players on the way out include Manny Smith, Enoch Showunmi, Adam Coombes, Mark Fotheringham, Andre Boucaud, and Gareth Roberts.

In addition, it remains to be seen whether the players who have been offered new contracts – Alan Sheehan, Gary Liddle, Jimmy Spencer, Jamal Campbell-Ryce – will take up those deals, what with the lure of the transfer window appearing on the horizon, not to mention the status of a certain Polish goalkeeper who’s been exceptional this season.

Whatever happens, Shaun Derry – who has admitted that he’s willing to lace up his boots and take to the pitch once again for the Magpies – and Greg Abbott will surely do their utmost to either retain the existing players or sign some new ones and take the club to the next level, having already worked miracles this time round and achieved the greatest of great escapes.

Written by Giuseppe Labellarte, We Are Going Up’s Notts County blogger

Giuseppe tweets at @JoeJonesHome

Faith and Togetherness Restored

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

unnamedAs a Blade you get used to thinking about what could have been but this season it all feels a bit different. Yes we could have made the playoffs had we not been utterly useless for half a season and yes we may have made the FA Cup Final if we had held firm in the first 20 minutes of the second half at Wembley, yet I still don’t find myself constantly going over our short comings in my head.

Since that watershed moment on 1st February where we were comprehensively beaten by Crewe, the club seems to have been returned to the fans and the community and there is an overwhelming sense of togetherness both on and off the pitch. Even when times were good under the likes of Neil Warnock there were always doubters and the odd section of the crowd that still wasn’t happy with what they saw and how the team was progressing.

This doesn’t seem to be the case now however and Nigel Clough has brought a level of belief and happiness that seems relatively unparalleled when compared to previous regimes. Part of this must be down to the abomination that was our form prior to Clough taking over and the fact that things couldn’t get any worse but this certainly isn’t the overriding factor in the current feeling of togetherness at the Lane.

The club now appears to have a group of players that will run through brick walls for each other and who understand what the fans expect from them. Working your backside off should be a pre-requisite of playing for United and the current squad seems to have taken this on board. I also feel that we have now lost the underlying sense of arrogance that sometimes seemed to run through the club.

The arrogance I refer to is the apparent belief that we had a divine right to win games because we are the biggest club in the league and because on paper we should be challenging to get out of this league rather than to stay in it. Nigel Clough is a muck and nettles type of guy and it is clear to see that he believes all players must apply the basics before then looking to provide flair and individuality to their game. It is fantastic to see that the players he has inherited and retained during the transfer window have bought into this along with the fresh faces that were brought in during the last few months.

Looking forward to next season I think there is genuine reason to feel optimistic that we should enjoy a successful season but I think there is also now a sense of realism throughout the club that nothing will be given to us. The first team squad is by no means complete and some shrewd acquisitions are required during the summer. Our lack of goals are still a cause for concern and if we are going to get out of this league at the fourth time of asking then this must be addressed, When we are on top in games we must find the penetration to ensure that we take our chances and put games to bed.

When our retained list is released in the near future we will all have a better idea of where we need to strengthen but it is clear that attacking players will be the main focal point of the clubs summer shopping list. Another matter that will no doubt be addressed soon will be the long term availability of some of the loan players that have been a huge part of our resurgence in the last three.

I would be amazed if Ben Davies wasn’t signed on a free when his contract expires as his experience and versatility could prove invaluable. Conor Coady’s situation at Liverpool will be monitored very closely and I personally think we will be able to retain his services next season as the lad clearly loved his time at Bramall Lane this season and I would be very surprised if Brendan Rogers felt he was going to be part of his first-team squad.

This then leaves Billy Paynter, Kieron Freeman and John Brayford. I won’t spend long dwelling on the merits of signing Paynter as he has offered nothing and I would happily thank him for his contribution and send him back to Doncaster. Now that Freeman and Brayford have returned to their parent clubs we are left without a recognised right back at the club (assuming Daryl Westlake moves on to pastures new which looks likely) so I would therefore imagine that we will look to sign one of them for next season be it on a permanent or temporary basis.

I am sure plenty of people will disagree with me on this but I would look to sign Kieron Freeman on a permanent basis rather than looking to bring back Brayford. John Brayford has been fantastic for the team and the club as a whole and he is the best right back in the division by far, I am not disputing this. The issue I have is that we would only be able to sign him on loan again as there is no way on earth we will be able to afford to by him. We would therefore probably have to make a sizeable contribution to his wages and I feel this money could be better spent elsewhere.

As good as Brayford is, Kieron Freeman would be a more than adequate full back at this level and would probably cost us a fraction of the money. At the end of the day, a right back won’t win you games but a top striker will and this is where our money should be spent.

I trust Clough to bring the right faces in during the summer and I think with a couple of top quality acquisitions at both ends of the pitch we will be well set to mount a serious attack on automatic promotion next season. I am sure that everybody at the club from the board room through the supporters will learn from the mistakes of the first six months of last season and we have real reason to be optimistic. Let’s not forget however that this is Sheffield United we are talking about, since when have we done things the easy way?

Written by Ian Parkes, We Are Going Up’s Sheffield United blogger

Ian tweets at @ijparkes