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Posts Tagged ‘Plymouth Argyle’

Shez staying – joke’s over

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

“This club should be nowhere near the position it’s in. It’s a joke really. Almost embarrassing.”

So said on-loan striker Reuben Reid after Argyle had avoided the drop into the Conference on the final day of the season. Watching sections of the Green Army stage a Spotland pitch invasion from my position higher up the Willbutts Lane Stand, my thoughts were the same at the final whistle. An estimated 2,000+ Pilgrims fans had travelled to pack Rochdale’s away end – they saw their 10-man side lose 1-0 but stay up by a single point, with a goal difference just three better than Barnet’s. Other than an over-riding feeling of relief, what was there to celebrate, really?

There was a greater reason to cheer on Tuesday morning, when the club announced that John Sheridan – whose arrival as manager in January triggered a turnaround in form – had agreed in principle to continue as boss. The straight-talking Mancunian, whose initial deal ran only until the end of the season, is not the type to tolerate the sort of football comedy that Reuben Reid speaks of. However, he has already told Argyle owner James Brent he is confident of challenging at the top of League Two next season. Having persuaded Sheridan to stay in the South-West, a long way from his family home in Yorkshire, Brent must now back him in the transfer market and transform a squad of mixed abilities into one of the division’s strongest.

Although Argyle ultimately accumulated six more points in 2012/13 than they had managed in the previous campaign, this still represented another season of decline on the pitch. Clambering out of administration had been the mitigating circumstance in 2011/12 – but once again, Argyle lost 20 of their 46 league fixtures. Despite all his hard work and effort, Carl Fletcher oversaw a period of over two months in which his side won only one of 13 league games, and he was dismissed on New Year’s Day. It was only five years ago that the Greens finished 10th in the Championship – but that seems a distant memory now.

Over the course of nine months, the rearguard tightened up, particularly when experienced centre-back Guy Branston followed Sheridan south in January; Argyle actually ended the season with the eighth best defence in League Two. Zimbabwe international left-back Onismor Bhasera’s consistency was rewarded with the Player of the Year award, while goalkeeper Jake Cole was runner-up.

However, only bottom-placed Aldershot scored less goals than the Pilgrims and it was left winger Jason Banton – on loan from Crystal Palace for 14 games – who finished up as top scorer with six. The assists table makes for even bleaker reading, with Bhasera on top with just three. Young Player of the Year Conor Hourihane chipped in with five league goals from midfield, but creativity was minimal all season and when chances did come, they were usually spurned by wasteful strikers.

Highlights of the league season were hard to find, but a few spring to mind. There was the 4-1 victory at Barnet in October, Argyle’s biggest win and one that proved crucial in the final reckoning; an unlikely comeback at Morecambe the month before, when the Greens recovered from two goals down to triumph 3-2; the 1-0 Devon derby success over Exeter in March, when the result was all that mattered; and the last win of the season, 2-1 at Chesterfield in mid-April, which saw the club hit Sheridan’s survival target of 52 points.

In the interests of balance, the lowest points were arguably: the miserable opening-day 2-0 home defeat by Aldershot which set the tone for another season of struggle; a largely shambolic 3-0 loss at Fleetwood in November; the 4-0 mauling at Port Vale, the only fixture between Fletcher’s sacking and Sheridan’s arrival which left the club in seemingly dire straits in the drop zone; and an utterly abject 2-0 reverse at relegation rivals York on Easter Monday.

The nadir of the campaign, however, could again be found in the FA Cup – a humiliating first-round exit at sixth-tier Dorchester Town, live on TV, less than a year after going out at Stourbridge at the same stage.

An average attendance at Home Park of 7,095 – the third highest in the division – was an improvement on last season, even it represents less than half the current stadium capacity. Nevertheless, three home games attracted a crowd of over 10,000, while the travelling support provided by the Green Army – an average of 729 fans at every League Two away game – was outstanding given the geographical and sporting circumstances.

So what does the future hold? With £299 club memberships (season tickets) on sale for another week (and priced only £59 for Under-18s), it’s hoped the people of Plymouth will turn out in greater numbers next season. There’s already a buzz of activity and planning in the Devon city, with news of Sheridan’s stay swiftly followed by the issue of the retained and released lists.

The out-of-contract Cole, Bhasera, Branston and Hourihane have all been offered new deals, along with club legend Paul Wotton, Argentinian winger Andres Gurrieri and young striker Isaac Vassell. Among those moving on are injured striker Warren Feeney (although he has been offered a pre-season trial), while two contracted players – goalkeeper Rene Gilmartin and striker Nick Chadwick, for whom Argyle’s survival triggered an extension clause – have both been transfer-listed. Chief scout Joe Taylor has also left the club after a year in the job.

Many will hope Bristol City allow classy midfielder Joe Bryan to return on loan next season, although that may be wishful thinking. In any case, Argyle desperately need attacking players of proven quality as the squad as it stands is top-heavy with defensive experience, with a smattering of young blood in wide areas and up front. Torquay striker Rene Howe – joint-fifth top scorer in League Two with 16 goals – is already being linked with a free transfer down the A385 and A38. His ‘robust’ physique would make him an ideal replacement for Reid, although his alarmingly poor disciplinary record – 93 fouls and 15 bookings in 2012/13 – would be a worry even for the strict Sheridan.

As for the coaching staff, Tommy Wright and Mark Crossley have both left their positions at Chesterfield, paving the way for them to potentially join Sheridan. Meanwhile, the possibility remains of some sort of involvement for former boss Neil Warnock – the 64-year-old is searching for a club role akin to ”a niche between manager and directors”. Whether such an opening arises at Argyle remains to be seen; the appointment of a dedicated chief executive is a more pressing concern for James Brent.

Off the pitch, Brent’s leisure company Akkeron has put forward plans for a £50million redevelopment of the Higher Home Park area, including a new stadium grandstand, ice rink, multi-screen cinema and 120-bed hotel. Plymouth City Council’s planning committee are studying these at the time of writing, but Pilgrims supporters are far from united in their support for the proposals. A perceived lack of ambition is the major sticking point; the proposed new stand does not look particularly ‘grand’ at all and with seating for approximately 5,000, it may in fact be smaller in terms of capacity than the opposite Lyndhurst Stand (redeveloped along with the adjacent Devonport and Barn Park Ends a decade ago). Brent had hoped work could begin on the project in September, but the wrangling is likely to go on for several more weeks at least.

There’s one thing all Argyle fans can agree to look forward to in 2013/14, however – the return of the Dockyard Derby. Argyle have met Portsmouth twice in cup competitions in recent seasons, but we haven’t had a league double-header against Pompey in over 20 years. Two proud naval cities, their clubs sailing towards calmer waters… and with Sheridan at the helm, the good ship Pilgrim should be well equipped for the long voyage in the coming 12 months.

Written by Jon Holmes of TEAMtalk.com, We Are Going Up’s Plymouth Argyle blogger.

Jon tweets at @jonboy79

Thanks to Steve and Malcolm from Greens on Screen - the essential Argyle resource – for the picture.

Too many bad days at the office for Fletch

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Carl Fletcher is trying to entertain Plymouth Argyle fans but recent results have been cringeworthy. It’s a management style that Pilgrims blogger Jon Holmes finds familiar…

“Is it getting better… or do you feel the same?” Over 20 years have passed since Bono posed this question, but it’s one Argyle fans keep asking themselves at the moment.

One year on from the club’s life-saving operation and the transplanting of Carl Fletcher for Peter Reid at its heart, there are occasional good days and mostly bad days for the Pilgrims as they traipse along the long road to recovery. New blood has been injected and small steps are being taken in the quest to be at least a half-decent football team again, but you can’t blame the supporters too much if their bedside manner is a little impatient. Argyle keep breaking down – and are likely to go on in the same vein for the foreseeable future.

Even Dr Julius Hibbert would be struggling to maintain a smile amid the current run of one point from six games, especially when you factor in the grim 1-0 FA Cup exit at lowly Dorchester as well. The club’s owner James Brent admits the predicament is painful, but he’s keeping the faith for now and doesn’t want a new course of treatment – even though only two points separate Argyle from the League Two drop zone after 19 games played.

“Carl is doing a great job in terms of improving the quality of the football spectacle,” said Brent earlier this month, in a quote that sounds like something his namesake David from The Office might come out with. However, it’s not the owner but the manager who is at risk of becoming a real-life version of the Ricky Gervais character – and it all boils down to their shared philosophy. What kind of atmosphere is Fletcher trying to create at Home Park? As Slough’s most famous son memorably phrases it: “(One) where I’m a friend first, boss second… probably an entertainer third.”

I don’t mean to mock the Argyle boss when I write that. Rather, it’s an acknowledgement that Fletcher is striving to satisfy several expectations – those of his owner, his players and the fanbase – and his flaws are being magnified as a result.

Being only 32 years of age and recently retired from playing, Fletcher is naturally closer to his charges than most managers. There’s undoubtedly a strong bond between the squad and the coaching set-up, with Fletcher supported by assistant boss Romain Larrieu (36), and first-team coach Kevin Nancekivell (41). A shortage of experience is compensated by fresh ideas and vitality on the training ground, the camaraderie having been bolstered under the collective hardship caused by last year’s administration process. Reports from the training ground suggest spirits are buoyant despite the poor run of form, and there’s been little evidence of dissent in the ranks.

Having such a tight-knit group is beneficial, but it’s also fair to ask whether Fletcher might be reluctant to get angry with the players when they fall short of his standards. You’d hope not, but his relatively calm exterior and considered approach suggests his dressing-room rant wouldn’t get close to a Fergie hairdryer. After Saturday’s 3-0 defeat at Fleetwood, the squad were staying in the north for a few days ahead of the game at Bradford on Tuesday night. When asked if having everyone together for an extended period of time would make it easier to recover for the clash at Valley Parade, Fletcher responded with a wry smile: “We’ll have to wait and see… if I don’t rip their heads off before that.” He clearly knew some strong words were needed, but he didn’t exactly inspire confidence that he could deliver them effectively.

After losing 1-0 at Bradford, in a game where Argyle played well in the second half but failed to score, Fletcher again indicated that a lack of fortune was largely responsible for the month-long misery. There’s undoubtedly some truth in that, but blaming bad luck for a lengthy series of disappointments while also claiming a ‘deserved’ win is just around the corner sounds more than a little desperate.

As for that “football spectacle”… its quality may be improving, but Fletcher can’t afford to worry too much about entertainment values when Argyle are slipping ever closer to the bottom two. They impressed in the 3-1 home win over Rochdale – the last time they claimed three points – and the recent 2-2 draw with leaders Gillingham. Yet the focus on trying to play a more technically accomplished game – “passing with a purpose”, as Fletcher calls it – is undermined by a tendency to ship goals weakly due to lapses in concentration, mostly on long throws and set pieces. Argyle stayed up last season due to a defence that became ever more miserly as the months went by. Generosity has been far too great in the current campaign.

In addition, there is no cutting edge or even a consistent presence up front. Three strikers have three goals each – Warren Feeney’s have come from 16 appearances, although two were penalties; on-loan Guy Madjo’s have come from 13 appearances although, again, two were penalties; while Rhys Griffiths, with two from open play and one spot-kick, has been hampered all season by injuries. Nick Chadwick is yet to register in the league.

Argyle’s midfield contingent and wingers have understandably benefitted from Fletcher’s focus on getting the ball on the deck. Alex MacDonald, back on loan from Burnley, and Argentinian Andres Gurrieri produced energetic displays against Bradford and tested the hosts repeatedly. Local lad Luke Young – still only 19, but with over 50 first-team outings to his name – continues to make strides, while 17-year-old Tyler Harvey is also now getting a taste of first-team action. Youth is being given its chance, but perhaps too much is being asked of them. League Two may only be the fourth tier, but experienced ex-internationals like Fleetwood’s Barry Ferguson and Rotherham’s Kari Arnason remain tough opponents for teenagers and twenty-somethings.

Off the pitch, the appointment of former Bristol City chairman Colin Sexstone as a non-executive director bodes well, with James Brent having admitted he needs more football experts around him to give advice and guidance. Hope remains that work on a new and long-overdue Home Park grandstand will begin next summer – but there have also been staff redundancies too, and the club’s average attendance of around 6,200 is below the break-even figure of 8,000.

Brent is likely to stick with Fletcher for the time being, although continued poor form as the busy Christmas period approaches would significantly increase the pressure on both men. Until then, this perseverance package remains hard to accept for Pilgrims fans, who fear their club is becoming a laughing stock. The other Brent – David – would say: “You just have to accept that some days you are the pigeon, and some days you are the statue.” It’s been four-and-a-half weeks of statue for Argyle – time for pigeon power, and fast.

Written by Jon Holmes of TEAMtalk.com, We Are Going Up’s Plymouth Argyle blogger.

Jon tweets at @jonboy79

Can Fletch find new goalscoring Greens?

Friday, May 25th, 2012

The early odds released for League Two next season show that the bookies expect Plymouth Argyle to be firmly mid-table in 2012/13.The Greens are priced up at 20/1 for the title with Victor Chandler, alongside the likes of rivals Exeter and newly-promoted York. Rotherham are the strong favourites for success, followed by Fleetwood Town.

However, it’ll be worth seeing what price the Pilgrims are when the promotion odds appear – because they might just be worth a gamble, depending on the summer comings and goings at Home Park.

Last season, Argyle were seriously goal-shy – only Macclesfield scored less. After losing 1-0 at Rotherham in mid-March, they were back in the relegation zone with 10 games to go. Fortunately, their settled and solid defence became even more miserly over the next eight fixtures, conceding just four goals to secure survival. The abysmal form shown by the Silkmen (seven draws and no wins to show for their efforts since New Year’s Eve) and the fact Hereford, as it proved, left it too late to mount an escape, were also key factors in Argyle staying up by just two points.

Argyle’s effective rearguard actions in the final few months bode well for next season. The arrivals in November of centre-back duo Darren Purse (now 35, but still a tough and fit competitor) and Maxime Blanchard – who ended up being named Player of the Year – lifted the whole camp; young right-back Durrell Berry improved considerably, and with midfield warrior Paul Wotton and hard-working striker Nick Chadwick returning to the club too, a team that had been callow and spineless changed into one loaded with experience and resilience.

Champions Swindon conceded just 32 goals in 2011/12 – by some distance the least in the division. They were not top scorers however; Gillingham, who failed to even make the play-offs, hit 79 goals over the course of 46 games, while Shrewsbury and Crawley both scored more than Paolo Di Canio’s Robins. But Argyle fans know full well how the stingiest defence usually comes out on top in the fourth tier – when Paul Sturrock’s Greens racked up 102 points in 2001/2, they shipped just 28 goals. Second-placed Luton scored many more times than Argyle that season, but they didn’t get their hands on the trophy.

Carl Fletcher clearly needs to add goals to his side, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of his defence – as we’ve seen, it’s more important to be hard to break down in League Two than blistering up front. One of last season’s joint top scorers, Barnet’s Izale McLeod, is already being linked with Argyle (as well as many other clubs higher up the food chain) – but he might be exactly the sort of player Argyle DON’T need. Of the 14 league games in which he scored for the Bees, they only won five of them. McLeod is fast and exciting, but can also be massively frustrating. In contrast, that resolute title-winning Sturrock side of a decade ago had eight players who netted five or more league goals over the course of the campaign – and the top scorer was centre-back Graham Coughlan.

What’s more important than finding a McLeod or similar striker is injecting more creativity in forward positions and inviting runners from deep; building on the firm foundations of the Purse-Blanchard partnership and freeing up the likes of the energetic Luke Young – scorer of a fine goal at Morecambe in the penultimate game of the season – to shoot from in and around the area. There has been far too little of that in Argyle’s attacking play, entirely understandable as the pressure mounted in the battle against the drop and every point became the proverbial prisoner. But with those shackles lifted and a clean slate presenting itself come August, the onus will be on Fletcher to find a blend that can facilitate a promotion push.

Having only turned 32 last month, Fletcher is the second youngest manager in the entire Football League, and his achievement in uniting the Argyle squad and masterminding their great escape should not be underestimated. He had earned his UEFA B licence coaching badge last summer, but taking on the responsibility of one of the south-west’s biggest professional clubs – and at such a perilous point in their history – was a huge undertaking for someone with no previous experience. The assistance of goalkeeper Romain Larrieu, a true Pilgrims hero with over 300 appearances for the club, and the senior players brought in midway through the campaign was crucial in creating a ‘never say die’ spirit. Both Fletcher and Larrieu have earned a crack at a season without fear of financial turmoil.

Long-term, owner James Brent has talked about how he sees Argyle as a Championship club. It seems a tall order to get back to those heights any time soon for a club that’s just finished 21st in League Two. However, if Fletcher can identify three or even four new players with genuine attacking talent that are prepared to match the current squad’s work ethic – and if Brent is prepared to pay the fees and wages they will demand – there might be a great opportunity to beat the bookies, and see a more entertaining Argyle team heading up the Football League ladder once again.

Written by Jon Holmes of TEAMtalk.com, We Are Going Up’s Plymouth Argyle blogger.

Jon tweets at @jonboy79

Argyle’s finale needs faster rhythm

Monday, March 12th, 2012

The title track from Lana Del Rey’s Born To Die album is still getting a lot of radio play at the moment – and every time I hear the lyrics, I can’t help but think of Plymouth Argyle’s relegation battle.

Feet don’t fail me now,” implores Lana, in her haunting tones. “Take me to the finish line…” For Argyle, still stumbling around in the depths of League Two, that finish line is now only 10 games away.

The Pilgrims’ feet aren’t exactly failing – yet – but the fear remains that they might not have the legs to make it to the end of the season, and stay up.

One step forward, and at least one step back – that’s how it feels at the moment. Carl Fletcher’s men have chalked up just one league victory per month since September; there have been plenty of draws peppering their results sheet; and the defeats, when they’ve come, have tended to be of the 1-0 variety in recent weeks (the latest coming at Rotherham on Saturday). This familiar pattern has led some to suggest the Greens are ‘sleepwalking’ towards the drop.

Statistics would suggest that Argyle are at least heading in the right direction, but they are undoubtedly running out of time to get there. The excellent Football League data analysis blog Experimental 3-6-1 notes that the team has tightened up at the back in the last two months, allowing less shots from opponents and proving more resilient. At the other end, progress has been slower – the Greens are creating slightly more chances per game, but their conversion rate has marginally dipped.

Certain other facts about Argyle’s season cannot be disputed. No team has won less home games in the entire Football League, let alone League Two. Defensively, the Pilgrims have been relatively stable at Home Park, but goals for them there have been in short supply – only 17 so far this season. Attendances have averaged at just over 6,500 (only Bradford, Swindon and Oxford pull in bigger crowds) and those fans have had relatively little to shout about. With six of their last 10 fixtures at home, only a significant improvement on Devon soil will see Argyle survive.

Admittedly, Fletcher’s side have been better on their travels. Before the defeat at Don Valley, they won handsomely at Accrington, almost claimed three points at Macclesfield (a last-gasp equaliser denied them) and ground out a 2-1 victory at AFC Wimbledon. But their next two away games are stone-cold ‘six-pointers’, against relegation rivals immediately above them in the table – Northampton (March 24) and Hereford (Good Friday). Clearly there can be little room for error at Sixfields or Edgar Street.

So what steps can be taken to aid Argyle in their perilous position? Inevitably for a club in danger, the manager’s role is being heavily debated. At the age of just 31, Fletcher can hardly draw on relevant coaching experience at this juncture, and his association with successive relegations as a player in Argyle’s last two campaigns (admittedly with mitigating circumstances e.g. administration) hardly bodes well. Hereford appear to have responded well to a change of coach, and with the likes of former Pilgrim Gary Megson and Martin Allen currently out of work, there are options available to owner James Brent. Brent has made no attempt to hide the fact that his football knowledge is sketchy at best, which is one reason why he appointed former Norwich and Wigan manager John Deehan as director of football at Argyle in late January. Deehan’s exact remit was not apparent at first, although he later explained it was “to advise, and try and help secure players”. It seems Argyle are stuck with their current set-up until the end of the season at least and even if some supporters would prefer to see Fletcher on the pitch instead of in the dug-out, he would be lacking match fitness having not kicked a ball in anger since November. Best to keep Fletcher where he is, and focus on the task in hand.

In the last two seasons in League Two, 48 points has been the safety mark needed to stay up. This year, it seems likely that the target figure will be slightly less, with none of the bottom five having yet passed 35. Argyle, on 32, will surely need to put 12 points on the board at the very least – and even that may prove insufficient. With the Pilgrims’ last four fixtures looking the most difficult in their run-in (a trip to leaders Swindon, a home game against play-off chasing Oxford, a long trip north to Morecambe and finally, the visit of away-day specialists Cheltenham), the need for immediate ‘pointage’ is obvious.

Argyle’s most convincing wins of the season – 4-1 at home to Northampton in late November, and last month’s 4-0 romp at Accrington – were both achieved with early goals. Similarly, Onismor Bhasera headed home after just 12 seconds in the 2-1 victory at AFC Wimbledon, while early second-half strikes were key to beating Macclesfield, Dagenham, Bristol Rovers and Burton. Nick Chadwick noted the importance of making a fast start to a half when talking about scoring against the Cobblers on what was his second debut for the club:

“It was something I thought about before, and something I tried to get across to the lads – how well we used to start here and how important it is.

“It’s a long way for teams to come and the last thing they want is a bombardment and a threat, and for us to go forward with a real purpose in the first five minutes; we did that today.

“It was in my own mind to try to get some shots off and be a personal threat early doors, which I managed to do.”

Fast starts are key, therefore, but they have been all too rare when you reflect on Argyle’s season as a whole. With the defence looking much more settled and solid than in the opening weeks of the campaign – the Greens rearguard rarely concedes more than one goal a game these days – Fletcher can afford to be bolder in attack. Top scorer Simon Walton’s tally has been boosted by six penalties, but the goals he has scored from open play – classy strikes from distance in the home games against Morecambe and Burton – suggest he should be getting forward whenever possible and taking more pot-shots at opposition goalkeepers. Conor Hourihane is another attacking option in central midfield but like Walton, he only has two open-play goals from 27 league starts – a disappointing return. Paul Wotton remains an inspirational figure and a fierce competitor and although he is now 34 years of age, he can offer enough protection to the centre-back partnership of Darren Purse and Maxime Blanchard to allow Walton or Hourihane to push on. Between the sticks, goalkeeper Jake Cole has been admirably consistent, so a more positive approach through the middle seems worth the gamble.

On the flanks, Zimbabwe international Bhasera has been preferred on the left wing in the last two games, with teenager Luke Young on the right. The latter’s work-rate and dedication has won him many admirers this season, yet he is not an out-and-out winger like on-loan Wolves man Ashley Hemmings, or Luke Daley. ‘All guns blazing’ or ‘attack, attack, attack’ are phrases which are probably too strong when assessing the mentality Argyle need to adopt in the coming weeks, but the balance simply has to be tilted towards creating and scoring goals. Sacrificing Young in favour of a trickier winger who can bamboozle League Two defenders must be a consideration, particularly as Robbie Williams and Durrell Berry have looked dependable in the full-back positions. Williams’ retreating may have contributed to Macclesfield’s agonising leveller at Moss Rose (he failed to cut out Marcus Marshall’s stoppage-time cross, which George Donnelly headed home) but he was afforded little protection on that occasion, and he remains a threat from set-pieces too.

Up front, striker Nick Chadwick has contributed five goals in 15 starts since returning to Argyle, and on-loan Burnley forward Alex MacDonald has weighed in with three in seven. They have shown the makings of a decent partnership and should be persisted with. Fit-again Warren Feeney and another loanee, Juvhel Tsoumou can offer something different from the bench, while England Under-18 international Matt Lecointe has shown huge promise and like Feeney, has netted twice. There will certainly be no need for a repeat of Fletcher’s introduction of lanky centre-back Ladjie Soukouna as a makeshift support striker at Port Vale – one of the oddest tactical deployments Argyle fans have witnessed, and entirely unsuccessful.

In the final eight weeks of the campaign, there are several crucial fixtures between the bottom six clubs – for example, Dagenham face Northampton, Macclesfield and Barnet in their next three games, while in April, Hereford meet Argyle, Barnet and Northampton on successive weekends. The mad scramble will see teams dipping in and out of form – Macc are yet to win in 2012, while even Burton Albion fans will be concerned after 13 games without a victory. Argyle cannot afford to hold back; in their final 10 games in League One last year, they only scored eight goals and were relegated, while in 2010 when they fell out of the Championship, it was just six. They always say sticking the ball in the back of the net is the hardest thing to do in football, but sympathy will be in short supply if it’s perceived the Greens did not have a right good go in the next 10 games.

Born to die? Are Argyle fated for the drop, yet again? Surely not, and there’s enough spirit in the Pilgrims camp to ensure the players will keep fighting until the very end. But they are looking to the manager for inspiration at this time. Fletcher carries the ultimate responsibility, and the final say on team instructions and selections. So to quote another of Lana’s lyrics: “Choose your last words, this is the last time…”

Written by Jon Holmes of TEAMtalk.com, We Are Going Up’s Plymouth Argyle blogger.

Jon tweets at @jonboy79

Toppo’s Top Tens – Moments of 2011

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

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

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

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

10: Stevenage are promoted again

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

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

9: Crystal Palace shock Manchester United

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

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

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

8: That Clarke-Di Canio bust-up

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

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

7: Darren Ferguson returns to Peterborough

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

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

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

6: Huddersfield’s unbeaten run

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

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

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

5: Brighton move to their new home

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

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

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

4: Fans Reunited

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

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

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

3: Norwich City reach the Premier League

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

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

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

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

2: Brendan Rodgers takes Swansea City up

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

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

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

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

1: Barnet’s great escape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

39 long, galling years of waiting

Friday, November 25th, 2011

Contrary to the many chants you may hear at St James Park, Home Park or Plainmoor, there are 3 teams in Devon (in the Football League, anyway), and it’s fair to say the yellow corner of the county is the smallest. Our fiercest rivalry is with Exeter, as they are the “middle” team in the county and we’ve been in the same division as them for more seasons than Plymouth. In the same sense, Plymouth also consider Exeter to be their biggest rival for the same reason, even though they are closer to Torquay. Plymouth vs Torquay is probably third in the hierarchy of Devon derbies.

The competitive encounters we’ve had with Argyle have been fleeting, and, to put it simply, our record hasn’t been great. Excluding our win in January 2000 in the Football League Trophy (and while we’d love that to be relevant in any way possible, it’s about as relevant as our wins over them in the Devon Bowl or testimonials), the last time we’d beaten them in a competitive match was on April 1st 1972, a 2-1 win at Plainmoor, which was only our 5th victory over them in the Football League. Our league record since then? 5 draws and 5 defeats (including a humiliating 4-0 loss at home in 2000, which has scarred me for life). Poor form.

This year is the first time in a decade that we have both been in the same division. It’s been a galling 10 years too – first they were promoted out of what was then Division 3 in 2001/02, and then they were promoted again in 2003/04, which overshadowed our own promotion into what became League One. After that, we were relegated 2 times in 3 years and spent 2 years out of the Football League as they pushed for the Premier League.

But in the last 3 years, not only have we got ourselves back up to the fourth tier again, but their world has come crashing down, along with their league position. Now I don’t mean to wish ill on them, but it is good for us, in that we actually have local rivals to play for once, as opposed to our nearest rivals being Wycombe or someone equally far away. The South West can be a cold, lonely place sometimes.

Their collapse also gave us the best opportunity we would ever have to end our 39 years of mild frustration. Given that we had also dispatched Bristol Rovers and Mr Buckle earlier in the year, and Argyle’s terrible run of form contrasting our recent resurgence, we felt that we should win – that we had to win, really. It was also important for Martin Ling that we win – our poor run of a month ago, as I’ve discussed previously, had brought in the vultures, and while they had been silenced by a run of 4 straight wins that took us clear of the danger zone, tripping up against a poor side who also just happened to be one of our biggest rivals would no doubt bring them and their miserable negative nonsense back again. It didn’t help matters when Ling decided to tempt fate by revealing he didn’t think he’d ever won 5 games in a row as a manager…

However, thankfully everything went to plan. Although Argyle’s mixture of experienced heads and youngsters successfully stifled our passing game in the first half with an aggressive high pressing style, in the second half it all fell into place, largely thanks to a couple of moments of magic from Eunan O’Kane. The young Irishman, our highly-rated number 10, smashed in the first from just outside the area not long after the half-time break, and then a few moments later added a second with one of the best goals I have ever seen live – a wonderful 35-yard lob over a stranded Romain Larrieu’s head.

Plymouth heads dropped and it looked like it could become rather uncomfortable for our Cornis…I mean West Devonian friends. Several good chances later, Danny Stevens, a man reborn in recent weeks after slotting in to Ling’s 4-3-3 system very effectively, ran straight through the Argyle defence to add a third. Suddenly it looked as if we would avenge the many thrashings they had given us down the years, but after a late consolation from Will Atkinson, they managed to regain enough energy in the last 10 minutes to at least keep us awake until the final whistle.

But even so, a glorious win – our first competitive win over Plymouth for 10 years, a first league win over them for 39 years, and our biggest ever win over them. Added to the win over Buckle and Bristol Rovers at the start of the year, this win, and this run of form, is firmly cementing Ling’s place in the affections of the fans, not least because we are doing it the Torquay way – playing very attractive, passing, fluid football.

The next big target? Well, another cup upset at Bramall Lane next weekend would be nice, but realistically, it’s to get our first win at Home Park for 40 years on January 2nd. After that, we can start to think about a play-off push again. And I don’t see any reason why we can’t achieve either of those things. After the misery and negativity surrounding the club in October, positivity reigns supreme again.

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

James tweets at @jbennettf1

Plummeting Pilgrims can’t abandon hope

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

 

A near-death experience, bottom of the Football League and now FA Cup humiliation – Plymouth Argyle have that sinking feeling yet again.

Carl Fletcher is 31 years old. He is the recently-appointed permanent manager of Plymouth Argyle, one of the club’s senior professional players, and he is also the father to three young children. That’s already a lot of roles for one man to fulfil – but if he’s got any spare time in his busy schedule, it might be time to consider a crash course in psychotherapy.

For after one of the longest periods in administration in English football history – seven months of financial misery and uncertainty during which, at one point, the club had “between a 10-20% chance of surviving”, according to eventual buyer James Brent – the Pilgrims now appear to be experiencing the sporting equivalent of post-traumatic stress disorder.

From 18 games played in League Two, Argyle have accummulated just nine points; they have a goal difference of -23 and have only scored six times at home. After first-round exits in the Carling Cup and Johnstone’s Paint Trophy earlier this season, they were embarrassed in the FA Cup on national television on Tuesday night in a 2-0 defeat at seventh-tier Stourbridge. The shell-shocked Greens look fearful, inhibited and a sense of helplessness is pervading the fanbase. The players are even beginning to lash out at those around them, if loanee Paul Bignot’s crazy red card (the club’s 20th since August 2010) against the Glassboys is anything to go by.

As well as the anxieties caused to everyday life by administration, the spectres of back-to-back relegations are still haunting Argyle and unless a significant recovery can be staged in the next five months, they will be going the way of Luton Town – a third successive drop, and life outside of the Football League. Bristol City and Wolves famously hit three snakes in a row too on the football board-game of the 1980s, but at least neither went lower than level four.

They say you find out who your true friends are in times of desperate need, and an average of around 6,000 fans are rallying round the club for home games at the moment. For away fixtures, the Green Army continue to turn out in force – there would have been more than 1,050 at the 3-1 Devon derby defeat at Torquay if the allocation had been greater, while 1,272 visiting supporters attended the 2-1 reverse at Cheltenham. Even the midweek 5-1 hammering at Oxford attracted over 700 Plymouth fans, respectable figures considering a Kassam massacre was expected (and ensued).

With times so tough, how should we react as supporters when players at the clubs we love seem to be in such a fragile mental state? Angry words and gestures probably aren’t going to help (especially at Argyle, where almost half the squad are under the age of 21) while only the most fervent fans can maintain vocal levels of encouragement and enthusiasm for the full 90 minutes as the goals rain in past their floundering keeper. It’s all relative, of course – if you’re paying £50 a ticket to watch Premier League multi-millionaires, your patience is going to be thinner than that of a long-suffering lower-league supporter. But no fan can tolerate a lack of effort and fight – and the alarming Opta statistic on tackles won by Argyle players compared to Stourbridge in Tuesday’s game suggests they were shirking from the challenge.

That’s a big worry, especially as the club’s next three fixtures are all against relegation rivals – home to Northampton (20th), away to Bradford (22nd) and home to Hereford (19th). The will to win is likely to be more important than tactics and style.

Argyle fans have to try and transmit some positivity, perhaps by drawing on the qualities they have shown since the club started sliding down this horrible helter-skelter, on which rock bottom still appears some way off (the club may be propping up the Football League, but there is still room for further decline). Former Argyle boss Ian Holloway always used to loathe the word “expectations” being used around Home Park; he was usually optimistic, but refused to pander to those outsiders who wanted to set targets for him and his players. So with a nod to Ollie, here’s an acronym that Pilgrims and all supporters can relate to:

Humility - Those members of the Argyle faithful (and there were many) who chortled throughout rivals Exeter’s dalliance with spoon-bending director Uri Geller and his ilk, their subsequent administration and their Conference wilderness years aren’t smiling any more. Moreover, the generosity of spirit shown by fans of Brighton and other clubs who visited Home Park for two ‘Fans Reunited’ days, or who wished Argyle well via messageboards or social media, demonstrated that – on the terraces at least – the existence of a genuine ‘football family’ populated by selfless supporters conscious of crises greater than their own is no myth.

One - The unity engendered by the fight for survival has undoubtedly strengthened the Green Army. The Argyle Trust worked tirelessly with James Brent to continue to push through his takeover when all seemed lost (former Trust chairman Chris Webb is now the club’s honorary president), while fundraising efforts by the Green Taverners group and web forum PASOTI raised over £100,000 for unpaid staff. The story of 22-year-old club chef Nathan Tonna is a case in point – his world gradually fell apart as Argyle’s cash crisis deepened. He believes administrators “lied” to staff (many of whom, like him, were fans) in order to persuade them to stay in their jobs and ensure the club remained a going concern. But donations raised by the fans helped employees like Nathan through the hardship, and fostering that sense of togetherness on and off the pitch is going to be vital.

Perspective - Argyle are lucky to be alive. Were it not for Brent and his persistence, the club would have been liquidated last month. Blue Square Premier football would be heart-breaking, but it is not a fate worse than death. Doncaster Rovers, Carlisle United, Oxford United and, yes, even Exeter, have been there and come back. Looking at the Conference North and South table suggests trips to places like Hyde and Woking await. Plymouth are a well-supported club, but size and history won’t count for much in the coming weeks. Thank heaven we’re still here – carpe diem and all that.

Emotion - “It’s all about character,” Fletcher told the club website when asked if his players could bounce back from losing to Stourbridge. These are dark days indeed, but one beacon of light is the arrival on loan of no-nonsense centre-back Darren Purse, who went to watch the FA Cup tie and whose passionate words had Chris Webb and PASOTI’s Ian Newell purring afterwards. Former Bournemouth and Doncaster manager Sean O’Driscoll was in attendance too, on Fletcher’s invitation – he wanted to hear the opinions of his old Cherries boss.

Argyle’s only home win this season – a 2-0 victory over Macclesfield – came on the occasion of the first ‘Fans Reunited’ day at Home Park in late September. A crowd of 6,005 was far from capacity, but it was the quality of the support more than the quantity that helped make the difference. The players put in the effort, and were rewarded with the emotion – a carnival atmosphere grew in the ground as the game progressed. A fortnight later, and over 8,000 turned out for the club’s 125th anniversary fixture against Accrington which finished 2-2. It’s a two-way street  - desire on the pitch, die-hard support from the stands.

For everything that the Argyle faithful have been put through in the last five years – the chronic mismanagement, the poor performances, the relegations, the shameful mistreatment of staff and players during the administration process – they keep turning out to support their team, praying for a change in fortunes, like any true fan would. The performance at Stourbridge was shameful and put the bond between fans and players at risk. Yet to quote Elvis Costello: ‘The vow that we made, you broke it in two, But that don’t stop me from loving you’.

And where there’s love, there has to be hope.

Written by Jon Holmes of TEAMtalk.com, We Are Going Up’s Plymouth Argyle blogger.

Jon tweets at @jonboy79

Thanks to Steve and Trev from Greens on Screen - the essential Argyle resource – for the picture.

Toppo’s Top Tens – Big away wins

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

As the away side in a football match, you are expected to keep things tight and make life difficult for your hosts.  More often than not a well-fought draw will do and if you pick up a close victory, even better.

Thrashings in football aren’t a regular occurrence but they do happen. However it is rare when the visiting team hands out a pasting to their hosts. Last week Andy Hessenthaler’s Gillingham did just that with a 6-1 victory at League Two strugglers Hereford United, so today Toppo’s Top Ten looks at those occasions where the visiting team has a field-day in front of goal, leaving the home fans heading for the exits early.

10: Burnley 2 Sheffield Wednesday 7 2003

Sheffield Wednesday were already relegated by the time they travelled to Turf Moor for a Division One fixture in 2003 – you wouldn’t have known it though looking at the final score.

Paul McLaren opened the scoring for the visitors with a long-range effort which Burnley goalkeeper Nic Michopoulous failed to save. Two minutes later Ashley Westwood added a second with a close-range tap-in Brian Barry-Murphy’s cross. Defender Richard Wood made it 3-0 to Wednesday, his first senior goal coming minutes after Burnley striker Ian Moore was sent off.

Burnley manager Stan Ternent hauled off the goalkeeper replacing him with sub-goalie Marlon Beresford and the Clarets pulled one back through a Robbie Blake penalty but in truth it was a miserable first half for the hosts and things didn’t improve. A minute after the break, Richard Evans beat Beresford with a cross-cum-shot from 35 yards before Blake made it 4-2 with a left-footed drive.

Chris Turner’s Wednesday quickly restored their three goal advantage as Steven Haslam scored from Alan Quinn’s free-kick and within seven minutes they scored again. Burnley’s French defender Artur Gnohere put Grant Holt’s cross past his own goalkeeper before the travelling Owls capped off a memorable afternoon, Quinn hitting an excellent 30-yard drive past Beresford for an 7-2 success.

9: Crewe Alexandra 1 Coventry City 6 2002

In February 2002, Coventry City visited Dario Gradi’s Crewe Alexandra in a Division One fixture where the hosts had a shocker. The Sky Blues were still harbouring hopes of a play-off spot while Crewe went into the match having won their last four games in a row. By the end of this 90 minutes though there was only one emphatic winner.

The first goal came on 37 minutes when a Lee Hughes cross was spooned into the air by Alex goalkeeper Ademole Bankole and Laurent Delorge knocked it into the net. Crewe equalised in injury time when Shaun Smith curled in a corner and Rob Hulse powered a near-post header into the back of the net, but seconds later Coventry were back in front when £5 million signing Hughes turned Steve Foster before driving in a curled shot from 15 yards.

Two minutes after the break striker Hughes made it 3-1 as he beat Bankole to the ball, nodding home Lee Mills’ flick-on from a long throw-in. After the Crewe defence failed to clear a cross ten minutes later, Hughes saw his shot blocked but it fell to Delorge who slammed it home to extend the visitors’ lead.

Midfielder David Thompson made it 5-1 after a mix-up in the Crewe backline and then with 20 minutes to go Hughes completed his hat-trick as he ran onto Thompson’s through ball,  outmuscled Efe Sodje and Bankole before finishing easily. Gradi hauled ‘keeper Bankole off, replacing him with Clayton Ince but by then the damage had well and truly been done.

8: Hereford United 1 Gillingham 6 2011

Hereford United have made a poor start to the League Two campaign this season and their misery was compounded last week as Gillingham inflicted a 6-1 home reversal on them.

West Ham loanee Frank Nouble opened the scoring after good interplay with Chris Whelpdale before Garry Richards made it two five minutes later, his looping header beating Bulls ‘keeper Dave Cornell from Danny Jackman’s cross. Luke Rooney scored the Gills’ third on 38 minutes as his driven cross-cum-shot deflected off a home defender and into the net.

3-0 down at the break and things didn’t get better for Hereford as Jackman netted a fourth for Gillingham three minutes after the restart as he curled an excellent effort into the top corner of the net from wide on the left. Hereford missed a penalty midway through the second period but it was Gillingham who scored again, Whelpdale’s low effort bobbling over the diving Cornell and in.

On 82 minutes the visitors added a sixth when Stefan Payne netted his first senior goal with a strike from 20 yards but Hereford did salvage some pride, as with three minutes to go as Sam Winnall powered home a free-kick from 25 yards. Despite that it was the Bulls’ worst home defeat since returning to the Football League.

7: Millwall 1 Watford 6 2010

Millwall went into this Championship encounter against Watford proudly defending a ten month unbeaten record at home, but the Hornets ended that run in style.

John Eustace bundled home Don Cowie’s corner after seven minutes to give Watford the lead, which Jordon Mutch extended six minutes later, lashing the ball into the back of David Forde’s net after seeing his first effort blocked. Marvin Sordell’s left-footed effort two minutes into first-half stoppage time tricked over the line and saw Millwall 3-0 down at the break.

Nine minutes after the restart another Cowie corner led to a Watford goal as Adrian Mariappa headed the visitors into a four goal lead. Liam Trotter reduced arrears two minutes later but soon after Danny Graham rifled a powerful finish into the top corner to restore the four goal cushion for Malky Mackay’s side. They made it 6-1 added time as Martin Taylor directed a header low into the bottom corner to compound Millwall’s misery.

6: Reading 0 Bristol Rovers 6 1999

Having moved to the new £50 million Madejski Stadium in August 1998, four months later Reading put in one of the worst performances seen at the ground as they slumped to a 6-0 home defeat at the hands of Bristol Rovers.

The Division Two fixture in January 1999 saw Rovers’ pick up one of their best-ever away victories while The Royals were left embarrassed, particularly when the half-time score was 0-0. In the second half Jamie Cureton ran onto a through ball and slotted a composed finish beyond the advancing Reading goalkeeper for 1-0.  The striker then made it two from the penalty spot and soon completed his hat-trick, knocking in after a defensive mix-up between Elroy Kromkeer and Chris Casper. Jason Roberts then set up strike parter Cureton for his fourth goal – all of them coming within the space of 20 minutes.

More poor home defending allowed Roberts, a £250,000 summer signing from Wolverhampton Wanderers, to score twice and make it 6-0 to Ian Holloway’s men.

5: Bradford City 0 Portsmouth 5 2003

On their way to the Division One title and promotion to the Premier League in 2003, Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth travelled to Valley Parade in their final league match, where they hammered Bradford City 5-0.

Italian defender Gianluca Festa marked his final appearance for Pompey with a goal, his left-footed shot beating City goalkeeper Aidan Davidson to open the scoring. Svetoslav Todorov hit a quick-fire double after the break to make it 3-0 and was then felled by Bantams defender David Wetherall in the box for a penalty.

The Bulgarian striker stepped up and converted the spot-kick to complete a ten-minute hat-trick. Former England winger Steve Stone finished off the rout on 67 minutes with a well-struck right foot shot to give Pompey only their second victory at Valley Parade in 14 attempts and the best possible preparation for life in the top flight.

4: Hartlepool United 1 Plymouth Argyle 8 1994

Plymouth Argyle made the long trip north to Hartlepool United for a Third Division clash in May 1994 and left Victoria Park with all three points and a hatful of goals scored. Dwight Marshall set the visitors on their way with a 29th minute strike and Steve McCall added a second ten minutes later. Richard Landon and Paul Dalton made it 4-0 at half-time and there was no let-up after the break as Landon hit number five. Steve Castle added yet another goal before Hartlepool midfielder Nicky Peverell grabbed a consolation effort with 20 minutes remaining. Landon completed his hat-trick on 77 minutes to restore Argyle’s six goal advantage and midfielder Paul Dalton completed the scoring with a minute to go, as the Devon side racked up a remarkable 8-1 away win.

3: Oldham Athletic 1 Cardiff City 7 2002

Division Two promotion rivals Oldham Athletic and Cardiff City met at Boundary Park in March 2002, where it was the visitors who prevailed by some scoreline.

Veteran Scottish goalkeeper Andy Goram played for Oldham the club between 1981 and 1987 and was brought in by boss Mick Wadsworth to resolve a goalkeeping crisis for this match, but he found himself conceding seven goals. Scott Young put the Bluebirds ahead early on before Leo Fortune-West and Peter Thorne gave them a 3-0 lead after just 23 minutes.

Andy Campbell made it four half an hour in before Oldham’s Matty Appleby was sent off. Fortune-West hit the fifth and his second of the afternoon just before half-time and after the break striker Campbell completed his hat-trick, netting in the 64th and 73rd minutes. Stuart Balmer pulled a goal back for Oldham, a mere consolation sixteen minutes from the end which did little to gloss over a very poor performance from the Lancashire outfit.

2: Torquay United 1 Scunthorpe United 8 1995

In October 1995 Scunthorpe United equalled their club-record victory as they thrashed a lacklustre Torquay United 8-1 at Plainmoor. Torquay had made the Division Three playoffs the season before but lost in the semi-finals to Preston North End, however they suffered a play-off hangover at the start of the 1995/96 campaign which culminated with the 8-1 reversal at the hands of the Iron.

Future Torquay striker Andy MacFarlane caught the eye as he netted four goals but the manner of the defeat hit Torquay chairman Mike Bateson hard, admitting he could have sacked the vast majority of the players who took to the field for the game. Instead he relieved manager Don O’Riordan of his duties in a bid to turn around the club’s fortunes. See the goals from the game in the clip below.


1: Norwich City 1 Colchester United 7 2009

Colchester United manager Paul Lambert inspired his side to a remarkable 7-1 win at newly-relegated Norwich City on the first day of the 2009/10 League One season, putting himself in the frame for the manager’s job at Carrow Road in the process.

As Norwich City began life in the third tier for the first time in half a century, no one saw this result coming. Kevin Lisbie gave the U’s the lead after ten minutes, Clive Platt netted twice, David Fox netted from a free-kick and Lisbie found the net again as Norwich were 5-0 down within 38 minutes. Cody McDonald netted for the Canaries after the break but David Perkins’ volley and Scott Vernon’s close-range finish made it 7-1 to the visitors – a fantastic performance from Lambert’s side inflicting Norwich’s heaviest home defeat in their 109 year history.

Norwich sacked manager Bryan Gunn within a week of the thrashing and turned to the man who helped deliver it, Lambert being appointed Norwich boss soon after. He galvanised the Norfolk outfit and led them to promotion as Champions, before embarking on a memorable season the following campaign as the Canaries finished 2nd in the Championship to secure Premier League football for the first time since 2005.

 

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

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

 

Reid’s firing is a Ridsdale mercy killing

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

Peter Ridsdale’s decision to change Plymouth Argyle’s manager now is kinder on Peter Reid than it might first appear.

Carl Fletcher will have more than just the Green Army cheering on his charges when his caretaker stint begins in earnest. The former Wales international has been handed the Pilgrims’ managerial reins on a temporary basis after the dismissal of Peter Reid, and his first test as boss is against Macclesfield at Home Park this Saturday.

The League Two fixture will see ‘Fans Reunited‘, as faithful followers of Brighton and other clubs descend on the crisis-hit Devon outfit to lend their voices and show solidarity for Argyle’s plight.

It’s a reciprocal gesture after a 14-year-old Argyle supporter inspired the original ‘Fans United’ day over 14 years ago, when the Goldstone Ground attendance was swelled to nearly 8,500 thanks to the presence of a mix of match-goers from up and down the country appalled at the asset-stripping, slow death inflicted on Albion by the notorious David Bellotti and Bill Archer. Brighton were subsequently forced into a long nomadic existence fraught with financial peril and only recently ended by their move to their impressive new Amex Stadium home.

Plymouth’s current plight has been well documented and although more optimistic noises are now being made about the club’s future, following the decision of the administrators to turn their attentions away from property developer Kevin Heaney’s BIL consortium to the more palatable proposal offered by local businessman James Brent and backed by The Argyle Trust, the Pilgrims are by no means out of the woods yet. The latest wage deferral agreed by the Argyle squad and staff lasts until next Monday, and their patience is now wafer thin.

But while Brent continues to negotiate with stakeholders, attention has turned in recent days to matters on the pitch – and the sacking of Reid by acting chairman Peter Ridsdale on Sunday. Looking back on the comments of then-chairman Sir Roy Gardner on the occasion of Reid’s appointment in June 2010, it’s clear with hindsight that the likeable Scouse was accepting a chalice laced with more poison than anything the England job ever carried. Even Dr Crippen would have baulked at proffering it.

Talk of “aspirations and ambitions”, a return to the Championship and the need to “move on” from the disappointment of relegation provided scant hint of the financial abyss growing wider by the day under the Argyle directors’ feet, and into which the whole club and all associated with it would plummet a few months later.

The frantic scramble for survival in early 2011 resulted in Reid losing his best players, such as Bradley Wright-Phillips and Craig Noone, while a transfer embargo imposed on the club prevented him from even attempting to replace them. With no-one getting paid and the club’s coffers empty, he put his hand in his own pocket to pay the Home Park heating bill and later donated his own FA Cup runners-up medal to auction off for staff funds. Lest we forget, he would have kept Argyle in League One, were it not for the 10-point deduction imposed by the Football League for going into administration – and that should count as an achievement. The circumstances were horrendous and once relegation was confirmed, they got even worse.

It seems remarkable that any player would have agreed to join Argyle in the summer, with no guarantees of being paid until a takeover was completed. However, there were a few optimistic enough to put pen to paper and sign on – but not enough to give Reid a decent stab at fielding a competitive team again, even by League Two standards. Fletcher, long-serving goalkeeper Romain Larrieu (now caretaker first-team coach) and new arrival Warren Feeney are the only thirty-somethings at Home Park. Half the first-team squad are teenagers.

Reid’s stoicism and indefatigability cannot be questioned but increasingly, his task looked Sisyphean – a repetitive slog of drudgery, always ending in defeat (and referencing another mythic Greek figure seems appropriate for a club previously compared to Icarus on these pages). After an opening-day 1-1 draw at Shrewsbury (a result salvaged by a late Fletcher strike), eight straight defeats mean Argyle are already five points from safety a fifth of the way through the campaign, with a goal difference of -16. If football management is essentially one long game of ‘winner stays on’, then the frustrations of Fletcher and Larrieu at the losing sequence were always going to lead to cries of “let us have a go” until Ridsdale relented. That’s not to say there was any sort of dressing-room revolt against Reid; just that there were two senior professionals who were keen as mustard to step up.

That’s what makes Ridsdale’s decision a little easier to stomach. To outsiders looking in, it appears cruel and heartless; but you could argue the opposite too. However you dress it up, there is an element of putting a man out of his misery, and that can only be done out of sympathy. Reid had proven already that he would carry on whatever the circumstances, and as no income is currently available, it’s not like he’s missing out on anything. As a football creditor, he will get his two-year contract paid up in full when a takeover is completed. If Ridsdale had left Reid in his post, there is little to suggest the poor form would have abated – and if you’re still dubious, hear Reid’s own words. In his only comments to the media thus far, he told the Western Morning News:

“I’m disappointed I couldn’t see the job through. The results haven’t been good enough, whatever the extenuating circumstances. But I’m really proud to have been the manager of Plymouth Argyle.

“I know what the club means to the area and the priority, as I have said all along, is for it to keep going.

“I was embarrassed we kept getting beaten, because losing is just not in my nature, but the supporters have kept getting behind us.

“I have been privileged to play for and manage some so-called big clubs, but none have had fans as loyal and passionate, and who travel so far to away games, as those at Argyle.

“It’s just amazing, and that’s why this football club has got to keep going. I wish everyone well.”

An admission of failure, yes. But not bitterness; only goodwill and affection. Prolonging Reid’s tortured tenure, perhaps into the early days of a new regime, may have changed everyone’s sentiments when the time came for a parting of ways. Fletcher and Larrieu feel they can do a better job – they now have a chance to prove it. There is too much talk of legends in football, but Reid’s hard work and dignity in departure certainly means his name has been written into the mythology and folklore of Plymouth Argyle.

Argyle are still drawing an average crowd of 5,500 at Home Park, which is not bad for a stadium that’s only seen 21 home wins in the last 73 league games. On Saturday, the Green Army have to hope that the ‘Fans Reunited’ impact is similar to that engendered by ‘Fans United’ in Brighton in 1997 – a 5-0 home win over Hartlepool, which helped Albion avoid the drop out of the Football League.

Written by Jon Holmes of TEAMtalk.com, We Are Going Up’s Plymouth Argyle blogger.

Jon tweets at @jonboy79

Toppo’s Top Tens – Thrashings

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

After Peterborough United’s 7-1 demolition job over Ipswich Town on Saturday, it is only fitting that this week’s top ten takes a look at some other big victories in Football League history.

Football is all about putting the ball into the opposition’s net and the vast majority of league fixtures will be settled by a couple of goals at the most. Sometimes there are dull, drab affairs with little goalmouth action, however occasionally there are matches which go against the norm.

Defences go walkabout while attacking sides run riot, having the sort of goal-gluttinous day they can only dream about. One goal quickly turns to two, two to three, three to four…..you get the picture. As one team bangs them in, the other looks on in bemusement and suffers complete embarassment. Such games go down in folklore – for the winning team anyway. Here’s ten memorable games from the Football League where one of the sides involved went goal-crazy:

10: Portsmouth 6 Leicester City 1 2010

Seven games into last season, both Portsmouth and Leicester found themselves nestled at the wrong end of the Championship table. Pompey, under new boss Steve Cotterill, were attempting to rebuild after Premier League relegation months before, amid financial woes which saw Cotterill working with a small, depleted squad. Leicester, having finished in the play-off spots the season before also had a new man in charge, Paolo Sousa, but the Portugese only picked up five points from his first seven matches and it was about to get worse for The Foxes.

Having beaten Pompey in the Carling Cup a few days previously, Leicester stayed on the South Coast ahead of this Friday night fixture, which got off to a bad start as centre-back Michael Morrison handled the ball in the box ten minutes in, Liam Lawrence converting the resulting penalty. Lawrence added a second twelve minutes before the break and as the teams headed off at half-time with the score 2-0, few could have predicted what would happen during the next 45 minutes.

Thirteen minutes into the second half David Nugent’s finish from a tight angle made it 3-0 then the striker turned provider for Dave Kitson, as he set up the former Reading man who netted with a chipped effort. Down to ten men after Migel Vitor rugby-tackled Nugent during the first period, Leicester’s defending went array follwoing Steve Howard’s consolation goal for 4-1. Kitson grabbed his second after the Foxes failed to clear a corner and then Michael Brown went on a sauntering run from midfield before slotting home from an acute angle to make the score 6-1. Leicester were humbled and Sousa was axed not long after with former England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson arriving to steer the East Midlanders to mid-table safety come the end of the season.

9: Burnley 2 Sheffield Wednesday 7 2003

This game involved a side already relegated from Division One. Neutrals looking at the scoreline would’ve thought that team were Burnley, instead it was Sheffield Wednesday, doomed to the drop, who would sign off their campaign in the second tier with a thumping victory at Turf Moor.

Paul McLaren opened the scoring for the visitors with a long-range effort which Burnley goalkeeper Nic Michopoulous failed to save. Two minutes later Ashley Westwood added a second with a close-range tap-in from the brilliantly named Brian Barry-Murphy’s left-wing cross.  It got worse for the hosts as Ian Moore was sent off on 21 minutes for a cynical challenge on Barry-Murphy.

Defender Richard Wood made it 3-0 to Wednesday, his first senior goal coming as he volleyed home Grant Holt’s header.  Burnley manager Stan Ternent hauled off Michopoulous, replacing him with sub-goalie Marlon Beresford. The Clarets pulled one back through a Robbie Blake penalty but the substitution failed to stem the flow of goals. A minute after the break, Richard Evans beat Beresford with a cross-cum-shot from 35 yards before Blake pegged The Owls back again with a left-footed drive.

Chris Turner’s side quickly restored their three goal advantage as Steven Haslam scored from Alan Quinn’s free-kick and within seven minutes they had another. Burnley’s French defender Artur Gnohere put Grant Holt’s cross past his own goalkeeper before Wednesday set the seal on their performance as Quinn hit an excellent 30-yard drive past Beresford for an unexpected 7-2 away win.

8: Oldham Athletic 1 Cardiff City 7 2002

In the 2001/02 season both Oldham Athletic and Cardiff City were gunning for promotion from Division Two and the sides met at Boundary Park in March 2002, where Cardiff sent out a real statement of intent, leaving their hosts stunned.

It was a nightmare return to the Latics for veteran Scottish goalkeeper Andy Goram. He played for the club between 1981 and 1987 and was brought in by boss Mick Wadsworth to resolve a goalkeeping crisis, which he could not solve as he shipped seven goals. Scott Young put the Bluebirds ahead early on before Leo Fortune-West and Peter Thorne gave them a 3-0 lead after just 23 minutes.

Andy Campbell made it four half an hour in before Oldham’s Matty Appleby was sent off making his side’s day even worse. Fortune-West hit the fifth and his second of the afternoon just before half-time and after the break striker Campbell completed his hat-trick, netting in the 64th and 73rd minutes. Stuart Balmer pulled a goal back for Oldham, a mere consolation sixteen minutes from the end which did little to hide the total embarassment his side suffered.

7: Nottingham Forest 7 Swindon Town 1 2006

After Nottingham Forest suffered relegation into League One in 2005 they struggled to adapt to life in the third tier under manager Gary Megson. A series of humbling defeats at the likes of Yeovil and Oldham saw Megson leave by mutual consent in February with the team 13th in the table, four points off relegation. Assistant manager Frank Barlow and coach Ian McParland jointly took charge until the end of the season and resided over an fantastic run which nearly saw the Reds reach the playoffs as they won 8, drew 4 and lost 1 of the pair’s 13 games in charge. The highlight came during their second match in the dugout as the Reds ran riot against Swindon Town.

Nicky Southall bagged a hat-trick as the Reds stuck seven past their visitors at the City Ground, Southall opening the scoring just three minutes in with a half-volley which flew into the top corner. Wes Morgan and Ian Breckin nodded home corners to make the score 3-0 before the half-hour mark. After the break Swindon continued to ship goals as Forest’s passing football and the pace of Nathan Tyson down the left stretched them, Southall heading home his second goal before rifling home from close-range to complete his hat-trick. Morgan scored his second from another corner before Jerel Ifil received his marching orders for Swindon.

Football League journeyman Trevor Benjamin netted a consolation for The Robins, but Forest finished off the rout as Jack Lester’s deflected effort looped into the net to complete a memorable afternoon’s football for the Reds.

6: Preston North End 6 Cardiff City 0 2009

Two teams hoping to secure Championship play-off spots met at Deepdale in April 2009 and while the result may not have instantly affected Cardiff’s chances of a top-six finish, come the end of the season they would go on to rue their heavy defeat.

Neil Mellor opened the scoring on 17 minutes as his strike deflected into the net off Cardiff defender Roger Johnson then made it two on 41 as he got the final touch to another deflected effort, this time from captain Paul McKenna. Billy Jones then conceded a penalty, offering the Bluebirds a chance to get back into the game, but Ross McCormack saw his spot-kick superbly saved by Andy Lonergan.

In the second half Jon Parkin made it 3-0 as he raced onto Mellor’s pass and slotted a composed finish beyond the on-rushing Stuart Taylor and Mellor contributed to Preston’s fourth as his cross was headed into his own net by Mark Kennedy. Mellor was soon replaced but the goals kept coming as sub Chris Brown headed a fifth with fifteen minutes to go and Lee Williamson completed the scoring, making it a 6-0 thrashing four minutes from the end.

On the final day of the season Preston beat QPR 2-1 while Cardiff lost 1-0 against Sheffield Wednesday leaving the two sides level on points and a goal difference each of +12. By virtue of goals scored it was Preston who occupied the final play-off place having scored 66 goals to Cardiff’s 65 – an agonising near miss from Dave Jones’ men courtesy of that 6-0 defeat.

5: Millwall 1 Watford 6 2010

Newly-promoted Millwall went into this Championship encounter against Watford proudly defending a ten month unbeaten record at home. Ironic then that their defenders went missing as the Hornets racked up an unexpected five-goal win at the New Den in September last year.

John Eustace bundled home Don Cowie’s corner after seven minutes to give Watford the lead, which Jordon Mutch extended six minutes later, lashing the ball into the back of David Forde’s net after seeing his first effort blocked. Marvin Sordell’s left-footed effort rolled over the line two minutes into first-half stoppage time leaving Millwall 3-0 down at the break.

Nine minutes after the restart another Cowie corner was not dealt with by the Lions and Adrian Mariappa took advantage, heading Watford into a four goal lead. Liam Trotter reduced it to three two minutes later but that was as good as it got for the hosts, Danny Graham rifling a powerful finish into the top corner to restore the four goal cushion for Malky Mackay’s side. They got a sixth in added time as Martin Taylor directed a header low into the bottom corner to compound Millwall’s misery.

4: Peterborough United 7 Ipswich Town 1 2011

Darren Ferguson returned to London Road midway through last season and steered them to promotion via the League One play-offs. He’s done it before  in 2009 but as was well-publicised, he left the club a few games into the Championship season which saw Posh relegated amid a host of managerial changes. You sense the club has learned from that experience, Ferguson too from his unsuccessful time as Preston boss and all parties are better for it now. At the weekend they hosted Paul Jewell’s Ipswich Town and blew them away with a performance which has made the rest of the league sit up and take notice.

The loss of 35-goal man Craig Mackail-Smith to Brighton left some fearing whether Posh would have the firepower to compete in the second tier but with Paul Taylor, Lee Tomlin, and Grant McCann finding the net they have goals in the team. It was the visitors who went in front though as midfielder Keith Andrews slammed a 25-yard effort in off the post. Paul Taylor levelled with a fine volley from the edge of the area and Tomlin made it 2-1, chesting down a lofted ball forward, skillfully turning away from his marker and hitting an excellent shot into the far top corner. Taylor then pounced on a loose ball and sprinted away from the Ipswich defenders before slotting a composed finish past goalkeeper David Stockdale. Soon it was 4-1 as Tomlin grabbed his second, running onto McCann’s superb through ball and cooly rolling the ball through the ‘keeper’s legs.

Ipswich winger Lee Martin then saw red for a rash challenge on Mark Little and the controversial decisions continued as, 71 seconds after the break, Town subsitute Tommy Smith was sent off for bringing down Tomlin in the D, outside the penalty area. Despite that, the referee gave a penalty which McCann stepped up and scored with applom. Ten minutes after the break it was six as Lee Frecklington’s low cross was converted, via a deflection, by McCann for his second. In injury time the impressive Tomlin completed his hat-trick, following up on his cleared effort to make it 7-1, leaving Ipswich boss Paul Jewell reflecting on what he called an ‘embarassing’ defeat.

3: Hartlepool United 1 Plymouth Argyle 8 1994

This Third Division clash in May 1994 saw a relegated side host a promoted one and the gulf in class was easy to see, Plymouth Argyle thrashing United as they looked forward to a place in the third tier. Dwight Marshall set the visitors on their way with a 29th minute strike and Steve McCall added a second ten minutes later. Richard Landon and Paul Dalton made it 4-0 at half-time and there was no let-up after the break as Landon hit number 5. Steve Castle added yet another goal before Hartlepool midfielder Nicky Peverell grabbed a consolation effort with 20 minutes remaining. Landon completed his hat-trick on 77 minutes to restore Argyle’s six goal advantage and midfielder Paul Dalton completed the scoring with a minute to go, as the Devon side racked up a remarkable 8-1 away win.

2: Crewe Alexandra 8 Cheltenham Town 1 2010

One of the stand-out performances in the Football League last year came at the Alexandra Stadium as Crewe Alexandra decimated visitors Cheltenham, hitting eight goals as they chased a play-off place.

Clayton Donaldson opened the scoring for the hosts four minutes in, slotting home from Shaun Miller’s pass. The latter then added the second as he tapped in from Danny Shelley’s pass before Shelley laid on the third for Donaldson. Joel Grant made it four just before half-time and Cheltenham pulled one back after the break, Wesley Thomas with a close-range finish. Alexandra midfielder Ashley Westwood scored his side’s fifth as he converted Matt Tootle’s cross and Donaldson completed his hat-trick from the penalty spot after Steve Elliott handled in the area. Grant scored his second with a tap in and got his own treble with two minutes remaining as he netted Crewe’s second penalty of the match, awarded following a trip on Donaldson in the area. It would be a long trip home south for the travelling Cheltenham fans.

1: Norwich City 1 Colchester United 7 2009

As Norwich City began life in the third tier for the first time in half a century, no one could have predicted their opening day result at home to Colchester United as the visitors secured a memorable 7-1 victory in front of a stunned Carrow Road.

Kevin Lisbie gave the U’s the lead after ten minutes, Clive Platt netted twice, David Fox netted from a free-kick and Lisbie found the net again as Norwich were 5-0 down within 38 minutes. Cody McDonald netted for the Canaries after the break but David Perkins’ volley and Scott Vernon’s close-range finish made it 7-1 to the visitors – a fantastic performance from Paul Lambert’s side inflicting Norwich’s heaviest home defeat in their 109 year history.

Norwich sacked manager Bryan Gunn within a week of the thrashing and turned to the man who masterminded it, Lambert being appointed the new boss at Carrow Road. He galvanised the team and led them to promotion as Champions, before embarking on a memorable season the following campaign as the Canaries finished 2nd in the Championship to secure Premier League football for the first time since 2005.

Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up blogger

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