Tag Archives: League 2

Final day drama in Leagues 1 and 2

What a way to end the League 1 and League 2 seasons! There was plenty of action right up to the final seconds with twists and turns, tears and cheers, and that was just what happened at Griffin Park.

There was promotion and relegation to be decided in both leagues, and now that it’s over there are serious questions to be asked.

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1. How do Brentford pick themselves up for the play-offs?

They had promotion within their grasp. A last minute penalty to secure promotion, missed, and then their opponents break quickly and score to secure their passage into the Championship, instead of Brentford. Nobody can really imagine how young Marcelo Trotta must feel today after yesterday’s nightmare.

It was cruel on the Brenford supporters who must have been sure their near 60 year wait for a return to the second tier was about to end. The players were left visibly crushed and demoralised by the sickening kick in the teeth. But now they must prepare themselves for the play-offs knowing they really shouldn’t be there.

Unfortunately their form has slowed in recent weeks and they are without a win in their last three games. They face Swindon, who go into play-offs on the back of a defeat against relegated Scunthorpe.

This is by far the biggest challenge of Uwe Rösler’s short managerial career, and he will have to show all his metal to get the Bees (who have a poor record in play-offs) promoted. But how often do we see the 3rd-placed club struggle in the play-offs after the disappointment of missing out on automatic promotion.

2. Is Brian Flynn the man to keep Doncaster up?

Flynn was contracted as manager until the end of the season, after taking over halfway through the season following the departure of fellow Welshman Dean Saunders.

Few people would argue against Flynn being given the reins on a full-time basis.

He may look like a pensioner but Flynn is only 57-years-old and still has so much to offer. His record in charge of Wrexham, Swansea and the Welsh under-21s shows he is a natural motivator, who is adept at nurturing talent. He also has a brilliant understanding of the transfer market, and is excellent at spotting talent.

Can he keep Doncaster in the Championship? It will be a tough task because he will have one of the smallest budgets in the division. But in the topsy-turvy Championship, who’s to say the Yorkshire side can’t replicate the success they had under Sean O’Driscoll? If anybody can keep them up it’s Brian Flynn.

3. Will Bournemouth care that they weren’t crowned champions?

No. When you’ve been waiting 23 years to get back in the second tier, you’ll take it however it comes, especially since they looked like relegation candidates before Eddie Howe returned to the club.

They’re still going up, they’ve still got a heap of momentum behind them and they will still fancy their chances of doing well at a higher level. Missing out on the title is a minor disappointment.

4. Have the worst four teams been relegated from League 1?

It would be tough to argue otherwise.

Portsmouth have at times this season played like a play-off-chasing team. But no club could cope with the instability on or off the field which Pompey have had to endure. Their team has had so many changes, it’s been impossible to establish any kind of run. Even without the 10-point deduction they would have been comfortably relegated. On the plus side Portsmouth enter League 2 with better prospects than when they entered League 1.

Hartlepool’s second half of the season has been surprisingly positive, and John Hughes deserves credit for coming in at a difficult time and turning things around. Unfortunately the damage was done before the Scot took charge. Hartlepool only managed two victories before the new year and despite a plucky fight the squad wasn’t strong enough to stay up. It’s hard to argue a club who achieved just nine points from their first 23 fixtures deserve to stay in the division.

Bury have been punching above their weight in League 1, and in doing so they’ve ran up some worrying debts. Kevin Blackwell had very limited resources and it was always a huge ask for him to keep the Shakers up. The squad never looked good enough to avoid the drop and with a leaky defence and a blunt strike-force it was inevitable they would be relegated. With cost-cutting required next season could be tough for them.

Scunthorpe were the only club relegated on the final day of the season in League 1. They did all they could to stay up, beating Swindon 3-1 but just like the other three teams going down with them to League 2 they were struggling from the beginning, having lost their first four games of the season. Bringing in Brian Laws gave Scunthorpe hope but it was too much to ask but nine years after he got them promoted from League 2, he is now taking them back into the bottom division of the Football League.

So yes, the four worst teams in the division were relegated.

5. Were Rotherham the second best team in League 2 this season?

No they weren’t but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to go up. Port Vale deserve massive credit because they’ve been magnificent and probably should have finished second but they took their foot off the pedal after securing promotion.

Pulling their foot off the pedal is one thing Rotherham haven’t done this year. They showed their determination by saving their best run of the season for the final weeks. Their five wins in a row saw Steve Evans’s side clinch 3rd in the league and return to the third tier after a six year absence.

Rotherham have been tough and hard-working all season, but they’ve also played some great attacking football. They’ve scored far more goals than anybody else in the league, and with their new stadium and a wily, Machiavellian manager there’s no reason why they can’t excel in League 1.

6. Were the worst two teams in League 2 relegated?

Aldershot were the worst club in the division this season. They never looked like scoring, they lacked creativity and this put enormous pressure on the defence. They had less wins than any other team and throughout the season they didn’t look good enough to stay up. Aldershot have seen worse days, but having worked so hard to get back in the league they will find it tough to re-group and challenge in the desperately tough Blue Square Premier next season.

Barnet’s season can be split in two – the season before Edgar Davids joined on October 11 and the season after he joined the North Londoners. Looking at League 1 and League 2’s relegated clubs, poor starts are a recurring theme and you can’t get much poorer than Barnet’s start. A winless first 13 games left Barnet playing catch-up from the beginning. Davids came in and galvanised the squad and their form since his arrival has been very impressive. However their loss on the last day of the season, coupled with Wimbledon’s win, mean League 2’s greatest survivors will start life at their new stadium in the Blue Square Premier.

There are several clubs at the bottom of League 2 who have been very lucky to avoid the drop. Torquay and Plymouth didn’t expect to be battling relegation this season and they need to get their houses in order if the two Devon clubs are to avoid a repeat next year. Dagenham and Redbridge have struggled badly and escaped the drop by the skin of their teeth. Next season could be very difficult for them. Wimbledon had a brilliant final day victory to evade relegation, but they too need to improve if they are to stay up next season.

7. Is it time for a third relegation spot to be introduced in League 2?

Once again the standard of teams battling to stay in the Football League was particularly poor. And once again the standard of teams fighting for promotion in the Blue Square Premier was extremely high.

Non-league clubs are desperate for the Blue Square Premier to be given a second automatic promotion spot because they believe there currently exists a glass ceiling preventing many good clubs from competing in the league at the expense of league clubs who possibly aren’t good enough to be there.

The Blue Square Premier clubs make a very convincing argument and their frustrations are understandable. Many of the clubs in the top six of the fifth tier would have performed far better in League 2 this season than the bottom seven sides, had they been given the chance.

But in the interest of stability the status quo should be retained. The difference in funding and coverage between League 2 and non-league is enormous and so many clubs fail to adapt to the drop. This season saw Stockport County relegated to the Blue Square North after failing to acclimatise to life outside the Football League. Numerous clubs have gone bankrupt because of the culture shock. The last thing we want to see is clubs regularly going bust when they leave the league.

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League 2 half-term report

We’ve reached the halfway stage of the season in League 2, and this is the time of year the table takes shape. But how have all the clubs done in the first 23 games of the season?

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GillinghamA – Gillingham have been top of League 2 since the 4th game of the season, and that’s where they’ll be on Christmas day. Martin Allen has built a sturdy, balanced and attack-minded team, who have been by far the stars of the season so far. Danny Kedwell started the season slimmed-down, and in tremendous scoring form, and when his goals dried up, the likes of Deon Burton and Myles Weston were on hand to take their share of the goal-scoring burden. Their form has dipped of late, meaning other clubs have caught up, but they remain very tough to beat. Gillingham have the talent and the manager to secure promotion, and I suspect they’ll be celebrating in May.

Port ValeA – Mickey Adams has done brilliantly in his second stint at Vale Park, and he really seems at home in the Potteries. Port Vale are the top scorers in League 2 and that record owes a lot to the brilliant form of Tom Pope. Only Crystal Palace’s Glenn Murray has scored more than Pope this season, and the striker’s 19 goals have propelled his team to 2nd. However Port Vale rely heavily on Pope’s contribution; they’ve only won twice when he hasn’t been on the scoresheet and they are yet to lose when he’s netted. His form has dipped of late and so have Vale’s results. But their attacking style of play, coupled with the general confidence around the club, should see them promoted.

CheltenhamA- – Cheltenham have reacted excellently to the play-off heartache of last season. Mark Yeates has built on the success of last season and he’s mounting an even bigger promotion push. They’ve got a big third-round tie to look forward to in the FA Cup against Everton, but with a small squad they can’t allow it to distract them from the league situation. Cheltenham are the lowest scorers in the top 7 and they’ve only won three games by more than one goal. They play good football, and if they can work out a way of finishing more of their chances, they’ll surely be promoted too.

SouthendB – After a stuttering start to the season, Southend are going into the second half of the season in great form, on the back of a nine-match unbeaten run. Sturrock is once again making Southend hard to beat, and with limited finances, they once again aim to challenge for promotion, either automatically or through the play-offs. The aim is to put recent money troubles behind them and move on. Britt Assombalonga has extended his loan from Watford until the end of the season, which is great news for the club, and Gavin Tomlin’s form has been sensational of late.

RotherhamB– – Big things were expected at the start of the season, but the Millers have been inconsistent for much of the season. Sometimes they can look like the best team in the league, but other times, they seem unorganised and dysfunctional. Manager, Steve Evans’s hefty touchline ban for an incident at his former club, Crawley, didn’t help the club at all. But if they can get a good run of results in the new year, they can go up automatically. The beautiful new stadium gave the club an initial boost at the start of the season, but they’ve failed to build on the early momentum. With a talented squad, and a manager who understands the league, there’s no reason why the Millers can’t go up.

BradfordA- – How would they have fared in the league had it not been for the cup run? Phil Parkinson’s doing a fantastic job and he’s engineered a good, balanced team, with an excellent home record. But the fixture list is getting dense, with the Bantams still in two cup competitions, including a two-legged Capitol One Cup semi-final against Premier League Aston Villa. Do Bradford have the depth to fight for an automatic promotion spot as well as challenge for silverware? They need to be careful they don’t squander their play-off spot in search of trophies. City are too big for League 2 and after some dreadful, miserable years, they’re once again in a position to climb back up the leagues. They can’t waste this opportunity.

ExeterB – Exeter have reacted well to their relegation from League 1, and have continued to play the beautiful football they have always played under Paul Tisdale. Unlike in League 1, it’s their away form they have to thank for being so high with seven wins in eleven away games. Jamie Cureton and John O’Flynn have a brilliant partnership up front, but at the back they’ve been very loose. The Grecians have the worst defensive record in the top half and they’ve kept just four clean sheets so far this season. They play the game the right way, they’re attack-minded and a lot of fun to watch, but are they reliable enough at the back to go up?

FleetwoodA- – These days we expect Blue Square Premier Champions to do more than just survive in League 2, but Fleetwood still deserve credit for the way they’ve adapted to life in the Football League. However, competing for a play-off spot isn’t enough for ambitious chairman, Andy Pilley, who sacked manager Micky Mellon after a downturn in results. The new man at the helm is Graham Alexander, who made over 1,000 career appearances for four clubs in 21 years as a player. He’s hoping he can put his experience to good use, and lead Fleetwood to a second straight promotion. An automatic spot might be beyond their reach, but there’s no reason why they can’t get a play-off spot.

NorthamptonC+ – The Sixfields outfit have what it takes to get a play-off spot this season after just missing out last year. But they are one of many clubs who have struggled for consistency. Adebayo Akinfenwa’s form is key to their success, and he not only gets goals, but also helps supply others with chances. They only have two away wins this season and that needs to improve if they are to challenge seriously for a play-off spot. There’s still more to come from the Cobblers.

RochdaleC- – Rochdale don’t do promotions; their 2009 promotion to League 1 was their first in 41 years, and they could only muster two seasons in the third tier before last year’s relegation. John Coleman’s been under pressure and has been criticised for not galvanising his squad. The club had gone on a run of four successive defeats, but on Friday night they thrashed Cheltenham 4-1 with a performance which will undoubtedly reassure fans. The presence of strikers like Bobby Grant, Dele Adebola and Ashley Grimes mean Rochdale always look like scoring, but they’ve only won four home games this season and only three teams have conceded more goals than Rochdale this season. John Coleman’s a very honest manager, but fans still question whether he’s the man to take them back up.

BurtonB- – After a season spent fighting relegation, Albion’s fans will be very pleased with the club’s position at the moment. If they can get Calvin Zola on a good scoring run, they can push for a play-off spot. Zander Diamond has been brilliant in defence for the Brewers, and things are so tight in League 2, a solid defender who contributes goals can make a huge difference. Gary Rowett’s doing a good job in his first full season as Burton manager and he’s exceeding expectations. Burton are one of a number of clubs who are keeping up with the top 7, who will fancy their chances of getting a play-off spot. If they’re in a similar position in March, then we can start talking about Burton as play-off contenders.

TorquayC- – Torquay have found it difficult overcoming the disappointment of last year’s play-off defeat and they have struggled for consistency this season. Rene Howe is still the driving force up front, and his 10 goals have helped keep them in touch with the play-off places. But this Torquay team lacks the zip of the past two seasons. Having said that, the Gulls are still unbeaten at Plainmoor in the league but only two away wins explains why they’re not featuring higher up the table. There is a need to be more cohesive and focused on the road if they are to make the play-offs for a third year in a row.

ChesterfieldC+ – Chesterfield were expected to challenge for promotion back to League 1 after last season’s dismal relegation (with the obvious silver lining of winning the JPT). But a tumultuous start to the season gave them a severe handicap. The strange timing of John Sheridan’s departure cast a shadow over the club, but new manager, Paul Cook is having a positive effect at the Spireites. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. The Spireites have a good defensive record and in Jack Lester and Marc Richards they have strikers who know how to score in this division. The 4-1 win against Cheltenham was very impressive and despite a jittery start they should be challenging for a play-off spot at the very least this season.

Dagenham and RedbridgeC – Most Daggers fans were dreading this season, fearing a relegation scrap, but halfway through the campaign they look pretty sure of their place in the division and they’re only three points off a play-off spot. They’re part of a congested mid-table where pretty much anybody could make a break for the play-offs. And Dagenham and Redbridge are on a decent run at the moment. After a winless first 8 games, the Daggers now won 5 of their last 7 games and they’ve solidified at the back in recent games too.

YorkB- – They may not be matching the feats of Fleetwood, but York will be pleased with their return to the Football League.  After eight years in the fifth tier of English football, they’ve made a steady but assured start to life back in League 2. Gary Mills has made York had to beat, with only six league defeats so far, but they’re also the league’s draw specialists with nine in total. The important thing for City’s fans is they’re unlikely to be scrapping for relegation, but with just four points separating them and 7th placed Exeter, why should they be looking over their shoulders?

MorecambeC – Last season Morecambe started brightly but faded rapidly and finished the season 15th. This season they’ve failed to kick on and it’s hard to see them finishing above mid-table. Morecambe are another club who lack consistency but Jim Bentley’s side are winning the vital games which keep them away from the relegation scrap, and as long as they continue to beat the likes of Bristol Rovers, Barnet and Aldershot, they’ll be safe. There isn’t much money at the club and expectations have to be realistic.

Accrington StanleyC- – It’s difficult to grade Stanley’s seasons so far as it’s unclear what their ambitions were pre-season. Last year they finished 14th after the most turbulent season in their recent history, so one would expect they had their sights set on a higher finish this season. But with Stanley’s poultry budget, can they really expect to finish much higher than 19th? They lost manager Paul Cook, with the club 16th, and under former player Leam Richardson there’s been no improvement in results. The aim for this season is to avoid the drop without too many scares, then look for stability.

Wycombe WanderersC- – Things were looking very grim for Wycombe a few weeks ago. Gary Waddock was sacked in September as a result of last year’s relegation and a poor start to the season. Veteran captain, Gareth Ainsworth, took over but initial results were slow to improve and Wanderers looked set for a season scrapping for safety. However Wycombe have four wins in their last five games and things look to be on the up. Ainsworth’s team have lifted themselves away from the bottom two. There are whispers of a play-off push, but after the nightmare start to the season, Wanderers will be happy with mid-table mediocrity. Joel Grant is a player I’ve always enjoyed watching and the form of young Matt McClure has been good.

Oxford UnitedD – They are the disappointment of the season in League 2. Many people expected Chris Wilder’s team to be pushing for promotion this season, but performances have been poor and results have matched them. The Us began the season with three wins in a row and they looked set for a great year, but since then they’ve won just four games and they’re closer to the relegation zone than they are to the play-offs. With players like Peter Leven, Tom Craddock and Alfie Potter, Oxford should have enough to stay up, but is that really enough for a club which began the season with high expectations?

PlymouthD – This was supposed to be the season Plymouth put their financial troubles behind them and began rebuilding the club. But five wins so far is a disappointing return and Carl Fletcher has come in for criticism from some fans. They sit just four points above the relegation zone and unless they can find a goalscorer in January, they’ll be fighting the drop until the final days of the season. Joint top-scorers, Warren Feeney and Rhys Griffiths, have three goals each this season, and this explains why the Pilgrims find themselves 20th in the table. They’re in for a tough fight.

AldershotD- – The lowest scorers in the division are in trouble. Dean Holdsworth has come under fire for the poor results, with just five wins in the first half of the season. With little money to spend in January it’s going to be a very long second half to the season and Shots fans will be biting their nails until the end. Last season they finished in the top half, but they haven’t clicked at all this year. They’re averaging less than a goal a game, and that’s always problematic.

BarnetE+ – The initial excitement surrounding Edgar Davids’ appointment has worn off. They were winless when the Dutch legend arrived in mid-October, but then the Bees won three out of four games (drawing the other) and things looked to be on the up. Unfortunately they failed to win any of their next six games and found themselves bottom of the league. Friday night’s brilliant 3-2 victory against Burton has dragged the club out of the relegation zone, and they’ll hope it can spur them on to better things. They’ve scored just 19 goals this season but Barnet have proved over the past few years, if anybody can defy the odds and escape relegation, it’s them. As miserable as their current situation may seem, the Wigan of the lower leagues could once again spring a surprise.AFC

AFC WimbledonE – The Wombles are worried, and so they should be. They’ve lost more games than anybody else in League 2 this season and they have dropped into the bottom two. The departure of iconic manager, Terry Brown, was unfortunate but inevitable after a poor start to the season. New manager Neil Ardley has had a tough start to managerial life, with just two league wins since his appointment. A spirited performance against MK Dons in the FA Cup gave fans hope, but that showing hasn’t been replicated in the league yet this season, where they’ve been desperately poor. Confidence is low going into the new year, and after a meteoric rise, AFC Wimbledon could very well be heading back to the Blue Square Premier after just two seasons in the Football League.

Bristol RoversF – This is not where Rovers expected to be halfway through the season. It’s been an absolute nightmare at the Memorial Stadium this season and they deserve their place at the foot of the table. Performances have been woeful, they have the worst defensive record in the league and they’re conceding an average of two goals per game. They recently sacked Mark McGhee, who labelled his team’s performances, “embarrassing.” The new manager, John Ward, is very experienced, and has a few good players to work with, but can he get them out of the current predicament?

John Ward aims to get Rovers back to winning ways

John Ward is the latest manager appointed with the goal of getting Bristol Rovers back on track after some disappointing campaigns.

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Mark McGhee lasted less than a year at the helm before he was dismissed with the Pirates in the League 2 relegation zone having lost eight out of their last ten games. The dismal 4-1 home defeat against York on Saturday was the final straw for chairman, Nick Higgs, who sacked McGhee, claiming he had to do so before it was too late.

Everybody associated with the club is fully aware of the seriousness of their current predicament. Rovers have been in the Football League for 92 years, but 18 points from 22 games means they face a fight to stay up.

A closer look at the club’s fortunes in recent years shows the problems at Rovers are deep-rooted. The current poor form is simply the latest stage in a two and a half year malaise which has existed since Paul Trollope’s time in charge.

Recent decline

Trollope is the most successful manager in the club’s recent history, and his five years at the helm are remembered fondly by fans. Under Trollope the Bristolians won promotion to League 1 via the play-offs, had some very respectable seasons in the third tier and performed well in cup competitions.

Unfortunately the party came to an end with a poor start to the 2010-11 season and ten days before Christmas 2010, Trollope was relieved of his duties. The aim was to ensure a continuation of League 1 football at the Memorial Stadium, however the second half of the season was chaotic.

Former Doncaster manager, Dave Penny, lasted just two disastrous months before being given the boot. Club legend and former captain, Stuart Campbell, was made player-manager for the remainder of the season but he too was unable to alter the Pirates’ poor form and the club was relegated after four seasons in League 1.

It had been a catastrophic season but Rovers were eager to put it behind them and achieve promotion back to the third tier at the first attempt. Paul Buckle, who had led Torquay to the League 2 play-off final just a few days earlier, acrimoniously left his post in Devon to join Rovers.

The young Buckle was widely seen as a great appointment and the perfect man to transform spirits at Rovers. Unfortunately Buckle failed to settle at the Memorial Stadium and by January 2012 he too was deemed surplus to requirement, with the club hovering above the League 2 relegation zone and playing miserably.

Mark McGhee kept Rovers up last season and had a positive effect on results but this was just a short respite for the Gasheads.

This season has been woeful for Rovers, beginning with a seven match winless streak, and they now sit 23rd with the leakiest defence in the division. The Pirates’ top players haven’t performed this season and McGhee admitted himself, performances have been embarrassing.

The job ahead for John Ward

John Ward takes over a club which is in gradual, but substantial decline, and his first job is inspiring not only the players but also the fans.

This is Ward’s second stint in charge of Rovers, but the club has changed considerably since he left in 1996.

Some Rovers fans are sceptical of Ward, with concerns raised he may not be the right man to turn things around. But Ward has a wealth of experience in the lower leagues and he has performed well at Cheltenham, Carlisle and Colchester.

Ward is a likable personality and a good motivator, and Rovers hope he can put these skills to good use and get Rovers out of the drop zone.

It’s a tough task but Ward has some talented players at his disposal who are capable of dragging the team up the league. With other clubs above them like AFC Wimbledon struggling, and matches against fellow strugglers Aldershot and Plymouth over the Christmas period, there’s no reason why Rovers can’t quickly climb up the league under Ward.

FA Cup 1st round special

League 1 and 2 is off this weekend due to the 1st round of the FA Cup and we’re all waiting patiently for some giant-killings!

Every year a host of league clubs make uncomfortable journeys to cramped, rusty old non-league grounds, hoping they can overcome the bumpy pitches and excitable fans in order to book their spot in the next round.

But it just wouldn’t be the FA Cup without the odd upset. Therefore I’ve trawled the fixture list, looking through the league vs non-league fixtures for some quirky stories and possible upsets.

 And please feel comment on any of these previews and whether or not you agree with my upset ratings.

Cambridge City vs MK Dons                         Upset Rating: 4/10

The Friday night game will be televised on ESPN, proving the media smell a possible upset in this game. The Dons are desperate to get promoted this season and the Cup’s unlikely to be a priority for manager Karl Robinson. Unusually for the aesthetically pleasing MK Dons, they’ve struggled for goals this season. However, Cambridge City (not to be confused with former league outfit United) are also struggling at the moment. Languishing 16th in the Southern League, they’ll need all the help they can get in this one. Home advantage might just be enough to get them the replay, but I think the Dons will have too much for City on this occasion.     

Hereford vs Shrewsbury                               Upset Rating: 5/10

Despite the two local rivals exiting League 2 in differing directions last season, the derby’s back. Neither club’s set the world alight in their new leagues and the Cup will be a chance to get a confidence boost. Expect a highly-charged, competitive derby, but I see Shrewsbury’s superior skill winning it for them. Expect drama!                       

Aldershot vs Hendon                     Upset Rating: 5/10

Aldershot have had a dreadful start to the season and Hendon will be boosted by the fact the Shots have only won once at home this season. However a light has recently appeared at the end of the Aldershot tunnel with a win and a draw ending their run of seven straight losses. Hendon aren’t doing too well either, 20th in the Isthmian League. They need to travel with confidence and determination. A few tasty tackles early on could unnerve Dean Holdsworth’s low-scoring side and make things interesting. Don’t rule out a replay in this one.                        

Carlisle vs Ebbsfleet                        Upset Rating: 5/10

Carlisle have struggled for consistency this season and manager Gregg Abbott’s emphasised the on and off-field importance of the Cup. Carlisle have hit poor form recently, but Ebbsfleet have only won three games all season. They’re capable of scoring against the Cumbrians, but the seriousness with which Abbott views this contest suggests Carlisle will want to get the job done.                           

Chelmsford vs Colchester            Upset Rating: 6/10

A meeting between two of the competition’s form teams, and this could also be classed as a derby with just 23 miles separating the two clubs. Chelmsford are 2nd in the Blue Square South and they have FA Cup pedigree; they’re aiming to reach the second round for the third season in a row. The confident Claret Army will be out in force and will be buzzing with confidence. On the other hand Colchester have suffered just one loss in seven games and are charging up the League  1 table. Despite Colchester’s hot form, this is the kind of opponent that causes problems for league clubs.             

Cheltenham vs Yate                        Upset Rating: 3/10

Yate are the lowest ranked side left in the competition, but don’t be fooled by the fact they’re bottom of the Evostik Southern League Division One South and West. In the last round they incredibly beat Blue Square Premier leaders Newport County in a replay. They’re plucky, they’re brave and they’re ready to take advantage of any Cheltenham complacency. Cheltenham should have too much for the beautifully nicknamed Bluebells. But everything we know about the Cup says that this is one to watch.                                                             

Coventry vs Arlesey                        Upset Rating: 4/10

When the first round draw was being made many non-league clubs would have hoped for an away tie at Coventry and it was Arlesey that got it. The Southern League side will travel to the impressive Ricoh Arena in high spirits and whatever the result, it’s likely to be an unforgettable day out for everybody connected with the club. But don’t rule out a replay in this tie. Coventry have only won once at home this season and though Mark Robins looks to be slowly turning things around at the Ricoh, there are still signs of fragility.                             

Doncaster vs Bradford Park Avenue        Upset Rating: 4/10

It’s a Yorkshire derby at the Keepmoat on Saturday as Rovers welcome Bradford PA. Bradford Park Avenue were once a league club until financial problems led to their expulsion from the league and eventual liquidation. They reformed but unlike clubs like AFC Wimbledon, FC United, and even Chester FC their climb back up the leagues has been slow and arduous. Nevertheless they hope to gain promotion to the Blue Square Premier this season. They’ll face a Doncaster team in great form, and it’ll take a monumental effort to beat them.                 

Forest Green vs Port Vale                            Upset Rating: 7/10

Forest Green Rovers aren’t your typical football club. They’re striving to become the world’s first organic football club. The stadium food’s completely vegetarian, the lawnmower’s solar-powered and the Chairman’s an eco-activist. However the formula seems to be working pretty well as Forest Green currently occupy a play-off spot in the Blue Square Premier. They’re playing well this season and targeting promotion to League 2. Port Vale on the other hand are looking to leave League 2 and return to League 1 under Mickey Adams. Vale look like a good bet for promotion, but away against tough opposition, this could be very interesting.                           

Fleetwood vs Bromley                   Upset Rating: 3/10

This is the first ever meeting between these two sides. Fleetwood have taken to life in League 2 like a cod to water (see what I did there). Last season they reached the third round where they were knocked out by local rivals Blackpool. They enjoy the Cup, but will know from personal experience that it’s unwise to underestimate lower league opponents. Bromley are adapting steadily to life in the Blue Square Premier and currently sit 16th in the table. Fleetwood’s confidence and superior skill, combined with home advantage should see them through.                   

Kidderminster vs Oldham             Upset Rating: 4/10

If you want proof of how tough the transition from league to non-league can be, take a look at Kidderminster Harriers. Since their relegation from League 2 in 2005 the Worcestershire club have struggled financially and now find themselves depressingly 21st in the Blue Square Premier. Oldham’s results have been inconsistent this season and just like last term goals are in short supply. This could be a tight one, and who knows, if Kidderminster approach the game in the right frame of mind they might get a valuable replay.                            

Lincoln vs Walsall                              Upset Rating: 3/10

Much like Kidderminster, Lincoln haven’t adapted to life outside the Football League. They’re currently 19th in the Blue Square Premier and battling against relegation. The Cup could provide some much-needed relief for the Imps but their record in the FA Cup hasn’t been good of late. Walsall are having their best season in years, playing entertaining, passing football on a limited budget. Lincoln will do very well to get a replay from this game.                      

Met Police vs Crawley                    Upset Rating: 2/10

It’ll be a very unusual feeling for the Met Police to have the neutrals on their side for a change. This is the first time the Met have reached the first round since 1993 and they’ve never gone beyond this stage of the competition.  They’re one of the lowest ranked teams left in the Cup and they’ll be facing a team that has its sights set on the Championship. Crawley know what it takes to succeed in the Cup as underdogs. Two years ago they narrowly lost at Old Trafford against Man Utd as a non-league team. Crawley’s rise has been phenomenal and they ooze professionalism and organisation. I can’t see the Met Police causing Crawley too many problems.                              

Southend vs Stockport                  Upset Rating: 7/10

Times have been tough for Stockport. They’ve had numerous brushes with bankruptcy and are lucky to remain in existence. But for the first time in years the club could be on the up. They’ve ended their ground-share agreement with Sale Sharks, meaning the rugby team no longer play at Edgeley Park and on the field they’re starting to play some good football. Their unflattering 11th place standing in the Blue Square Premier masks the good football they’ve been playing recently. Southend have been inconsistent this season and if they’re not careful they’ll be spending this season trapped in mid-table. Stockport could spring a surprise here.                           

Swindon vs Macclesfield               Upset Rating: 4/10

Last season this was a League 2 fixture. But this weekend’s fixture will see 7th place in League 1 taking on 7th place in the Blue Square Premier. Macclesfield have reacted admirably to relegation and haven’t been overwhelmed by the culture shock. Swindon under Paolo Di Canio have excelled in Cup competitions and last year they eliminated Wigan Athletic. Di Canio takes this competition very seriously. Although they may still be slightly tired physically and emotionally from their last gasp defeat to Premier League Villa on Tuesday, Swindon will in my opinion beat Macclesfield.         

Torquay vs Harrogate                     Upset Rating: 1/10

Harrogate’s preparations for this game can’t be ideal. After all they only qualified for the 1st Round on Wednesday night after winning a replay against Hyde in Extra Time. This means player-manager Simon Weaver will have just two whole days to prepare for his team’s game against Torquay. Add to that the fact that Harrogate now have one of the longest journeys in this round, plus the inevitable fatigue following the extra-time victory against Hyde and the Blue Square North side clearly have a mountain to climb. Torquay, currently 7th in league 2 and unbeaten at home, probably can’t believe their luck. I can’t see any hope for the Yorkshiremen. This should be Torquay’s most comfortable victory of the season.                                    

Braintree vs Tranmere                   Upset Rating: 4/10

Shamefully this is the only game being shown on terrestrial TV this weekend. Sunday’s clash sees League 1 table-toppers Tranmere travel to Blue Square Premier strugglers Braintree. Nobody on Earth expected Tranmere to be where they are in the league, but the team deserve to be where they are. However the last few games have been more difficult for Ronnie Moore’s men and Braintree, in front of the ITV cameras, will look to take advantage. They’ll raise their game for the cameras and this game will be difficult for Tranmere. It’s certainly worth keeping an eye on events at Cressing Road.                                     

Burton vs Altrincham                      Upset Rating: 3/10

Burton will have to keep an eye out for Damian Reeves against Altrincham. The striker’s in red hot form at the moment and already has 16 league goals to his name this season. On the other hand Burton have been formidable at home this season with only one loss so far. They’re a tough nut to crack and Altrincham will have to come up with something pretty special to beat Burton on Sunday. The quality gap should see Burton win this one comfortably but with a player like Reeves on the loose don’t rule out a shock.                      

Gloucester vs Leyton Orient       Upset Rating: 6/10

The Orient bus driver will undoubtedly be questioning his directions this weekend because Orient’s away game against Blue Square North side Gloucester is being played in Cheltenham’s Whaddon Road. Gloucester haven’t played at their home ground, Meadow Park, since it was submerged in 8 feet of water in 2007. The flooded stadium’s insurance skyrocketed and City had to look elsewhere and they now groundshare with Cheltenham. This is the first time in the club’s 129 year history that they’ve made it to the 1st round of the FA Cup and everybody connected with the club is ecstatic. Orient will be nervous before travelling to Cheltenham. They currently hover just above the League 1 relegation zone and probably won’t view the cup as a great priority. This one could possibly end in an upset.               

Dorchester vs Plymouth               Upset Rating: 4/10

Cornwall isn’t known for its football. It’s the only English county that’s never been represented in the Football League and the only footballer of note to come from the Celtic outpost in recent times is former England goalie, Nigel Martyn. But Dorchester of the Blue Square South are hoping to put Cornwall on the football map with a derby win over League 2 Devonians, Plymouth. One man in particular will be looking forward to the game. Sam Malsom was let go by Plymouth as a teenager but instead of dropping into non-league, he pursued his dreams abroad and played in the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Sweden before returning to the West Country. Aged just 24 he’s already played for clubs in four different countries. He’ll be looking to show Plymouth what they missed out on. It would really be befitting of the cup’s romance if cute Dorchester can pull off a win in this one.

Caution in the cup

Wigan on a League Cup night

And then there were three.

Middlesbrough, Leeds and Bradford are the only Football League clubs left in this season’s Capitol One Cup (League Cup in old money) after they beat Premier League clubs Sunderland, Southampton and Wigan respectively.

You’re unlikely to find a harsher critic of the Capitol One Cup than myself but Boro, Leeds and Bradford have all done brilliantly to reach the quarter finals.

However it’s Bradford that’ll receive most of my attention in this entry. Nearly half the 11,777 attendance at Wigan’s DW Stadium had travelled from Yorkshire and the Bradford fans played a massive part in a great night for the Bantams.

On the pitch a unified, stoic display from the League 2 side took the game to a penalty shoot-out, which Bradford won 4-3.

As is expected in the much-maligned cup, Wigan made several changes but their team still included Premier League regulars like Al-Habsi, Ramis and Gomez. Bradford’s changes on the other hand were forced upon them due to injuries and suspensions picked up in their 1-0 loss to Burton.

But Phil Parkinson’s side showed their spirit, combating Wigan’s free-flowing passing and limiting their opponent’s chances. When Wigan got their rare shooting opportunities they were denied.

Bradford’s resilience paid dividends as they held out for penalties. Doyle, Jones, Darby and Connell all converted their spot-kicks for Bradford. Scottish international Shaun Maloney blasted his over the bar for Wigan before Gomez capped off his miserable night watching his tame effort get saved by the brilliant Matt Duke.

Incidentally this was City’s seventh penalty shoot-out victory in the last three years.

Tough Times

Last night was a great night for a club that’s enjoyed very little success or luck since its relegation from the Premier League in 2001. Following their relegation from the top flight the Bantams have suffered three relegations, numerous brushes with bankruptcy and very little success. Since arriving in League 2 they’ve constantly finished closer to the bottom of the league than the top and last year they had a real relegation scare.

However this year for the first time in many years there’s an air of positivity around Valley Parade. The club are currently in the play-off spots after a good start to the season which sees them unbeaten at home.

City have some very good players in their current squad. Matt Duke is a goal-keeper that I’ve long admired; a confident shot-stopper that for some reason has failed to settle at any club he’s joined since leaving Hull City. Zavon Hines is a tricky, attack-minded winger who should be playing at a higher level.

In truth the club should be playing at a higher level. For the past few seasons they’ve had by far the highest attendances in the division despite constantly underperforming. This season they’ve averaged 9,977 fans at home; more than 21 League 1 clubs and two Championship clubs. They’re the third best supported club in Yorkshire behind the two Sheffield giants and Leeds United.

Caution

Because of the reasons listed above I hope they don’t get too wrapped up in the hype of the cup. Cup runs, particularly Capital One Cup runs have a horrible tendency to destroy seasons for clubs in the Football League. Teams that have looked destined for promotion have seen their hopes dashed by over-involvement in the cup.

Of course the cup can give clubs a major short-term boost but more often than not it consumes everybody’s thoughts. No matter how much you try to put the cup to the back of your head it’s always there! After all the prospect of playing Arsenal or Man Utd is far more exciting than an away game against Exeter on a Tuesday night!

For the first time in over a decade Bradford City have the chance to get promoted. Bradford fans finally have good reason to be proud of their club once again. They finally have a team that matches the club’s size and stature.

I just hope the cup doesn’t derail their promotion push. Because it’s a very long season, and though they may feel fresh and excited now, these extra games could haunt them in February, March or April.

Bradford City are a whale in a fishbowl in League 2. They need promotion and Phil Parkinson needs to let everybody remember what the ultimate aim is for this season.

Edgar Davids’s arrival at Barnet brings glamour but no quick-fix

Edgar Davids’ CV reads like a who’s who of European football; Ajax, Milan, Juventus, Inter, Barcelona and now Barnet.

It’s quite possible that Davids’ Wikipedia page is the only place where you’ll ever see the Bees mentioned alongside these European giants. But as of Friday the 74-cap Dutchman is player-manager of League 2 Barnet FC, sharing the managerial duties with Mark Robson, who’s been head coach at Underhill since June.

Davids, who’s arguably as well-known for his trademark sports-goggles as he is for his tremendous footballing ability, was a tough yet stylish midfielder. Barnet hope that in his new job he can inspire the team to once again defy the odds and avoid relegation from League 2.

The Bees are renowned escapologists having left it until the final day of the last three seasons to secure their League 2 safety. This season looks set to be an even bigger struggle than usual for Barnet who were rock bottom of the Football League with just 3 points so far this season and no wins in their last 13 matches prior to Saturday’s visit from Plymouth Argyle.

However the hope is that Davids’ reputation and more importantly his knowledge of the game can save Barnet from relegation to the Blue Square Premier. Davids, who was apparently living locally, was approached by the club and he accepted their offer after seeing the club’s facilities and Academy.

Over the past few years Barnet have gained national recognition for their work in the community and their investment in the Academy. Though Barnet is one of League 2’s smallest clubs it prides itself on being family orientated.

Davids’ arrival generated much hype and excitement before Saturday’s home game against Plymouth. The West Country visitors had only won two league games this season before travelling to Barnet.

A far more positive vibe could be felt in and around Underhill before kick-off. News of the Champions League winner’s appointment sparked a wave of positivity on Barnet’s internet forums. The attendance had more than doubled since their last home game against Exeter City from 1,483 to 3,229.

Unfortunately the pre-match buzz was well and truly crushed by a typically error-strewn Barnet performance.

The Edgar Davids reign got off to the worst possible start when Mark Byrne conceded a penalty that former Llanelli striker Rhys Griffiths converted. Just 9 minutes later they were further behind thanks to a Blanchard header. David Stephens looked to have given Barnet hope with a scrappy 16th minute close-range strike. But a Cowan-Hall goal midway through the second half and an added time free-kick by Luke Young meant the game finished 4-1 to Plymouth, who are now 18th in League 2.

It was the same old story for Barnet who didn’t seem at all inspired by their big-name-manager’s arrival on Friday.

Fans left the ground feeling much the same way they’d felt before Davids’ arrival, and on internet forums after the game they vented their collective fury. Barnet fans are a patient bunch. They’re used to seeing their side in relegation scraps, but there seems to be genuine anger at the current situation.

If Davids didn’t understand the task facing him before, he surely will now.

Davids has joined a club that lacks confidence and desperately needs a turnaround in form. His celebrity status will bring a lot of attention to the London Borough of Barnet but fans are hoping that his appointment was more than just a gimmick aimed at increasing attendances in the short-term.

Despite the doom and gloom surrounding the bottom club in the Football League, Davids can take comfort in the knowledge that this is a club used to (successfully) fighting relegation. If any club in League 2 is capable of turning this situation around, it’s Barnet.

Good Luck Mr Davids, you’re probably going to need it!