Football League Review: Nipping At Their Heels
At the start of this season, the appointment of David Wagner by Huddersfield Town was considered one of the more innovative of the summer. A former assistant to Jurgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund, Wagner is one of European football’s new bright young things, and it didn’t take long before bigger clubs were sniffing around him after this team’s strong start to their Football League Championship season. This faded somewhat as Huddersfield’s early season form dissipated, but yesterday afternoon they finally returned to winning ways with a win from an eventful afternoon against Bristol City.
The visiting goalkeeper, Frank Fielding, went from being the luckiest man on the pitch to being wearing something of a dunce’s cap. On the one hand, he earned himself a get out of jail free card when he only picked up a yellow card for deliberately handballing outside the penalty area, but was only shortly after this that Fielding displayed the close control of a combine harvester, knocking the ball into the path of Nakhi Wells, whose goal, as things turned out, wrapped up a two-one win that lifted Huddersfield back to fourth place in the table.
The top three, meanwhile, are starting to open up a bit of a gap at the top. On Friday night, Brighton & Hove Albion required two penalty kicks to beat Leeds United, but in doing so they topped the table for the first time this season. It didn’t last that long, of course. Newcastle United, who’d wobbled surprisingly over the last couple of weeks with consecutive defeats against struggling Blackburn Rovers and Nottingham Forest, stirred back to life with a four-nil win against a Birmingham City team that had started the day in the play-off places with the assistance of a Dwight Gayle hat-trick. Reading, meanwhile, had seen their run of five successive wins come to a spectacular halt last weekeend, when they were beaten five-nil at Fulham. They bounced back yesterday with a narrow win against Sheffield Wednesday, but they remain five points adrift of the top two.
The knives, however, are surely now drawn for the Norwich City manager Alex Neil, after his side lost for the sixth time in seven matches, this time at Barnsley, by two goals to one. There are now just six points between fourth placed Huddersfield Town and fourteenth placed Bristol City, and that chasing pack’s most curious match came at Molineux, where Fulham, who’ve been in outstanding form of late, drew four-all against Wolves, who’d lost their previous four straight home matches. Wolves probably thought they’d won the match in the ninetieth minute, when David Edwards scored from an improbably narrow angle to complete a comeback from three-one down to lead by four goals to three, but in stoppage time Tom Cairney rescued a point for Fulham.
It was a mixed day for the teams at the bottom of the table. There was much rubbing of eyes at The New York Stadium, where a first half goal from Isiah Brown gave Rotherham United their first league win since August and finally took them to double figures for the season. Wigan Athletic, meanwhile, might have thought that they’d done enough to earn themselves a creditable draw at Aston Villa, only for a long range goal from Smokin’ Jack Grealish two minutes from time to win the game for Villa, whilst Blackburn Rovers put up a decent enough fight in the Championship’s evening match at Deepdale, where Preston North End’s Daniel Johnson was a particularly busy boy, scoring twice for his team but also conceding a penalty at the other end of the pitch.
Elsewhere, Brentford narrowly beat Burton Albion, and Ipswich Town and Cardiff City played out a draw at Portman Road, in a match mostly notable for the monumental hissy fit performed by Sol Bamba following his seventieth minute sending off for Cardiff, and incident that ended in some pushing and shoving between Bamba and the Cardiff manager Neil Warnock, who didn’t seem terribly impressed with the behaviour of his player. With Cardiff still occupying the division’s third relegation place, such theatrics are probably not to welcome at The Cardiff City Stadium at the moment. Samba will likely have some explaining to do, either before or after training, on Monday morning.
At the top of League One, Scunthorpe United stay three points clear despite having lost by three goals to two at Rochdale, who remain in fifth place in the table. Bradford City were held to a goalless draw by Charlton Athletic, a result which allowed Sheffield United to leapfrog them into second place in the table following a four-nil win against Swindon Town. Bolton Wanderers, whose season seems to have levelled off, if you’ll excuse the melangerie of metaphors, on an upward curve, dropped a place in the table without even playing a match. They play Gillingham in a match inexplicably picked for television coverage on Monday night.
The first league match between Milton Keynes and Wimbledon ended in a win for the home team by a goal to nil, but there was no particular media feeding frenzy surrounding this game, which left Wimbledon in tenth place in the table and Milton Keynes in eighteenth place. Wimbledon supporters who will never set foot in “Stadium MK” and an early kick-off for the television cameras limited the crowd to just over eleven thousand people, and Wimbledon have the higher league position as well, which will likely have pacified supporters following a disappointing result.
At the bottom of the table, meanwhile, things are as tight as ever. Shrewsbury Town stay bottom of the table, but a surprise one-nil win at Millwall brought them level on points with Chesterfield and Oldham Athletic. Chesterfield were well beaten, by five goals to two at Peterborough United, who remain in the play-off places at the top, whilst Oldham earned a creditable draw at Oxford United. A point above them are Coventry City. The club’s owners lost an important court case regarding the ongoing tug-of-war for The Ricoh Arena last week, and the team couldn’t improve much on this, losing by three goals to one at Southend United, who are now up to eighth place in the League One table despite ongoing rumblings of financial issues and look as though they might yet be one of the surprise packages of the season in the division.
Bury stay just clear of the relegation places following a four-two defeat at Bristol Rovers, which marked their eleventh successive defeat in the league this season, a record which hints that it might only be the shortcomings of those below them that are keeping them above the dotted line. In the other League One matches played yesterday afternoon, Fleetwood Town jumped back up to seventh place in the table following a narrow two-one win against Walsall, whilst Northampton Town ended a run of four straight defeats with a win at Port Vale which ended their recent slide from the fringes of a possible second successive promotion challenge to a possible relegation battle. Mid-table it is, then, for them.
Another team that ended a recent winless run was the leaders of League Two, Plymouth Argyle. They had lost their previous three matches and might have been a little concerned at having to play Doncaster Rovers, who’d won their previous four matches, at this of all times. Still, they stay top of the table following a two-nil win, whilst second placed Carlisle United could only manage a one-all draw at fifth placed Luton Town. Only two points separate the top three, but they have a four point back down to Portsmouth, who stay in fourth place following a narrow one-nil win at Grimsby Town.
At the bottom of the table, meanwhile, it never rains but it pours for Newport County. They were leading Moercambe by a goal to nil when their match was abandoned, and they stay bottom of the table as a result. Cheltenham Town, however, couldn’t take advantage of the only team below them in the table’s inertia. They were beaten three-one at home by Exeter City, for whom seven points from their last three games have lifted the team to seventeenth place in the table. There was, however, cause for bunting to be hung out at Brisbane Road on Saturday afternoon. A one-nil win against Accrington Stanley was their first home league win since the middle of August, on an afternoon most notable for fighting in the Accrington end of the ground. Stanley, who made the play-offs at the end of last season before being beaten by Wimbledon in the semi-finals, now sit one place and three points above the division’s relegation places. There’s a long way to go, and with just nine points separating Blackpool, in seventh place in the table, from Accrington, in twenty-second place in the table, the forthcoming Christmas and New Year schedules will be even more important than ever.
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