The Lower League Fortnight – The Dramatic Endings Edition
In recent weeks Chesterfield have been fighting back against the inevitable, picking up a 4-0 win against Wycombe, then two consecutive 2-1 wins against Hartlepool and Rochdale. But despite having led one nil and two one at Yeovil, an eventual 3-2 win was enough to send Chesterfield down one year after their League Two title win.
Chesterfield owner Dave Allen, who looks set to take over as chairman soon, has said that manager John Sheridan’s job is safe. His three years in charge haven’t been perfect, but he’s led Chesterfield to the League Two title and won the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Sticking by him looks to be the smart choice.
Wycombe vs Notts County
With Rochdale already relegated from League One and Exeter and Chesterfield needing results to go almost perfectly in their favour over the last two games to stay up, Wycombe needed a strong result from either Notts County (one of three teams chasing the final playoff spot) or Sheffield Wednesday to drag themselves out of trouble.
Their final home game started fantastically, with a first minute goal from Matt Bloomfield. Daniel Bogdanovic equalised for County immediately, then Wycombe won a penalty which Grant Basey converted. Notts County, who had won eight from fourteen since Keith Curle’s arrival, kept fighting, and equalised a second time before the half-time break.
A third goal from Scott Beavon, his 25th in all competitions for the Chairboys, gave Wycombe the lead again halfway through the second half. Holding their own in chances and dominating possession, a 3-2 lead going into the final minutes looked to be enough to keep Wycombe fighting on the final day. But Notts weren’t done fighting. The experienced Dele Adebola headed in an equaliser in the 89th minute, and, in the 93rd minute Alan Judge netted the winner. After eleven minutes of stoppage time in total, the game was lost, sending Wycombe down, and putting County into the playoffs.
Remember back in school when at the end of term with all the work done, everyone spent the last few days messing around and waiting for the final school bell to ring? The same thing appears to have happened at Fleetwood Town.
After getting the two draws against Wrexham and Lincoln that guaranteed them the title, they’ve lost two in a row. Immediately before the Wrexham game they had twenty-four wins and four draws from twenty eight. Their four games without a win and two defeats in a row are their longest runs of the season by each of those standards.
Forest Green Rovers and Mansfield
Rumours suggest that Forest Green and Mansfield will be spending heavily for next season.
Magno Vieira, third top scorer for Fleetwood this season, announced his transfer to Forest Green this week.
Without wishing to be cynical (and having no idea who these teams will invest in), for the last two seasons the Conference’s sole automatic promotion spot has been taken by a team who have heavily outspent their competitors. If rumours are accurate, both should be decent bets for next year’s Conference Title.
Kevin Poole Finally Retires
Kevin Poole, Burton’s very experienced keeper has finally decided to hang up his gloves.
Having first turned professional at Aston Villa back in 1981, Poole has had a lengthy career, often as backup (supporting Kasey Keller and Jussi Jaaskelainen at Leicester and Bolton respectively) and joined Burton as an emergency signing in the summer of 2006.
He was a virtual ever-present for his first three years with the Brewers as they made their way into the Football League. Having only played one Johnstone Paint Trophy match in the last two years, and taking on the role of joint caretaker manager and goalkeeping coach in the last few months, at the age of 48 Poole has brought an end to a career that began with him being mentored by Gordon Banks.
Brian Horton Walks
Appointed in March to keep Macclesfield in the league, after a run of two draws and six defeats from eight games, Macclesfield were relegated with a game to spare. Horton, despite being having a two and a half year spell as Macclesfield manager previously, was removed as manager with a game to go.
May 4th Cancelled, But Darlington Have a Future
Several weeks ago, Darlington’s administrators set May 4th as the deadline for sorting out a sale to Darlington Football Club 1883 Ltd. and emerging from administration. Despite initial sales of potential shares in the club going really well, they tailed off pretty quickly, it seeming like most paid up front. As a result, the administrators cancelled the meeting with creditors.
As well as the future of the club being in danger, cash flow problems have gotten so bad that club captain Paul Arnison resorted to selling odds and ends at a car boot sale to help pay bills.
On May 3rd, a press conference was called, with many in the local media expecting it to announce the dissolution of Darlington FC. Instead, the announcement was that ownership of the football club has been transferred from Darlington Football Club 2009, the current owners, to DFC1883. The assets will be transferred, but the liabilities will remain. Darlington Football Club 2009 will then be liquidated, along with it’s debts.
It might seem a heartless approach, but, while stories coming out are contradictory, Raj Singh, the former chairman appears to be the main creditor. Again, not wishing to seem heartless, but he invested the money, decided how it would be paid, and later came to the conclusion that it had been spent badly. In any business, if the owner makes bad business decisions, he will lose his money.
There are though, at least some local businesses owed money, who traded in good faith and made no decisions over how the money was invested. The argument being made seems to be that local businesses could still receive some of their money owed but if Darlington were liquidated, they’d definitely lose all their money.
There will be at least one additional relegation, but as there appears to be no definitive rule, it’s unclear which division they’ll be in. The Quakers will not be in the Conference North, the division Hayes, Kettering and Bath have just been relegated into. They’ll probably end up in the Evo Stik Premier or Evo Stik Division One, though there’s no hard and fast rule on which.
The new owners claim that this is not the formation of a phoenix club, but, apart from being entitled to acknowledge the club’s history as their own (something AFC Wimbledon fought long and hard for), the difference appears a matter of interpretation. Darlington are expected to begin next season in the seventh or eighth tier (the Conference being the fifth); Chester FC reformed at the eighth tier, AFC Wimbledon at the ninth.
Darlington have since announced plans to move away from the money pit Arena, and to groundshare with Shildon AFC next season, with the aim of ultimately returning to the town. With an appropriate sense of dramatic contrast, the announcement that they’ll be moving to a ground a tenth the capacity of the Arena came exactly a year to the day after winning the FA Trophy.
York vs Mansfield & Mansfield vs York
Mansfield went into the play-offs having won six in a row, while York were hoping to visit Wembley twice in a month, having already qualified for the FA Trophy final.
Mansfield’s Exodus Geohaghon (yes, that is his real name) was at the centre of the action – setting up Ross Dyer with a long throw, then putting through his own net. The visitors’ top scorer Matthew Green picking up a second yellow when through on goal, putting him out of the second leg.
A tightly balanced second leg saw chances at both ends but no goals, eventually going into extra time. Matty Blair headed a winner for York ten minutes before a penalty shootout was needed, and a red card for Mansfield’s Ritchie Sutton prevented any chance of a comeback.
York will now be able to use the FA Trophy final against Newport this weekend as a dress rehearsal for a potential return to the Football League.
Luton vs Wrexham & Wrexham vs Luton
One of Luton manager Gary Brabin’s last and most popular decisions at Luton, a club where he earned little love, was to sign Andre Gray from Hinckley. The young forward linked up well with Stuart Fleetwood up front, the pair both setting the other up in the first half hour. Luton, despite finishing in fifth, dominated the chances in the home leg, and probably could have done better than their 2-0 win.
A penalty for Luton halfway through the first half of the second leg gave Luton what looked an unassailable lead. But in the second half, Wrexham, without top scorer Jake Speight, pushed forward in the second half, pushed forward, dominating the chances. Paul Buckle swapped attacking for defensive players to keep Wrexham at bay, but Wrexham pulled two goals back in the second half, the latter from player-manager Andy Morrell. Even in stoppage time, (five minutes were announced, almost eight played) Wrexham had chances to make the game 3-3 on aggregate. But the game ended with a 3-2 aggregate win for Luton, taking them to the final.
Last Day Drama
With one game left each, there were five battles still left unsettled going into the last day.
Sheffield Wednesday were one point above their city rivals United in a straight battle for the second promotion spot. Wednesday hosted Wycombe, United travelled to Exeter, both of them already relegated, with United needing to better Wednesday’s result.
Stevenage, Notts County and Carlisle all had a shot of the last League One play-off place. Carlisle were one point behind the other two, and Notts were 13 goals behind Stevenage. This meant that County had to better Stevenage’s result, Carlisle had to better the result of both teams above them.
The situation was repeated in the chase for the third League Two promotion place – Crawley had a seven goal better goal difference than Torquay, and both were a point above Southend, who had the best goal difference of all three. Torquay had to better Crawley’s result, and Southend had to better both to go up. Crewe were three points above Oxford for seventh place and the last League Two play-off – a point at home to Aldershot would take Crewe into the playoffs, Oxford had to win at Port Vale and hope.
Barnet and Hereford were in a straight battle for Football League survival. Barnet were two points above Hereford with a significantly worse goal difference, meaning Hereford had to better Barnet’s result. If that wasn’t tough enough, Barnet travelled to Burton, who have been more or less in freefall since the turn of the year; Hereford hosted Torquay, who of course had a lot to play for.
Sheffield Wednesday (vs Wycombe) vs (Exeter vs) Sheffield United
Exeter took the lead against United through a long range strike halfway through the first half, and Wednesday went in front almost at the same point. When James Beattie was sent off for a lunge on James Dunn, the Blades’ task looked impossible. Even equalising just before the break, their task was uphill. A heavily deflected shot for United early in the second half gave them the lead, and in theory could have been enough to pressurise their rivals into a mistake. But Wednesday doubled their lead, in the end coasting to the win that took them back to the Championship, and made Exeter’s late equaliser irrelevant.
A crowd of over 38,000 supported the Owls, significantly highly than the sixteen to nineteen thousand range they’ve attracted for most of the season. If Wednesday can attract the stayaways back to Hillsborough on a regular basis, with a rich owner and the leadership of a manager who has led Cardiff, a club of similar size, to several playoff finishes, the future should be bright.
Stevenage (vs Bury) vs Notts County (vs Colchester) vs (Oldham vs) Carlisle
Stevenage and Notts County both took leads halfway through their first halves, with Notts County adding two further goals before the break. Notts County’s large lead meant Carlisle were effectively out of the chase by half time, drawing at Oldham. Notts County added a fourth shortly after the break, meaning they were waiting for Stevenage to make a slip-up.
Bury’s Andre Jones made the task easier when he gave away a debatable penalty quarter of an hour from the end, and Joel Byrom converted. A good strike from Chris Beardsley in stoppage time rounded off Stevenage’s victory, making Notts County’s 4-1 victory and Carlisle’s surprise defeat
Crewe (vs Aldershot) vs (Port Vale vs) Oxford
This was more or less a foregone conclusion, and a goal in the fourth minute for Crewe made Oxford’s chase more difficult. But a goal from Port Vale and two from Aldershot meant both teams went into the break behind.
Port Vale, who may still have been in the chase for the playoffs themselves were it not for their ten point deduction, seemed determined to spoil Oxford’s chances and picked up a second and third goal in the second half.
Crewe picked up a goal in the second half that would have been enough to guarantee their play-off spot, regardless of the Oxford result.
(Accrington vs) Crawley vs (Hereford vs) Torquay vs Southend (vs Macclesfield)
(Burton vs) Barnet vs Hereford (vs Torquay)
Mark Byrne’s heavily deflected free kick put Barnet in front in the sixth minute, and Hereford took a surprise lead shortly after. Southend took the lead in the 24th header through Peter Gilbert, putting them above both Crawley and Torquay. Burton equalised against Barnet, then Hereford built on their lead through a Harry Pell penalty and a Delroy Facey header, giving Torquay a mountain to climb at the break, and putting the pressure on Barnet. Burton’s Calvin Zola was fouled in the area just before the break, but, taking the penalty himself, put the ball well over the bar.
Torquay came out flying in the second half, scoring after 28 seconds. Around the hour, Barnet, Torquay, then Crawley all scored, putting Crawley in a promotion spot, and Barnet in a position of safety. Crawley’s match ended this way, taking them up for a second season in a row, a second goal for Southend and Torquay’s defeat at Hereford put Southend in the highest playoff spot, leaving Barnet to cling on for survival. In the 92nd minute Burton’s Patrick Ada was denied a goal that would have saved Hereford by Barnet keeper Dean Brill, ending the match instead with Barnet surviving.
It’s the third year in a row Barnet have survived on the last day.
As a Hartlepool fan, I couldn’t resist ending here.
With clubs stressed by the fight against relegation, Darlington fighting against extinction and Port Vale, Barnet and Kettering, amongst others, not in great economic shape, it’s easy to forget how brilliantly, joyfully silly football can be.
At the weekend Hartlepool United travelled to Charlton for the last game of the season, with roughly 200 fans travelling in fancy dress. This resulted in surreal images like the escalators at King’s Cross being taken over by smurfs, and a standful of blue and white (with one banana).
The game itself seemed pretty good – Peter Hartley gave the visitors the lead at half-time, Charlton came back to score three times, including a slightly lucky cross-come-shot from Yann Kermongant, before a goal from Gary Liddle put the result (and Charlton’s achievement of 100 points) in doubt.
Hardly earth shattering, but a funny little story, which turned heads on the streets of London and generated headlines as far away as Italy and Brazil.
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