Matchday Seven: Five managerial talking points from the Football League

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 13 September 2017, 20:41

Gabriel Sutton from @_FootballLab talks us through what was an eventful night in the Football League!

Preston Power past Cardiff

We said in the last edition that Leeds’ 5-0 win over Burton was the 'most dominant' performance of the Championship season to date. Preston’s display in their 3-0 win last night however, wins our temporary BAFTA for ‘most eye-catching’.

That is partly because of Alan Browne’s spectacular strike from inside the centre-circle and partly due to the opposition. Cardiff had only lost their 100% record three days previously and nobody expected them to be outplayed at Deepdale. They managed to hit the target with just one of their ten shots, which came from centre-back Sol Bamba, with five off-target and four blocked by a dogged Preston side.

Thanks partly to goalkeeper Chris Maxwell's performances, they have conceded just two goals in seven games, giving them the joint-best defensive record in England. That looks even more impressive given that Paul Huntington is their only experienced defender, the back-line being the area North End fans were most worried about in pre-season.

Centre-back Ben Davies had been embroiled in a League Two relegation battle with Newport within the last calendar year. Left-back Joshua Earl had been on loan at then eighth tier Lancaster City last season and right-back Darnell Fisher was part of a disastrous Rotherham side.

The fact that they have so far all looked right at home at this level is credit to Alex Neil and his coaching staff. They were all well protected by John Welsh, whose remarkable battling qualities after a long-term injury epitomized Preston’s fearlessness. Sean Maguire now has two goals in two while Josh Harrop, who scored an excellent free-kick, threatens to find some form.

It is not often that a Neil Warnock side is out-fought as well as out-thought, so this performance could be a sign of Preston’s prospects.

Smith’s Bizarre Bees stung again

Seldom has a team looked so impressive whilst simultaneously amassing such poor results as Brentford.

The Championship table, alone, would suggest that they are barely better than Bolton - who we criticized heavily a few days ago - which seems almost incomprehensible. Performance data, alone, would suggest that they are top six material.

The Bees have had 128 shots on 42 on target - the most in the division for both metrics – and a reasonable 53 of those shots have come inside the area. Ollie Watkins has looked excellent so far, causing no end of problems for Aston Villa on Saturday. Neal Maupay has been a livewire, impressing notably against Nottingham Forest in the second week.

They have played 93 key passes, again a league high. Romain Sawyers has completed 16 of them – only four players have completed more. Maupay, midfielder Nico Yennaris and right-back Henrik Dalsgaard have chipped in with 10, nine and seven key passes respectively and the team have also completed the sixth most successful dribbles.

They created chances again at Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday, Dean Smith claiming his side should have been three goals ahead at half-time, also rallying late in the match.

The West Londoners are a curious case study that makes us consider the concept of luck and how we judge how good or otherwise a team is. Stat-lovers like myself will argue the same shot data in future games will yield more fortuitous results, while the more old-school football fans will say the only stat that matters is the final score.

Millers mash Freck-less Walsall

If Paul Warne or Jon Whitney should go on to have successful careers in management, both will owe a debt of thanks to their current clubs.

When they were first given their respective jobs full-time, there was little to suggest suitability other than their association with the club in a non-managing capacity.

Indeed, Rotherham ended the last campaign under Warne 28 points off safety: no second-tier team in post-war history finished further away. It is not often that a chairman stands by a manager with that kind of record, but so far this season, we can at least see the reasoning behind Tony Stewart’s decision.

They beat Walsall 5-1 last night, with Lee Frecklington scoring a hat-trick. Last season, the absence of a holding midfielder meant Frecklington had to at times play a more circumspect role that didn’t suit him so well. This year, Darren Potter’s discipline gives him the freedom to break into the box and make telling contributions.

Jon Taylor and Ryan Williams have also done well lately in supporting target man Kieffer Moore, who has scored five goals in his last six appearances. Moore and co. inflicted serious damage on Walsall, who looked calamitous at the back.

Many fans are quick to pin the blame on Whitney after a bad result and while their rationale is reasonable, sometimes he deserves a little more respect. The club’s record with him as manager reads 27 wins and 19 draws in 74 games, which is better than a lot of coaches have attained with similarly tight budgets.

Last night was a bad one for Walsall and Whitney, but with the team in an otherwise stable position, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

Donny’s Darren Deflated after Dale’s late double

Sir Alex Ferguson received his knighthood after his side snatched an injury-time victory from the jaws of defeat, but his son Darren was on the wrong side of a comeback on Tuesday night.

Doncaster under Ferguson have the capacity to go from the sublime to the ridiculous in the same game. They control games for long spells as they did at Rochdale, but not for the first time, they crumbled at the first sign of pressure.

Last season, defensive imperfections were not brought to light because they had the superior technical quality to punish teams while games were played on their terms. This season, their technical quality is par for the level they are playing at and therefore they must find other ways of winning games.

Andy Butler has not provided the defensive prowess and leadership one might expect from a man of his experience and he plays in an otherwise young back-line. Centre-back partner Joe Wright and utility man Niall Mason had never played above League Two level before this season, while left-back Ben Garratt spent much of the previous one in the National League.

The lack of experience was evident in the last five minutes at Spotland, where players panicked and tried to do each other’s jobs, highlighting the absence of a calming influence at the back. Having been one moment expecting three points that would have taken them into the top half, Donny ended up with none.

Football. Bloomin’ heck.

Five wins in six for Nolan’s Notts

Notts County’s 1-0 win over Swindon on Tuesday not only handed them three points, it also proved their strength in depth.

Kevin Nolan gambled by making five changes from the side that beat Morecambe 2-0 three days previously: only Shola Ameobi’s withdrawal had been enforced by injury. Striker Ameobi was replaced by Jonathan Forte, who had come off the bench to score on Saturday while starting wide man Lewis Alessandra had made key impacts as a substitute in previous matches.

Full-backs Matt Tootle and Carl Dickinson also started, replacing Nicky Hunt and Dan Jones respectively and were among the best players on the pitch. Both contributed to a resilient performance in which the Magpies adapted to the tough conditions better than the Wiltshire visitors.

In central midfield, the creative Ryan Yates thrived alongside the more destructive Rob Milsom, Player of the Year last term. If either were to become unavailable though, Jorge Grant and Elliott Hewitt represent more than adequate replacements.

The main question asked of teams that start well in League Two tends to be whether they have the depth to cope with injuries to key players. Early signs suggest that not only do Notts County have strength in their first eleven, they also have it in reserve.

Managers Departed

Last man down

Graham Westley
Graham Westley
16th February
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