16 Conclusions on a wonderful weekend of EFL football

Date published: Sunday 1st September 2019 11:35

1) Think back to the end of July and the first couple of August days and remember a time when everybody was – justifiably or otherwise – posting their predicted league tables for each of the divisions. I would hazard that 90% of the Championship versions posted from fans and pundits alike had Charlton Athletic to finish bottom, and the majority of the rest posting the Addicks as relegation fodder of some variety.

Now, nobody is safe before the end of August, but Lee Bowyer’s side continue to shock and awe their way through the opening month of the season. They go into the international break in an automatic promotion place.

Lyle Taylor again showed Paul Pogba how to take the nauseatingly patient penalty after Jonathan Leko gave the visitors the lead at a resurgent and recently surprisingly good Reading. Many wondered where the Charlton wins would come from this season. They remain undefeated. Now go tear up those predictions and we’ll all agree to never speak of them again.

 

2) Talking of predictions, who had Swansea City as the only team higher than Charlton six matches into the campaign? Yep, us neither. Already this season, they have shown how to come from behind to win, how to blow away lesser sides, and how to smash lower-league opposition with a completely changed XI.

Reverting back to a more familiar line-up for potentially the most difficult game of the season, the Swans showcased their resilience to look like taking a great point from west Yorkshire. That last-minute goal to grab all three wasn’t even shocking. Swansea *really* are quite amazing.

 

3) In midweek, we talked of the wonderful debut of cancer survivor Jack Evans for Swansea City. This weekend, there was another magnificent introduction on an even bigger stage, this time for Birmingham City’s Jude Bellingham.

I shan’t bore you or depress myself with clichés of ‘what were you doing at that age?’ but my word, the 16-year-old was only able to apply for his provisional driving license in June. On Saturday, he drove home the winner for the Blues. He can’t celebrate with a night on the town, but he can at least have a special pint out with his parents, accompanied by a big celebration meal, of course.

 

4) But the true start of Bellingham’s promising career could – and perhaps should – coexist as the cornerstone of Nathan Jones’ last moments as Stoke City manager. He changed the system, he changed the personnel, but he cannot change the results.

Fan anger and frustration is difficult to overcome, too, and three wins in 28 matches is downright impossible to defend. Yes, there are excuses about this still not being his team, with still too many wage stealers attached to the books, and a morale with a larger turning circle than a tractor down a wintry country lane.

But there has been too much money spent, too much time wasted, and too much rubbish put out to make it worth continuing. The answers do not always come from a managerial P45, but if Jones is the answer at the bet365 Stadium, the wrong questions are being asked.

 

5) Last weekend, this column spoke of Middlesbrough extending last season into this – it’s the last thing the fans needed or wanted. Another high-scoring draw on the road shows that at least there are moments of excitement now for Boro, even if results aren’t forthcoming.

Taking a point from Ashton Gate in the midst of a 12-hour round journey on Saturday lunchtime is not to be sniffed at, but for a side who were calling for a manager to be sacked who nearly got them into the play-offs last May, 18th place is not ideal.

But this is a side in transition and results are not vital yet, at least if the Riverside hierarchy do believe that Jonathan Woodgate is the right man for the job. Whatever happens, it should be fun. And that is reason enough to hark for the new days.

 

6) Having lost their star striker late in the summer and with not nearly enough time to get a suitable replacement through the door for the opening matches of the new campaign, Brentford’s ability to make chances coupled by an inability to finish them off had predictably plagued their start to the season.

The Bees blew off those cobwebs inside 45 excellent minutes in the final season at their traditional home, auxiliary forward Ollie Watkins netting a double to prove he could replace Maupay’s goals, if not his position in the XI, while France U21 winger Bryan Mbuemo got off the mark to leave Brentford fans truly happy come 5pm for the first time this season. It won’t be the last.

 

7) Two Championship clubs separated by just 30 miles of M1 and half of the Championship table are both in near-identical situations. Huddersfield Town and Sheffield Wednesday have had very different starts to the season, and yet both clubs’ seasons can be saved with the same answer: make a decision and make it fast.

Huddersfield Town were presented with a chance to go level with opponents Luton Town at Kenilworth Road on Saturday, one they looked to be taking after Karlan Grant’s opener. He is the best player bar none in this Terriers team. In fact, he is often the only one who looks up to this standard.

The former Charlton forward’s form has continued under caretaker manager Mark Hudson but the rest of the team hasn’t just stalled; they are in freefall. If the last three games were Hudson’s audition for the permanent role, he has choked his lines and called his co-stars by their real names on stage.

It was worth asking the question, but he is not the answer. If he is still in the manager’s chair after the international break, Huddersfield might as well prepare for the League One trick before Halloween. There are no treats to be had here.

 

8) Wednesday meanwhile, have started the season in much better fare, but it is just that reason that decisive action needs to be taken at Hillsborough, too. Lee Bullen has done a decent job since once more being thrust into the caretaker role. He got the players onside and a steady start has left the Owls looking up at the top as opposed to over their shoulder at the prey below.

If Bullen is to be the main man going forward, that decision needs to be made before the next game in a fortnight’s time. Defeat at home to QPR from a winning position is not the greatest of callbacks but the former centre-back has shown enough teeth to prove he could cut it here, and better than some of his predecessors too. Whatever the decision, it must come now to make sure there is a tomorrow for Sheffield Wednesday.

 

9) After the tumultuous and catastrophic week that has encompassed the north-west, and indeed, the whole of football, it was back to business for the rescued but not rejuvenated Bolton Wanderers. Having been forced to name XIs made up almost exclusively of teenagers, the saviours at the Macron Stadium have ensured there is a second chance for Wanderers to find their way.

But after the dust has settled, soon comes the fallout. Fans of League One clubs are somewhat ridiculously trying to claim they are owed back 1/24th of their season ticket prices; if only Bury fans could have just the same fraction of their season back.

Other quarters are complaining of the farce that some clubs were allowed to play Bolton at a time when even fielding a side was a success and five-goal hauls for their opponents were the norm during the middle of August. You’ll see plenty arguing that Bolton are now strengthening with senior players. Well they were never going to persist with the kids for the rest of the campaign. Almost every other team in the division has strengthened since the season began. It is part and parcel of this level of football.

We have gone from one football family to apportioning blame at the feet of the people who didn’t create the problems. Bolton have won the battle; we must all stick together to win the war.

 

10) Oh how those Sunderland fans mocked their series of 1-1 draws since the relegation to League One and subsequent appointment of Jack Ross. Oh how those Sunderland fans would have loved another in the series of 1-1 draws to aid promotion from League One to not feel subsequently jacked off.

Losing 3-0 away at one of the division’s toughest and most exciting sides with nine men does not sound bad on paper, but the Black Cats had the full complement when the triad of goals had already gone in. They are now without right-back Luke O’Nien for three matches and striker Charlie Wyke for the fixture in a fortnight at Accrington Stanley.

These are further challenges Ross does not need. Last season, failure to achieve promotion was abject. Should the same even look like happening again, the Sunderland board will have no option but to use up the Scot’s last life.

 

11) If you’re a fan of a Championship or, dare I say it, Premier League club, then next weekend will seem a little bare. Almost as if it was a month ago all over again. Perish the thought. So if you’re looking to get your football fix in, you could do worse than travel to Birmingham City Centre to watch this season’s EFL entertainers.

Fourth in the League One table in their home away from home in the second city, just two points off top, and on Saturday they played out their second batsh*t 3-3 draw in the space of ten days. If entertainment is your game, Coventry is the name.

 

12) Alternatively, if you’re after doom and gloom, then Roots Hall is the place for you. A sixth successive loss out of six games means Southend United have about as much chance of playing in League One next season as Bury.

With a manager who refuses to quit despite overwhelming fan pressure, there is every chance of a mutiny if the 100% losing record continues through the international break. A 3-0 defeat at home to Rochdale sums up the dire situation in Essex.

 

13) The situation at Scunthorpe United is no better. Bury’s EFL expulsion has left just one relegation place from League Two, and it is yet again the Iron holding strong to the wooden spoon spot after another miserable loss.

At home to Carlisle United and seemingly with firepower to burn thanks to arrivals of forwards George Miller and Jamie Proctor, the latter was not involved having not been registered in time despite being signed well before the deadline.

Effectively, the situation at Glanford Park is fast becoming farcical. This writer has been accused of jumping to conclusions too often in 16 Conclusions – go figure – but one point from six games is unforgivable for a club of Scunthorpe’s stature. They have the new manager, they have the new players. Something’s got to give, but what?

 

14) At the other end of the scale, Exeter City have quietly gone about their business to get to the top of the early League Two standings, while Saturday’s opponents are noisily and clumsily making their mistakes both seen and heard.

The Grecians have graciously gone about their business and Ryan Bowman’s early goal at the weekend saw them take to the top. Even more impressively, four clean sheets from six fixtures in a high-scoring division shows this side have got all the hallmarks of a side who could go the distance.

 

15) Going even more under the radar until Tuesday night’s League Cup victory over Premier League Norwich City were Crawley Town. Gabrielle Cioffi’s outfit have seen their status transform from early Salford lookalikes on their initial EFL foray into a mid-table League Two side happy to stay afloat.

Starting with their 3-2 win over Leyton Orient seven days prior, the EFL Cup escapades sandwiched between their last-minute winner against Cheltenham Town at the weekend have made this a near-perfect week which has taken the Red Devils to the brink of the play-off places. Their style of football hasn’t been the prettiest, but they’re finally getting results. Perhaps the good times are coming back to this corner of west Sussex.

 

16) I’ve been meaning to talk about Bradford City for some time now and the weekend’s defeat to Crewe Alexandra provides ample opportunity for a side most people believed would take League Two at a canter.

In Gary Bowyer, the Bantams have an experienced, likeable and talented manager. Unfortunately, their main two strikers have a little too much experience and plenty of injuries on their side. Clayton Donaldson and James Vaughan both have talent – of that there is no doubt. But their combined 76 years and nearly as many injuries each mean this is not a pairing built for success. Bradford are favourites only by reputation.

Nathan Spafford – follow him on Twitter

 

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