Weekend Round-Up: Newport fly the League Two flag

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 29 January 2018, 08:43

The latest weekend round-up from @_FootbalLab features a surprise FA Cup result, a resurgent Championship club, and a League One thrashing. Check out the five key moments below.

Newport fly the League Two flag

Anyone who dismisses the level of quality in League Two should watch the weekend’s FA Cup performance from Newport County, in their 1-1 draw with Tottenham Hotspur.

They outplayed Mauricio Pochettino’s men in the first half and created two glorious chances. Joss Labadie, who defended tenaciously and attacked with power and intent throughout, set up a sitter inside three minutes for Frank Nouble, who fired over from close-range.

Mauricio Pochettino linked with Real Madrid

On 38 minutes though the Exiles scored their second chance. Robbie Wilmott, who was as bright as he has been in League Two in recent weeks, produced a wonderful looping cross that was perfectly weighted to find Padraig Among, who nodded home at the back-post, prompting euphoria around Rodney Parade.

They had to defend deeper in the second half and were denied immediate entry to the Fifth Round due to Harry Kane’s late leveller, but they faced some top level players: Victor Wanyama has starred against Barcelona in the Champions League, Jan Vertonghen has been Dutch Footballer of the Year and Kane is one of the best goalscorers English football has ever seen.

Eric Dier, Mousa Dembele and Kieran Trippier have made impressive contributions to the club’s title challenges of the previous two seasons, while Son Heung-Min and Dele Alli were introduced from the bench. Centre-back Juan Foyth and left wing-back Kyle Walker-Peters, both 20, were among the starting line-up but at no point did Mauricio Pochettino underestimate the hosts, which makes their result all the more impressive.

The question awaiting Michael Flynn’s Amber Army is whether they can replicate that intensity in their play-off challenge. If they can, then two trips to Wembley in one season is doable.

Resurgent Robins

The first half hour of Bristol City’s game against QPR on Saturday had gone quite well: they had moved the ball around nicely and created a couple of half-chances for Famara Diedhiou, the returning lone striker. On 32-minutes, centre-back Nathan Baker was sent off for a reckless challenge on Josh Scowen – what next?

A lot of teams in those circumstances would have changed their entire tactical approach, pressed from a much deeper position and hoped to hold onto a point. Not Lee Johnson’s side. Bobby Reid continued to press QPR pass-backs and get the team higher up the pitch; the young forward seemingly helped greatly by Diedhiou’s return from injury.

The Senegalese front man occupied centre-backs with his raw physical qualities, allowing the more diminutive Reid to play more off the cuff and find space. Diedhiou headed in the opener after a near-post corner from Ryan Kent, then ran over to physio Steve Allen, who had helped him during his rehabilitation.

The ex-Angers man was denied a second after the break, but Bryan tapped in the rebound. Kent, on loan from Liverpool, provided pace and width and showed the quality he can bring to the table. Another January loanee, Lois Diony, enjoyed a positive cameo, highlighting that Bristol City now have far more depth than they did a couple of weeks ago, when playing Reid on his own up top appeared the only option.

Bristol City look to be over their worst patch of the season – when they had three straight league defeats after Boxing Day – and with Derby and Cardiff close at hand, the Robins remain serious automatic promotion contenders.

Defining period for Oldham

In the previous two Januarys, Oldham Athletic’s response to danger has been a simple one: hire John Sheridan.

To give ‘Shez’ his due, he and the club twice met the immediate target of League One survival with some ease: regular clean sheets led to 17th place finishes.

Where Sheridan’s methods invite scrutiny is their defensive nature: players were taught to protect the defence and not necessarily to develop individually. The ill-fated tenures of Darren Kelly and Stephen Robinson also did little to improve any talent at Oldham, who haven’t sold any attacking players for a reasonable sum since Jonson Clarke-Harris left in 2015.

That’s why, as new majority shareholder Abdallah Lemsagam feels his way into the club, he has to be bold. The Moroccan football agent has a decision to make on Richie Wellens, who has overseen a nine-game winless run to prompt fears that the two-year contract handed to the head coach in October were a tad impulsive.

Should Lemsagam decide that Wellens should leave, he might be tempted to bring back a club legend like Sheridan, who has a connection with the fans and has previously delivered instant results. However, there is a responsibility on the new owner to encourage a more progressive strategy that will run throughout the club and Sheridan could not be part of that.

The first aim for this new regime is to avoid relegation, but the second aim is just as important: to fix the long-term malaise around Boundary Park.

Wonderful Wombles wow West Yorkshire

The one major question mark about AFC Wimbledon’s survival credentials this season was whether they score enough goals, so Saturday’s emphatic 4-0 win at Bradford City was certainly a welcome boost.

Manager Neal Ardley deemed that match as their ‘most complete performance of the season’ and while they didn’t have that many chances, they were ruthless with the ones that did fall their way.

After some strong persistence from Lyle Taylor down the left channel on 14 minutes, the ever-industrious young forward teed up Nadjim Abdou, who produced a simple finish in a battling display. The Wombles had a slight let-off when Dominic Poleon, who had ironically played for them last season, saw his tap-in ruled out for offside, even after his name had been read out over the tannoy.

The West Londoners made the most of that reprieve just before the hour mark, when Cody McDonald cleverly found the lively Andy Barcham, who slotted through the goalkeepers legs from a tight angle.

McDonald – who proved a consistent goalscorer at this level with Gillingham – showed his worth with a second half brace. He bullied Nat Knight-Percival off the ball out wide before cutting inside and although he had some luck that Rouven Sattelmaier let his tame finish through his grasp, the German stopper could do nothing about McDonald’s fourth.

The 31-year-old finished with conviction after a good run from substitute Joe Pigott, who should add to Ardley’s options after signing from National League Maidstone, where he has scored 11 goals this term. Special mentions should go also to centre-backs Darius Charles and Deji Oshilaja, who used their physical prowess to bully Bradford’s small and feeble-looking attack.

Goalscoring problems? What goalscoring problems?

Drama at the County Ground

If there was to be one piece of advice I could give to modern football fans, it would be this: if you’re going to give your manager stick, at least make sure you’ve lost first.

Swindon Town fans weren’t happy when David Flitcroft took off Kaiyne Woolery in the 42nd minute of their clash with lowly Crewe Alexandra, with the team losing 2-1. However, replacement Luke Norris – and then half-time substitutes Timi Max Elsnik and Matthew Taylor – all contributed to the subsequent turnaround, as the Robins turned a two-goal deficit into a 4-3 win.

Elsnik, who is now back fit after a spell at parent club Derby to treat his injury, is establishing himself as one of the most complete players in League Two. Not only will he do the hard graft that is expected from a central midfielder, he also has a knack of making well-timed runs into forward areas that are often rewarded.

The teenage Slovenian reduced the areas with a lovely placed finish after a lay-off from Marc Richards, before anticipating a failed Crewe clearance to sweep home and level the scores. Richards, who himself had been a handful all afternoon, tucked home Taylor’s near-post cross to win it in the 89th minute.

Not only did this strike evoke euphoria where there had been uproar barely an hour ago, it was also the 35-year-old’s 132nd fourth-tier goal. Having helped free-scoring Northampton to the title as recently as 15/16, the one-time Blackburn academy graduate’s killer-instinct will be key to Swindon’s promotion chances. Who knows? Flickers might know what he’s doing after all.

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