Football League Round-Up: Leonid Slutsky loses his roar at Hull

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 04 December 2017, 09:22

Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) plucks out four key talking points from the EFL, while there's a special mention for Stevenage following their superb FA Cup win over swindon. Check it out below.

Wherefore art thou, Romeo?

In Mahlon Romeo’s first League One start, he scored the second goal of three for Millwall, a fine solo effort in a convincing win at Walsall in February 2016.

In his first Championship start on Saturday, he scored the second goal of three for Millwall in a convincing win over Sheffield United.

Romeo, by the way, is a defender.

Defenders and strikers are two separate families meant never to merge, but Romeo’s forbidden relationship with Lee Gregory came to the fore in the second half. The number nine put in a full-back's challenge on Jack O’Connell before playing through Romeo, who produced a centre-forward’s finish beyond Jamaal Blackman.

The sense of romance at the Den is normally confined to the dugout, where Neil Harris has been criticised at times of being too wedded to 4-4-2. His Millwall side have started with that formation in every game this season and had done the same almost every week in League One.

With the score 1-1 half-time though, Harris wasn’t entirely convinced that his default system would allow his players to dictate play after the break. Uncharacteristically, he changed to a 3-5-2 to match them up and that contributed to an outstanding second half in which his side was first to every loose ball and showed the greater desire.

Jake Cooper wrapped the game up with a late header that bounced off the bar and over the line, securing a precious three points for Millwall. They ended their six-game winless run to move six points clear of the drop zone, easing any fears of tragedy in May.

Hollow draw for Hull at Hillsborough

Michael Dawson’s scuffed 95th minute goal saved a point for Hull City at Sheffield Wednesday, but not Leonid Slutsky his job.

The Russian, who had been considering his future prior to the 2-2 draw in South Yorkshire, left by mutual consent with the club 20th, three points above the relegation zone and 16 off the top six.

The most striking aspect of Slutsky’s 177-day tenure on Humberside is how his mood in interviews changed. In his first press conference, we saw a man with a gleaming smile on his face who was very excited at managing in England.

By the end, we saw a man who looked almost worn down by the job, struggling to find his earlier nergy and positivity.

One factor might be his side’s frequent capitulations late on in games. The Tigers shipped 15 Championship goals in the last 15 minutes of matches, more than any professional team in England. They took the lead 10 times under the ex-CSKA boss’ watch but only won four of those games.

So many sucker-punches, it seems, have quelled his initial enthusiasm, but the other factor is the club’s untrustworthy owners and the off-field divide.

Three of Hull’s last four managers left by choice, despite being reasonably well-respected by fans. Steve Bruce guided the club to promotion then departed due to a lack of movement on the transfer front. Marco Silva inspired an impressive turnaround in form but opted not to stay on for the Championship campaign, then Slutsky arguably would have kept his job had he truly wanted it.

The real issue at the club is the lack of off-field leadership. The club sold experienced Championship performers early in the summer and were slow to replace them, as they had been the previous summer.

Nigel Adkins is hotly-tipped to be the next unfortunate soul to take charge at Hull. The former Southampton gaffer is renowned for his persistent, pull-together positivity - but if he gets this job, how long will that last?

Bees put the boot on the other foot

Brentford have dropped 18 points from winning positions so far this season, after two-minute capitulation at QPR on Monday undid 92 minutes of relative control in a 2-2 draw.

So vulnerable have they looked in the lead, when Ollie Watkins put them 3-1 up over 10-man Fulham with five minutes to play, one could be forgiven for remarking that a point was the most they could hope for.

In fact, this West London Derby had a happier ending as they overturned Neeskens Kebano’s first half goal with strikes from Sergi Canos and Romaine Sawyers either side of the break.

Canos had been perhaps their brightest performer at Loftus Road and he was awarded man-of-the-match for another energetic and creative display.

The difference between Saturday and Monday was that Brentford continued to press for the ball, even when in the lead, rather than sit off their opponents and accept defensive examination.

Such bravery required a lot of energy from Kamohelo Mokotjo, Ryan Woods and Nico Yennaris, who enjoyed impressive afternoons in midfield, helped to an extent by Denis Odoi’s dismissal shortly after the goal from Sawyers.

The ex-Walsall man was used as a false nine after Lasse Vibe’s early injury and if anything, the Bees looked even better for the re-shuffle.

Next up, Dean Smith’s side face Barnsley, Hull and Norwich - three of the league’s four most out of form teams. If they can cut out the unnecessary errors late on in games, a 100% return between now and Christmas looks well within their range.

Southend in touch with their Roots

Recent weeks have seen gap between the top six of League One and the rest become something of a yawning chasm. Charlton Athletic in sixth are just five points off second-placed Salop and six clear of seventh-placed Posh.

With the elite out of league action this weekend due to the FA Cup, it was important for Southend United to close the gap and they did so with a 2-0 win over Oldham.

The Shrimpers enjoyed a comfortable second half after Josh Wright added to Jason Demetriou’s early penalty, with the duo scoring from the team's only two shots on target.

Things might have gone differently had Mark Oxley not saved Craig Davies’ spot-kick just before the break - the penalty-saving perfectionist is proving proficient at preserving points in Prittlewell.

Oxley was also key to the 1-0 triumphs over Bury and Walsall in late October and has kept four clean sheets in his last eight in all forms. Not that the former Hull stopper has been solely responsible for the shut-outs:

The return of veterans Michael Turner and Anton Ferdinand has improved Phil Brown’s defensive options, which were once down to the bare bones. Impressive left-back Ben Coker remains a long-term absentee but Stephen Hendrie did well in his position on Saturday and should retain his place ahead of Michael Timlin, a midfielder by trade.

Ryan Leonard, who has shown great professionalism this term despite asking for a move in the summer, has formed a nice central pairing with Josh Wright. The former provided the defensive balance to allow the latter to drive forward, having scored 11 goals in the second half of last season for Gillingham.

The Essex side’s attack is yet to hit full flow this season, but five of the eight clubs above them graced the top flight in the last two decades and have bigger budgets, allowing them to attract the best talent from outside the Championship.

That means Southend must grind out results to stay within striking distance of the top six - Oxley’s form at least gives them a chance.

Sarll’s Stevenage smash Swindon

What a difference a week can make. Seven days after Stevenage extended their winless league run to six games with defeat at neighbours Cambridge, they thrashed Swindon Town 5-2 to make the Third Round of the FA Cup for the first time in four years.

Darren Sarll’s post-match comments were typically refreshing and honest: “It was exhilarating, frustrating, anxious, positive, rewarding – all of those things. They have been fantastic all week, fantastic. If we had not won today, I would have thought ‘oh my, what do we have to do?’”

The 34-year-old went mad when each of the goals went in, highlighting his passion for the club he has served for five years in different capacities. The win came at an important time, because he had been criticized in the preceding weeks for naivety and a reluctance to change his starting eleven.

However, he only made one change from the side that lost 1-0 at the Abbey and that was to replace Danny Newton with Matt Godden as the strike-partner for Alex Samuel. All three players scored with Newton proving an effective super-sub, netting twice after coming on in the second half.

Tom Pett was the other goalscorer, appearing more effective played in a wider position than usual while Chris Whelpdale had his best game for Boro for some time.

The Hertfordshire club remain six points and eight places off the League Two play-offs due to their poor October and November form, so this game doesn’t take all the pressure off Sarll and his players.

It might though have taken a different competition to create a fresh environment, shake off the losing habit and get that performance out of the group – at least now, we know what Stevenage are capable of at their very best.

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