Fulham, Preston, Orient: 16 Conclusions on the EFL season

Date published: Thursday 22nd August 2019 9:59

1) Much of the pre-match talk was of Stoke City’s start to the season facing too much scrutiny, that this was a side creating chances without the guile to put the ball in the back of the net and conceding so few chances, but too many finding the back of their own goal.

That’s all well and good, but the Potters have been bitten more than once. Shame on them. And shame on two of their most established players – Joe Allen, for being so naïve in his part for Preston’s opening goal, and £25million-rated Jack Butland for letting that one squirm through his hands and making an even more catastrophic error for the second. The Potters have ready-made replacements for both; perhaps it’s time to get them on the wheel.


2) So much praise of course must go to Preston for their free-flowing, interchangeable attacking line, but it is so difficult to see this current City style working. The imminent return to the midfield for Nigerian Peter Etebo will add much of the dynamism and composure Stoke are so sorely lacking. But diamonds are not forever; the fact that two of the bottom three clubs in the division deploy it is evidence of that, and it is even more difficult when there are players out of position. James McClean is not a left-back, while Mark Duffy was Sheffield United’s No 10 for much of their promotion campaign and sits on the bench. Winger Tom Ince blazes over nearly every opportunity which comes his way. It’s a sad state of affairs for a club who just need to give their fans something to cheer.


3) Their opposition do have much more to cheer however and Preston, what with their squad cherry-picked of unglamorous Leagues One and Two talent alongside long-serving players in the guise of Paul Gallagher and Daniel Johnson with a bottom-four wage bill, continue to defy the odds. They may be used to being the ‘nearly’ men with consecutive top-half finishes not resulting in play-off campaigns in recent years, but in a season with few frontrunners, don’t be surprised to see North End heading in the right direction come May.


4) This time last year, it was fast becoming clear that Fulham’s masterful summer transfer window was in fact not the genius plan it seemed to be when nine figures were being spent on the likes of Maxime le Marchand. This summer, they learned from those mistakes and spent wisely. Experience may be a commodity that receives too much emphasis in football, but then consider a frontline of Aleksander Mitrovic, Ivan Cavaleiro, and Antony Knockaert – all of whom scored in midweek – and remember they have all played pivotal roles in previous Championship promotion campaigns. Wednesday’s commanding victory over London rivals Millwall paid dividends and it would take someone braver than I to suggest they won’t get a second bite at the Premier League cherry soon.


5) After a summer of comparatively little spending by the Championship big boys, Brentford’s Griffin Park farewell looked as if it could be the sweetest ending possible. Only the Bees could lose half a dozen key players and come up smelling of roses the following season. That is because of the evolutionary tactics that have graced this corner of west London over the last five years.

But in failing to replace top scorer from last season Neal Maupay with an out-and-out number nine, Brentford could blow their big chance. Brentford’s 1-0 defeat to Leeds United makes it two goals and four points in as many games. You don’t need me to tell you that’s unsustainable.


6) The man who Brentford earmarked as a direct replacement is scoring for fun at this level in his first Championship season with newly-promoted Charlton Athletic. Lyle Taylor and the fallen giants are both performing above expectation. An unbeaten start with their star man getting four goals in the process is beyond the wildest dreams of even the most optimistic south Londoner. Yes, it is early days, but for a club given no chance of survival by many owing to off-the-field dilemmas to be fifth after four games is something to celebrate.

Whether Athletic can go the distance remains a question, but after the turmoil of the last few years, feel free to get carried away, Charlton fans.


7) Another side to defy expectations are Swansea City. Midweek away games are never an easy task, but Borja Baston’s south Wales renaissance continues and Steve Cooper’s new side have proven they are more than capable of winning from difficult circumstances. Their first three matches of the campaign saw the Swans unbeaten despite trailing on each occasion, and a second-half equaliser from Jordan Hugill could have sunk the Swans but late goals from their unexpected Spanish hero and loan striker Sam Surridge see Swansea second after four match days. That’s no small feat.


8) A decision that somehow simultaneously seemed a long time coming and too soon in Jan Siewert’s Huddersfield Town dismissal left Mark Hudson with his chance to stamp a mark on a side so sorely lacking in creativity and recent success. Unfortunately for youth coach-cum interim head coach Hudson, Wednesday night saw much of the same with players out of position and little to get excited about. Like Friday, a late goal was the difference but so near, yet so far rarely applies more than it does to this Terriers side. It will take a fair job for whoever comes in permanently to get them anything more than successive relegations.


9) It wasn’t meant to be like this. Not again. This season was supposed to be different, but it looks likely to be another struggle for Wigan Athletic in the Championship. Their yo-yo status between the second tier of English football and League One could continue but with catastrophic consequences. Their summer outlay on the likes of Kieffer Moore and Jamal Lowe represented a side with ambitions of more than just surviving. But Tuesday’s defeat to Middlesbrough – a first win of the season for Jonathan Woodgate’s side – was a fourth straight loss in all competitions without hitting the back of the net. That opening-day win over Cardiff City looks even more embarrassing for the Bluebirds now.


10) Back when I was writing my first piece for this website, I spoke of there being ‘no tomorrow’ for Sheffield Wednesday. I did not envisage they would be sitting top of the table at any juncture, and props to them for doing that at the end of Tuesday night. The new boys have bedded in well – Julian Borner has been a revelation at the back, while Kadeem Harris and Jacob Murphy have added more than their previous squad player statuses suggested they would in S6.

Wednesday may have used up their one-time get-out of FFP ticket with the sale of Hillsborough, and we’re still none the wiser as to who the next permanent manager will be. Nine points from four games suggests Lee Bullen is the man, but will Dejphon Chansiri be willing to finally let the perennial caretaker take the reins full-time? That depends on whether there is a plan after all in the blue half of Sheffield.


11) In League One, almost everyone’s three promotion favourites – Portsmouth, Sunderland and Ipswich Town – have suffered mixed early fortunes, but it is only Pompey whose scales are weighed down more heavily by the negatives. It’s not often you see a side reduced to nine men, and even rarer that side takes something from the game. Add in the fact that Coventry City scored a late equaliser with that two-man deficit and the fact that circumstances like these are occurring far too often shows proves just why the Fratton Park faithful are losing patience with manager Kenny Jackett. Portsmouth need promotion; Jackett will need his coat if this proves to be more than just a bad start.


12) While local rivals Bury and Bolton Wanderers suffer in despair from off-field disgraces, Blackpool have at least been able to prove that there can be life after awful ownership. The departure of the Oyston family at the back end of last season laid the foundations for a party which is showing no signs of ending just yet. The gift bags have been dished out, ‘Happy’ is blaring out of the stereo system, and the only minor patch of sick on the carpet has come from Gillingham becoming the first team to take points off the Seasiders this term. But the 2-2 draw in Kent wasn’t enough to turn off the speakers and send everyone home, Blackpool’s players showing the same resilience everyone else connected to the club has shown over the past few years in coming from a couple of goals down to go top of the table. It’s amazing what a great atmosphere and momentum can do for a club. Long may it continue.


13) Talking of momentum, and to the very basement of the EFL in these early stages of the season. Scunthorpe United know all too well what the lower echelons of a league table look like. On the back of one of those ‘three managers in one season’ campaigns that rarely work out, one win in 18 either side of the summer has seen their resistance further broken. New manager Paul Hurst has suffered a baptism of fire, Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Crawley Town showcasing yet more flexible definitions of defending before Tuesday night’s 3-2 reverse at Cambridge United left them propping up the rest of the division. It’s a position both Hurst and the club are all too familiar with. Two years after two successive League One play-off campaigns, could Scunthorpe become the latest big name to drop out of the EFL?


14) The manager for much of those play-off heartache campaigns, Graham Alexander, is also coaching in the fourth tier of English football – lower down the pyramid than he would have perhaps envisaged during his time at Glanford Park, but of course at a club with lofty ‘short-term’ ambitions of playing in the Championship. Expectations may have to be tempered somewhat at Salford as the Greater Manchester outfit’s only victory was a 2-0 opening-day triumph against a dishevelled and under-prepared Stevenage. Their midweek draw at promotion favourites Plymouth Argyle came with plenty of positives but this hasn’t quite been the surge we had come to expect.


15) Salford’s fellow promoted side from the National League last season suffered pain and heartache that no on-the-pitch matters could ever match with the tragic and untimely death of manager Justin Edinburgh, a man who had done more than anybody to put right the wrongs of the last half-decade in this corner of east London. Edinburgh coupled great quality and a young, thriving team with a never-say-never attitude exemplified through his entire time in football. Under ‘one of their own’ in Ross Embleton this season, Leyton Orient have kept the spirit of their former leader and shot up the table against the odds

It’s what they do best, and never has it been more obvious than in this week’s dramatic 3-2 comeback victory at promotion favourites Mansfield Town. Two goals down after half an hour, trailing with 12 minutes of regular time to play, and still taking all three points back to the capital. That’s pure Edinburgh.


16) But the last word can only go to one club: 16 Conclusions on the EFL this week and it really, somehow, could be the conclusion of Bury Football Club after 143 years and such a proud history. After all the talks, the discussions, the fall-outs and the arguments, we need not discuss how we got to this point. That has been done to death.

It is the demise of this – of any professional football club that is allowed to fall to its knees and potentially be wiped off the records – that we cannot let become the norm. We must learn from history and hope that, at least if we can’t save the Shakers, we can save there being another. For Bury, football is with you every step of the way.

Nathan Spafford is on Twitter – and so is his Football League podcast TALK72. Football League news and views: for the fans, by the fans. Out every Monday in all your usual good podcast places.


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