David Cameron Walker

Archive for the ‘League One’ Category

Target secured but have we peaked too soon?

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

31969756Momentum is one of the holy grails of football.  Players strive for it.  Managers crave it.  Fans get swept along by its promise and get carried away by it.  Rotherham United had it in spades following their five match winning streak at the end of last season which sent them soaring up to League One.

The trick was to keep the feel-good factor ticking over – and with a fickle bunch like our supporters that was asking a lot. Whilst the team surprised many in the first half of the season, Steve Evans knew his team had the inner-strength to maintain a promotion challenge in the final months when it mattered.

And challenge they have! An exhilarating and almost record-breaking run of 16 games without defeat put the Millers into an extremely handy position of third going into two tough looking Yorkshire derbies against Sheffield United and Bradford City.  Several 90th minute winners and devastating performances against well-fancied teams – particularly away from home where Rotherham had been irresistible and boasting an unbeaten Tuesday night record going back to August – had secured a playoff place that no-one gave them a chance of claiming.

Such is the standard set by the teams in the thick of the League One promotion race, an unbeaten run like this would normally put most clubs at the summit but this only moved the Millers up from sixth to third.  The pace set by other challengers has been staggering…until they’ve turned up at New York Stadium that is.  Leyton Orient, Brentford and Bristol City all arrived with fearsome records and bags of confidence, and were promptly sent back down the M1 with their tails between their legs.

It took a while for some fans to be won over by Evans and the players he has acquired, but they are certainly on board now.  This Rotherham team are a pleasure to watch and have passion running right through it, with honest endeavour and character matched by quality and composure on the ball.

Evans brought in some loan players in January to shore up key areas of the park, including Richie Smallwood from Middlesbrough whose performances in the ‘water carrier’ role have allowed the likes of Lee Frecklington and Ben Pringle to bomb forward and support the attack.  Newcastle loanee James Tavernier will be a contender for player of the season for his contribution from right back, particularly for the pace he has added arriving late in the box and his set pieces providing many highlights.

Much was made early season about the apparent lack of goals in the side but Kieran Agard has stepped up following his heroics at the end of last season and has been a revelation, his 21 goals helping Rotherham to be one of the most prolific teams in the Football League.  The performance level has been so great that even highly-rated Premier League players like Haris Vuckic struggle to get a start.

As I have said on a few occasions in this blog, many fans believed we had a squad that could trouble a few teams in this league.  But I don’t think there will be a sizeable proportion who thought the progression would be this speedy.  And with each passing victory, expectations have rocketed along with the league position.  Most would expect the club to be pleased with our lot now and be patiently waiting out the final few games for our part in the end of season lottery.

But Rotherham’s ambition these days knows no limit.  Second-placed Brentford were a considerable nine points ahead after the win at Gillingham which put us at the top of the playoff pack but fans still had the memory of their team tearing into the Bees’ defence in March fresh in their minds – a performance so dominating that it had begun to affect the West London club’s form.

Rotherham therefore travelled the short trip to the Steel City on a high to take on a club which has mostly cast a large shadow over the Millers for many years.  Although the Blades are having a tough time of it at the moment (aside from their impressive Cup run) and so, in addition to presenting a chance to stay on the coattails of Brentford, it was an opportunity to show the tide had turned in this part of South Yorkshire.

Except our heroes had not read the script.  Our trademark high-octane start was absent and the players appeared to be caught up in the occasion rather than focusing on the game.  Our talisman Frecklington, so often the link between defence and attack, was absent through injury and once again we were under-par without him.  Lazy aerial balls were being launched as we got sucked into copying the tactics of the opposition and the game ended up being a disappointment as a contest.

Personally though, any injustice felt by the penalty decision which gave United the points was vastly outweighed by an enormous sense of pride in the team for their efforts in keeping the run going as long as they did.  Our first outing at New York under the Sky cameras against Bradford was more like our usual self, but once again we lacked the rhythm, fluency in possession and goal threat that previous games had revealed Rotherham to possess.

The worry now is that we may have peaked too early.  That lung-busting 16 game run, as tremendous as it was could be said to have taken its toll on our small squad.  The manager has put on record his reluctance to rotate players around but he has indicated he will take opportunities to rest some our key players in the remaining games if he feels they will benefit.  Effectively the last four games are a mini ‘pre-season’ now where we can hopefully enable Pringle and Frecklington, who have been virtually ever-present this season, some much needed time on the sidelines and give Vuckic, Tom Hitchcock and Michael O’Connor a glut of games so they are nice and sharp when the playoffs commence in May.

So the mood in the camp I think is cautiously optimistic.  But that momentum needs to be built back up again slowly but surely.  Starting with the small task of beating Wolves at Molineux on Friday – after all we are good at being party poopers!

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

Michael tweets at @mikew_83

Six sensible reasons why moderate improvement is possible at Swindon Town

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

STFC

We football fans are nothing if not a reflection of our society. Like everyone we mirror the current desire for melodrama, for scripted cruelty, for the fast fix – and those cheap site hits.

Football has incorporated it through manufactured ‘mind games’, managerial churn, the zombie-like lust of the transfer window. It can also be found in the adored click of you, the unique user, and in the shorter sentences without which other, lesser readers, would probably have started skimming a long time ago, scanning in horror towards the listicle further down the page.

It also goes some way to explain why this season at Swindon Town has resulted in a mixture of mumbled apathy, howls of self-harming rage, and, if you listen very closely the gentlest whisper of sensible, sober debate.

After all this is a club and a team, that required a messy intervention to stop it marching into glory and simultaneous oblivion. Despite that it has still maintained a credible play-off push although this much leaner team is now suffering with declining attendances, growing ambivalence and slow season ticket renewals

Cries of ‘boring’ and booing have both echoed around the increasingly empty County Ground as many Swindon fans have found other things to do on Saturdays, such as gripe on social media. Too many passes, they bleat. Too little arm waving from manager Mark Cooper, they whine, Then they hashtag it CooperOut, and even more bizarrely SherwoodIn. Inside the ground, their peers jeer a 19-year-old ‘keeper for daring to slice a back-pass on his home debut, or sarcastically applaud a striker who has scored six goals in 14 games.

It is tempting to say Swindon fans have been spoiled by what went before – the millions spent by Betfair’s Andrew Black and the near-millions signed by Paolo Di Canio. But ‘spoiled’ implies that they were innocents before, when we all know Swindon crowds had long been intolerant, particularly of youth-team players who fail to be the new Don Rogers within three touches of their debut. Yet, they did became hooked on the adrenal teat when gambling-pounds created an environment in which a League One club was prepared to promise one individual £15,000 a week (at least according to current chairman Lee Power).

Amid the cries of boo and meh this season, during which the club that has halved its playing budget and gone through two managers and two chairman, there are still many signs of progress, which even for those of a limited attention span might make up for the shortage of drama.

1 Swindon are reclaiming ‘tippy tappy’ football

Toss your accusations of hipsterdom now if you want, but some of the football at the County Ground has been fascinating. Prompted by the need to appeal to Premier League technical directors, Swindon have played a short-passing style. The ball hasn’t always been rotated quickly enough, but when it has the football has been beautiful and effectivve. Results haven’t been bad either – 8th place in League One and a Southern Final in the JPT.

2. Swindon are turning trialists into internationals

Last season Yaser Kasim left Brighton for loan spells with Macclesfield and Luton before being released. This season he has become a full Iraqi international, making a composed debut at the culmination of their qualification for the Asian Cup. Fellow midfielder Massimo Luongo’s path to becoming an Australian international might have been simpler, smoothed by his years at Tottenham, but the chance of a World Cup finals place certainly shows how he has also progressed while at Swindon.

3. Swindon’s reserves are becoming regulars

While much has been made of the informal link with Spurs, the integration of home-grown talent has also grown apace. Youth teamers such as Miles Storey and Louis Thompson have been gradually integrated into the side, while Louis’ (slightly) bigger brother Nathan has taken over the captaincy. Ben Gladwin, signed from Marlow Town mid-season, also offers an intriguing proposition -  he’s a powerful dribbler and creative passer but with the bulk of a central defender.

4. Swindon are taking a different approach

Swindon’s informal relationship with Spurs has attracted column inches and criticism from many around the Football League. Some see inequity, some see the slippery slope to feeder status, and some see an experiment they might like to repeat at their club. So far, success has been partial with midfielder Alex Pritchard earning numerous nominations, if not awards, while defender Gareth Hall has received little more than abuse. However, the chairman Lee Power has revealed that two other clubs are interested in letting Swindon “babysit” more of their bright young things next season.

5. Swindon have Nile Ranger

Having been found innocent of all charges earlier in this year Ranger is still a Swindon player, and with an option to extend his contract into the new season there is a good chance that he might remain one. If he does he will keep everyone on their toes, and he might even play some football. The fact that that Swindon actually got 19 league starts out of him – more than any other club in his career- so far is undeniably an achievement.

6. Swindon are growing up

As one local reporter noted in the recent win over Preston, Swindon’s team had less than 876 league appearances to their name – more than half of which came from one player, defender Jay McEverley. And yet Town won the game against a Preston eleven with over 2,538 under their belts, and on 12-match unbeaten run. Yaser Kasim chose to contrast the performance with the one seen at Deepdale, noting how he and the team now had the experience to have mastered the darker arts of ‘game management’.

With a little bit of patience and a bit more of time, Swindon’s project might yet reach a positive end, just as you did. Well done you! Even if you skimmed that boring bit.

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

Alex tweets at @STFConly

A doomed campaign…

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

LT

Peterborough United’s hopes of a glorious league campaign – a campaign in which we were set to get promoted automatically – was doomed from 24th September 2013, at around four minutes to eight, as Ki Sung-Yeung delivered a shattering blow to Lee Tomlin’s ankle.

That’s not to say there haven’t been other factors which have led to Posh’s mid-season capitulation. But in my opinion it was that ‘fateful night’ which proved to be the catalyst.

Before that game, Tomlin had scored seven goals in 11 League One appearances and his partnership with record-signing Britt Assombalonga was flourishing. Meaning, whilst Posh were broadly scraping through games by the skin of their teeth, Darren Ferguson had a strike force capable of bailing the team out. Even if Posh were looking as defensively porous as a sheet of crêpe paper, whilst also seemingly becoming a team who were incapable of holding onto the ball, for more than five passes.

Lee Tomlin, no matter his faults was by far the best player in League One on his day.

Of course the problem was that day tended to be infrequent, due to his abysmal disciplinary record and even more appalling temper. The injury against Sunderland led to Tomlin being ruled out for around six weeks and after that lay-off, his patience with a club who had blocked his chances of Champions League football at the Nou Camp – so he could slog it out at Stevenage – had finally snapped. A mission of self-destruction, leading to numerous cautions and sending off, made Tomlin’s departure to Middlesbrough on transfer deadline day – whilst being a surprise, in its announcement – something any Posh fan knew was coming sooner or later, a reality.

His departure left a team who were dreadfully bereft of confidence, short of creativity as well.

Arguably the next in the line to fill the role of creator in this Posh team, is Danny Swanson. A player who since arriving at the club, has confused most fans, with his inability to pass, tackle and generally perform in the manner expected for a midfielder who arrived at the club with the tag of ‘the most technically gifted player’ an international manager had worked with. Sure, that manager may have been Scotland’s doomed Craig Levein – a man who attempted to play a 4-6-0 with some of the most technically inept footballers around – but Swanson arrived with high expectations. Expectations which the Scotsman has failed to meet, barring some fleeting glimpses of quality recently (notably Crewe, where he played more as a winger, not as a number 10).

Posh’s lack of creativity was probably best displayed last Tuesday against visiting Bristol City. Two early goals from once Posh target Sam Baldock and an early sending off for City’s Adam El-Abd for a clash with Assombalonga meant whilst Posh were 2-0 down – they had 70 minutes against 10 men. A goal from a corner, scored by centre-back or midfielder (who bloody knows at the moment) Michael Bostwick before half-time meant Posh went in, with voices around London Road chattering about a come-back.

However it was in these 45 minutes where Posh’s tremendous lack of creativity – a lack of almost any willingness to take a risk – was exposed. Posh’s midfield consisted at that point of Grant McCann, Michael Bostwick, on-loan Josh McQuoid and striker Nicky Ajose; a group of players who consistently over that 45 minute period stuttered and stumbled in their attempts to break down an incredibly stubborn Bristol City defence. When it looked like a defence splitting pass was available for any of the four – a pass which would have unleashed Assombalonga or new boy Conor Washington – they faltered and bottled it, playing the safe square ball across the penalty box, which allowed Bristol City to consistently park 10 men behind the ball and scupper Posh’s feeble advances.

I suppose it’s worth mentioning that the midfielders tasked with unlocking the Bristol defence weren’t helped by the incredible lack of movement and guile showed by Assombalonga and Washington. For the second half they seemed glued to the sides of Karleigh Osborne and Brendan Maloney – showing a frightening apprehension at the thought of coming dropping off either of the defenders to make a run towards the ball.

Posh may have peppered Frank Fielding’s goal with shots, but the eventual result was a dismal defeat for Darren Ferguson’s men. The result and performance led to a Tim Sherwood-esque blasting of the Peterborough United playing staff by Fergie Jnr.

Was it justified? Arguably yes. The Posh first half performance was atrocious, and for a team with ambitions of promotions via the play-offs the defending was utterly laughable.

The next three games against (sort-of) rivals MK Dons, Rotherham and Preston will be telling. Often it’s against the best teams in this league where Posh have performed best this season. But after such dismal defeat midweek, this Posh team will need to muster all of their character to get any semblance of a play-off promotion push back on track.

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

John tweets @johnfernandez1

Time is running out….

Friday, February 28th, 2014

shaun-derryNotts County Football Club haven’t got long left to prove that they’re worthy of a place in the third tier of English football next season. Since Christmas, the Magpies have played 10 games, and although we haven’t exactly resigned ourselves to relegation, a heady mix of Jekyll-and-Hyde performances, combined with yet more poor refereeing calls and a pinch of calamitous luck have seen us still mired in the drop zone with just over a quarter of the season left to play.

Shaun Derry hasn’t been one to mess around. He oversaw a clear out of players in the January transfer window, including Joss Labadie, Danny Haynes, David Bell and Yoann Arquin, and brought in a host of fresh faces, such as Hayden Mullins, Kwesi Appiah and James Spencer. He also worked hard to secure loan extensions for Kieron Freeman, Jack Grealish and Callum McGregor.

On paper, it looked like a good squad that would soon claw its way out of trouble, and in January, the signs were indeed there. Though 2013 finished on a sour note with a defeat at Crawley Town, the first of the year saw Notts record an emphatic 3-0 win against Bradford City.

This was then followed up with a hard-fought 2-1 win against Sheffield United, before arguably the most significant result of the month, a 1-0 away win at Stevenage. The League One table had Notts up in 16th place, and for a weekend at least, Magpies fans were joyous.

As it has often been this season, it didn’t take long for hopes to once again come crashing down. Just when it looked like Notts were on their way to an emphatic victory against Peterborough United at London Road after scoring twice in the first seven minutes, young Ronan Murray then contrived to get himself sent off in the 15th minute for lashing out at Danny Swanson. The Posh didn’t need to be asked twice – by the hour mark, they were level, and by full time, they had won 4-3.

Things would get even worse when Walsall came round and proceeded to humiliate Notts in front of their own fans, thrashing them 5-1, and just to extinguish any remaining feel-good factor brought to Meadow Lane by the January hat-trick of wins, Preston North End saw off the Magpies 2-0 at Deepdale.

But of course, Notts County wouldn’t allow a certain mood to linger within the fans’ collective consciousness for too long – they proceeded to remind people of what they can do when everything clicks into place by routing Coventry City 3-0 at home.

And then, the pendulum swung back the other way with a 2-0 defeat at Wolverhampton Wanderers, which in itself may not necessarily be a bad thing, considering their pedigree, but when you then consider that the same horror show that took place at Peterborough just a month prior was then repeated against Shrewsbury Town, it was enough to drain even the most ardent fan of any newly instilled optimism. Two early Notts goals? Check. Notts player gets sent off in the first half? Check. The opposition going on to win the game? Check.

As things stand, Notts County are second from bottom. The false sense of security caused by us floating above the relegation zone despite having played three or four more games than the teams around us is now quickly vanishing, because they’ve actually gone on and got results from those games in hand over the last few weeks. All we need is Stevenage to win just one of their two games in hand, and we’ll be bottom again.

Time is running out for Notts County Football Club’s spell in League One. This is it now; they must play like they’ve never played before and fight like they’ve never fought before.

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

Giuseppe tweets at @JoeJonesHome

A quiet year

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

STFC

It is fitting that the last post about Swindon on here is just over a year old. Because, for many the middle of February back in 2013 was the moment at which Swindon Town ceased to matter.

It certainly was for the national media whose interest died the moment they could no longer affix Paolo Di Canio to the club’s name (even Nile Ranger wasn’t enough for them). It was for many casual fans once drawn by the Italian’s end-of-the-pier showmanship (and his league and cup success). Most importantly, it was for owner Andrew Black who had tired of seeing his millions underwriting each of Di Canio’s expensively signed, and subsequently expensively bombed out, players. So, in that February, Black finally sold the club.

And it is his departure that has defined the last 12 months for Swindon Town. Certainly Di Canio’s flounce somewhat spoiled the end of last season, just as the resignation of his replacement, Kevin MacDonald, hit the start of this, but it is the boardroom not the boot-room which set the direction for this season.

The club’s protracted sale to Jed McCrory’s patchwork consortium of unseen investors and unwashed-looking businessmen made it clear that the era of excess was over. Swindon could clearly no longer afford the vast and expensive squad, which the Italian had brought in, paid up and paid off. So wages was immediately halved, from around £4.5 million to £2.4 million – even if Swindon continue to pay a good chunk of other clubs’ bills for taking on their offcuts.

As the McCrory board shuffled and re-shuffled, the selling off of commercial rights on long-term deals, subsidising failed concerts and short-term loans from those unseen seemed to be the only financial plan. That was until, from out of those same shadows, stepped Lee Power as the primary source of funding and football knowledge.

The former Norwich striker, and one-time agent, first became Swindon’s director of football operations then seized the position of chairman as an unseemly struggle played out through premature press releases and the semi-literate tweetings of out-going chairman McCrory. Now, the publicity-shy Swiss-exile runs the club almost solo, supposedly within its limited means, and the 90-day limit of his tax status.

Stability has been similarly hard to find on the pitch too. While Mark Cooper’s installation as manager was met with grudging acceptance by most fans, striker Nile Ranger signing, lifestyle and current court appointment, has kept the situation somewhat fluid. After all, planning an attacking strategy can’t be easy if your main threat, and probably most talented player – frequently fails to appear for training.

The rest of the team has somewhat of an ad-hoc quality, largely begged and borrowed from others’ development squads. Not only has Power famously used his friendship with Spurs boss, Tim Sherwood, to add three Tottenham loanees, a further trio have come from White Hart Lane. This effect has been magnified as four more have also arrived via coach Luke William’s old position running Brighton’s reserves.

But that is the way that Swindon are developing. Power calls it his “a young energetic team” but the reality is more of a football donut – at one end are those just starting their careers, at the other are a few just ending theirs. In the middle, there is nothing. Nothing in that 24 to 29 age bracket when peak performance are delivered and peak prices are paid.

Despite this, the team are fascinating. The zesty passing football they play fits their age with an interchange of position and formation as 352 morphs into 433 and, even a probably unseen in League One, 460 – all to accommodate a succession of gifted technician and passers: Alex Pritchard, Yaser Kasim, Massimo Luongo and Ryan Mason. Consistency has been an issue – as you might expect from a XI whose average age has on occasion dropped as low as 23.18 and with just 1,000 league starts between an entire team (versus Leyton Orient 22/2/14). Injury, suspensions and a court case have also taken their toll, forcing further line up and formation changes on Cooper.

However, the team has been, at times, very good and that is what gives Swindon fans some hope. Despite missing out on the JPT final on penalties and currently watching the play-offs slip away, Swindon Town have performed beyond on what most expected at the start of the season.

If we can get beyond these boardroom struggles, the local press ban, and whatever is going on in Nile Ranger’s head today, then, and only then, Swindon Town will once again start to matter.

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

Alex tweets at @STFConly

It’s not quite squeaky bum time

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Steve_CotterillBristol City Football Club are 17th in League One. That doesn’t sound right does it? Sadly for all Robins fans out there, that’s the predicament your club finds itself in (And this is a high point in the season!)

As news broke this week of ‘Paulo’s Circus’ coming to Ashton Gate, fans may be excused thinking that they had already arrived, and been here for some time. Performances on the pitch have sometimes replicated that of a circus act, with goals being leaked left right and yes, centre.

However, now is not a time for joking, now is a time to pull together and maintain League One football. I painstakingly said the same thing this time last season, only Championship football was on the line back then. I was convinced then that if we were to drop into League One, we would certainly make a fist of bouncing straight back up. In fact, I ran a poll on Twitter and the optimism amongst fans backed my views, little did we know it would be ‘another’ long hard season of fighting relegation.

After witnessing a tremendous effort in securing three unexpected, yet hugely needed points at Leyton Orient last week, belief was rife that back to back wins would be secured by beating Tranmere Rovers at home. Despite the efforts of the players, a tired, lacklustre performance meant fans left the stadium rather content with just a point, whilst bemoaning the opportunity to take all three against a rather poor League One outfit.

One thing that did fill me with hope as I left the stadium was the reaction of the fans. A mooted applause replaced the boos, whilst Twitter and radio phone ins were understanding of the work load the players had been through.

Between January 14th and February 15th, the club had amassed nine games, playing Saturday-Tuesday in every week bar one of those weeks. This run of fixtures, coupled with the travelling looked to have caught up with the squad in the jaded performance against Tranmere.

As I look cautiously ahead, games look winnable, but every game in League One looks winnable to me. On paper, this Bristol City side is littered with individuals capable of plying their trade higher up the divisions. Yet at Bristol City, it never seems to click. With three of the next four games away from home, one thing is certain, City are going to be fighting relegation right to the wire again.

Will they survive this time? I dread to think what happens if they don’t.

Written by Lee Molland, We Are Going Up’s Bristol City blogger

Lee tweets at @molls28

All Change at Molineux

Friday, February 7th, 2014

LC

It’s amazing what one result can do for a football fan’s outlook on life. I started penning a piece for WAGU! just before Christmas, which would have been one of those really annoying articles about how a team at the top of league (well, Wolves were second at the time) should be doing better. In the next five games, we won just one and have slipped out of the promotion places, behind Brentford and Leyton Orient. But, sometimes a 90-minute performance can resurrect not only a team, but also the support for that team.

Finally, it appears that boss Kenny Jackett has found a group of players and a system that suits this squad. In January an excellent 2-0 win over Preston was the follow-up to a meek surrender in Gillingham, live on Sky the previous week. The starting lineup for last weeks victory over 10-man Bradford City was unrecognisable in comparison to the team that so meekly surrendered it’s Championship place. Of Dean Saunders’ last three Wolves starting XIs, only a handful are even close to being in contention for Saturday’s trip to Stevenage. Almost bizarrely, one of the players with the most chance will be Nouha Dicko, signed permanently from Wigan Athletic this week (he played a handful of games on loan last season).

Of those 15 players, five remain at the club; five are out on loan*; two returned to their parent clubs; one was sold and two left due to the end of their contract. Joining Dicko at the Compton training ground is Bakary Sako, surprisingly unsold in January, along with Jamie O’Hara (40 minutes in a Wolves shirt this season), Matt Doherty (injured since November) and George Elokobi (one league start this season). Elokobi is clearly unwanted (and many Wolves fans have long believed that even this level is too high for a player of his limited ability), while O’Hara is frozen out

In fact, there are only five outfield players who are anywhere near our current first team who had played for the club more than fifteen times before the start of this season: Sako, Richard Stearman, David Davis and David Edwards are four of them. Bizarrely, the last is actually Leon Clarke, signed a week ago, but is actually our fifth most experience player, in terms of Wolves appearances.  Of those five, Sako has been at the club for 18 months, Clarke has a gap of seven years between his 83rd and 84th appearances, and Davis in the first team squad for just under two years. Kenny Jackett has overseen a huge upheaval of the playing staff, and it is small wonder that the squad is only just starting to gel.

The win against Preston was the first time that we have played well for 90 minutes. Previous good performances have generally lasted for only 45-minutes before going pear-shaped, the Christmas period top-of-the-table clash with Leyton Orient being a perfect example – we were excellent for 45-minutes before an enforced change and an improvement from Orient saw a 1-1 draw. But, with Jackett’s signings bedding in, the signs are there for an improved second half of the season.

And Jackett’s signings have been good. In fact they’ve been better than good. Of Jackett’s eight permanent signings, there are question marks over only two of them. And they only signed in January. Every other signing is getting better and better. It’s difficult to judge given that three of the last five seasons have been spent in the Premier League, but most of Jackett’s signings seem to be the best we’ve made in a long time. He has finally plugged the left back and right wing positions that have plagued the club for longer than I care to remember with the consistency of Scott Golbourne and trickery of James Henry respectively, while Kevin McDonald is absolutely exquisite in the middle of the park. Add to this Sam Ricketts who is our best defender whether on the left, right or in the center and the exciting Michael Jacobs, and Jackett has replaced the nucleus of the team (many of whom have extensive Premier League experience) with better players.

Arguably the final position he needed to recruit was upfront. And he has definitely change that around – in the final days of the transfer window, out went the £6m Kevin Doyle, £2.4m Björn Sigurðarson and leading scorer Leigh Griffiths. This had been the position Jackett had the most trouble with. Griffiths scored a goal for every 147 minutes on the pitch, but didn’t contribute a huge amount elsewhere. Doyle had obvious quality, but a goal return of 3 in 23 wasn’t enough, while Sigurðarson never really got a run in his favoured position. If Nouha Dicko and Leon Clarke prove to be the forwards who manage to combine goals with all-round play, Wolves fans should have a lot to look forward to between now and May.

*Wolves are a League 1 club with nine players out on loan. Of those, one has taken four points from Juventus in the Champions League group stage, one is in the League Cup semi-finals, another has 23 starts for a team in the Championship play-offs, one is playing in the Norwegian top flight and a further two are at French top-flight clubs. Wolves are a League 1 club.

Written by Tom Bason, We Are Going Up’s Wolverhampton Wanderers blogger

Tom tweets at @toomb306

We’re Brentford FC, we win every week

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

MW

WWWWWDWWWWWWWWD

Well, who would have guessed Brentford would be in such a comfortable position at the start of the season? After being tipped for promotion early on after last season’s heart-breaking conclusion, the Bees started the season lethargically, peaking in a disappointing 2-1 defeat away at Stevenage on 12 October.

A lot has changed in west London over the past few months.

Uwe Rosler’s sudden departure for Wigan Athletic in early December came as a huge shock and, after widespread speculation about who would replace the former Manchester City striker, his successor came from within; 51-year-old Sporting Director, Mark Warburton.

The club moved quickly to steady the ship and within a week of Warburton’s appointment, former Liverpool academy boss Frank McParland had filled the vacant role of Sporting Director whilst former Everton and Rangers captain, David Weir was appointed as Assistant Manager; leading to the departure of coach, Peter Farrell and Rosler’s assistant, Alan Kernaghan.

A new philosophy has been set in place, which allows the players more freedom on the pitch, and contrary to Rosler’s strict style of play, Warburton has stressed that he “doesn’t mind” if players make the odd mistake on the ball.

And it has clearly worked, leaving the Bees just one point off the summit of the division and culminating in ‘Warbs’ and midfielder Sam Saunders winning the League One Manager and Player of the Month awards, respectively, for December. Surely it is the first time a football club has won two consecutive Manager of the Month awards with two different managers?

In terms of individual performances, Saunders has been a revelation under Warburton, aiding the promotion push with an impressive return of four goals in six games; helping to shed the ‘super-sub’ label he had earned under Rosler. Meanwhile, tireless midfielder Alan McCormack has displayed his versatility by keeping right-back Shaleum Logan out of the team and helping the team keep eight clean sheets from the last fifteen games; whilst slotting seamlessly back into his usual holding role against Port Vale, in which the Bees ran out 2-0 winners.

Influential centre-back, Harlee Dean and midfield maestro, Adam Forshaw have been absent last two games. Whilst there have been rumours that both were subject transfer bids, in truth (thankfully) the pair are said to be both suffering with knocks after a hectic Christmas period.

Nonetheless, the team have displayed that their extensive strength in depth without the pair, comfortably beating Port Vale then drawing away at in-form Walsall; club legend Kevin O’Connor – approaching his 500th appearance for the club – comfortably partnering Tony Craig in the heart of defence.

Warburton has used his extensive contacts list to acquire some first-class loan signings during the January transfer window thus far; explosive striker Chuba Akpom joining from Premier League leaders Arsenal and winger Alan Judge from Blackburn Rovers, whilst Marcello Trotta and George Saville have both extended their loans until the end of the campaign.

Former Watford academy coach, Warburton, has also made no secret of the fact that he would like to see Cardiff winger Kadeem Harris back in TW8 after he recovers from a hamstring injury that has kept him out since before Christmas. Wigan’s Rob Kiernan is also rumoured to be returning to west London for his second spell as a standby centre-back after Cardiff youngster Ben Nugent’s loan expired.

Social media rumours earlier this week suggested that leading scorer Clayton Donaldson, who scored his 49th goal for the club against Walsall last weekend, was subject to a £1.5 million bid from Wigan. For starters, the club need to keep their leading stars until the end of the season, at least, so that the aim of promotion can finally be realised; and secondly, who in their right mind puts forward such a large sum of money for a player whose contract runs out at the end of the season?!

It is imperative that the squad stays together, and with a gruelling 20-fixture schedule still to be completed including tough games against fellow promotion hopefuls Wolves, Leyton Orient and Preston, anything is possible.

But there is no reason why the club can’t achieve another top-six finish at minimum and, judging by current form, automatic promotion cannot be ruled out as a possibility either.

It must be pointed out that the fantastic support this club attracts is second to none, with the last three home games exceeding the 8,000 mark  and the electric atmosphere created by the diehard Ealing Road faithful week after week no doubt contributing to the the team’s success.

The upcoming mid-week Sheffield United game should attract a large following, with the club generously laying on free coach travel to Bramall Lane. West London neighbours Fulham are rumoured to be taking around 500 fans with the same travel offer this Sunday whilst Brentford will most probably fill the initial allocation of 1,444.

The draw at Walsall may have ended hopes of a club record nine consecutive league wins, however the Bees are still unbeaten under Mark Warburton and improving with each game.

With just 100 days until the season concludes and the Bees sitting pretty in the top two, could this be THE year?

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

Dan tweets at @_DanLong_ & also writes HERE.

Dreaming of Wembley

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

291n78yWhen Dean Smith took charge of Walsall a little over three years ago, the club was on it’s knees at the foot of the League One table. If you’d asked the fans at the time – “where will you be in three years time?” – most would have been placing their bets firmly in the lower half of League One or, more likely, languishing somewhere in the basement division.

So it’s remarkable that after a steady re-building process and a really strong 2013, Walsall are genuine contenders for a place in the League One promotion mix-up this season.

The club managed to record the (joint) fewest Football League defeats in the last calendar year to help notch up an impressive 73 points with the third best defensive record. Certainly a marked improvement on the previous few years.

However, it remains to be seen whether this form can continue over a full football season. If it does, Walsall would be extremely unlucky to miss out on a playoff place.

At the moment every Walsall fan is dreaming of seeing their team play at Wembley – something that no Saddlers fan has ever seen! The club is currently the highest placed team never to have been involved in a game under the famous twin towers or new arch.

This dream might hinge on the next few weeks. Trips to Coventry (Northampton), Peterborough, Preston and Rotherham along with home ties with Swindon, Milton Keynes, Wolves and Leyton Orient make for an important and tough set of fixtures over February and March.

A key to making the most of these fixtures could be the recent re-signing of Febian Brandy on loan from Sheffield United. While the press have been commenting about how well Walsall have done to replace the departed front three of Paterson, Grigg and Brandy this season, in truth, Brandy was never replaced. All season the right wing position has been filled by James Baxendale who, despite being very talented, is a square peg in a round hole in that position.

Another key factor could be the addition of another striker. The fans have been asking the question since August and Dean Smith has only just started making noises about the possibility of addressing the situation.

Walsall have managed only 30 league goals so far this season – comfortably the lowest in the top half. While Craig Westcarr has notched his fair share of goals, when he’s not effective, there is no Plan B. Another striker who could chip in with 5-10 goals over the remainder of the season could just be enough to push Walsall into the top six.

New striker or not, play-off place or not, operating on one of the smallest budgets in the league, Walsall are set to have another really good season and with a bit of luck it might turn into a Wembley debut come the end of May.

Written by Tom Miller, We Are Going Up’s Walsall Blogger

Tom tweets @likelyladtom

A Case For And Against Graham Turner

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

GT

They say a week is a long time in football and for once, as a Shrewsbury Town fan, it’s reached a boiling point. That long time has written volumes in the club’s modern history with the stepping down and retirement of our manager Graham Turner.

Turner is something of a maverick despite his 65 years of age being the longest serving manager in English football. His 35 years of managerial and coaching service to the game is legendary and, on the basis of past achievements in the lower league of the game, Turner demands respect. Taking Shrewsbury to the second tier of English football and laying the framework for us to stay up there for 10 years will rank as his biggest achievement, although his work in transforming Hereford from financially poor Conference staples into Leeds United conquerors in League 1 deserves a close second mention. Throw in bringing Steve Bull to Wolves and them rampaging up the leagues in the late 80′s and his CV is certainly nothing to be sniffed at.

A worthy CV tempted Salop chairman Roland Wycherley to bring Turner back in a second time at the modern Greenhous Meadow as he seeked an end to Town’s toiling in the fourth tier, which our Graham finally ended with promotion at the end of the 2011/12 season. A great season with some fantastic young talent blended in worthy journeymen, it was one to remember for me, my friends and other Salop faithful. On the back of our best home record ever, it was a job well done with champagne being doused around by me and the boys round our regular haunts in Shrewsbury post games and after that final win to cross the line.

However, after keeping us up last year reasonably in the end, doubt began to creep in. I’ve voiced previously on WAGU that Turner may not be the man to take the club forward when his contract was up at the end of last season and he, put simply, has not. I feel that these extra 8 months at the helm has gone a very long way to damage both Turner and Shrewsbury. If we go down, he has to take a big slice of blame through his actions and hirings & firings (or lack there of) over the summer. With an eye on money I can only persume, the only “notable” signings were the aging Tamika Mkandawire and poor David Winfield from Millwall and Stoke reserves on frees. The rest have been short term loans just to keep us ticking over and haven’t contributed alot in their time.

His man management has been very poor, highlighted with the news this week that last season’s golden boy Darren Jones has had his contract paid up in full and sent packing for simple reason that management told him he wasn’t good enough and he would be third choice centre back despite looking solid at the start of this season. Throw in elder players like Paul Parry who you would have thought would be fine in L1 being benched constantly it seems and promising youngsters like Aaron Wildig rotting at the bench for most of the season and it makes you question Turner’s actions.

There were some warning signs at the end of the promotion season with alot of failings to tie down key talent before they could leave on frees. Granted, some chose not to stay in the search of more lucrative contracts (James Collins going to Swindon last minute still hurts as he was a top goalscorer for them, and they made a tidy sum for him moving to Hibernian in the Scottish Prem) but there were one or two who had something to offer at League 1 and 2 if we went down that first year who were refused more than one year in their contract renewals. This botching of keeping talent on still irks me, leaving us with a small core group of players left at this point.

Looking forward though, I can’t see a good state of affairs for whoever comes in next, if we can get them in before the transfer window shuts. There’s not a great deal to work with in an imbalanced and demotivated squad. There hasn’t been a goal at the Meadow for about 8 hours now and we’ve had 6 defeats on the bounce. We’re hurting badly and we’re in need for a miracle worker if we’re to keep our heads above water and survive this season. God knows what’s happening with the money the fans pump into the club either. It hardly feels like we’ve had a decent signing in ages to get me going. Probably Tom Eaves whose goals kept us up the last half of last year but he’s failed to spark into life his second time round this year.

Overall, I’m in two minds over today’s news about Graham Turner retiring. I am gutted because he has been a hero in pulling us to where we are. His hands for all I know could have been tied in regards to player signings and contracts and honestly I would have preferred him to stay in an upstairs role. With his vast knowledge of football and contacts, he is an asset still, even when he’s not in a coaching role. But at the same time, looking back over his watch the current squad has been dying a slow death to the point where morale amongst the team and fans is near dead.

All I can do now is look onwards and upwards with a blank slate for whoever comes in next. I just hope Roland backs his new man and gives him a few quid because we need a quick fix for now to stay up. What’s Paul Hart up to nowadays?

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

Terry tweets at @lewisonlife