Friday, 7 December 2018

League 1: November Review

League 1 continues to deliver excellent football, brilliant goals, fascinating results and more managers facing the pressure and axe from clubs. Two managers were sacked during November as Portsmouth continue to boss League 1 with Sunderland hot on their heels. Meanwhile the bottom 4 are a little bit cut off from the rest. Bristol Rovers, Plymouth, AFC Wimbledon and Bradford just cannot get their seasons going on a consistent basis.

One side firmly in the groove is leaders Portsmouth who are flying at the top of the table. Pompey have a 4-point cushion over closet rivals Sunderland and despite playing just 3 games during November, Pompey won all 3 matches and continue to boss the league. The likes of Ronan Curtis, Jamal Lowe, Oliver Hawkins, Gareth Evans and Tom Naylor are in brilliant form. However, the secret to Portsmouth’s success is their away form which is the best in the EFL. Kenny Jackett is man who delivers in League 1 and he has firmly got Portsmouth in a groove as he aims for a 3rd promotion from League 1. An experienced manager at this level who right now has created an unstoppable force. One manager at the other end of the managerial experience spectrum is Jack Ross who is in his first managerial job in England after a terrific spell at St Mirren. Given the task of getting Sunderland back into the Championship, Ross is doing an excellent job so far with the Black Cats sitting in the top 2 and have lost just once all season. Another unbeaten month saw Sunderland collect 8 points from their 4 games and overall are unbeaten in their last 11 league games. Sunderland’s young cats are pouncing towards promotion and Jack Ross has certainly got them playing and like Portsmouth, they are extremely tough to beat and are in imperious form right now. The sides making up the play-offs are Luton, Peterborough, Barnsley and Charlton. Nathan Jones is doing a sensational job with Luton with the Hatters lying 3rd in the table following their promotion from League 2. They are exciting to watch and picking wins left, right and centre. They’ve won 8 of their last 10 games including 3 of their 4 matches in November. Goals are flowing, and their defence is one of the tightest in the league. Goals are spread across the whole team with Elliott Lee leading the line up front with 10 goals so far while defenders James Justin and Matty Pearson are also chipping in with goals. Meanwhile, it hasn’t been the best month for Barnsley and Peterborough both struggling to keep up with the top 2 sides. Daniel Stendel has undeniably made an excellent start at Barnsley, but they are winless in their last 2 league games after winning their previous 3. The Tykes are scoring goals, but they are conceding more in recent weeks and their high pressing style will be caught out on some occasions as they found out at Sunderland. The tykes are 5th in the table 5 points behind Sunderland. Peterborough also endured a rough patch winning just once in November that coming in their most recent game against Wimbledon. A 3-match winless run saw Posh drop out the top 2 and into 4th spot. Steve Evans has bemoaned his sides lack of potency and defensive lapses which have cost his side. Despite that, Evans will be satisfied as they are right where they need to be at this stage of the season. 6th place Charlton have a storming month winning all 4 of their matches which has seen them take a firm grip on their play-off place. Lee Bowyer will be delighted with his sides performances and he will believe automatic promotion isn’t out of their reach. Lyle Taylor and Karlan Grant are forming a dangerous partnership up top for the Addicks notching 19 goals between them so far this season and with those firing, it would very hard to rule Charlton out the promotion race.

Another side who enjoyed November was Gareth Ainsworth’s Wycombe after winning 3 of their 4 matches and drawing the other. Ainsworth has done a magnificent job with the Chairboys and the transition from League 2 to League 1 has been seamless. They are efficient, hardworking and resilient and they’re on a terrific run which has seen them move from the relegation battle into 10th place just outside the play-off places. 5 wins in their last 7 games has ignited their season and it’s no surprise there is a real buzz around the football club. Even injuries to both senior goalkeepers haven’t disrupted them with reliable keepers Matt Ingram, David Stockdale and Stephen Henderson drafted in on emergency loans. Wycombe are having a terrific season and there is no reason why it cannot continue going into the hectic festive period.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, with Ainsworth doing a terrific job, other managers are struggling and two this month have paid the price. Neal Ardley, the 3rd longest serving manager in the 4 English leagues was sacked by Wimbledon after a run of 7 straight defeats and overall 11 defeats in 13 with just 2 wins in that time. Simon Bassey has been in caretaker charge throughout November notching 1 win and losing the other two games under his stewardship. Wimbledon are desperately struggling for goals just 14 scored in the league while their defence is leaking far too many conceding 30 in their 20 league games. A big job ahead for new manager Wally Downes. Downes a former Wimbledon player will be aware of the task ahead, but he comes with experience having coached at the likes of West Ham and QPR. However, he must start well and get them going from the off starting at home to Rochdale this weekend with the club 7 points off safety and in desperate need of a change of fortunes. While Downes’ appointment has been met with trepidation and controversy with charity Kick it Out condemning the appointment following Downes’ comments on Twitter a while ago. Downes comes with a difficult task for his first managerial job but with the Wimbledon way in his blood, he will be determined to drag them out of trouble. The other side to part ways with their manager is Shrewsbury who have sacked John Askey after a disappointing start to the season. Askey who only took over in the summer, leaves following a run of just 4 wins in 17 league games. His last game was an FA Cup draw to non-league Salford City at Montgomery Waters Meadow. Askey joined Shrewsbury on a high after guiding Macclesfield to promotion to League 2. But for one reason or another, things just didn’t work out and Shrewsbury will move on to their new manager. Danny Coyne has been on caretaker charge throughout November and won 2 of his 3 league games in charge and safely saw their progression into the second round of the FA Cup. Askey’s successor is the former Bolton, Wolves and Wales defender Sam Ricketts who joins from National League side Wrexham. Ricketts leaves Wrexham after just 4 months in charge where he guided Wrexham to 4th in the table. Ricketts inherits a side in 15th place and on a decent run of form and has even kept all the backroom staff and Ricketts himself said ‘If it’s not broke, don’t fix it’. Ricketts started well winning a cup tie against Walsall in midweek but his first league game in charge is on the horizon. A trip to Burton kicks off Ricketts’ tenure and he will be relishing the chance to get Shrewsbury firing.

Wimbledon are in the bottom 4 and are joined by Plymouth, Bradford and Bristol Rovers. All 3 clubs are struggling, and the pressure is mounting on their managers Derek Adams, David Hopkin and Darrell Clarke. Plymouth are struggling and just cannot gain consistency in their form. 1 win in their 4 league games during November with the Pilgrims losing the other three. Adams has been critical of the players and the fans this season with Adams even telling fans to stay away if they aren’t coming to support the team. Adams is under pressure and a poor December could spell the end and they really need an improved run of form with the club 5 points off safety. Meanwhile at Bristol Rovers, Darrell Clarke has already been given the dreaded vote of confidence. They’ve lost their last 3 matches and overall have won just twice in their last 11 league games. Rovers are conceding poor goals and struggling to find the net themselves and their form at home is poor for a side that was competing well last season. Clarke is under pressure and the fans will demand improvement with the games coming thick and fast throughout December. There is somewhat of a crisis at rock bottom Bradford. Things are very disappointing on the pitch with just 2 wins in Hopkin’s 15 league games. However, things are not better off the pitch with chairman Edin Rahic being sacked and the fans protesting about their German’s owners running of the club. A fantastic football club is having a nightmare season and with things not improving in any part of the club, there must be radical changes whether that be getting rid of David Hopkin or new owners to galvanise the football club. The managerial axe could fall on three managers in discussion if things don’t vastly improve with the season on the cusp of the halfway stage.

The festive period is upon us and it’s the most exciting time for football fans with games coming thick and fast and opportunities for teams to really get their seasons going. There are plenty of mouth-watering games to come throughout December including Plymouth vs Bradford, Walsall vs Coventry, Portsmouth vs Charlton, Doncaster vs Scunthorpe, Barnsley vs Portsmouth, Shrewsbury vs Peterborough, Portsmouth vs Sunderland, Wimbledon vs Plymouth, Barnsley vs Peterborough, Sunderland vs Bradford, Oxford vs Bristol Rovers, Barnsley vs Charlton and Fleetwood vs Portsmouth. The festive period will bring excitement, goals and more excellent football with the most wonderful time just around the corner.

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