Football League Review: No Home Comforts
Sometimes, one can only stand back and admire the optimism of those who run England’s football clubs. Last week, Wigan Athletic appointed the former Manchester United reserve manager Warren Joyce as their new man in charge, and gave him a three and a half year contract for his troubles. At the time of writing, twelve of the ninety-two managers of the Premier League and Football League have been in their respective positions for longer than three and a half years. The odds, with the best will in the world, are not in Joyce’s favour, and that’s before we take into account the fact that this is his first full managerial job.
Within five minutes of kick-off at The DW Stadium yesterday afternoon, Joyce had been given a harsh lesson in the realities of the scale of the job facing him. Garath McLeary scored for in-form visitors Reading after fifty-seven seconds and again after five minutes to sentence Wigan to another home defeat before some latecomers had already had the chance to find their seats, and a third goal from the penalty spot, scored by Yann Kermorgant, only seemed to further emphasise the scale of the task ahead of him. The question, of course, is that of whether, in the now absurdly short-termist world of football club management, he will be given more than a dozen or so matches to learn how to and then perform something approaching full open heart surgery on a team that remains in the relegation places at the bottom of the table.
Reading, meanwhile, are now well-positioned in the chasing pack behind the top two in the table, though it’s starting to look as though all below the top two may end up playing for play-off places rather than one of the automatic promotion spots. Newcastle United have played better this season – and will do so again – than they did against Cardiff City, but a two-one win was their seventh in a row and leaves them clear at the top of the table, whilst Brighton & Hove Albion followed their result of the season contender last week against Norwich City with a fine two-nil win at Ashton Gate against Bristol City last night, a match most notable for Steve Sidwell’s thirteenth minute, fifty yard lob, which gave Albion the lead. There are now five points between Brighton and third placed Huddersfield Town, after Huddersfield were held at home by Birmingham City, who now a part of a cluster of clubs sitting just below the play-off places.
The weekend had started with two away wins, which set the tone for the day as a whole. The Championship only saw two home wins this weekend, as opposed to six away wins, and this all started on Friday evening when Fulham made the short journey to Griffin Park to beat Brentford by two goals to nil, before continuing yesterday lunchtime at Molineux, when Derby County’s recent revival following the return of Steve McClaren continued with a three-two win against Wolverhampton Wanderers, who themselves confirmed the appointment of former managerial prodigy Paul Lambert last night. Wolves are now down to nineteenth place in the table. This is an appointment that needs to be the right one, if they are not to get dragged into an uphill battle against relegation this season.
In the pick of the three o’clock kick-offs, Norwich City had a chance to unwind some of the trauma that they suffered from their trip to Brighton last weekend with a home match against in form Leeds United, but their suddenly leaky defence again proved to be their undoing as a goal from Ronaldo Viera four minutes into stoppage-time at the end of the match gave Leeds a three-two win and lifted them into the play-off places. The match had swung entertainingly back and forth prior to this, and a goal from Kyle Lafferty two minutes from time looked as though it would be enough to rescue a point for Norwich before Viera’s late intervention. In true zeitgeist style, Alex Neil is now being reported in some corners as being “under pressure”. Garry Monk, on the other hand, continues to find his stock rising as he settles into his job at Elland Road.
The other Championship home win of the weekend came at Villa Park, where Aston Villa continued their recent revival under the managership of Steve Bruce by coming from behind to beat Blackburn Rovers. Blackburn took the lead nine minutes into the second half with a goal from Sam Gallagher, but hopes that they might end Villa’s unbeaten record didn’t last very long. Jonathan Kodjia brought Villa level four minutes later and then scored the winning goal twelve minutes after this. Villa are now in furteenth place in the table, and we can only wonder what effect the nine draw from their first sixteen matches of the season might have should they continue their incremental push up the table. Blackburn, meanwhile, remain a place off the bottom of the division, but it doesn’t seem likely that they will fall to the very bottom at any point in the foreseeable future. Rotherham United ended their recent, club record-breaking run of seven successive defeat with a draw at Ipswich Town last weekend, but normal service resumed at the New York Stadium yesterday with a three-one home defeat at the hands of Preston North End.
It is one of English football’s statistical quirks that Queens Park Rangers have never won at The City Ground, and coming close to doing this has turned out to not quite be enough to keep Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in a job at Loftus Road. Britt Assombalonga had given Nottingham Forest a first half lead following the sending off of Karl Henry, but Hildeberto Pereira’s third red card of the season – which may put him on course to break some sort of record, should he continue at this sort of rate – levelled the teams up at ten-a-side, whilst a goal from substitute Idrissa Sylla five minutes from time rescued a point for Rangers, but not the manager’s job. Tim Sherwood is apparently amongst the favourites to replace him. Internet snarkists the world over are this morning holding their collective breath like never before.
There don’t seem to be any managers in the Championship who aren’t under some form of pressure or other at the moment, but Ipswich Town’s Mick McCarthy has bought himself a further few days in the job with a win at Sheffield Wednesday. It was a result that lifted Ipswich to fifteenth place in the table, while Sheffield Wednesday don’t quite seem able to replicate the form of last time around, which means, of course, that there will most likely be breathless headlines written abou their manager Richardo Carvalho over the next few days or so. In comparison with the hysteria that seems to have engulfed this division so far this season, all was quiet and serene at The Pirelli Stadium, where Burton Albion and Barnsley, both promoted from League One at the end of last season, played out a goalless draw. An oasis of calm in a division that seems to be matching the rest of the world as treating 2016 as an opportunity to have a collective nervous breakdown.
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