Five managerial talking points from League One and League Two

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 04 September 2017, 10:41

It proved to be another hectic weekend in League One and League Two, so it's a good job we have Gabriel Sutton (@_FootballLab) on hand to talk us through the main managerial talking points from the weekend's action.

Forest feeling Green around the gills

We’re only five games in, but Forest Green Rovers chairman Dale Vince might regret being so bullish when outlining his expectations for the season.

The Nailsworth outfit found themselves three goals down as early as the 37th minute at Wycombe Wanderers. Though Christian Doidge provided a second half consolation to limit the damage, a 3-1 defeat means The Green have conceded 15 goals in their first five matches. In the top five divisions in England, only Yeovil and West Ham are conceding goals at a more alarming rate.

“You can’t defend like that and expect to win a game of football” said Mark Cooper, who lambasted his side’s first half display. Physical frailties was a criticism of FGR during their 16/17 promotion season, so have these first five games been a learning curve? A team getting to grips with this level of football?

Not really: signings Mark Roberts and Scott Laird both have plenty of experience at this level and/or above, yet started the last two heavy away defeats. Drissa Traore is on paper a physical midfielder who has played in League One before, as has Liam Noble, who if anything has been over-zealous in the tackle. Why then, are Forest Green bullied by any team with a modicum of physicality?

The players must take a lot of the criticism, but some questions must also be asked of Cooper: this is not the first time a defence managed by him has crumbled.

Pennock presides poor Gills start

Many Gillingham fans weren’t happy when it was announced this summer that Adrian Pennock would stay on as manager. The team had been eight points clear of the drop zone when he took over in January yet the club only stayed up by a point on the final day. Last season’s slump has continued with the Gills suffering their worst start to a season in over four decades.

In the first three games, they only conceded two goals thanks to Tomas Holy’s heroics but mustered just six shots on target, highlighting a lack of attacking ambition. They showed an improvement going forward in the 3-3 draw with Southend, which saw Tom Eaves display his aerial prowess with a hat-trick.

The target man held the ball up reasonably well against Shrewsbury this weekend, but his teammates offered little final third quality. Gillingham’s decision to sell poacher Cody McDonald - who would have been the perfect foil for Eaves yet played much of last season in an unnatural lone striker role - looks stranger by the day. Bradley Dack was one of the best players in League One in 15/16 and is capable of a pinpoint delivery, yet has not been directly replaced with anyone with similar qualities.

Perhaps Pennock’s preference for brawn over brain has limited this Kent-based side. Perhaps owner Paul Scally’s fingers had been burnt by over-investing in falsely perceived quality last summer, pushing him too far in the other direction. Either way, Gillingham look a side in desperate trouble.

Are Paul Hurst’s Salop the real deal?

Shrewsbury picked up a 2-1 win at Priestfield as Alex Rodman and Carlton Morris continued their impressive form. Paul Hurst said though that while he was pleased with the result, he was not entirely happy with the performance in the last two victories, the other being a 3-2 home triumph over Rochdale.

Hurst is not one to allow room for complacency and should be credit for inspiring his team to a strong start that has seen them move joint-top after five games. The nature of their results however, does invite room for scrutiny, if we are to judge Shrewsbury with the vigour we would a promotion contender.

Firstly, they have not yet won a game by more than one goal, with excellent performances from centre-backs Toto Nsiala and Mat Sadler key to those narrow victories. They have played three of the current bottom four teams so far and beat each of them, the other win coming against AFC Wimbledon, the division’s joint-second lowest scorers. In fact, Shrewsbury have only played one team outside the bottom nine, Oxford United, with whom they drew. Hurst’s men might have beaten the 9th-placed U’s had they capitalized on their first half dominance, but one senses there are bigger tests to come.

Indeed, they will come this month when the Shrews face Wigan, Blackburn and Scunthorpe, each of whom would expect to be in the top six come May. They’ve had a very good start, but by the end of September, we’ll get a clearer idea of just how far they can go.

Catch-22 at Vale Park

Since winning at Crawley on the opening day, Port Vale have not taken a single point. They were a little unfortunate to lose 1-0 on Saturday to Notts County, against whom they saw two shots cleared off the line and one hit the post.

However, some fans question manager Michael Brown’s reluctance to find a strike-partner for Tom Pope, who arguably lacks the pace to operate on his own. The target man has looked isolated so far, asked to win aimless long balls and he has struggled to hold onto it for long enough to bring the midfield into play.

This lack of tactical cohesion may be partly explained by a high turnover of players, in terms of recruitment and team selection. Pope is one of just three players to have started more than three of the five league games, the other two being centre-backs Anthony Kay and Nathan Smith, who have not been at their best. Some allowances should be made for the fact that seven players joined the squad in August, perhaps making it harder to settle.

If poor results continue though, Port Vale have a catch-22 situation. Do they sack the manager when the club needs stability more than ever? Or, do they show faith in a manager who has delivered six wins in 31 games? Neither option is particularly appealing.

Tis tops the tree

Exeter City’s excellent start to the season proves that, after a play-off campaign, stability can be more important than signings. The club has stood by Paul Tisdale over the last nine years, despite widespread calls for him to leave in the first three months of last season. Before this season’s opening day win over Cambridge, which they could have easily won by more than the one goal, they had only made three new additions.


Of the new boys, Luke Croll has picked up an unfortunate injury after only playing one league game, fellow defender Dean Moxey has also been sidelined for the most part while target man Ryan Brunt has only played 11 minutes. The club has not directly replaced Ollie Watkins with a signing, but Lee Holmes has added similar creativity cutting in from the left. David Wheeler has this week signed for QPR but Liam McAlinden offers the same aerial prowess on the right and is capable of a goal or two, while Reuben Reid has been clinical with four in five.

The Grecians only kept one clean sheet in their final 20 matches last season and defensive frailties cost them in the play-offs. However, Troy Brown has been colossal at the back this term, ably-partnered by captain Jordan Moore-Taylor, who scored a sumptuous free-kick in the win at Cheltenham.

Exeter fans won’t need reminding of how quickly things can change – they were fearing the drop in November last year – but this is certainly a promising start.

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Graham Westley
Graham Westley
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