Bristol City and Crawley Start The Hunt For New Bosses

Following yesterday’s managerial changes I’m happy to admit that I know far more about the situation at Bristol City than I do about what’s been going on at Crawley.

Bristol City were amongst the favourites to be promoted straight back to the Championship but as I pointed out before the season began, they’ve never been a yo-yo club. Having spent the vast majority of their career in the football league shuffling between the second and third tiers of English football, this season’s less than impressive start under Sean O’Driscoll had been either a sign of ‘transition’ or the return to the dark days of three decades ago when City almost disappeared entirely. Whichever side of the argument you were on depended almost entirely on how old and how gullible you were.

The situation at Crawley is far more straightforward. Having not won since mid October – but having not lost this month – the Red Devils weren’t performing spectacularly badly but according to some rumours Richie Barker was being lined up as a replacement for Guy Whittingham at Portsmouth and that may have hastened his depature.

Back to onfield matters and Wolves went back to the top of the table after beating Tranmere; Leyton Orient blew the lead twice at Bristol City whilst Brentford and Preston continued their impressive recent performances with victories against Peterborough and Port Vale respectively. At the foot of the table Crewe and Notts County cannot escape the bottom four regardless of results tomorrow.

It’s the final leg of the three game mini season tomorrow and so far the only team with two wins is Oldham, who entertain Bradford on Sunday. Peterborough, MK Dons, Coventry and Crewe have lost both games this week and with Coventry travelling to Buckinghamshire this weekend it’s possible that the Sky Blues might end up losing all three.

Other games of interest: Peterborough entertain Wolves and there’s a trio of ‘top v bottom’ games at Leyton Orient, Notts County and Preston. Posh have been in the doldrums recently – five straight defeats can’t really be described as anything else – but curiously they have a very good record at Molineux having only lost once in five league games there.

Sheffield United have already lost at Wolves and Brentford this season and although the Blades have not lost at Leyton Orient for just over 30 years I’d be surprised if they came away with anything. Notts County have lost narrowly to Wolves and Preston at Meadow Lane and if their most recent games against Brentford are anything to go by it’s not inconceivable that the Magpies could earn a point: seven of the last ten meetings on the banks of the Trent have been draws. The last time Bristol City played at Deepdale they won 4-0 but they’ve never won consecutive league games at Preston and with only two away wins in the league in almost a calendar year it wouldn’t be a big surprise if the Somerset Robins finished off an uncomfortable week with another defeat.

Back next week with the second round of the FA Cup.

Tuesday Night Lights

Leyton Orient moved back to the top of the table after winning at Swindon. Although the hosts took the lead, Dave Mooney equalised almost immediately with his twelth goal of the season. However the game was marred when a thug attacked Os ‘keeper Jamie Jones. Just over a year ago I wrote this post about the attack on Chris Kirkland and although I’m sure Swindon have their lunatic element, they’ve never really struck me as a badly behaved club and they may have to pay a heavy fine for the incident.

Wolves drew with Brentford and remain in touch at the top, but at London Road Peterborough slumped to their fourth successive league defeat courtesy of a first half goal from Lukas Aikens of Stevenage. The visitors triumphed despite having to play with ten men for the last half an hour or so after Jimmy Smith was sent off. The result leaves Posh eight points behind the top two.

Along with Stevenage, both Sheffield United and Tranmere Rovers picked up away wins to slightly change the landscape at the bottom. The Blades winner at Ashton Gate was an own goal from Aden Flint, but there was a controversial ending to the game when the Somerset Robins had what appeared to be an equaliser ruled out by referee Keith Stroud for what can only really be described as a slight nudge on ‘keeper George Long during a goalmouth melee. Tranmere’s win at Coventry was never really in doubt after Ryan Lowe scored the second goal of his hattrick just before half time: it was the first time the Sky Blues had conceded five goals in a ‘home’ game since WBA won 5-0 in the FA Cup in February 2008.

So on to tonight’s games and there are four to keep an eye on.

Game of the evening is at Griffin Park between Brentford v Peterborough, which is one those matches featuring sides that are going in different directions. Just over a month ago, the Bees were on the point of dropping into the bottom half of the League One table for the first time since the start of last season but a six game unbeaten streak including five straight wins has propelled them back into the top six. At the same time, Peterborough were looking like serious promotion contenders but as I’ve pointed out over the last couple of weeks they’ve really lost form. This is their first away game against any of the current top six this season and Darren Ferguson’s side need to be at their best to get anything from this game.

Elsewhere there are three matches between promotion candidates and strugglers.

Leyton Orient haven’t won a league game at Ashton Gate since New Year’s Day 1974 but as we’ve seen elsewhere this season, Russell Slade’s team aren’t conforming to past expectations. Bristol City have only picked up three points from a possible 24 against teams in the top half of the table and only one from twelve against the same opponents at home.

Bradford’s last gasp win at Milton Keynes took them back into the playoff positions and as it’s almost 42 years to the day since Notts County last won a league match at Valley Parade, I don’t fancy the Magpies chances of going home with all three points. Having said that, Bradford haven’t won in front of their own fans since the end of September and have trailed in three of their last four home games, but with Nakhi Wells in goalscoring form at the moment you can’t imagine Bradford’s winless streak lasting much longer.

Wolves have won all four of their home games against teams in the bottom half of the table without conceding a goal, but Tranmere won their last visit to Molineux by the odd goal in three back in September 2000 and have won at Bradford and drawn at Preston this season. It might be the right time for Leigh Griffiths to add to his goals total: he’s not scored in a home league game for nearly a month.

Back on Friday for the last leg of the ‘treble’: Wolves’ visit to Peterborough looks like the big game on Saturday. The bad news for Posh is that they’ve never beaten Wolves at home…

Advantage: Wolves

Wolves moved back to the top of the table for the first time since August: a combination of a win at Notts County thanks to a debut goal from Ethan Ebanks-Landell and defeats for Leyton Orient and Peterborough meant that Kenny Jackett’s side have  a one point lead over the East Londoners going into the weekend’s games.

With both Preston and Brentford gaining ground on the top three, Posh look as if they may be in grave danger of dropping back into the pack. Their recent inability to score has been part of the reason why they’ve only picked up four points from the last fifteen. That’s not a great position to be in with two of your next three games coming against promotion rivals (at Brentford and at home to Wolves) and it’s made even tougher when those three matches have to be played over a week.

In fact, the next couple of weeks could give us some vital clues for how the rest of the season will develop. Three games in a week followed by the 2nd Round of the FA Cup is almost as busy a schedule as Christmas or Easter and there are some big games at both ends of the table to look forward to in such a short period of time.

Leyton Orient’s trip to Swindon and Wolves’ game against Brentford are the highlights this weekend but there’s a chance there might be some unexpected results – even though it’s over two decades since their last visit, the Bees have won three of their last four league games at Molineux and Orient have never won consecutive away visits to the County Ground.

Rather than writing three different posts over the next few days, I’ll be posting updates ‘as and when’. These are the potential ‘headline’ games over the next week:

Brentford, Wolves, Peterborough and Bristol City all play two teams in the current top six in their next three matches. As I’ve already mentioned, Brentford travel to Wolves on Saturday before entertaining Peterborough on Tuesday; Posh then face Wolves next weekend. At the bottom of the table, Bristol City’s game against Sheffield United on Saturday is followed by a midweek match at Ashton Gate against Leyton Orient.

Relevant stats: only one of the eight games between the current top six has ended in a draw (Preston 0-0 Wolves, first game of the season); similarly only two of the ten games between the current bottom six have finished all square.

If Preston want to have a decent chance of automatic promotion, maximising their returns in the next three games is a must – two of their next three opponents are in the bottom half of the table (Colchester and Bristol City). Crewe face a similar situation in their next three matches: getting points from the games against Carlisle and Crawley would be useful if the Alex want to avoid relegation.

Relevant stats: so far Preston have won five of their seven games against teams in the bottom half of the table; Crewe have only won two of their seven matches against bottom half sides.

The FA Cup replays were a mixed bag. Gillingham crashed out to Brackley Town on Monday and it wasn’t really a big surprise that Crewe lost at home to Wycombe Wanderers. Whether Oldham winning at Wolves was a surprise or not is open to debate: the Latics did well in the competition last season and Wolves can now (ahem) ‘concentrate on the league’.

Oldham also reached the latter stages of the JPT and the draw for the area semi finals guaranteed only one area final place for League One sides. That’s in the Southern section where Swindon play Stevenage. Rotherham, Oldham and Peterborough were all drawn against League 2 sides with The Millers and Posh travelling to Fleetwood and Newport County respectively. The games will take place on Tuesday December 10th.

Next scheduled post is Tuesday afternoon, which will be a quick look back at Saturday’s action and a look forward to the midweek games.

Sky Bet League One Preview

A bit late this week after I watched England’s latest international disaster last night, but here we go.

Not a bad haul in the JPT: five of the eight area semi finalists are from League One but former winners Carlisle were knocked out by Fleetwood. The draw will be made today during Soccer AM on Sky and the bookies have made Peterborough the favourites – although personally I’d be more tempted by an each way punt on Rotherham.

There’s only one postponement due to the international break this weekend – Oldham v MK Dons – but that match wouldn’t have made much difference. The top five cannot be overtaken regardless of results. Nonetheless, there are a few interesting games to keep an eye on.

At the top of the table, Preston travel to Leyton Orient having won four of their last five road trips – remarkably, seven different players have scored in that streak – but they’ve only won three times in twenty meetings at Brisbane Road since the mid sixties. This is the Os first home game against the other sides in the current top six so in some respects this is their first real test this season although they’ve already won at Peterborough and Brentford.

Only 13 points separate Bradford (sixth) and Notts County (bottom) so if there’s a story at the end of the season about a team going on a run that eventually pays off with promotion then it might begin now. Stevenage might be primed to have a decent run over the next couple of weeks: they’ve won three of their last five games (losing only at Walsall and Wolves) and although they face Rotherham tomorrow and Peterborough next weekend, they’ve already beaten Brentford at the Lamex and none of the rest of their opponents before Christmas are pulling up trees right now.

Two of the other sides that have improved over the last couple of weeks meet today. Neither Tranmere or Bristol City began the season well, but Rovers have only lost one of their last five league games whilst City have won two of their last three. I think there’s a reasonable chance that this game might have a few goals.

The two televised games are Bradford v Coventry on Sunday (Sky Sports 1, 3:30pm) with Walsall playing at Peterborough on Monday night (Sky Sports 1, 7:45pm). Both games should be worth watching: even accounting for their points deduction, the Sky Blues are only a couple of wins away from the playoff places and this match looks as if it could be a rehearsal for the end of the season. The same might be said about the Monday night game: Posh are currently occupying a sort of no-man’s land between the playoffs and the automatic promotion spots whilst Walsall are one of a group of teams that could find themselves in the top six on Tuesday morning if other results go their way.

I’ll be back next Friday – it’s another ‘three games in a week’ period before the second round of the FA Cup so there’s another opportunity for things to change again.

FA Cup Review and JPT Preview

Not a bad start to the oldest knock out competition in the football world: 13 clubs through, five facing replays and one yet to play.

Arguably the biggest surprise of the First Round was Swindon losing 4-0 at non-league Macclesfield Town – although in fairness, Macclesfield beat Swindon at the County Ground at this stage last season. It was less of a surprise that neither Shrewsbury or Bradford reached the second rouind, although both sides lost to League One opposition.

The Second Round draw was made yesterday. There are two confirmed all League One ties (Peterborough v Tranmere and Walsall v Leyton Orient) with potentially two others depending on how the replays pan out. If Crewe beat Wycombe they’ll play Preston at Deepdale, if Carlisle beat Boreham Wood they’ll travel to Brentfor.

Three sides have been drawn against non-League opposition: if Port Vale win tonight they’ll entertain Salisbury City, Bristol City must travel to Tamworth whilst MK Dons (Dover) and Stevenage (Stourbridge) have home ties.

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Tomorrow sees the sectional quarter finals of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy  with three all League One games. In the Northern Section, Notts County visit Oldham: Rotherham and Carlisle travel to Hartlepool and Fleetwood respectively. Notts have only won twice in eight attempts at Boundary Park since the turn of the century and the last time Hartlepool and Rotherham met in any competition was in the first round of this competition in 2006/7 when Hartlepool won 3-1. Carlisle are the only previous winners currently playing in League One left in the competition but have never played Fleetwood.

In the Southern Section, Swindon and Peterborough host League Two opposition in the shape of Wycombe Wanderers and Dagenham & Redbridge. Leyton Orient travel to Stevenage for the only game between League One clubs: none of the remaining League One clubs in this Section have won the competition, although both Swindon and Orient have reached this stage in the last couple of seasons.

Back on Friday, although it’s an international break it doesn’t look as if there’ll be any postponements – there are four intriguing looking games as well as two televised matches!

FA Cup First Round Preview

A quick recap before I look at the FA Cup ties: Leyton Orient won 3-1 at Peterborough and are now six points ahead of Posh with only Wolves (who beat Stevenage at Molineux) looking capable of staying with them. The top two don’t meet until just after Christmas but I’d recommend making a note of the date:  Sunday 29th December, Molineux, 3:00pm.

After last weekend’s games it’s no clearer who will be dropping into the fourth tier. Gillingham‘s escape act continued:  a Danny Kedwell penalty was enough to beat Carlisle at Priestfield but both sides finished a man light. Tranmere, Crewe and Bristol City all drew – and the Somerset Robins recorded their first home win since March on Tuesday when they defeated Crawley.

Here’s where I make an apology for not realising Chris Kiwomya had been sacked as Notts County manager a couple of weeks ago. It’s not much of a defence, but a combination of attending the opening games of the Rugby League World Cup, going to the pub afterwards, having a midnight curry and then forgetting to adjust my clocks meant I didn’t realise what had happened at Meadow Lane. It wasn’t much of a surprise: Notts seem to have a revolving door type managerial policy and in the eighteen seasons since they last played in the second tier they’ve only finished better than mid table at this level on three occasions. Former County midfielder Shaun Derry was given the job on Wednesday and starts his managerial career in the middle of a relegation battle.

And so to the FA Cup. Let’s be honest, it won’t be won by a League One club and it’s fairly safe to assume that by the middle of February none of the third tier clubs will be left in the competition either. Tantalisingly, although Wycombe Wanderers were the last club from this level to reach the semi finals, it happens every decade or so – in which case we’re overdue.

It’s tough to pick a team that could have an extended cup run, but there are some clues. Until the old regional Third Divisions were abolished at the end of the 1957/58 season, only the two champions were promoted to the Second Division and consequently a number of decent teams had cup runs without getting the chance of play at a higher level in the league. In 1956/57 Port Vale won the Third Division (North) title in the same season as they reached the FA Cup semi finals and all but one of the five other third tier clubs that reached the semis would have been play off teams if today’s setup had been in place. The exception: Wycombe, who finished 13th in the old Division Two.

Another trend to look out for: all but one of the six clubs who reached the semi finals were knocked out by the eventual winners. This time, it’s Norwich City that are the exception – they were beaten by Luton Town in 1959 and the Hatters went on to lose to Nottingham Forest in the final. So it’s not just any old team from the third tier that can reach the semi finals – it has to be one that’s potential promotion material.

In that respect, there are a couple of teams that stand out immediately. Wolves haven’t played in the first round of the FA Cup since 1988 but lost to Grimsby back then and so tomorrow’s tie against Oldham may not be a priority for Kenny Jackett. Brentford could be where the shrewd money goes. The Bees are 3/10 favourites to beat Staines Town in a rare Middlesex derby and it shouldn’t be forgotten Uwe Rossler’s side held Chelsea to a 1-1 draw in last season’s fourth round before losing 4-0 at Stamford Bridge. Leyton Orient reached the fifth round a couple of seasons ago and should be capable of seeing off Southport – the last time The Os played the Sandgrounders in the FA Cup (January 1999), the East Londoners reached the fourth round.

At the other end of the scale, some teams have just been plain awful. Bradford and Rotherham have only reached the third round twice in the last ten seasons so their tie at Valley Parade could be a pointer to which of them might do well; Crewe (at Wycombe) are just as bad. Shrewsbury (at Walsall) have only reached the third round once in the last decade, but the prize for FA Cup futility goes to Carlisle, who travel to Boreham Wood. The Cumbrian side has not got past the third round since January 1997, when they beat Tranmere Rovers 1-0. Nine days later they lost 2-0 to Sheffield Wednesday and although they’ve reached the third round in two of the last four seasons they’ve not got any further.

There are two televised FA Cup games involving League One teams: Wimbledon v Coventry (BT Sport 1, 7:45pm tonight) and Port Vale’s trip to Shortwood United on Monday night (BT Sport 1, 7:45pm Monday). I’ve got to admit I’d never heard of Shortwood before so it came as a surprise to me that they’re from just outside Nailsworth in Gloucestershire – their near neighbours are Conference side Forest Green Rovers, who lent Shortwood their verge drainer for the occasion.

I’ll back back before the Port Vale game on Monday with a round up of the action in the FA Cup and a look at next week’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy ties.

Game Of The Week: Peterborough v Leyton Orient

Before I go any further, I’m sure that everyone reading this will send their best wishes to Joe Thompson of Tranmere Rovers. In case you haven’t heard, the 24 year old midfielder was diagnosed with nodular sclerosing Hodgkin lymphoma and will be undergoing a six month course of chemotherapy.

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It’s the first game of November, so time to do some analysis:

* Four of the last five leaders of League One at the start of November were promoted – to emphasise how weird last season was, between November 2008 and November 2012 at least two clubs in the top six went on to win promotion., with three teams also reaching the playoff final. Last season only eventually winners Doncaster Rovers were in the top six at this point.

That should please Leyton Orient fans but also indicates that Bradford City might be a decent outside bet if they continue to perform as well as they have done until now. Preston could go either way – the fourth placed club at the start of November has only been promoted once in the last four seasons (Peterborough via the playoffs in 2011)

* In three of the last five seasons, half the clubs in the bottom six at the start of November have eventually been relegated, although last season was the first time since the start of November 2008 that the bottom three teams at the end of October went down. Crewe (worst defence), Notts County (first team to lose ten games) and Tranmere (three wins since April) look in trouble; Bristol City and Sheffield United both started badly but may be moving in the right direction after encouraging results over the last week.

It’s been a while since I’ve concentrated on a single game from the weekend programme, but with Leyton Orient travelling to Peterborough tomorrow the temptation is too much. The visitors haven’t won at London Road since October 1991, but this isn’t a ‘typical’ season for the East Londoners. Although they’ve won promotion five times since World War II, the only other time they’ve lead the table this early in the season was when they finished third in League Two at the end of the 2005/06 season.

It’s a similar story with Posh: they don’t tend to be autumn pacesetters when they’ve won promotion on previous occasions. Their first season in the Football League (1960-61) was arguably the only time they’ve been involved in the race for promotion from start to finish. At the other end of the scale, at end of October 1991 Peterborough were only five points off the bottom of the old Third Division but a twenty game streak between November to mid March when they lost only once paved the way for their first ever promotion to the second tier of English football.

They’re quite similar teams. Keepers Bobby Olejnik (Posh) and Jamie Jones (Os) have played in all league games and both clubs have a core of players that have featured in all league matches so far this season.

However, if you dig a little deeper, a couple of worrying trends emerge if you’re a Peterborough fan. Posh have failed to score in their last two games and haven’t scored more than once since their win over Preston at the start of October. Brett Assombalonga and Tyrone Barnett have contributed 13 of 24 league goals this season, but record signing Assombalonga hasn’t scored since 21st September and Barnett hasn’t done so since the middle of last month. That’s not exactly the case with Leyton Orient: Kevin Lisbie is the joint top scorer in League One with ten goals Dean Mooney just a goal behind him although like Assombalonga, Mooney hasn’t scored for a few games.

My guess: I think Wolves might be happiest team in the top three on Saturday evening.

It’s the first round of the FA Cup next weekend so I’m going to start planning next week’s article now – it’s going to be something a little different.