Tag Archives: relegated

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.

 football league

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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Torquay’s quick-fire collapse could continue

The League 2 relegation dogfight features some predictable names such as Barnet, York, Wimbledon and Aldershot. Plymouth and Accrington Stanley are also less than surprising inclusions in the scrap. But as recently as early February any suggestion of Torquay being dragged into the mix would have been ridiculed.

The situation is getting desperate for Torquay

The situation is getting desperate for Torquay

But the Devon club, who have featured in the last two League 2 play-offs, now find themselves just one place and one point above the drop zone.

Last season they were just three points off automatic promotion to League 1, and two years ago they lost agonizingly to a John Mousinho stunner in the play-off final at Old Trafford. Until December they looked a decent bet to finish in the top 7 again this season, but things have taken a turn for the worse, and the Gulls have taken just one point from their last nine games.

Torquay started the season with hopes of promotion, despite the sale of key players in the summer. Torquay’s first half of the season was steady but unspectacular, although they were unbeaten at home until an embarrassing defeat against non-league Harrogate, which many fans now see as the start of their slide down the table. Since their loss against the unfancied Yorkshiremen the Gulls have only registered one win at home.

Torquay’s form had already dipped when they were dealt a hammer blow at the start of February with the news popular manager, Martin Ling was likely to miss the rest of the season with a “debilitating illness.”

Ling’s mystery illness required his assistant, Shaun Taylor, to step into the role, but his four games in charge all ended in defeat. Former Bury and Scunthorpe manager, Alan Knill, took over four games ago, but three losses and a draw have taken the Gulls within spitting distance of the bottom two.

Torquay were relegated out of the Football League for the first time in the club’s history in 2007, but returned two years later, which was a tremendous achievement in a competitive division. They don’t want to put themselves in the same position again, but with just one win since December 1 fans are extremely concerned.

The atmosphere at Plainmoor has become increasingly tense and nervous, with frustration rebounding constantly between the crowd and the players.

Their only win in 2013 was the televised derby away at Exeter, which ended in a 1-0 win, but even then they were extremely lucky and Torquay could count themselves lucky the Grecians had left their shooting boots at home.

Despite having an adequate squad to stay up, Torquay look disorganized at the back. They’re leaking sloppy goals, and look bereft of self-belief at the back.

To add to their defensive worries, hefty striker Rene Howe has hit a dry spell, and hasn’t netted in his last eight games, which is extremely unusual for the goal-machine and extremely worrying for his club, who have been dependent upon him for goals in recent seasons.

Torquay’s collapse is remarkable, and the club seems to have become a trembling mess overnight. But as Alan Knill himself pointed out, in League 2 a losing run can turn into a winning run astoundingly quickly.

But with just 10 games remaining, the Gulls form has to turn around quickly or they could find themselves in deep trouble, without enough time to save themselves.

Wolves players need to take responsibility for their predicament

There’s no avoiding it, and it has to be discussed; Wolves are in trouble, and Dean Saunders needs to turn things around quickly if they are to stay up this season.

Wolves fans suffered a nightmare season last year as they were relegated from the Premier League with a measly 25 points. But having retained most of their players, and acquired a new, highly commended, intelligent manager in Ståle Solbakken, they were confident of pushing for an instant return to the top flight.

Saunders needs sort things out quickly.

But after a solid start to the season, Wolves have steadily dropped down the league, and after an embarrassing FA Cup defeat away at Blue Square Premier side Luton, Solbakken was shown the door. This was undoubtedly the correct decision as Solbakken clearly wasn’t inspiring the players, and the players found it difficult to adapt to his continental style of play.

Dean Saunders was appointed after a great first half of the season at League 1 Doncaster, but a quick look at Saunders’s CV may have suggested he was not the man for the job.

Saunders was given his first managerial post at Wrexham in 2008 after working as a coach for several years in John Toshack’s Wales set-up. Saunders struggled at first to find a rhythm at Wrexham and there were serious questions asked about his managerial ability. But he slowly turned things around at Wrexham and built a formidable, attacking machine, which looked set to challenge seriously for the Championship, until he was snapped up by Doncaster in September 2011.

He took over a Doncaster team which looked doomed to relegation, but Saunders was well backed with high-profile loan and short-term signings. But even the likes of El-Hadji Diouf couldn’t save Doncaster, and they were relegated at the end of the season, with Saunders’ managerial ability questioned once again.

Saunders revamped the Doncaster squad and got them competing seriously for promotion back to the Championship, this season, before he was snapped up by Wolves, with the aim of resurrecting their fading play-off hopes. Instead, he has not won any of his first six games and their latest defeat against in-form Barnsley has seen them fall into the bottom three.

Saunders is a long-term option for a club who desperately need a short-term solution. The question is, can Saunders change things quickly enough to keep Wolves up?

Wolves’s squad isn’t the most exciting, but there are good players in there who are underperforming badly. The likes of Roger Johnson, Kevin Doyle, Sylvain Ebanks-Blake and Adam Hammill are proven players at Championship level, but they’re simply not contributing enough, and haven’t done so for a while.

The team still haven’t recovered from the loss of confidence last season, and in hindsight, the board probably missed a golden opportunity to revamp the squad in the summer. At the time, keeping the majority of the squad together looked to be a big achievement for the board, but after such a poor season it would probably have been better to get rid of some of their biggest underperformers.

Some football pundits have said sacking Mick McCarthy was Wolves’s biggest error, but they have conveniently forgotten the team’s abysmal form at the time of his departure.

McCarthy had enjoyed some wonderful times at Wolves, guiding them to promotion and keeping the Black Country club in the Premier League for three seasons. But the time had come for McCarthy to leave. Wolves were playing poorly, with deteriorating confidence, and their performance in the embarrassing 5-1 home defeat to local rivals, West Brom, was possibly among the worst ever seen in the Premier League.

Those who claim the Wolves board was wrong to get rid of McCarthy are looking through rose-tinted glasses, and conveniently forgetting the state of the team when he left. McCarthy will always be loved at Molineux, but keeping McCarthy certainly wouldn’t have kept them up, and they probably would have reacted similarly to relegation under the former Irish international.

Wolves have 13 games left to save themselves from returning to the third tier for the first time since 1989, starting with Sunday’s clash with table-toppers, Cardiff.

They desperately need to get their house in order, and halt what has become a deeply distressing malaise.

Now isn’t the time for players to feel sorry for themselves, and Dean Saunders has to step up to the mark to prove he is capable of being a Championship manager.

With matches against fellow relegation candidates, Birmingham, Millwall, Bristol City, Huddersfield and Bolton, there’s no reason why Wolves can’t drag themselves out of their current predicament. But for this to happen the players need to stop the pouting and take responsibility for their terrible performances.

Dave Jones: Should he stay or should he go?

Sheffield Wednesday are second from bottom in the Championship, they’ve lost their last seven games and on Saturday they lost to fellow relegation-batters Bristol City.

Sheffield Wednesday manager Dave Jones is under severe pressure. (Picture courtesy of talksport.com)

Sheffield Wednesday manager Dave Jones is under severe pressure. (Picture courtesy of talksport.com)

Manager, Dave Jones, is under severe pressure, with fans questioning both his ability to inspire his team and his tactical nous. Jones led the Owls to automatic promotion from League 1 last season, and has years of experience in the Championship with Wolves and Cardiff, but is he the man to lead Wednesday to safety?

Great expectations

Jones was appointed in March with Wednesday 3rd in the League 1 table and fresh from a morale-boosting victory against Steel City rivals Sheffield United. He led the team to promotion, leapfrogging United in the process, and Wednesday looked set for a fresh start in the Championship.

In August everything looked rosy for the Owls; they were unbeaten in the opening month of the season, winning two and drawing one. Few people were tipping Wednesday for the drop, and nobody could have predicted the abysmal run of results which would follow.

Wednesday had substantially boosted their squad in the summer, acquiring the services of full-back Joe Mattock, experienced centre-back Anthony Gardner and striker Jay Bothroyd, who excelled under Jones at Cardiff. They also bought Michail Antonio, who shined on loan from Reading the previous season, and borrowed highly-rated youngster Ross Barkley from Everton.

There were also exotic-sounding  transfers, such as Slovenian international Nejc Pecnik and the loan of Rodri from Barcelona B.

It seemed Sheffield Wednesday were all set for an enjoyable season back in the second tier of English football, but things turned sour very quickly.

After their unbeaten August Wednesday went on a miserable nine match winless run. They then won two games in a row against relegation rivals Ipswich and Peterborough and the Hillsborough club seemed ready to turn their season around.

Alas they’ve lost all their games since beating Peterborough 2-1 on November 3, and have slowly slipped down the table.

The defeat at home to Bristol City will hurt for a number of reasons.

Two of City’s goals were penalties, cheaply conceded through nervous defending by players who had just netted for Wednesday. Another painful aspect of this defeat is that Wednesday looked to be in control of the game, leading 2-1 with five minutes remaining, only for a Baldock penalty and a superb Adomah free-kick to steal the points at the death.

Wednesday’s misery was compounded when a late Wednesday goal was disallowed because defender Miguel Llera had grabbed the referee to complain about a decision he’d made, forcing the ref to halt play just before Gary Madine scored.

Of course this latest loss is especially painful because it was against a Bristol City team, below them at the start of play, who had themselves been on a poor run of form. The Robins, who revealed in midweek the appalling financial state of the club (record losses of £14.4m for the year ending May 2012), are now three points ahead of the Owls and outside the relegation zone.

Saturday’s soul-crushing defeat is the low-point in a disappointing season for Wednesday, and it’s piled the pressure on Dave Jones.

Jones unable to deal with pressure

Jones is probably one of the most mysterious characters in the Football League. He’s an extremely proud man, and somebody who resents criticism or questioning. This has damaged his relationship with the press, and to a lesser extent, with fans in recent years.

He can appear dour, negative and stubborn, and this is a defence mechanism that rarely works in his favour when under pressure. His stubbornness has been misread as arrogance in the past when in fact it’s usually a sign of insecurity.

Jones’s record suggests he’s a manager who struggles under pressure. He led Wolves to promotion via the play-offs when they were second favourites against a Sheffield United team which had reached the semi-finals of both the FA and League Cup that season. However in the Premier League Wolves struggled to adapt and finished bottom.

At Cardiff he reached the 2008 FA Cup final against the odds, but consistently failed to get promoted despite buying many high-profile players. Year after year the Bluebirds would get into promising positions, only to crumble spectacularly under pressure when expectations were raised.

At Sheffield Wednesday he took over a team which was not expected to finish in the top two, but had more or less secured a play-off spot. With expectations and pressure low he managed to rally his team and they overtook Sheffield United to finish 3rd.

Now though, with Wednesday struggling in the bottom three, Jones is once again under immense pressure, and supporters have been critical of his decision-making.

Last week Mark Beevers was allowed to sign for Millwall, where he’s been outstanding in defence while on loan from Wednesday.  He was sold despite the fact Wednesday are shipping goals at an alarming rate and haven’t kept a clean sheet since October.

Following Saturday’s game Jones was asked if he feared for his job and he said: “I didn’t give two penalties away at the end of the day,” adding: “It’s hard for us coaches because we’re under pressure as well.”

When asked if he expected to be in charge for next week’s crunch Yorkshire derby against Barnsley, Jones simply said: “I hope so. I hope so.”

Should he stay or should he go?

Confidence is in short supply at Wednesday and the players look dejected. There are some good footballers at the club but nobody knows when the losing run will end.

The few fans who still believed in Dave Jones are slowly turning against him as the situation gets bleaker. Sadly, Dave Jones’s jittery, overly-defensive interview answers suggest his confidence levels are about as low as those of the players.

The board has to decide whether or not they believe Dave Jones can inspire the players to turn things around. Unfortunately for the manager I suspect they’ll see what we all see; Jones isn’t the man to lead Wednesday to safety.