David Cameron Walker

Archive for the ‘League Two’ Category

Captaining The Sinking Ship

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

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It’s been a tough few weeks for Pompey fans, with a defeat at Fleetwood on Saturday, prior to that, three 0-0’s put Richie Barker’s team in a good position to push for safety in League Two. However, with other teams around the Blues on a similar points’ tally, with more games to play, it’s become ‘squeaky bum time’ for Pompey’s remaining games this season.

After the 5-1 away thumping at Scunthorpe it became evident that something needed to change. With a 1-0 win against Accrington Stanley under the team’s belt, the team needed to push on for the trip to Chesterfield; doing exactly that. With Pompey putting in a solid performance in front of the Sky cameras to earn a point, Pompey fans finally had some optimism for the rest of the season, providing the team could continue to put in the same performance for the remaining games.

Unfortunately, two goalless draws and a loss later, Richie Barker’s team are once again looking into the mire that is the bottom half of the Fourth Division. Several teams around the Blues have games in hand, and are only separated by a few points, and as with any division in England, anyone can beat anyone.

This is where Barker has to prove his worth as Pompey’s manager, something he has struggled to do since his appointment midway through the season. I for one am not impressed with his performance at the helm. From what I have seen, there are constant digs at his predecessor, Guy Whittingham, about the ‘leaky defence’, which he claims to have plugged. However, conceding 3 goals on Saturday suggests otherwise.

With Pompey’s new rock, Ben Chorley, injured, the defence looks shaky. There is no cover for him, although he should not be relied upon to play every match, to win every ball, and to stay 100% fit all the time. This very much comes down to Barker’s recent press conference, saying the defence ‘frustrated’ him on Saturday. The same defence he praised less than a week before, saying it had be fixed. Many Pompey fans are beginning to question Barker’s tactics and approaches in the press, along with the team’s form under his leadership.

Barker currently has a 0.6 goal-to-game ratio, worse than Guy Whittingham’s, however there have been less goals conceded. That said, 0-0 and 1-1 draws will not be good enough for survival in League 2. If Pompey lose to York in their next game, there will be just a point between them and the relegation zone, with other teams around having a game in hand.

From what I’ve seen since Barker took over, the style of play has become very defensive, removing all attacking chances. Although this has stopped conceding goals on a regular basis, there is no Plan B once the opposition have scored; it becomes a case of ‘how many will they beat us by’. That isn’t the mentality Pompey fans should have, and all desire to attack seems to have been stripped from the squad by Barker. In my 18 years of watching football, I’ve always known that if you’re going to ‘park the bus’; you need to be able to counter attack – something that isn’t being done by Barker.

Since coming in as manager, he has brought in 8 new players, covering all areas of the field, however 3 players he has loaned out worry me, and may explain why we aren’t scoring goals. David Connolly, Ryan Bird and Ashley Harris are all attacking players, with different skills, all of which have put in solid performances for the first team this season – so why loan them out and bring in 3 new strikers? With decisions like this, it’s no wonder people are questioning Barker, and claiming he is barking mad. Something needs to change, and it may be too little too late, as come the end of the season Pompey could well be facing a trip to Havant & Waterlooville in the 2014/15 season.

Time really is against Richie Barker, and many Pompey fans have lost patience with the former Crawley manager. Performances must improve, and points need to be picked up from the remaining games. If not, then the already sinking ship will most certainly hit rock bottom; relegation from the Football League.

Onwards and upwards, in Pompey we Trust!

Written by Harry Davis, We Are Going Up’s Portsmouth blogger

Harry tweets at @MrDavishPFC

The end is nigh….

Monday, March 10th, 2014

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It’s odd being doomed to relegation at this time of year. I always assumed relegation to the Conference (well, the second one) would come after a year-long scrap, just missing out on survival in the last week or two of the season. I didn’t think we’d go down the same way as last time – with the wimpiest of whimpers.

There’s not an awful lot to add to what I’ve written previous. We’ve been increasingly atrocious all season. There were excuses in the early months, injuries being the main one – our defensive woes were put down to our main centre-backs being unavailable and being forced to play left-back Tom Cruise in that position, something he was ill suited to. Initially it seemed this was true: Aaron Downes and Krystian Pearce returned and we looked much more solid defensively. But it didn’t last.

Added to this, our woes in front of goal have continued. Despite loaning a whole host of young strikers, no one has yet replicated the presence and finishing of John Marquis, who has ended up on loan at Northampton, where our ex-manager just happens to now be employed.

I can’t help but feel smug about the way things have panned out since Knill was sacked after what I wrote last time – even though citing myself isn’t cool, it’s worth noting that most of what I said has come to pass. Yes, we didn’t have to pay Bournemouth compensation for the services of Chris Hargreaves, and Knill getting another job shortly after meant that (presumably) we didn’t have to pay up his full contract, so we’re slightly less financially screwed than I thought. But the decision to sack Knill and replace him with a rookie manager now looks to have been a catastrophic blunder which will ultimately cost us everything we have worked for over the last seven years.

For one, the squad has been weakened. Knill knew what the issues with the squad were at the time we left – our form had dipped slightly after our mini-revival, but that was largely due to the loss of Marquis, who was holding the attack together on his own. By sacking Knill, not only did we lose Marquis, but we lost him to one of our relegation rivals. We also lost Damien Mozika, who was on the verge of signing a permanent contract with the club until Knill was sacked, and promptly left when he did – this says a lot considering he seemingly hasn’t joined up with another club since.

But in spite of this, Knill is still largely the fall guy as far as Torquay fans are concerned – he built the squad, therefore it’s his fault. Never mind that those fans were the ones demanding he be hired after saving us from relegation last year. Never mind that the squad he built was praised in the summer by the same fans who are now ridiculing him. Never mind that he was playing the direct style of football some of the most vocal fans wanted him to play. Never mind that the budget has become increasingly tight here and he had little room for manoeuvre or error. Never mind that he lost his chosen assistant manager Chris Brass to a relegation rival and was never allowed to hire a replacement, a sure sign that the board were no longer backing him. Never mind that his future replacement as manager was openly criticising him on television and saying that he wanted the job, knowing that he was popular enough at the club to have some influence.

As for Hargreaves, he has looked increasingly out of his depth at the helm. Ever since he took over, he has largely persisting with starting with three strikers, a bizarre tactic that was never going to be sustainable even if it worked in his first match in charge. His loan signing record has been poor. He has radically changed the composition of the line-up every week, which isn’t something that can be put down to squad rotation – I know that trying the same failing thing twice or more will probably produce the same results, but it suggests he doesn’t have any idea of who his best team is. And the performances have continued to be abysmal.

I have sympathy with him because it’s his first job in management and it couldn’t be a worse situation – taking over a club seemingly en route to relegation with little money to spend to get out of it, players who have either given up or are intent on undermining any manager that drops them, and a fanbase that lurches from declaring managers and players to be saviours to declaring them to be villains. It’s a poisonous position to be in generally, let alone when you’re learning as you go along.

The blame doesn’t lie with either Knill or Hargreaves. It lies with the owners of the club. It’s been a recurring theme in my blog entries over the past couple of years, but the complacent attitude in which the club has been run since at least the start of 2012 was always going to lead us into trouble. League Two is not a division where you can choose to stand still and be fine – you have to be moving forward to stand still, because every team is striving to improve, be it to get promoted to League One or avoid relegation to the Conference, an improving league with many large clubs which is producing strong teams capable of at least being safe in mid-table, if not pushing for consecutive promotions.

It was during our promotion push at the tail end of 2011-12 that it became apparent. Martin Ling did a fantastic job of getting us into the hunt but was not provided with any extra money to try and secure promotion, perhaps due to an idea running through the club at the time that it was “too early” for us to get promoted. We started the following season with an even more restricted squad, with the £500,000-odd we earned from transfer fees in the summer not reinvested in the squad – instead, it was spent on the new stand (which was necessary) and updating the training facilities (which was both unnecessary and has been a complete disaster – these facilities still aren’t ready to use). They assumed Ling could pull off more miracles and sacked him when he did not, even though he wasn’t in charge when our form spiralled out of control. Knill seems to have suffered a similar fate, sacked for having no more rabbits to pull out, and surely Hargreaves is equally doomed.

We have been in a tailspin since the end of 2011-12, when the squad ran out of steam during the last month and a half of the season. Without any inside information, it seems as if the playing budget has been cut time and again, and yet the board are still expecting the manager in charge to pull off miracles. But this time, making up 10 points plus goal difference to ensure our Football League survival for next season is one miracle too far – we cannot survive this.

The real worry is that unless there is a dramatic change of culture in the way the club is run, we may be staring at relegation from the Conference too, let alone attempting to get back into the Football League. There’s no place for complacency in running a football club. If they didn’t learn that last year, when will they ever learn?

Written by James Bennett, We Are Going Up’s Torquay United Blogger

James tweets at @jabennett_

A new face in Town

Saturday, March 1st, 2014

Chris Wilder

If a soap opera about a football club was aired on the television, the script would probably be along the same lines as the last couple of months at Northampton Town. It has had a bit of everything and, should new manager Chris Wilder, keep the club in the Football League, most Cobblers fans will probably look back at it as an interesting, if not exciting, time for the football club.

It started at the end of the Aidy Boothroyd reign. His demise (perhaps ‘downfall’ would be a more appropriate word, but if Northampton Town are relegated it could be THE END for the club) was inevitable given that the club were 92nd out of 92 English league clubs. The season up to that point (and, indeed, up to this point) had been an utter disaster. He had won a grand total of FOUR games out of 21 and we had scored just 17 goals. The statistics were damning and the club made the correct decision to sack him.

Describing Boothroyd’s time at the club is difficult. He inherited a shockingly poor squad, in 2011, which had been entirely mismanaged by Gary Johnson and, incredibly, kept them up. Last season, he led the club to within 90 minutes of promotion, but he was constantly undermined by his inability to win away from Sixfields and, in the end, it was this which stopped us from gaining promotion. This season has, so far, been one to forget and that is almost entirely down to Boothroyd. He has been hugely backed and in the end he failed to deliver.

Despite these failings I cannot bring myself to dislike him. He did a much better job than Gary Johnson and, even after this season, I would trust him to deliver success more than I would trust Johnson. He never shirked questions in the media and always came across as a knowledgeable football man and a very passionate person. He created a good connection with the fans, particularly in his first six months or so, and there are very few managers who would have been able to take a group of almost non-league players and turn them into to Wembley finalists within 18 months. In the end, however, he had to go.

Caretaker manager Andy King was always fighting a losing battle. It was well publicised that Chairman David Cardoza was approaching managers and at no point did it seem that King would ever get the job. I’ll never forget his post-match interview at the end of his first game against Burton Albion where he sounded incoherent and as if he didn’t understand the questions he was being asked, but he grew into the role and delivered some of the most satisfying moments of the season such as the 0-0 draw away to Portsmouth, in which the Cobblers squad was utterly decimated by injury, and the 2-1 victory over Newport County, which included a penalty save from Matt Duke, who has been one of our best players this season.

King always sounded passionate (other than in that first interview) and as if he really cared about what happened to this Football Club, despite the fact he would no allegiance to it once a new manager was appointed. Loyalty almost seems a thing of the past in football, but Andy King certainly is loyal and I hope he gets a Football League job soon – I fully expect him too.

Whilst Andy King was doing his best to steady the ship, rumours were circulating around who was going to get the job. A few non-league managers were spoken of in relation the job, such as Kevin Willkin and Jon Brady whilst ex-player and fans favourite, Chris Hargreaves was also mooted and it is rumoured that he was interviewed twice for the role. In the end though he opted for another one of his former clubs, Torquay United, and I expect him to do a good job there. Controversial figures, Paulo Di Canio and Martin Allen were both rumoured to be interested in the job and there was a feeling, after the snubbing of Hargreaves, that the appointment of one of these names may be the solution; they would have definitely caused a reaction from the players, which would have probably changed our fortunes around, but in terms of a long-term project they would not have been the answer.

Whilst these rumours were growing in volume, the club stayed quiet and, in the immediate days before the appointment, this became a frustration for fans. The length it time to make as appointment was excessive and, following the 2-0 home defeat to York, discontent began to reach fever pitch. It grew to an unhealthy high when it was rumoured that the Cobblers had made an illegal approach for Newport County manager Justin Edinburgh.

The Friday before a home match against Chesterfield, the story concerning Oxford United manager Chris Wilder and it was assumed he would be resigning paving the way to join Northampton and he refused to face the media before Oxford’s match. The Oxford Chairman ‘confirmed’ that he had resigned on Saturday evening however Chris Wilder denied this was the case, before he did eventually resign on Sunday. He was announced as the new Northampton manager on Monday.

It’s fair to say that Wilder’s appointment has been met with the same level of enthusiasm as the last two appointments of Johnson and Boothroyd. For me, the appointment is a very solid one and I expect Wilder to keep us in the Football League. He has brought in some excellent players such as Emile Sinclair, Ricky Ravenhill and Alan Connell and even his more ‘left-field’ signings, such as Leon McSweeney and Gregor Robertson have so far done well.

Results have, so far, lived up to the billing. Despite disappointments against Fleetwood and Plymouth, the Cobblers have recorded home wins against Hartlepool and Southend as well as a priceless 2-1 victory against Torquay. The wins have been a result of terrific amounts of hard work from the players but also due to the quality that Wilder is bringing out in them; Chris Hackett and Darren Carter are playing better than they have all season, Duke appears to have got over his blip and we are scoring goals on a regular basis.

It was certainly a major coup for Northampton Town Football Club in snatching Chris Wilder from local rivals, and promotion hopefuls, Oxford United but, given the backing that Wilder has got (and will continue to get) from the Chairman and the fans, I am confident that it will be the right move by both the club and Wilder himself. Staying up? No bother.

Up the Town.

Written by Liam Raggett, We Are Going Up’s Northampton Town blogger

Liam tweets at @LiamRaggett

Revolution back on track at Bury

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

_69185426_69185425Last summer saw a complete upheaval of the ownership at Bury Football Club with local businessman Stewart Day taking over the club, clearing all debts and bringing a new hope for all related to the Shakers. The long standing ownership of Brian Fenton and the board of directors had it’s high point when gaining promotion to League One in the 2010/2011 season, however since had not managed to build on that success. After just one season in League One, the following season saw relegation back to League Two and a reality check for the club.

The departure of Richie Barker to Crawley Town at the start of the 2012-2013 season after a solid 14th place finish in our first season led to the appointment of Peter Shirtliff (who was sacked after no wins in the opening eight games)  and subsequently Kevin Blackwell. The latter appeared at the time to be a coup for the club with his experience of managing at Championship level and play-off finals.

However, his appointment seemed to be the final nail in the coffin for the old ownership team. With Blackwell constantly blaming the finances of the club and lack of quality players for the poor results, they were seemingly unable to do anything about it. Admittedly a transfer embargo towards the end of the season imposed on us by the Football League for an unpaid loan didn’t help, however Blackwell seemed unable to motivate the players and the few signings he was able to make left many scratching their heads.

Also, his relationship with the players and the fans was deteriorating, not helped by his constant negative attitude in post match press conferences, for example openly calling some of the squad ‘garbage’. Relegation from League One eventually came at the end of that season without us really putting up a fight.

During last summer the takeover took place and talk of a ‘revolution’ at the club had everyone looking forward to this season and maybe repeating the promotion of three years ago. The new chairman restored financial stability and the transfer embargo was finally lifted, all debts being paid back including those owed to the Football League. He also gave a vote of confidence to Blackwell and gave him a chance to build his own squad, therefore having no excuses if it didn’t work out. During the summer transfer window several new faces arrived at the club and almost a completely new team started the first game of this season.

Despite the new team that Blackwell had constructed, the fortunes on the pitch did not change and at the beginning of this season, with a run of no win in seven games from the beginning of September, he was sacked on the October 14.  This led to his assistant and former player Ronnie Jepson taking over and apparently being told he would be manager until January at least.

However, it appeared that once another ex-player in David Flitcroft had showed his interest in the job after being released from his position as manager of Barnsley, the opportunity was too good to turn down. This led to Ronnie Jepson being released from his contract and Flitcroft taking over as manager on December 9.

Ronnie Jepson appeared to bring a little more motivation and fight into the team but the results did not improve as two wins in his ten games in charge showed. There was a clear lack of managerial experience and tactical knowledge required to manage at this level, which was a shame as it would have been great to see a former hero return to do well as manager.

David Flitcroft has since restored some of the positivity at the club that had been lost from the when the original takeover was completed. He has been a popular appointment with the fans and has shown he understands this level of football and what it takes to succeed. Although only being in charge for just over a month the playing squad has seen many coming and goings and an overall improvement in quality. He has outlined that the damage done by Blackwell will have to be repaired and has gone about it quickly.

It will take some time for Flitcroft to build his own team and get his ideas across to them but I hope the fans give him a chance to do so as I feel we have the right man to take us forward. Just last weekend he mentioned shouts from the stand above the dug out of ‘get it forward!’ and that these are a result of a year of poor tactics and players.

He is attempting to play football the right way and make us a team that is firstly hard to beat but will also create chances. The players he has brought in, such as Daniel Nardiello and Pablo Mills, are of a much higher standard and with him and Stewart Day I think we can attract more of the same. First and foremost survival this season is imperative and I think Flitcroft understands that, shown by him recruiting almost a completely new back four.

Now that we have ridden the storm of the Blackwell era, with Day and Flitcroft I think the club can keep its Football League status and build towards more next season. Now, where were we with that revolution?

Written by Ross Worsley, We Are Going Up’s Bury blogger

Ross tweets at @Wor_s

Away sweeter than Home for Oxford

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

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Watching Oxford this season has got me thinking about how much I enjoyed school. Well… not ‘school’ at all actually, but ‘school trips’. The time when you left the classroom drudgery that you were so familiar with and got on the bus to go somewhere else for the day. Away days for Oxford have been infinitely better than home ones, not just results but performances too. We are 7th in the table with only 5 league defeats this season, except every single one of them has come at the Kassam Stadium.

A glance at the table tells you our defence has been exceptional, just 21 goals conceded in 25 matches, the best in League 2 (4th best in the whole football league if you include QPR, Burnley and Wolves, although they’ve played 26 so never mind!). Chris Wilder bolstered the defence with Mullins, Newey and Hunt and it certainly appears to be paying off. In my last article I pointed out that the long-serving Wilder had only been given a one year contract extension. He was tasked with mounting a promotion push after consecutive years of mid-table finishes, where his good sides have always fallen away in the New Year. Then something rather unexpected happened….Portsmouth showed an interest in Wilder.

Naturally most fans wanted him to stay to keep the good ship Oxford going strong. After all we were top of the league and wanted to preserve that for as long as possible. Others were frustrated by the continuation of defensive tactics from the former full back, wanting a change in favour of a more attacking style that might resurrect home attendances. The chairman gave Wilder permission to hold talks, as he only had a short time left on his current deal, and told the press he was ‘not concerned’ by Portsmouth’s approach. The whole issue was over quite quickly. Wilder was not appointed, explaining that he held talks because of his family and the team remained focussed, qualifying for the 3rd round of the FA cup. Strong displays from the youth players helped to cope with injury problems and appeared to add weight to the decision of trusting in a development squad rather than the transfer market. The chairman has also promised to hold talks with Wilder in the coming months.

Oxford fans indulged in a little optimism at this point; assuming that all would be well going into the Christmas period now the manager position was secure again. The team was winning and many were excited by a big marketing push from the club which sold a lot of tickets. An expectant crowd of around 10,000 turned out on Boxing Day to watch Oxford United return to the top of Sky Bet League 2, as they faced mid-table Plymouth Argyle….

Oxford managed 2 shots on target and 1 goal. A generous Plymouth side even put the ball into their own net (just to make a game of it) but Oxford seemed to be having none of it and refused to attack. Plymouth scored 3 second half goals.

Optimism prevailed though. We remained in 2nd place for the visit of 3rd placed Scunthorpe. Here was an immediate opportunity to return to winning ways. The team could galvanise and make amends for the poor display and maybe now they could show the people of Oxfordshire what this team was really made of….

Oxford managed 3 shots on target and no goals.

It is more than fair to say Scunthorpe should have had 3 or 4, but eventually won 2 nil. Our home crowd had seen enough after the Plymouth game and around 6,000 turned up. In the last home game Portsmouth failed to create any chances and Oxford created the obligatory 2 opportunities, a 0-0 draw and another blow to optimism at Oxford. How can a side be so good away and so poor at home? Is this the New Year slump that we’ve come to expect, or will we find ways to keep our form and have something to play for at the closing days of this season?

We’re unlikely to be signing any players to help answer those questions because our Chairman wants to put faith in youth, which is understandable. Jonathan Henly has joined on loan from Reading to provide goalkeeping cover and Nicky Wroe looks a decent acquisition from Preston, but he is providing loan cover for Asa Hall who was recalled by Shrewsbury. Clearly these are short term signings out of necessity rather than luxury. The latest league leaders, Scunthorpe, have brought in several players including McSheffrey and Madden and are likely to maintain their success with that kind of firepower. Meanwhile Oxford’s top scorer James Constable has scored 7 this season and, whilst goals from all over the pitch have contributed to a decent tally of 35, the main worry is that we will not score or win enough at home to finish in the top 3. Talk to the cynics who wanted Wilder out before Christmas, and they’ll say “we’ll get found out away from home eventually and finish 10th”, but I’ve still got more optimism!

This is a tight league and Oxford United are tough to beat. I can see why, after just 4 home wins this campaign, a lot of our supporters will be wondering how on earth the team are doing it! Keep up the away form and we will push the chasing pack all the way. Improve at home, convert some of those draws at least, and the promised land of a top 3 finish is a real possibility. We are frustratingly close to being a very good side in this division…

Written by Ben Lawson, We Are Going Up’s Oxford United blogger

Ben tweets at @lawson_ben

Where Next?

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

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Second derby of the season against cross-county rivals Oxford United has come and gone, with this time yet another home loss to add to our ever-increasing troubles with serious thoughts as to whether we can avoid the drop into non-league football. Wycombe.

I’m very confused. Dazed. One of our best performances of the season, yet it’s another home league loss this season, and leaves us dangling in 20th, just two points off the drop into the pit that is non-league football.

Subject to what is swiftly becoming known as ‘standard league two refereeing’, Steven Craig was sent off after just twenty minutes for a dubious elbow decision that landed nowhere near John Mullins’ face. Straight red for the Scot recently back from a calf injury, ended by a shot of calf’s blood to the calf area. Madness. Prior to this Oxford has somewhat dominated proceedings, but sensing the disappointment in front of the home fans, Wycombe regrouped, and went at the game all guns blazing, the Gareth Ainsworth way. Aggression, passion and determination to pick up what would have been a massive three points considering the league position of the two sides, and the 1,500 Oxford fans who turned out in  force, but silent, who claimed this “wasn’t a derby”.

At half-time, the stats were in our favour. Having had more of the ball with one less man, and one more shot on target, showed we were by no means out of this game, and confidence was amongst the supporters for one of the first times in months. The second half began with Oxford once again taking the front foot, and with Ryan Williams causing a constant threat all afternoon, Wycombe’s back five had to be alert at all times. A number of chances fell both ways, but none more noticeable than when the ball bounced down to Gary Doherty six yards out, only for him to fire straight at the onrushing Clarke in the Oxford goal. The one person you don’t want in that position.

With Craig off the field, the front five in Lewis, Scowen, Arnold, Bloomfield and McClure, put in a shift and a half. Tired legs crept in after the hour mark, after what can only be described as a determined performance by the quarters. From here, Oxford began to dominate proceedings again, picking up a number of bookings to block off any potential counter attack Gareth Ainsworth’s men threw at them. Again, good wing play from Williams kept Sam Wood, our left-back, pinned back inside our own half. Arguably, after both picked up a booking for an altercation late in the second half, Williams could’ve, and probably should’ve, seen red, after a number of dives that were only frowned upon by the match referee, Brendan Malone, who had a poor game.

But, the sucker punch looked like it was coming. A few chances from Williams, Rigg and Constable left Oxford wondering what they had to do to get past Matt Ingram. But, on the 87th minute, it arrived. Some good build up play from the visitors, Nicky Wroe found himself in too much space on the edge of the box. A sweet strike, it must be said, went sailing to Ingram’s right, and left Wycombe fans mulling over a seventh home league loss, out of 13 home games, and without a home win since October 12. Poor.

As much as we played well and Saturday and were unlucky to lose, it was yet another late goal that put us to the sword. It was the eighth goal we’ve conceded in the final team minutes of games already this season, the most in the league. But why? Is it fatigue? Is it tactics? Poor substitutions? For me, I think all of these contributed at different times. Fatigue was the reasoning for Saturday’s late goal, but why didn’t Ainsworth make the substitutions when you realise that Lewis and Scowen are unable to run their feet into the ground anymore? There appears to be a real lack of tactical knowledge in the Wycombe backroom staff, with Ainsworth in his first managerial role, Richard Dobson being there because his old role wasn’t needed, and Lee Harrison leaving two weeks ago, Ainsworth is left to making all footballing decisions on his own, and instead of potentially taking notes and getting this across to his team, he prefers the “run up and down the line like I’m still playing approach”, one which I’ve personally never seen in professional football.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Gareth Ainsworth, and after his marvellous football league career, he has the potential to be a good coach and a good manager, but whilst he’s in his first few seasons in charge, an experienced, knowledgeable head is something that me, and many other fans would like to see, just to settle the ship, and avoid the drop.

So where do we go from here? The next few weeks and some of the most important games since I started attending Wycombe matches at the age of 6. In the next four games, we face 17th placed Mansfield, 21st placed Portsmouth, 19th placed Bury, and we end this run with 18th placed Accrington Stanley. Absolutely massive.  There is definitely the potential to get 12 points from these games, but the passion from Saturday needs to be shown in these four games, and the rest of the season.

In terms of squad, we currently have a mid-table to play-off places, type of squad. Where we are in the league, isn’t where a squad of our calibre should be. But, as we all know, in league two,  theres always a player who can improve every position on the pitch. We brought in Jordan Mustoe on loan from Wigan on Friday, to fill up the left-back spot which may allow Sam Wood to push forward into left midfield with the absence of Paris Cowan-Hall, who was rejected by JLS before signing in the summer. But the market can be exploited even further. On the rare occasion we create chances, nine times out of ten, there’s been no one there to put the ball in the back of the net. In McClure, Craig, Kuffour, Morais, Pittman and Morgan, we have plenty of options, but none have really marked this season with any type of consistency in scoring goals. Just two years back, the loan signings of Paul Hayes and Marcello Trotta were very close to keeping us in League One. We’ve already missed out on Paul Hayes, who re-joined Scunthorpe after becoming a free agent for a short period of time, but a potential loan for a Premier League or Championship striker is still an option open to Wycombe. For me, it’s a must.

Lets just hope we can start to turn things around!

Written by George Stokes, We Are Going Up’s Wycombe Wanderers Blogger

George tweets at @georgestokes13

Richie’s Revolution

Monday, January 20th, 2014

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It’s been a varied period at Fratton Park, with several changes being made both on and off the field. Firstly, I should update you all with the departure of Guy Whittingham who, after a string of poor displays, was let go by the Portsmouth hierarchy. After days of speculations and rumours, Richie Barker, formerly of Crawley Town, was appointed manager, alongside Steve Coppell, now Director of Football at Fratton Park.

It’s been a strange turn of events, but one that myself and many other Pompey fans felt was necessary. With Barker installed at the helm of the good ship Pompey, it was time for change on the pitch, something Barker expressed openly after defeat on his debut Pompey game.

Many players haven’t performed in a Pompey shirt this season, most notably last year’s ‘Player of the Season’ Johnny Ertl, who was immediately dropped from the team after being included in the starting XI of Barker’s first game in charge. This prompted the re-introduction of Simon Ferry in the midfield, taking the captaincy from Ertl, leading to a notably improved display in Barkers’ second game as boss. It became evident in December that the former Crawley Town manager needed to bolster the squad, but the question of everyone’s lips was who, and why would they come to Pompey?

With most free transfers being made in the summer, Barker and Coppell had their work cut out when it came to adding bodies to the blues squad that currently consisted of underperformers and youngsters. Although Barker is all for blooding the youngsters, especially at this level, it is ultimately down to him who has been deemed worthy to pull on a Portsmouth shirt and play in front of 15,000+ fans on a Saturday afternoon.

In my opinion, the culmination of Barker and Coppell has been working superbly, considering Coppell is on no wage whatsoever. Coppell’s contacts in the game have been invaluable, having already signed former Reading left back Nicky Shorey to the Pompey squad, alongside his former Bristol City teammate, striker Ryan Taylor, who scored Pompey’s 78th minute equaliser against Mansfield on Saturday. Adding to the striker force at Pompey has been the long-awaited signing of Jake Jervis, who has been waiting for international clearance to re-join Pompey from his previous Turkish club.

Jervis, an ex-Pompey loanee during the Appleton era, has been linked with a move to Fratton Park since August, but the move fell through due to international clearance being rejected. His previous spell with Pompey was cut short, after parent club Birmingham City recalled him due to an injury crisis. That following season, he took the leap to Turkey, which unfortunately didn’t work out. Having being released in the summer, Jervis was destined for the South Coast, however the move had to wait until Friday, when international clearance was finally granted, with Jervis beginning his debut in the 1-1 draw with Mansfield Town.

Barker set out to improve all areas of the squad, most importantly the defence, who have conceded the most goals this season. Recent signings of Nicky Shorey and Danny Alfei have strengthened the defence, and offered more options for Barker to rotate the team when injuries and suspensions arise.

The signing of Wes Fogden from Bournemouth has also proven crucial. The former Havant & Waterlooville wide man was signed by Bournemouth in the summer of 2012, but hasn’t played a game all season. Thanks to the generosity of Eddie Howe, and the urge to play first team football from Fogden, he has been permitted to leave the Cherries and join Portsmouth on a free transfer, signing an 18-month deal.

Lastly, the strikers this season have put in very irregular performances, without having an out-and-out goal scorer, adding to the plight of the blues. Barker seems to have plugged this gap, with the signings of Taylor and Jervis, conveniently at the time David Connolly has returned to full fitness, setting up Taylor for his first Pompey goal at the weekend having come off the bench.

With the backroom staff and playing squad being altered, performances have been picking up, most notably the Boxing Day win against Dagenham & Redbridge, with out of favour Romain Padovani getting his first goal for Pompey, having not played since August under Whittingham. His goal and reintroduction to the first team has sparked Pompey’s revival, having collected a point at league leaders Oxford United, who obliterated Pompey 4-1 on the opening day of the season.

I said a few months ago that the Christmas period would be what decides Pompey’s season; and I wasn’t wrong. Having the introduction of Richie Barker and Steve Coppell has certainly improved the Pompey squad and in turn, improved results. Now we wait until the end of the transfer window to see what other coups can be made, and whether or not Pompey can push for mid-table security.

Onwards and upwards, in Pompey we Trust!

Written by Harry Davis, We Are Going Up’s Portsmouth blogger

Harry tweets at @MrDavishPFC

Dons are drawing blanks

Sunday, January 19th, 2014

Afcw

We’re more than halfway into the season, and we are at least doing better than last time out! The story of this campaign thus far is one of costly inconsistencies; victories against high-flyers like Scunthorpe, Burton and Rochdale (who currently make up the top three) have been counteracted by a massive 16 points dropped to sides who were in the bottom four at the time. Having shored up our defence over the summer, making it the 7th best in the league this season, it’s the forwards that are the problem this time out!

We started out really well , as Neal Ardley’s brand of passing football proved very difficult for most teams we came up against to cope with, as we got as high as third place after 10 games. A bad run followed as we got found out a little, and everyone worked out that we struggled to break down a side that had parked the bus – no-one was underestimating us anymore, and we were forced into switching to a more ‘traditional’ League 2 approach of physicality and organisation. The dependence on loanee Michael Smith for goals was always a worry, especially now that it looks like he won’t be coming back from Charlton for a second spell. Recent performances have improved a little, but inconsistency is still an issue; our last two games were a thoroughly lacklustre 2-0 defeat at home to 23rd place Torquay, and then an excellent point, away from home, at league leaders Scunthorpe. Our defence has been outstanding throughout, especially young goalkeeper Ross Worner, but there are some inherent weaknesses in the rest of the line-up.

The midfield is strong, on paper. Harry Pell is a massive talent that looks destined to play at a much higher level, Sammy Moore is in the form of his life, and Peter Sweeney is probably one of the best players technique-wise in the league – but a long-term injury to Sweeney and a couple of minor knocks for Pell means the lack of cover has been exposed, culminating in a showing against Torquay that seemed like our midfield had never seen each other before. There’s also an abundance of talented wide players – George Porter on loan from Burnley has a bit of an attitude problem but is undoubtedly something special, while the likes of Chris Arthur and Kevin Sainte-Luce have looked promising, but both struggled with injuries. One of the big disappointments has been George Francomb; he looked a class apart when on loan with us from Norwich last season, and it was a phenomenal piece of business to get him this summer after being released, as he turned down multiple League 1 clubs. Things haven’t gone quite as well in his second spell, as he has been tried in a range of positions across midfield and defence, failing to really make any of them his own.

But it’s the attack that is our major problem – the previously prolific Jack Midson has only a single goal (a penalty to complete a 3-0 win) to his name from 24 appearances, 9 of them from the start. Charlie Strutton was prolific on loan at Braintree but broke his leg, Charlie Sheringham is another who hasn’t lived up to expectations, and that left a lot of pressure on Michael Smith from Charlton. He is clearly one for the future, and deserves praise for notching 10 goals in his 25 games – but he just wasn’t enough of a natural finisher to support us on his own. The fact he got 10 goals despite a poor shot conversion rate speaks volumes about how reliant we were on him to get goals!

While Neal has done some decent business this transfer window, signing free agent and utility man Aaron Morris, as well as Charlie Wyke on a one-month loan, there is more strengthening to be done. Injuries to Peter Sweeney and Andy Frampton means cover is needed in defence and midfield, while we need at least one new man up front who can add some much-needed pace – and more importantly, goals! Our budget is obviously limited, but Morris’ wages have been the only expense thus far, and there is a little bit of cash in the bank to bring in one or two decent players, and I’d say it has to be spent on addressing the goal-scoring problem. 6 goals in 10 games as a team (with three coming in the same game) just isn’t enough.

Overall, it’s important to stress that things could be much, much worse. This is Neal’s first full season as a manager, and he’s probably suffered a little from the raised expectations he created after keeping us up last season and (briefly) to the automatic promotion spots this time out. He is undoubtedly the right man for the job, and our current position of 14th is still punching above our weight, based on financial muscle. This issue was highlighted on Saturday, with Paddy Madden (who wasn’t even in the Scunthorpe starting eleven) having allegedly cost around ten times as much as our entire team! With 20 games to go we’re still 6 points off the drop zone, and most at Kingsmeadow are confident we can build on a steady start to the season and move up the table, rather than down – 10 points off the play-offs means that is probably a bridge too far, but top 10 is definitely achievable, and would undeniably represent a very successful season. You can’t help but feel that the difference between top 10 and bottom 6 will be whether we can tie down a striker who can score some goals for the next 20 games – be that by bringing in someone new, or getting Midson to refind his form. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a boring season, and one way or the other, I suspect that isn’t going to change this year!

Written by Charlie Worthington, We Are Going Up’s AFC Wimbledon Blogger

Charlie tweets at @AFCW_Blog

Robins Revival

Saturday, January 18th, 2014

CTFC

With the half-way point of the season upon us, Cheltenham Town are positioned 12th in the SkyBet League 2 table after a campaign that can be best described as ‘mercurial’.

The Robins season is epitomised by their opening game, in which Burton Albion came back from 2-0 down to claim a share of the point against Mark Yates’ men – ability and potential within the squad is undeniable, but a lack of perseverance and consistency the key weaknesses.

A lack of stability particularly early on in the season has compounded this problem, with the departure of fans’ favourite Billy Jones just one of a number of controversial episodes engendering volatility both on and off the pitch.

After a difficult start to the season, alleviated only by a memorable Capital One Cup tie against West Ham United, the Robins quickly plummeted in the table, often proving to be the masters of their own downfall, with individual errors weekly occurrences. Confidence on the terraces soon decline, with the absence of veteran defender Steve Elliott and striker Jamie Cureton compounding our problems, as Yates’ men conceded 12 goals in four games between August and September, collecting just two points along the way.

As October came, the improvement in the form of midfielders Jason Taylor and loanee David Noble saw Cheltenham Town register more points, as Cureton marked his return from injury with his 250th goal defeating Dagenham and Redbridge. Yet again, however, such victories were cancelled out by more defensive errors, as the Robins were pegged back from winning decisions to be defeated by Rochdale and held to a point by Northampton Town.

Formation soon became the fiercely debated topic amongst supporters, as Mark Yates’ favoured midfield diamond proved inconsistent in effectiveness, leading some to infer a stagnation in his managerial style. Humiliation against non-league Tamworth in the F.A. Cup led to some calling for change at the top; however the defeat has ultimately been a turning point.

The November ruby revival was gradual, as Elliott returned to the starting XI to oversee successive clean sheets against Newport County and Bristol Rovers. This renewed defensive stability was to the detriment of the Robins’ attacking prowess, as both games ended goalless; however positive change was clearly in motion. The emergence of December saw draws turn into victory, as Yates’ men defeated Morecambe, Fleetwood and Exeter to enter the top half of the table for the first time and go 11 games unbeaten.

Despite not losing since mid-October, the Robins have suffered from the same problem evident on the very first day of the season; a lack of consistency. Only once this season have Yates’ men secured back-to-back victories, whilst supporters have only enjoyed three home wins all term. Fragility is also still evident, typified by defeat against a wily Mansfield side in the final game of 2013, and a 2-1 loss at Burton in the first of 2014.

Due to our troubled start, change seemed unavoidable in January; however few would have expected fans’ favourite Keith Lowe and captain Russell Penn to both be York City players by January. Although the two will be greatly missed, Mark Yates’ ability to now bring new blood into the club should help to eradicate the aforementioned stagnation.

The funds raised by the sale of these two players have already been put to good use, with the extension of David Noble’s loan from Rotherham until the end of the season bringing vital stability to the Robins squad, with the former Arsenal man ‘flavour of the month’ at Whaddon Road. Furthermore, exciting loanees Kemar Roofe and Michael Ihekwe (from West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers respectively) add flair and new options to a side with plenty of potential.

This does not look to be the end of our transfer activity, with reports of former Leeds United man Ryan Hall believed to be close to a move to Gloucestershire generating plenty of excitement on supporter’s forums. Looking already to the summer, it would also seem imperative that we extend the contracts of coveted ‘keeper Scott Brown, Portuguese hit Sido Jombati, and effervescent winger Jermaine McGlashan, who will unquestionable attract interest from other clubs.

The foundations of a very strong squad are now firmly place, with confidence slowly coursing back into the veins of us Cheltenham Town supporters. In Scott Brown we have arguably the best ‘keeper in the division, one of the best gaol scorers in the country in Jamie Cureton, a defensive rock in Steve Elliott, and plenty of grit and determination thanks to the likes of Jason Taylor and David Noble.

The key now for Mark Yates is to harness the respective attributes of his players, decide on a best XI and the way they are going to play, before applying it. As supporters we need to keep the faith in the Robins, and as a club try and attract more locals to games.

In the last two seasons, Yates’ sides have experienced impressive form in the autumn, before tailing off somewhat in the New Year. This time, things could well happen the other way round. With the play-offs looking the most realistic means of promotion, the Robins are poised perfectly to climb the table, now just six points away from the top seven. It is paramount that Mark Yates uses available funds appropriately, with the addition of quality, especially going forward, likely to make the difference for the Robins.

The Robins have definitely undergone the revival, now we must go one step further, and as players, staff and supporters launch an offensive on SkyBet League Two. Our season is a marathon not a sprint, but at some point we are going to have to pull away from the pack.

In the words of popular author J.K. Rowling: “We are only as strong as we are united, and as weak as we are divided.”

Come on you Robins!

Written by Peter Fielding, We Are Going Up’s Cheltenham Town Blogger

Peter tweets at @PeterJFielding

Paying for three managers…

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

AlanKnillIt’s difficult to explain the conflict in emotions I have today. Alan Knill is gone. A few weeks ago, I would have been satisfied. And yet now that the decision has been made, I feel disappointed.

At the end of November, things looked irretrievable. Torquay had won just three games all season, two of which were away from home. We were also out of all three cup competitions, denying us potential revenue. There would be matches where we didn’t score and never looked like scoring; there would be others where we did score, but never looked like conceding fewer than the opposition. The centre of midfield was struggling both to create and to control. And we knew we had no money to sack the manager, who seemed at a loss in the face of results spiralling out of control.

But gradually, there were green shoots. We had struggled for a stable defensive partnership all season. At centre-back, Aaron Downes had been out injured, Krystian Pearce suffered a worrying ailment, and loan signing Aaron O’Connor missed a match while on international duty, leading to left-back Tom Cruise standing in at centre-back in a number of games, being about as effective as a chocolate fireguard in the position. But after everything had panned out, O’Connor and Downes had begun to form a relatively solid partnership, while Cruise slotted in at left-back ahead of club veteran Kevin Nicholson, who more than ever was looking like he was running through treacle and was a frequent target for opposition attacks.

The loan signings began to come in, though Paul McCallum made a difference up front before heading back to West Ham, and the additions of John Marquis and Jayden Stockley gave us realistic options for the first time in a while. Marquis in particular made an enormous difference to the attack, scoring three goals in four appearances. His ability in holding the ball up allowed Knill to put five into midfield, allowing us to control games much more effectively and giving young loanee Jak McCourt more freedom to create. With Downes back, we were also a threat from corners once again. Come December, wins against Southend and Dagenham, and a draw at home with Bristol Rovers, suddenly saw us gain some momentum. For a moment, there was optimism around Plainmoor.

However, we always knew the festive period would be crucial. As well as the game against not-so-local rivals Rovers, we also faced Exeter at home and Plymouth away. The bad news arrived on the day of the former, with Marquis out having aggravated a cyst. With Stockley already injured, we were forced to start with Karl Hawley as the lone front man, something he is not at all suited to. To make matters worse, he missed a penalty early on.

That said, the performance against Exeter was not dreadful. We controlled the midfield well, and Billy Bodin caused problems on the wing, but we lacked the final ball. Defensive errors were eventually our undoing, getting caught on the break. Still, it was not the performance of a team who had completely lost faith in the manager. The reports from the Plymouth game, which we lost 2-0, were more concerning, but we were still only two games removed from a three-match unbeaten run.

That’s what is so surprising about the decision to sack Knill now. It strikes me as a purely reactionary decision, aimed at appeasing those fans annoyed by defeats to our two local rivals. There’s little footballing or financial logic to the decision – numerous other managers have commented that they believe us to be unlucky and deserving of a higher league position (well, the league table never lies but…), and we are very short of money. We are still paying Martin Ling’s salary due to his one-year rolling contract, and Knill has the same type of contract, meaning we’ll be paying him until next January too unless he gets another job. At least Chris Brass had already gone – the compensation we received from Bury for his services may have proven crucial in the decision to dismiss Knill.

And yet now the fans are expecting us to hire another manager, to put a third manager on the payroll. And not any old manager: an experienced fire-fighter, who would no doubt command a decent salary, or to poach former player Chris Hargreaves from the Bournemouth coaching stuff, which would require considerable compensation. Oh, and don’t forget we have a squad with numerous deficiencies too which needs overhauling if we’re going to get out of this. It seems possible that Knill ally Damien Mozika, an increasingly impressive performer in recent weeks as he recovers from long-term injury, will not be signing a contract and will leave for pastures new.

It’s all well and good wanting a new manager and wanting an entirely revamped playing squad and wanting experience and wanting youth, but it seems very unlikely that we have the funds to achieve this. This is why the decision to sack Knill now surprises and disappoints me. After all the poor results and performances we have seen, now is the time they decide to change things, when things weren’t actually looking that bleak and it didn’t seem necessary to have to spend big on paying him off.

I’m no fan of Knill’s management style, but it feels like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic unless we suddenly find out tomorrow that we’ve had a huge amount of new investment from a generous sugar daddy – and even that is still no guarantee that it’ll save us from relegation, which itself would be incredibly costly.

This suggests there are problems that run deeper within the club than just the management structure. Too many decisions have been made in recent months with the purpose of keeping the fans happy instead of for the actual benefit of the club. The fans booed one of Knill’s substitutions against Exeter – the substitution had an immediate positive impact, when sub Elliot Benyon crossed for Hawley to score moments after coming on. These are the fans that the decision is meant to appease. The board are pandering to people who don’t know how to run a football club.

The frustrating thing is whoever is appointed will go through the same arc as the previous managers: they’ll be welcomed with open arms by virtue of not being the previous manager, they’ll be hailed as the messiah when the team wins a match or two, and then when the team loses a few matches, the fans will make a complete u-turn, pretend they never liked him to begin with, and call for him to be sacked until he inevitably is. How is it possible for a manager to succeed in this environment?

On one of the fans’ forums today, I saw a comment that said Chris Hargreaves would not take the Northampton job because it’s a “poisoned chalice.” And the Torquay job isn’t?

There’s only one way this club is going at the moment, and that’s not the fault of Alan Knill.

Written by James Bennett, We Are Going Up’s Torquay United Blogger

James tweets at @jabennett_