Football League Review: Rovers Return(ish)
It took them eight games, but they got there in the end. After a disastrous start to the season, Blackburn Rovers finally picked up their first win of the season against Rotherham United on Saturday afternoon, a win that lifted Owen Coyle’s team off the bottom the table whilst providing a little respite to supporters who have doubtless felt besieged from just about all sides, of late. To a point, perhaps Coyle was somewhat fortunate to have his team lining up against the most profligate defence in the top four divisions of English football – Blackburn’s fourth goal was the twentieth that Rotherham have conceded in the league already this season – but the win was at least enough to life the club off the bottom of the table.
They are replaced at the bottom of the table by another club that seems to be undergoing something of an identity crisis at the moment. Cardiff City’s slide to the foot of the Championship has resembled a slowly deflating balloon rather than a crash landing jumbo jet, which may have led to their descent down the table slipping under the news radar, somewhat. On Saturday afternoon, they lost their fourth match in a row at home against Leeds United. This was a result that has further loosened the noose that had been tightening around the Leeds manager Garry Monk’s neck, making a mockery of those who were calling for him to swing not so long ago. Leeds are now to the relatively vertiginous heights of fifteenth place in the table.
At the top end of the table, meanwhile, those involved are acting coquettishly, as though they’re shy to reveal the full extent or limitations of their abilities. Huddersfield Town stay top of the table after a narrow win against Queens Park Rangers, which will most likely have come as something of a relief following their defeat at Brighton last week. Newcastle United, meanwhile, still have some traces of ghosts from the past to exorcise. Their recent winning run came to a shuddering halt at home against Wolverhampton Wanderers, a result and performance so out of character with recent form that it defies explanation, other than the possibility of it being a side-effect of Rafael Benitez’s squad rotation tendencies.
Barnsley had got people talking with their four-nil win at Wolves last week, but they slipped on a banana skin against Reading, and the direction their season takes may come to rest upon their reaction to this unexpected loss. Meanwhile, it’s two games and two goals that have been enough to drag Brighton & Hove Albion’s season from being moribund to being promising again. They beat Burton Albion by a goal to nil, but the performance that Burton put in gave no indication that they will have many difficulties coping at this level.
Aston Villa drew again, nil-nil at Ipswich Town. A match which, thirty-six years ago, would have been the biggest match of the day in the whole of England. They’ve now played eight games, have Aston Villa. They’ve drawn five of them. They’ve scored eight goals. They’ve conceded eight goals. They’ve got eight points. Somehow or other, they’re finding a way of making Aston Villa being in the Championship… boring. The new owner has proved himself to be popular, so far. It is doubtful that the supporters’ feelings towards Roberto di Matteo will remain as cordial, should results not significantly improve. The good news is that they’ve got plenty of space to improve into.
Elsewhere, Norwich City clambered back – and ominously, though one can never take these things for granted in this division – to second place by coming from behind to win at Nottingham Forest, whilst Fulham’s recently glittering star continued to fade a little with an event-free goalless draw at Wigan Athletic, who stay in the relegation places. More impressive was the performance of Brentford, who leapt to sixth place after putting five goals without reply past Preston North End. This included four goals in the last sixteen minutes and a hat-trick for Scott Hogan. Supporters can be forgiven dreaming of opening their new stadium in the Premier League, at this time of year. One place above Brentford are Birmingham City, who came from behind in the evening match to beat Sheffield Wednesday, with a winning goal in stoppage-time seconds thanks to Jutkiewicz’s gravity-defying header after Wednesday had hit the crossbar at the other end just seconds earlier.
Bolton Wanderers are no longer top of League One. A first half goal was enough for Walsall to beat them on Saturday, but this followed three draws, giving their season, albeit in a different way to Cardiff, a balloon-deflating bronx cheer. Scunthorpe United took advantage of this with a narrow win at Shrewsbury Town, but most impressive of all of late have been Sheffield United, whose one-nil win against Peterborough United was their fourth in a row and marked their transition from the foot of the table to the play-offs in just a few weeks. Northampton Town’s thirty-one unbeaten league run finally came to an end, with a three-one defeat at Chesterfield.
At the other end of the table, blue skies are turning grey. 8,813 people saw Coventry City play out a goalless draw against Oldham Athletic. Without a win from their first eight matches of the season, Coventry are now sitting at the bottom of the table, following Rochdale’s win against Fleetwood Town, and Coventry are in trouble. There was happier news for Wimbledon, similarly FA Cup finalists in the late 1980s, though. They came from behind to win by two goals to one at Charlton Athletic, a result that lifts them to seventeenth place in the table, whilst Charlton drop to fourteenth. It is, perhaps, appropriate that two clubs with such histories of supporter activism should have met at such a point in Charlton’s history as this.
Finally, in League Two, Plymouth Argyle picked a little glee from their two-nil win at Exeter City in the Devon derby. They stay top of the table, whilst Exeter remain in the relegation places. The division’s freak club, Carlisle United, drew for the sixth time in eight games, this time committing so much to that particular cause that they threw away a two goal lead to preserve their strangely unique season record. Portsmouth lost at Accrington whilst Luton lost at Crawley, and there was a welcome return to form for Morecambe, who’d conceded five goals at home to Doncaster Rovers last weekend, narrow winners at still bottom club Cambridge United. Finally, The Hive, home of Barnet, is undergoing a make-over at the moment. Formerly unique for it’s near uniform greyness, it has rows of yellow and black striped seats behind one goal. They’re quite an assault on the eyes, if you’re not expecting them. Thast’s the trouble with modern football supporters. You’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t.
Apologies for the slightly truncated nature of this week’s reviews, by the way. I have hand, foot and mouth disease (no, not foot and mouth disease, this is like, oh it’s just horrible, let’s leave it at that), and typing isn’t particularly easy at the moment.
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