Matchday Nine: Five managerial talking points from the Football League

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 25 September 2017, 11:07

Our man Gabriel Sutton (@_FootballLab) has his say on the key moments from the ninth wave of Football League matches.

Chris trumps Carlos in Sunday’s Steel City Clash

Going into the derby, the pressure was largely on Sheffield Wednesday, who had endured an underwhelming start. They had harboured the more definitive promotion ambitions in pre-season, they had spent more, they had the more established players at this level and they were at home. And yet, the Owls didn’t rise to the occasion, or show the fight required in a derby.

Sam Hutchinson might have provided that, but he was judged not fit enough. His teammates missed him, with a midfield that looked too lightweight, struggling to cope with a combative visiting midfield. Chris Basham provided the aggression the hosts lacked while John Fleck and Paul Coutts alongside him ran the show, with David Brooks and Leon Clarke posing a constant threat on the break.

One sensed that Chris Wilder, a boyhood Blade, had drilled into his players all week the importance of the derby to the fans. By contrast, it is reasonable to question whether Carlos Carvalhal saw the game in quite such an emotional light. A full-blooded performance from Wednesday would have been key to building bridges with fans, many of whom are undecided on Carvalhal.

For Sheffield United, a different result wouldn’t have changed how fans feel about Wilder - but the win, which takes them up to fourth, adds to the feel-good factor on the red side of the city.

Sunderland’s woes continue

A 2-1 home defeat to Cardiff City compounds Sunderland's disastrous start to the season, as they drop into the relegation zone.

Many fans are understandably protesting against Ellis Short, whose unsustainable running of the club has jeopardized the club’s long-term financial future. The owner is right now the main man fans want to see leave. With such a distinct lack of off-field stability, there needs to be a degree of sympathy for Simon Grayson.

The manager, who might now regret his decision to leave Preston, has been tasked with re-building a fragmented side that showed no spirit last season, with negligible funds. Because of that low budget, the Black Cats are left with a wafer-thin squad that is deeply affected by two or three first team injuries.

Aiden McGeady, one of the brighter performers in the first few games, has been out lately, his return for the last half hour being a rare positive from the Cardiff game. However, that is counter-balanced by Callum McManaman’s groin problem and Jonny Williams’ sickness, the two new additions unable to get into the match-day squad.

Once Sunderland get that trio fully fit and in the starting line-up, they might start to show some creativity and support an isolated James Vaughan. To do that though, they will also need to break out of the fearful mentality that has engulfed the team over the last 12 months. Although Grayson has had his hands tied, he has done little to instil the kind of composure the Black Cats will need to haul themselves away from the mire.

A good week for Fergie’s Donny

Since losing the local derby with Scunthorpe last Sunday, Darren Ferguson has had the perfect response from his players. They put up a terrific fight in midweek at Arsenal, where they lost only 1-0 and could have forced extra-time had Matty Blair’s late header not hit the bar.

John Marquis was dropped to the bench for that game, but he proved a point at Plymouth on Saturday. He showed a true poacher’s instincts to score the second goal in 3-0 win, Andy Butler and Alfie May also getting on the scoresheet.

Butler and Joe Wright were both commanding at the back. The defence was a slight concern among Donny fans in pre-season but, below Blackburn, no side has conceded fewer goals than their 10 in nine. That is a source of encouragement for the South Yorkshire side, given the number of technicians they fit into midfield. One of them is James Coppinger, who appears to have kick-started his season this week, delivering set pieces that led to the first two goals at Home Park.

The third was created by Rodney Kongolo, a more physical midfielder who made an impact from the bench, crossing for May to tap home. On that evidence, Doncaster are starting to look like the fluent, controlled outfit that dominated League Two for so long - they might just be adapting to the division.

Oldham back to the bottom

(John Sheridan has since left Oldham)

The last two seasons at Oldham Athletic have unfolded in identical manner: the club fails to invest in fresh talent, leaving an inexperienced rookie boss with an uninspiring squad that suffers from a chronic shortage of goals. John Sheridan takes over in January though and an impressive run of clean sheets steers them to a safe 17th place finish.

They have never been the most exciting team to watch - bar perhaps a spell under Lee Johnson - but their organization has enabled them to tread water and stay in the division. This season, they have conceded 23 goals in nine games, a worse defensive record than any side in the top five professional leagues, after Saturday’s 5-1 loss at Rotherham.

We saw two of those goals conceded from corners, where the players were either ball-watching or standing behind the man they were meant to be marking. For an open play goal, Peter Clarke completely leaves his man, for another, the opposing left-winger manages to wriggle past three players on his own and for the last one there was simply no pressure on the ball.

Centre-backs Peter Clarke and Anthony Gerrard have been vital for the Latics over the last couple of seasons, but at 35 and 31 respectively, they cannot be relied upon to keep the opposition at bay every time the ball comes forward. That comes down to Simon Corney and the board’s reluctance to invest in technically gifted players who can shift the focus to the opposition. Without fresh funds and ideas, Oldham have only been staving off the inevitable.

Luton back in the groove

What a difference two weeks make. Luton’s 3-0 home defeat to Swindon saw them drop into the bottom half on the 9th September, but yesterday they climbed into the automatic promotion places. They secured three points against managerless Chesterfield with a 1-0 win, their third league victory in the space of 11 days.

That triumph and the 2-0 win over Port Vale underpin their excellent form at Kenilworth Road, where they have dominated every match. Those two victories though sandwiched a 2-1 turnaround at Wycombe, where goals from Scott Cuthbert and James Collins saved the day – the latter in the 98th minute. Away from home, they have been more reliant on man-of-the-match performances from their goalkeeper, Marek Stech, to pick up points at Lincoln and Mansfield, without which their start would look a little different.

Stech arrived with the pressure of replacing Christian Walton, who was recalled by Brighton in March, but he has been outstanding so far – as have many new signings. James Collins already has six goals to his name, Alan McCormack adds experience and grit in midfield, while full-back Jack Stacey and winger Harry Cornick look full of energy. If Nathan Jones’ Hatters can replicate their home performances on the road, they could be hard to stop.

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