Football League Review: The Return of the Murray

by | Sep 27, 2016

If they closed their eyes for just a moment, it must have felt like old times. A crowd in excess of thirty thousand people, a tight, competitive game against familiar opposition, for a short while on Saturday evening Aston Villa supporters might have been forgiven feeling as though they’d been asleep for a couple of years and awoken to find themselves back in the Premier League. The problem with dreams, however, is that we always wake up from them, and the rudes awakening that Villa supporters received came in the form of forty-five minutes of football during which all of the team’s shortcomings were laid back and from which salvation could only be delivered in the form of a late, face-saving equaliser that saved both the home team and visitors Newcastle United from the ignominy of another Championship defeat.

Newcastle might well have been clear and out of sight by half-time. A first half own goal from Tommy Elphick had been an unfortunate way in which to fall behind but had hardly been against the run of play at that time. Newcastle, however, couldn’t quite land the knockout blow to kill the game off, and with two minutes to play a header from Aaron Tshibola salvaged a point and a little self-respect from the whole exercise, although a failure to win this match coupled with the almost overwhelming sense of under-achievement to have come from Villa Park since the start of this season – Villa have now drawn six of their nine league matches this season – means that Roberto di Matteo remains under significant pressure. Newcastle, meanwhile, remain in the play-off places, but their failure to win this match from the strong position in which the team found itself shone something of a light upon their shortcomings.

The Football League Championship has new leaders. Norwich City claimed top place with a comfortable win against Burton Albion at Carrow Road, taking full advantage of Huddersfield Town’s two-nil loss at Reading. Reading’s start to the season has been one of the surprises of this season so far, following a moribund seventeenth place finish in the table last season and the appointment of the relatively untried Jaap Stam as manager during the summer. His team, however, have now gone six matches unbeaten and now sit in fourth place in the table. Norwich’s ascent to the top of the table, meanwhile, has been one of the understated successes of the season, so far. With Aston Villa and Newcastle United hogging so many of the headlines, perhaps being in the relative shadows is suiting Alex McGregor.

The relationship between Brighton & Hove Albion and striker Glenn Murray is best described as “complicated”. Murray left Albion on a free transfer for bitter rivals Crystal Palace after rejecting a new contract, and six weeks later scored as Palace won the first match between the two teams at the Amex Community Stadium. When the two teams met in a Championship play-off in 2013, however, he sustained an injury that kept him out for almost nine months and wouldn’t return to the Palace team on a regular basis, ending up instead at Bournemouth, who this summer loaned him out to… Brighton & Hove Albion.

Murray has marked his return to the Brighton team with five goals in nine matches so far this season, two of which came during Saturday’s two-nil win against Barnsley. After an uncertain start – a perhaps understandable hangover from last season’s Premier League near-miss – Albion are starting to pick up something of a head of steam, and their third win in a row left them in third place in the table. Barnsley – the division’s top scorers, with nineteen goals from their nine matches so far – slipped to seventh place with this second successive defeat. Another club to have lost a little of its mojo over the last couple of weeks is Fulham, beaten four-nil at home by Bristol City, for whom Tammy Abraham scored a tenth goal of the season.

At the other end of the Championship table, meanwhile, vultures are starting to circle around Derby County. When they took the lead after sixty-nine minutes against Blackburn Rovers – only their third goal of the season – it felt, perhaps, as if a corner might have been turned. Some chance. Nigel Pearson’s position is now hanging by a thread after Blackburn scored twice in the next four minutes, leading to a result which dropped Derby into the division’s relegation places and lifted Blackburn out of the bottom three. Meanwhile, another club that has had the whiff of dry rot about it so far this season, Cardiff City, also clambered out of the relegation spots with a narrow win at bottom club Rotherham United. Wigan Athletic now sit at the foot of the table, after a narrow defeat at Preston North End on Friday night marked their eighth straight game without a win.

As Scunthorpe United drew their second successive match in a row and Bolton Wanderers made it five games without a win, there’s a somewhat surprising face in the automatic promotion places at the top of League One. Bury moved into second place in the table with their fourth win in a row, two-one at home against Chesterfield. The division’s leaders were held at home by Sheffield United, whose own run of four wins in a row had propelled the Blades up the table from the relegation places into the play-off positions, whilst Bolton were held to a goalless draw at home by Bradford City was the visitor’s sixth draw in nine league matches so far this season. Northampton Town, meanwhile, recovered from their first defeat of the season by putting four goals without reply past Southend United at Sixfields.

Despite Southend’s shaky defence – they’ve conceded more goals in League One than any other, so far this season – they’re still not bottom of the league table. That unwanted position still belongs to Coventry City, who seem to be on some sort of mission to reinstate themselves as the division’s go-to Crisis Club after a two-one loss at Gillingham marked a ninth league match without a win this season. Tony Mowbray joins the list of managers on the critical list, but with legal challenges surrounding The Ricoh Arena still not resolved and the club again looking at the possibility of having to leave its home town, this would seem to be least of the problems at a club which has become a byword for terrible management in more than one sense, in recent years.

The top of the League Two table is starting to take on the sort of look that we might have expected before the start of the season. Plymouth Argyle stay top of the table despite only being able to manage a draw at home against Hartlepool United, but just two points separate the six clubs below them. Portsmouth put five goals past Barnet and Luton Town, in the division’s big match of the day, came from a goal down to beat Doncaster Rovers by three goals to one and leapfrog them. Crewe Alexandra, Carlisle United and a now slowly deflating Morecambe make up the rest of that top six. Crewe were held at home by Blackpool and Carlisle narrowly beat struggling Wycombe Wanderers, but Morecambe seem to be heading in the wrong direction after a home defeat – their third defeat in their last four matches – against Crawley Town.

At the other end of the table, meanwhile, the division’s two bottom teams met at Rodney Parade and it was Cambridge United who, at the ninth attempt, finally registered their first win of the season, by two goals to one against a Newport County team which remains above them won goal difference, albeit also with a games in hand on the teams around them at the bottom of the table. And finally… we’ve been waiting a while for the owner of a Football League club to lose their patience with a manager, and there is something mildly surprising that it took until the end of September for this to happen, but there is finally a managerial sacking to report. Leyton Orient parted company with Andy Hessenthaler on Monday after a three-one defeat at Notts County left his team in fourteenth place in the League Two table. Those amongst you who partake of the Twohundredpercent e-magazine may wish to hold us responsible for this turn of events. We couldn’t possibly comment.

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