Matchday Six: Five managerial talking points from the Football League

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 11 September 2017, 09:33

Gabriel Sutton, owner of @_FootballLab, talks us through the main managerial moments during what was another busy weekend in the Football League.

Parky’s poor Bolton prop up the league

Saturday’s 3-0 defeat to Middlesbrough means Bolton Wanderers have picked up just two points from their first six games and lie bottom of the Championship.

On the one hand, there should be some sympathy for Phil Parkinson. There was a wage cap early in the summer of around £10k per week, but in July this was reportedly changed to just less than half that, which might have affected their transfer business. They are operating in a different market to the rest of the Championship and therefore a struggle was expected.

Where there should be less sympathy for Parkinson and his players is the manner of their performances, which cannot be justified solely by the shortage of funds. Against Boro, they had just 34% possession even though they first fell behind as early as the 13th minute and didn’t have anyone sent off. They only completed three dribbles in the whole match, two of which came from debutant Craig Noone, the one bright spark. The Trotters attempted 42 tackles, with only 18 of them successful - midfielders Jem Karacan and Derik Osede attempted just two between them and they didn’t come off.

Bolton’s unwillingness to hold onto the ball, run forward with it or press with a semblance of conviction highlights two concerning trends. Firstly, a lack of bravery, for which the players are responsible, even if Darren Pratley should no longer be relied upon at this level given his age and fitness problems. Secondly, the absence of a coherent plan, for which Parkinson is responsible.

Bolton's struggles aren't down solely to the financial gap - it is also because they are failing to meet the most basic requirements in professional football.

Christiansen’s Leeds have more strings to their bow

If there is a more dominant performance in the Championship this season than Leeds’ 5-0 win over Burton Albion, we are yet to see it.

Pierre Michel-Lasogga had a wonderful debut, showing excellent movement for his first goal and using his aerial power for his second. Behind Lasogga, the attacking trio of Samuel Saiz, Kemar Roofe and Abel Hernandez clicked from the off, interchanging seamlessly. Kalvin Phillips ran the show and even Pontus Jansson looked creative, his clever playing out from the back influencing the first couple of chances.

The question is - was last season’s team capable of that type of performance? The 16/17 side only scored 21 first half goals - 15 teams scored more. They were often embroiled in initially tight affairs under Garry Monk, but good defending in their penalty area and Chris Wood’s clinical finishing meant they could manage games in the latter stages. As well as they did to get 75 points, the one-dimensional nature of their performances caught up with them in the final month.

This season, they create chances from the off. Thomas Christiansen’s men have already scored eight first half goals, more than any other side. While last season, nobody apart from Wood scored more than six league goals, this year we have seen eight different goalscorers as the Whites have become harder to predict. Monk laid the foundations but Christiansen is building the most complete outfit Elland Road has seen in 15 years.

Jimmy’s Cobblers off the mark

One of the first things Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink did at his previous two clubs, Burton and QPR, was implement a rigorous training regime to ensure high levels of fitness. His methods worked superbly at the Pirelli - partly due to the culture that was already instilled - but the Dutchman experienced more mutiny in West London. A lot of players weren't happy and the results were not good enough for Hasselbaink to win that battle of power.

At Northampton, he should have more joy. He will command great respect at that level for his achievements in the game in both a playing and managing capacity. The group of players he inherits will be especially receptive to his ideas, having just lost four games on the bounce previously.

That losing run came to a halt on Saturday, when the Cobblers beat Doncaster 1-0 thanks to Matt Crooks’ goal, which came 21 seconds into a positive first half. The second half performance though was about as laboured as Colin Murray’s attempts to reference Pink ‘Floyd’ in the highlights show. ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamonds’ might have been more apt had defender Zander Diamond not left for Mansfield this summer, but the centre-backs who did play, such as Ash Taylor and Aaron Pierre, held firm.

They sat deep in the latter stages, relying on last ditch blocks and a hint of fortune to keep Donny at bay. While their use of the ball can improve, there was at least a certain togetherness shown that hasn’t been evident in their previous performances.

Hasselbaink hopes to build a fit unit and a solid defence at Sixfields - all in all, this was at least, a first brick in the wall.

Coley’s Stanley defy odds again

‘There’s still areas to improve,’ said Accrington Stanley boss John Coleman, following his side’s 3-0 win over Carlisle United that saw them go second in the table. Whether you see the Liverpudlian as a grump or a perfectionist, there is no doubt that he is a fine manager.

 

The club have lost key players again, with attacking midfielders Shay McCartan leaving in July and defenders Omar Beckles and Matty Pearson following suit last month. The back-line has not suffered though with loanees Farrend Rawson and Jordan Thornily slotting in seamlessly in an impressive clean sheet against the Cumbrians. Goalkeeper Aaron Chapman grew in confidence, led by the more experienced Mark Hughes.

Going forward, Stanley are now the division’s top scorers. Billy Kee and Kayden Jackson have linked-up superbly with a combined eight goals in 12 games, but Sean McConville grabbed the headlines on Saturday. He scored an excellent free-kick in the first half, then a fine solo goal in the second and was unlucky not to have a hat-trick. McConville and co. have the platform to perform due to the discipline of Liam Nolan, a summer signing from Southport who has added height and muscle to the midfield.

Coleman’s work is proving the value of perfectionism. As that old adage goes: aim for the stars and you might hit 13 points in six games.

Free-flowing Oxford impress again

Pep Clotet arrived at the Kassam Stadium on 1st July, a month later than Paul Cook and Kenny Jackett took charge at their respective clubs. In that month, a potential takeover at Oxford fell through to interrupt transfer activity, while the bearer of long-term success and stability, Michael Appleton, left for Leicester.

Those delays and complications meant Clotet’s job was not so much about implementing his own philosophy as keeping the existing one in place. Anyone who knows the Spaniard will say that he is a football obsessive who is eager to learn and expand his horizons, which makes him a perfect fit for the role.

The U’s have started superbly, their third league win in six coming in a convincing 3-0 home victory over Gillingham. We can see from the chances they create that Rob Hall and James Henry act as inverted wingers, very close to number 10 Jack Payne, all combining in sharp passing triangles. For the second goal we saw Joe Rothwell get in on the goalscoring act, in a move that saw him pick the ball up well inside his own half, highlighting Oxford's fluidity.

Most teams that have so many players who are capable in the final third would suffer defensively, but the Yellows have conceded just three goals – only Scunthorpe have let in fewer. Clotet can pick from two of three able centre-backs in Mike Williamson, John Mousinho and Curtis Nelson, while goalkeeper Simon Eastwood was a stand-out performer last term.

Oxford haven’t graced the second tier since 1994, but thanks to a certain Catalonian boss named Pep, they might just be on their way back.

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