David Cameron Walker

Posts Tagged ‘Championship’

It’s play-off heartache for Brighton….. again

Saturday, May 31st, 2014

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On the surface, this season appears to have ended in exactly the same way as the last one 12 months ago – play-off semi-final heartache followed by a managerial departure. However, look beyond the bare facts, and this season’s demise couldn’t be more different to the previous version.

Firstly, finishing in the top six this time around was a big surprise, and, if we’re being honest, an over-achievement. If you had asked me about our play-off chances following the painful goalless draw at Barnsley in April , I’d have told you they were so slim the naked eye wouldn‘t be able to spot them. Even at half time of the final league game of the regular season at Nottingham Forest, a positive outcome looked unlikely.

We got there though, with our reward a somewhat daunting clash with Derby County. Last season – when we met arch rivals Crystal Palace – defeat was simply unthinkable. But the unthinkable happened, Palace went on to win the final, and then went on to have a brilliant season in the Premier League. This time however, defeat always seemed inevitable. Deep down, the vast majority of Albion fans knew it was going to be extremely tough to make it to Wembley, and so it proved.

A 6-2 aggregate victory in Derby’s favour was probably fair, despite Albion producing a spirited effort in the first leg. In the second leg, we were thoroughly outclassed – the end couldn’t come soon enough. Sadly, Oscar Garcia also thought the same about his tenure at the club.

If Gus Poyet’s spell in the Albion dugout came to a very sour and messy conclusion after the Palace defeat, Oscar’s severance couldn’t have been more different. With Oscar having made his intentions clear, the paperwork was concluded very swiftly – a good move by the club as it gives the board ample time to find their new man, and for him to then bring in his own players.

Very little reason for Oscar’s decision to leave has been made public, but the information that has been released points to disagreements with the amount of money available to spend on the playing squad, and the way the club goes about recruiting their targets. Albion have publicly stated on multiple occasions that they are working within the Financial Fair Play guidelines and that the club’s safe financial future won’t be sacrificed for the sake of short term gain. I agree with this stance – no-one can doubt that football’s finances are spiraling out of control – but I can also see how frustrating this would have been for Oscar, who watched his rivals splashing out of big names to boost their promotion pushes during January whilst he was selling Ashley Barnes and Liam Bridcutt.

Many names have been thrown around when it comes to Oscar’s successor – Tim Sherwood, Chris Hughton and Paul Clement appear to be the current front runners – and whoever takes over will be made fully aware of the club’s stance to prevent history repeating itself once again when next season concludes. But before a ball is even kicked, he will have a large job on his hands rebuilding a squad which has been rocked by a second successive play-off failure and the loss of several key personnel.

Goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak was the biggest surprise when the list of released players was announced – I can only assume this is related to money or Kuszczak’s desire to play in the Premier League rather than his playing ability as he has been one of our top performers throughout his time at the club. He was followed out of the door by player of the season Matthew Upson, who was offered a new contract but decided to give the Premier League another crack with Leicester City.

Stephen Ward, Keith Andrews and Jesse Lingard have all returned to their parent clubs following successful loan spells, and there is mounting speculation regarding the future of top scorer Leonardo Ulloa, with Leicester reportedly having three bids rejected already this summer.

If there is an area where we really cannot to lose top quality players, it is certainly in the striking department. Albion’s haul of 55 goals in 2013/14 was the lowest of the top 17 Championship clubs, with even fourth bottom Birmingham scoring more. Without a rock solid defence at the other end (only Burnley conceded fewer), we could have ended up with a dramatic end to the season at the opposite end of the table.

Therefore, the loss of Ulloa – comfortably Albion’s top scorer with 16 goals this time around despite missing part of the season through injury - could spell disaster for the new manager. Retaining his services is essential if we want to seriously challenge for promotion again, and make that difficult last step, in the coming season. If he is sold, and a quality replacement isn’t brought in, the board are likely to face some tough questions about how seriously they are attempting to mount a serious promotion push in 2014/15.

For now, we’ll all have to just sit and await the club’s next moves. There is certainly one similarity from the previous summer – it’s certainly not going to be dull!

Written by Liam Dawes – We Are Going Up’s Brighton and Hove Albion Blogger

From Russia to Yeovil in two days

Friday, May 30th, 2014

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Welcome to the unpredictable world of Wigan Athletic – a season which saw us play in the Community Shield, Europa League, the semi-finals of the FA Cup and the Championship playoffs, is finally at an end. Along the way we beat Premier League champions, Manchester City, away and we were also totally outplayed and well-beaten 3-0 at Doncaster Rovers. Despite the madness of playing in Yeovil barely two days since playing away in Tatarstan (Russia), some ridiculous defending and less scoring than in a run-down brothel, I wouldn’t swap it for anything.

After battling through 62 games this season, the players simply couldn’t give any more. We’ve had a season of ups and downs – being cruelly knocked out of the Europa League, FA Cup and now the Championship playoffs. But in between those events, we’ve collected more wonderful memories that some clubs’ supporters have never experienced. My personal highlight was beating Man City in the FA Cup (again!) and then wondering what might have been if we’d have had a couple of decent penalty-takers on the pitch against Arsenal. I would easily swap a FA Cup win for a place in the Premier League (again!)

The problem we’ve had this season, apart from appointing the wrong manager last summer, was that of rotating the squad properly. Injuries, coupled with signing a couple of ‘bad eggs’ put paid to any momentum we needed to collect to give it a real go in the league. Personally, I would have selected two completely different sides for league and cups, but there’s a reason why I’m writing this rubbish and Owen Coyle is shopping for some holiday shorts.

Much like the previous 12 months in the Premier League (when the ridiculousness of our season was summed up in a week which saw us win the FA Cup just a matter of days after gifting a Swansea reserve side three goals) injuries cost us. I’m not using it as the only excuse, as we had the time and the funds to bring in replacements, but the amount of injuries and the resulting turnover of players didn’t help the squad to settle down and that’s why our season was as patchy as Frankeinstein’s Monster’s body.

Shaun Maloney being out for most of the season was a blow, the experience and leadership (but not the lunges) of Gary Caldwell was missed at times and the defensive qualities of Ivan Ramis, who has been struggling to be fit all season, belongs in the Premier League. Having Ben Watson and Chris McCann out for the last few months was probably the main reason our hopes of promotion ended though. The pair of them featured heavily in the team winning eight games in a row and they were both coming into form at just the right time before they were injured.

We had to bring in loan signings such as Ryan Tunnicliffe, Josh McEachran and Jack Collison and none of them managed to replace the workrate and ability of Watson and McCann. At times, it seemed like James McArthur was doing the work of two men in the midfield and I was genuinely worried that he’d injure himself. Which he eventually did – his season came to an end early on in the away leg against QPR, with the team leading and looking comfortable, with McArthur being the only midfielder who was capable of keeping hold of the ball. Sadly, we couldn’t hold on to the ball – or our lead (or extend it when we had the chance!) – so we’ve got another season in the Football League on our hands.

The summer brings many things, mostly people who look uncomfortable in shorts and a t-shirt but in football terms – it’s the transfer window, or silly season if you will.  Between now and the end of August it’s going to be wall-to-wall rumours on television, radio, the internet and in the papers. I’m not worried about losing many players, even though Jordi Gomez has already signed for Sunderland after his contract expired and it seems like Jean Beausejour won’t be renewing either. Two great players at this level, but I feel that we’ll be able to find sufficient replacements – the pair of them would have been on high wages and I also suspect that Ivan Ramis is likely to be moved on too, for exactly the same reason. Don’t be surprised if he ends up at Everton.

In an ideal world, I’d love to keep them at the club, but with the cut in parachute payments kicking in, it’s very difficult to offer them better contracts. I think it’s admirable that the club, which is ran at a profit these days, doesn’t stretch beyond its means. With a new training ground and academy coming in the next year or two, it’s more important than ever that the club keeps a clean balance sheet.

Being in the Premier League will undoubtedly speed along that progression, but why risk taking a bumpy road at high speed in a rush to get there, instead of taking it slowly and avoiding a crash? I’d rather cruise along and enjoy the ride. We can watch our journey progress, we can have a laugh and we can wave sarcastically at people who hurl abuse at us for having an ‘unfashionable’ vehicle, as we pass their old and clapped-out ‘classic’ on the side of the road.

Other than that, barring any ridiculous bids for any players under contract, Uwe Rolser should retain the bulk of the squad and with some astute, younger signings this summer, I can see us challenging for a place in the top six again. The main position we need to strengthen is undoubtedly upfront. Grant Holt and Marc-Antoine Fortune just haven’t been the answer and there’s an argument to say that if we’d have gone out and bought a ‘proper striker’ (not a 32 year-old on a THREE YEAR CONTRACT, who’s more interested in greyhounds than playing football) then we’d have been in with a shout of challenging amongst the top four (which would leave us, at the very least, with a more ‘favourable’ tie in the play-offs).

Our strength lies in midfield, but with Gomez leaving, we need a new creative influence in there. Shaun Maloney should be back fully-fit and hopefully we can get a full season out of Callum McManaman, who has also been disrupted by the odd injury. Being in no way biased at all, I strongly believe that the pair of them, along with a decent striker, would be as good a front three as there is in the Championship.  After a difficult season of squad rotation, I just hope we can put together a close-knit squad in the manner of Leicester and Burnley. It was no surprise to read recently that they were the two sides who used the least amount of players last season.

From a supporter point-of-view, I think most Wiganers are fairly happy to be staying in the Championship. Obviously we all want success for the club and losing in the play-offs was a set-back, but supporting the club hasn’t been this good since 2005, save for a couple of days in May 2013.

There seemed to be an element of boredom being in the Premier League, travelling to the same grounds and getting ripped off and cheated out of a point or three. Believe me, The Premier League isn’t the be-all and end-all for football supporters.  At least in the Championship, we’re guaranteed six new trips a year and the chances of actually winning a game are pretty decent.

We all watch football because we love it, we support our clubs and want them to win, we want them to be successful. For me, the Championship represents that more than the Premier League. Yes, I would like the club to be in the top division as soon as possible because that represents success, but to say that the Premier League, a division where 15 of the 20 clubs have no realistic chance of winning it, is the ‘best league in the world’ is laughable. What I’ve learnt during our first season back, is that the Football League, its clubs, supporters and the unpredictability of each game, sums up football for me and I’m more than content that we’ve got another season of it to come.

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

Daniel tweets at @danieljgee

Relegated Reds Will Provide More Entertainment

Friday, May 30th, 2014

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I have said this to a number of people over the last few weeks and not one of them believes me, but relegation for Barnsley last season did not disappoint me too much. There have been some highlights in the eight seasons since returning to the Championship, but they may just be a bit more regular at League One level.

In truth, the recent spell in English football’s second tier has been something of a grind. Of course there have been memorable victories and incredible moments. The escape from relegation last year at Huddersfield will never be forgotten, but that summed up Barnsley’s existence in the Championship.

Successes came when the side upset the odds, battled hard to defeat a better side or edged away from the bottom three at the last moment. Much, much more often were one-sided defeats or dull contests in which Barnsley were the harder-working team, but could not get the better of a side with much more quality about them.

It may just be that in League One, the Reds are on the other side of things for a change. Teams will fear coming to Oakwell and Barnsley will be going into more matches than not as the favourites.

Most importantly, there will be more wins to celebrate for the fans that have sat through endless losses in recent years. The season just gone, Barnsley won just nine games, losing 25 of them. This is 25 afternoons or evenings in which fans have blown £25 to go and watch shoddy football and go home miserable. The standard will clearly be no better, but the whole experience might just be a bit more enjoyable this coming season.

In terms of expectations, nothing can be predicted until the extensive rebuilding of the squad has taken place. 14 players have been released, many of these inconsequential, but the likes of Kelvin Etuhu and Paddy McCourt would have been useful in League One. More importantly, players the club are trying to keep hold of could leave, most notably top scorer Chris O’Grady and midfield terrier Stephen Dawson.

With the squad as it is, the Reds could put out a decent first XI but there would be nothing in reserve. At least five players must be brought in of the quality to be playing in the starting line-up, at least two of those must be up front. If O’Grady does leave then the striking options are few and far between, who Danny Wilson brings in could well determine how Barnsley do this season. Find a 15-20 goal man at League One level and it could be top six, fail to do so and it looks unlikely.

Whether it is a glorious, immediate return to the Championship or not, it would be a big surprise if the Reds do not make the top half. The likes of Dale Jennings, Jim O’Brien and Tomasz Cywka (if retained) should be tearing up League One defences and should provide plenty of entertainment for the fans who have suffered for eight seasons.

There might be fewer supporters in the stands at this level, but those who have stayed will be going home happier a lot more often than they did last season.

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

Phil tweets at @philhaigh_

Par for the season

Friday, May 16th, 2014

SG

The dust has settled at Hillsborough and it feels a good time to reflect as we contemplate a third successive season in the Championship.  I haven’t written for a while, which is probably the biggest indication of how our season fizzled out.  The previous two campaigns had ended with season defining games, so it was a little different with nothing to play for at the end.  An early season struggle, mid-season joy and then finishing disappointingly about sums up the past nine months with the blue half of Sheffield.

We started the season in expectant fashion and a sunny trip to London against QPR; narrowly being beaten.  The season looked promising, but how wrong we were.  Failure to win until November ultimately led to the dismissal of Dave Jones and another battle to avoid relegation.  I was an advocate of Dave Jones, however the way football is today, if a manager doesn’t get results, it usually results in his p45.   I have to say that Milan Mandaric gave Jones every opportunity and went against his reputation of being trigger happy.  In my view the sacking of David Moyes by Manchester United ended any hope of managers being given time and stability at a club through difficult periods.  I think I’ve come to the conclusion that short term managers are now a cultural part of the game.

Stuart Gray took the managers role on a temporary basis following Jones’s dismissal in December, and I never thought for a second he would still be in charge as permanent Head Coach at the end of the season.  I didn’t even consider he was the man to lead us to safety and turn round our fortunes.  He proved me and many other sceptics wrong.  He brought out-casted players such as Chris Maguire back into the fold, who proceeded to score crucial goals; most notably an injury time winner from 30 yards against Barnsley in a relegation six-pointer.  Players found confidence, Connor Wickham found his scoring boots whist Kieran Lee and Jose Semedo started to control games from the middle of the park.  The football at times, was superb.  Beating Leeds 6-0 on a sunny January day is a memory I will cherish for some time.

During that mid-season spell we gained the points we needed to stave off relegation and Stuart Gray turned our season around.  Injuries to Lee and Semedo were telling factors in our season tailing off.  There was a major disappointment in losing to Charlton in the 5th round of the FA Cup, when a steel city derby for a place at Wembley loomed large.  We still dream of our first visit to the arch.

The less said about the end of our season the better.  There were brief highlights including a dramatic fight back against Blackburn and a first ever victory at Dean Court as our ten men won 4-2 to put a major dent in their play-off aspirations.  However, generally our season finished with a whimper.

The players released made interesting reading.  It was the reverse of 12 months before when we seemed to offer everyone a new deal.  Miguel Llera was a key part of our promotion season 2011/12 scoring crucial goals.  Jermaine Johnson was our longest serving player and has given us many great memories over the years (as well as some forgettable ones!).  Anthony Gardner played well when he was fit, whilst David Prutton gave us some memorable goals, but never truly established himself at the club.  As sad as I was to see these players leave, I agreed with the decisions.  The only released player that I question, perhaps a case of heart ruling head, is Reda Johnson.  I still believe he could offer something to the team.  Granted he has struggled with injury, however we are in negotiations with other injury prone players for the coming campaign.  As long as he doesn’t head across town, he will always be well thought of by all linked to the club.

Looking forward to next year, if we want to be challenging at the right end of the table some things need to change.  Having said I agree with the players released, it’s imperative that we bring in better quality to replace them.  Our approach to recruitment of players is critical to this.  Committing to signing players early would be my priority.  Yes we might pay a little more in wages, but getting our targets in and together from the start of pre-season would help to get us off to the best possible start.  I know this isn’t always easy, but it is possible.

Avoiding short term loans is something we need to work on.  We’ve had some success in this field, but the uncertainty over the players’ future always leave nagging doubts; coupled with the fact that their parent club can recall them at any time.  Short term loans should be for emergencies and to cover a short fall, not be key players that determine success and failure of the team.  I’m all for the long term loans for half a season or a full season, but we need to try and have a more stable playing squad.  At times this past season we had to leave loan players out of the 18 as we had too many of them.  That can’t be good.

If we can get things right, bring in the right players and have a little luck with injuries, I’m confident we can build on 2 years stabilising in the Championship and start to think about a push for the play-offs!

Anyway, it’s time to have a break from domestic matters.  There’s some sort event happening in Brazil this summer.

Up the Owls and come on England!

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

Carl tweets at @MulOwl

A season of ups and downs

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

Nottingham-Forest-FC-Pictures-Wallpaper3-640x480Nottingham Forest’s 2013-14 season was one of contrasting fortunes. It began with hopes of promotion and for the most part, it looked as if those hopes could come true, but it ultimately ended with a whimper and thoughts of what might have been.

The watershed moment in the campaign came on February 16, when Forest slumped to a disappointing, if somewhat unfortunate 3-1 defeat to Sheffield United in the fifth round of the FA Cup.

Ahead of that match at Bramall Lane, optimism was high. The Reds were fifth in the Championship, six points adrift of second-placed Burnley with a game in hand and they had an eight-point cushion on seventh place.

Furthermore, they had gone their last 16 games unbeaten in all competitions, which fuelled expectation among Forest fans that the team could overcome their League One opponents to reach the last eight of the FA Cup for the first time since 1996.

Forest took the lead through Jamie Paterson, but a mistake from Dorus de Vries allowed United to equalise, before a dubious Chris Porter penalty and breakaway goal gave Nigel Clough’s side the victory.

The draw for the next round, which had taken place during the match, pitted Forest against either Charlton or Sheffield Wednesday if they had come through their fifth-round clash, which had only raised the hope further. The Reds had been given their best chance of reaching the semi-finals of the competition for the first time in 23 years.

However, the manner in which hope soon turned to disappointment on that Sunday afternoon was mirrored during the remainder of the season.

Manager Billy Davies was robbed of several first-choice players through injury, with Andy Reid, Henri Lansbury, Chris Cohen, Jack Hobbs, Kelvin Wilson, Eric Lichaj and David Vaughan all sidelined at the same time.

The Reds followed up their FA Cup exit with a credible 2-2 draw against league leaders Leicester City, in a match where Forest could feel aggrieved that they did not emerge with a victory. However, the extent of the injury crisis was exposed in the next two games, as Forest lost 2-1 at Burnley then 4-1 at home to Wigan Athletic.

A defeat and two draws followed, before Forest endured an embarrassing 5-0 defeat at rivals Derby County. Steve McClaren came back to haunt his former employers as his promotion-chasing side tore the Reds apart, which spelled the end for Davies’ second stint at The City Ground.

The Scot was sacked less than 48 hours after that defeat at Pride Park, with many Reds fans feeling that it was the right time for him to go. He was hailed as a returning hero when he was re-appointed manager in February 2013, but his ‘them against us’ attitude got the better of him and turned out to be a factor in his dismissal.

He imposed a media blackout and alienated many individuals who he felt had wronged him during his first spell in charge. On the football side he did have to cope without eight of his best players but despite this, performances were still not up to scratch, culminating in that forgettable afternoon at Pride Park. This, coupled with the off-field distractions proved to be the final straw.

Academy manager Gary Brazil was placed in temporary charge of the side until the end of the season, but he could not inspire a change in fortunes. Forest were still in contention for the playoff places when he took over, but the team failed to win their first five matches under his stewardship and slipped further down the table.

Forest looked like a side devoid of confidence and direction during Brazil’s first few matches in charge. However, back-to-back victories against Birmingham and Leeds followed, which moved them to within two points of sixth-placed Reading with two games of the season remaining.

Improved displays in those two wins restored some optimism to the Forest ranks, but their playoff dreams were ended as they succumbed to a 4-1 defeat at Bournemouth with another poor performance. Then, on the final day of the season, Forest fans watched Brighton secure their place in the playoffs thanks to a late 2-1 victory over the Reds at the City Ground, following another lacklustre performance from Brazil’s side.

Two wins from their last 15 matches of the season saw Forest drop from fifth place to their final position of 11th, and it was a relief when the campaign finally came to an end.

Brazil was exposed as being out of his depth tactically, but one positive from his short tenure is the emergence of young talent in the side. Ben Osborn was given his chance in the first-team and has not looked out of place, while Josh Rees and Jack Blake have bright futures ahead of them.

At the beginning of April, Forest announced that club legend Stuart Pearce would be returning as the new manager from July 1. The former left-back is a hero amongst the Forest faithful and his impending arrival gives us much to look forward to ahead of next season.

Despite choosing to not taking charge until the summer due to other commitments, Pearce has already begun to stamp his authority at the City Ground, with as many as 10 players expected to leave the club in the coming weeks. Guy Moussi and Marcus Tudgay have already confirmed their departures, Matt Derbyshire, Ishmael Miller, Jonathan Greening, Simon Gillett and Gonzalo Jara will reportedly not be offered new deals, while Lee Peltier, Rafik Djebbour and Kevin Gomis will return to their parent clubs following loan spells.

Forest have completed the permanent signing of left-back Danny Fox from Southampton following his loan spell, while David Vaughan will also make his loan move permanent during the summer.

This week Pearce held a meeting with every employee of the club, which was also attended by chairman and owner Fawaz Al Hasawi. In the meeting, Pearce expressed his desire to see Forest to emulate the achievements of Leicester and Burnley; this season’s promoted sides, by performing to high standards both on and off the pitch.

He may not have officially taken charge yet, but the early signs from Pearce are encouraging. He understands the football club, knows what the fans want to see and will be as determined as anyone to bring success back to Forest. There have been some reservations over his record in the management, though, following an average spell as Manchester City boss and six years as England Under-21 manager.

However, he has said all the right things since being confirmed as Forest’s new boss, speaking about playing football in the right way, building a strong team spirit and giving promising youth players a chance. Those who have questioned his credentials should look to the likes of Sean Dyche and Malky Mackay, who had never guided sides to promotion from the Championship before doing so at Burnley at Cardiff respectively. Pearce might not have a proven record at this level, but being back at Forest could inspire him to deliver success.

Pearce inherits the foundations of a very good squad, but the expected departures of 10 players will mean that he will have the opportunity to make new signings. Forest have been crying out for a clinical striker for years and the incoming manager has confirmed that a striker is at the top of his shopping list. The Reds drew 17 of their 46 league games this season, and it is clear that a lack of cutting edge played a role in their failure to finish in a playoff position or higher.

By the time the new the season starts the likes of Reid, Lansbury, Hobbs, Wilson and Cohen will be back to full fitness, which will only strengthen the team further. Forest are not far away from being a real force at this level and if Pearce can get the best out of the current crop of players they will definitely be in the promotion picture next season.

After a promising, but ultimately disappointing campaign for Forest, there is plenty to look forward to ahead of next season. The arrival of Stuart Pearce will lift the club and the mood of supporters as the Reds look to return to the top flight. 20 years ago Pearce captained Forest to promotion to the Premier League. Imagine how great it would be if he was to repeat that feat as a manager.

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

Steven tweets at @steven_toplis

We Are Actually Going Up

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Leicester players vs Yeovil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Damon tweets at @dimski

12 seasons is a long time in football…

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

MM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Joe Fairs

Joe tweets at @joefairs

Dreaming of the Arch

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carl tweets at @MulOwl

Ginger Mourinho has littlest horse at a canter

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Tom tweets at @tomclaret

Second season syndrome not a problem for Terriers

Monday, February 10th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James tweets at @jamesb5374