Christmas Football League Round-Up: Monk sacked, Farke fretting and Wigan in wonderland

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 24 December 2017, 10:06

Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) plucks out the main talking points from the latest round of Football League matches - including a scrooge-like sacking! - as we head into Christmas.

Monk without a prayer

Christmas is known to be a time for generosity but the Middlesbrough board clearly didn’t get that memo: they dismissed manager Garry Monk within hours of his side’s impressive performance at Sheffield Wednesday.

Boro won 2-1 on their trip to Hillsborough, overturning a half-time deficit with late strikes from Jonny Howson and Ryan Shotton. Before the former’s long-range strike and the latter’s looping header from Stewart Downing’s corner, the visitors had largely dominated.

Patrick Bamford and Britt Assombalonga had come close in the first half, like Martin Braithwaite in the second before Grant Leadbitter saw his penalty saved by Keiren Westwood. The convincing nature of that display and the board's subsequent decision would suggest they had a replacement lined-up before kick-off – and that the next manager is currently unemployed.

Tony Pulis is the current heavy odds-on favourite in the Next Middlesbrough Manager Market, with the outsiders behind him being Nigel Pearson and Aitor Karanka. These three men last lost their respective jobs due to tactical rigidity and an inability to find a system that gets the best out of expensive, attacking players.

Those issues are very similar to the ones that saw Monk fall out with Boro fans in the first place, which calls into question why the board might believe Pulis, Pearson or Karanka to represent an improvement.

Has Farke outstayed his welcome?

The situation at Carrow Road is a fascinating one. Norwich entered their Friday night clash with Brentford 16th in the Championship table, eight places lower than the position they were in when the heavily-criticized Alex Neil departed back in March, with Howson and Jacob Murphy the only real assets to have left.

A lot of fans of a club in that situation might have been baying for the head coach’s blood long before the 2-1 defeat to the West Londoners, which was deserved after an atrocious first half display.

Instead, Daniel Farke retained the support of a surprising number of fans. Some felt he had been dealt a bad hand due to the club’s previous years of overspending, meaning they have not been able to get players like Steven Naismith off the wage bill. Some wanted Farke to do well due to his likeable character - but the question is whether that very quality is part of what is holding the team back.

It is difficult to imagine, after that first half performance against the Bees, Farke having the Chutzpah to fiercely demand more from his players. Characters who might do that - Wes Hoolahan and Russ Martin - weren’t in the match-day squad and there is speculation that they have fallen out with the head coach.

Alex Tettey and Tom Trybull, who formed the double-pivot that inspired the Canaries to an excellent run into the top six over September and October, were deemed fit enough to be on the bench but not fit enough to start. Instead, the midfield consisted of Harrison Reed, Mario Vrancic and James Maddison, who are technically capable on their day but don’t provide any bite or leadership.

While Norwich fans gave Farke their heart, they may now be saving it for someone special.

Joyful jaunt for the Gills

Christmas time, mistletoe and wine… long trips from Kent to Carlisle…

The 88 hardy Gillingham fans who saw that particular 326-mile Tuesday night trip to be a natural part of their Christmas schedule were left unrewarded, as their side crashed out at the FA Cup Second Round. Thankfully, Steve Lovell’s side made it up to them three days later.

Supporters travelled a mere 266 miles to Fleetwood and were treated to a 2-0 win, with goals from Josh Parker and Luke O’Neil coming in the first quarter of an hour. The visitors had 42% possession thereafter but the festively-named Tomas Holy, who has been crucial to previous wins over Charlton and Walsall, didn’t have a single save to make for his clean sheet.

That speaks volumes for the leadership of centre-back (Angel) Gabriel Zakuani, the discipline of central midfielder Sean Clare and the work rate of front man Tom Eaves. Interestingly, all the aforementioned players were signed by Adrian Pennock and all have become important to the team’s resurgence.

That would suggest that while Pennock was rightly dismissed due to his overly defensive tactics among other reasons, he could spot a player. Lovell, more popular with Gills fans and with a more adventurous mentality, has provided the tweaks to inspire this turnaround.

A continuation of their current form under the ex-striker would leave Gillingham on 66 points, three fewer than the figure with which they finished their brush with the top six two years ago. A time to rejoice in the good that we see.

Grigg’s fire is so delightful

“The weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful”. No, we’re not talking about Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne’s number from 1945 California, but the form of League One marksman Will Grigg.

Fire-related references have become synonymous with the Northern Irishman, who has scored 19 or more goals in three of his last four seasons at this level. The ex-Walsall man is now starting to show his pedigree, after a hat-trick at Oxford United on Saturday. In fact, not only did he net his first treble in nearly two years, his performance contributed to a 7-0 win - Wigan Athletic’s best ever result in the EFL.

Also on the scoresheet was attacking midfielder Nick Powell, who looks a class above at this level, having bagged for Manchester United and in the Europa League in the past. By contrast, Gavin Massey was part of relegated Colchester and Leyton Orient sides in the last two seasons but his talent is now shining through and he rounded off an incisive move to grab a goal. The winger also grabbed two assists, one of which being for Max Power, who came off the bench to round off the scoring with a brace, the second of which an aptly firm strike from outside the area.

While Paul Cook was still screaming at his players until the end, Pep Clotet was not seen on the touchline after the second goal and he defended his players in his post-match interview. Those players undoubtedly let down the fans, especially at this time of year and valid questions can also be asked about the leadership at the club.

Wycombe’s away troubles

On a Tuesday night at Brunton Park back in October, a 94th minute equalizer from Paris Cowan-Hall not only secured Wycombe Wanderers a 3-3 draw with Carlisle United, it also extended their unbeaten away run to 12 games.

At that point, their previous defeat on the road had come 238 days ago at Colchester, yet their next would come four days later at Swindon. A 1-0 defeat at the County Ground, in which the Chairboys showed little attacking ambition, kick-started a run of four away defeats in five.

An uninspiring 0-0 draw at Stevenage was the away clash that preceded Friday night’s 3-2 undoing at Coventry City. Goals either side of half-time from Scarr and Joe Jacobson threatened to catalyse a fightback, but only for Marc McNulty to strike the winner from the spot.

Gareth Ainsworth’s side have dropped just four points in their last seven home games, when their direct football has worked due to the intent they show to help front man Adebayo Akinfenwa. On the road, 'Wild Things' sets his team up more defensively and there resultant lack of support and accurate service for ‘Da Beast’ means he has struggled to get the better of opposing centre-backs.

Wycombe, who play at fortress Adams Park on Boxing Day, will be pleased to be driving home for Christmas.

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