Football League Review: The Forgotten Men

by | Sep 4, 2016

On the first weekend of September, we tend to forget about the clubs of League One and League Two. Those of the Football League Championship join the Premier League in a weekend off on account of the international break, whilst non-league clubs enjoy a day in the spotlight, but the clubs of the bottom two divisions, already sold down the river this season by the desecration of the Football League Trophy, tend to get fall between the gaps in the grates a little, on this weekend at the very least. Still, though, they played on, despite near monsoon conditions in several cases. League One now plays host to two clubs who won the FA Cup in successive years in the late 1980s. In 1987, Coventry City beat Tottenham Hotspur after extra-time, whilst the following year Wimbledon beat Liverpool. Both were First Division clubs at the time, and both clung onto that status until into the start of the new century. Both, of course, are almost unrecognisable from the clubs that last played regular host to the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal. And both started this weekend in the relegation places at the bottom of the League One table.

It has taken Wimbledon a while to acclimatise to life in League One, but yesterday afternoon at Kingsmeadow a crowd of almost ten times the number that saw the team brush past Swansea City’s academy team in what passes for the Football League Trophy this season saw Wimbledon grab a first league win of the season to follow that first win of the season in any competition. It took them a while to get there, though. With ten minutes to play of the first half, a header from Chesterfield’s Sam Hird deflected off Darius Charles to give the visitors the lead. The margins between victory and defeat can, however, be extremely slim. Chesterfield had chances and half-chances to to consolidate their position, but eight minutes into the second half with a Paul Robinson goal from a George Francomb corner, and with a minute of stoppage-time played at the end of the match, Dominic Poleon scored a goal to give Wimbledon a first win League One win of the season and three points that lifts the club out of the relegation places at the foot of the table and, thanks to results elsewhere, lifted Wimbledon to nineteenth place in the table.

The tribulations of Coventry City over the last few years have been fairly extensively documented on these pages and we’re probably due an update on what has been going on away from the pitch. Existential matters notwithstanding, the team has had a poor start to the season and went into its trip to Fleetwood Town in the relegation places and, like Wimbledon, without a league win to its name so far this season. In their first season at this level last season, Fleetwood only narrowly avoided relegation, but this season has started considerably more brightly, even though many predicted a repeat of last year’s struggles this time around.

In pouring rain on the Lancashire coast yesterday afternoon, Fleetwood won by two goals to nil thanks to goals two goals in thirteen minutes from Chris Long and Martyn Woolford were enough to lift Fleetwood to third place in the table and subject Coventry to another defeat. With three draws and three defeats from their opening six league matches of the season, they now sit one place off the bottom of the League One table and, with this theme seeming to carry on from a disappointing second half to last season, pressure is already starting to grow on manager Tony Mowbray. Whether the ultimate fate of the manager turns out to be more important than the legal machinations that still – even now! – rumble on in the background of this litigation happy club is a question for another day.

At the other end of the table, meanwhile, Bolton Wanderers stay ahead of the pack after having had the financial meltdown that the club probably needed last season. Their league form has, however, stalled a little over the last couple of weeks or so, with two straight draws having followed four wins from their first four matches of the season. Yesterday, they were held to a one-all draw at home by struggling Southend United, and the clue to what the most likely issue that Bolton may have in the immediate future seems most evident from the fact that they have scored just nine goals in their six league matches so far. Bradford City, meanwhile, stay in second place in the table following a creditable one-all draw at Millwall, who rose to fourth place in the table because – well, probably because – Scunthorpe United were without a game.

In League Two, meanwhile, it hasn’t necessarily been the easiest of weeks for the supporters of Leyton Orient. Popular winger Dean Cox was released by the club last week after six years and more than two hundred appearances despite the collapse of an attempt by Northampton Town to take him off their hands, a decision that seems thoroughly in keeping with the way that it has been run over the last couple of years by Francesco Becchetti. Yesterday afternoon, however, supporters who made the long trip north to Morecamble were rewarded with a surprise win against the league leaders. Morecambe’s two-one home defeat, coupled with a defeat for Doncaster Rovers at Crewe Alexandra, left the door open for Luton Town to jump to the top of the table folllowing a four-one home demolition of Wycombe Wanderers. Plymouth Argyle and Portsmouth move into third and fourth places respectively following wins against Cheltenham Town and Crawley Town.

At the other end of the table, meanwhile, it was a good day for a couple of teams that had endured tough starts to the season. Exeter City had started yesterday in the relegation places at the bottom of League Two, but their three-two win at Colchester United was enough push them up to eighteenth place and sentence Yeovil Town to the existential crisis of sitting below the dotted line at the bottom of the table following their three-nil home defeat at the hands of Blackpool. Stevenage had also not been finding life this season to be much to their taste, but supporters will likely be feeling a little more sanguine about it all following a six-one win against Hartlepool United yesterday afternoon. Stevenage had conceded five goals at Grimsby Town the week before, and those watching may have been fearing the worst after Nathan Thomas opened the scoring for Hartlepool after just four minutes. After debutee Tyler Walker levelled for Stevenage with a minute left of the first half, however, five second half goals gave Stevenage their biggest win in four years and sentenced them to what was probably the – no, not literally – longest journeys home of the weekend.

Cambridge United stay bottom of the table without a win from their opening six matches, following a goalless draw at Mansfield Town, whilst for the second weekend in a row a Football League match was abandoned due to incelement weather conditions. Last weekend, the League One match between Swindon Town and Bristol Rovers had to be brought to a close after an hour following a flash thunderstorm that rendered the pitch unplayable. Yesterday afternoon, what would have been the fastest goal scored in the Football League this season – for Barnet, after twenty-three seconds, by John Akinde – found itself wiped from the records after the match was called off at half-time because the pitch was considered waterlogged. The Barnet manager Martin Allen was, perhaps predictably, unhappy with it all, telling BBC Radio Wales that, “There were three puddles, but none of them were bigger than the paddling pool I have got in the garden for my dog.” Well, it’s an interesting interpretation of how we should determine whether a pitch is playable, at least.

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