David Cameron Walker

Posts Tagged ‘Billy Sharp’

Forest seek upturn in fortunes

Friday, April 19th, 2013

With the end of the Championship season in sight, the competitiveness of the division has come to the fore. 14 points separate the play-offs from the relegation places and teams have begun to experience ‘squeaky bum time.’ Just ask Nottingham Forest.

A month ago, Forest occupied fifth place in the table having secured an impressive 2-1 win away to Hull City, which was their sixth win in a row. That run hauled them up from mid-table into the play-off places and it seemed that they could go on and cement their place in the top six.

However, after a run of three draws and two defeats since that win at the KC Stadium, Billy Davies’ men have slipped to eighth, one point adrift of sixth-placed Leicester City. It has been a frustrating few weeks for all connected with the club. After the Hull game, some fans were dreaming of automatic promotion, even if back then that seemed a tall order. The season is hanging in the balance and the aim is to reclaim a top six place.

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly why Forest’s form has dipped recently. Perhaps they have been sussed out by other teams, maybe a bit of complacency has set in or the players could be feeling fatigued. Billy Davies believes that the latter is playing a part. This week he claimed that the players are mentally fatigued, following a season of upheaval at The City Ground which has seen three different managers at the helm.

Davies, through working with the players several days a week, is certainly the best judge of how they are both mentally and physically. What is important though, is that the manager can get a final push from the squad and guide them back to winning ways, starting with Saturday’s home game against Barnsley.

There has been a spark missing from Forest’s recent performances when compared to the displays they were putting in during the run of six consecutive victories. The personnel and formation have largely been the same throughout, but the results have changed.  The Reds have developed a habit of conceding goals first, putting themselves in a position where they have to come from behind to take something from games.

Against Brighton & Hove Albion, Forest were the better side in the first half but allowed the visitors to take the lead early in the second period. After equalising through substitute Lewis McGugan with seven minutes remaining, Will Buckley went straight down the other end to put Brighton back ahead, but thanks to an injury-time error from Seagulls goalkeeper Casper Ankergren, when he allowed Henri Lansbury’s shot to go through his legs, Forest salvaged a dramatic late point and kept their unbeaten record under Davies intact.

It was a similar story on Easter Monday against Burnley at Turf Moor, a place Forest struggle to get anything from. The Reds looked certain to lose following Junior Stanisalas’ 68th minute goal, but with the final kick of the game McGugan slotted home a 96th minute penalty to snatch a point from the jaws of defeat.

After the international break, Forest hosted Blackpool at The City Ground and again they had to come from behind to take a point. The visitors set up to frustrate Forest and get men behind the ball, which worked as Ludovic Sylvestre put them 1-0 ahead against the run of play in the first half. Despite continued pressure throughout the game, Forest needed another penalty from super sub McGugan to secure a 1-1 draw, the sixth game in a row in which he scored, most of them after coming off the bench.

That draw extended Forest’s unbeaten run to ten matches since Billy Davies’ return as boss, but it would eventually come to an end a week later against Cardiff City.

Forest travelled to South Wales feeling confident that they could upset the league leaders and they more than held their own in the first half, causing the home side problems. However the Reds couldn’t capitalise, with Darius Henderson missing a good opportunity from six yards out and Lewis McGugan’s effort being ruled out for offside.

Before the break, Forest found themselves harshly reduced to ten men after Henderson was shown a red card for a stray arm on Cardiff’s Heidar Helguson. Replays showed that an arm was out, but there was no intent from the Forest striker and the offence was a yellow card at worst. Cardiff capitalised on their extra man advantage in the second half to win the game 3-0. They have since gone on to secure promotion into the Premier League and look odds on to win the division, so on reflection there’s no shame in losing to the best side in the league.

On Tuesday evening Forest travelled to Middlesbrough, a side who have seen their promotion hopes fade after a terrible run of form since the New Year. However, Forest put in a lacklustre display and were beaten 1-0, dropping down to eighth place in the table. Despite a late fightback, which saw Chris Cohen nearly score an equaliser, the Reds came away with nothing and as a result, are a point adrift of the play-offs with three games remaining.

Luckily for Forest, other sides chasing top six places have faltered in recent weeks, hence why they find themselves just a point off the top six and three points adrift of fourth place. Crystal Palace have failed to win any of their last six games, Brighton have won one in five, while Leicester have just begun to get themselves out of a slump which saw them go nine games without victory.

Bolton Wanderers in seventh have embarked on a great run of form, at a similar time to Forest’s ten-game unbeaten streak, to become serious contenders for a play-off berth. They are currently ahead of Forest in the table by virtue of a better goal difference, which shows how tight the race for the play-offs has become.

All Forest can do now is focus on themselves and ensure that they take enough points from their final three games to secure a top six place. After Saturday’s game against Barnsley, they face a tricky trip to Millwall before hosting Leicester on the final day of the season, in what could potentially be a winner takes all clash.

Forest’s squad is lacking out-and-out wingers, which is why Davies has favoured a 4-4-2 diamond formation, which gets the best out of Andy Reid, Henri Lansbury, Radoslaw Majewski and Adlene Guedioura in the middle of the park. However this formation has seen goals dry up for the strikers, with Darius Henderson the only frontman to score since Davies’ return to the club.

The way Forest are set up to play allows their attacking midfielders to push on and have goalscoring chances. The strikers are required to work hard to create space and play the ball into them, which goes some way to explaining why the club’s frontmen are not hitting the back of the net regularly, whether it is Henderson, Dexter Blackstock, Simon Cox or Billy Sharp playing up front.

Up until recently Forest were not short of goals or an attacking threat, but it is difficult for them to change things without proper wingers playing down either flank. Had there been quick wide players in the squad, then the strikers would have scored more goals by now. At the moment, Forest have to make the best of the players they possess, which they did well during their unbeaten run

Despite the disappointment of dropping out of the top six, Forest’s current position is far from disastrous. The pressure is now on the teams above them to stay in the play-off places, while the pressure has been taken off Forest. Now they are one of the chasing pack, Forest can hopefully play with a bit more freedom and regain the kind of form which had taken them into the promotion picture in the first place.

Saturday’s game against Barnsley has taken on a greater significance as it presents a good opportunity to claim three points. The Tykes are fighting to avoid relegation and will provide tough opposition, but any side with serious hopes of reaching the play-offs have to beat struggling sides on their home turf. The playoff places have changed hands so often in recent weeks, so a victory may be enough to take Forest back into them.

I believe that Forest will overhaul the teams above them and finish in the top six, but what happens beyond that is harder to predict. There is a lot of quality in the squad, but I fear that their shortcomings may be found out in the pressure cooker of play-off football.

When you consider that the club was fighting relegation 12 months ago, or that it was languishing in mid-table when Davies took over, to be in with a shout of the play-offs with three games remaining is an excellent achievement. There is of course some disappointment at seeing them drop out of the top six in the past week, but there is still much to play for.

If Nottingham Forest do secure themselves a play-off spot, it will no doubt add further drama to an already eventful season.

Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up’s Nottingham Forest blogger

Steven tweets at @steven_toplis

Patience is key

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

In the aftermath of Nottingham Forest’s 2-1 defeat to Hull on Saturday, certain sections of the Forest support were not afraid to show their frustration and boo the team off the field.

When Sean O’Driscoll was appointed manager in July, there was great optimism at what he could do at the City Ground. Four months and 20 league games down the line, there are some Reds fans (a minority on forums and social media I must add) who believe he should go. Even some players were this week subjected to abuse by so-called ‘fans’ on Twitter.

Short termism is rife in football – just ask Roberto Di Matteo – but calling for the head of a manager so soon after hiring him is surprising to say the least.

Forest are currently 10th in the Championship, four points off the play-offs with 29 points from 20 games, a decent start for O’Driscoll as Reds boss. He inherited a threadbare squad upon taking the job and has brought in 14 new players, either permanently or on loan, just to have a side capable of competing this season. Things could be much worse.

The club is still stabilising after the events of last season, which saw Steve McClaren depart as manager, Steve Cotterill appointed in his place, chairman Nigel Doughty withdrawing his funding from the club before tragically passing away in January and Forest narrowly avoiding the drop into League One.

The Al-Hasawi family purchased the club during the summer and have brought some form of stability back behind the scenes. They are ambitious people and the plan is for Forest to reach the Premier League within the next few years.

Some of O’Driscoll’s signings have caught the eye, most notably Henri Lansbury, Simon Cox plus loanees Billy Sharp, Jermaine Jenas and Alan Hutton. There is a quality in the squad, but this does not mean Forest should be instantly top of the league and cruising to promotion as some seem to think.

O’Driscoll had to assemble a squad quickly and barely had a pre-season to get them prepared, and it shows. Forest have been excellent at times, most notably in games against Huddersfield and Charlton where they passed the opposition off the park. They have also been equally lacklustre, with last Tuesday’s 3-1 defeat away at struggling Ipswich a case in point.

Injuries and suspensions have seen Forest struggle to field a consistent starting eleven, with the likes of Radi Majewski, Sam Hutchinson, Daniel Ayala, Jenas and Cox all currently on the treatment table. Hutton and Elliott Ward have both been brought in on loan until the New Year to cover injuries in the back four, where O’Driscoll has been forced to chop and change throughout the season.

It is hard for a side to gain consistency when they cannot field a settled side, especially in defence. Having said that, Forest’s defensive record is far from being the worst in the division, so once key personnel are back to full fitness the side could concede even fewer goals.

Sean O’Driscoll is a manager known for getting his sides playing attractive, passing football and there have been signs of that so far this season. However he has been criticised by some for not adhering to ‘the Forest way’ of playing the game, with small pockets of fans jeering the players during Saturday’s defeat to Hull, prompting this response from the manager:

“Everyone wants the team to do well, I appreciate that. But there were times in the first half when the players were listening to the crowd and we started playing balls that we should not have been playing.

“I keep getting told we should be playing the Forest way. But the Forest way is to keep the ball. We were trying to keep the ball and we were getting booed.  What is the Forest way then?’ Do they want us to bang it forward? Because if we did that, they would be asking why we were not playing on the floor. ”

It will take time for O’Driscoll’s football philosophy to fully get through to the Forest players as they are coached to make the right decisions with and without the ball. It took time for his methods to get across to his Doncaster Rovers players, something which Glen Wilson explains in this piece for The Two Unfortunates. There were some bad performances in the early stages of his Rovers tenure, but once things clicked his team were not only successful but a joy to watch too.

This is the start of a whole new era for Forest under new ownership and new management, so I’m not expecting miracles straight away. As long as there are signs that the club is making progress on the field then I’m satisfied.

The January transfer window may be the time when Forest decide stick or twist, they could potentially bring in a few more players and have a tilt at promotion depending on their league position when the window opens. The squad is still lacking a wide player or two and more cover in defence, which is understandable given the speed with which it had to be assembled during the summer.

A play-off finish or higher would be an excellent achievement, but if Forest were to end up where they are now then it will represent some form of progress and be a good position upon which to build next season.

Most importantly, Sean O’Driscoll needs to be given time to mould the team in his image. There have been signs already of how good Forest could be and the vast majority of supporters are behind him. Fans pay their money and are entitled to air their feelings as they wish, but it is frustrating to see some of them hurling abuse at the players and manager. A bit of patience would not go amiss.

Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up’s Nottingham Forest blogger

Steven tweets at @steven_toplis

A decent start all round

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Following Nottingham Forest’s 1-0 victory over Bristol City on the opening day of the campaign, Reds manager Sean O’Driscoll was asked by the local media how he felt about his team’s ‘good start to the season.’ O’Driscoll responded by saying one game does not represent a ‘start.’ Instead, we should see how the club are doing after ten games.

Having now played those ten games in the Championship, the international break has provided an opportunity to assess how the side is shaping up under new management.

Forest currently sit 12th in the league, three points off the top six with three wins, five draws and two defeats to their name. Having been in the manager’s job a matter of months and brought in twelve new players, O’Driscoll can be pleased with the work he’s doing and the start the team has made.

Forest enjoyed the longest unbeaten run in the division of six games, which was only brought to an end thanks to a 2-1 defeat against Neil Warnock’s Leeds at Elland Road. In the three games prior to that loss, Forest showed signs of how good they potentially could be, but also displayed the traits of a side which is still gelling.

A 2-1 home success over promoted Charlton saw Forest take the game to their opponents, dominating possession and playing some neat passing football, with Lewis McGugan’s free kick giving the Reds the lead and Chelsea loanee Sam Hutchinson scoring his first senior goal to double the advantage. A late Charlton response made for a nervy finish but Forest got the job done to move up to third in the table.

Birmingham City then visited the City Ground and set their stall out to frustrate Forest, with a disciplined display which prevented the Reds from replicating their successful passing football on show against Charlton. City went 2-0 ahead in the second half and it looked as if O’Driscoll would be tasting defeat for the first time as Forest manager. However a stirring fightback, including a brilliant individual goal from Simon Cox, saw Forest rescue a 2-2 draw.

Forest also had to come from behind in their next fixture away at Crystal Palace, where Dexter Blackstock’s late goal earned a valuable point following a battling display. O’Driscoll reverted to a 5-3-2 formation and Forest struggled to get going with Palace the better side. Frustration got the better of Adlene Guedioura, who was sent off for kicking out at an opponent, meaning Forest had to come from behind with ten men, which they did to secure a 1-1 draw and preserve their unbeaten run.

It was a similar story at Leeds, where Forest’s lacklustre first half display saw them two goals down at the break, a lack of cohesion going forward and some shaky defending gifting Leeds the initiative. Despite an improved second half from the Reds, with Dexter Blackstock scoring once more, they left themselves with too much to do and the unbeaten run was over.

The following Sunday saw the East Midlands Derby against rivals Derby County at the City Ground. The game is well-known for being a full-blooded encounter and the Sky cameras were there hoping to see something similar. Derby’s gameplan was to disrupt Forest with rough-house tactics and it paid off, helped by some poor refereeing by Robert Madley. The official allowed several late, robust Derby tackles to go unpunished in the first half before brandishing the first yellow to Forest’s Andy Reid.

Just forty seconds into the second half Dexter Blackstock, who had been on the receiving end of many of those bad challenges, rose with Richard Keogh for an aerial challenge. Blackstock’s elbow accidentally made contact with Keogh’s face but Madley deemed it worthy of a straight red card and Forest were down to ten men.

Derby began to get on top thanks to their numerical advantage and eventually won 1-0 with a Craig Bryson goal. The defeat on home soil was difficult to take for Forest fans, especially as the team struggled to create many chances against Nigel Clough’s robust side.

However things picked up in the final two games before the international break. Blackburn Rovers arrived on Trentside for a Tuesday night fixture and were fortunate to go away with a point, as Forest put in a much improved display. Steve Kean had recently left Rovers as manager but they are a team boasting considerable Premier League experience, plus plenty of goals with Jordan Rhodes and Nuno Gomes up front. Despite this Forest were much the better side, passing the ball around confidently and carving out several goalscoring opportunities, the best going to Billy Sharp who fired into the side netting from close range.

Four days later Forest travelled to Peterborough United, where their record has been good in recent years. They continued that thanks to an excellent solo goal from Andy Reid, who picked the ball up in his own half, carried it forward before hitting an angled shot into the far top corner from the edge of the penalty area. Forest were again the better side and had a second goal chalked off, with the ball being deemed to have gone out of play before Jermaine Jenas tapped home. The 1-0 success was enough to lift the Reds into the top half and make up for the Derby disappointment.

Forest’s squad has been strengthened even further in recent weeks, with striker Billy Sharp arriving on a deadline day loan deal from Southampton and former Reds midfielder Jermaine Jenas arriving from Tottenham on a month’s loan.

The signing of Sharp, who in recent seasons has been a prolific scorer at Championship level with Doncaster Rovers and Southampton, was a real statement of intent from Forest. The frontman knows O’Driscoll well from their days at Rovers and provides another option up top. He is yet to get off the mark in a Red shirt, but once he does his confidence will grow and more goals will come. It was surprising to see Saints let him go following their promotion to the Premier League, so Sharp will be out to prove a point during his stay at the City Ground.

Jermaine Jenas is another signing which has surprised and excited the fans in equal measure. The former England international, who is regarded as one of the best academy products Forest have ever produced, made his Reds breakthrough during the 2001-02 season as an eighteen year old, before being sold to Newcastle for £5 million in 2002. Since then he ‘s been a Premier League regular with Newcastle, Tottenham and Aston Villa whilst making 21 England appearances.

He brings undoubted quality to a midfield which is already blessed with options, but Jenas himself said he would only drop down to the Championship to rejoin Forest. He received a warm reception as he came off the bench to made his second bow as a Forest player in the 0-0 draw with Blackburn and it’s good to have him back, even if it is just for one month.

On Saturday table-topping Cardiff City come to The City Ground, looking to extend their impressive start to the campaign. The match will be a stern test for this Forest side and a good measure of where they are. Three days later they face a trip to Blackpool who are also aiming for promotion this season, but who have fallen away from the leaders in recent weeks. Last year Forest won 2-1 at Bloomfield Road and a similar result this time around will give the team confidence that they are capable of challenging at the right end of the table.

Over the international break the likes of Henri Lansbury and Billy Sharp have had two more weeks to find their feet at the club, which will hopefully stand them in good stead for the four games coming up in the next fortnight.

Sean O’Driscoll has a selection headache in midfield with Lansbury, Jenas, Lewis McGugan, Chris Cohen, Adlene Guedioura, Guy Moussi and Simon Gillett vying for central roles, along with Andy Reid. Forest boast the third meanest defence in the league with ten goals conceded. Despite some criticisms from certain sections of the support, Dan Harding and Daniel Ayala are steadily improving with each match. Greg Halford, Danny Collins and Sam Hutchinson have all impressed with their displays so far and there is a sense that this part of the team will only get better as the season progresses.

Simon Cox has also impressed up front, having scored some spectacular goals and been willing to work hard for the team. With Sharp, Dexter Blackstock and Marcus Tudgay also in the squad, there are plenty of striking options for the manager to pick from.

Overall it has been a good start from Forest, with signs that the team are moving in the right direction. The new owners, the Al-Hasawi family have said all the right things and seem willing to give Sean O’Driscoll the time to build the team he wants. With twelve new signings and a new manager in place, most Forest supporters would have been happy with a mid-table finish before the season began. The team looks capable of reaching that target but if they can find some consistency, they may even better it.

Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up podcast member and Nottingham Forest blogger

Steven tweets at @steven_toplis

R’over and out: A look back on this season

Monday, March 26th, 2012

As Billy Sharp slotted home his second goal at St.Mary’s he pretty much summed up the season Doncaster Rovers are having. Less than two months ago Sharp was a Rovers player.

Those two months seems to have gone by very slowly indeed and Rovers are now five points off safety with eight games to play. The games are running out and the great escape seems more unlikely with each passing day. Doncaster Rovers look as good as condemned to be leaving the Championship in the next month after four great seasons of entertaining football and punching well above their weight. But it was only 16 months ago the club were being described as the ‘next Blackpool,’ so what has gone wrong so much for Rovers to now be fighting against all odds to stay in this division?

Let’s begin on the opening day of the season; away at Brighton and 1-0 up at half time after a great first half performance. The second half saw injuries to both James Hayter and Sharp and Rovers were defeated by a 99th minute Brighton goal. That would be as good as it got as one point was picked up from the first seven games of the season and Sean O’Driscoll was sacked, despite Chairman John Ryan declaring the day before that his job was as safe as Sir Alex Ferguson’s.

Things were beginning to get stale under O’Driscoll, however in his defence he did have a very much depleted squad, and little money to bring in anybody of a calibre who could lift the confidence which had been shattered after a 19 game winless run. Although the manager may not have left on very good terms with the club, he will be remembered by many fans as bringing the glory days back to the town of Doncaster after 50 years.

Who was chosen to take over from the tactical mastermind? Dean Saunders, a prolific goal scorer in his career but with little managerial experience at Wrexham, and whether that was much a success can easily be debated. He had been with the Welsh club for three seasons. In his first two seasons, despite bringing in around thirty different players and expected to win promotion back to the Football League, they could only finish in 10th and 11th respectively, in his third season it finally began to tick and they claimed 4th spot but lost out in the play-offs. Before he left his post, Wrexham were sitting top of the Conference.

Saunders started his managerial career at Doncaster very well, picking up seven points in his first three games and lifting the Rovers out of the Relegation zone. If that didn’t make Rovers fans smile, they had signed Pascal Chimbonda and were being linked with El-Hadji Diouf, Frederic Piquionne and even Carlos Tevez! People were beginning to ask questions on how this was making sense and soon enough a man with the answers stepped into the limelight to receive his praise from the Rovers faithful; transfer agent Willie McKay. However this was not met with the optimism that the club would have hoped for and since making that interview for a Sunday newspaper, a divide has been created at Doncaster Rovers between the fans that will take a very long time to heal.

Since then Doncaster Rovers have signed Chris Kirkland, Damien Plessis, Mamadou Bagayoko, Habib Beye, El-Hadji Diouf, Carl Ikeme, Frederic Piquionne, David Button, Herita Ilunga, Herold Goulon, Habib Bamogo and Lamime Diatta. There was even talk of the club pushing for the play-offs, but it’s fair to say this has quite panned out how anybody expected. Despite the big names coming to Rovers, the team have struggled to shake off that losing mentality and have been stuck in a relegation fight ever since.

It isn’t as if Saunders andMcKay haven’t been genuinely trying to help the club, but the same can’t be said about some of the players, and that doesn’t just include the players that have come here since the pair decided to help the struggling South Yorkshire club.

Relegation would be a blow to Doncaster, the chairman has already stated that the club are operating at a loss at this level and should they go down the loss in TV revenue would mean financial losses in the region of £6 million. I fear for the stability and safety of the club after relegation, wondering what will happen if Rovers do go down.

Some are speculating this will be the end of the ‘McKay experiment’, others believe it will continue, while some fans are unsure and refusing to accept that relegation is a possibility. Some supporters blame Sean O’Driscoll for the current predicament, some are blaming McKay’s transfer policy, questioning whether it is right to allow one player to train with Rovers for two days a week and spend the rest of the week in France.

Are Doncaster Rovers going down the right path? I don’t think anybody knows the sure, especially when earlier this season the club’s future was left in jeopardy when two of the biggest shareholders resigned from the Board of Directors, leaving Chairman John Ryan as the last man standing.

No one can question Ryan’s commitment as a fan of Doncaster Rovers or his loyalty as a Chairman. If ever there was a man who could take on the role of being a Chairman of a business and lookout for the interests of the supporters before his back pocket, and support the team as a boyhood fan, it is John Ryan. And while he remains at Doncaster Rovers, many fans will feel more comfortable with whatever happens because they know everything John Ryan does is in the best interests of the club.

So our future may look bleak, but Rovers still have a fighting chance of surviving this season and I will see it out to the very end. Hopefully that the rest of the Rovers faithful will be doing the same, cheering on the boys, loud and proud until the final ball is kicked. Keep The Faith. R’over and out…

Written by Lee Croft, We Are Going Up’s Doncaster Rovers blogger

Lee tweets at @mr1croft

Looking for a Plan B

Monday, November 7th, 2011

What a difference a few weeks make in football.

Wind the clock back just three weeks to mid-October and everything was looking rosy in the Ipswich Town garden on the back of a six-match unbeaten run with a starting eleven who remained unchanged throughout.

But, three matches and three defeats later the team suddenly look woefully short of depth, ideas and a creative spark.

October began positively with a come-from-behind win at home to Brighton, followed a couple of weeks later by an encouraging and slightly unfortunate draw at Cardiff – a dubious handball decision for a penalty while 2-1 ahead making it two points dropped, rather than a point gained.

A less than convincing 1-0 home win against Portsmouth came next, but fans weren’t so bothered as signs Ipswich were becoming a “win when not playing well” side were emerging.

Sadly, as I hinted rather pessimistically in my previous up-tempo blog at the end of September, injuries (where do you start? Mainly Ibrahima Sonko) – absence for personal reasons in Michael Chopra and suspensions to the likes of Aaron Cresswell have coincided with a dip in form that’s seen defeats at the hands of Crystal Palace, Millwall and Doncaster and a drop from 6th to 14th in the table.

Breaking up the midfield diamond quartet of Jimmy Bullard, Lee Bowyer, Keith Andrews and Grant Leadbitter has illustrated the team’s lack of depth and adequate cover. That goes for not just the midfield, but all over the park, as the likes of Nathan Ellington, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Ivar Ingimarsson have yet to make their mark when handed an opportunity.

Added to that, question marks now hang over the gang of players aged 30+ and if they can keep up with the pace and tempo of a Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday playing schedule.

While this has happened, fans have had to revise their expectations for the rest of the season. Paul Jewell has come out and said this is a “work in progress” side and promotion this campaign may not be the ultimate aim. This might not sit comfortably with some supporters, but it does have an element of sense.

Firstly, losing seven games out of fifteen is certainly not promotion form. To elaborate, since the start of 2011 when Jewell took over, Ipswich have gone from the midst of a relegation scrap to having improving top-half prospects. The last three games have shown they are still searching for the right blend of faces and more importantly, those strong enough to press the first-choice eleven and be up to the task when they step in.

Some fans might not share his long-term vision though. After all, Ipswich are the second longest serving side in the division behind Coventry and mid-table-obscurity has been the tale of too many recent seasons.

Without doubt, there are at least ten sides on their day in the Championship who could contest the promotion and play-off places. Breaking into that promised land might need to be the first aim for Paul Jewell’s men before looking to stretch their ambitions somewhat higher.

Back to matters closer to hand and while the last international break may well have come at a bad time, with the side in the midst of a good run, this next one might just have happened at the right time. The Blues need Sonko back and fully fit, Bullard to knuckle down and work harder on his match fitness and more time on the training ground to find tactics and formations which can threaten the pace and confidence of younger, more energetic sides.

The rest of November sees Ipswich travel first to Nottingham Forest, still very much a side coming to terms with dramatic changes, then a home encounter against an always dangerous Reading, rounded off with a midweek trip to Burnley.

Three games to show how the club can bounce back from some poor results, but three games that will test the team’s still fragile defence.

Finally, it would be wrong of me not to pay tribute to the tremendous gesture shown by fellow Town supporters during the defeat to Doncaster when Billy Sharp scored the visitors’ second goal of the game. Paul Jewell’s made no secret Sharp has been and still is on his wish list, but whatever might have transpired before paled into obscurity when we all learnt of the tragic death of his two-day-old son.

His choices and affinity to Rovers went out of the window both during that game and when he scored in the game before against Middlesbrough.

The applause and subsequent standing ovation he received at Portman Road clearly touched Sharp as his poignant post-match interview on the Football League Show revealed. It also served as a timely reminder that after all, football is just a game and life and death are far more important.

UP THE TOWN!

Written by Adam Williams, We Are Going Up’s Ipswich Town blogger

Adam tweets at @adam_j_williams

Up and running…

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Well at least the Doncaster Rovers physio is. Not even a week has gone by for the Yorkshire club and we already fading away from hopes of an over achieving season; or at least the bookmakers and journalists think so. Let’s review how it all went wrong.

Signings such as Chris Brown, Tommy Spurr, Ryan Mason, Richard Naylor, James Baxendale, Kyle Bennet and Giles Barnes set the tone in the town of Doncaster that the football club is aiming not to undergo the misery of last season where we clung on to Championship status in the closing weeks. Pre-season looked good for the Vikings and everyone couldn’t wait to get the season underway at Brighton last weekend, and after a coach journey that survived the chaos on the M25, we was all glad to be standing outside the stadium that is the American Express Community Stadium. Easily one of the nicest grounds I have been to across the country (Only Millwall’s and West Ham’s stadiums are unvisited by yours truly in the Championship, and only a hand full further across the football league). I expected Brighton to take the lead early on; spurred by their roaring crowd and with the beautiful new pitch to play out the second half in the Rovers favour, allowing us to come back and maybe steal the points and how wrong I was.

The Seagulls were in truth mediocre at best in the opening stages. They had momentum and the crowd behind them, but their chances were wasted and rather than flattening Doncaster they allowed us into the game, showed us too much of the ball and it did become a real show. It was clear to everyone in the stadium that this was the first game of the new season; as good as some of the football was mistakes were more common than crowd chants and the reactions from both sets of players weren’t as sharp as normal and foolish, late tackles were flying in from every direction. The game itself was a combination of great football, but scrappy foot work. This was underlined by a very late challenge by ex-Leeds defender Richard Naylor when he brought down Barnes for Brighton and was lucky in the hosts view not to see red.

There were also plenty of chances and Brighton new boy Craig Mackail-Smith had a whole bunch of chances to give Brighton the lead but all the chances were either a result of offside play or were wasted. Doncaster’s record striker and fan favourite Billy Sharp was clear in the 18 yard box and with only a sliding defender in his way he somehow managed to miss the target. Brighton’s best chance then came when Ashley Barnes was in the clear, he shot under the diving Woods who got enough of the shot to slow the pace but it was heading towards the line only for Rovers captain George Friend to clear. Then came the deafening blow for the hosts’ party day when Ryan Mason’s shot from the edge of the box was deflected into Sharp’s path whose poor connection was more than enough to give Rovers a deserved 1-0 lead going into half time.

Everything was going brilliant for the away team, we did make some mistakes; but we were playing well and keeping Albion at bay. The second half was to read a very different story. The swing of our fortunes started when Lewis Dunk’s horrendous challenge on Billy Sharp left the first goal scorer at the Amex on the floor clutching his ankle, on came the physio and he was soon stretchered off. Without our one-million-pound man Doncaster were pushed back by Brighton and their 2 substitutes Craig Noone and Will Buckley were to play the rest of the tale. The hosts’ pressure finally paid off seven minutes from time when sub Buckley smashed the ball from the edge of the area to beat Gary Woods at his near post. A poor goalkeeping effort; but his view was partially blocked by Naylor.

Seven minutes later and after a Doncaster corner Hayter was left on the floor clearly in pain, he was also stretchered off as our day was going from bad to worse. It would also worsen after nine minutes of extra time and Brighton broke, Buckley again surging one on one with the Rovers keeper to place it beautifully in the net and give Brighton the dream start in their new home. In the days that followed it emerged that Hayter’s injury wasn’t as bad as first thought but Billy Sharp was revealed to have suffered ankle ligament damage.

Then on Tuesday night we played hosts to Tranmere Rovers in the league cup, and the game was always in Donny’s favour as goals from Chris Brown, Ryan Mason and Kyle Bennett gave us a 3-0 win. Mason however was again stretchered off and has also suffered ankle ligament damage. If you think our situation cannot worsen anymore then you’ll be in fits of laughter when you hear our opponents on Saturday; West Ham United. With only one out and out striker fit (and question marks still hang over Brown’s fitness) and Sharp not to be fit for a long time, the loan market must apply to our club as the goals must come from somewhere. The Viking’s Supporters Co-operative (VSC) have set up a donation fund for fans to donate what they can so the board know the town backs the club and they can reach into their pockets and can push on and try and get a goal scorer.

Who will this be? It currently remains unclear and we probably won’t see this new player in a red and white shirt on Saturday at the Keepmoat against the Hammers. The only thing that does remain clear is that the next few weeks could be very slow and daunting ones for the most over-achieving club since the Premier League era began.

Written by Lee Croft, We Are Going Up’s Doncaster Rovers Blogger

Lee tweets at @mr1croft