The EFL rumbled on at the weekend and Preston and Blackpool both took the chance to advance on the play-offs while Huddersfield, Middlesbrough and Nottingham Forest were busy…
Blackpool and their home form
In such a tight Championship season at either end of the table, new boys Blackpool have been nothing short of a joy in their sheer persistence in maintaining mid-table form and positioning since almost the start of the campaign. But three home league wins from three in 2022 has been the perfect hat-trick which now sees Neil Critchley’s side just five points off the play-off places.
1-0 wins over Hull City and Millwall were not enough to get pulses racing wildly, but enough to keep the stream of contentment flowing beside the seaside. Against Bristol City, themselves winless in nine games on the road now, the Tangerines were superior in almost every way. But while the Robins are looking over their shoulder, Blackpool are focussed directly upwards, knowing a stellar second half of last season saw them accelerate towards the play-off places and eventual promotion to the Championship.
For no longer than a couple of moments are we suggesting a sense of déjà vu and history repeating itself, but that the notion can even be suggested without being utter lunacy shows how far this once-troubled club has come in the last five years. Blackpool are on the up, and the perfect start to 2022 at Bloomfield Road is proving just that.
Not much further inland from Blackpool comes another club tasting success in this calendar year. Saturday’s 1-0 victory for Preston over similarly resurgent Hull City made it just one defeat in nine games under Ryan Lowe’s stewardship to date. The most impressive of those results was the 2-0 victory at West Brom in which young Aston Villa loanee Cameron Archer opened his North End account days after joining the Deepdale club.
Defeating the Tigers wasn’t quite as big a coup as taking down the Baggies, but it represented another step in the right direction for Preston and Archer, whose second goal in four Lilywhites appearances separated the sides and took Preston to just four points off the top six. With Archer having represented the stellar business in a quiet transfer window, Preston’s ceiling under Lowe after a full summer is getting higher and higher.
In the same week we questioned the depths Swansea were willing to swim in order to keep the Russell Martin project afloat, the Swans proved themselves capable of winning in a different way. With those three-point hauls proving difficult to come across playing the Martin way, having less of the ball proved beneficial to Swansea picking up a much-needed win.
Ryan Manning’s dismissal early in the second half could have been a spanner in the works, but actually helped Martin and Co. to shut up shop far more successfully than they have done in recent months while Michael Obafemi’s second goal for the club could prove to be a turning point for the on-loan Southampton striker.
Something of a cult figure at Rotherham United since his initial season-long loan and subsequent purchase from Newcastle United two seasons ago, Dan Barlaser has been a shining star in the League One leaders’ set-up this season that he now goes by the ‘Geordie Pirlo’ moniker. His ultimate winner against Accrington Stanley, with whom he also enjoyed a successful loan spell once upon a time, was a touch of class. How Newcastle could do with some of that themselves this season.
After a slow start to his third loan spell with Oxford United, West Ham loanee Holland hit a purple patch in late 2021 before seeing his role become peripheral once more in the New Year. Against Portsmouth, the 23-year-old was back to his best at just the right time for the U’s.
Trailing to Portsmouth with 10 minutes remaining, Holland provided a double shot of Dutch courage for the promotion-chasing hosts, setting up Cameron Brannagan for one long-range strike before topping it deep into injury time with a wonder strike of his own to keep Oxford on the right side of the dotted play-off line.
It’s not often you’ll find a team bottom of the table after losing 5-0 at home to their local rivals ending up in the winners half of a column, but since when has the EFL ever made sense? Everything pointed to a Sunderland victory before the match, but two first-half goals from the South Yorkshire side were enough to see Doncaster put a dampener on a monumental and celebratory day at the Stadium of Light for the Bradley Lowery Foundation and Jermain Defoe’s associated return.
League Two runaway leaders Forest Green’s clash with fellow promotion chasers Newport County saw the fourth tier’s three leading scorers sharing the same pitch – Rovers’ duo Matty Stevens and Jamille Matt and Newport hot shot Dom Telford. The Exiles’ striker started the day three strikes ahead of each of the pair in the opposition, but Stevens’ double took him to 19 for the season and Forest Green 10 points clear at the top of the table and 14 points ahead of the play-off places.
On course to be one of the greatest ever teams at this level, and the best since Chris Wilder’s barnstorming 2015/16 Northampton side, Matty and Matt are the key ingredients to this tasty vegan success story.
At the turn of the millennium, Bradford City were in the Premier League while near neighbours Harrogate Town plied their trade in the Northern Premier League Division One.
In 2022: Harrogate Town 2-0 Bradford City
Second in the Championship table they may still be, but 2022 has flattered to deceive on the most part for Blackburn Rovers so far. In failing to score against Swansea on Saturday evening, it became their fourth blank in six league matches this calendar year. With Ben Brereton Diaz starting on the bench after yet more Chilean exploits and a host of injuries across the team, Blackburn are still in the enviable position of having points on the board but knowing the chasing pack are likely to pick up ground from their games in hand on Tony Mowbray’s second-placed side.
Having too often in recent weeks looked like being incapable of being at their free flowing best, and after the drama of Joe Rothwell’s Deadline Day exploits, there are fears that Blackburn’s unlikely promotion challenge could be about to show signs of falling away. The first thing to address is that inability to score which has creeped into Blackburn’s faltering blueprint since the turn of the year.
Sunderland on the pitch
Lee Johnson’s sacking, Jermain Defoe’s Deadline Day re-signing and the continued links to Roy Keane making a startling return to the Stadium of Light dugout all occurred in the week after Sunderland’s dismal 6-0 reverse at Bolton which signalled the end of Johnson’s reign at the club.
Such was the overwhelming positivity much of the week’s events brought to the Wearside club, it was almost expected that the good feeling alone would be enough to wipe the floor with rock bottom Doncaster, themselves coming off the back of that 5-0 midweek defeat to Rotherham. Against Doncaster though, it became apparent just how many problems still exist at a club who one week prior had shipped half a dozen goals at mid-table Bolton.
Defoe’s return and the admirable fundraising to the Bradley Lowery Foundation have been wonderful and heartwarming, but do not mask the very real problems that exist for the Black Cats in their fourth attempt to get out of the third tier. With Rotherham and Wigan moving further and further from the chasing pack, Sunderland do not want to rely on chance again. Right now, the dice are not rolling in their favour where it matters most.
Rotherham United’s (minority of) fans
For the third time in less than a month, a minority of Rotherham fans made themselves the village idiots at a League One fixture. A disruption of Fleetwood Town’s minute’s silence for all associated with the Cod Army to have lost their lives in 2021 was rightly chastised, before a more tangible idiocy occurred in the away end at Crewe when a supporter threw an object believed to be chewing gum at the assistant referee’s head.
Against Accrington, another positive result for the Millers was somewhat overshadowed by lunacy from two supporters and one in particular who saw fit to run onto the field of play, kick the ball away from the penalty spot as Harry Pell prepared the spot kick and then struck the Stanley midfielder in the face before caught by Rotherham striker Michael Smith and carted away by the stewards.
After the match, manager Paul Warne spoke of ‘huge embarrassment’ at the latest issue in what is becoming an increasingly worrying series of them at Rotherham and across the EFL. To defy these individuals as ‘not real supporters’ is an attempt to deflect the problem. They are real fans, and they are idiots. The two need not be mutually exclusive. After a year and a half of not being able to attend football matches, it is a shame incidents like these are becoming increasingly common and exponentially more pathetic.
Morecambe v Bolton
What a mess. That these columns are supposed to be reviewing the football and spend more and more of the word count each week discussing anything from buffoonery and idiocy to allegations of racism and other counts of abuse is wholly depressing. Morecambe’s clash with Bolton could and should have been a celebration of two clubs who have met in the middle from vastly different paths across their histories.
Instead, referee Ross Joyce took the players off the pitch with 88 minutes played and Morecambe on course for a big three points for abuse which Bolton boss Ian Evatt said had been happening since ‘minute one’.
Encroachment to the dugout, spitting and a racist remark are all alleged to have happened and the matter is now in the hands of the police. We have serious problems in this country in many facets of life. The actions of a few football fans do not make these matters any less serious. Investigations will now take place and hopefully it will be the next step into eradicating this behaviour. We shan’t hold our breath, however.
At home to the only side in League Two are about as bad as them, Scunthorpe knew a point was the least they needed from their clash with fellow bottom two outfit Oldham Athletic. But the sixth time charm of John Sheridan at Boundary Park might just be taking shape, with the Latics having now taken four points from his two games back in charge without conceding.
While Oldham still have a job on their hands to close the gap to those on the right side of the dotted line, it is looking like Mission: Impossible for Scunthorpe, with even experienced Keith Hill looking out of his depth at a once proud football club who should be ashamed of being rock bottom of the EFL. Entirely avoidable, taking shortcuts and cutting corners in everything from squad building to investing in matters off the pitch, the atmosphere at Glanford Park is the lowest it has ever been. When Junior Luamba’s 83rd-minute winner hit the back of the net, it sunk Scunthorpe to yet another new rock bottom.
The post Lancashire dominates Football League winners and losers appeared first on Football365.