Football League Review: We Gotta Get Outta This Place
After a slow start to the season, Newcastle United are starting to move ominously towards the top of the Football League Championship table. Late on Saturday afternoon, their two-nil win against Brighton & Hove Albion in front of just over 49,000 people at St James Park, a timeously persuasive performance in front of live television cameras against one of the division’s other stronger sides. Jamaal Lascelles gave them the lead after twenty-five minutes, but it still required a little luck in the openng stages of the second half to sew up Rafael Benitez’s third win of the new season. Anthony Knockaert hit the underside of the crossbar for Brighton a couple of minutes in, and after nine miuntes of the second half had been played a second yellow card for Sam Baldock effectively ended any realistic chances of a Brighton comeback.
Newcastle, however, do not lead the pack. That honour goes to Huddersfield Town, who scrambled their way past Wolverhampton Wanderers thanks to an early goal from Rajiv van La Parra, with Fulham in second place after another one goal win, at the clearly imploding Blackburn Rovers, and newly-promoted Barnsley, whose new season optimism continued with a four-nil South Yorkshire derby win against Rotherham United. Blackburn, who are rooted to the bottom of the table and may just be disappearing without trace already, can probably consider themselves a little unlucky to have lost their match.
It took a goal from Tom Cairney with four minutes of stoppage time played at the end of the match to secure the win for Fulham, which some Blackburn supporters may consider to be something of a summary of Owen Coyle’s time in charge of the club so far, but Rotherham could have no such similar complaints. A swashbuckling second half performance from the home side at Oakwell left Rotherham in the relegation places, with goals coming from Marc Roberts, Adam Hammill, Tom Bradshaw and Ryan Ken. A long winter may be ahead at both Blackburn and Rotherham.
Indeed, we might even argue that, with five games of the new season played, Newcastle United are the only club in the top six that we would necesssarily be expecting to see there. Newcastle are in fourth place in the table, with fifth and sixth places being taken by Queens Park Rangers and Bristol City. QPR won by the only goal at Wigan Athletic, while Bristol City’s win against Aston Villa at Ashton Gate continued Villa’s bumpy start to life in the Championship. Roberto di Matteo’s team has only won once in six competitive matches this season, and the turning point that supporters may have felt had been turned following their comfortable win against Rotherham United a couple of weeks ago is now most likely being considered something of a false start now.
Villa now sit in fifteenth place in the table, with a small clutch of other clubs who were widely expected to perform well this season. The weekend started on Friday night with a defeat for Derby County at the hands of Burton Albion. This was the first time that two clubs who sit just twelve miles apart have met in a league fixture, and Burton shaded it with a twelfth minute goal from Jackson Irvine. If there was any consolation for Derby from a pretty dreadful evening, well, at least they could applaud Shaun Barker onto the pitch for his first match in four and a half years following a horrendous knee injury. Barker was released by Derby last year and picked up by Burton, and although his substitution was a late one he still found the time to make one firm defensive headed clearance to maintain his team’s perfect evening.
Two Yorkshire clubs, meanwhile, continue to struggle at the wrong end of the table. Sheffield Wednesday still seem to be suffering from the psychological after-effects of losing in the play-off final at the end of last season and were held to a one-all draw at Brentford, whilst below them – and only just above the division’s relegation places, now – sit Leeds United, who were beaten again yesterday afternoon, a three-one defeat at Nottinhgam Forest which leaves manager Garry Monk hanging by a thread, even though we’re not quite at the end of August yet. Massimo Cellino’s notoriously itchy trigger-finger is most likely already starting to twitch. In the division’s other matches, Reading won at Cardiff City whilst Ipswich Town beat struggling Preston North End.
So, not a great weekend in the Championship for Yorkshire’s clubs then, but there was slightly happier news for a Yorkshire club in League One this weekend when pre-season promotion favourites Sheffield United finally got their first win of the season against Oxford United. They went about it the hard way, though, having to come from behind with goals from Billy Sharp and James Wilson after Kane Hemmings had given Oxford an early lead. This result was enough to drop Wimbledon to the bottom of the table. With five minutes to go of their match at Spotland against Rochdale, it looked as though the Dons were on their way to a first win of the season. Marc Barcham had given them a first half lead, and with eight minutes left to play it looked as though the game should be over when Rochdale lost Callum Camps to a second yellow card. With five minutes played of stoppage-time at the end of the match, however, Wimbledon goalkeeper Ryan Clarke punched a corner into his own goal and Wimbledon dropped back to the foot of the table.
It wasn’t a great weekend for the teams at the top of the table, either. None of the top three teams in the division won their matches. Bolton Wanderers conceded a late goal to Charlton’s eighteen year old Ademola Lookman to drop their first points of the season at The Valley, whilst Bradford City were held at home by Oldham Athletic and Scunthorpe United were beaten at Port Vale, who move up to fourth place in the table. Perhaps the performance of the weekend in League One, however, came from Bury, who came from three goals down nat half-time in their match at Walsall to pick up a point from a three-all draw. Finally, with rumours having started yet again that Coventry City may not be much longer for The Ricoh Arena, they welcomed the club who gave them a home after their petulant departure from there a couple of seasons ago, Northampton Town. The two teams drew this match one-all, meaning that Northampton have now drawn all five of their league matches so far this season, whilst Coventry remain in the relegation places at the foot of the table.
While the teams in second, third and fourth place in League Two – Luton Town, Doncaster Rovers and Colchester United – may not be hugely surprising, the identity of the team at the top of the table is a little so. Morecambe were amongst the pre-season favourites to be spending much of the next nine months at the other end of the table, but their three-two win at Accrington Stanley on Saturday, for which they were required to come back from two goals down to snatch all three points, left them two points of the season. Luton Town stay in second place after scoring three goals away from home for the second time already this season at Cambridge United, a result which left Cambridge at the bottom of the table, without a win from their first five matches of the season.
With Cambridge bottom of the table, the division’s other relegation place is now taken up by Exeter City, whose poor start to the season continued with a home defeat against Portsmouth at St James Park, although the visitors – who have had a fairly nervy start to the season themselves – were dependent on a Gary Roberts penalty five minutes from the end of the match, after Pierce Sweeney caught substitute Kai Naismith. Now into the play-off places, meanwhile, are Plymouth Argyle, whose third successive win after a bad start to the season came at Blackpool. The result of the day in League Two, however, probably came at Blundell Park, where a hat-trick from Omar Bogle helped Grimsby Town to a five-two win over Stevenage, a result which leaves Stevenage hovering just above the relegation places in the division. With August still not over yet, though, there shouldn’t be any reason for clubs to panic just yet. This, however, doesn’t mean that they won’t. Such is the nature of twenty-first century football.
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