David Cameron Walker

Posts Tagged ‘League Cup’

Hold on to your bowler hats, football’s back

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013


Perspective is a rare commodity in football at the moment.

Less than a week ago, I suggested that Preston’s opening two fixtures would immediately shape fans’ attitudes towards the rest of the season.

Mouth-watering fixtures yes, and a great way to launch into what could be an exciting campaign – but in reality only fixtures one and two of a long, hard season with plenty of time for fortunes to change should early results not go our way.

As it happens, PNE have made a strong start. A point at home to Wolves hints at a bid to re-establish Deepdale as the difficult away trip it used to be for visiting teams.

But what has captured the headlines this week is the cracking victory over Blackpool in the Capital One Cup.

While the dust is still settling on the aggro and aftermath, my point about perspective is this.

I’m all for passion in football, especially games against big rivals. Too many games against Blackpool have slipped by in a stupor of midday kick-off mediocrity.

And with the Lancashire pecking order turned on its head in the last few seasons, Tom Clarke’s late winner felt very, very good indeed.

Throw in the evening game atmosphere generated by an impressive attendance and you’ve got the potential for a memorable tie.

But a pitch invasion? This was the first round of the League Cup. It feels small time to celebrate with the same gusto that should be reserved for real achievement.

Of course it wasn’t members of ‘The Gentry’ on the pitch – it was more ill-fitting shorts and trainers than bowler hats. Yet the consensus after the game seemed to place this result in company it hardly deserved.

In my opinion, to justify a mass swarm over the barriers you need a moment mentionable in the same breath as the Paul Raynor-inspired comeback against Torquay to book a place at Wembley in 1996.

I saw one fan compare the moment to Mark Rankine’s late goal in the 2001 Birmingham City play-off semi-final second leg which sent us to penalties, Cardiff, and the chance to win promotion to the Premier League. This was not even close. Trust me, I was there.

Was this, as another tweet said, revenge for the ‘We are superior’ plane stunt over Deepdale when we were relegated in 2011?

Hardly. That was one of the lowest points of my time watching North End and Blackpool had just enjoyed an unforgettable season in the Premier League. It’ll take a few more of these victories to wrestle the bragging rights back down the M55.

Even the official club twitter account got a bit giddy, @pnefc tweeting: ‘Tom Clarke – welcome to North End folklore!’

Maybe we will replace Super Micky Conroy’s name in the famous old Town End song about putting the ball in the Blackpool net – I doubt many of those on the pitch on Monday night were around in 1999 and perhaps the aging chant needs modernising.

The same point about over-reaction applies to the pitch invasion.

A combination of factors have culminated in negative attention on the club: the presence of Sky Sports cameras; the absence of any other real ‘football news’ as the Premier League has not yet started; and the image of steward being trampled by a police horse.

Paddy Power’s sharp-eyed marketing wizards have been quick to jump on the bandwagon – offering Seasiders a free £10 bet because of PNE’s ‘shameful’ actions and rolling out a tongue-in-cheek ‘Lets hope Preston don’t get to Wembley’ campaign.

Though I can see the point Paul Ince is making about player safety, in reality there was no violence and just plenty of vigorous goading by about 200 North Enders  towards the thousands of travelling Lashers supporters.

The Paddy Power blog called the celebrations “shameful, but not sinister” – and even that is probably taking it a step too far.

Pitch invasions happen often and sometimes players and managers will come face to face with one or two morons. God forbid that they have to mix with the general public.

There have only been six arrests so far, five of which appear to be Blackpool fans for less serious offences of criminal damage and using threatening language.

Strong words from Lancashire Police have condemned “completely unacceptable” behaviour before, during and after the game.

Some Preston fans are now boycotting the online bookies over the perceived slight.

The season’s not yet a week old and we’re already drowning in a wave of hyperbole.

Football’s back.

Written by Sam Chadderton, We Are Going Up’s Preston North End Blogger

Sam tweets at @samchadderton

History Makers

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

As que sera sera we’re going to Wembley rang out loud and proud from the thousands of travelling away supporters on Tuesday, shock and disbelief was also etched all over Bradford fans faces. The dream had come true, the unthinkable had become possible – I personally had started to lose my voice and had already broken my glasses, (going giddy celebrating James Hanson’s goal), but the night of the 22nd January 2013 will never be forgotten; it truly was a ‘I was there moment’.

Bradford City had just reached The Capital One Cup Final! After knocking out Premier League side Aston Villa over two legs. In the words of the last manager to take The Bantams to Wembley (Chris Kamara), Unbelievable Jeff!! This wasn’t a fluke, Villa wanted to get to Wembley, over both legs they played their strongest eleven. Lady Luck was shining down on Bradford as the Premier League side missed a string of chances across both games but that’s the magic of the cup!

Bradford might have lost the game 2-1 on the night, but the 3-1 lead we had from the first leg meant there was to be a fairy tale end to a Roy of the Rovers style cup run. Villa, in front of a capacity crowd at Villa Park, came roaring out of the blocks and deservedly took the lead through Benteke. The big striker missed several chances at Valley Parade two weeks ago, but looked to of started the comeback for the home side. However, despite substantial pressure and numerous excellent saves from Matt Duke, Villa just couldn’t get that key second goal.

At half time, I sat there nervous in the away end. Daring to dream that in 45 minutes time my beloved Bantams will be Wembley bound but something had to change, the first half was all Villa – City had to go at Villa. It’s well documented that Paul Lambert’s side are fragile defensively and so it was proven and just like two of the three goals in the first leg, it was to be a header that opened up that fragile Villa defence. Gary Jones delivered a peach of a corner right on to the head of the former Co-op shelf stacker James Hanson. The big man sent the 6,500 away following absolutely mental! Resulting in my glasses coming flying off in the celebrations only to spot a guy two rows in front waving them around, bent and scratched but I wasn’t bothered! We had the two goal cushion again, but more importantly that key away goal, Villa Park was silenced.

Was the dream going to come true just over half an hour to wait. That half an hour lasted a lifetime, having said I thought after Hanson scored Bradford looked very comfortable, the striker had a great chance to double the lead with another header before substitute Garry Thompson hit the bar. Villa were restricted to long range efforts which either went well wide or straight at the superb Matt Duke. The real drama started to kick in just when it looked like City had done enough, with the home side devoid of ideas and the Villa fans streaming out of the ground, a long route one hopeful ball went all the way though allowing Villa sub Weimann to nip in on 89 minutes to round Duke and tap home – Cue 4 minutes of added on time. A professional display continued during that period before Phil Dowd blew the full time whistle sparking absolute wild scenes from the away fans. ‘We’re going to Wembley’ sang out by the Bradford fans who could barely believe their eyes – it took the meter in Villa’s electric cupboard to run out and the lights to go off to get the Bradford fans out of Villa Park.

A fourth division club getting to a major domestic cup final is virtually unheard of, will it happen again anytime soon? Very unlikely I’d imagine. It’s the first time in over 50 years that this has been achieved and the last bottom division side to get to a major cup final was Rochdale, but back then the cup was option for the bigger sides. Having beaten Notts County away, Watford away, Burton Albion home, Wigan Athletic away, Arsenal home and Aston Villa over two legs Bradford have certainly earned their right to be part of the showpiece event. Naturally Swansea are favourites for the final, but then so were the last three Premier League sides that have fallen at the feet of the Bantams.

£7,500 is the amount that’s been spent on the team, and that was all on the former Co-op top shelf stacker. The rest is a team of free transfers and loanees. Some of these players may never get a chance to play at Wembley again especially not under these circumstances. It really is a sensational achievement. The whole cup run and certainly now has put the club back firmly on the map and the national media attention that The Bantams are receiving is brilliant. Since relegation from the Premier League 12 years ago, there has been very little to cheer about. Two administrations and relegations all the way to League Two but this season has been extraordinary. The financial gains from the cup run will set the club up for years to come.

Away from the exploits of the cup, the league form has stuttered in recent weeks with The Bantams dropping down to 10th in the league. Hardly time to push the panic button, but I would like to see City back in the play-offs by the time the cup final comes around at the end of February. The gaffer Phil Parkinson who has masterminded the amazing cup run has turned down an approach from Championship side Blackpool to become there new manager. Andy Gray has rejoined the club from Leeds United to help the likes of James Hanson, Nahki Wells and Alan Connell upfront whilst big defender Michael Nelson has joined from Kilmarnock – where he won the Scottish League Cup last season – maybe it’s an omen…

The 24th February can’t come around some enough, Bradford City-vs-Swansea City….England-vs-Wales and who knows will the dream end. Fans certainly hope it ends with Gary Jones lifting the trophy. We can dream but for me, my dream will be a reality on the 24th. I will seeing the club I’ve supported since a very young age walk out in a major cup final – that will be a sight to savour….

Written by Mark Scully, We Are Going Up’s Bradford City Blogger

Mark tweets at @scully87

Penalty Kings, Nine Times Over

Friday, December 14th, 2012

My Facebook status on Monday night read “This time tomorrow one of the biggest shocks in the Capital Cup history will be unfolding, semi final bound, in Parkinson we trust.” A throw away comment and one I didn’t believe was realistically possible. Fast forward 24 hours and I had just witnessed what I now describe as my best moment in a football arena; my beloved Bradford City of League Two had knocked out one of the heavyweights of European football Arsenal, and it wasn’t any old Arsenal this was the big guns – a team which consisted of Szczesny, Sagna, Gibbs, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Gervinho, Ramsay, Wilshire, Cazorla, Podolski and Coquelin – pretty much the Gooners first team with the exception of Mikel Arteta.

A capacity crowd of 23,971 roared Bradford on, something I’ve not witnessed since the days of the Premier League well over a decade ago was unbelievable. The moment Garry Thompson volley home to give the underdogs the lead led to wild scenes of joy. I generally thought it was a matter of time before Arsene Wenger’s men came back into the game; striker Gervinho missed an open goal.

However, the moment came just three minutes from time I had started to believe that the impossible was realistically possible and was almost reality. The fact that Bradford looked so comfortable at 1-0 up and for all Arsenal’s pressure hadn’t really made Matt Duke in The Bantams goal make that many saves. Unfortunately though, Belgian centre back Thomas Vermaelen popped up at the back post to head home a simple equaliser and send the game into extra time. Normally I would have been jumping for joy at the prospect of another thirty minutes but on this occasion I was gutted – so close but yet so far.

Normally you get one chance as the underdogs to claim victory, and with Vermaelen’s goal, I thought that was Bradford’s opportunity gone. I imagine up and down the country fans of other clubs would have been rooting for The Bantams and I’m sure those fans felt for City at that moment. Before extra-time was reached Santi Cazorla twice nearly broke Bradford hearts firstly from a free kick and then from the resulting rebound shot, both superbly saved by Matt Duke.

In extra time, the closest anyone came to scoring was once again the classy Cazorla who hit the bar with a long range dipping drive. So it was, perhaps written in the stars, that once again in a cup competition Bradford would do it the hard way or easy way as it has become known in recent times, and attempt to knock Arsenal out of the cup on penalties.

Nathan Doyle and Gary Jones had City 2-0 up after Duke had saved Cazorla’s penalty and Marouane Chamakh had hit the post, Stephen Darby then missed followed by Jack Wilshire’s cool conversion. Next the pressure fell on lifelong Arsenal fan Alan Connell to keep the advantage with The Bantams and he calmly slotted home, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was next up and duly did the business – however a successful conversion by substitute Richie Jones would see League Two Bradford would be lining up in the semi-final of the Capital One Cup, and it wasn’t to be as Jones weak penalty was saved by Szczesny in the Gooners goal.

Thomas Varmaelen stepped up last for Arsenal, the outcome was simple he scores it goes to sudden death he misses and for the first time in Bradford’s history they would make the semi-finals – he sent Duke the wrong way, but straight onto the post the ball went – sparking sensational scenes around Valley Parade. These nights aren’t suppose to happen when you are playing in League Two. We had taken on the wealth of Arsenal’s full first team and come away with our very own pot of gold at the end.

It was another shoot out win for Bradford, making it nine straight penalty knock out wins – a remarkable sequence and will surely be some sort of record.

The early predictions are that the two legged semi-final could pocket Bradford in the region of a million pounds, a huge amount of money at this level. Hopefully it will be the springboard to clinch promotion this season. As much as I’m personally enjoying the cup runs, and nights like beating Wigan away and Arsenal at home, it will count for nothing if next year we are still plying our trade in the basement division.

Away from the Capital One Cup exploits, Bradford are still the only club to be still in every competition this season that they entered, after being reinstated into the FA Cup and fined £1,000 instead. The charge related to loanee defender Curtis Good from Newcastle and his involvement in the game against Brentford.

The club had reached verbal consent that they could play Good in the FA Cup second round game, although on the written consent it has been missed off. Clearly an administrative error and not one to try and cheat our way into the next round, it therefore means the replay will be sandwiched between Southend and Wycombe away – delightful. Merry Christmas Bradford fans!

If Bradford can beat The Bees in the replay at Griffin Park it will set up a 3rd Round date with Southend United away at Roots Hall. Hardly a glamour tie but it will keep the feel good factor around Valley Parade at the moment rolling on.

In the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy ,The Bantams have progressed into the Northern Semi Finals where they will play Crewe Alexandra at Gresty Road in early January next year. A tricky game, but if Bradford could get past them, then more than likely Preston North End (who I imagine will beat Bury) or Coventry City will stand in the way of a day out at Wembley. If Bradford could land Coventry or PNE another cash windfall would surely be on the horizon.

Despite all our cup successes, Bradford sit nicely in fourth place in the league after the 1-0 win over Torquay last time out. Full credit has to be given to Phil Parkinson and his coaching staff, but also the players. After the draw to play Arsenal was made there was a month before the game came around, and the team didn’t switch off during that period, rising up to fourth in the league.

The feel good factor has been amazing this season. So many false dawns have been seen at Valley Parade in the last decade and finally we have a team we can be proud of – a long way to go, but all these cup runs will hopefully enable Parkinson to strengthen the squad in the January transfer window. Then we can really see The Bantams kick on and go from strength to strength in the second half of the season.

Written by Mark Scully, We Are Going Up’s Bradford City Blogger

Mark tweets at @scully87

The clocks go back as Bradford move forward

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Prior to kick off at Northampton Town on Tuesday night Bradford sat in fifth place in the League Two table and at the full time whilst despite The Bantams running out 1-0 winners they finished the day in fifth. Wins elsewhere for Cheltenham and Fleetwood denied Phil Parkinson’s men the chance to jump above our rivals and into the automatic promotion places. The win at the Sixfields Stadium did however move Bradford clear into the play-off places with a three point cushion back to the pack chasing to get into the four elusive positions.

Personally I have been very impressed with how Phil Parkinson’s men have started in the first three months of the season, back in the summer wholesale changes were made and so far the new signings have been really good. The likes of Nathan Doyle and Gary Jones in the middle of the park have run the show against numerous sides this season, whilst some other key signings such as Andrew Davies, James Meredith and Rory McArdle, all of which make up three of the Bantams back four, have been superb.

The season hasn’t been without the odd hiccup along the way, such as the 4-0 mauling The Bantams received at the start of September at Rotherham United and then the 4-3 defeat at Dagenham, having been 3-0 down early in the second half against John Still’s men. What has impressed me most after succumbing to defeat, deserved or not, is how the side has bounced back in the following games. It has really started me believing that Bradford could be firmly in the promotion shake up come May.

It makes a pleasant change for the West Yorkshire side to be in the mix at the right end of the table, more often than not over the past couple of years the club have been stuck in the relegation mix following terrible starts to the season. That has not been the case this time around and hopefully after years of misery the Bradford faithful will finally have something to cheer and be proud about.

The home form had been superb and up until Port Vale arrived at the end of September boasted a 100% win record; Micky Adams men did a job on Bradford that day as the bizarrely prolific Tom Pope scored yet another goal. It was a soft goal to concede from Bradford’s point of view as skipper Gary Jones left a header back to the keeper short, allowing Pope to nip in and score – in fairness to the Port Vale striker he still had two defenders around him but still finished nicely.

York City followed Vale to Valley Parade a couple of weeks later and left with a point, Ashley Chambers scored a terrific half volley for the visitors but that was cancelled out by the equality terrific solo strike from Zavon Hines – the former West Ham youth and Burnley player has struggled for form since the opening weeks of the season, and it’s hoped that the goal against the league new boys will breathe new confidence into the winger.

On the road the results have been okay; the win at Northampton made it two wins on the road in the league this season for Bradford following their previous success against Oxford United, in a game which Bradford dominated the game to run out 2-0 winners in the Oxfordshire sunshine.

The following away league game took Bradford just over the pennines to Rochdale, traditionally The Bantams faithful turn out in force for this fixture and once again a huge away following watched on as Dale’s ten men hung on for a point. Bradford were well on top prior to Bobby Grant’s reckless first half lunge that gave the former Scunthorpe and Accrington striker his marching orders, unfortunately though City couldn’t break the stubborn Rochdale back line and left Spotland with a point knowing it should have been all three.

During the Rochdale game, left winger Kyel Reid went off injured early on. Had Reid been on the pitch for the full 90 minutes at Spotland I’m sure Bradford would have claimed all three points. In the previous game against Port Vale, influential midfielder and arguably Bradford’s player of the season so far Gary Jones injured his back, so it’s no surprise that Bradford have stuttered in recent weeks with Jones and Reid both watching from the stands. Both players had played a key role in the early season form which took City up to the edge of the automatic promotion places.

Parkinson last week moved into the transfer market as the first loanee of the season arrived at Valley Parade, Scottish left winger Craig Forsyth from Watford on a two month loan. Given the fact that Reid is likely to be out until late November early December it looks like Forsyth will be the man to make things tick on the left hand side. He put in a superb performance for the Hornets when Bradford travelled to Vicarage Road in the FA Cup third Round last season, in which he scored a brilliant individual goal and if the young winger can reproduce such form at Valley Parade over the coming weeks the blow of losing Reid will be soften significantly.

Away from the league, the cup competitions have also seen Bradford flourish. In the Capital One Cup The Bantams are into the fourth round, with their third away tie of the competition to be played against Premier League Wigan Athletic next Tuesday. The fixture against Wigan has already sold out with an away following of around 5,000 expected to descend on the JJB Stadium in hope of a huge cup upset.

Wins in the early rounds against Notts County and Watford set up a third round all League Two affair against Burton Albion. The Brewers raced undeservedly into a 2-0 lead at Valley Parade before half time. In the second half as the gaffer rolled the dice with the substitutions and his changes had the desired effect, Bermudan striker Nahki Wells netting late on before tapping home in stoppage time to send the game into extra time. Then with just minutes left former Liverpool trainee Stephen Darby drove home from 30 yards in off the post to score his first the club and to send the relatively small crowd into raptures.

In the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy came more cup progression and in equally dramatic fashion despite the game itself being a dire 0-0 draw. This time against League One strugglers Hartlepool United at the Victoria Ground. Jon McLaughlin, just like last season in the same competition, proved the goalkeeping hero saving from the spot as Bradford ran out 3-2 winners on penalties to set up a tie away at Port Vale in the next round.

Prior to the trip to face Hartlepool, the Bantams crashed to a 4-3 defeat at the hands of Dagenham. The Daggers raced into a 3-0 lead early in the second half before a spirited fight back by Bradford made the game 3-2 thanks to another Wells double, however against the run of play the Londoners made the game 4-2, before allowing Alan Connell to setup a grandstand finish when he made it 4-3 with a couple of minutes remaining.

Last Saturday, Bradford returned to winning ways at Valley Parade with a comprehensive 3-1 win over fellow promotion chasers Cheltenham. The Bantams came from a goal down to win, which included a superb team goal rounded off by Australian left back James Meredith rifling into the roof of the net to seal the points with the third of the afternoon for the home side.

Off the field Bermudan international striker Nahki Wells has signed a new long term deal. The young striker is one of the hottest young properties in the lower leagues and will no doubt play at a higher level one day – hopefully that’s with Bradford, but more realistically it will probably be elsewhere. The fact that Wells was going to be out of contract in the summer was worrying; would the board have cashed in on him during the January sales and with that hinder our ambition of promotion?

Thankfully that is one question we won’t have to answer now, as any club who wants him will have to pay good money for a striker who is bang in form and has eight league goals already to his name this season.

In conclusion it’s been a good start to the 2012-13 season for Phil Parkinson’s men. Hopefully, Bradford can stay consistent enough heading into the busy period of games leading up to Christmas and be firmly in the mix come the turn of the year, something which has not happened for quite some time.

Written by Mark Scully, We Are Going Up’s Bradford City Blogger

Mark tweets at @scully87

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

Complete ‘Turner-round’ for the Shrews fortunes

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Prior to Shrewsbury’s home games with Crewe & Swansea in the past week, they could have only been described similar to that of a night out: ‘Good, when there’s Beer involved’. Having let a lead & convincing performance slip against Plymouth on the first day of the season, followed by a great escape at Burton Albion and an embarrassing no-show away at Oxford United, the only high of a rather lacklustre start to the season was the Carling Cup First Round defeat of Derby County at Pride Park. But now after defeating local rivals Crewe and a sensational comeback against Premier League outfit Swansea City, there is finally hope at the Meadow that this season could still yet be a momentous one.

Prior to the match, you could agree that Town would have the advantage of almost being able to enjoy themselves, but they’ve already shown in pre-season friendlies against Man United and Wolves that picking a young, inexperienced side to play against them could be a huge mistake. The ‘underdog’ status that now eludes Shrewsbury Town in League 2 has so far proved to work in their favour, and there was even an expectancy that this could once again prove to be accurate in the eventual result.

One player almost certain to be amongst the first names on the team sheet from now on is Sean McAllister. The former Sheffield Wednesday midfielder, who signed for Town last summer, made his first appearance since January in style. Receiving the man of the match award against Crewe after he opened his Shrewsbury account, scoring after 23 minutes, and he was the missing piece of the puzzle in the centre of the pitch. He provided some much needed creativity and a strong link between the defence & attack that had been missing so far this season.

The Swans did indeed field a much weakened team, in comparison to an almost full strength Shrewsbury Town side, and when Cansdell-Sherriff popped up with a terrific header into the far corner, the fans went wild – but much to the dismay of 3 of the 4 stands – he headed past his own keeper. Could Town recover from such a calamity at the back? Step forward new striker Marvin Morgan who became a thorn in the Swans’ inexperienced defence, and after slotting home a scuffed Lionel Ainsworth cross he nearly headed Shrews into a half time lead but for the cross-bar. However star man Mark Wright struck from outside the box to put them ahead followed by a textbook training field free kick routine with Nicky Rowe ensuring victory for the home side in a match they quite frankly dominated.

Whilst they can look forward to a potential dream third round draw, the key objective is to maintain a winning streak in the league and climb up into those automatic promotion spots. The players can hopefully build on this week’s performances and maintain the confidence that was clearly absent from their game before playing Crewe last week. With a young, inexperienced attacking line-up, the confidence factor will play a key role for the rest of Town’s season. A week to reflect on the league & cup wins is just what Graham Turner must have wished for last Saturday lunchtime.

Written by Michael Aldridge, We Are Going Up’s Shrewsbury Town Blogger

Half-Time Nap-Time

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

So after four days of the 2011/12 season, what have we learnt? Unsurprisingly, not a great deal. League One seasons invariably take time to take shape as we have little idea who will be fighting to leave & stay in the division until closer to Christmas. It is a relatively safe bet, however, that Sheffield United will be one of Latics’ sterner tests at Boundary Park this season.

On the face of it it was a test they failed. Having remained toe to toe with the Blades for the first half, Athletic’s perennial weakness at set pieces saw them fall behind shortly after the break when Harry McGuire headed home from a corner. From that point on the team lost their shape and to the ire of Paul Dickov several heads dropped, resulting in a second goal being scrambled six minutes later by Richard Cresswell.

However Dickov was keen not to linger on the negatives, pointing out that Latics had the better chances, simply failing to make the most of them – a feature of the 2010/11 season lingering on into 2011/12. Whilst rumours abound that a striker will be signed to remedy this problem the only new arrival this week was James Wesolowski, signed on a free from Peterborough having made 39 appearances in midfield as the Posh were promoted to the Championship via the play-offs in May.

Wesolowski was thrown straight into the team to play Carlisle in the League Cup first round as Zander Diamond issued a rallying cry for Latics to end their terrible run in cup games, having not won a cup tie since the FA Cup win at Goodison Park in 2007. This rallying cry fell on deaf ears as the public of Oldham seemingly eshewed the opportunity to watch live cup football in favour of kicking over bins & shouting at police, with a crowd of just 1,786 witnessing yet another cup run end before the pies got cold.

The game seemed to follow an all too familiar pattern, as Latics edged the first half, going ahead through Reuben Reid’s penalty, only for all their hard work to be discarded with the orange peel at half time as the Cumbrians were allowed to play their way back into the second half. Jon-Paul McGovern’s well taken free kick shortly before the hour was enough to take the game to extra-time, although Matty Smith almost put Athletic through late on as he hit the bar from a Taylor cross. Both sides then had their chances to win the tie in extra time before Carlisle prevailed in the penalty shootout.

The exit, although disappointing, is no great catastrophe. More concerning is the manner of the defeat as a solid first half that should have laid the foundations of a win was allowed to drift into a draw and ultimately a penalty shoot-out defeat. All too often Dickov’s side have performed well in the first half, only to stink the place out in the second forty-five.

It’s hard to put your finger on the reason for this, though the lack of experience in the side may have something to do with it. Alternatively one might argue that it is simply because the players are not good enough to put two good halves together, but surely the squad (and that of previous seasons) is no worse than the majority of the rest of the league, and they seem to manage it.

If Dickov does find the solution a fruitful season could be ahead, as his team has shown before that when they play well, they are a match for the best in the league. However like the little girl with a curl, when they are bad they are horrid.

Huish Park will be the next place for Dickov to find that elusive second half performance as his team take on Yeovil Town. The trip to the Glovers, who Latics haven’t beaten in their last six attempts, signals the start of a testing week for Latics in which they face another away trip to face Scunthorpe United & the much anticipated home derby against Rochdale.

It will be crucial for Latics to get their first points of the season on the board from those two away games in order to settle the nerves for what is sure to be an engaging derby. Dale took all three points at Boundary Park last term, ultimately finishing nine places and twelve points ahead of Oldham. Little short of an embarrassment for a club competing in the Premier League just 17 -years ago whilst their neighbours languished in Division Three. Dickov will be keen to get a result to placate the fans and restore the natural order in this small corner of Lancashire.

Written by Christopher Platt, We Are Going Up’s Oldham Athletic Blogger

Chris tweets at @chrisbradman