Matchday Eight: Five managerial talking points from the Football League

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 18 September 2017, 11:16

It proved to be a chaotic weekend in the managerial arena as three Football League bossess lost their jobs: Harry Redknapp, Gary Caldwell and Michael Brown. Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) reflects on the action below...

Millwall battling

Leeds United had just gone top of the table and had scored two or more goals in each of their last four Championship games. It was something of a surprise therefore when they were beaten by Millwall, who are targeting little more than survival after promotion via the League One play-offs last season.

The Lions though have been arguably the more prominent side in all four of their home games this year, so few teams will relish a trip to the Den. They limited perhaps the best team in the league to just one off-target shot, highlighting their impressive organization. Full-backs Conor McLaughlin and James Meredith, formerly of Fleetwood and Bradford, received extra praise for their energetic performances, as did Jed Wallace, who put in some excellent deliveries.

Battling displays and early balls to target man Steve Morison has long been very much part of Millwall’s identity under Neil Harris. The question was whether they had the tactical variation to survive in a modernizing league but, when the good old-fashioned Plan A works so well, who needs a Plan B?

Clean sheets for Canaries

One early sufferer of Millwall’s Plan A was Norwich City, who crumbled to a 4-0 defeat in South Bermondsey. Since then, seven points from three and notably three consecutive clean sheets represents definite forward steps.

Their opponents in that time had just seven shots on target, which says something about improved defensive efforts, even if Burton were happy to sit back for a 0-0 draw. Marco Stieperman was a stand-out performer in Saturday’s 1-0 win at Sheffield United and has provided an unexpected solution to a problem position.

He signed from VfL Bochum as an attack-minded midfielder but a combination of the depth in that area and James Husband’s poor displays have seen him get game-time at left-back, where he has impressed with his energy and dynamism.

Grant Hanley signed at the end of the transfer window but the centre-back pairing in the last three games has been Christoph Zimmerman and Timm Klose. Norwich are yet to concede with the latter on the pitch, while Ivo Pinto has been excellent at right-back. Three weeks ago they looked like a side incapable of coping with the physical, high-pressure sides of the game, but now they are made of sterner stuff.

Alexander’s Iron defence

What sort of team can have just four shots in 90 minutes and still win the game? A team managed by Graham Alexander.

Since the ex-Fleetwood boss took charge in March 2016, Scunthorpe United have conceded just 61 goals in 63 games. This year, it’s just three in eight, with opposing teams mustering only 25 shots on target.

That is testament to the Iron’s organization, which perhaps stems from the consistency of their back-line. Three of the back-four that beat Doncaster 1-0 on Sunday were also in South Yorkshire 18 months ago for a 0-0 draw at Barnsley, Alexander’s first game in charge.

The one notable change in that time has been the exit of David Mirfin, who has been replaced by the outstanding Rory McArdle. All were protected superbly at the Keepmoat by the long-serving Neal Bishop, who provides battling qualities in midfield.

That strong unit means that to take three points, Scunthorpe normally only need one moment of magic from Josh Morris, who has scored impressive winners against Oxford and Bury. A ruthless rear-guard with one jewel in the crown was key to Burton Albion’s promotion a couple of years ago and Scunthorpe are following a similar blueprint.

Caldwell dismissed

In the modern game, no manager can see his team get relegated, fall second bottom of the lower division whilst winning three games out of 29 and expect to keep his job. However, there is room for a degree of sympathy for Gary Caldwell.

In the game that led to his dismissal, the Spireites dominated the first 15 minutes of the second half against Accrington Stanley, who spent long periods penned back into their defensive third. Just after the hour mark the home side's best player on the day, Bradley Barry, got debatably sent off. They still applied pressure with 10 men and didn’t look like a side that had given up on their manager, but were beaten by a Stanley side that relished the extra space.

They were drawing at Notts County before Scott Wiseman’s sending off in the second week, then Jordan Flores’ free-kick against Coventry hit the post. Indeed on the opening day, Chesterfield had 30 shots against Grimsby, 13 on target, but the visiting goalkeeper played a blinder, helping his side to a 3-1 win.

Granted there have been a couple of awful performances, but the Derbyshire outfit could quite easily have another six or seven points without Caldwell having done too much differently. Then, they would be in the top half and eyeing the play-off positions, such is the fine margins at this early stage.

We can understand why the club made the decision they did. However, having backed him to sign 17 new players in the summer, maybe they could have waited for the home games against Cheltenham and Yeovil to see if fortunes could change.

Brown leaves Burslem

There are mixed feelings among Port Vale fans regarding manager Michael Brown’s sacking. While they see it to be the right decision, there is a sense that chairman Norman Smurthwaite is a bigger culprit for the club’s decline over the last 18 months.

After a solid 2015/16 campaign, Robert Page knew that the budget would not be there for the club to keep hold of key players or replace them with other proven performers. Under Bruno Ribeiro, they recruited too far left-field and Brown was asked to pick up the pieces of a squad devoid of any quality, experience or harmony. 41 different players were used last season and so many changes made it possible to find any sort of tactical cohesion.

Rotation has continued into this campaign and that didn’t help in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with fellow relegation strugglers Forest Green on Saturday. The football was far too slow and the entire game saw just 10 shots, with a woeful second half performance lacking any sort of drive or support for Tom Pope, who has been far too isolated this season.

Since Page left the board have made two poor appointments and there is no room for error with this next one. If Justin Edinburgh can be revitalized after a poor spell at Northampton, he might hope to make an impact similar to the one he made at Newport and Gillingham. Favourite Micky Adams is a popular figure at Vale Park but has had his reputation tainted somewhat by relegation with Tranmere in 2015 and has not worked in professional football for two years. Tough times ahead in Burslem.

Managers Departed

Last man down

Graham Westley
Graham Westley
(Stevenage)
16th February
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