League Cup and FA Cup Preview

OK, I’ll put my hand up. I forgot the Capital One cup ties were this week. It’s unlikely that either of the League 1 teams still involved in the contest will win it, but tonight’s match in Buckinghamshire might provide a lucrative home game in the next round.

MK Dons have won two of the three meetings at Stadium mk in the league but Sheffield United won the only meeting between the sides in League Cup (3-2 in August 2007), but with five of the last six meetings at all venues having produced just one goal or less, this looks like a tight one. It’s the furthest the hosts have ever reached in the competition since they started playing under their ‘new’ name, but the Blades reached the semis as a Premier League team in 2003 and were one game away from reaching the FA Cup final last season.

The draw for the First Round of the FA Cup was made last night and some interesting ties came up. Five League One clubs will fall at the first hurdle and that could potentially include three teams in the current top seven (Bristol City in addition to the pair in tonight’s Carling Cup tie) so look for those sides to possibly focus on promotion rather than cup glory. With eight sides drawn against non-league opposition, there are plenty of potential upsets, especially considering that Coventry are the only team that have been given a home draw.

Fixtures to be played on the weekend of 7th-10th November:

All League One:

Crewe v Sheffield United, Gillingham v Bristol City, Oldham v Leyton Orient, Port Vale v MK Dons, Yeovil v Crawley

Against League Two:

Barnsley v Burton, Cheltenham v Swindon, Notts County v Accrington Stanley, Peterborough v Carlisle. Northampton v Rochdale, Walsall v Shrewsbury

Against non-league opposition (eight)

Cambridge United v Fleetwood, Canvey Island or Havant & Waterlooville v Preston, Chorley/Halifax Town v Bradford, Coventry v Worcester, Forest Green Rovers v Scunthorpe, Gosport Borough v Colchester, Weston-super-Mare v Doncaster, Weymouth/Braintree v Chesterfield

I’ll be back after tonight’s game finishes with an update.

Update: Michael Higdon got a late winner for Sheffield United at Milton Keynes. The Blades won 2-1.

Game Of The Day: Scunthorpe United v Notts County

I was intending to write an FA Cup preview but as usual, events on the pitch got in the way. So I’ll start with a question:

Hands up if you thought Crewe would beat Peterborough on Tuesday night.

Really, that many?

I’m not sure what (if any) medium to long impact that result will have at either end of the table, but combined with Bristol City earning a point at home to Bradford and Preston winning at Gillingham, I’d say the short term prognostication by Posh is that they may be in danger of repeating last season at the very least. After 14 games last season, Peterborough had earned six points more than they have so far and were only in third place behind Wolves on goal difference, but then they embarked on a run that saw them win only two of their next eleven games. If Preston beat Fleetwood tomorrow and Posh fail to win at Coventry, the Lillywhites will overtake Peterborough and will still have two games in hand.

Talking of Coventry, at the bottom of the table, I think the Sky Blues and Walsall may not be in as bad a shape as it appears. Coventry – in the playoff spots in mid September – have lost six of their last seven games but haven’t exactly been fast starters in the two seasons since following relegation when they didn’t have to contend with a points deduction. Walsall have conceded as many goals as Bristol City and MK Dons but the Saddlers have failed to score in exactly half of their matches so far: if they score more than once, they win.

However, the game of the week features one of the success stories of the season so far. I’ve not written about Notts County since last season’s tremendous effort to avoid relegation, yet the Magpies are second only to Bristol City in terms of how much they’ve improved since 2013/14. The jury is still out about their chances of maintaining their current level of performance (all of their wins have come against teams currently in the bottom half of the table), but Shaun Derry’s side is one of only three teams to have conceded less than a goal per game in 2014/15. They’ve not lost on the road since mid-April and Tuesday’s win at Barnsley was the first time Notts have let in more than one goal away from home this season.

In contrast, Scunthorpe have yet to keep a home clean sheet since they were promoted from League Two last may and have the second worst defensive record in the competition. That being said, the Iron are currently on their best run of form since the season started (unbeaten in the last three) and haven’t lost to Notts County at Glanford Park since Boxing Day 1997: three of the four most recent encounters in Lincolnshire have ended in draws, so that’s an outcome that should be considered tomorrow.

I’ll be back either late on Monday or early Tuesday with the draw for the first round of the FA Cup, which will be broadcast live at 7:00pm on BBC2 on Monday evening.

Game Of The Evening: Crewe v Peterborough

Last Saturday may have been one of those weekends that may be significant when we look back at 2014/15. Bristol City and Peterborough both won and neither can be overtaken this evening regardless of how their matches end. The table is still a bit deceptive though: only four teams in the top ten have played all the games they were supposed to but if the Robins and Posh continue their current dominant form then those in games in hand may turn out to be irrelevant. For example, MK Dons failed to make any ground on the leaders following a goalless draw at Leyton Orient in last week’s game of the day.

The surprise result came at the bottom of the table. Adam Dugdale’s first goal of the season for Crewe at Walsall meant that the Saddlers were dragged into the red zone for the first time since the start of last month and means that the bottom nine teams are only separated by three points going into this evening’s games. Of that group, only Coventry and Gillingham haven’t won any of their last five games so I think it’s fair to say that the relegation battle is hotting up.

In that case, the obvious game to focus on this evening is Peterborough’s trip to Crewe. The hosts have won two consecutive games for the first time since the end of 2013, which has given them a valuable foothold at the bottom of the table. The problem is that Crewe haven’t won consecutive home games since the beginning of February and haven’t beaten Peterborough at Gresty Road since April 1996, when they reached the third tier playoffs. The current Alex squad is stable – eight players have played in ten or more games this season – but six of those eight are 25 years old or younger and they need defensive and goalscoring help. When your leading scorer is a journeyman Canadian striker (Marcus Haber) who’s only scored more than five goals once in the last three seasons, you’re in a bit of trouble.

Posh were twice beaten on their travels last month but haven’t lost since then; the odd thing about those loses is that they came against sides in the bottom half of the table, which might give Crewe some encouragement. Darren Ferguson’s knack of finding and then developing strikers has unearthed not one but three goalscorers: Kyle Vassell and Marcus Maddison were both playing non-league football last season and Conor Washington made his Newport County debut during the season the Ironsides won promotion back to the league.

I’ll be back at the weekend: there’s no real candidate for a game of the week at the moment so I’m toying with the idea of writing a very early FA Cup preview. It’s extremely unlikely that League One will produce another semi finalist, but you never know!

Game Of The Week: Leyton Orient v MK Dons

Last week’s game of the week was competitive for all of half an hour, which is how long it took Tom Pope to score twice against Yeovil. Port Vale leapfrogged the Glovers and are now only in the bottom six on goal difference: Gillingham dropped into the dirty half dozen after being spanked at Priestfield by Scunthorpe, who appointed Mark Robins as their new manager at the start of the week.

Bristol City remain comfortably clear at the top after an injury time winner against Chesterfield by Joe Bryan after Eoin Doyle had twice equalised for the Spirerites: the Robins can’t be overtaken this weekend but Peterborough could put significant pressure on the current leaders if they beat Barnsley at London Road and City fail to win at Coventry. Despite losing, Chesterfield remain in the playoff places because Bradford lost at Barnsley on Sunday afternoon.

Three possible games of the week, but having covered Port Vale and Yeovil last weekend, I’m going to take a closer look at Leyton Orient v MK Dons.

Although the Os reached Wembley at the end of last season and actually led the playoff final at half time, it would appear that they’ve been suffering a classic playoff hangover. I write ‘would appear’ because if you look hard enough, a pattern appears. Since the beginning of March (and including the playoffs), Orient have only won four of their fourteen games at the Matchroom Stadium and have only kept two clean sheets in that sequence. When you look at their current predicament from that angle, it’s not really surprising that the Os are in the bottom six: both of their wins this season have come away from East London, which is interesting.

Only four of the side that started against Rotherham in May were in the starting eleven at Sheffield United last weekend: Jamie Jones (Preston) and Moses Odubajo (Brentford) were the only departures during the summer from the team that almost won promotion to the Championship. Jobi McAnuff and Darius Henderson have added experience to the squad, but I think the current problem may be a simple one. Leyton Orient overachieved last season and as well as suffering a playoff hangover, other teams have improved. I’ve already mentioned Chesterfield, but they have been a genuine surprise package this season and Swindon are far better on the road than they were in 2013/14. Both of them have won at Brisbane Road this season.

Although this isn’t one of their games in hand, MK Dons haven’t played on either of the international weekends so far yet in the long run, they may wish they had done as they’re going to face four games in twelve days at the end of next month. Although they’ve only dropped one point from the 18 available in their six games against clubs currently in the bottom half of the table and have won half of their six trips to Orient in the league in the last six years, this looks like a ‘must win’ for Karl Robinson’s men if they want to keep the pressure on the other sides at the top. It looks increasingly likely that Dele Alli will move to a Premier League club in the next transfer window, which – based on his current strike rate – could mean an instant reduction in goals by almost a quarter.

Elsewhere,¬† there a couple of ‘top six v bottom six’ clashes: Port Vale travel to Deepdale for a league game for only the second time this century but the Valiants have won two of their last three visits to Preston. Games between Yeovil and Swindon at Huish Park are slightly more frequent, but the Glovers have only beaten the Wiltshire Robins at home once since their first encounter in March 2006 and one home win in six attempts this season is nothing to write home about.

There’s a midweek programme next week so I’ll do my best to be back before Tuesday evening.

Game Of The Week: Port Vale v Yeovil

With the Premier League and the Championship getting the weekend off, it might have been a decent opportunity to showcase League One but that doesn’t appear to have occurred to the Football League. To be honest, there’s not much to get enthusiastic about: Bristol¬† City v Chesterfield is the obvious game of the week, but we looked at Bristol City a couple of weeks ago and I think there’ll be other opportunities to analyse the Spireites. Once again the Robins won’t be knocked off their perch – the only other top six side in action this weekend is Peterborough, who are five points off the pace. However, it’s becoming clear that these international breaks could be used strategically: there are a number of clubs who will have two games in hand at the start of next week and at some point you have to ask if some of these postponements are actually necessary.

Before I get the Game of the Week, a few bits of housekeeping. Russell Slade’s departure from Leyton Orient and his appointment at Cardiff City has been confirmed. It’s unclear what’s going to happen at Brisbane Road but for the time being Kevin Nugent is caretaker manager. On Wednesday, Russ Wilcox got the boot from Scunthorpe and former Huddersfield Town boss Mark Robbins was appointed as his successor today.

In this week’s JPT ties, Sheffield United, Oldham, Doncaster, Walsall, Leyton Orient, Notts County, Preston, Crawley, Gillingham, Coventry and Bristol City all qualified for the regional quarter finals. Only five League Two sides remain in the competition and with nine of the last ten finals having been won by a League One team that record looks a reasonably good bet to continue.

So on to this weekend’s Game of the Week, which is between Port Vale and Yeovil.

Vale’s home win against Barnsley a couple of weeks ago was both their first home win since mid April and the first win under caretaker manager Robert Page, who replaced Mickey Adams after the 3-0 home defeat by Bristol City last month. However the Valiants have lost four of their last six on their own soil and this one looks like a must win for former Welsh international Page if he wants to have a shot at earning the job permanently. So far defenders Carl Jenkinson and Ryan McGivern have been the only ever presents and it won’t come as much of a surprise that Tom Pope is leading scorer with three. What will be a surprise is that despite scoring twice against Preston in the JPT during the week, Pope hasn’t scored in the league since mid August.

It looked as if Yeovil had got their away form into gear with wins at Bradford and Walsall but since then they’ve lost at Crawley and Coventry and have only won one of their last five matches. Gary Johnson is still in charge but a third successive league defeat could intensify speculation that Johnson may be on his way out of Huish Park: he’s already used 21 different players this season (never a good sign) and as I’ve written elsewhere about another team recently (Brighton), when a defender (Aaron Martin) and a midfielder (Kieffer Moore) are your leading scorers with two apiece that’s a blueprint for struggling no matter what competition you’re playing in.

As you’d expect, there haven’t been many meetings between the sides in the football league but the crucial stat may be that the home team in the half dozen matches between them hasn’t lost yet and the last time they met (January 2008) was the only time a game has finished all square. If that pattern repeats itself then it’s possible that the clubs could change places.

I’ll be back next week.

League One Preview 4th October 2014

The game of the week was a good one: five goals (including an absolute howler for the MK Dons equaliser) and the best crowd at Ashton Gate so far this season. When the final whistle blew, Bristol City had increased their lead at the top of the table to five points.

This weekend half a dozen teams could move into second place. At the bottom Crewe cannot escape the bottom four – the Alex are already five points from safety – but their could be some big changes. Here are the games that matter this weekend:

Preston v Colchester United

The Lillywhites are one of the better teams in League One, but it appears that there’s still some way for them to go before they’re promotion contenders. Although they’ve only suffered two defeats at Deepdale in almost a year, they’ve only beaten Oldham and Crawley at home since the start of the season. They’ve also not played any of the teams above them yet

Colchester have really got their acts together since Tony Humes took over from Joe Dunne: undefeated in three games – including consecutive away wins for the first time at this level since the autumn of 2010 –¬† on the road without conceding a goal. Make no mistake though, this match will be a real test for the Us, although they’ve not lost at Deepdale since December 2006, which is their only defeat in their last half a dozen trips to Preston.

Swindon Town v Leyton Orient

Town have lost just once in their last ten home contests and battered Sheffield United in their last outing at the County Ground. Former Charlton striker Michael Smith has scored four of the Robins’ 13 goals at home this season and is already half way to his total for last season; Swindon seem to be less defensive minded that they were in 2013/14 which may explain their current position.

The Russell Slade era at Leyton Orient ended last Wednesday and you’ve got to wonder if the O’s best chance of playing Championship football has gone with him. That being said, one defeat in their last ten aways isn’t a bad record at all and they’re also the only team so far that’s prevented Bristol City from scoring at home: Orient have only lost one of their six visits to the County Ground since the turn of the century, so this may not be plain sailing for the hosts.

Rochdale v Barnsley

It’s almost two years since Keith Hill was sacked by Barnsley so this game is a chance for him to remind the Tykes what they’ve been missing. Dale really upped their game in front of their own fans last month: they beat Walsall and Coventry City without conceding a goal at Spotland and when you look at their home form since August they’ve already played three of the leading contenders for promotion. I think it’s fair to say that Rochdale have been the suprise team so far this season.

Barnsley are on a five game winless streak and haven’t returned to Oakwell with all three points since they won at Crewe (where else) in August. Currently the Tykes are in their lowest position in the football league for exactly a decade but they’ve not been relegated to the fourth tier since 1972 and so their current away form shouldn’t be too much of a concern: they’ve won more points on the road.

Incredibly, this is the first league meeting between these clubs since April 1979, when Dale won 3-0 at Oakwell in a surprise win. Barnsley were among the contenders for the old Fourth Division title whilst the win more or less ensured Rochdale would not have to apply for re-election (ask your Dad).

I’ll be back next weekend, although it’s an international weekend and there are already some postponements. I know it’s a a bit early in the sason to write this, but the prospect of fixture congestion might make some clubs think twice about aiming for FA Cup glory this season. The First Round proper takes place in a month’s time…