Game Of The Week: Bristol City v MK Dons

Before I go any further, the draw for the next round of the Capital One cup was made immediately after Wednesday night’s games and – rather incredibly – the two remaining League One clubs will play each other. One of them (MK Dons) features in this weekend’s game of the week.

Bristol City v MK Dons

I mentioned before the season began that if Bristol City were going to be successful, the key was defensive improvement. Incredibly, the Robins have kept six clean sheets in their last ten games at Ashton Gate – where they haven’t lost since Boxing Day. Central defender Aden Flint was the only member of team that came from two goals down to draw with MK Dons in February who started last weekend at Fleetwood although Scott Wagstaff, Marlon Pack and Greg Cunningham all made substitute appearances against the Cod Army. Leading scorer Sam Baldock was sold to Brighton before the end of the most recent transfer window but his replacement- former Rotherham striker Kieran Agard – had already joined the club. This is undoubtedly Steve Cotterill’s side now.

The Dons are more or less recognisable from their last trip to Bristol but it’s two newcomers who have made a huge impact so far this season. Teenage striker Dele Alli has already scored as many goals as he did in 33 games last season and is reported attracting attention from some very interesting quarters whilst Arsenal loanee Benik Afobe is leading scorer in the Capital One Cup – a competition his parent club are no longer taking part in after they were eliminated by Southampton this week. I’m already regretting my preview piece for the Buckinghamshire club (‘probably the most damning thing about last season was that I don’t remember writing anything much about them’) and on paper, this game looks as if it’s going to be a stern test of Bristol City’s new found defensive prowess.

Dig a bit deeper though and an interesting angle emerges. MK Dons have never beaten Bristol City in any competition, which means that there’s a possibility that the record could go this weekend, especially considering City’s fantastic home form over the last nine months. A home defeat wouldn’t be the end of the world as the Robins would still have a two point lead, but MK Dons would still have a vital game in hand: based on last year’s games between the top final top six there’s only a 36% chance that City will win so I wouldn’t be too surprised if this ends all square.

As well as the top of the table clash at Ashton Gate, there are three other matches that caught my eye:

Barnsley v Swindon Town

Swindon have only won once in last ten trips to Oakwell (Dec 98) but Barnsley have only won four of those ten matches. The Tykes thumped Gillingham at Oakwell at the end of August, but losing 3-5 to MK Dons last time out may be a truer reflection of Danny Wilson’s side. The last time the Wiltshire Robins won consecutive away games was in February/March 2013: make of that what you will.

Bradford City v Port Vale

A weird one. Despite their current position, Bradford’s home form in 2014/15 has been wonky and their home form against Port Vale has been a mess: one win (last season) in the last five league meetings. The midweek defeat at MK Dons in the Capital One cup may have been a blow to the Bantams’ morale: Vale ended their six game winless streak last weekend and could take advantage.

Crewe Alexandra v Colchester United

The only game between the strugglers this weekend but Gresty Road has not been a happy hunting ground for the Us. They’ve won one of their last ten visits – and you’ve got to go back to April 1986 for that – and were battered 7-1 in April ’93. That being said, Gresty Road hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for Crewe either: two wins since March is proof of that.

I’ll be back next week.

Blades, Dons Reach Last 16 Of The Capital One Cup

Congratulations to Sheffield United and Milton Keynes Dons, who both reached the latter stages of the Capital One cup after defeating Leyton Orient and Bradford City respectively. United haven’t reached the fourth round for six seasons, while this is the first time the Dons have got that far.

Michael Higdon gave the Blades an early lead at Brisbane Road when he struck with a header after two minutes. Three minutes later Arsenal loanee Benik Afobe opened the scoring at Stadium: MK but that was the end of the scoring until Afobe notched a second five minutes before the final whistle.

I’ll update this post when I know the draw but I’m already working on the weekend preview, which will feature the top of the table clash between Bristol City and MK Dons.

Front Runners and Stragglers Part One

I probably won’t do this again until the second round of the FA Cup but it’s worth taking an early season look at how teams are currently performing compared with last season.

It won’t come as a huge surprise that the most improved team is Bristol City. The defensive overhaul has worked wonders, but their current form is simply unsustainable. Five of their six victories have come against teams in the bottom half of the table, but they won at Sheffield United and drew with unpredictable Rochdale so it’s hard to tell exactly how good the Somerset Robins are. With home games against Chesterfield and MK Dons coming up we’ll find out soon.

Talking of Chesterfield, both they and Peterborough are also potential promotion candidates right now, but at the risk of annoying Spirerites fans it’s Posh that I’m taking seriously. It’s been over 60 years since Chesterfield last played in the second tier and sixteen seasons since they finished in the top half of the third tier. Then there’s the fact that three of their four wins so far have been against strugglers. On the positive side: Eoin Doyle. Chesterfield may prove me wrong, but at the moment it’s a case of wait and see.

On the other hand, Posh have been the quintessential yo yo club over the last decade and have arguably had the toughest start to the season in terms of who they’ve played so far. However, they were in exactly the same position a year ago and only finished sixth.

MK Dons showed the world their potential firepower in the win in the Capital One Cup over Manchester United reserves but may not have the same strength against the other pacesetters having already lost to Peterborough and Bradford so far. Swindon already seem to be far more consistent on the road this season and might be a dark horse especially as their home record from August 2013 is better than Preston; six of the nine goals Sheffield United have scored this season have been in away games so I’m not going to revise my pre-season assessment that the Blades need a ‘proper’ striker.

A quick bit of praise for Notts County and Gillingham. The Magpies’ away form has improved noticeably from last season and while Gillingham are a bit of a soft touch away from home, their record in Kent is very good indeed.

Of course, for every club that’s improved, there’s one that’s regressed. Preston – who were a lot of people’s favourites to go up – appear to have reverted back to their ‘hard to beat, but can’t win games’ persona from a couple of years ago. I’m not sure what to make of the current situation at Leyton Orient: a playoff hangover was to be expected, but their season could be turned around with a couple of wins and the ‘noises off’ from the new owners are typical of the behaviour of some of the basket cases in the Championship.

However, there are three clubs that really can’t afford to be worse than they were last season. Colchester and Port Vale have already made managerial changes. I covered Joe Dunne’s departure from Colchester a couple of weeks ago and Mickey Adams left Vale Park after the Valiants lost at home to Bristol City this week, but the damage may have been done by defeats against Crewe and Notts County. However, Steve Davis (Crewe) and Dean Smith (Walsall) may also be facing the chop if results don’t improve. The Alex were amongst the favourites for relegation in any case and tend to stick by their bosses, but Walsall’s main problem is a lack of goals: after eight games last season, the Saddlers had scored four more goals and let in three fewer.

So to this weekend and three games of interest:

Colchester United v Bradford City

On 30th December 1961, Colchester beat Bradford 9-1 to record their highest ever league win. I doubt if that’s going to happen tomorrow, but the Bantams have never won consecutive games at either Layer Road or the Weston Homes Community Stadium. City won there in March; since then Colchester have kept precisely one home clean sheet.

MK Dons v Crewe

Only the fourth league meeting between these sides and the Alex haven’t won any of them. The Dons won four of their six home games against last season’s strugglers but lost to both Tranmere and Carlisle. If they want to be taken seriously at the top, they need to win convincingly tomorrow. Crewe lost five of their six aways against the clubs that were either promoted or reached the playoffs: their only success was at Preston, in an almost meaningless fixture for both sides.

Scunthorpe v Leyton Orient

It’s possible that Russell Slade may be out of job by Sunday morning as Orient’s record at Scunthorpe is awful. One win – in February 2012 – in the last ten visits is nothing to write home about, but with only one defeat in their last ten regular season roadtrips it’s possible a draw might save Slade’s skin. However, the Iron are aiming to record their third consecutive home win at this level since February 2013 and so this contest is actually game of the week.

I’ll be back on Tuesday with a look at the Capital One Cup – you may remember the draw produced not one, but two all League One ties!

Sky Bet League One Preview 16th/17th September 2014

Bristol City took over at the top of the table from Peterborough after a convincing win over Doncaster Rovers which featured both comedy defending from Cedric Ervina and petulant behaviour from Harry Forrester that resulted in a red card. Only the Posh can overtake Steve Cotterill’s side tomorrow night, but it would also be possible for MK Dons – who won 5-3 at Barnsley – to move into second place.

Fleetwood have dropped out of the top six altogether after their third consecutive defeat. I think it’s fair to say that reality may have kicked in, but it’ll be interesting to see how Graham Alexander and his team respond to adversity.

It’s a case of more or less as you were at the bottom, although the surprise appearance of Leyton Orient in the bottom six has triggered all kinds of speculation about how much longer Russell Slade will be in charge at Brisbane Road. Getting rid of him seems like a harsh option: the Os have only lost twice this season, but that includes Saturday’s home defeat to Colchester. I’m not entirely sure what the new Italian ownership has in mind in East London but I’m willing to bet that getting rid of Slade would scupper the Os hopes of Championship football next season.

If you’re not attending a game and aren’t particularly bothered about the Champions League, there are couple of games worth looking out for tomorrow night

Port Vale v Bristol City

The Valiants haven’t won at home since April and have been leaking goals at Vale Park recently (seven in the last four games); Mickey Adams has admitted that he might be facing the axe if things don’t improve soon, so it’s probably a bad time for Bristol City to visit the Potteries especially as  it’s a decade since Vale beat tomorrow’s opponents in the league.

Amazingly – despite being one game away from the Premier League six years ago –  the last time Bristol City were top of the third tier was in April 1990: City have only lost once on the road since February and that was at Rotherham, who were promoted as playoff winners. However despite an improvement in their home defensive record, the Robins have only kept one clean sheet in their last ten aways and were seconds away from doing that at Vale Park last season before Lee Hughes scored a late equaliser.

Scunthorpe United v Coventry City

On Saturday Scunny were well beaten at Chesterfield – former Hibs striker Eoin Doyle scored a hattrick for the Spirites – and have now lost five of their seven games since promotion. As I mentioned the other week, the Iron have had a very tough start to the season and it doesn’t get any better tomorrow. They’ve lost half of their four home league games against Coventry.

Coventry lost at Bradford on the first day of the season and haven’t suffered a defeat since, but their away form has been poor for a while: one victory on their travels since the end of March is all the Sky Blues have to show. Leading striker Reda Johnson arrived on a free transfer from Sheffield Wednesday in the summer but has already scored almost a third of Coventry’s league goals and although he’s not exactly a household name, he might be by the end of the season.

I’ll be back at the end of the week with the first performance review of the season.

Sky Bet League One Preview 13th September

It should be an interesting round of games this weekend. At the top only Bristol City can overtake Peterborough this weekend but with both of them playing at home in games they are favourites to win, that might not happen. At the bottom, Crewe can’t get out of the bottom four even if they beat Port Vale but any of the teams in the bottom half of the table could find themselves in the bottom six by 5:00pm on Saturday.

Here are the games that should have a direct impact at the top or bottom of the table:

Chesterfield v Scunthorpe

If there’s one thing emerging already this season, it’s that the current promotion contenders haven’t really been tested yet. All three of Chesterfield’s victories have been against teams currently in the bottom half of the table: they’ve picked up one point from six against sides that are above them.

After last week’s 2-0 defeat at Bristol City, the Iron are 0-1-4 against teams in the top half of the table. Russ Wilcox hasn’t had any luck with injuries but he’s got two decent players in Marcus Williams and teenage midfielder Hakeem Adelakun and as I’ve written before, it’s better to be in the bottom four now than it is in March.

Head to head: since the turn of the century, Chesterfield have won only one of their five league games at home to Scunthorpe, with the Iron winning three. The sides have already met this season: Chesterfield lost 2-0 at Glanford Park in the JPT.

Crawley v Fleetwood

Crawley’s inconsistent home form stretches back to last season, but having begun the season with a win over Swindon, consecutive defeats resulting in a goal difference of minus six should be a worry for John Gregory.

Fleetwood’s unbeaten start to the season was ended by Oldham last weekend, but yet again this is a case where one team has picked up points by beating strugglers. The Cod Army haven’t won in the last three and have failed to score twice in those games.

Head to head: two games in the Conference Premier four seasons ago and Fleetwood have yet to win.

Crewe v Port Vale

Things already look bad for the Alex: one home win in the last ten League One games and unable to convert early leads against Barnsley and Rochdale into any points at all. Only Crawley and Walsall have scored fewer goals so far this season and nobody has conceded more than Steve Davis’ side. It won’t come as a huge surprise that in July Crewe were 6/4 favourites to be relegated; they’re now as short as 4/9 for the drop.

Port Vale’s successes on the road this season have come against teams that are below them at the moment but their away record has been catastrophic for some time. Although they surprised Doncaster last month, that was The Valiants first away victory since the end of November. To make matters worse, they’ve only kept two clean sheets in that run.

Head to head: Crewe have failed to win seven of their last ten home league games against Port Vale. Last November’s game between them at Gresty Road ended in a 2-1 defeat for the hosts: Crewe took the lead in that match too.

I’ll be back at some point on either Monday or Tuesday with a look at the first midweek fixtures of the season.

Joe Dunne Sacked By Colchester; Posh Fail At First JPT Hurdle

It didn’t come as much of a surprise that Joe Dunne has departed after less than a year in charge at Colchester United. The Us had won five of their last 20 league games and hadn’t won this season and this looks  like one of those ‘sorry mate, we don’t think you can save us from relegation’ moves that worked for Gillingham last year when Peter Taylor took over from Martin Allen. Youth team coach and former Ipswich and Wrexham defender Tony Humes takes over at the Weston Homes Community Stadium; it’s fair to say that Humes has his work cut out for him.

The first round of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy took part earlier this week and ten League One clubs progressed to the second round. Holders Peterborough lost 1-3 at home to Leyton Orient and five other sides from the competition were also knocked out. The JPT (including all of its earlier incarnations) has never been successfully defended by the current holders, but Darren Ferguson had some consolation today when he was named League One Manager of the Month for August.

Gary Johnson’s late arrival for Yeovil‘s game against Portsmouth has started speculation that he might be the next manager to lose his job, but I suspect that there’s more to that situation than meets the eye.

It’s an abbreviated programme this weekend due to international call ups, but there are a couple of highlights. Coventry City return to the Ricoh Arena this evening when they play Gillingham (Sky Sports 2, 7:30pm) but half of Saturday’s six games will have an outcome on the top and bottom of the table.

Bradford City v Yeovil Town

The Bantams have only dropped one point from 12 in their games against the bottom half of the table this season but they’ve not won either of their previous meetings against the Glovers in the league. Additionally, James Hanson has scored exactly half of their goals so far.

Yeovil won at Walsall in their last away outing, but that remains their only victory in 2014/15.

Bristol City v Scunthorpe United

The Robins haven’t lost at home since the start of February but I think it’s fair to say they’ve not faced a really tough opponent yet and were certainly lucky at Notts County last Sunday. Scunthorpe haven’t won at Ashton Gate for over 30 years and haven’t won an away game in League One since May 2013. So far this season the Iron have lost all three games they’ve played against teams in the current top ten.

Walsall v Colchester United

Despite former Shrewsbury Town striker Tom Bradshaw being amongst League One’s leading scorers at this point and having only won once in their last 13 home games at the Bescot,  Walsall have only lost four of their last ten home games against Colchester in the league. Colchester have lost five consecutive games and are currently odds on to go down with Crewe; this looks like a low scoring game to me but teams often do better than expected after a change of manager and that could happen tomorrow.

Back to normal next weekend, so see you then.