Football League Round-Up: Five ticks for the Latics

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 11 December 2017, 09:20

Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) rounds-up all the action from the Football League.

Saint Johnstone saves Villa

Aston Villa’s man-of-the-match in their 0-0 draw with Millwall was not up for discussion: Sam Johnstone single-handedly kept them level with his stops from Steve Morison, Lee Gregory and Jed Wallace.

The latter two were also denied by the woodwork and the offside flag respectively, while Villa’s two off-target efforts from Albert Adomah early on represented their best moments of the match.

The consistency of Cardiff and Wolves means draws, especially at home to bottom half sides, are no good to the Villans’ top two ambitions. Although, they can take some form of consolation from the possibility that most teams outside the top six would have been punished more severely for such a poor performance.

They put in a similarly lacklustre display against Brentford back in September yet escaped with a point thanks to a man-of-the-match performance from Johnstone, who has kept nine league clean sheets in 21.

Given the declining form of long-serving England number one Joe Hart, Johnstone might just be peaking at the right time for both club and country.

De Ja Vu for Clarke and Preston

In winter 2016, captain Tommy Clarke broke the deadlock in a hard-fought away win for Preston North End at the Pirelli Stadium, lifting them up to tenth.

In winter 2017, captain Tommy Clarke broke the deadlock in a hard-fought away win for Preston North End at the Pirelli Stadium, lifting them up to tenth.

Seven visiting players started both games, although it was a fresher face who got their second goal in a 2-1 win on Saturday. Daryl Horgan gave Alex Neil something to thing about after replacing Alan Browne for the final half hour, providing pace and quality cutting in from the left.

The Irishman operated just behind Tom Barkhuizen, who moved to a false nine role after Jordan Hugill made way for Josh Harrop, who played centrally to the left of Callum Robinson in a fluid front four.

Criticisms of Neil at Norwich were that he lacked tactical flexibility, but he has given his attacking players at Preston freedom to roam and create, whilst pressing with intensity.

The Scot’s side have been helped defensively by the return of full-back Darnell Fisher and centre-back Ben Davies from injury. The latter’s impressive partnership with the more experienced Paul Huntington forced Clarke to start at right-back - but when Deepdale hosts the Brewers on the final day, he may be given the nod up top.

Five ticks for the ‘Tics

It took Oldham Athletic two months to score five goals at the start of last season and at no point did the third-tier’s worst attack in 27 years look capable of chalking that tally in one game.

This though was the pre-Wellens era and Richie is certainly the man they were looking for. The Mancunian, backed by Paul Scholes as the best man for the job, has rejuvenated the Latics and got them playing sumptuous football, full of technical excellence.

That was epitomized by Jack Byrne’s stunning, curling opener, just four minutes into the demolition of Northampton Town on Saturday. The Manchester City academy graduate’s second came in more fortuitous circumstances, via a deflection, but that was after Tope Obedayi’s close-range header eased the nerves.

Sam Foley briefly punished a slapdash moment from showman stopper Johnny Placide, but his strike merely interrupted the Oldham goal glut. Some good work from Eoin Doyle was finished off by Gevaro Nepomuceno, before the Curaçao international’s replacement, Craig Davies, struck in his six minutes on the pitch.

Whisper it, but a continuation of Oldham’s current return under Wellens until May would leave them on 72 points. We’re not saying they’re Wembley bound, but with four bottom half sides left to play in 2017, their prospects might look intriguing when the New Year bells chime.

Drama at Valley Parade

Following Shrewsbury Town’s recent blip, League One is auditioning for a team to potentially join Wigan in the top two.

Blackburn Rovers look the part with their current winning streak, so there was pressure on Stuart McCall’s Bradford City not to fluff their lines when they took centre-stage against Rochdale.

Tony McMahon stood and delivered when his two set pieces led to first half goals from Matthew Kilgallon and Charlie Wyke, the latter grabbing his 10th in all competitions with a looping header.

The plot twisted just before the interval though when villain-turned-hero Ian Henderson, who had seen an earlier penalty saved, bagged a six-minute double-salvo that sandwiched Dominic Poleon’s firm finish.

It was written in the script that Steven Davies would score at his old stomping ground to bring Dale level, but the star of the show was Tyrell Robinson. Making his League One bow after being an extra at West Brom, the 20-year-old showed plenty of stage presence to round Josh Lillis, before being substituted to a standing ovation.

So, Bradford passed their audition and after surviving all that drama, the club held it’s Christmas party that night. Oh, no they didn’t!

Great day for the Imps

Lincoln City’s 2-0 win at Yeovil might not seem the most eye-catching of results for a team with top seven ambitions, given the form of their hosts. In a wider context though, it was an excellent day in Somerset for Danny Cowley’s side.

Due to a trio of ties, a called-off clash at The Crown, Coventry’s complacency combined with Crawley and Colchester’s coupon-busting, no team that began Saturday in the top nine won. That allowed Lincoln in tenth to leap four places into the play-offs, just four points off the automatic promotion places, where there may be room for a third team to squeeze in behind the dominant forces of Luton and Notts County.

The Imps certainly have a strong enough defence to challenge. Neal Eardley has put in some positive shifts at right-back next to centre-backs Rob Dickie and Sean Raggett, who lead a rear-guard that has conceded more than one goal just three times this term. In front of them, Michael Bostwick provides plenty of physicality while the tenacious Alex Woodyard is among the most complete midfielders in the division.

Their final third play in parts of the campaign has looked a tad one-dimensional and the form of Matt Green was beginning to be questioned at the end of October. Wide man Harry Anderson’s return to full fitness in November though has coincided with a run of 10 goals in five, with the ever-energetic Green scoring in each of his last three.

With a steady defence, goals starting to flow and money ready in January to add some much-needed squad depth, these are exciting times at Sincil Bank.

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