Football League Review: A Fool’s Errands
Trying to predict anything in a league as volatile as the Championship can be a fool’s errand. In the days immediately leading up to the start of the season, the sudden decision of Wolverhampton Wanderers to jettison manager Kenny Jackett and replace him with Walter Zenga, a man with a patchy managerial record and no experience of the peculiar slog that this division requires whatsoever, seemed like a counter-intuitive one. On Saturday afternoon, however, his team jumped to third place in the table after a sparkling second half performance was enough to cruise past Birmingham City after Birmingham had taken a first half lead.
There’s little question that spending a little money has been one of the keys to Wolves’ strong start to the season, but spending money alone is not enough to guarantee the success of a football team. That money has to be spent wisely, and the arrivals of Prince Oniangue, Helder Costa, Joao Teixeira and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson certainly seemed to have breathed new life into the old gold and black shirts. This was Birmingham City’s first defeat of the season, though they’ve only won one match as well, all of which points to a season of inconsistency ahead at St Andrews.
Brighton & Hove Albion went into the weekend at the top of the table, but they dropped to third place following a draw at Reading. They’d fallen behind in the second minute, but an own goal six minutes later and a second goal at the very of the start of the second half fron Anthony Knockaert took them into the lead early in the second half. As such, it’s unlikely that either Chris Hughton or the Reading manager Jaap Stam will have ended yesterday with a point apiece after summer signing Joey van den Berg levelled with seven minute to play. Capping off an eventful afternoon, he also got himself sent off after picking up a yellow card late in the match. Brighton remain in second place in the table.
Fulham might have gone top of the table had they won their home match against Cardiff City, but they could only draw and required a goal scored with four minutes left to play from Kevin McDonald to achieve that much. Norwich City also failed to go top of the table after failing to win their derby match at Ipswich Town. Huddersfield Town top the lot, but they had to work hard for that, with a goal two minutes into stoppage-time from Jonathan Hogg winning their home match against Barnsley. Huddersfield felt like something of a curate’s egg during the summer, but they’ve outstripped most expectations so far this season.
So far. If the Championship has a distinguishing character trait, it’s that you can’t trust team to do just about anything. Newcastle United started the season as clear favourites to win the division, only to lose their first two matches of the season. The “c” word was just starting to get a brushing down in preparation for deployal against Rafael Benitez, but those defeats may already be starting to fade a little from the memory following two successive wins, at home against Reading during the week and now, albeit somewhat scrappily, at Ashton Gate against Bristol City, with Dwight Gayle scoreing the only goal of the match.
Of course, the pointlessness of looking at league tables at this point of the season – no matter how much supporters of Huddersfield Town may currently disagree with such statements – can be best summarised by the fact that only two points separate Queens Park Rangers, in sixth place in the table, from Rotherham United, in twenty-second. Some managers, however, come under quicker and more vitriolic pressure than others. One those under the most in the entire division is Leeds United’s Garry Monk, but his team finally put in a performance of some distinction in beating Sheffield Wednesday by two goals to nil at Hillsborough. At the other end of this spectrum, Queens Park Rangers, who’d had a decent start to the season, were beaten at home by Preston North End, for whom these were the first three points of the season. As we say, a fool’s errand.
Adrift at the foot of the table are Blackburn Rovers, who seem to be feeling the chill breeze of the end of parachute payments at the moment. Rovers picked up their first point of the season yesterday, with a two-all draw at home against Burton Albion, but it seems difficult to believe that the pressure won’t continue to build on manager Owen Coyle, who may already have completed the shortest honeymoon period in the history of football management, not least on account of his previous affiliation with both Burnley and Bolton Wanderers. Two of Blackburn’s local rivals. A point is a start, but Blackburn Rovers really, really need a win.
Another football club that needs a win is Sheffield United. Beaten yesterday at Millwall, they now sit at the bottom of the League One table with just a single point to show for their four matches. Manager Chris Wilder’s post-match interviews following the match had the slightly flustered look of a man who’s aware of the fact that his world could be about to spiral out of his control, but all seems well enough at the club from which he jumped ship at the start of the summer. Northampton Town have now drawn all four of their league matches so far this season, and yesterday’s goalless draw with Wimbledon was enough to nudge to Sheffield United to the very foot of the table. It was, perhaps, a slightly disappointing result for Northampton, but it’s difficult to imagine that supporters won’t have taken some crumbs of comfort from the implications of their result.
Moving in the other direction are Bolton Wanderers, who seem to be in the process of undergoing some form of rebirth under new manager Phil Parkinson and with the financial crises of the past likely already starting to feel like a distant memory. They went a goal down against Fleetwood Town yesterday, but a goal from Josh Vela with six minutes to play granted Bolton their fourth successive league win of the new season. In hot pursuit, for now, are Scunthorpe United, who’ve scored twelve goals already in their first four matches of the season, and Bradford City, whose win against Coventry City condemned Coventry to a place in the League One relegation positions. As in the Championship, however, it’s too early to be able to really tell what this division will look like in eight weeks time, never mind eight months.
In League Two, Luton Town, who’d had an outstanding start to the season in both the league and the League Cup, lost for the first time this season, by two goals to one at local rivals Stevenage. This allowed room for them to be leapfrogged, and Morecambe are the new leaders of the division following a one-nil win at Yeovil Town. In truth, it was a bit of a drab weekend in the basement division. No team scored more than two goals across the whole division, and only Plymouth Argyle and Portsmouth, who had endured more difficult starts to the season than either would have expected, won their matches by two clear goals.
At the other end of the table, meanwhile, another of the teams fancied to perform in League Two this season are now propping up the rest. Cambridge United were held to a draw at home by Carlisle United. It was their second point of the season from four games, and they dropped to the foot of the table as a result of Exeter City – who remain in the second relegation place, for now – picking up their first three points of the season, with an oustanding two-one win at Accrington Stanley. The people of both Cambridge and Exeter will no doubt be taking some solace this evening from the fact that you really can’t trust those league tables at this time of the year.
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