Once More Unto the Breach: The Football League Season Draws to a Conclusion
Tonight, Watford travel to Leicester City at the onset of a nail biting weekend of Football League fixtures. With a great many issues still hanging in the balance, our two founding bloggers, Lloyd and Lanterne Rouge convened to discuss the prospects:
Lanterne Rouge: As a Plymouth fan, you’ve mentioned to me that you are still worried about the drop – it’s quite possible mathematically but will take a chain reaction of perhaps sub-nuclear proportions for Argyle to go down to the Football League. Having analysed the various relegation candidates for this blog a few weeks ago, who do you think will be swapping places with Mansfield Town given the final day fixtures?
Lloyd: I like your enthusiasm, Rob, but I’m finding it hard to dismiss relegation so offhandedly. Last weekend, just about everything that could have gone wrong for Argyle did; all it would take is a similarly unfortunate set of results to consign us to non-league football.
But since John Sheridan arrived in January we’ve tended to do the business when it’s really come to the crunch — such as against Barnet and Exeter when there has been a kind win at all costs mentality going in to the game — and with some 3,000 supporters expected to travel to Rochdale I’m hoping for a similar outcome on Saturday.
Whether we stay up or not, though, questions simply have to be asked of owner James Brent’s role in all of this; of course, we’ve been sliding for years but 18 months on from his Akkeron Group’s takeover, how exactly has it come to this and what plans are in place to ensure that we finally lift ourselves out of the doldrums next season?
To answer your question, though, for starters it looks very much like Aldershot are all but down; I’d previously predicted safety for them on the back of some positive results under new manager Andy Scott but they just haven’t picked up enough wins and the wider instability surrounding the club suggests that Scott might have taken on a little more than he’d originally signed up for.
Who will join them? Quite impressively, Accrington are safe, so it’s technically between Torquay in 18th and Wimbledon in 23rd. My gut instinct is that the latter will beat Fleetwood at Kingsmeadow (based on the maxim that no one wants to relegate a team on their own ground) and that the key to it all will be the results at Northampton (who play Barnet) and Dagenham (who play fellow relegation candidates York). If the Northampton who lost at home to York a few weeks ago turn up then Barnet will be safe; otherwise, it’s all eyes on the Victoria Stadium…or at least I hope, for Argyle and Torquay’s sake).
What fixtures stand out for you on the final day of the League One season, Rob?
Lanterne Rouge: Well it’s all about Brentford versus Doncaster isn’t it? Similarly to the race for the second promotion spot in the Championship, the protagonists seem to be falling over themselves to avoid it, with Doncaster suffering a miserable 1-0 home defeat against Notts County and Brentford fluffing their lines in the subsequent late game last Saturday.
The fixture is intriguing because the Bees’ home form is exceptionally good while Doncaster have been effective on the road. I really like Brian Flynn — a man who provides a connection to my years growing up as a football fan and it’s heartening to see an old stager do well but equally, promotion for the Bees would be long overdue — I can only remember them enjoying one year in the second tier and I also recall one especially horrible televised thrashing at the hands of Millwall — their fans well deserve a spell in the sun.
It has also been good to see Bournemouth return to the status the club experienced during the Harry Redknapp era even if their plucking expensive acquisitions such as Matt Ritchie from rivals made them one of the firm favourites from the off.
Elsewhere in the division, the success of the Pompey Supporters Trust in taking over Portsmouth was one of the most heartening stories of the weekend, coupled with a 3-0 hammering of ailing Sheffield United. I know you fully agreed with John McGee’s post from earlier in the season in feeling little sympathy for the plight of a fan base that merrily celebrated an FA Cup victory purchased on credit — did the timing of the takeover also stick in the craw? — Pompey fans seem to live a charmed life in dodging true unhappiness.
Lloyd: It’s funny; Bournemouth and Donny both have their issues — the suspicion being that the former are just a bigger Crawley or Fleetwood while Rovers’ ill-fated transfer policy of 11-12 has not been forgotten — but, along with Brentford, I’d love to see all three playing in the Championship next season, probably because it would upset the status quo a little in that division. Despite what the Premier League and Sky may want us to think, surely it’s more interesting to see genuine movement in divisions over the years.
The same goes for Yeovil and Swindon a few positions behind them; although the latter could be criticised for similar reasons to Bournemouth, I’d much prefer to see them having a go in the second tier than a still-hungover Sheffield United next year.
You’re not wrong as regards Pompey’s charm. Any criticism of the south coasters tends to be met with accusations of bias and/or pitilessness but — like with Argyle last season — there’s been a sense all along that it would just about work out and don’t tell me that their plight has been on the same level as, say, Luton’s or Stockport’s.
As a Reading fan, you’ve been somewhat removed from events in the Football League this year, but of all three divisions I imagine that you’ve kept an eye on the Championship most closely? With two games to go, what are your thoughts on the scrap at the bottom? Will one of Wolves or Blackburn go down for a second successive season?
Lanterne Rouge: I couldn’t agree more — as a Reading fan, I’m relishing the opportunity to return to Dean Court and perhaps Griffin Park next season — even though we’ll probably be well beaten as we have been so many times by those clubs!
The battle to stay in the Championship is indeed fascinating and I’m hoping a scenario doesn’t develop where smaller clubs such as Peterborough and Barnsley join Bristol City a level down. Looking at the fixtures though, I do think that’s likely to be the case — surely Hull’s own preoccupations will make them too strong for the Tykes, while I think Sheffield Wednesday have the commitment to go to London Road to get a win.
Wednesday are in danger themselves of course and while their fans have perhaps suffered enough in recent years, I think most neutrals would like to see Wolves and/or Blackburn tumble. Rovers’ demise has been car-crash TV of the highest order and it’s very difficult not to sit back and enjoy the whole farcical spectacle even if Luis Suarez has denied them column inches of late.
This week’s vital win at Millwall has seriously eased the Lancashire team’s concerns however and it’s perhaps Blackpool who are looking over their shoulders most nervously now — Brighton are a good team but to lose 6-1 in the ‘Seaside derby’ was seriously abject — nor does a final day visit to a resurgent Bolton look appetising — we await footage of the Matthews final on Football Focus if the Tangerines don’t get a result against Derby.
Where Jordan Rhodes will be plying his trade next season is another interesting question to ponder and perhaps he’ll find himself finally able to enjoy a challenge to enter the Premier League?
Following Cardiff’s admirable but somewhat tainted success in clinching promotion, it has boiled down to a straight shoot-out between Hull and Watford — do you see the Hornets’ clawing back the current 4 point deficit? — despite my earlier comment, the Tigers’ fixtures are quite tricky.
Lloyd: Firstly, I’d be happy for both of them to go up. We’ve already over used the word heartening in this exchange but it would be great to see Hull gain promotion again, this time without Phil Brown hogging the spotlight. As for Watford, we’d have to re-endure endless debate about the Pozzos if they were to go up, but it would just about be worth it to see how far such an approach would get them in the Premier League.
Four points does seem an awful lot to overhaul at this stage, though. That said, if the Hornets can finally put a faltering Leicester out of their misery on Friday night then Hull will surely have the jitters at Barnsley — who have showed plenty of willing since David Flitcroft’s appointment — the following day. If they fail to secure promotion this weekend, a final day visit of Cardiff looks like a bit of a banana skin and I wouldn’t want to be a Hull supporter — let alone a Hull player — in the week leading up to that game…
The race for the play-offs looks no less exciting. As a supporter of a team once managed by Ian Holloway, Palace’s stumbling form has proven particularly interesting to me over the past month or two; things seem to have really soured for the Bristolian at Selhurst Park and his side are in real danger of throwing away a season’s good work. Speaking as a fan with plenty of experience of the Championship promotion run-in, do you think the Eagles can muster enough points from their remaining fixtures at Blackburn, Millwall and at home to Posh or do you think their form’s too toxic?
Lanterne Rouge: As regards the fixtures, you raise an interesting point in highlighting the fact that Watford are playing tonight — I’m not sure how fair it is that matches are being played at uneven times so late in the day, even if these adjustments are often due to postponements (not in this case).
As for Palace, I really don’t think that the Eagles look a viable proposition to be promoted given the strength of the others in there but they should at least be present at the party — Blackburn and Peterborough are not the toughest of fixtures.
Although Bolton have momentum, I wouldn’t expect the Trotters nor the East Midlands duo of Leicester and Forest to negotiate the post-season successfully, fascinating though the final day showdown between the latter duo will be. Intriguingly, Charlton still have an outside chance too but of the quartet, I’d probably expect the Tricky Trees to claim the sixth spot — their penultimate game is against a Millwall in free fall and who would bet against them doing enough in a derby against Nigel Pearson’s stuttering Foxes?
All this said, speaking personally, the prospect of a Watford v Brighton play off final would be mouth watering — a real ‘advert’ for the Football League (to employ a clichà©). It would also confirm the growing impression that ‘good football’ is becoming more and more of a real prerequisite in the higher reaches of sport in England at the moment.