David Cameron Walker

Posts Tagged ‘crystal palace’

Palace Can’t Afford To Fixate On Zaha

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Quick, shout out something you know about Crystal Palace at the moment.

If your answer did not in any way involve Wilfried Zaha, you are probably either lying or a Palace supporter.

You may have heard that Palace’s 20-year-old ‘starlet’ has been sold to no fewer than 15 different clubs in the past year and a half or so. Since the start of the 2011/2012 season, he has been linked with clubs from the high-horses (Manchester United, Arsenal, Real Madrid) to the relegation scrappers looking for a youthful boost (West Ham, Reading). Seemingly every week, we get a new report saying that a successful transfer bid has finally been reached with *insert club here*, and Zaha will be gone any day now. Heck, we’ve actually gotten to the point where media outlets are so desperate for Zaha news that they’re posting photoshopped fake tweets ‘from his account”.

From what you’ve heard around the papers and the blogosphere, there isn’t much to Crystal Palace’s existence at the moment except for the Zaha saga. But as any Palace supporter would tell you, there is far more to the story, and Palace can’t afford to let themselves get swept up in the gusts of the transfer tomfoolery. There is a fine squad playing weekly at Selhurst Park, and they have shown plenty of quality to get up to the top places in the Championship. (Their run through the first chunk of the season was so impressive that even with one win in their last eight games, they’ve managed to stay in fourth.)

The point here is, the season will likely not be decided by where Zaha is or isn’t going. Guys like Andre Moritz, Glenn Murray and Yannick Bolasie have put together enough of an attacking push every game that even when Zaha has disappeared for stretches of several games at a time – and make no mistake, Zaha has most definitely disappeared for several games at a time more than once this year – the points have continued to come for the Eagles. The defence Dougie Freedman built is still solid if not spectacular, Julian Speroni remains one of the top ‘keepers in the league and they have more midfield depth than they know what to do with.

What I’m saying is that Palace is not a squad that will drop down to the lower mid-table like they did last season after the Carling Cup run drained every last iota of energy out of the depleted and injured squad, they’ve simply got too much quality this time around to do so. What I’m not saying is that they’re completely ready for that run to the Premier League quite yet. That’s why focusing on Zaha, even if they do eventually agree to a sell-and-loan sort of deal that would see him come back to the team for the final stretch of the season, would be a foolhardy move by Ian Holloway and the Palace staff. There’s far more to be done during the transfer window.

The lack of finishing during the recent winless stretch has proven that the team needs another goal threat up top to pair with Glenn Murray on the days when he gets cold or gets smothered by multiple defenders. (Indeed, the ‘Hack-A-Murray’ method of defending, to borrow a Basketball term, seems to have gotten popular in recent weeks.) Defensive lapses by the oft-injured back four has proven that the team very much needs extra depth at the back. If there are any hopes about getting back into the automatic promotion spots, these are moves that will need to be made. Thus-far, we’ve seen nothing of that sort with every news piece about Palace fixating on Zaha. Palace’s current problems are prevalent even with Zaha playing every match, they won’t cease simply because he has been kept or brought in on loan. The transfer window is going to slam shut sooner rather than later if they can’t keep their minds off of the wonderkid.

Fortunately for everyone, Ian Holloway seems up to the challenge. At least, his scathing comments to journalists asking about Zaha week-in and week-out certainly makes it seem like he does. Hopefully, he can add a few new names to the Palace squad first, and worry about a big sale for England’s favorite transfer target later.

Written by Chris White, We Are Going Up’s Crystal Palace blogger

Chris tweets at @uzworm

Poyet needs time to finish Project Brighton

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

In December 2009, Brighton & Hove Albion slumped to a 2-1 home defeat to Colchester United. The attendance on that freezing night in a stadium more suited to javelin throwing than professional football was less than 6,000, and the result saw Albion cement their place in the League One relegation zone. A few weeks earlier, a Uruguayan called Gus Poyet had been appointed the club’s new manager, replacing the sacked Russell Slade following a nightmare start to the new campaign.

Three years’ later, the club could hardly be more different. The dire surroundings of Withdean Stadium has been replaced by the spectacular American Express Community Stadium, and attendances have quadruped. The playing squad has also changed beyond all recognition – of the 18 players named in the squad for that game against Colchester, only four are still on the club’s books, and only Adam El-Abd and Andrew Crofts are first team regulars.

Within one year, Poyet transformed a team that was 21st in League One into one that led the division by three points, and ultimately won it with four matches to spare. Into the Championship we went, finishing a highly commendable 10th in our first season back in the second tier. As I type, we now sit just two points outside the play-offs in 8th position. However, despite such an amazing transformation, there are a growing number of supporters beginning to call for Poyet’s head.

As Poyet’s good friend Roberto Di Matteo will testify, football management is a very cut-throat profession in which to earn your living. Pressure from fans who demand instant success can lead to chairmen getting trigger happy, but that is the last thing Brighton need now. Gus’ name and powers of persuasion have brought top quality names to the Amex that his rival managers could only dream of, and embedded a style of football which is the envy of the division. I cannot think of another Championship manager that could have lured Wayne Bridge and Bruno to their club, and it’s signings like those which are propelling the club forward at a rate of knots.

The pressure on Gus has hardly been helped by last Saturday’s defeat to arch rivals Crystal Palace. The rivalry may be unfathomable to anyone outside Sussex and south-east London, but it is very real and very passionate. Losing is simply not an option when it comes to this fixture. Losing 3-0 is barely comprehensible.

It’s hard to see how blame for the defeat can be put at the manager’s door though. It is not Gus’ fault that Lewis Dunk mis-controlled a pass 25 yards from his own goal and was sent-off for denying Yannick Bolassie a clear goal scoring opportunity. It is also not his fault that makeshift left-back Andrea Orlandi broke his rib at the end of the first half, leaving his 10 men with only three defenders against the attacking excellence of Bolassie, Wilfried Zaha and Glenn Murray.

If Poyet can be blamed for anything that led to the loss at Selhurst Park, it is his failure to convince Murray to stay at the club 18 months ago, meaning he was scoring against us rather than for us last weekend. But again, is it Poyet’s fault that Murray wanted more money than the club was prepared to pay him? It isn’t, and you only have to look 50 miles along the A27 to see what happens when a football club spends beyond its means. We are very lucky to have a chairman who is sensible with the club’s finances – rather than one that will risk everything for a chance of securing a Premier League berth – even if it did make me want to string myself up from the nearest lamppost at 4.50pm last Saturday!

The defensive crisis we now have as a result of Dunk’s red card, plus injuries to Orlandi, Bridge, Marcos Painter, El-Abd and Bruno, brings me onto our ever increasing habit of conceding late goals. It has happened three times in the last month – against Wolves, Huddersfield and Bolton – and has the potential to ruin our chances of making the play-offs come May. Whilst we still managed to escape with all three points at Huddersfield, we weren’t so lucky against Wolves and Bolton, dropping a total of four vital points. If we had held onto those points we’d currently be fourth, and even defeat at Palace would have seen Poyet under little pressure from those on the terraces.

Margins in football can be extremely slim. Those who want Poyet sacked may crave instant success, but axing him would put us further away from the promised land, not closer. He has already taken us from League One relegation fodder to Championship play-off contenders in three years. If he is here for another three years, who knows where we could end up.

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

Thank you and goodbye Ollie

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

Since my last blog post, ‘Positivity is key‘ on September 20th, Blackpool FC have won once – away at Hull City – and have only managed to pick up 5 points from a possible 24. Back on that September day Blackpool were second in the league, had a captain, had a manager and everything looked peachy.

A lot has changed around Bloomfield Road in the past six weeks. There has been a much publicised manager merry-go-round. Blackburn, Bolton, Burnley, Ipswich and Crystal Palace have all been looking for new managers in that time-frame and as of November  3rd all those teams have managed to fill their vacant hot seats. Yesterday Crystal Palace appointed their new man – Blackpool’s Ian Holloway – taking over as Dougie Freedman’s replacement and half-time at Selhurst Park, Holloway was unveiled to the home fans.

It has been a turbulent few weeks for Blackpool fans and their manager. Holloway was linked with every job in the Championship and when Henning Berg was appointed Blackburn Rovers boss on Thursday morning, it appeared that Holloway would stay put at Bloomfield Road until further notice. Blackpool fans breathed a huge sigh of relief.

What we weren’t to know is that on the Thursday evening Blackpool chairman Karl Oyston and Palace co-owner Steve Parish were thrashing out a compensation package for Holloway and first-team-coach Keith Millen. Two days later Holloway and Millen had left the Lancashire seaside for South London.

The manner in which Ian Holloway left Blackpool will irk many fans. We don’t blame him for going, but jumping ship on the morning of a crucial game away to Derby County is no way to endear oneself to the fans that hold you in such high regard. However Karl Oyston played the part of the super-villain in this saga. He constantly refused to back his manager financially and has openly stated that a new training ground will be built, but nothing has yet come to fruition.

Ian Holloway was tied to a twelve month rolling contract meaning that all the control was with Oyston. A club could come in and pay the £400,000 release clause and talk to Holloway, which is exactly what Crystal Palace did.

Nobody can blame Holloway for leaving behind a chairman that shows zero ambition to the football club that he owns and runs. What Holloway did in the summer of 2010 to get the club into the Premier League will be remembered by all Blackpool fans forever, it is woven into the club’s history. However when you look back on that achievement and realize the constraints that the manager was working with, it makes that promotion look like a miracle.

The rest is history, the club were relegated on the last day of the 2010-11 season after losing to Manchester United at Old Trafford, with a points total of 39, just one point off safety. Holloway stayed and persevered with his chairman, and despite losing a host of key players that summer, Holloway re-built his squad.

That squad then went all the way to the 2012 Championship play-off final which Blackpool lost to West Ham United. Anyone would think the chairman would back his manager, after the club stumbled at the last hurdle. Just a few million pounds would have shown ambition to get back into the Premier League but Oyston refused to budge on financing Holloway’s transfer targets. Blackpool spent £250,000 this summer on new recruits. Ambition = nil.

Holloway committed to Steve Parish and co. when he signed a deal to become Palace’s manager. Palace have a highly successful youth set-up and he will relish the opportunity  to get his claws into some of their prospects. Family too is an important part of his move down south. Three of Holloway’s four children now live in the nation’s capital so Holloway will be closer to his family, however he will have to sell the house he bought on the Fylde Coast only a few weeks ago.

Holloway is a Blackpool FC legend and I, like many others, thank him for the wonderful job he has done over the past three seasons. He has imprinted a style of football that is the most entertaining my club has ever played. Promotion, relegation and play-off final defeat – we’ve seen it all in the past three seasons and for that Ian Holloway leaves the club held in the highest regard. Thank you and all the best.

Written by Adam Kinder, We Are Going Up’s Blackpool blogger

Adam tweets at @adam_kinder

Freedman Flies The Eyrie

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

Devastated. Angry. Betrayed. Palace fans are current experiencing a whole raft of emotions following manager Dougie Freedman’s somewhat surprising departure to Bolton Wanderers. The overriding emotion though is one of disappointment. Disappointment that the man who saved the club from oblivion (or League 1 as it is more commonly known) three times, has jumped ship the first time another team has come knocking.

It is hard to judge Freedman’s actions while little is known about the full circumstances around his departure. Co-chairman Steve Parish has already indicated to Sky Sports News that the move was seemingly more to do with ambition than money. Although that raises the question why a team currently languishing in the lower reaches of the Championship can be considered more ambitious than one in its upper echelons?

One thing is for sure though; Freedman’s departure is another death knell for loyalty in football. Freedman has red and blue blood coursing through his veins. Over the last two decades, Freedman spent 13 years at Palace; first as a player, then assistant manager before his promotion to manager midway through the 2010-11 season. For many fans, he will forever be remembered for his last minute winner against Stockport County in the final game of the 2000/01 season to keep Palace up. Others will never forget the loyalty he showed the club in its darkest days during administration three years ago, when he assisted Paul Hart in steering the club to safety. Yet, these memories may now forever be tainted by the cloud under which he has left.

A lot has been made of Freedman’s recent column in the Croydon Advertiser, in which he stated, ‘I think I’m halfway there in getting the club the way I want it to be, and I’m not the sort of guy to leave jobs half done.’ His words ring somewhat hollow now and perhaps bring Freedman’s integrity into question. Without being in possession of the full facts behind the scenes though, it is not clear whether Freedman jumped or has spent the last few months being edged towards the exit door anyway.

After all, it is only a few months since Palace fans were calling for Freedman’s head, following a particularly sluggish start to the season. Three losses in the first three league games and only four wins in 28 games dating back to last season meant that many fans were questioning whether Freedman was the right man to take the club forward. It is only since Palace’s recent eight game unbeaten run that Freedman’s vision appeared to be coming to fruition.

It makes Bolton’s appointment of Freedman seem all the more bizarre. If they are looking for a quick fix to get them back up to the Premiership at the first time of asking, Freedman is probably not the man for the job. It has taken him three years to get Palace where they are now and he is a young manager, still very much learning his trade. Lennie Lawrence is likely to follow Freedman up north, where he can continue to impart knowledge gleaned from his century (or so) spent in football. Whether Bolton’s fans will have the patience for Freedman learning from his mistakes as he goes along remains to be seen.

Freedman is one of a handful of former Palace players or managers considered a club legend. Another that is likely to have his name thrown around in the coming weeks in relation to the vacant manager’s position is Steve Coppell. In times of crisis, Palace have frequently turned to the quietly spoken Liverpudlian  but his involvement with the club has been limited since he was shown the door in 2000 by the shy and retiring former chairman, Simon Jordan. Palace fans would likely welcome Coppell back, although perhaps the owners need to be a little bolder in their appointment to show they are serious about a long awaited return to the Premier League.

Whoever does come in will inherit a squad high on confidence (the manager’s recent departure excepted). It is well documented that Wilfried Zaha has been playing like a man possessed so far this season. However, that does an injustice to the rest of the squad, who have been playing some of the most exciting football SE25 has seen for many years. The key for the new manager will be to keep recent momentum going so that Palace are still there or thereabouts at the end of the season. Hopefully the owners have not forgotten the effect Trevor Francis’s appointment had on the club, after Steve Bruce left at the turn of the century, in similar circumstances to Freedman’s departure.

So what of Freedman’s legacy? Regardless of the circumstances in which he has left, he will forever be written into Palace’s history books; whether it be as the man who saved the club three times or as the man who masterminded Palace’s win at the Amex Stadium (a feat that will also be written into Brighton’s history books under the sub-heading: ‘First league loss at new stadium’). He has seen the club at its worst and steered it through to brighter days, leaving the fans with many fond memories along the way. It would be entirely unsurprising if one day, further down the line, he adds another chapter or two to the rich history of this vibrant club.

Written by Martin Fitzgerald, We Are Going Up’s Crystal Palace blogger   

Martin tweets at @martinfitzgeral

Comings and goings cause for concern at the Palace

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

The new Championship season may not have even started yet but there are already a few murmurs of discontent rumbling around SE25. Much of this has to do with Palace manager Dougie Freedman’s wheelings and dealings in the transfer market over the close season. This has seen many of the club’s high profile and technically gifted players leaving and being replaced by others that are unlikely to set the Championship alight.

One of the many players to leave was England under-21 right-back, Nathaniel Clyne. Palace fans were resigned to losing Clyne almost from the day he first set foot on the Selhurst Park pitch, back in October 2008. In that debut performance against Barnsley, the teenager showed maturity beyond his years and outshone many of the more seasoned pros on the pitch. It was inevitable he would go on to bigger and better things one day but somewhat miraculously, Palace managed to squeeze four seasons out of him before he finally stepped up to the Premier League.

Clyne’s eventual move to Southampton this summer might not have been where many envisaged he would end up; especially after originally being linked to slightly more illustrious teams such as Manchester United and Newcastle United. However, being able to perform week in week out in the Premier League should give Clyne the platform to push on with his career over the coming years. Very few at Palace will begrudge him that opportunity.

Probably the most surprising departure though was that of Darren Ambrose to Birmingham City. Ambrose, possessor of a foot like a traction engine, had scored many of Palace’s greatest and most important goals in recent seasons. When he wasn’t scoring 25/35/45 yard (depending on amount of hyperbole applied) screamers against Manchester United, he was scoring crucial goals against Sheffield Wednesday on the last day of the 2009/10 season to keep Palace in the Championship. Since Freedman took up the reigns at Palace though, Ambrose never quite fitted into the system the manager opted to play. Despite this, he was one of the few players that could conjure something from nothing and his technical skill will be sorely missed this coming season.

Others to depart included injury-prone man mountain Anthony Gardner and local lad Sean Scannell, leaving the Eagles’ squad somewhat threadbare. Freedman has tried to plug the gaps with players that will do a decent job but would struggle to find their way into the squads of many other Championship clubs. A trio of defenders in the form of Joel Ward, Aaron Martin and Peter Ramage will shore up a defence that kept 17 clean sheets in the league last term. At the opposite end of the pitch, Aaron Wilbraham has been brought in, in the hope that he will score the goals to propel Palace up the league. Wilbraham’s return of two goals from 22 appearances at Norwich City last season will need to be improved on if this is to be the case though.

Palace have as good a backbone to the team as any of their fellow Championship rivals. Goalkeeping stalwart Julian Speroni and club captain Paddy McCarthy form the rock upon which the rest of the team is built. With the ever improving Mile Jedinak marshalling the midfield and Glenn Murray leading the line upfront, Freedman can fill in the gaps with a mixture of some older heads and a few of the club’s plethora of youth players.

Some of the younger members of the squad, such as Wilfred Zaha and Jonathan Williams, have been playing regular first team football for so long now, it’s easy to forget they’re still in their teens. There’s plenty more where they came from though, with the likes of promising centre back Ryan Innis and midfield whiz kid Reise Allassani among those that will be breaking into the squad this coming season.

Palace should realistically steer well clear of trouble this season, even though, as is often the case with the Championship, it’s ridiculously hard to call the promotion and relegation contenders at this early stage. Freedman has already learnt much in his season and a half in management. Last term, Palace were clear from safety about two months earlier than in previous seasons, which was a somewhat alien experience for all involved at the club. Slightly alarming though was how much the results tailed off once safety appeared on the cards. One win and two draws from the last ten games was relegation form and fans will be hoping this does not carry on into the new season.

The lack of any major signings may be a slight concern for some supporters but they would do well to repeat the unofficial fans’ mantra, ‘in Dougie we trust’ over the coming weeks. For, in the shape of the amiable Scot, Palace have a man in charge that seemingly thrives on adversity and the loss of a few key players is small fry compared to saving the club from oblivion three times.

Life’s rarely dull at Selhurst Park and with the new season fast approaching, Palace fans will be once again bracing themselves to expect the unexpected. Besides, it wouldn’t be half as fun any other way.

Written by Martin Fitzgerald, We Are Going Up’s Crystal Palace blogger   

Martin tweets at @martinfitzgeral

Say hello to your 2011/12 Champions!

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

Did someone say Premier League? On Tuesday night, after a frankly unbelievable past three months, what every Royals supporter dared to dream finally became a reality when the team clinched promotion to the top flight of English football with a 1-0 defeat of Nottingham Forest.

For me it capped off a truly wondrous season, and I felt immense pleasure not only in knowing I could watch my team get picked apart by Hansen, Shearer et al. on Match of the Day every weekend, but for our boys who have performed admirably in getting the club back into the league it dropped out of four years ago. People outside the Reading supporter circle must be sick and tired of hearing it, but the bunch of boys we’ve got at the club really are second to none. They work hard for each other, there’s great relationships between them all and the manager, and most importantly they have such a passion to get to the Premier League.

Kaspars Gorkss and Matt Connolly, statistically the Championship’s most effective defensive pairing last season, both joined our cause from QPR after being deemed surplus to requirements for their Prem campaign, whilst Leigertwood joined the season prior. Neil Warnock was seemingly intent on breaking up his team that romped to the Championship title and replacing them with big money signings, and look where that left him.

He cheekily takes credit for our success too. Jobi McAnuff, made captain in summer, has never played in the top flight, despite trying with five other teams. Noel Hunt follows his brother’s footsteps in gaining promotion with us, and could play against Stephen if Wolves beat the drop. Adam Federici was the Royals’ reserve goalkeeper during their last Premier League stint, and the likes of Jem Karacan, Alex Pearce (two of three players up for Player of the Season), Simon Church and Hal Robson-Kanu have all made their way up through the club’s fantastic academy. Andy Griffin, Ian Harte and Jason Roberts provided the experienced heads, whilst Adam Le Fondre will become a top flight player less than a year after being picked up from League Two and chipping in with 12 goals.

I can honestly say that I didn’t think I’d see a team I loved more than the fabled 106ers of 2005/06, but here they are. It’s a perfect combination of players with varying careers who have such a fantastic bond, and I know that Brian and the rest of the staff will be keen on keeping them together next year. You only have to look at the likes of Swansea and Norwich, and on the flip side QPR, to know which transfer policy works best.

In my last piece, I wrote how the run-in to the season’s end could make or break Reading’s season. It featured five of the top ten at the time, and despite our good form, I was concerned for how well the players would cope with such a tough set of games. What I didn’t anticipate, was that Reading would win 6 of the final 8 fixtures – we face Birmingham next weekend – including games against the top two in West Ham and Southampton, and playoff challengers Leeds, Blackpool and Brighton.

Each and every game was momentous, and with each three points my belief grew. McDermott’s men wrapped it up on Tuesday with a well-fought win against Forest, and as news filtered through that Bristol had held West Ham, the Mad Stad went mental. I really advise checking out some of the promotion videos online, they’re absolutely fantastic. Jem Karacan discharging himself hours after an operation on his broken foot showed what it meant to him, and despite being high as a kite on the medicine, the boys welcomed him like a hero.

Although yesterday’s game against Palace maybe showed traits of complacency in the team, we wrapped up the title later in the day, watching Middlesborough beat Southampton in the late kick off. It would have been nice to have done it with a win at the Madejski and at the same time as the Saints game, but a title is a title, especially considering our position but three months ago, and I ain’t moaning.

What remains important is that we don’t act like there’s nothing to play for at St. Andrew’s in a week’s time. Technically there isn’t, but let’s make it a fine finish to a finer season. Remember 2008/09 boys? We’d been fighting with Wolves and Birmingham for automatic promotion the whole season, and Birmingham condemned us to the playoffs on the final day with a 2-0 victory. Perhaps it’s time to return the favour.

The media have already started paying attention now that Reading are back in the limelight of the Barclays Premier League, and it’s about time too. We’d slipped under the radar, and many people didn’t quite trust in our promotion credentials over West Ham and Southampton’s until it was confirmed. The outright favourites are still battling for that 2nd position, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be the one to drop into the ridiculously strong playoffs this year. Birmingham, Blackpool and Cardiff? No thank you. I don’t imagine Reading would have fared too well in that cauldron. The stats don’t lie though: 47 points gained out of a possible 54 in the last 18 games is promotion form of the finest. That, my friends, is unreal. I’m hella’ proud of the lads, the manager, the chairman, and the club, and there’s just one thing left to say.

Bring on August.

Up the Royals!

 

Eagles gliding into unknown territory

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Crystal Palace’s 1-1 draw with bitter rivals Brighton and Hove Albion on Tuesday night was fairly indicative of what to expect from the Eagles for the remainder of the season. They put on a tentative display interjected with enough flashes of excitement to keep the supporters satisfied. A second half penalty apiece ensured those fans in attendance had something to clutch onto after witnessing a game that largely failed to live up to the pre-match hype. Barring the two penalties and a bit of man-bags at ten paces that resulted in referee, Stuart Attwell, brandishing four yellow cards in the space of as many minutes, there was little to warm the cockles of the 17,271 hardy souls who had braved the sub-zero temperatures.

The Palace-Brighton rivalry has always been considered something of an oddity by the wider football world. It is viewed by those outside of the two clubs in much the same way World of Warcraft enthusiasts perceive The Only Way Is Essex; they’re aware of its existence but are unsure where it came from or what exactly the point of it is. A dearth of encounters between the two clubs in recent years has seen the rivalry fade somewhat from its peak during the 1970s and ‘80s. For the majority of Palace and Brighton supporters though, whenever the teams do meet, it is still the biggest game of the season.

Now that the Eagles have completed fixtures against both Brighton and their more geographically logical rivals, Millwall, Palace fans find themselves at a bit of a loss as to what they can look forward to for the remainder of the season. This feeling was exacerbated when their chance of playing in the Carling Cup final evaporated into Welsh air. Not since Peter Taylor piloted a mass curse for insomnia at Selhurst Park in 2006/07 have Palace approached the final third of the season without a play-off push or relegation dogfight to look forward to.

Few Palace fans would trade the position they are currently in with the one they were in this time last year; a time when they were frantically analysing upcoming fixtures to see which games would yield the points needed for survival. Settling into mid-table mediocrity so early in the season is just not something Palace supporters are used to, leading to a little restlessness creeping on to the terraces.

Some of this restlessness emanates from the tactics Palace manager, Dougie Freedman, chooses to employ. Freedman’s insistence on playing two defensive midfielders, even in home games, has frequently seen Palace open the scoring in matches and then attempt to defend a one-goal lead for anything up to 90 minutes. These tactics were effective in avoiding relegation last season but the fans have come to expect more after witnessing the club reach the dizzy heights of third place during October last year on the back of some swaggering displays.

Since sweeping Ipswich Town aside with a swashbuckling 1-0 victory at Portman Road, putting Palace within touching distance of the automatic promotion places, there has been little consistency to the Eagles’ league results. Narrow victories every few games since have kept the club in no real danger of dropping towards the relegation places. At the same time, it has been Palace’s failure in keeping hold of one goal advantages that has prevented them from flirting with the play-off places.

This lack of consistency can be attributed in part to the absence of teenage prodigy Jonathan Williams. It seems slightly ludicrous that a team could be so reliant on an 18-year old midfielder who only made his debut last August but Williams’s performances contributed greatly to the club’s blistering start to the season. Much like his illustrious Hollywood namesake, Williams has the ability to orchestrate the midfield and together with fellow academy products Wilfred Zaha and Sean Scannell, he formed a youthful triumvirate capable of tearing opponents apart. When Williams suffered a broken leg in November, Palace were suddenly deprived of the creative spark required to unlock most Championship defences. The win percentage of 62% for games in which Williams played compared to 35% in those he hasn’t goes some way to demonstrating his importance to the side.

Williams’s absence has underlined the fact that although Palace have come a long way in 12 months, they still have a little further to go before they’re likely to seriously challenge for promotion. With players such as Zaha, Scannell and the erratic Darren Ambrose, Palace have the talent that is more than capable of propelling them up the league. The challenge for Freedman though is working out how best to utilise them in his favoured systems.

So what’s left for the Eagles to look forward to this season then? The prospect of finishing above Millwall (probable) and Brighton (possible) should keep the players, management and fans alike motivated to have as strong a final third of the season as possible. A top 10 finish is probably a realistic aim but with young Williams due to return to the first team in late February, maybe the Eagles will dare to soar a little higher.

Written by Martin Fitzgerald, We Are Going Up’s Crystal Palace blogger   

Martin tweets at @martinfitzgeral

Dougie Freedman and The Eagles – two wins from glory

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

It’s impossibly hard to believe that we’ve gotten this far. Crystal Palace were supposed to be in an incredibly down year. After almost losing the team altogether a couple of years ago through administration and narrowly avoiding relegation by a single point two years running, Dougie Freedman wasn’t supposed to take the Eagles to anything resembling glory this quickly.

Yet, here we are. Two wins away from the first ever trophy in the long and sometimes painful history of Crystal Palace Football Club.

Once again, this dream season for the Eagles has plugged another notch into its proverbial belt. Even as Palace were ravaged by a viral infection across the team that knocked them swiftly out of the FA Cup with a 1-0 loss to Derby County, the team managed to sneak off their sickbeds and defeat a far more talented Cardiff City side 1-0 in the first leg of the Carling Cup semi-finals.

Paddy McCarthy in particular played a heroic role despite being clearly ill, the way that a true captain should. Other players like Nathaniel Clyne were forced to miss the match completely, which seemed to spell an unfortunate end to the Eagles’ cup hopes. Just like they’ve done all year though, Dougie Freedman has driven Palace to something they by all accounts shouldn’t have done.

This season has been dotted with ‘I can’t believe it’ moments for Palace. The 2-1 comeback win in stoppage time over Coventry City. The 3-1 comeback win at the Amex to hand fierce rivals Brighton and Hove Albion their first ever league loss at their new stadium. Darren Ambrose’s heart-stopping goal to lead Palace over Manchester United 2-1 at Old Trafford. This almost seems like a team of destiny, the team that the Palace faithful have been craving since the all too short dominance of the early 1990′s faded away.

It seems too good to be true, and truthfully it might just be. Palace legend Dougie Freedman comes into the club for his first ever managerial gig with the team hanging by a thread, makes a couple of brilliant transfers in the offseason and suddenly is fending off a team-wide virus but still up a goal in the Carling Cup semi-finals? And among all of this, the playoff race is not out of hand either with Palace a mere three points from fifth in the table? If you believe in any supernatural deities, you have to think that at this point they’re simply toying with the fans. It’s impossible yet it’s happening before our very eyes.

And now, Palace are left with two more games to go. With a 1-0 lead going into Wales, a win or draw will take them through. Even a 2-1 loss in extra time will carry the Eagles through thanks to away goals. Palace in fact have been quite proficient in recent years at getting 0-0 draws away to Cardiff, so perhaps it’s not quite a pipe dream. After that, it’s Liverpool or Manchester City at Wembley.

It’s too hard to get excited about Palace after the past few years have force fed supporters agonizing loss after agonizing loss. Even this season there has been a fair share of heartbreakers. The FA Cup loss so recently still stings even as we celebrate the 1-0 success over Cardiff. Palace have looked simply lost in games this season during league play. The attack is simply not there sometimes, with Palace scoring fewer goals in the Calendar year of 2011 than any other Championship side.

To see those let-downs combined with the last few years of futility and then to see this year’s victories is almost impossible to comprehend. Two wins away from the first major trophy in club history, in a year when relegation was supposed to be knocking on our door. Two wins away from a cup that the Eagles were knocked out of before they could even blink in 2010.  Two wins away from being able to change the chants of Freedman saving the Eagles from absolute loss into chants of him leading them to glory. It’s all so hard to believe.

But again, here we are. Dougie Freedman is already a legend in the eyes of Crystal Palace’s supporters. He is two wins away from becoming absolutely the greatest Eagle that there ever was.

Written by Chris White, We Are Going Up’s Crystal Palace blogger

Chris tweets at @uzworm

Toppo’s Top Tens – Moments of 2011

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

As we are a few days into 2012, there’s no better time to reflect on the previous year in the Football League. 2011 served up some memorable moments, with unexpected promotions, great relegation escapes, controversies and goals aplenty.

A resurgent East Anglian outfit upset the odds to claim their second promotion in two seasons and top flight football returned to South Wales for the first time in nearly 30 years. A Premier League legend turned up in Wiltshire to begin his managerial career while two former England managers were hired and fired in the East Midlands.

Plenty more took place in 2011 and this week Toppo’s Top Ten takes a look back at some of the most memorable events of the past twelve months in the Football League.

10: Stevenage are promoted again

Stevenage were promoted to the Football League for the first time in their history in 2010 and made a decent start to life in League Two, hovering around mid-table for the first six months of the campaign. In January the club were sat in 18th place but went on a remarkable run of form in February and March, winning nine out of eleven games to propel themselves into the play-off spots. They may have come to the attention of many for their ‘timewasting’ tactics and the hard work put in by the team on the training field, but Graham Westley’s side were on the up.

They finished sixth and defeated Accrington Stanley 3-0 in the play-off semi-finals, to set up a meeting with Torquay United at Old Trafford in the final. Stevenage had the better of the first-half and made their dominance count four minutes from the break as John Mousinho rifled in a shot from the edge of the area after a fine run from midfield. The goal would prove to be the decider and Stevenage saw out the match to secure a famous double promotion into League One, emulating Exeter’s back-to-back promotions from the Conference into the third tier in 2008 and 2009.

9: Crystal Palace shock Manchester United

Having struggled at the wrong end of the Championship table early in 2011, Crystal Palace made a much better start to the 2011-12 season under manager Dougie Freedman, challenging for the play-offs and having a good run in the Carling Cup.

In the quarter-finals on November 30 they travelled to Old Trafford to face Manchester United, with the home side considered big favourites, despite Sir Alex Ferguson fielding some fringe players. After a dull first half, the game sparked into life when Palace midfielder Darren Ambrose thumped a brilliant 35-yard strike into the top corner at the Stretford End. United equalised thanks to Federico Macheda’s penalty but they could not find another goal, so the match went into extra-time.

Eight minutes into extra-time Palace won a free-kick which Ambrose swung into the penalty area, Glenn Murray escaped the attentions of his marker and nodded the ball into the back of Ben Amos’ net to restore Palace’s lead. The Londoners came under pressure in the closing stages of the game but defended resolutely to seal a last-four spot for the first time in ten years.

8: That Clarke-Di Canio bust-up

Former Sheffield Wednesday and West Ham United striker Paolo Di Canio was appointed manager of Swindon Town in May, not long after the club’s relegation into League Two had been confirmed. The Robins got off to an inconsistent start under the Italian, who was known for his short temper and hot-headed moments as a player. At the end of August we saw this side of Di Canio return as he had a furious bust-up with striker Leon Clarke on the touchline at the County Ground after losing to Southampton in the Carling Cup.

Clarke had an argument with one of the club’s fitness coaches before manager Di Canio stepped in. He asked the striker to leave the field but Clarke refused, Di Canio tugged at his shirt which seemed to wind the striker up more. Eventually the pair headed down the tunnel where the confrontation continued and became more heated with the two having to be pulled apart. Clarke had only joined Swindon from QPR 11 days later, and he was soon heading for the exit – farmed out to Chesterfield on loan.

7: Darren Ferguson returns to Peterborough

In January 2011, fourteen months after leaving the club by mutual consent, Darren Ferguson strolled back into London Road to become Peterborough United boss for a second time. He had just been sacked by Preston North End, who were bottom of the Championship – which was where Ferguson took Peterborough from League Two thanks to successive promotions in 2008 and 2009 during his first stint as manager.

Posh were in the play-off mix when he arrived and he eventually guided them into the end-of-season shootout for a place in the Championship. After overcoming MK Dons in the semi-finals they would face Huddersfield Town at Old Trafford on May 29, where Ferguson began his playing career and where his father Sir Alex, is a club legend. Huddersfield were considered favourites having just been pipped to automatic promotion by Southampton but the game was a tight affair until the late stages.

In the 78th minute Peterborough broke the deadlock when Tommy Rowe headed Grant McCann’s free-kick into the back of the net, before striker Craig Mackail-Smith’s 35th goal of a memorable season made it 2-0. Posh sealed the victory five minutes from the end thanks to a great free-kick from McCann to seal promotion back to the Championship and a remarkable comeback for manager Ferguson.

6: Huddersfield’s unbeaten run

In 2011 Huddersfield Town came close to securing a place in the Championship, being beaten to an automatic promotion spot in League One to Southampton, before losing the play-off final to Peterborough United. Lee Clark’s side were tipped to go one better in the 2011-12 season and pushed for the play-offs again from the start as they carried on a long unbeaten run from the previous season.

After losing in the league to Southampton on December 28th 2010, Huddersfield picked up 24 wins and 18 draws from their next 42 league games to equal Nottingham Forest’s Football League unbeaten streak of 42 matches. In their next game at home to Notts County on the 19th of November, Town would make history as they ran out 2-1 winners thanks to a brace from Jordan Rhodes and make it 43 unbeaten.

In this time they had lost matches in the FA Cup, Carling Cup and most notably, in the League One play-offs, so some felt the record should have been ended much sooner, however it was an impressive feat from the Terriers which came to an end with a 2-0 loss away to leaders Charlton Athletic in their next game.

5: Brighton move to their new home

Fourteen long years after leaving the Goldstone Ground and playing at the Withdean Stadium since 1999, Brighton and Hove Albion finally moved to a new stadium of their own, the impressive Falmer Stadium (named the AMEX Stadium due to sponsorship) which was in construction since 2008.

The move coincided with Gus Poyet’s side winning the League One title last season to be promoted to the Championship and the feel good factor was back amongst the Seagulls and their supporters. Their first competitive match at their new ground was a home league fixture against Doncaster Rovers and it would be a memorable afternoon for the home side. The teams took to the field amid a great atmosphere and the sell-out 20.219 crowd waving flags, but it was Doncaster who threatened to spoil Brighton’s afternoon as they took the lead through Billy Sharp.

Brighton tried to find a goal and finally equalised on 83 minutes as Will Buckley, a summer signing from Watford, hit a shot from the egde of the penalty area after Doncaster had failed to clear a free-kick. Injuries meant there were eight minutes of injury time and in the final minute, Buckley converted an excellent pass from Craig Noone to complete a brilliant turnaround and send the home fans into wild celebration.

4: Fans Reunited

Plymouth Argyle began the season in financial turmoil and had just suffered back-to-back relegations from the Championship into League Two. The club were £13 million in debt and placed in Administration. On the pitch the club’s fortunes continued to slide as the Pilgrims sat bottom of the whole Football League after nine games and manager Peter Reid was sacked.

A ‘fans reunited’ day was organised for Plymouth’s home match against Macclesfield Town on September 24th, led by Brighton and Hove Albion fans, hundreds of well-wishers pledged to descend on Home Park in their own teams’ shirts to support Plymouth’s plight. Albion themselves went through a similar situation in 1997 when they were evicted from the Goldstone Ground, docked points and nearly dropped out of the Football League.

Over 6,000 people attended Plymouth’s match with Macclesfield, with fans from clubs all over the country making the long trip South to be at the game. Argyle’s players responded and ran out 2-0 winners to pick up their first win of a difficult season. Two weeks later a second ‘fans reunited’ day was staged on an International weekend to encourage even more fans to support Plymouth, and the Home Park attendance swelled to over 8,000 as the Pilgrims drew 2-2 with Accrington Stanley.

3: Norwich City reach the Premier League

Norwich City’s rise into the Premier League is remarkable. Defeated 7-1 at Carrow Road by Paul Lambert’s Colchester United on the first day of the League One season in 2009, the club dismissed manager Bryan Gunn and appointed Lambert as the new boss. The Scot galvanised the team as they regained their form and went on to win the League One title later that season, immediately bouncing back into the Championship.

Norwich carried on their winning momentum into the second tier and the club were in and around the play-off spots for most of the season. Thanks to the goals of striker Grant Holt the Canaries were very much in the promotion shake-up and moved into the top two, maintaining consistent form in the process – not losing back-to-back matches all season.

On May 2nd the club went into their penultimate match of the campaign away at Portsmouth needing a win to guarantee promotion. The game was a scrappy affair with neither side fashioning many chances, however in the 50th minute they did find the net. David Fox curled a free-kick into the penalty area and Simeon Jackson met it with a close-range header to give the Canaries a priceless lead.

Norwich held on to secure the win and with it a second consecutive promotion into the Premier League as the players ran towards the travelling supporters to celebrate a remarkable triumph. The club became the first since Manchester City in 2000 to win back-to-back promotions into the top flight.

2: Brendan Rodgers takes Swansea City up

Having narrowly missed out on a Championship play-off place the season before, Swansea City appointed former Watford and Reading boss Brendan Rodgers as manager in the wake of Paolo Sousa’s departure for Leicester City. The Swans developed a reputation for playing attractive, attacking football and this would continue under Rodgers. He moved to bring Scott Sinclair to South Wales for £500,000 from former club Chelsea before the season began and he would be one of the club’s key players throughout the campaign.

After a slow start, Swansea picked up form and were soon in the play-off places, moving into the top two on occasion before falling away to allow Norwich to finish second. They eventually finished third to secure a play-off spot and face Nottingham Forest in the semi-finals. After a goalless first leg at the City Ground, Swansea won the return at the Liberty Stadium 3-1 to reach the Wembley final, where they would face Reading for a place in the Premier League.

On May 30 the two sets of fans descended on Wembley to witness what would be a pulsating encounter. Swansea took control of the first half as two goals from Scott Sinclair and a strike from Stephen Dobbie saw the Swans go into the half-time break 3-0 ahead. Reading looked out of it but they pulled a goal back when Joe Allen deflected a header into his own net four minutes after the restart, and eight minutes later the Royals got another when Matt Mills headed home from a corner to put Brian McDermott’s side right back in the contest.

Swansea had to see out Reading pressure as they pressed for an equaliser, being denied by the post and some last-ditch defending from Garry Monk, before they were awarded a penalty with ten minutes to go when Fabio Borini was brought down in the Reading penalty area. Sinclair stepped up and converted the spot-kick to complete his hat-trick and send Swansea on their way to promotion. At the final whistle they returned to the top flight after a 28 year absence and became the first Welsh team to reach the Premier League – quite a feat considering the club won promotion from League Two six years before.

1: Barnet’s great escape

On the final day of the 2010-11 League Two season Barnet and Lincoln City were locked in a battle to remain in the Football League. Lincoln were two points ahead of the Londoners with a home game against Aldershot, while Barnet faced Port Vale at Underhill. Barnet began the season with Mark Stimson as manager but he left with the club bottom at New Year and they turned to former boss Paul Fairclough as caretaker manager.

However after 15 points from a possible 48 the club were staring the Conference in the face and Fairclough left, with another former manager, Martin Allen returning as Bees’ manager on an eight game deal. He gave the side the lift they needed as they won two and drew one of his first three matches in charge, before he shocked everyone by agreeing to join managerless Notts County, just 19 days after his return to Underhill.

Giuliano Grazioli, a Barnet legend and assistant manager to Allen was placed in charge until the end of the season. After a win, a draw and two defeats from his first four games as boss, Barnet went into the final day of the season needing a victory whilst hoping Lincoln lost. Three minutes into the second half, Izale McLeod scored from the penalty spot to give Barnet the lead, but it would be meaningless unless Lincoln conceded against Aldershot.

Midway through the second-half at Sincil Bank Aldershot themselves won and converted a penalty to take the lead, with the news gradually filtering through at Underhill amid chants of “We are staying up!” from the Bees’ supporters. Fifteen minutes later Aldershot doubled their lead and the Barnet fans began cheering once more. Aldershot made it 3-0 with five minutes left, while at Underhill there were six minutes of injury time which only added to the tension, but Barnet held on to survive in the Football League, climb up to 22nd place in the table and condemn Lincoln to non-league football.

At the final whistle the Bees fans poured onto the pitch to celebrate with the players and coaching staff. Barnet had saved themselves by the skin of their teeth.

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

Tweet Steven at @steven_toplis with your suggestions for Toppo’s Top Tens

Toppo’s Top Tens – League Cup upsets

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011


The League Cup has, in recent years, been written off by some observers as a second rate competition which creates unwanted congestion on an already hectic fixture calendar. However many Football League clubs have enjoyed successful runs in the competition, with some reaching the semi-finals, the final or even winning the cup itself on occasion.

It is no secret that many of the country’s biggest clubs use the League Cup as an opportunity to play the reserves or field their youngsters, which can lead to some unexpected results and allow lower ranked sides to reach the latter stages of the tournament.

Last week Dougie Freedman’s Crystal Palace upset the odds by defeating Manchester United 2-1 at Old Trafford to reach the semi-finals – where they will meet fellow Championship side Cardiff City after they beat Premier League Blackburn Rovers in the last eight. Since the League Cup’s inception in the 1960/61 season there have been plenty of other upsets and this week Toppo’s Top Ten looks at some of the most memorable….

10: Sheffield Wednesday 1 Manchester United 0 1991

Wembley has seen its fair share of cup final upsets down the years and the 1991 League Cup Final was no different. Manchester United went into the game as FA Cup holders and huge favourites as they faced Sheffield Wednesday, who would go on to win promotion from the Second Division that season.

Former United manager Ron Atkinson was the Owls’ manager, pitted against Alex Ferguson, the man who replaced him in the Old Trafford hotseat five years before. It would be Big Ron who would be smiling by the end of 90 minutes as a ferocious volley from midfielder John Sheridan settled the game. The second tier outfit pulled off a shock by beating United to claim the League Cup for the first time in their history.

9: Norwich City 0 Milton Keynes Dons 4 2011

Premier League new boys Norwich City crashed out of this season’s Carling Cup in the first round with a humiliating 4-0 home defeat to an MK Dons side two divisions below them. Canaries manager Paul Lambert made eleven changes for this match and his side fell behind on 21 minutes to a goal from former Norwich player Luke Chadwick. Striker Sam Baldock, in one of his final Dons appearances before his transfer to West Ham United,  doubled the lead seven minutes later with a powerful strike having been played in by Stephen Gleeson.

In the second half Karl Robinson’s side extended their lead further as Chadwick combined with Dean Bowditch before netting his second of the game and substitute Daniel Powell capitalised on some poor home defending to make it four on 67 minutes. A memorable win at Carrow Road for MK Dons which is Lambert’s heaviest defeat during his two year tenure as Norwich boss.

8: Queens Park Rangers 3 West Bromwich Abion 2 1967

By 1967 the League Cup had been running for seven years but this year’s final was the first to be played at Wembley – up until then the final consisted of a two-legged affair with a match played at the home ground of each team. The first final underneath the Twin Towers proved to be a cracker, as First Division side West Bromwich Albion met Third Division Queens Park Rangers, playing at Wembley for the first time.

The favourites lived up to their pre-match billing as as they took a 2-0 lead into half-time thanks to former QPR winger Clive Clark’s brace. However the Hoops fought back in twenty second half minutes as Roger Morgan scored with a header to make it 2-1, then a great individual run and strike from Rodney Marsh equalised. Rangers eventually won 3-2 thanks to Mark Lazarus’ late goal and in doing so they became the first club from the third tier to win a major trophy.

7: Southend United 1 Manchester United 0 2006

Manchester United won the Carling Cup in the 2005/06 season and were looking to reach the quarter-finals the following campaign. In their way were Championship side Southend United and a capacity crowd packed into Roots Hall to witness this fourth round encounter.

Sir Alex Ferguson fielded a United side including ten internationals in the hope of avoiding an upset with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney on the field for the whole 90 minutes, but they would end the night humbled. On 27 minutes Southend frontman Freddy Eastwood lined up a free-kick some distance from goal before running up and unleashing an unstoppable, bending drive which beat Tomas Kuszczak in the United goal to put Southend a goal up.

Despite United pouring forward in search of an equaliser, Southend goalkeeper Darryl Flahavan kept them at bay with a string of great saves while Eastwood threatened on the break at the other end. However the Premier League outfit could not find a way through and it was Southend who knocked out the holders, progressing to the last eight of the competition.

6: Chelsea 1 Burnley 1 (Burnley win 5-4 on penalties) 2008

In the 2008/09 season Championship side Burnley reached the semi-finals of the Carling Cup, where they were knocked out by top-flight Tottenham Hotspur over two legs. On their way to the last four, Burnley beat Premier League leaders Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the Fourth Round in a dramatic penalty shootout.

Didier Drogba looked to set Chelsea on their way to the next round as expected when he finished expertly having been played in by Frank Lampard in the first half. However after the break Burnley fought their way back into the game and equalised through Ade Akinbiyi – sending the 6,000 travelling Clarets fans mad.

The game went into extra-time where Chelsea had a goal disallowed and missed several opportunities to win, but with no goal forthcoming the tie would be settled on penalties. After five-spot kicks each, both sides missed one and scored four before Michael Duff converted Burnley’s sixth. Jon Obi Mikel stepped up next for Chelsea and Clarets goalkeeper Brian Jensen made himself a hero, diving full length to his right to palm the effort away and send the second tier club into the next round.

5: Liverpool 1 Grimsby Town 2 2001

In the 2001/02 season, Division One side Grimsby Town pulled off a famous result at Anfield, knocking Worthington Cup holders Liverpool out of the competition in the third round. After a goalless 90 minutes, the match headed into extra-time and a David Beharall handball gave the hosts the chance to go in front from the penalty spot eleven minutes in. Gary McAllister slotted home the spot-kick, but in the second period of extra-time Grimsby hit back.

Centre-back Marlon Broomes volleyed a 113th minute equaliser in front of the travelling Grimsby support and, in amazing fashion it was the visitors who would take the lead late on. Liverpool were pushing for the winner but Town went up the other end where, from 35 yards out, Phil Jevons unleashed a piledriver which flew into the top corner of Chris Kirkland’s net. Jevons, a boyhood Liverpool fan, had joined the Mariners from Everton in pre-season and instantly became a hero at Blundell Park with an incredible  120th minute strike.

4: Arsenal 1 Walsall 2 1983

Fifty years before this 1983 Milk Cup fourth round tie, Walsall stunned Arsenal by beating them in the FA Cup and they would go on to do something similar at Highbury. At the time Arsenal were in trouble both on and off the pitch, with fans calling for manager Terry Neill to be sacked, however a home cup tie against Third Division Walsall should have provided some respite.

Things looked to be going to plan as Stewart Robson put the Gunners ahead just after the half hour, although Walsall were enjoying most of the play. The Saddlers got their reward fifteen minutes into the second half as Mark Rees netted after Ally Brown’s shot came out to him for the equaliser. Then with five minutes to go, the underdogs took the lead as David Preece’s left-wing cross was not dealt with by the Arsenal defence and the ball fell to Brown who slammed it high into the net to win the tie.

A great result for Walsall and their player-manager Alan Buckley as his side progressed to the quarter-finals. This result spelled the end of Neill’s tenure as Arsenal boss, paving the way for George Graham to take charge.

3: Liverpool 2 Northampton Town 2 (Northampton win 4-2 on penalties) 2010

In the third round of last season’s Carling Cup, Northampton Town pulled off arguably the shock of the tournament by knocking out Premier League Liverpool at Anfield. Reds boss Roy Hodgson made many changes to his side, picking mainly fringe players but they got off to a good start as Milan Jovanovic gave them the lead on nine minutes.

In the second half a Cobblers free-kick was knocked down to Billy McKay who rifled it into the roof of the net as the Town fans behind the goal celebrated wildly and that was how the scores remained after 90 minutes. Northampton, 17th in League Two and three divisions below their opponents, took the lead in extra-time when the ball broke to Michael Jacobs who stuck it into the top corner in front of the Kop. As the visitors sensed a famous victory, David Ngog equalised for Liverpool with four minutes left, to the relief of Hodgson and the Reds fans inside Anfield.

The match went to penalties and in the teaming rain, Town striker Stephen Guinan and Ngog missed their penalties before Nathan Eccleston hit Liverpool’s fifth against the crossbar to hand Northampton a chance of victory. Under great pressure, Abdul Osman stepped forward and sent Brad Jones the wrong way to clinch Town’s place in the fourth round – a great achievement from Ian Sampson’s side.

2: Manchester United 0 York City 3 1995

It is a great achievement for many sides to come away from Old Trafford with a win – for a fourth tier side to do it is quite remarkable, especially by the margin York City defeated Manchester United in the second round of the League Cup in 1995.

Alex Ferguson brought in some of his fringe players – including David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Phil Neville – alongside proven players like Ryan Giggs and Gary Pallister but they could not stop their visitors crusing to victory. Alan Little’s York took the lead through Paul Barnes’ deflected strike and in the second half Barnes doubled it from the penalty spot, before Tony Barras made it three from a header in front of a stunned Old Trafford crowd.

In the return leg United fielded a stronger lineup and levelled the tie – but conceded one goal to be knocked out 4-3 on aggregate in one of York’s greatest ever victories.

1: Swindon Town 3 Arsenal 1 1969

One of the greatest upsets in any English cup competition. The 1969 League Cup final pitted Third Division Swindon Town against First Division Arsenal, under the stewardship of Bertie Mee, who would lead them to the League and FA Cup double two years later. However Danny Williams’ Swindon were out to cause an upset in the showpiece match at Wembley.

It was the Robins who took a shock lead through Roger Smart after a mix-up in the Arsenal defence left goalkeeper Bob Wilson stranded, presenting Smart with an easy finish. Swindon held on until the 86th minute when goalkeeper Peter Downsborough failed to clear the ball and Bobby Gould punced to head home the equaliser and seemingly dash the underdog’s hopes of an upset. However in extra-time Swindon had the better of the play and regained the lead as Don Rogers netted after a corner was not cleared by the Gunners.

In the second period of extra-time Arsenal went forward in search of another equaliser but lost the ball and Swindon broke on the counter-attack. The ball was played through to Rogers who, in acres of space, carried the ball towards goal before cooly rounding Wilson to score and make it 3-1. Arsenal could not find a way back and it was Swindon who pulled off a famous victory, lifting major silverware for the first time in their history.

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

Tweet Steven at @steven_toplis with your suggestions for Toppo’s Top Tens