Matchday 10: Neil Warnock comes back to haunt former club Leeds

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 27 September 2017, 10:33

Our man in the know, Gabriel Sutton from @_FootballLab, runs us through what was another jam-packed round of Football League action, with Neil Warnock leading Cardiff back to the Championship summit, while there's more goal woes for managerless Gills, and Keith Curle's Carlisle are given a reality check.

Warnock’s warriors win again

“He’s such an enthusiastic fella, it rubs off on everyone else” said Neil Warnock of recent capture Craig Bryson following Saturday’s 2-1 win at Brighton. The midfielder was again influential on Tuesday as Cardiff defeated Leeds 3-1, pressing superbly with Loic Damour to deny Leeds’ players any time on the ball. The Bluebirds had a vice-like grip on the encounter, forcing Leeds into their own half and controlling the game with 41% possession.

Indeed, the Welsh side average just 44.6% in that metric this season, the joint-third lowest in the division, with the second lowest pass completion ration of 62.6%. That will not worry Warnock, who favours early forward balls that can monopolize the athleticism of their front trio - Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, Kenneth Zahore and Junior Hoilett.

The latter two were heavily involved in all three goals in midweek while Mendez-Laing stretched play with his usual direct running. Sol Bamba was equally impressive, covering space and breaking up attacks, almost with the efficiency of Claude Makelele or Lothar Matthaus in their prime. As a centre-back by trade, Bamba confessed after the match to having held inhibitions about playing that role, but his performance speaks volumes for his boss’ man management skills.

Gills attack yet to get going

Adrian Pennock left Priestfield on Monday but his old side’s performance the following evening mirrored what he has built this season.

They have 11 players who often work hard for one another and cover spaces in behind. The line-up against Scunthorpe included four centre-backs by trade, including Max Ehmer in a midfield role, with two conservative wing-backs. That brought about a clean sheet, Gillingham’s third of the season, with 10 other sides failing to keep that many and eight conceding more goals than their 14.

Unfortunately, the change of management, with Director of Football Peter Taylor taking interim charge, did not change the quality of their attacking play. The Gills, who have now failed to score six times in 10 games, averaged just one shot every 11 minutes against the Iron and only hit the target once.

Their only two forward-thinking players from the start were academy graduate Elliott List and Sheffield Wednesday loanee Sean Clare, who have between them just 41 games of experience of professional football. Although those players might be talented, they need to be supported by others with knowhow.

The starting eleven had scored just 91 goals between them in their entire careers, 15 fewer than the now-departed Cody McDonald scored for the club.

Letting the poacher go to Wimbledon is looking increasingly like bad business. It’s one thing having 11 players who fight for the shirt, but until the goalkeeper Gillingham face is tested more often, it is hard to see them staying up.

Fleetwood's forwards finding their feet

Having conceded 15 goals in a five-game period, you could be forgiven for thinking that Fleetwood Town were going through something of a rough patch. They responded magnificently at Bradford City on Tuesday however, keeping a clean sheet with Cian Bolger, Ashley Eastham and Nathan Pond commanding at the back.

Lewie Coyle, a Leeds academy graduate relishing a trip to their West Yorkshire rivals, gained special praise once again for his performance at right wing-back. The midfield looked up for the fight and passed the ball into the right areas with Kyle Dempsey, formerly of Huddersfield, particularly influential. Devante Cole and Jordi Hiwula, the subject of criticism during their respective stints at Valley Parade, tore their former employers apart on the break. The latter was replaced on 69 minutes by another forward, Ashley Hunter, who scored within seconds of entering the fray.

Goals from three different strikers, without the fitness of summer signing Conor McAleny, proves that Uwe Rosler's side has firepower: they are one of just two teams yet to draw a blank this term. The other is leaders Shrewsbury, who ally their attacking prowess with defensive solidity: for Fleetwood, a little more consistency in the latter department wouldn’t go amiss.

Cheltenham show their clinical side

Earlier in the season, it was difficult to detect whether Cheltenham Town were a good team not getting the points they deserved, or a team with lots of huff and puff but little end product.

Their results sparked debate between shot data disciples, who insisted the Robins still had top seven credentials and old-school traditionalists, who claimed that any team that misses chances like the sitter Danny Wright spurned at Yeovil deserves exactly what they get.

Reality lies somewhere in between. While it remains a big ask for Cheltenham to break into the top half this season, seven goals in three games vindicates those who expected improvement. The Robins are playing some good football and are a little more patient in possession this year, helped by the arrival of Bristol City loanee Joe Morrell, who offers the defence an option to go short.

In August they looked reliant on the individual magic of Mo Eisa, pressure perhaps too strong for somebody who was playing in the eighth tier with Greenwich Borough last season. In the 3-0 win over Mansfield, Eisa didn’t score but played well and we saw first goals of the season for summer signing Brian Graham, who has a decent strike rate in Scotland, as well as Wright and midfielder Morrell. Perhaps now, Cheltenham are starting to see the fruits of their labour.

Unreliable Carlisle

On Saturday, Carlisle United dominated Crewe Alexandra in a commanding 5-0 win. Debutant Clint Hill led expertly, his partner Tom Parkes defended with few frills, the midfield trio of Mike Jones, Kelvin Etuhu and Luke Joyce pressed intelligently and forwards were ruthless in front of goal. After the match, the players, fans and manager Keith Curle celebrated together, signifying what looked like the start of a sustained play-off push.

Three days later, the same 11 players who performed so well looked unrecognizable, losing 2-0 to Stevenage. Goalkeeper Shamal George made a bad error for both goals and as soon as the first went in, the team never looked like recovering. Nicky Adams put in a series of crosses but front men Reggie Lambe and Shaun Miller, who had worked tirelessly at Gresty Road, did not get on the end of them.

Curle’s Cumbrians were a model of consistency in the first half of last season, when they lost just once in 23 games, averaging two points per match to sit second. The subsequent New Year chimes spelt disaster though, with 36 points from a possible 99 so far in 2017.

We know what this Carlisle squad should be capable of - but right now, they don’t show it often enough.

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