David Cameron Walker

Posts Tagged ‘League Two’

Building A Better Shrewsbury

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

Mellon
Ahhh, what a difference a month or so makes. Shrewsbury Town have undergone an amazing transformation and it’s time to embrace our return as a big fish in the small pond of League 2 with a certain swagger after a ridiculously positive few weeks. Simply put, the board is definitely putting its money where it wasn’t last season, i.e. the team, and new manager Mickey Mellon is assembling a oddly good squad. I’m trying to keep myself grounded but it’s hard not to get excited about who we’ve signed.

Identifying the main problem of last season straight off the bat, we’ve only gone and signed some bloody strikers – permanently. Excuse me whilst I type that again. Permanently. Mmmmm, it’s like stroking a mink! Yes, there’s been no mention of any loan players so far and long may it continue for at least another three signings. For all the talk I’ve done over the last couple blogs about James Collins, it had to be him who turned up again didn’t it? Coming back from a bad season at Hibernian, I am more than confident he can pick up the 15+ goals a season he previously used to with us at League 2 level (and also Swindon in the third tier). There’s been no mention of any fee involved but I feel it’s more than likely that Hibs wanted rid as he was the only non-Celtic player to actually have a fee last season in Scotland and as such I imagine he was on reasonable to good wages. Their loss, our gain, back to a place where he’s loved and the team will be built for him.

Also, we’ve signed former Aberdeen stalwart Scott Vernon. Perhaps not as sexy sounding as Collie’s return, but as a big man for him to play off he’s not terrible. He’s like a lower league Berbatov in the sense he doesn’t seem to score regularly (his hauls of 9 goals last season included 2 hat tricks) but he’s just picked up a Scottish League Cup medal and the club were massively unlucky to miss out on second place on the final day. Similarly, Mellon’s gone after players with experience and a history of promotions. Ashley Vincent from Cheltenham Town has experience of going up automatically and through the play-offs and hopefully will outdo the disappointing Paul Parry on the wings. Defender Mark Ellis joins us from Crewe and he’s done it all – going from the Conference with Torquay to League 1 with the Railwaymen. I also can’t wait to see Nathaniel Knight-Percival. One of those Darren Ferguson signings from non-League to Peterborough, he has a year of experience in the Championship before being slightly frozen out last season. Mellon clearly sees something in him as a unpolished gem from the Conference to give him a roll, to go along with the rest of the signings who either have a healthy track record or are hungry and have a point to prove.

On top of shifting expensive dead weight like Tamika Mkandawire and other notable replacement signings like Australian James Wesolowski from Oldham (my unofficial mascot – we need an Ozzie to go up!), things seem awfully rosy. The head thinking part of me wonders “well, what’s the compromise here?” since we’ve made a damn good start. I do half wonder is our new glorious leader (Shrewsbury Town’s new CEO) Matt Williams having a say in regards to transfer policy? I’m sure Mellon has the final say and what not on signings but we’ve signed 20 year old winger James Caton who hasn’t really had a run in anyone’s first team anywhere and similarly young keeper Mark Halstead has only had games at Conference level and below. What’s the connection? Well our new youngsters both come from Blackpool’s books, where Williams was before joining us. I mean, they could be good enough for League 2 which is all I want from these signings at the end of the day but it does smack me as a bit odd and kinda “jobs for the boys”. Even Halstead admits Williams “put in a word for me” to Mellon.

Still I can’t complain too much because at worse we’ll have squad players for positions we need filling. Jayson Leutwiler, a keeper some Middlesbrough fans were sad to see go, needs competition whilst we have a couple of young keepers coming through our youth ranks again. For all the chaos apparently backstage last year, there’s been a few quotes from players keen to say how well the club is run and how much more professional it is compared to previous teams they’ve played for already which is always nice to hear. The loss of youth graduate and creative force Jon Taylor is a bit gutting but he’s been making noises about leaving on and off over the years and if the fee involved is in six figures which Peterborough seems to pay out for lower league players, it’s win-win all around. I have faith that if the money involved doesn’t go towards (or has been put to) Hibs for Collie then it’ll be reinvested into getting in at least three more quality signings for League 2.

I guess the overall question to answer then is “Can we do it?” – Can the squad and Mellon show their credentials and again prove they can do it at this level with another promotion? Well it’s hard to see them NOT doing it. There’s so many new, fresh players who are hungry and with points to prove. The squad also appears motivated and have been saying all the right things already which is nice. The only stumbling block could be the fact that these new signings have not really had the time to blend together yet, but you imagine Mellon will be getting the players in early enough to work together before any pre-season ball is kicked – learning about each other, weaknesses, strengths and so on.

Last month, it was all about the hope. This month, it’s all about the excitement. The signings are flowing in. The fixtures are out. The magic on paper is coming back to Shrewsbury Town. It’s the pessimistic side of me that’s the only thing holding me back from predicting an instant return to League 1, but it’s hard not to see it happening with Mellon’s experience and the squad put together so far.

Written by Terry Lewis, We Are Going Up’s Shrewsbury Town blogger

Terry tweets at @lewisonlife

End of a turbulent season at Gigg Lane

Friday, May 30th, 2014

David Flitcroft

The season began with what appeared to be a fresh start, a new manager, squad and fans betting on the shakers to gain promotion. However, this soon turned sour as results were not going our way and the club appeared to be heading towards an all too familiar relegation fight. The thought of dropping out of the football league was not one the new owner Stewart Day was willing to consider for very long, which led to the sacking of Kevin Blackwell and the eventual appointment of David Flitcroft. A new defence was assembled and some more loan signings added to the squad in an attempt to turn our season around.

After a difficult start I can safely say I was very happy with the end result of last season. We finished in the top half, with a new positive manager and it has left me looking forward to the new season more than I have in a long time. Since David Flitcroft took over the performances of the team significantly improved and even had some fans believing we could push for a late pay off place. Even though the team had developed in all areas I didn’t think we were ready for the play offs but it made a refreshing change from looking over our shoulder at an exit from the football league.

Some of the results towards the end of the season, such as a 0-3 away win at Northampton and a 4-0 home win against Plymouth highlighted the dramatic improvement since Flitcroft had taken over. The team was playing football not seen since the promotion season when Alan Knill was in charge. The only negative being that the team weren’t able to turn draws into wins and next season if we are able to do this it will leave us with a realistic chance of promotion. I think Flitcroft has highlighted that area and brought in new attacking signings to address it, such as Danny Major on a permanent contract from Sheffield Wednesday, Nicky Adams a former shaker from Rotherham and last but not least a former hero in Ryan Lowe from Tranmere. All three signings have left many fans in dreamland with the club normally not being financially able to make such signings for many years.

However, the discussion about where the money is coming from is prominent amongst Bury fans at the moment. There are questions being asked about if Stewart Day has the funds to afford such signings and whether he has an ulterior motive. As he has links to the property trade some think he could be planning on using the clubs land for property developments. Others believe he is spending beyond his means and leaving the club in a perilous position. The truth is no one can be certain at the moment, but I am happy to go along with the ride and enjoy some of the most exciting times Bury Football Club has seen.

Here’s to next season.

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

Ross tweets at @Wor_s

Final thoughts on a wretched campaign

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

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Despite the exciting and seemingly routine wins which kept Northampton Town in the Football League (3-0 against Dagenham and 3-1 against Oxford), the vast majority of last season was not easy nor enjoyable – in fact, my tenth year as a Cobbler was definitely the worst.

However, it was a season of two halves and the majority of the second half was very enjoyable, just as the majority of the first half was utterly abysmal (and difficult to reminisce about).

There was a sense of quiet optimism around Sixfields during pre-season and 700 Cobblers fans travelled to York on the opening day in high spirits. But if there was a game to sum up Aidy Boothroyd’s final, painful months in charge, it was this one. Our best player was our goalkeeper, the defence looked as though it was one mistake away from a meltdown, the midfield was, quite frankly, a disgrace and in terms of an attacking threat: there wasn’t one.

These hugely disappointing trends continued throughout the first two months of the campaign (a 3-1 win over Newport our only sense of elation) until we travelled to Wimbledon for the first game of October. One of the best performances on the season followed and we won 2-0. The emotion of the final away trip of this season, to Dagenham, will probably mean that game goes down as the most memorable of the season, but in terms of a team performance, Wimbledon away might have been the best of the Boothroyd era.

A late Luke Norris free-kick against Fleetwood in November aside, there was nothing else to get excited about in the Boothroyd reign and it all ended with a 4-1 defeat to Wycombe. Ironically, after a series of negative performances, it was the desire to attack in his final game which cost Boothroyd his job. Every striker under contract must have played a part in that game but to no avail and Aidy got the boot about 45 minutes after the game finished.

I think Aidy Boothroyd has received some unfair criticism concerning the 2012/2013 season since his sacking. In my opinion, that season we were a force in this league. Away from home we were poor and we seemed unable to consistently control matches, but with a squad that was ravaged with injuries throughout, Aidy did extremely well to take a team with very few players at the peak of their powers to Wembley. Ignoring the capitulation once we actually reached the home of football, it was a very successful season. The fact that some people have tried to discredit the achievements of that season, based on the shocking football we had to endure at the start of the one just gone, is unfair. Aidy deserved to get the sack but his track record in his first 18 months is, in the most part, admirable, particularly considering the circumstances.

With the season over it is very easy to say we are in safe hands with Chris Wilder and Alan Knill but in January, whilst there was plenty of happiness with the appointments, it looked an impossible task for anyone to keep the Cobblers up. Wilder made sensible additions to the squad – proven goalscorers in Alan Connell and Emile Sinclair were brought in, whilst Ricky Ravenhill came in to improve a very poor midfield – and we started with a good draw against Cheltenham before losing to Plymouth.

One of the big reasons that Northampton are still a Football League club is because of our ability to beat the teams who were in and around the relegation zone. We dispatched of Torquay, Exeter and Accrington before the end of the season whilst drawing with Wycombe, Morecambe and Bristol Rovers and this meant that we managed to claw back at the points deficit which was seven points at one stage. Throw in a few good wins against Burton, Southend and Hartlepool and these are what provided the difference. There were lows in amongst the highs – Wimbledon’s late goal in March to make it 2-2 was one of my lowest moments as a Cobblers fan and we lost heavily to Bury and Rochdale at home – but Wilder’s record since becoming the Northampton manager is more than respectable – in fact it’s brilliant.

Despite having a real chance of survival going into the last few games of the season, we were still in the bottom two with just two games left following a disappointing and entirely avoidable 1-0 defeat to Portsmouth. The club’s penultimate game of the season was away to Dagenham & Redbridge and, although there was an air of expectancy, which the 1,200 fans that travelled channelled into creating a wall of noise as the game began, no-one would have expected what would happen next. In just his second senior start, academy graduate Ivan Toney, burst onto the scene with a poacher’s goal inside ten minutes before netting an audacious overhead kick just before half-time. In between his two strikes Ian Morris netted a wonderful volley from well outside the area but the day belonged to Toney as the Cobblers edged out of the bottom two.

A 3-1 win over Oxford (assisted by a ridiculous Ryan Williams challenge which earned him an early bath) assured the Cobblers safety. The fact that nothing of interest happened throughout most of the second half made it seem as though it was almost an inevitable and that was the feeling for much of the week between the Dagenham game and the Oxford game. But four months ago (five months ago at the time of writing) the ‘great escape’ was very much off. Wilder has done absolute magic since he arrived at Sixfields and I can’t think of too many others who would have been as successful as he has been since arriving.

The Cobblers were dead and buried following a 3-1 home defeat to Chesterfield: the last game before Chris Wilder joined. But in the last four months he has provided supporters with some fantastic memories, ensured that they have a Football League club to support going forward and he has made a lot of people very excited about the future. We owe him a great deal.

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

Liam tweets at @LiamRaggett

We Are Staying Up

Sunday, May 18th, 2014

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It’s been over two weeks now since the final game of the league season, but for Wycombe Wanderers fans I think it’s only just sunk in that we are still going to be a Football League club next season.

Needing to win away at already relegated Torquay, and hoping either Northampton or Bristol Rovers lose, the day started of so brightly as Sam Wood gave us the lead, and within a minute, Gary Waddock, now at Oxford, handed us a favour, taking a one-nil lead over Northampton. The subsequent dismissal of Oxford’s goal scorer  Williams, Northampton went into half-time 2-1 up.

Over at the Memorial Stadium in Bristol, a now Wycombe Wanderers legend Colin Daniel had rifled Mansfield Town into a 1-0 lead at the break against Rovers. All Wycombe fans had eyes on the Bristol Rovers game from half time onwards, with Steven Craig doubling our advantage from the penalty spot just before the break. Northampton went on to win 3-1, we won 3-0, and all eyes turned to the Bristol, where Mansfield held on, winning 1-0, relegating Bristol Rovers and keeping little old Wycombe Wanderers in League Two.

Season Review

The euphoria surrounding the day masked what has been possibly the worst season I can remember as a Wycombe Wanderers fan, and it all looked so promising after how close we ran Championship winners Leicester City in the Capital One Cup back in August. A first full season with Gareth Ainsworth but the trust in charge seemingly hasn’t worked, and the supposed new investment promised a few months back seem to have completely vanished leaving us in the same position.

In my opinion, we should stick with Ainsworth, not that we have a choice, but as a young, vibrant manager he has potential to be a top coach. His first job in management is very tough, and with limited experience in his backroom staff it was always going to be difficult for the Football League legend, but I won’t judge him until the end of next season.

It was clearly a poor campaign by all standards, but to stay up showed real character from where we sat following our loss to Bristol Rovers the week before. Very few players stood out this season in the relegation scrap, but the interest from clubs in higher divisions shows that some did play well. Charles Dunne was snapped up by Championship Blackpool in January, and goalkeeper Matt Ingram had Blackpool and West Brom tracking him after a strong first half of the season.

Later on in the season, and on deadline day of the loan window, Josh Scowen received a loan with an option to buy deal from an anonymous League One side, which Wycombe accepted. Scowen himself turned down the deal in favour of staying at the side who provided him with his first taste of league football. Whether these players will stay around this summer is unknown yet, but the likelihood is slim.

Josh Scowen picked up the Player of the Season award for his passionate, heart-felt performances in the Wanderers midfield, where as Max Kretzschmar burst onto the block this season with some superb performances and goals, and picking up the Young Player of the Season award. On a personal note, despite a season riddled by injuries I was impressed by summer signing Paris Cowan-Hall, who possesses bags of skill, pace and trickery, and goal scoring ability, most notably with his head for someone who is only 5″8! Another plus this season was the fact Matt Bloomfield came through a whole season without a major injury for the first time in a number of years, and quite fitting that it was his 10th season in light and dark blue.

Looking Ahead

Since this momentous day things have looked seemingly up for the Wanderers. With a handful of outs this summer, including fans favourite Leon Johnson who ends a seven-year stay at Adams Park and Marvin McCoy, the former security guard, who racked up 100 Wycombe Wanderers appearances during four years with the club.

The other seven to go were Lee Angol, Jesse Kewley-Graham, Jo Kuffour, Anthony Jeffrey, Dean Morgan, Matt Spring and Jon-Paul Pittman after an unsuccessful second spell for the Chairboys. In the week following this, Wycombe have made two signings, and both have them have put big, gleaming smiles on the face of every Wanderers fan, with both players having previously had loan spells at Adams Park, and this time return permanently.

The first, Paul Hayes, spent the latter half of 2012 in Wycombe blue, scoring six goals in as many appearances. He reportedly tried to join the blues in January, but a move fell through because we couldn’t afford his wages. Having gone for his third spell at promoted Scunthorpe United, Hayes now has the chance to return to Wycombe with some of the wage bill recovered from the nine leavers.

The second arrival was a player who spent the last few months of this season at the heart of Wycombe’s back four. Aaron Pierre, a 21 year old centre back, made his league debut back in March and instantly became a hit with the fans. His massive 6”5 stature makes him stand out from the rest, and a big goal against Northampton on Good Friday put him straight into the hearts of everyone. With his former club Brentford achieving promotion to the Championship, and his first team chances limited, Pierre rejected a new contract at Griffin Park in favour of a permanent, three-year move to Wycombe Wanderers.

There will certainly be a few more signings, with Ainsworth opting for quality over quantity for next season. With two full backs and winger being top of the fans’ wish list, and with rumours of Jermaine McGlashan, Myles Weston, Marlon Pack and former Chairboys favourite Sergio Torres doing the rounds, all Wycombe fans are hoping to be looking slightly higher in the table this time next year.

More good news came in the news of Matt Bloomfield’s testimonial match. After 10 years of service to the club, his testimonial has once again excited all the fans, with a game against Premier League side Chelsea to look forward to during pre-season. Jose Mourinho said that he personally accepted the offer from Wycombe, creating something of a rematch from the Carling Cup semi final back in 2007, and Mourinho’s first stint at Stamford Bridge. With the match scheduled for 16th July, a few days after the curtains drawn on the World Cup, many of Chelsea’s big name players won’t be in action, but the potential to see players like Petr Cech, John Terry, Mohamed Salah and Tomas Kalas, it’ll be a great game for everyone involved, and most importantly, Matt Bloomfield.

We all love Wycombe, but I’m praying that we don’t leave it until the last day again this coming season, I don’t think my heart could take it! Here’s to an exciting summer and an improved season next year.

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

George tweets at @georgestokes13

Captaining The Sinking Ship

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

RB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onwards and upwards, in Pompey we Trust!

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

Harry tweets at @MrDavishPFC

The end is nigh….

Monday, March 10th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James tweets at @jabennett_

A new face in Town

Saturday, March 1st, 2014

Chris Wilder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up the Town.

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

Liam tweets at @LiamRaggett

Revolution back on track at Bury

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ross tweets at @Wor_s

Away sweeter than Home for Oxford

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oxford managed 3 shots on target and no goals.

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

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

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

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

Ben tweets at @lawson_ben

Where Next?

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lets just hope we can start to turn things around!

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

George tweets at @georgestokes13