16 EFL Conclusions feature Boro, Bellingham, Beast and more

Matt Stead
SWANSEA, WALES - OCTOBER 05: Bruno Martins Indi of Stoke City during the Sky Bet Championship match between Swansea City and Stoke City at the Liberty Stadium on October 05, 2019 in Swansea, Wales. (Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images)

1) This will come to the chagrin of fans and staff of Middlesbrough alike if it draws anything like the same ire that labelling Boro an ‘impossible club’ in midweek did, but this club is not made for the distant future. On Friday night, they could barely put five minutes of play together, never mind 90.

It is all well and good referring to this a long-term project, but there is no evidence to suggest that is beneficial. Forget being on a budget, forget switching styles, and forget this being a rookie manager looking to learn on the job. The Riverside hierarchy would do well to remember it will only take one of the current bottom three to stop being awful to put Jonathan Woodgate’s side into a relegation battle.

Against Birmingham City, Boro looked every inch a side heading down instead of up.


2) You have to hand it to Birmingham though. Under a perennial caretaker manager, and with barely a strikeforce of which to speak, the Blues are avoiding feeling the same way with a wonderful blend of youth academy graduates. Not least the 16-year-old Jude Bellingham who plays with the sense of a man twice his age, and the vigour of a boy half it – and experience alongside some beautifully unknown exotic stars.

The result should be an unholy mess, and yet these youngsters thrown in for a baptism of fire following years of St Andrew’s mediocrity are, more often than expected, picking up the holy trinity of all three points.

It is easy to forget that Birmingham are only mid-table but consider where you would have expected them to be when you look at their strongest squad and managerial situation. Middlesbrough: take notes.


3) There may have been no winners on the pitch in an enthralling Saturday lunchtime London derby between Fulham and Charlton Athletic, but everyone who watched it could count themselves as victors.

A match-up between two sides fighting at the right end of the table – one expectedly and the other surprisingly – produced one of the most entertaining televised matches of the season. Given Sky’s penchant so far for picking some duds alongside making West Brom the new Leeds United, this was early afternoon delight.


4) In the end, Fulham were unfortunate not to win but the Addicks had earned their luck with a high-energy, well-executed pressing performance. They may have been pegged back twice but Lee Bowyer’s side will look on this as a point well-earned, especially given they lost having taken the lead at home to Swansea City in midweek.

For the Cottagers, there were a few home comforts against one of the most difficult opposition they – or indeed any Championship side – will face all season. A missed opportunity to go top perhaps, but a point against this Charlton side, especially having fallen behind twice, is not to be sniffed at.


5) If winning games is the sign of a good side, then responding to the adversity of defeat in the correct manner is the sign of a great one. The Baggies had a great chance to prove their worth of ‘boing boinging’ back to the top of the table before falling to their first defeat of the campaign at Leeds United.

Coming up against a Neil Warnock-led Cardiff City is never the easiest opposition to get back on the straight and narrow against but Slaven Bilic’s team played their own way and fought Bluebird fire with silky, smooth water, their easy on the eye and devastatingly effective passing game coming to fruition against a solid but unspectacular Cardiff City team, who once again have proven they will not be troubling either end of the Championship table.


6) Luton Town’s return to the second tier of English football has seen a whole lot of positives, particularly going forward, with the Hatters one of the highest scorers in the division and James Collins looking every part a Championship forward. Looking back is not a pastime recommended to the Kenilworth Road faithful, though, where the Bedfordshire outfit find one of the worst signings of the summer so far.

Croatia international Simon Sluga was bought for a club-record fee in the summer and can only be compared to a Premier League goalkeeper if you’re using 2019 Hugo Lloris as the benchmark. Having been at fault for a number of the second-most goals conceded by any Championship side so far this season, he produced his best Paul Robinson impression and allowed a Matty Pearson backpass to roll under him; he didn’t do much better with the second from Tom Lawrence. Money not well spent.


7) Ever since his January arrival, many a Huddersfield Town fan has wished for a team full of Karlan Grants: one of few Terriers to come away from the John Smiths’ sh*tshow that is 2019. In recent weeks, Grant’s performances have been normalised and that is one of the best compliments that can be paid to Danny Cowley in his opening month in west Yorkshire.

The former Charlton striker may have opened the scoring against perennial mid-tablers Hull City, but on Saturday, and just as in midweek, the other ten players on the pitch played their part. Weeks after getting the gig, the Cowley brothers are showing just why we were foolish to question their judgement and acumen. From out of nowhere, Huddersfield are out of the bottom three. What a difference a competent manager makes.


8) Having included Stoke City in almost every 16 EFL Conclusions this season, it is only fair to save a place for the Potters when they finally, at long last, get their first win of the season. What it means for Nathan Jones remains to be seen. Many, myself included, believed he was being used as a scapegoat – not for the first time – at the league leaders, before being replaced in the international break.

Having fallen behind in the first minute of the match, the euphoria and relief that must have greeted Scott Hogan’s injury-time winner in a red and white pocket of south Wales would have been hard to match anywhere in the EFL this weekend.

For Jones, who has put everything in to make this move work, he can leave with his head held high. After the ultimate low and indignity of losing at home to Huddersfield in midweek, just three days later they came from behind to beat the best team in the division away.

Now what was that about the bottom three’s terribleness being all that was keeping Middlesbrough from the bottom three?


9) And with the international break coming up, it feels like there could be a fair few managers moving on between now and the next set of Championship fixtures in a fortnight’s time.

Reading spent eight figures on a couple of key acquisitions in the summer and now take Huddersfield’s place in the bottom three.

Brentford boss Thomas Frank will be lucky to see another game from the Griffin Park home dugout after another insipid performance, and should perhaps be joined in a P45 by whoever allowed Marcus Forss to join AFC Wimbledon on loan while winger Ollie Watkins continues to play up front.

Another disappointing weekend for promotion favourites Sunderland in League One could at last spell the end for Jack Ross who is inexplicably still chief at the Stadium of Light.


10) It was quite the spectacle across the entirety of League One with 29 goals scored in just ten fixtures. The best entertainment came at Adams Park in a topsy-turvy affair. Permanent entertainers Peterborough United led twice, but spurned both 2-0 and 3-2 leads to take just a point back to Cambridgeshire to remain outside looking in on the top six.

Wycombe, meanwhile, are glad not to see the play-off spots, as they are somewhat amazingly second, four points off top. Adebayo Akinfenwa’s double, including a last-minute leveller, proves he is more than a walking, talking Jacamo meme and should be treated as such. Forget what we will do without Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo; I want to know what this world will be without the Beast when the 37-year-old hangs up his boots.

As for Wycombe: does anybody remember that time Yeovil Town unanswerably but deservedly won promotion to the Championship? Yeah, it’s a little like that.


11) Rotherham United, meanwhile, proved that they are either hot or not this season. Since putting six past Bolton Wanderers in September, the Millers failed to score in outings against Shrewsbury Town and Bristol Rovers, picking up just one point in the process.

Unbeaten Coventry City’s jaunt to south Yorkshire seemed set to continue Paul Warne’s side’s woes in front of goal, but the Sky Blues were unusually generous and limp, and Michael Smith and Matt Crooks – two of last season’s most impressive performers but a couple of the worst so far this term – were more than happy to reap the rewards with a couple of goals each. For Rotherham this season, it appears there is little in between.


12) Lincoln City were able to put their horrendous patch of form around the turn of Cowleys’ departure from Sincil Bank behind them. The appointment of Michael Appleton is one equal in quality to that of Huddersfield enticing their former managerial team to west Yorkshire.

Three defeats in a row in all competitions have seen hopes of a third promotion in four years take a serious dent, but Tyler Walker’s double against Sunderland put the Imps just three points off the sixth-placed Black Cats. Is that an indictment on the north-east side or praise for a club that were four divisions lower than their weekend’s opponents half a decade ago?


13) And finally in League One, a word to the main guy at Ipswich Town. The Tractor Boys were near-record-breaking bad in the Championship last season, but are cooking up a League One storm and are now the only remaining unbeaten team in the EFL in 2019/20.

Pre-season promotion favourites they may have been, but it would be too easy to dismiss the problems that engulfed Portman Road and manager Paul Lambert in the years leading to this season at long unchartered third-tier levels. Lambert was a man whose stock had dipped so much that he had curdled and gone stodgy, while Ipswich were the impossible club, unhappy with a certain playing style, and then got neither entertainment nor points thereafter.

Such a turnaround in fortunes for both manager and club needs more praise than simply believing this is where Ipswich should be given their stature. Reputations wait for nobody in football. Ipswich and Lambert are riding high on sheer hard work alone.


14) The top of League Two has new leaders in the guise of Forest Green Rovers, who put three goals past a lacklustre Crawley Town on Saturday while maintaining the most miserly defence in the division, having conceded just six times in 12 games this season.

If they keep that record up, then a first-ever season in League One will beckon for the Nailsworth-based outfit and the second of three stars on the neck of the kit can be coloured in. Manager Mark Cooper has been linked with the Millwall vacancy and it is no surprise given his job in Gloucestershire thus far. Owner Dale Vince must do everything he can to keep the top man in the top job at the top club in the division.


15) Another club near the top with an equally stern defence is Newport County, for whom League Two promotion has long been in the pipeline. Ever since the 2016/17 great escape, Michael Flynn’s side have been riding the crest of a wave and with the manager having signed a new contract after catching the eye of many Football League club in need of managers, the signs are promising for County who kept up their stellar home record.

The clean sheet was rarely in doubt for the Welsh outfit against Carlisle United but George Nurse’s 96th-minute winner ensured all three points and retained Newport’s place among the three automatic promotion positions.


16) The final conclusion again goes to the EFL as a whole. Some teams may be brilliant, others less so. Every weekend, we are either in agreement our team is the greatest thing in our lives or the worst depending on the result, but something that can’t be argued is the entertainment it provides.

In 34 EFL fixtures played thus far, there have been fewer 0-0 draws than in six Premier League matches on Saturday. The Premier League may be the ‘shop windows’ of English football and offer the ‘razzle dazzle’, but in a week where we celebrate and mourn the anniversary of the greatest number two who ever lived in Peter Taylor, we are reminded that the Football League, now, was, and hopefully always will be, the ‘goods in the back’.

Nathan Spafford is on Twitter