Premier League, You’re Having A Laugh!

Let’s face it, unlikely as it is that a League One side will win the Capital One Cup, it’s always great news when third tier sides beat the so-called big boys in any competition. This week saw three teams from League One defeat Premier League sides:

MK Dons battered not only a weak but a very poor Manchester United side 4-0 in front of a record crowd. Two goals each from former Walsall and Brentford striker Will Grigg and Benik Afobe (who came on as a sub for Grigg and is now joint top scorer in the competition!) saw the Dons safely through to the next round.

West Ham scored both goals as Sheffield United drew 1-1 at Upton Park but it was Ecuadorian World Cup star Enner Valencia who missed the crucial spot kick as the Blades won on penalties.

Leyton Orient won at Aston Villa for the first time ever thanks to Roman Vincelot’s late strike. Orient’s previous best result at Villa Park was a 2-2 draw in 1973 and their only other meeting in a cup competition in Birmingham had been a goalless draw in the fourth round of the FA Cup in 1929: Villa won the replay 8-0.

The draw for the third round couldn’t have been any better: there’ll be two guaranteed places in the fourth round. Sheffield United will travel to Leyton Orient whilst MK Dons will entertain Bradford City – who beat Leeds by the odd goal in three at Elland Road after going behind in the 82nd minute! Both games will take place during the week beginning Monday 22nd September.

As exciting as it has been, the main priority for all League One sides is the league. Although Fleetwood have a one point lead over Peterborough, the most interesting stats so far is that the top half of the table is only separated by three points and that only nine teams have lost more than one game. Even though Walsall are currently 20th and haven’t won yet they’re in the ‘one loss’ group, which indicates to me that League One may be far tighter than it was after four games last season. On the 24th August 2013, the top half were separated by eight points, half the division had lost more than once and eight teams were unbeaten.

Let’s take a look at some of the potential talking points for Saturday tea-time. The first two games are clashes where the hosts are at the wrong end of the table and the visitors have begun well and the third is the only match between clubs in the bottom six this weekend.

Colchester United v Peterborough United

Three home wins in their last ten games is nothing for Colchester to be proud of but combining that with defeats in five of their last ten league matches at any venue and you begin to see why The Us are struggling. They began the season by taking the lead against Oldham and Bristol City but only ended up taking one point from six from those games and so really need to aim for a win against Posh; the good news is that Colchester have only lost one of their last six league games against Peterborough in Essex. On the other hand, Peterborough’s away form has been odd: they’ve not won three in a row away from London Road in almost a year and have gone sixteen away games in League One without a draw. A point would suit Posh rather than Colchester.

Yeovil Town v Barnsley

The Glovers’ indifferent home form continued last Saturday with a 1-1 draw against Scunthorpe: despite taking the lead via Kieffer Moore, former Town striker Paddy Madden equalised with eight minutes to go, which means Yeovil still haven’t won a league game in Somerset since early March. At this point the Tykes seem to have adjusted better than Yeovil to life in the Championship but I’d expect that to change once both sides have taken on some of the better opposition in the competition. Neither of them have beaten teams currently in the top half of the table and Barnsley have had to come from behind in both of their away games so far.

Scunthorpe United v Walsall

As I mentioned last week, The Iron have had a much tougher start to the campaign than many other teams (three of their four reverses have been to the pacesetters) but the point earned at Yeovil last weekend is grounds for optimism, even though it’s over two decades since they last beat Walsall in the league at Glanford Park. The Saddlers have drawn both of their away games this season but have only recorded two away wins since Christmas so a win at Scunthorpe would be both welcome and an indication of how the rest of the season might go for both sides.

It’s the first international break of the season next week and at time of posting the only games left next weekend were at Coventry (Friday evening), Bradford, Bristol City, Crawley, Oldham, Peterborough and Walsall.

Good News For The Sky Blues

The good news this week is that Coventry City will be returning to the Ricoh Arena after more than a season away from their own stadium.

Apparently there have been ‘secret talks’ between the respective parties over the last few months and the Sky Blues are set to return against Gillingham at the start of next month. However, it’s the first international break of the season that weekend so don’t be too surprised if that doesn’t happen. Sheffield United v MK Dons has already been postponed and I’d imagine more games will follow.

Back to the on field action and this weekend looks like a cracker. Although half of the top six are at home, four of those sides play each other so we’re bound to see some changes in the pecking order as well as having two potential games of the week.

Bradford City v Peterborough United

Going back to last season, The Bantams have now won three in a row at Valley Parade but four may be beyond them as they’ve not managed that at this level for eight years. Having written that, Peterborough have been awful at Bradford: Posh last won there in January 1973 and Bradford have won five of the last six meetings in Yorkshire.

Fleetwood Town v Chesterfield

Honestly, did anyone see this coming? Fleetwood are currently leading League One but you don’t have to dig too closely to see why: three victories against two of the clubs I thought might struggle before the season started with another coming against Scunthorpe, who I’ll be discussing below. It’s early days for Chesterfield too, although a win at Leyton Orient indicates that Paul Cook’s team might be hanging around for the long term: it may also be significant that Fleetwood have never beaten the Spirites at home in any competition.

At the bottom, we have an early season meeting between two sides who appear to need to get their respective acts together fairly quickly – although there are mitigating factors.

Yeovil Town v Scunthorpe United

The Glovers haven’t won at home since a 2-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday in mid March and other than that victory, they’ve won three league games at Huish Park since August 2013. The Championship was clearly a step too far for Yeovil, but the accepted wisdom was that League One shouldn’t be, but once again a retrospective glance over the last eight seasons shows that Yeovil’s average finishing position in the third tier was 13th and they actually finished lower than that in six of those eight campaigns. They may just be suffering from settling back to the mean.

It’s entirely possible that Scunthorpe’s poor start to 2014/15 is due to having a tougher set of fixtures with which to start to the season. In the grand scheme of things, losing three games to teams in the top half of the table is something a lot of clubs will do this season but after establishing a record for going unbeaten last season, this current situation looks like a reality check rather than a full blown crisis at Glanford Park. The Iron haven’t been too awful at Yeovil over the last decade or so: only three defeats in seven games.

I’ll be back towards the end of next week, so enjoy the last Bank Holiday of 2014…

Sky Bet League One Midweek Preview 19th August 2014

Five 100% records with the top three only separated by alphabetical order and half of the bottom six places being occupied by new arrivals. Chesterfield and Fleetwood are off to flyers but might be hard pressed to maintain this form and while I wondered if Rochdale might struggle, I’m only slightly surprised that Sheffield United have begun badly.

The first midweek programme of the season is tonight (the next is in the middle of September) and there are a few interesting games.

Four of the top six are at home this evening. Peterborough entertain Sheffield United and Fleetwood travel to Scunthorpe in a pair of games that see sides from the top six and bottom six meet. Both of these matches are rarities: tonight’s game at London Road will only be the fourth time the Blades have played there in the league and last season’s goalless draw at Glanford Park was the first time Fleetwood had played Scunthorpe in any competition.

Crewe host Rochdale at Gresty Road on the only match between the bottom six. The Alex actually took the lead against Barnsley on Saturday thanks to Billy Waters, but eventually lost to the visitors and have only won twice at home since February. Dale haven’t won at this level since November 2011 and have only won once in their last half dozen games at Crewe so although it’s only mid August this could be a huge game for both sides in the long.

I’ll be back with an update later and all being well there should be a quick preview for the weekend’s games posted no later than Friday lunchtime.

Update: Fleetwood are the last team with a  100% record after the Cod Army won 2-0 at Glanford Park earlier this evening. Bradford City are up second after winning at Crawley, while this morning’s leaders Bristol City dropped to third after a goalless draw at Ashton Gate against last season’s defeated play off finalists Leyton Orient. Sheffield United won at Peterborough.

Despite going behind after nine minutes, a hat trick by Matt Done contributed to Rochdale’s 5-2 win at Crewe. The Alex and Scunthorpe are now the only teams in the competition without a point and the Iron are the only club that have scored less than two goals.

Sky Bet League One Previews Part 4: Rochdale to Yeovil

In the final and almost ridiculously late part of the pre-season previews, I take a look at three new arrivals and one of the favourites for promotion.

All being well I’ll be back for next Tuesday’s games, at which point normal service will be resumed.

Rochdale

Manager: Keith Hill (since January 2013)

Promotion: 20/1

Relegation: 3/1

Last ten games:5-2-3 (in League 2)

First season back after relegation in 2012, but this is only Dale’s third season at this level since 1974. Were never outside the top eight positions in League 2 last season and were one of three clubs to have a chance of winning the title on the last day. However, they only won once in sixteen games against the top eight and failed to win any away games against teams that eventually finished in the top half of the table, which indicates to me that they may find themselves out of their depth in 2014/15. They’ll need to win at least ten games at Spotland to avoid relegation.

Scunthorpe United

Manager: Russ Wilcox (since December 2013)

Promotion: 8/1

Relegation: 8/1

Last ten league games:5-4-1 (in League 2)

First season back since being relegated in 2013. Arguably the best prepared of the new arrivals from League One, The Iron were a Championship club five seasons ago but have either been promoted or relegated in seven of their last ten seasons and haven’t spent more than two campaigns at this level since the mid sixties, which explains why the bookies were cautious at the start of July. Last season’s 28 game unbeaten run between November and April was record breaking, but also indicates that Scunny shouldn’t have any difficulties in League One. More likely to go up than down, but may have to settle for consolidation this season.

Sheffield United

Manager: Nigel Clough (since October 2013)

Promotion: 15/8 (favourites)

Relegation: 40/1

Last ten league games: 5-4-1

Fourth season. At least the Blades won’t be suffering from a playoff hangover in 2014/15 but the pressure is really on this season as this is now the longest period that United have ever spent outside the top two divisions in English football.

Despite their dreadful start – they were still in the bottom three at the beginning of February – and reaching the FA Cup semi final, United have one obvious deficiency that needs to be addressed. Although they had the best defensive record of clubs that didn’t finish in the top six and they kept as many clean sheets as Preston, both Tranmere and Shrewsbury scored more times than the Blades did in away games. The Blades were shut out nine times away from Bramall Lane and only picked up four points in those games, which included defeats at two of the four teams that were relegated. Yet another top ten finish is on the cards, but unless or until they find a striker capable of scoring more than ten goals in a season then the playoffs will be the best they can hope for; they’re also beginning to get a reputation for coming up with new and creative ways of not being promoted. They may not have exhausted that particular talent just yet.

Swindon Town

Manager: Mark Cooper (since August 2013)

Promotion: 10/1

Relegation: 8/1

Last ten league games: 6-1-3

Third season. Reasonably good form at the County Ground (most home wins outside the top six; only failing to score twice but only lost one of those games) was offset by an awful record on their travels exemplified by a seven game streak without a win between November and January when they failed to score four on four occasions. Unless or until they stop being such a soft touch on the road – and there were some signs that’s possible last season, including a 4-0 win at Rotherham – the Wiltshire Robins can’t be seen as promotion contenders but should easily finish in the top ten. The boardroom struggle finally appears to be over, but if it’s not, events off the pitch could prove a distraction again.

Walsall

Manager: Dean Smith (since January 2011)

Promotion: 12/1

Relegation: 11/2

Last ten league games:2-4-4

Eighth season. A peculiar campaign that began reasonably well and might have seen a playoff challenge but instead petered out in a way that might actually be a cause for concern. In some ways, the Saddlers were the mirror image of Swindon: they failed to score more than one goal at home after New Year’s Day and only won one of their last eleven games at The Banks’s Stadium but their habit of picking up points on their travels kept them in playoff contention until February. After that the wheels came off and with only two wins in their last ten matches at the end of last season, Walsall may slip back into mid table mediocrity – or worse if they can’t find a goalscorer: when Bristol City shut you out at home you’re heading for trouble.

Yeovil Town

Manager: Garry Johnson (since January 2012)

Promotion: 6/1

Relegation: 12/1

Last ten league games: 1-4-5 (in the Championship)

First season back at this level after promotion via the playoffs in 2013. Depending on your interpretation of the facts, they were either dreadful or really unlucky (but seldom both) last season; they lost ten of their 23 home games by a single goal. Never out of the bottom three from the end of September with all but three of their eight wins coming against the teams that finished in the bottom six in the Championship. In their eight previous seasons in the third tier, Yeovil had only managed two top ten finishes so it remains to be seen if the Glovers learned anything during their season at a higher level: my guess is they might have done, but surely not enough for an instant return to the Championship?

Sky Bet League One Previews Part 3: MK Dons to Preston

Third part of our club by club preview of the Sky Bet League One season for 2014/15 starts with MK Dons and finishes with Preston.

All prices taken from Oddschecker.com on July 1st.

MK Dons

Manager: Karl Robinson (since May 2010)

Promotion: 11/2

Relegation: 12/1

Last ten league games: 2-2-6

Sixth season. The tenth placed finish at the end of 2013/14 was the lowest since 2010 and is the second consecutive season that the Dons have finished lower than they had done at the end of the previous campaign. Those facts alone make me wonder how much more time Karl Robinson will be given by Pete Winkelman to turn them into promotion contenders, especially if they start as badly as they finished last season. MKD lost ten games at home – the most since they won promotion – yet recorded the most wins of the teams that didn’t finish in the top six, which indicates to me that another season of mid table mediocrity is on the cards; from a personal point of view, probably the most damning thing about last season was that I don’t remember writing anything much about them.

Notts County

Manager: Sean Derry (since November 2013)

Promotion: 14/1

Relegation: 9/2

Last ten league games: 6-1-3

After I described them in last season’s preview as a dark horse in the promotion stakes, at one point the Magpies looked doomed. Under Sean Derry’s guidance they timed their relegation battle to perfection and ensured a fifth season at this level but that ten game revival was uncharacteristic compared with the rest of the season. Notts lost as many games as Stevenage and conceded more away goals than any of the four teams that were relegated: if they’ve learned from their experience of last season they’ll still be lucky to trouble the top half of the table – but if they haven’t, they may have to repeat their heroics next spring.

Oldham Athletic

Manager: Lee Johnson (since March 2013)

Promotion: 16/1

Relegation: 5/2

Last ten league games: 4-6-0

Eleventh season at this level, which is the current record. Began well, but a streak where they only won game in eight between the end of August and mid October meant that the Latics bounced around between 13th and 19th place last season.  Only won twice at Boundary Park after Valentine’s Day on their way to becoming  one of four clubs that won fewer home games than Carlisle and didn’t scored more than one goal at home since their astonishing 5-4 win over Peterborough in January: despite that, they lost none of their last ten league games and could be a surprise playoff candidate. May not begin 2014/15 having to play in their training kit after all.

Peterborough United

Manager: Darren Ferguson (since December 2011)

Promotion: 10/3

Relegation: 33/1

Last ten league games: 5-1-4 (excluding playoffs)

Relegation from the Championship in May 2013 clearly had an impact on Posh. The days of gung ho attacking that made them the darlings of the goals galore coupon are over: and although Peterborough were amongst the favourites for promotion last August, five consecutive defeats from from the end of October effectively derailed any plans for automatic promotion and they occupied the last playoff spot from mid February onwards. However, keeping seventeen clean sheets last season (winning 14 of those games) and winning the JPT indicate that what seems to have been a transitional period is over and Posh should be amongst the frontrunners again, even if Brett Assombalonga has left for pastures new.

Port Vale

Manager: Mickey Adams (since May 2011)

Promotion: 25/1

Relegation: evens

Last ten league games: 4-2-4

Second season. A satisfactory return to this level for Vale, who spent most of the season in the top half of the table without ever trouble the playoff positions. A slight improvement could see them in the hunt for promotion, but that will mean being able to beat the best sides in the competition: they lost 13 of their sixteen games against the sides who eventually finished above them.

Preston North End

Manager: Simon Grayson (since February 2013)

Promotion: 11/4 (second favourite)

Relegation: 33/1

Last ten league games: 5-2-3 (excluding playoffs)

Fourth season. The most improved side in the competition in 2013/14 but their promotion hopes may have suffered because there were three teams that were better than them last season and they failed to perform against those sides, winning only twice against the other top six clubs and clearly being second best against Rotherham in the playoffs. Kept 17 clean sheets (including ten on the road) and if the Lillywhites can manage that and improve their away form they’ll justify their odds in the promotion race, which won’t include Wolves, Brentford and Rotherham in 2014/15.

Sky Bet League One Previews Part 2: Crawley Town to Leyton Orient

Second part of our team by team previews for the 2014/15 season. Today it’s Crawley Town to Leyton Orient.

Prices were taken from the Oddschecker site on 1st July 2014 and may have changed.

Crawley Town

Manager: John Gregory (since December 2013)

Promotion: 10/1

Relegation: 4/1

Last ten league games: 3-2-5

Third season. Spent most of 2013/14 in the bottom half following four straight defeats in October/November that cost Richie Barker his job, but their away form was much worse than the season before (one victory in ten games since the end of February) and the lack of goals should be a major worry going into this campaign. The Red Devils scored as many goals as Sheffield United did (ie the fewest of the teams that weren’t relegated) but were shut out fifteen times last season, failed to score in half of their last ten road trips and were probably over reliant on Matt Tubbs, who won’t be playing for them in 2014/15. Long season ahead.

Crewe Alexandra

Manager: Steve Davis (since December 2011)

Promotion: 33/1

Relegation: 6/4 favourites

Last ten league games: 4-3-3

Third season in League One which is hugely significant as The Alex have never achieved four consecutive seasons at this level since the Football League was reorganised almost sixty years ago. Survival may be beyond the club that conceded the most goals in the division last season and won fewer home outings than Carlisle did in 2013/14 but they dug themselves out of trouble last season and might be able to do so again, especially if they start scoring regularly.

Doncaster Rovers

Manager: Paul Dickov (since May 2013)

Promotion: 7/2

Relegation: 20/1

Last ten league games: 2-1-7 (in the Championship)

Back after one poor season in the Championship: surely they can’t win the title again? Previous time they were relegated from second tier (1958) they were relegated at the end of the following season! The new celebrity chairman might have put a few more bums on seats if the takeover had gone through but although Rovers aren’t exactly inexperienced at this level they may have to be satisfied with mid table. If they don’t get off to a decent start I can see Dickov being replaced sooner rather than later, especially if they are as goal shy on the road in League One as they were in the Championship last season.

Fleetwood Town

Manager: Graham Alexander (since December 2012)

Promotion: 8/1

Relegation: 11/2

Last ten league games: 5-3-2 (in League Two)

First season in League One after a meteoric rise through the pyramid, but you’ve got to wonder if this might be a step too far. Were in the League Two playoff positions for most of last season after finishing mid table at the end of the 2012/13 season and although they have a winnable opening game against Crewe, they’ll have to face Scunthorpe and Chesterfield (who they both failed to beat last season) as well as Leyton Orient by the end of August. Expect a bigger club to come in for Graham Alexander if they’re doing well before Christmas but Fleetwood should be able to rely on momentum for a while.

Gillingham

Manager: Peter Taylor (since October 2013)

Promotion: 25/1

Relegation: evens

Last ten league games: 2-3-5

Second season. Poor start but picked up after Taylor replaced Martin Allen early on but causes for concern remain: only kept two away clean sheets all season and from February onwards only won two of their last ten road trips, eventually losing more away games than three of the four sides that went down. So it won’t come as a surprise to find out that the Gills conceded more goals on their travels than any of the teams that were eventually relegated either and the evens available for relegation in July didn’t last long.

Leyton Orient

Manager: Russell Slade (since April 2010: currently the longest serving manager in League One)

Promotion: 11/2

Relegation: 25/1 (although that’s Sky Bet, which already looks out of kilter than the 12/1 generally available)

Last ten league games (excluding playoffs): 3-3-4

Ninth season. Agonisingly close to promotion last season – they only fell out of the automatic spots for good after a home defeat by Brentford in mid March – so some kind of playoff hangover might be on the cards. Having written that I should point out that the Os won the most games of the teams that weren’t promoted, scored in all but five of their games and their defensive record was exceptional in 2013/14. If your team finishes about them this season they’ll have done very well indeed: three top ten finishes in the last four seasons is proof of that.

Sky Bet League One Previews Part 1: Barnsley to Coventry City

Welcome to part one of this season’s Sky Bet League One previews. The plan is that I’ll be posting six clubs per day and then an overall look at what to expect on Friday evening.

All prices taken from Oddschecker at 11:00am, Tuesday 1st July 2014.

Barnsley

Manager: Danny Wilson (since December 2013)

Promotion: 5/1

Relegation: 18/1

Last ten league games: 3-1-7 (in the Championship)

Returning to the third tier after eight mediocre seasons in the Championship: they’d never finished higher than 17th in that period and until last season there were always three teams worse than the Tykes, who were the main beneficiaries of the financial chaos at Portsmouth a couple of seasons ago. Last time they were relegated to this level they escaped relegation by four points and despite Danny Wilson’s experience at this level I wouldn’t be surprised if something similar happened in 2014/15. Will be seen as a ‘bigger’ club but may struggle to justify the label; defensive improvement should be Wilson’s priority.

Bradford City

Manger: Phil Parkinson (since August 2011)

Promotion: 12/1

Relegation: 5/1

Last ten league games: 4-2-4

Second season. Began well but a mid season spell with one win in twenty games between October and February soon put a stop to that and although the Bantams never dropped lower than 15th they need to be more consistent this season (especially against weaker teams)  if they have any aspirations towards the playoffs. Selling Nahki Wells to Huddersfield in January was an interesting decision but they can’t rely entirely for James Hanson for goals this season. Expectations may be lower than they were a year ago, which might be a good thing, especially as the defence was unheralded last season despite keeping 16 clean sheets.

Bristol City

Manager: Steve Cotterill (since November 2013)

Promotion: 7/2

Relegation: 20/1

Last ten league games: 4-5-1

A tale of two seasons.  Before Sean O’Driscoll was sacked, the Robins looked doomed to consecutive relegations, but although Steve Cotterill’s appointment worked wonders it’s almost impossible to tell how City will do this season. If you want proof of that, consider these facts: Bristol City won fewer home games than Carlisle did last season (you’ll be reading that elsewhere in these previews) but scored more away goals than any of the other clubs that didn’t reach the playoffs and kept the fewest clean sheets of any of the sides that weren’t either promoted or relegated. Should improve, but that could mean anything between running away with the title and just missing out on the playoffs: both of those scenarios depend entirely on the defence.

Chesterfield

Manager: Paul Cook (since October 2012)

Promotion: 8/1

Relegation: 7/1

Last ten league games: 6-3-1 (in League 2)

Promoted back to League One as Champions after two seasons away, but since the turn of the century, Chesterfield have spent eight seasons in the third tier, being relegated three times and never finishing higher than 17th. Momentum should sustain them for the early part of the season but Sprirites fans may have to be both patient and realistic in the long haul: Chesterfield’s away record won’t be anywhere near as good as it was last season.

Colchester United

Manager: Joe Dunne (since September 2012)

Promotion: 33/1

Relegation: 13/8

Last ten league games: 3-2-5

Seventh season at this level. After a dreadful start (four wins in their first twenty games), the Us found some consistency and bounced around the lower half of the table without ever looking like they’d be relegated. Having written that, Colchester managed the fewest wins of the clubs that weren’t relegated in May: combine that with not having won consecutive home games for almost two years and four defeats against Notts County and Tranmere last season means the best case scenario is mid table and the worst is a return to League Two.

Coventry City

Manager: Steven Pressley (since March 2013)

Promotion: 7/1

Relegation: 13/2

Last ten league games: 2-3-5

Third season. Despite the points deduction, the Sky Blues were permanently out of the bottom three by October and were in the top ten on New Year’s Day but the season came to a crashing halt after three consecutive defeats to sides that were eventually relegated and Coventry only won two of their last ten games. Still managed to score the most goals in the competition other than those teams that were promoted, but conceded three or more goals eleven times last season and that needs to stop. The playoffs are a realistic goal but that depends on replacing Leon Clarke, who may even return to Sixfields after moving to Wolves in January.