Football League Round-Up: Darren Ferguson is not a happy manager

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 15 January 2018, 09:25

Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) runs us the through the weekend's Football League action, which includes a seething Darren Ferguson and a rejuvenated Slavisa Jokanovic.

Fortuitous finale for Fulham

Fulham are one place higher than they were after 27 games last season, two points better off. The previous campaign, lest we forget, was their best campaign since at least 2012/13, when they finished 12th in the Premier League under Martin Jol.

So, where we premature to fear for them when they lost 2-0 at Wolves to go 17th in early November? Ironically, Ryan Sessegnon’s torrid performance at left-back that evening might have indirectly contributed to their subsequent good form.

Slavisa Jokanovic then moved him further forward, which coincided with a fine run of form for Fulham and Sessegnon, who bagged a hat-trick in the dramatic 5-4 win at Bramall Lane.

Whenever the 17-year-old has played on the left wing, he has looked far more productive than when burdened with defensive responsibilities at left-back. Nowhere was that more evident than at the Riverside, where he was given a torrid time in the first half by Adama Traore as the Cottagers faced a barrage of pressure.

In the second half, centre-back Tomas Kalas replaced winger Sheyi Ojo to allow Sessegnon to move further up on the left wing. The academy graduate created a back-post opening for Lucas Piazon within seconds of the switch and was the Whites’ main creative outlet in the closing stages.

As late as the 95th minute, Oliver Norwood was allegedly fouled in the box and while the penalty awarded to the Northern Irishman might have been soft, the way he dispatched the spot-kick could not be faulted. Crisis? What crisis?

Celina: don of Portman Road

Given the current form of Bersant Celina, who scored a wonder goal in Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Leeds United, it seems hard to believe that he wasn’t a regular during the Autumn.

The Kosovan international had started just two of the team’s first 13 Championship games and Mick McCarthy was reluctant to entrust him with the responsibility of playing from the outset.

He feared that a teenager, who has been exposed primarily to youth football, might not have the defensive discipline that he demands from his midfielders.

Celina though had impressed so much in EFL Cup matches and substitute appearances that fans were baying for him to start. The tipping point came in October at the Pirelli Stadium, when he came off the bench with scores level and six minutes of normal time remaining, in which period he delicately chipped a free-kick over the wall and inside the near-post with graceful accuracy.

The Manchester City loanee has since started every game bar two and has had a huge impact on the team’s attacking play.

Normally, when a young player turns up at Portman Road, the onus is on them to learn ‘the McCarthy way’. There is an element of that with Celina, who has become more defensively in-tune during his spell in Sussex.

And yet, equally, there is a possibility that McCarthy has embraced ‘the Celina way’. Before he came into the team, Ipswich had always had a small gap between midfielders and forwards, which is handy for pressing in central areas but can restrict space.

Since Celina has come in, the team has had four attacking players – also including David McGoldrick, Martyn Waghorn and Joe Garner looking for openings in a way that we’ve not seen in IP1 for some time.

Mick McCarthy, renowned as a no-nonsense Yorkshireman, has achieved what he has in the game through mulish stubbornness and belief in rigid foundations. Even the notion that a largely unproven 21-year-old might have inspired him to think a little differently about the game is a great testament to Celina and the talent that lies within.

Fergie’s wrath

It’s fair to say that Andy Haines, the referee for Doncaster Rovers’ 1-1 draw with Plymouth Argyle, is not in Darren Ferguson’s good books.

The man in black had got a number of decisions wrong, including the one not to award a 90th minute penalty for a trip on James Coppinger.

Incensed in his post-match interview, Ferguson fumed that Haines will be refereeing again next week, that some officials were laughing about his decisions at the end of the game.

Although one or two of the comments the Scot made crossed a line, his anger is understandable. If anything though, it should be directed at the FA, who earn billions of pounds through TV money yet decline to pay proper wages for referees at lower levels.

Colin Murray made a defence of referees on the highlights show on Saturday evening which was very valid. Most of them aren’t given the sufficient training time and work alongside 9-5 jobs.

While their work decides something as important and potentially career-defining as professional football, so it is understandable fans, players and managers aren’t happy when they make horrendous mistakes. However, they are not paid enough money to deserve anything more extreme than respectful criticism. Regarding Doncaster themselves, a positive festive period means Haines' decision impacts their play-off chances, rather than their relegation fears.

They showed in the first half that when they are at their best, their technical football makes them a match for any side in the division and that is reflected in Tommy Rowe's pass for Alfie Beeston's opener. They do though need to manage games better - and get more favourable decisions from the officials.

Problems at Bradford

A lot of Bradford City fans active on social media are quite content with the state of play at Valley Parade.

The club made a very clear effort in the summer to lower the average age, bringing in lots of young performers who are at a developmental stage of their career.

Going out of the door though were five experienced players: stalwart Rory McArdle went to Scunthorpe, fellow 30-year-olds Mark Marshall and Billy Clarke left for Charlton, while 29-year-olds Stephen Darby and James Meredith departed for Bolton and Millwall respectively.

There is an argument to be made that Bradford at least as big as all four of these clubs and that, had they done everything in their power to retain either of them, the player in question might well have stayed.

Instead, Stuart McCall was working with what is reported to be a ‘midtable budget’, which a lot of fans on social media seem content with. Is this because the club has been in League Two within the last five years off the back of a financial crisis? Is it because the cheap season ticket prices – which the club should be credited for – has acted as a sweetener? Or, do fans simply want the club to be in a financially stable position when promotion is achieved?

Perhaps it is a combination of the above, but there is certainly a danger of Bradford falling behind the likes of Wigan and Blackburn.

Accrington climb back in

Accrington Stanley’s Billy Kee might have felt slightly aggrieved that his goal against Morecambe on New Years’ Day didn’t count – not because it was disallowed, but because the game was abandoned due to a waterlogged pitch.

If that affected the ex-Burton man, he certainly didn’t let it show. From Sean McConville’s left-wing corner, the unchallenged Kee headed in the first half opener in a 2-0 win at Cheltenham Town, which was completed by Kayden Jackson’s second half one-on-one finish.

Stanley had to dig in a little in the subsequent 28 minutes as the Robins hit the woodwork twice in quick succession, but makeshift left-back Janoi Donacien showed fine commitment to desperately clear an effort off the line in added time.

Manager John Coleman said his side had rode their luck at times against a Cheltenham side that had 17 efforts, but the quality of shooting was perhaps the difference. While their hosts had been wasteful in front of goal, Kee and Jackson took their combined seasonal goal tally to 26. That’s the same total amassed by Danny Hylton and James Collins for Luton Town, who have hit sevens and eights on various occasions this term.

Interestingly, Jackson didn’t quite cut it at Grimsby Town while players who have performed well for Stanley in recent years haven’t quite taken that form elsewhere. That would suggest that the key to the club’s success is not just the quality of individuals, but the progressive system that enables that quality to shine.

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