Football League Review: One Game Per Division
It’s a bit early in the season to be drawing too many conclusions about each division of the EFL, so this weekend here are some brief dispatches from a match in each of them.
Charlton Athletic 3-1 Stoke City
Two matches into the new season is very soon to be feeling the pressure, but Nathan Jones has been the manager of Stoke City since the 9th of January and in that time his team has won just three of their twenty-two league matches. The truth of the matter is that, were he to end up as one of the first managers to be relieved of his duties this season, it wouldn’t just be about this season. Last weekend, they were beaten at home by Queens Park Rangers. This week, they lost at Charlton Athletic, by three goals to one. At the start of their second Championship season after having been away for a decade, they sit second from bottom in the table.
It’s not particularly that they played against Charlton Athletic yesterday afternoon. Lyle Taylor gave Charlton the lead midway through the first half before Tom Ince levelled for Stoke eight minutes from half-time. But with fifteen minutes to play Chuks Aneke, who had only been on the pitch as a substitute for six minutes (and was making his debut), scored to give Charlton the lead and a third goal from Conor Gallagher sealed a win which leaves them as one of just two teams in the division with a 100% record after just two games. Lee Bowyer continues to defy motst expectations as a manager. Nathan Jones most surely by now be wondering whether his decision to leave Luton Town at the start of the year was altogether wise.
The other team now tied with Charlton at the top of the Championship table, for what it’s worth, is Sheffield Wednesday, whose win against Barnsley at Hillsborough was watched by a crowd of 28,000. Sheffield Wednesday, of course, lost their manager during the summer and haven’t yet appointed a replacement. They’ve sold Hillsborough to themselves to give FFP a swerve and the company accounts are still overdue at Companies House, which has led some to the belief that the club may be in financial difficulties. Charlton Athletic have been in a state of open warfare between the supporters and the owner for several years. If you were looking for an example of how difficult the Championship can be to predict at any given time, this is surely it.
Bolton Wanderers 0-0 Coventry City
A crowd of 9,000 people turned out at The University of Bolton Stadium for a match played under extraordinary circumstances. Ongoing uncertainties about the future of Bolton Wanderers meant that tickets could only go on sale the day before the match. Meanwhile, Bolton were fielding a team with an average age of nineteen, with no senior players listed. It’s fair to say that they rode their luck a little. Coventry had three goals disallowed for varying degrees of malfeasance – two were offside, which makes them difficult to call, whilst the second, given for a foul in the build-up to the goal, seemed fair enough – and might have been given either or both of a couple of penalty kicks following rash tackles inside the penalty area.
Bolton’s young team, however, did create a couple of chances themselves, and there can be no doubt that they gave it absolutely everything they could. Clips on social media of the team taking the applause of the home supporters at the end of the game are genuinely heart-warming, and a reminder of why it should be such a scandal that a football club can be allowed to be left in this condition in the first place. The club’s immediate future was thrown back into doubt again on Thursday following the confirmation that Laurence Bassini has obtained an injunction blocking the sale of the club to Football Ventures, who were reportedly at the point of completing the purchase when Bassini returned yet again to a club at which he is now most unwelcome.
For a couple of hours yesterday afternoon, though, the club’s supporters had a match in front of them as white noise to drown out the racket of this ongoing saga. Because that really is what we want. We want to watch a football match. Perhaps we’ll have a pint of beer and something unhealthy to eat. We don’t want to think about the machinations of fast and loose capitalism, about insolvency law, or about existential threat. We just want to see a team that represents us give it everything they can to win a match. The events of last Thursday mean that, yet again, even this cannot be guaranteed for Bolton Wanderers supporters this season.
Crawley Town 2-0 Salford City
Spiderman meets Spiderman. Who knows whether Crawley Town provide a template for where Salford City might expect to find themselves in five years time or so? Crawley were propelled into the Football League eight years ago with the similarly unsubtle application of lavish amounts of money and even spent three unlikely years in League One. The money has long gone from Broadfield Stadium, and perhaps Crawley Town’s current natural home is as one of the smaller clubs in League Two, but their start to this season couldn’t have been much worse, with four straight defeats from friendly matches followed up by an opening day defeat at Carlisle United last weekend.
Salford, meanwhile, had started their season with a comfortable home win against Stevenage last weekend in front of the cameras of Sky Sports. Yesterday afternoon, however, they looked distinctly average, no better than a run of the mill League Two team and, it would probably be argued, hardly a sparkling return on the investment put into the team over the last few seasons. Money always talks the loudest and Salford City will inevitably come good again in the end, but even following their promotion into the Football League few seem to have been taken in by the idea that this club is some form of “fairy tale” rather than the lower league equivalent to a hormone-pumped battery hen. At all levels of the game it’s the same, though. The price of buying success is that no-one bar your own fans will ever like you that much.