Football League Round-Up: Tony Pulis off the mark at Middlesbrough

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 02 January 2018, 09:31

We've ventured into 2018 and our man Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) has captured the five big talking points from the latest wave of Football League matches. Enjoy!

Norwich’s New Year Resolution

If there is one thing that Daniel Farke reminded himself that he must do more of in 2018, it’s play Alex Tettey alongside Tom Trybull in central midfield.

That's what he did on Monday against Millwall and though the unpopular Steve Morison dealt his former club a first half setback, Trybull and James Maddison responded after the break in a 2-1 win.

Tettey provides the presence and balance that is not quite there when others start in the same position, while Trybull covers more ground than his partner and is not shy to engage in challenges when asked to. The defensive discipline the duo provides give Norwich a base for the attacking players to build upon.

In the seven games they have started together this term, the Canaries have dropped just two points. Some credit must also be given to attacking midfielder Alex Pritchard, who has recovered well from injury and was excellent in the 2-0 win at Birmingham, while winger Josh Murphy is also enjoying a post-Christmas resurgence.

Jamal Lewis, an academy graduate who has only recently made his first professional start, is playing with no fear and could be a viable solution to the left-back dilemma.

The outstanding message for Farke though is a simple one: good things happen when the Tettey-Trybull tenacity team is in situ.

Wednesday have a Meire

Sheffield Wednesday fans could not have wished for a worse start to 2018 for their club. Not only have they lost 3-0 at home to relegation struggles Burton Albion, with a performance interim manager Lee Bullen deemed ‘unacceptable’, they appointed Katrien Meire as Chief Executive Officer.

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Let’s remind ourselves of her legacy at Charlton Athletic:

- Presided over one Relegation

- Saw seven different managers appointed, one of which a scout from the Belgian second division

- Crowds dropped from 16,000 to 11,000 and season ticket holders down by 39%

- Messed up the mailing out of season tickets and tried to blame Royal Mail.

- Called fans weird and laughed at their discontent, watching the attack on one by a steward

- Sold promising young players for far less than they were worth

- Put a ‘Fans’ sofa’ in the ground

- Paid for a PR firm to remove/lower negative Google results about her

- Denied disabled supporters access to the main lifts in the West Stand to reach their seats, for reasons other than Health and Safety

- Was unwilling to understand the link between fans and the club

Believe us, there were more things we could have raised. This is a time when Wednesday needed passion, honesty and above all unity, qualities that are all in evidence across the city. Dejphon Chansiri appointing Meire - who represents that absolute antithesis of those values and has no care for football - could be highly damaging to the club.

Bullen said that the Owls are in danger of relegation, with only a six-point gap to the drop zone. Defending as they did on Monday, when they allowed Burton to wander into the final third with ease for their three goals, will only escalate such fears.

Whitney’s Walsall wary of the drop

For some time now, Walsall fans have wanted an end to the reign of manager Jon Whitney. Whenever his side have won, there has been a sense of them staving off the crisis point that little bit longer, rather than moving towards something positive.

Following a five game winless run and back-to-back defeats to Rotherham and Plymouth, leaving the Saddlers just three points above the drop zone, crisis point has arrived.

Despite having one or two talented individuals in Zeli Ismail and Erhun Oztumer who could thrive in the right system, Walsall often play aimless forward balls that don't suit the majority of players in their team.

The problems are partly down to Whitney, but they stem from a wider structural issue from within the club. The way the board have historically handled contracts, recruitment - and the very fact they appointed an unproven physio and stuck with him for two years - implies a lack of ambition.

All of the above suggests that they are looking for not fresh ideas, but the cheapest possible way of merely staying in this division. The question now though is whether they can.

Crewe Alexandra and Colchester United, who showed similar loyalty to youth development and managers promoted from within, have recently gone down to League Two. Walsall are in danger of going the same way.

Bayliss' bliss for Cov

In the last three weeks, four different teams have occupied the third automatic promotion spot in League Two: Accrington Stanley, Exeter City, Lincoln City and now Coventry City.

The latter have got into this position despite not winning by more than one goal since October, which one might suggest is a barometer of how close this race is: six teams are within three points of the Sky Blues while Accrington are four off with a game in hand.

Unlike leaders Luton, who have goals all over the pitch, Coventry are a well-organized side that relies on one flashy individual for key moments of magic. Winger Jodi Jones took on that role until his unfortunate November injury and since then, forward Marc McNulty has taken on the baton, albeit from a more central role.

The ex-Sheffield United man has scored six of their eight goals in Jones’ absence and appears to relish being the man around whom attacks revolve.

Forward play is also helped by the form of Tom Bayliss. The 18-year-old has injected pace and purpose into the Midlanders’ play and while certain aspects of his decision making can improve, his youthful positivity compliments a more hard-nosed and cynical midfielder in Michael Doyle.

With the right blend now discovered, Coventry set about making that third spot their own.

First win for Pulis

In just his second game as manager of Middlesbrough, Tony Pulis equalled the number of 3-2 victories he enjoyed in three years at West Brom.

Having finished 2017 with a home defeat to Aston Villa, his side began 2018 with a dramatic triumph at Preston, which came thanks to second half goals from Jonny Howson and Daniel Ayala.

The time for singing about Rudolph may be gone, but instead it is time to sing about Randolph and Rudy. Goalkeeper Darren Randolph kept Pulis' troops in the game in the first half, when they were dominated by Preston, making excellent saves from Robinson and Hugill.

Target man Rudy Gestede entered the fray in the second half and occupied centre-backs, forcing defences back to create space for other players. One gets the sense that Gestede will be crucial to Middlesbrough's hopes of promotion, due to his aerial prowess.

Pulis is now managing a team that has less to lose and more to gain, which means that getting a lone Solomon Rondon-like striker to chase lost causes and win free-kicks is no longer a viable strategy. Middlesbrough will need to play further up the pitch than the Welshman's Albion side did and in Gestede, Pulis might have found the focal point he needs.

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Graham Westley
Graham Westley
16th February
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