Football League Review: Newcastle Plus One?
There has an air of finality concerning Newcastle United’s ascent to the top of the Football League Championship. A win at Barnsley last midweek was enough to send Rafael Benitez’s team to the top of the table, a position that was further reinforced one minute after three o’clock yesterday afternoon ahen Ayoze Perez scored the fastest goal in the division so far this season to tee up a three-nil demolition of an underwhelming Ipswich Town. Perez added a second goal with seventeen minutes to play, with the third coming from Matt Ritchie. This was Newcastle’s fifth win in a row in this division.
All of this only heaped further unhappiness on Norwich City, who have had a difficult time of things over the last few days. Last week they threw away a two goal lead at Fulham and could only come away from Craven Cottage with a point. Yesterday afternoon at Carrow Road, they were beaten at home by Preston North End, who find themselves in a rich vein of form following a slow start to the season. Alex Baptiste scored the only goal of the match with fifteen minutes to play. Had Norwich won at Fulham and against Preston, they would still be sitting at the top of the table. As things are, they’ve dropped to fourth place.
Norwich’s bad day at the office wasn’t helped by the results from elsewhere. Not only were Newcastle United brushing Ipswich Town aside, but it seemed as though everybody else at the top of the table was finding their form as well. Brighton & Hove Albion are now the team in second place in the table after a second half goal from Dale Stephen gave Chris Hughton’s team a one-nil win at second from bottom Wigan Athletic. More dramatic than this was Huddersfield Town’s one-nil win against Derby County, which featured a winning goal three minutes into stoppage-time from Elias Kachunga and a subsequent impromptu appearance amongst the celebrating players from manager David Wagner, who was sent to the stands for the last few seconds of the match for his troubles.
The other two play-off places in the division are also held by teams who recorded one-nil wins. Sheffield Wednesday beat Queens Park Rangers with a goal from Gary Hooper, whilst Bristol City’s match against Blackburn Rovers was marked by tributes to the former City player Gerry Gow, who died two weeks ago at the age of sixty-four. Gow was the lynchpin of the Bristol City team that played in the top flight in the late 1970s. It is, perhaps appropriate that this match should have ended with a goal from Aaron Wilbraham lifting the team into the division’s play-off places. This opportunity came as a result of Birmingham City’s two-nil defeat in Friday night’s match at Burton Albion. Birmingham’s new owners will likely have been less than impressed at Birmingham’s performance. Burton, meanwhile, continue to defy gravity in the lower-mid table.
Two clubs about who the phrase “in form” might have felt like something of an alien concept in recent years are Leeds United and Aston Villa, but both of these clubs seem to be heading tentatively in the right direction at the moment. Villa’s first home win under Steve Bruce came against Fulham. They’ve been throwing away a lot of points from late goals this season, so a couple of late goals in recent weeks will be considered little more than redressing a balance. Jonathan Kodjia scored the only goal to win a match that leaves his team just six points from the play-off positions, but this was not an especially enthralling match, and they’ll have to improve upon this if they are to challenge at the very top end of the table.
It doesn’t seem like so long ago since knives were sharpening for Garry Monk. The Leeds United manager’s poor start to the season coupled with the notoriously itchy trigger-finger of owner Massimo Cellino seemed to make it as likely as not that Monk’s stay at Elland Road would be a brief one, but Leeds have now won five of their last eight matches and are now in tenth place in the table after winning away to a disjointed and inconsistent Wolverhampton Wanderers team, although they did ride their luck a little and were dependent on a second half own goal from Kemar Roofe for the win. Wolves are now firmly entrenched in the cluster of clubs looking nervously over their shoulders at the bottom of the table.
The contrasting fates of new managers was aptly displayed by the fortunes of Neil Warnock and Kenny Jackett. Warnock’s arrival at Cardiff City hasn’t been without its controversies, but he certainly seems to have had something approaching the desired effect on his team and a win at Nottingham Forest in Saturday’s late match was enough, when coupled with results elsewhere, to lift his team out of the relegation places. Kenny Jackett arrived at Rotherham United last week, and his unwelcome first record set as the club’s manager was to set a club record for successive defeats after his team lost by a goal to nil at home against Reading, their eighth successive league defeat and a result which, when combined with the recent upturn in fortunes for several of the other clubs that have been labouring near the foot of the divisions, demonstrates the scale of the task ahead for the former Wolverhampton Wanderers and Millwall manager. Another side near the bottom of the division’s form table, Barnsley, won their first match in eight by two goals to nil at Brentford.
Scunthorpe United continue to lead the way at the top of League One, with three second half goals without reply handing them a comfortable win at Chesterfield to increase their lead at the top of the table to five points. The main focus of attention in the division, however, came at Valley Parade, where a crowd of twenty-one thousand people saw second placed Bradford City thrash out an entertaining three-all draw against third-placed Sheffield United, who’d won seven of their previous nine matches to propel themselves into the middle of the promotion race, that swung to and fro before ending up level.
With Bolton Wanderers not playing until Monday night, only five points now separate third place from twelfth in the table. Port Vale dropped out of the play-off places after being held to a home draw by Oxford United, which means that the other two play-off places are now held by two somewhat surprising names. Bristol Rovers won by two goals to nil at Oldham Athletic to move into fourth place in the table, but headlines in this respect will most likely be hogged by Wimbledon, who are now in fifth place in the table after an early goal from Tom Elliott gave them a one-nil win at Peterborough United, their fourth win in their last five league matches.
Things are similarly congested at the other end of the table. Shrewsbury Town are starting to look a little adrift at the bottom of the table after a fourth defeat in a won, four-two at home by Northampton Town. With Chesterfield and Oldham both losing, there was an opportunity for Coventry City to improve their league position a little. With Mark Venus now apparently in the Coventry manager’s job until January and supporters protesting against the owners outside the Ricoh Arena before the match, at least the team managed to hold itself together, beating Rochdale by two goals to nil. The other protest club du jour in League One, Charlton Athletic, continue their incremental slide towards another relegation battle after their eighth draw in fourteen league matches so far this season, this time at Gillingham. At least there was a little bit of respite for another out of form team, though. Millwall, who’d lost five of their previous six matches, beat Fleetwood Town at The New Den.
The thirteenth of August was the last time that Plymouth Argyle lost a league match. They’ve gone twelve unbeaten since then and are now four points clear at the top of League Two after a three-one win at bottom of the table Newport County. They had the advantage of the opposition having a man sent off, but Plymouth pulled clear eventually and are starting to look rather comfortable in position at the top of the table. “Just the twelve matches?” would be reasonable reply from the other end of the country. Carlisle United remain unbeaten in League Two after fourteen matches after a two-one win at Stevenage lifted them into second place in the table, their fourth win in a row. The three teams below them, however, couldn’t manage a win between them. Third placed Doncaster Rovers were well beaten at Blackpool, while Luton Town were held at home by Mansfield Town and a stuttering Portsmouth were beaten at home by Notts County.
At the wrong end of the table, Exeter City remain in the other relegation place above Newport following a two-one home defeat against a Cambridge United team that now seems to be kicking into gear after a slow start to the season – they’ve now won four of their last six matches – but there was at least finally some respite for the long-suffering supporters of Leyton Orient. Relegated from League One at the end of last season, Orient had been sliding towards the bottom of the table themselves, but manager Alberto Cavasin finally recorded his first win as their manager as they came from behind to beat Hartlepool United by three goals to one at Victoria Park. Hartlepool, for their part, haven’t won any of their first seven home league matches of the season. One win, however, doesn’t mean that a spectacular revival is necessarily on the cards at Brisbane Road, and there seem few signs of abatement in the growing swell of discontentment at the antics of owner Francesco Becchetti. A win, though, surely felt like welcome reward for those who made that long journey north on Saturday afternoon.
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