Sky Bet League One Round Up And FA Cup Draw

It’s a case of almost – but not quite – ‘as you were’ after Saturday’s games: there’s a nine point gap between the top three teams. Wolves and Leyton Orient both won, but a single goal from Macauley Bonne of Colchester (on his eighteenth birthday too – he may be one to watch) was enough to hand Peterborough their second defeat this season. Preston are six points behind Posh after winning 1-0 at Notts County and Brentford moved into the playoff places after a single goal victory over Shrewsbury.

The bottom half of table is far closer: only six points separate the bottom seven clubs and with the bottom two having games in hand, it could get even closer. Notts County can climb off the table tomorrow if they win their spare game against Oldham; they’ll overtake Bristol City finally recorded their first win of the season. Despite going behind at Carlisle, a hattrick from Jay Emmanuel-Thomas saw off the Cumbrians for City’s first away win since before last Christmas.

The FA Cup draw was made yesterday and there are some interesting looking ties. Rotherham v Bradford looks like the pick of the all League 1 games: Coventry’s trip to AFC Wimbledon pits two sides who won the FA Cup in consecutive seasons during the late 1980s whilst I’m quite happy to admit that I’d never heard of Port Vale’s potential opponents Shortwood United – they’re just down the road from Forest Green Rovers if that’s any help.

Here’s a run down of the first round ties, all of which are scheduled to be played on 9th/10th November:

All League 1

Colchester United v Sheffield United

Oldham v Wolves

Rotherham United v Bradford City

Walsall v Shrewsbury

League 1 v League 2

Accrington v Tranmere Rovers

AFC Wimbledon v Coventry City

Bristol City v Dagenham & Redbridge

Hartlepool v Notts County

Peterborough United v Exeter City

Stevenage v Portsmouth – that just looks weird to me.

League 1 v Non-League

Boreham Wood v Carlisle United

Brentford v Staines Town or Poole Town

Gillingham v Brackley or Barrow

MK Dons v FC Halifax Town

Hednesford v Crawley

Leyton Orient v Southport

Macclesfield v Swindon

Preston v Barnet

Shortwood United or Aldershot v Port Vale

Wycombe Wanderers v Crewe Alexandra

I’ll be back on Friday with a look at the weekend’s games.

Sky Bet League One Preview 26th October 2013

I mentioned earlier in the week about which team would blink first an it appears to have been Leyton Orient, who lost for the first time this season when Coventry beat them convincingly on Tuesday night. Peterborough are now level on points after a goalless draw against Sheffield United with Wolves only three points behind with a game in hand after they’d beaten Oldham. Although Bradford took an early lead at Preston, they had to come from behind to earn a point, which they earned when Rory McArdle scored with less than 20 minutes left.

Goals from Chris Whelpdale and Danny Kedwell helped Gillingham beat Notts County 2-0 and the Kent side have now won three of their last five games. Bristol City lost again and are already five points from safety. The last time the Robins went so long without a win at the start of the season was at the beginning of the 1933/34 season: their first victory that season was a 5-1 win at Cardiff City on Remembrance Day.

There are only a couple of games that will have  a direct impact on the top or bottom of the table this weekend: Wolves travel to Bradford for their first league game in over a decade. Valley Parade has been a bit of a bogey ground for the team from the Black Country as they’ve only won one of their last ten games there – a 3-0 win featuring an Adam Proudlock hattrick almost exactly eleven years ago. This is Bradford’s first home game against the current top six and Wolves’ first since their 0-0 draw at Preston on the first day of the season.

Talking of Preston, they play another one of the original football league members tomorrow. Although Notts County are struggling at the moment, it’s unlikely that Preston will repeat their 7-0 win that occured when the clubs first met at Trent Bridge cricket ground in November 1888. However, since 1996 the Magpies have only won two of their last five home games against the Lilywhites and their worrying start to this season indicates an uphill struggle tomorrow.

The Nigel Clough era at Bramall Lane starts with a game against Crewe Alexandra: seven of the eleven league games between Sheffield United and the Alex in Yorkshire have taken place since the turn of the century. Crewe have never beaten Sheffield United away from home in any competition – although they won at Gresty Road in April.

The draw for the first round proper of the FA Cup takes place on Sunday and I’ll try to post the details as soon as possible, but that may not be until Monday due to family committments. In the meantime, enjoy your weekend and don’t forget to put your clocks back when you go to bed on Saturday night!

Nigel Clough Is The New Sheffield United Boss

Just over three weeks after being sacked as the Derby County manager, Nigel Clough has joined Sheffield United.

Without wanting to sound too cynical, Clough’s reputation seems to be based on what he’s perceived to have achieved rather than anything else. It’s true that he left Burton Albion in a far better position than when he joined them but looking at how successful The Brewers have been since he departed for Pride Park you have to wonder if he was in the right place at the right time.

His time at Derby County wasn’t exactly the roaring success that was expected. Following in your father’s footsteps is never easy but as I wrote recently Nigel Clough’s time at Pride Park curious in so far as he neither improved nor ruined the Rams who steadfastly remained a mid table team during his tenure.

I’d expect Clough’s brief at Bramall Lane will be to stop United from being relegated this season before turning them into promotion candidates in 2014/2015, but this is not a situation Nigel Clough has faced before and the manager’s job at Sheffield United is hardly a stable job. Since the turn of the century, only three bosses – Neil Warnock, Kevin Blackwell and Danny Wilson – have lasted more than 46 games.

I’ll be back on Friday with a quick look at the weekend’s matches.

It Could Be A Record Breaking Season In Sky Bet League One

So we’ve reached the end of October and although it’s not quite winter outside just yet, the floodlights are going to be on a lot earlier than they were.

To continue a theme I introduced a couple of weeks ago, it’s possible that we might be in for a record breaking season. Leyton Orient and Peterborough are on course to beat the record points total for the third tier – after 12 games they both have more points than Charlton and Fulham did when they established the record haul of 101 in 1999 and 2012 respectively. To make matters even more interesting, Wolves are on target to beat Fulham’s total – although at this point, I think we’re more likely to be to see a situation similar to that in the Championship a couple of seasons ago when three clubs were fighting for two automatic positions for most of the season. Swindon – in the last playoff place – are already a dozen points behind Leyton Orient and one of the leaders will blink first – the question is who will it be?

It’s still tight at the bottom with only three points separating the bottom six clubs. Bristol City suffered a last minute defeat at Crewe means they drop to the foot of the table – a position that the Robins didn’t even occupy when they were last relegated from this level in 1982. Sheffield United were the only strugglers to win on Saturday: goals from Neil Collins and Michael Doyle gave the Blades only their second win since the first weekend of the season.

There are three games worth keeping an eye on this evening:

Peterborough v Sheffield United

A real rarity – this is only the third league meeting between these two – as well as being Posh’s first home game against any of the strugglers. The Blades haven’t picked up an away point since they drew at Walsall in April and – not counting the playoff semi final defeat at Yeovil –  have lost eight straight league games away from home. That run probably won’t continue much longer but you get the feeling it may not come to an end at London Road.

Preston v Bradford

If the season had ended on Saturday, this would have been one of the playoff games. A win for either side would be a statement of intent – the hosts probably need it more right now if they need to keep up with the pacesetters and the Lillywhites have already played Wolves, Swindon and MK Dons at home without losing so they’ve got to be favourites. Bradford haven’t won at Deepdale for over 20 years.

Additional info: in the five games between the current top six this season, the home side has won four and has yet to lose.

Gillingham v Notts County

The Magpies have played the most games against the other strugglers this season –  although they beat Tranmere 2-0 at Meadow Lane last month, they’ve also lost to Stevenage and at Sheffield United which puts their current league position into context . Gillingham drew 1-1 with Bristol City at the end of August but the inescapable fact is that the Gills have only won five of their last 20 games at this level. At this point in the season they’re already five points worse off than they were when they were relegated at the end of 2009/10.

Additional info: in the five games between the current bottom six clubs this season there’s only been one away win.

Back on either Thursday evening or Friday morning this week – I’ve got a big weekend at a sporting occasion that’s got nothing to do with football. Well, not the round ball version.

Sky Bet League One Preview 18th/19th October

It was pretty much a case of ‘as you were’ right at the top of Sky Bet League One last weekend: Leyton Orient and Peterborough both won and even though they didn’t play Wolves stayed in third place and can’t be overtaken by Bradford this weekend. The Bantams and near neighbours Rotherham managed to pull off the unusual feat of losing and going up the table.

The bottom nine clubs are only separated by four points, but as we’ve seen over the last week it’s clear that some clubs have had enough of the direction they’re heading in. With hindsight it’s clear to see that David Weir wasn’t the right man for Sheffield United but nonetheless the damage has been done and it’ll be up to the next appointee to save the Blades from returning to the fourth tier for the first time since the early 1980s.

I outlined Martin Allen’s sacking from Gillingham earlier in the week although I’m still not convinced that move wasn’t purely down to Paul Scally panicking.  I’m also fairly certain we’ll see some other managers leaving their jobs before Christmas – for example, if Bristol City, Notts County or Tranmere find themselves on the wrong end of a surprise result in the FA Cup then Messers O’Driscoll, Kiwomiya and Moore may have some extra shopping time.

Back to this weekend and it’s possible that Wolves and Peterborough could both apply pressure on Leyton Orient, although at first glance it looks as if Posh have the easier game. Coventry haven’t won at Molineux for almost a decade and the Sky Blues have only picked up one point in their four games against teams in the top half of the table: so far Kenny Jackett’s side have won all their matches against teams in the top half.

Shrewsbury will be looking for their first win at London Road since September 2005 but they haven’t won on the road since mid March. Peterborough’s unexpected defeat at home to Crawley at the end of August seems to have galvanised Darren Ferguson’s team, who have won five of their last six league games.

At the bottom of the table Notts County can do themselves some good if they can avoid defeat at Swindon tonight, but the Wiltshire Robins have only lost two of the last ten meetings between the clubs at the County Ground. Leyton Orient’s trip to Tranmere is the only game between the contenders for promotion and those trying to avoid League 2. I’ve covered the East London side relatively recently so it’s worth a closer look at the team from the Wirral.

A year ago Tranmere had a seven point lead at the top of League One: in mid February they fell out of the top two for good and since then have only won five of their 26 league games. Although they won a controversial game at Bradford last Sunday – Bradford boss Phil Parkin and Tranmere skipper Ian Goodison were involved in a touchline incident – Rovers have failed to win consecutive league matches since January. As the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining: Orient have only won once at Prenton Park in the last 25 years.

So far this season Ronnie Moore has used 22 different players with only three players – including veteran leading goalscorer Ryan Lowe – playing in all eleven games. The problem seems to be that this is an ageing squad that isn’t exactly full of goals: they’ve failed to score in half of their league games this season and will be playing against one of the best defences at Prenton Park on Saturday. It’s been over two decades since Rovers last played in the fourth tier but they’ve not managed a top ten finish in League One since 2008/09 so the poor start to the season could be either business as usual or symptomatic of a decline that will end in relegation.

There’s a full programme on Tuesday night so I’ll be back then. Have a good weekend!

Martin Allen Sacked By Gillingham; Peter Taylor Takes Over

I don’t know if this is much of a surprise or not, but Gillingham sacked Martin Allen after Saturday’s 2-0 defeat at Shrewsbury. Allen took over in August 2012 and was in charge for 64 games – which doesn’t sound like many but is actually the longest period he’s had at one club since his stint at Cheltenham between September 2008 and December 2009. Basically, if you’re a League Two club in need a of quick fix, Martin Allen is your man.

Gillingham had won of their eleven games this season, but since mid March the Gills have won only four league games – despite winning the League Two title by four points last season. Former England U20 boss Peter Taylor has taken over on an interim basis, although Taylor hasn’t managed a game in English football for over two and a half years – he left Bradford City in February 2011 and isn’t particularly well known for staying in one job for two long.

Back on Friday – unless someone else gets the chop!

Sky Bet League Preview 12th/13th October 2013

A weird week in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy with only eight League One teams qualifying for the regional quarter finals. We already knew that some teams would be knocked out, but when five sides are eliminated by League Two opposition you’ve got to start wondering if the gap in quality between the two divisions is considerably less than that between the Premier League and the Championship or even the Championship and League One.

Looking at the remaining League One teams, I think the Southern Section is where the winners may come from.  Peterborough, Leyton Orient and Swindon all fit the bill whilst Rotherham and Notts County could be the leading contenders from the Northern Section. The details of the draw for the next round are here – the next round will be played in the week immediately after the first round of the FA Cup.

On to this weekend’s programme and three games have been postponed due to international commitments: Wolves‘ trip to Carlisle and Bristol City‘s game against Crawley join the match between Notts County and Oldham.

There’s one televised game on Sunday (Coventry v Sheffield United, Sky Sports 1, 4:00pm kick off) but there are only two games that could have any impact on the table. 2013 winners Crewe crashed out of the JPT on Tuesday night after losing 4-0 at Fleetwood Town so this doesn’t look like a good time for them to be making another trip to Lancashire to play Preston on Saturday. The other Sunday game is at Valley Parade where Bradford entertain Tranmere.

However, with all clubs having now played ten games it’s worth looking back at this post to see how accurate my predictions have been. Unless we have some catastrophic weather between now and January there probably won’t be another opportunity to do so until the ‘big’ teams join the FA Cup but at this point it’s worth mentioning that all 24 teams in League One could still either win promotion or be relegated!

I picked Leyton Orient and Peterborough as possible winners and advised avoiding Bristol City and so I think I can say I’m currently doing well there – in fact Orient are currently on course to beat their single season league record for the most goals scored. The Os scored 106 goals when they won the old Third Division South in 1955/56 although they didn’t go top of the table until they beat Crystal Palace 8-0 in mid November!

For automatic promotion I mentioned that clubs that had been promoted from League Two didn’t usually win promotion from League One straight away but Bradford and Rotherham could test that theory – even though the Bantams have never won consecutive promotions.  Preston are currently six points off second place but could capitalise on the inevitable slumps that will hit the top two over the coming months.

At the bottom, Bristol City have started poorly and Sean O’Driscoll did not mince his words after his team was knocked out the JPT at Wycombe on Tuesday. However, Coventry’s response to their points deduction has been magnificent and with 36 games left it’d be unwise to rule them out of a top ten finish or even better.

I picked Stevenage to struggle but the other four clubs I mentioned aren’t in any immediate danger even though they’re in the bottom half of the table. However, I think it’s fair to say that I didn’t forsee Sheffield United performing as badly as they have: only Tranmere have slumped to anywhere near the same degree and Rovers didn’t reach the playoffs last season.

The bookies think the Blades have a decent chance of avoiding relegation, but I’m not so sure. They don’t seem to be able to score and there are already rumours that Nigel Clough is being lined up to replace David Weir, which isn’t necessarily a step in the right direction (scroll down to the bottom of the article). The other team that needs to improve over the coming weeks is Crewe – at the current rate they could end up conceding almost 100 goals. (Update: David Weir was sacked on Friay)

I’ll back next week with a look at the weekend’s games, which begins with Notts County’s trip to Swindon on the Friday night.

Weekend Recap and Johnstone’s Paint Trophy 2nd Round Preview

I’ll start with the recap: after Saturday’s games Leyton Orient still top but lead has been cut to a point after a draw at Oldham. Peterborough made short work of Preston – Posh were two goals up after half an hour. Two goals from Leigh Griffiths helped Wolves won 3-0 at Colchester. Bradford moved back into the top six after winning at Walsall thanks to two goals either side of half time.

The bottom 11 clubs are only separated by six points – Callum McGregor scored twice as Notts County moved up the most after a 4-0 win over Crewe and Bristol City were seconds away from their first win of the season but Port Vale equalised seconds from time after Lee Hughes intercepted Aiden Flint’s backpass. Stevenage and Tranmere sank to the bottom of the table on goal difference after losing to Coventry and Swindon respectively.

It’s back to Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tonight. There are five all League One ties (three in the southern section, two in the northern) and it’s probably fair to say that these games could be where the potential winners come from. Only one of the last 20 tournaments has been won by a League 2 club (MK Dons in 2008) although four of the last five winners hadn’t been playing in League One at the end of the
previous season – good news for Wolves, Peterborough, Bristol City and Rotherham.

Wolves’ game against Notts County is televised (Sky Sports 2, 7:45pm) but the tie of the round is Coventry’s trip to Leyton Orient. The sides have already met at Brisbane Road in the Capital One Cup back in August – the Os won by the odd goal in five – but it’ll be interesting to see what kind of side Russell Slade puts out this evening as a cup run could interfere with Orient’s promotion push. Although promotion is unlikely, a cup run might be exactly what Steven Pressley may have in mind for Coventry in order to salvage what looks like a lost season.

Peterborough against Brentford also has the makings of a good game, but the Bees haven’t won at London Road since 2000 when they were victorious in this competition back in the days when it was called the Auto Windscreens Shield.

Rotherham and current holders Crewe look to have the trickiest ties against League Two opposition: the Millers have only won three of their last ten games at York whilst Alex will be facing Fleetwood Town. The Cod Army currently sit one point behind leaders Chesterfield and are making their debut in the competition as well as facing Crewe for the first time ever. At the other end of scale, despite playing at either The Old Recreation Ground or Vale Park 25 times since October 1929, Rochdale have never won at Port Vale.

I’ll be back on Friday with a look at the weekend’s games, including two ‘top v bottom’ fixtures.

Can Leyton Orient Stay On Top?

Leyton Orient finally lost their 100% record when they drew 1-1 with Walsall in a game featuring two red cards although Saddlers’ captain Andy Butler had his sending off overturned earlier this week.

However, The Os probably don’t need to worry too much: in four of the last five seasons the team that’s been top of League One at the end of September has been promoted – although last season’s top six at the start of October produced just one unsuccesful playoff team (Swindon) and only eventual winners Doncaster were in the top ten.

Rotherham suffered their first defeat this season – losing 1-0 at home to Peterborough – and MK Dons scored all five goals as they thrashed Stevenage 4-1 to move into the top six. Darren Potter’s own goal was Stevenage’s consolation after the Dons moved into an early 3-0 lead.

At the bottom of the table Tranmere and Coventry both lost and dropped back into the bottom four: Gillingham picked up their first win of the season at Crewe and despite not having won a league game this season, the point Bristol City earned against Colchester at Ashton Gate meant that the Somerset Robins moved out of the bottom four.

Sheffield United lost 2-0 at Wolves and are now bottom of the division having lost six consecutive games. Looking at the strugglers at the end of September at the end of the last five seasons is also revealing. At least one club from the bottom six at the start of October has been relegated at the end of every season since 2008/09 but the last couple of seasons have seen three of the final bottom four in the bottom six places at the start of the month. Without going into a lot of detail, Notts County could be in big trouble but both Sheffield United and Coventry should be OK.

Sheffield United’s game against Crawley is the first game of the weekend on Friday night (Wednesday are at home on Saturday – if that makes sense!), but the only other club in the relegation zone that’s at home at the weekend in Notts County, who entertain Crewe. Coventry travel to Stevenage and Tranmere visit Swindon.

Peterborough v Preston is the outstanding game at the top of the table as it’s the only match between the top six and the visitors are the only other undefeated team in Sky Bet League One.

Posh have only lost once at London Road this season: Crawley’s 2-0 win at the end of August was only the second time this year that Darren Ferguson’s side had suffered a league defeat.

Going back to last season, Preston have only lost one of their last six roadtrips but they’ve not won three consecutive league games away from Deepdale since September 2011. However we’re not at the stage of the season where a North End win is crucial and the Lillywhites showed last season that they’re more than capable of taking a point from the promotion challengers. I wrote a couple of weeks ago that Simon Grayson seems to have encouraged a more attacking style of football at Deepdale and Preston have goals throughout the team – four players have scored two goals each so far with midfielders Chris Humphrey, Stuart Beavon and Joel Byrom leading the way.

History is against them though: since September 1974 Preston have only won once at London Road but game looks as if it should be tight one and I wouldn’t rule out a draw.

It’s the second round of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy next Tuesday so I’ll be back then with a review of the weekend’s action along with a quick look at the games involving Sky Bet League One teams. Next Saturday’s programme might be affected by international call ups, but only Notts County v Oldham has been postponed at the time I posted this article.