The Lower League Fortnight – The Up and Down Edition
Against playoff chasing Carlisle the previous weekend, Charlton battled their way to their fourth win in a row, and a third successive 1-0 victory. Meanwhile, Sheffield Wednesday dropped points against Colchester for the second time in nine games under Dave Jones, putting Charlton ten points clear of third with three games remaining, sealing promotion.
This weekend the Addicks hosted Wycombe, battling against relegation. Wycombe have had a number of players on loan from Charlton. Paul Hayes was recalled a few weeks ago, while Gary Doherty was forced to drop out of the Chairboys’ first team at the weekend. The match wasn’t the overwhelming victory you’d expect champions to have over relegation battlers. The number of chances were balanced, and according to the BBC, Wycombe had more possession. But a goal quarter of an hour from the end sealed the win and gave Charlton the title.
Early in the season Charlton were scoring a huge number of goals, but seven of their fourteen victories since the turn of the year have been 1-0 wins, proof of their ability to dig out results when the pressure has been at it’s toughest. A scrappy 1-0 win over Oldham achieved with nine men is probably the best example of this. Both Sheffield clubs, with two games remaining, already have enough points to have finished second eight of the last ten seasons, so Charlton have been pushed harder than most previous champions. The fact that they have 97 points at the time the title was finally confirmed is proof of this.
While the fact the Addicks have had to scrap to tight victories so often in recent months suggests they probably won’t follow previous promoted sides Norwich and Southampton in achieving back to back promotions, they’ve followed the Manchester United side of the last two seasons, in not always being as dominant as you’d expect champions to be, but finding the strength within themselves to get the results they need.
They’re talented and disciplined enough that, regardless of summer activity they should be a solid mid-table Championship team next year.
The Chase for Second
The two Sheffield clubs are in a straight battle for the remaining automatic promotion place. At the weekend, perhaps distracted by the result of a certain court case, United followed up six victories in a row with a 1-0 loss to an MK Dons side who spent the last quarter of an hour with ten men. Meanwhile, Wednesday scored the winner against Carlisle in the fifth of eight minutes of stoppage time, narrowing the gap to one point (and eleven goals).
Their fixtures in the run-in have a strangely parallel path – this weekend each played a team with a strong chance of being in the playoffs, and they now have to play a side with an outside chance of being in the playoffs, then round off with games against teams currently in the relegation zone.
There are certain to be strong feelings on both sides of the Steel City on May 5th.
Presumably you know the basics of the story by now.
In brief, Clayton McDonald picked up a drunk girl on the street, and phoned Evans as he did so. Evans booked a hotel room, the girl may or may not have known he would be there. McDonald and Evans both had sex with the girl, either with her consent or not, while two friends watched through a window.
On Friday, McDonald was found not guilty of rape, Evans was found guilty.
Three days after the verdict, Ched Evans, second top scorer in League One, was named in the PFA League One team of the year.
Since the verdict, under the #justiceforched hash tag, the woman’s name has been passed around on Twitter, and Sky News have even been moronic enough to put an uncensored screenshot of her name on TV.
I would try and add a little more analysis, but pretty much everything about the situation makes me feel queasy.
Fleetwood’s promotion – all but certain after drawing with Wrexham, was up for grabs again last weekend. They travelled to Lincoln, only just safe from relegation on Friday 13th, where they surprisingly found themselves two down after twenty minutes. Star striker Jamie Vardy scored twice either side of half time, but couldn’t add a winner.
Wrexham had the chance to close the gap and delay the inevitable on Saturday 14th, but Grimsby equalised eight minutes from the end, to draw 2-2.
As a result, Fleetwood were promoted, with players being informed while attending the Grand National at Aintree.
Marriott v Wrexham
This Friday night Mansfield played Wrexham, in a third vs second match, both teams being guaranteed a playoff place.
A long kick out from goalkeeper Alan Marriott bounced at the edge of the area, and over Wrexham’s keeper.
Not every pitch can be a lush green at this time of year, and goals like Marriott’s are an entertaining quirk of football that’s pretty much been ironed out of the more big business Premier League!
Given that victory over Plymouth was their fourth in a row, their fifth win from six and seventeenth in twenty league games, getting the final point from four games needed to seal promotion looked a formality.
But Swindon have lost their two games in the week since – against an Aldershot team with nothing to play for, and a Gillingham team with only an outside shot of making the playoffs. It’s their first back to back defeats since August, and their longest winless run in the league since October.
Victory over Plymouth was followed by a lengthy drinking session for a number of Town’s players, which didn’t please their manager. As a result di Canio made several changes for the midweek game at Aldershot and vented his fury after the defeat
“Our position a few weeks ago maybe put some of our players in a decision to think everything is done. Maybe to go out and drink. For some, maybe it is already a holiday. For what happened a few days ago, I should change even more players.”
No-one was spared from the wrath of Paolo, who went on to say that
“If I have to bring a new team in at Gillingham, I will do. The problem is that even in the youth team we do not have the professionalism and the desire. If we did I would have no problem bringing in a team of under-16s and 17s to play there.”
Incidentally, the youth team seemed to have been fired up by their manager’s comments, beating Yeovil by eight goals to nil on Saturday. Either they were highly motivated, or drastically underrated.
Paul Benson revealed in a recent interview last week that he’s only had three days off since arriving in January, and the hard work can be seen in their style of play. Swindon Town are the type of free flowing side who seem to be moving the ball around with a single mind, which can only be achieved by spending time getting to know each other’s game and positioning.
Most teams are to some extent an extension of their manager’s personality and beliefs. When di Canio was appointed last summer, there was mockery on some message boards, with neutrals talking of him as a loose cannon, bound to cause mayhem.
A fair amount of neutrals, and probably Swindon fans, will have viewed him through the prism of his push on Paul Alcock, rather than looking at how much he values hard work and self-discipline. (One anecdote heavily repeated recently was that, during his time at Celtic, he hired his own personal coach to work with him on days off.)
Swindon are one of the richer teams in the division. With attendances generally between seven and ten thousand and with money from big sales in recent years, promotion was what was expected. Even in a division with Crawley Town, Swindon could reasonably be considered the moneybags team of the league.
Given di Canio’s name and personality, all he’d have to do would be to prove halfway competent as a manager and he’d eventually be linked with ‘big’ jobs. But the style of Swindon’s play – stylish, but committed, in addition to his high standards, suggests they could be set to continue climbing the leagues in the next few years.
Gillingham v Medway Council
Medway Council last week issued a prohibition notice, to stop fans attending this weekend’s match against Swindon.
Tickets had been on sale for the game despite police insisting that a licence won’t be granted. The home team still have a chance of reaching the playoffs, and Swindon could’ve sealed the title at Priestfield. Gillingham eventually backed down, but played a dangerous game by pushing things so close to the day.
Darlington’s Northern Echo Arena played host to bottom of the league Bath City. It started well, with the Quakers racing into a 2-0 lead when Adam Rundle scored ten minutes from the end. It looked like Darlington would manage to bow out of the Conference on one of the few occasions this season when they would be allowed dignity and self-respect.
But, as mentioned last time, Darlington FC has long been a place of self-destruction and pitch black comedy. Bath City got back into the match, scoring twice in the last ten minutes with their only two shots on target in the match.
Darlington are now down, with experienced winger turned full-back Neil Wainwright describing the feeling as his “worst low.”
All Darlington have to fight for now is to escape from administration – if they are still in administration when the Conference AGM takes place, a second relegation could be imposed.
Bath went 4-0 up against Gateshead this weekend, before winning 4-2, which lessens the embarrassment of the result slightly. But Darlington fans are still hoping the season can end as soon as possible.
Hayes and Yeading United
Despite winning at Lincoln this weekend, victory for Newport over Alfreton meant Hayes were five points adrift, with only three left to play for.
Unlike many teams at Conference level, Hayes and Yeading are part-time, and don’t have a reserve team. Only once this season have they had a home attendance above one thousand, with crowds being in the two hundreds more often than not.
Their financial troubles may not be as attention grabbing as those at Kettering and Darlington, but they’ve done well to compete so long into the season.
As mentioned previously, victory in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy should have given Chesterfield a psychological boost, and if they’d managed to get back to the form that took them up as League Two champions last year, then they would have a slim chance of survival.
Disappointing results in must win games over Easter meant that the Spireites looked as if they were definitely down, with a visit to Hartlepool probably being the game that would mathematically send them down.
But despite falling behind at Hartlepool, Chesterfield had enough fight in them to keep going, coming back to win 2-1.
This weekend, against Rochdale, they fell behind again, but grabbed an equaliser nine minutes from the end. An excellent long range strike against the bar by Franck Moussa was followed up by Danny Whittaker, meaning Chesterfield won the match.
The 2-1 victory means Chesterfield still have a chance of survival, but sends Rochdale down.
Stevenage vs Brentford
Carlisle were always the underdogs in a game at Sheffield Wednesday, and Bury beat Notts County in an early match, meaning a win would give either team a very decent chance of reaching the playoffs.
Half an hour in, Brentford were awarded a penalty when Clinton Morrison was brought down. Star striker Clayton Donaldson struck the penalty against the bar. When the Bees were given a second penalty early in the second half, Sam Saunders stepped up. The Stevenage keeper dived to his right, the penalty went to the keeper’s left. It struck the post and somehow flew across the goal into the keeper’s hands.
Predictably, Stevenage took the lead a few minutes later, and Luke Freeman doubled their advantage with a strong strike on the hour.
In the final minute Saunders proved himself more deadly from outside the area than from the penalty spot, curling a free kick into the top corner. But, it was too late – the match ended 2-1.
Stevenage now occupy the final playoff spot, and Brentford are five points adrift with two games left.
Notts County and Carlisle are both within three points, meaning there’ll be a tight chase in the final weeks.
Following a draw with Hereford, one of two teams below them and in the relegation zone, Barnet this week sacked Lawrie Sanchez. They replaced him with Martin Allen, in his third spell at the club. His previous spell lasted for three games last March, then he left Barnet for Notts County, who sacked him last month. Lawrie Sanchez accused Barnet of;
“the same lack of loyalty the club accused Martin Allen of showing when he walked out on Barnet towards the end of last season.”
Allen’s first game in charge was a 3-0 defeat to promotion chasing Southend on Friday, leaving the Bees three points above Macclesfield and Hereford, having played a game more than both.
Two weeks after leaving Crawley, Steve Evans apparently isn’t too popular amongst the players he left behind.
Wirral Council have sponsored Tranmere Rovers in some form or another since 1989, having this season spent £125,000 of their £40 million budget to get their names on the team’s shirts, amongst other places.
The council have came under fire this week, from Conservative MP John Glen, as well as the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
A spokesman for the council defended the sponsorship, saying that;
“We have sponsored Tranmere Rovers since 1989, and the agreement has helped us work together to promote healthy and active lifestyles and to improve services for groups in our communities who we might not otherwise be able to reach.”
The power of a football club to influence change in their local community shouldn’t be underestimated, but is sponsorship really necessary for this? Surely a non-financial agreement could have been made, arranging for players to promote ‘healthy and active lifestyles’ in return for promoting the club.
Not that I’d want the existence of a fellow lower league team to be endangered, but Rovers are owned by a man whose wealth was estimated at £30m in 2009, and £55 million in 2011.
Wirral Council has cut 1100 jobs in the last year, and closed five care homes – surely looking after the elderly is more the kind of thing a local council should be prioritising?
Not that councils should never make financial transactions with their local teams. Earlier this year, Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council agreed a loan with Stockport County.
This was at a time of financial difficulty, when the club was cutting its playing staff drastically and in danger of a second successive relegation, and the loan was secured against a summer sell-on fee for Anthony Pilkington (from Norwich, via Huddersfield). That loan was to prevent the deterioration of a major community asset, with repayment as sure a thing as there is in lower league football.
In the age of being ‘all in this together’, perhaps the multimillionaire Johnson should be made to dip deeper into his own pocket.
The Managerial Genius Lee Clark
Lee Clark this Friday was interviewed by Keys and Gray on Talk Sport, where he said he had ‘no doubt’ that Huddersfield would have won automatic promotion had they not sacked him.
“My overall record shows in the 178 games I had as a manager I lost less than a quarter of those. I was under no doubts [we would have got second].”
But almost a third of his games in charge were drawn (51 of 178). This column has looked at Clark’s failings previously, both before and after his sacking.
It seems strange that Clark is absolutely certain his leadership would have closed the four point gap he left, but self-confidence is not something Clark lacks.
What’s more annoying is the extent to which his interviewers were willing to swallow his nonsense – which is disrespectful to Simon Grayson and the Huddersfield fans who agreed with his sacking.
Nothing to Report
During the summer, clubs’ official websites naturally have less to report, aside from season ticket sales, and the occasional signing. Soccer AM ‘team-mates’-style interviews are a traditional space filler during the summer, amongst other approaches.
With their season petering out, Oldham broke the story that one teenager returned a phone to another. Oldham set the gold standard for this kind of ‘reporting’ two summers ago, with coverage of the annual servicing of the club’s vacuum cleaners, and look set to maintain their high standards!
Accrington Stanley’s Summer Entertainment
During the summer, a lot of clubs put on concerts, in order to make money out of the ground when there’s no action on. Accrington Stanley have this week announced the booking of a slightly unusual version of this, but a genuinely world-class name – the Dalai Lama will perform a blessing of the pitch.
What do you think about what we have to say about your club? Are those mentioned under-appreciated or overrated? Did we miss someone or something that should be covered? Join in by commenting below, or find me on Twitter @Joe_Bloghead