2014/15: Sky Bet Championship Review – March 2015

This will be my penultimate Championship Review as this time next month it will be as they say ‘all over’. With a fist full of games remaining the only certainty is Blackpool have been put out of their misery and returned from where they emerged a few years ago after a calamitous season on and off the pitch.

The bottom three has included Wigan and Millwall for long periods and they remain favourites to join The Tangerines in League One, but I suspect Fulham, Rotherham and even Reading might still become involved. The fixtures between these sides become unbearable for the watching spectators with relief the overriding emotion at the final whistle.

With Blackpool and probably Wigan both recently dumped from the Premier League and heading for the third tier of English football could Fulham make it a trio? Personally, my opinion of promotion and relegation is swayed by simple geography, so Millwall and Reading can go for me. However, it looks like Wigan will depart the division as The Latics can’t buy a win at home. Still with events at the DW Stadium it was also interesting to see that Whelan Junior has acted to sack McKay to show Grandad who the boss is now!

Board room decisions are never far from my thoughts – Leeds rewarding a successful period of results and stability by sacking the under-performing coach, apparently removing the Sporting Director and asking Neil Redfearn to put the cones out and make the tea. Little wonder the worst results since Christmas followed as chaos returned to Elland Road. I could fill the remainder of this article with stories of film star takeovers, Fan Ownership and tax evasion Court Cases, but will leave that for next month.

The race for the TV millions is well and truly congested and I boldly predicted back in December 2014 that Norwich would fill one of the automatic spots when well off the pace, so I’m going to pat myself on the back because nobody else will! I actually had Derby to join them with Bournemouth, Middlesbrough, Watford and Blackburn making up the play-off spots, so five out of six isn’t too bad. Once again, the travelling miles sway my choice of who goes up, so The Canaries, The Cherries and The Hornets can happily fly, pluck and buzz off for me and I believe they will.

Eddie Howe’s team continue to score goals a plenty and show no sign of faltering, Norwich have the best squad and experience and Watford take chances with a flamboyant attacking philosophy that makes them dangerous opponents. Derby and Boro’ can be brittle under pressure and expectancy might be too much for them, which could allow Wolves or Brentford to make a Wembley appearance.

Brave attempts by Forest, Blackburn and even Charlton Athletic to join the play-off hopefuls were always destined to fail such was the gap, but plenty of promise for next season. Sheffield Wednesday have had the middle of the table to themselves virtually all year without ever flirting with top or bottom in a rather dull season. You could add Cardiff to that list and latterly Birmingham who extracted themselves from a perilous position and have free wheeled since.

For those still involved in the business end of the season, enjoy or endure and this time next month all will have been revealed.


David Goodwill

2014/15: Sky Bet Championship – Huddersfield Town v Fulham (A Yorkshire Trilogy: Part 3)

Programme 2000/01

The last time Fulham travelled to Huddersfield on 14 April 2001, they knew that victory would see them promoted to the Premier League. Town also had plenty to play for as they were battling against relegation.

A 2-1 win for Fulham through a Louis Saha penalty and a Luis Boa Morte goal five minutes from time, sealed Fulham’s promotion to the top flight, and pushed the Yorkshire club closer to their eventual drop down to the third tier of English football.

Given its significance, you might think that every kick of that game back in 2001 would be indelibly etched into my memory. Incredibly it isn’t and even watching the goals back, I can’t seem to recall one of the biggest days in the club’s history. Instead the abiding memories of the day are of sitting next to a guy from Canada who had travelled over for the game and the stewards at the ground who didn’t allow us long to stay and celebrate the victory.

Fourteen years later, it is now Fulham fighting against a second consecutive relegation as they return to Huddersfield.

It’s a bright day as I take the simple and quick journey to Huddersfield from Leeds. The train is a direct service, so locations such as Dewsbury, Batley and Muirfield are no more than buildings blurred as the train hurtles into Kirklees.

Arriving at Huddersfield I resist the temptation of a pint at either of the stations fine watering-holes and instead make the relatively short walk down to the John Smith’s Stadium, home to both Huddersfield Town and Huddersfield Giants. It is by no stretch of the imagination an attractive walk to the ground taking in as it does both the Huddersfield ring-road and the gas works. However, the walk is worth it, as for me, the stadium is amongst the best of the new-builds.

Main stand entrance

Back in 2001 the away end was filled with a bouncing cacophony of fans, buoyed by expectation and anticipation. Today the 500 or so hardy souls gathered in a nervous group were still coming to terms with the midweek defeat by Leeds in a ‘smash and grab’ victory and the fear now was that only five points separated the team from one of the relegation spots.

As those football philosophers ‘Saint & Greavsie’ espoused – football is ‘a funny old game’. In midweek the footballing gods had granted Fulham no luck, and despite 27 efforts on goal, including 3 which hit the woodwork, had ended up losing 3-0.

Today though the gods must have felt some pity after their recent cruelty and were indeed generous as within two minutes Fulham were gifted the lead.

From the far end it all looked a bit of a mess. Alex Kacaniklic swung in a corner from the right and was soon surrounded and congratulated by his team mates, as the ball nestled in the Town net. It made for confused celebrations as the Fulham faithful exchanged puzzled glances. In the end the conclusion was that Alex Smithies in goal for Huddersfield had left it for the man on the post, who assumed his keeper would deal with it. Net result, a lead in the most fortunate of circumstances.

The half passes in an instant and the overriding thought is, how have Huddersfield not equalised. Incredibly as the whistle blows for half-time, Fulham somehow have a 1-0 lead. At least the break allows for the classic football ‘Three P’s’ – pie, pint and a piss.

Huddersfield are out for the second-half early and it is a while before Fulham and the officials emerge.

As the game restarts my overriding feeling is that a victory today would probably seal survival in the Championship for the season, but that is 45 minutes away.

What unfolds can only be described as the one of the most bizarre halves of football I have ever witnessed. Just over ten minutes into the second-half, Huddersfield wins a corner and in the resulting melee, Ishmael Miller’s curling effort is handled on the line. Referee Richard Clark awards a penalty and shows Cauley Woodrow a red card. There is then a period of confusion which from the away end is not easy to interpret. Are the Fulham players complaining about the penalty award? What is going on? Woodrow seems reluctant to go and is finally ushered towards the touchline by his teammates. However the protests on the pitch continue and eventually referee Clark consults with the fourth official. Woodrow is then recalled from the touchline and Fulham skipper Sean Hutchinson is instead dismissed.

After over five minutes of confusion, the penalty is eventually taken. Nahki Wells steps up but his effort is saved by Marcus Bettinelli, diving to his right. Minutes later Woodrow having been reprieved by the officials nearly scores, as he gets in behind the defence but hits the post with his shot.

Down to 10 men with well over 25 minutes to go, is it realistic to think that the lead can be maintained?

View from away stand

The feeling in the away end is like that of a dazed boxer clinging to the ropes and another big punch lands when Huddersfield are awarded a second penalty with twenty minutes remaining. There is no real protest from the Fulham ranks, rather a resigned acceptance that the home side will have an equaliser.

Nahki Wells shows bottle by stepping up to take the penalty. However with Bettinelli not even bothering to dive, the spot-kick strikes the post and bounces away. The Town fans can hardly believe what has happened and a few Fulham faithful swap less than friendly hand gestures with Terriers fans close to the away end.

Huddersfield manager Chris Powell decides to ring the changes with fifteen minutes remaining as Radoslaw Majewski replaces Tommy Smith and Joe Lolley replaces Jonathan Hogg. The barrage on the Fulham goal continues as efforts from Scannell, Butterfield, Edgar and Majewski rain in. Still Fulham hold out and defend heroically as Town make their last substitution with David Edgar making way for Jake Charles.

With just three minutes remaining Fulham try to run down the clock as Woodrow makes way for Hugo Rodallega. However, even when the ninety minutes is up there is no respite as the official indicates six minutes time added on – no surprise given the events surrounding the first penalty incident earlier.

Still Huddersfield come forward, still the Fulham defence somehow holds out. Whistles ring out from the away end as the last minute of time added on ticks away. Then Seko Fofana picks up the ball in his own half and with Huddersfield committed to attack, the Manchester City loanee streaks away from the limited Town cover who like hapless Keystone Cops are unable to catch the Fulham player. His shot hits the post but the rebound falls kindly and he slots home for an unlikely second goal.

The relief at clinching victory is shared by both the crowd and the players. Fofana is swamped amongst the traveling support and keeper Bettinelli runs the full length of the pitch to celebrate with the rest of the players. It is a celebration as wild and carefree as those fourteen years ago. There is only time for Huddersfield to kick-off before the referee blows for the end of the game.

The grins on the faces of fellow Fulham fans are as wide at the Thames and will probably last all the way back to West London. For me though I slip away in the car park and merge in the Town fans as they weave their way back to the town centre.

FFC sticker

Collar up, head down I smile inwardly and take in the conversations around me. Many bemoan James Vaughan’s midweek sending-off against Norwich, as they convince themselves the errant forward would have converted both penalties. But those are merely if’s and but’s. Fulham have been battered today, but have emerged with three points that could ultimately secure their Championship status this season.

My three game adventure is at an end. A win, a loss and a draw. Three very different experiences which sum up why as fans we love the game and more importantly our team.

2014/15: Sky Bet Championship – Fulham v Leeds United (A Yorkshire Trilogy: Part 2)

Programme cover

Of all the parts of this trilogy this is the one I’m most looking forward to.

The prospect of going back to London – my birthplace, and of course to the Cottage – fills me with joy on every occasion, even when we are playing badly!

I also enjoy the train journey and no I don’t mean in a train-spotting taking down the numbers at the end of the platform kind of way, I mean the time it allows me to relax and unwind and if I so desire, just stare out the window as the scenery flashes by.

So armed with sarnies and a few tinnies I settle down for the journey. However, the train gods are not in the best mood and our departure is delayed as there are signal problems near Wakefield. Thankfully the train soon leaves and is my sign to crack open the food and drink.

I’m sharing today with a Leeds United fan who will join the train at Doncaster. He has seen his team play against Fulham in London, but that was at Loftus Road, during Fulham’s couple of seasons away from the Cottage.

The Leeds-London service is a quick one and Doncaster is soon reached as my companion for the match boards the train. Banter and beers commence and before we know it the train is pulling into Kings Cross.

Rather than dash onto the underground, we have a stroll along Euston Road towards St Pancras Station and a couple of pre-match beers at The Euston Flyer. It is a chance to check the Evening Standard over a pint for a preview of the game tonight. However, the sports pages surprisingly contained no reference to the game at Fulham and are instead dominated by Arsenal’s Champions League exit at the hands of Monaco.

It’s seems strange that a paper that supposedly has a London readership chooses not to have any coverage.

So without any team news to discuss, we head for the delights of the tube during rush-hour. Comically even though I’ve done this journey on numerous occasions I somehow manage to ensure that we are going in the wrong direction on the District Line.

Having corrected the error, we eventually find ourselves on the way to Putney Bridge Station and it is apparent from the fellow travellers in the carriage that Leeds fans have, as ever, travelled in numbers to the capital.

Evidence of the Yorkshire invasion is further confirmed by the hordes of the Elland Road faithful who fill and spill out from the 17th century tavern The Eight Bells, not far from the station.

Kick-off is fast approaching so we continue our progress to the ground as I’m keen to show off what I consider is the most attractive walk to any football ground in the world.

The walk takes you from Putney Bridge Station and under Putney Bridge itself into Bishop’s Park. The park includes Fulham Palace (a medieval former home of the Bishop of London) and a glorious walk along the Thames. Those familiar with the Boat Race will know that the historic event starts here in Putney and in the fading light the boat houses which line the far side of the water’s edge can be seen.

It brings back great memories of the years coming to the ground and walking through the park, where the changing state of the trees provided a telling reminder of the passing seasons.

Leeds fans fill the Putney End

The floodlights now break up the impending darkness and we approach the Putney End where the Leeds fans are entering the stadium. It’s a rare occurrence for them as tonight they are able to pay on the gate, whereas the usual Leeds allocation is sold out to members only. Many Southern Whites seem to have taken advantage of this as various flags from the Home Counties are in evidence.

I used to share my visits to the ground with a school friend of mine who left the UK a number of years ago to further his career in Canada. He is back in the country this week and in texts exchanged earlier this week he tells me he intends to be at the game. I don’t let on that I also plan to be down for the game, and instead am able to surprise him in the ground as we are in the same block within the Riverside Stand.

It is over 35 years since we were at school together, but we continued to go to games together into the 80s. He only visits the UK a couple of times a year and we always try and plan in a visit to the Cottage to catch up and reminisce. Tonight our embrace is as warm as ever and we chat excitedly about the game ahead.

I have always considered there is something more atmospheric about games played under the floodlights. Tonight, that mood is enhanced by the noise and number of the travelling Leeds fans, who even before kick-off running through a range of less than complimentary chants about ex-player Ross McCormack.

The teams line-up before kick-off

The game itself turns out to be a curious affair. Fulham totally dominate the opening half as a combination of the woodwork and Leeds Italian keeper Silvestri ensure the numerous chances for the home team come to nothing. Instead with just five minutes to the break, a slip at the back by Fulham allows Gaetano Berardi to cross and with the two home defenders static, Byram heads easily home to give Leeds the lead.

Fulham are caught cold early in the second-half as with only three minutes played, a Leeds corner evades all the Fulham defenders and falls to the unmarked Bamba to double the visitors advantage. Worse was to follow just two minutes later when Konstantinos Stafylidis is sent off following two rapid yellow cards. The first was for a completely unnecessary rant at one of the assistant referees and the second for a wild challenge from the Greek International.

Despite being down to 10 men Fulham continue to create chances, but as with the opening half, the woodwork and Silvestri continue to frustrate Fulham. The final insult arrives two minutes from time when a miss hit shot from substitute Antenucci seals a 3-0 win for the visitors.

It has been a smash and grab raid by the Yorkshire club and the Fulham faithful leave the ground in a state of bewilderment. Eight games to go and only six points off the drop – the three games against Wigan, Rotherham and Blackpool look like they will define our season.

The main task of the evening is now to make our way back to Kings Cross for the last train back to Leeds which we achieve comfortably. The train is full of Leeds fans and they are still in full voice as it pulls out of the capital.

My identity as a Fulham fan living in Leeds is rumbled by the immediate area of passengers and so begins a period of sustained banter. It is all good natured and there is nothing for the heavy police presence on the train to deal with.

With still an hour to go on the journey the train is virtually quiet. My companion departs at Doncaster and heads into the darkness of early morning.

The boisterous atmosphere in the carriage has given way to silence as some passenger’s energy if fully taken up with willing the train further North, whilst others slump uncomfortably against the windows or seat headrests in search of sleep.

At last we pull into Leeds and the train disgorges its sleepy cargo on the platform and into the chilly March morning. I go in search of a cab, but then have to endure a fifteen minute journey during which the driver insists on having a full blown conversation with me. I only manage nods and grunts of yes and no and am mightily relived when home is at last reached.

It’s been a great day – well, apart from the football. Tomorrow will be a tough day having to go into work with little sleep and will be made tougher by the friendly abuse that is bound to come my way from the Leeds fans in the office.

As I slip into bed and search for rest, my last thought is, what does Huddersfield have in store on Saturday?

2014/15: Sky Bet Championship – Sheffield Wednesday v Fulham

Matt Smith’s second half strike earned a point for Fulham equalising substitute Stevie May’s near post header.

Wednesday welcomed back Chris Maguire for his first start since the Cardiff game whilst Fulham gave a debut to Norwich City loan signing Michael Turner at centre half.

The first half gave little for the supporters of either side to cheer as both teams tried to play football on a difficult surface. Wednesday’s rhythm was disrupted by losing Liam Palmer to a leg injury after 25 minutes following a challenge by Scott Parker, then 13 minutes later Will Keane limped off to be replaced by May. Both sides were having trouble controlling the ball on a poor pitch and clear cut chances were few and far between. The best chance of the half fell to May in the 5th minute of first half injury time but he couldn’t control his shot from 8 yards and Bettinelli fell on the ball to snub out the danger.

The second half started much brighter with Wednesday unusually defending the Kop end. A good move from Wednesday resulted in the opening goal. A long ball from Westwood was well held up by Nuhiu who bought Kieran Lee into the play and May’s shot was deflected wide. From the resulting corner, the ball came back to Lewis McGugan whose cross was met by May and his header nestled in the bottom right hand corner of the net giving Wednesday a deserved lead.

May’s first goal since his double against Wigan in November kicked the game into life. Wednesday created another good chance for Nuhiu at the back post but he was unable connect with the ball and Maguire tested Bettinelli low to the keepers left.

The game opened up and Fulham started to create chances of their own. Tim Hoogland’s pile driver was blocked by the head of Claude Dielna and the introduction of Seko Fofana by Kit Symons coincided with Fulham’s best period of the game. Ross McCormack dropped deeper into midfield and caused Wednesday some problems.

Fulham’s equaliser was tinged with controversy as the Wednesday defence stopped thinking referee Andy Woolmer was going to give a free kick for simulation but only Matt Smith played to the whistle blasting a fierce shot in off the underside of the bar.

A strong finish from Fulham bought a two great saves from Westwood and a McCormack free kick went just over the bar, but neither side was able to force a winner.

Wednesday manager Stuart Gray: “It wasn’t a game for the purists. It was a poor game, the players seem to have lost confidence in the pitch. The positive is that we’ve reached the 50 point mark. I’m disappointed that the referee didn’t give a free kick for simulation but you’ve got to play to the whistle.”


Ed Williams

2014/15: Sky Bet Championship – Sheffield Wednesday v Fulham (A Yorkshire Trilogy: Part 1)

During the summer months football fans can’t wait for the release of the new season’s fixtures. We wait expectantly until they are released and then scan them endlessly armed with questions such as, where is the opening game? When is the local derby? What’s the final game of the campaign?

For the 2014/15 season I did exactly that, but my attention was also drawn to a passage of games in March for my team Fulham.

Saturday 14 March 2015         Sheffield Wednesday (Away)

Wednesday 18 March 2015    Leeds United (Home)

Saturday 21 March 2015         Huddersfield Town (Away)

Given that I’m a Fulham fan living in Leeds it was identified as a rare chance to get to three consecutive Fulham games something I’ve not done for well over twenty years. Of course it would be a bit of a topsy-turvy experience as in travel terms, the away games would be home games and the home game an away game.

Back in the summer what I labelled as A Yorkshire Trilogy seemed months away, but inevitably time has ticked away and now I find myself about to embark on the three game adventure.

They will be very different experiences, as the game at Hillsborough today will be followed from the press box, the game at Craven Cottage on Wednesday will be in the company of a Leeds fans and at the John Smith’s Stadium next Saturday I will be amongst the Fulham fans in the away end.

Programme cover

First up then is the trip to Sheffield, a city I’ve grown more familiar with since starting studying at Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) in September 2013. The course has been great in building up contacts with both of the club’s in the Steel City and today enables me and a fellow student (who happens to a Wednesdayite) to take our place in the press box.

For anyone not familiar with Sheffield, Hillsborough is situated about three miles from the city centre, but can be quickly reached by tram to the Leppings Lane stop which is five minutes away from the ground.

Ed (currently sporting a Damien Lewis look) and I arrive about 13.30 to collect our passes and match programme from the main reception and make our way to the press room. Despite there being 90 minutes before kick-off the room is already busy with journalists from a range of media outlets. Amongst them is the familiar face of Alan Biggs, who lectures at SHU, but who is here today working for Sky Sports.

The early kick-off between Middlesbrough and Ipswich Town is coming towards its conclusion on the screens in the room as food arrives. On the menu today is a fantastic meat and potato pie, mushy peas and chips, with Sheffield’s renowned Henderson’s Relish as an accompaniment.

As the pre-match meal is consumed, the teams are announced and written on a whiteboard. The two talking points revolve around Chris Maguire coming back into the side for The Owls and Fulham giving a debut to Norwich City loan signing Michael Turner.

View from Press Box

With kick-off just fifteen minutes away and now in possession of a team sheet, we venture to our seats in the press box high in the main stand and with a view to the left of the halfway line. Once logged onto the internet, there is just time to have a flick through Wednesday’s very good programme before the start of the game. What is also evident is that the pitch is in a poor state with large parts of the pitch without grass.

The playing surface certainly has an effect on the quality of the opening half, as both sides struggle to create any meaningful chances. The only real incidents of note are the two substitutions that Wednesday are forced into after injuries to Liam Palmer and Will Keane, who are replaced by Marnick Vermijl and Stevie May respectively.

Half-time and a chance to grab a cup of tea and catch-up on the scores around the country. Returning to our seats we hope that the second-half to come has something to cheer for supporters of both teams.

The Fulham fans sat in the upper part of the Lepping Lane end applaud the team as the players return to the pitch and soon the game is underway again.

Wednesday start brightly and are rewarded ten minutes into the second-half. A half-cleared corner presents Lewis McGugan with the chance to cross once more into the box, where substitute Stevie May heads home to put Wednesday in front.

Fulham are now on the back foot and Marcus Bettinelli is called into action keeping out a Chris McGuire shot down by the left hand post.

With twenty minutes remaining two substations by the Fulham boss Kit Symon’s change the course of the game. Hoogland and Kavanagh are replaced by Woodrow and Fofana, which allows Ross McCormack to drop deeper into a midfield role.

Fulham are rewarded with fifteen minutes to go, as substitute Woodrow crosses for Matt Smith to score. Wednesday aren’t happy with the visitors’ leveller, as they believe the referee should have awarded Wednesday a free-kick, protesting that Woodrow had dived in the box.

Suddenly the game springs to life as Fulham are now causing The Owls problems, and Kieran Westwood has to be at his best to stop efforts from Smith and McCormack. Even in the four minutes of time added on, Fulham continue to press for a winner and they finish the stronger of the two teams.

Overall though, a point is a fair outcome and sends the Fulham faithful back down the M1 in a positive mood for the midweek encounter with Leeds United.

The media in action

What of my experience today? The hardest aspect about watching the game from the press box was trying to remain neutral and not react in the normal way a fan would during a game. It has been managed, although when Fulham were looking for a winner in the closing stages it was not an easy task. Of course the other part of being in the press box is actually detailing the major events during the game, so you have to pay more attention to the opposition that you probably would as a fan.

Thankfully the next part of my journey on Wednesday will just be as a fan, so the laptop, notepad and pen can be packed away for now.

2014/15: Sky Bet Championship Review – February 2015

Beware the Ides of March – no I’ve no idea what it means either, but I do know that this is the time when supporters realise the remaining fixtures will end in single figures; pro option hopes are forlorn and relegation fears realised.

February included six games and as predicted Norwich are moving inexorably towards the summit, winning all of their games. The squad is by some distance the best in this division and the change of manager has galvanised a formidable Championship strike force. I still expect The Canaries to be at the top of the tree in May, a position that rankles having shared League One in recent memory.

However, an improved league position and performances find me in better but cautious spirit as Leeds claw themselves away from the bowels of the Division. However, should I be satisfied trailing Bournemouth and Brentford by twenty points? Like many other supporters of traditional ‘bigger’ clubs, expectations need to be downsized, realistic and measured. My single concern is to retain Championship status and I comfort myself with the knowledge that 46 points on average achieves that aim, but shudder at Peterborough’s relegation with 54 points in 2011/12.

If Norwich are to return to the Premier League there is a right old bun fight to see who will join them. Derby still must be haunted by the experience of last season and desperate for automatic promotion, but having seen Middlesborough and Watford at close quarters recently both appear impressive, the latter adopting a six man forward line on occasions. The other form teams are Forest and Wolves, bristling with confidence and scoring for fun and a reminder that appointing club heroes such as Stuart Pearce are not always the wisest move.

The top six appears to be an eight horse race unless Forest have a remarkable last furlong. I think they may fall over the final hurdle but reduce their odds next time out. Sheffield Wednesday and Blackburn are betwixt and between, cosy and safe without the angst of a promotion or relegation battle. A reminder of how many seasons used to end for many around March until Sky Sports took over the running of the game.

The trap door has been ajar for Blackpool since August, a brief rally around Christmas brought hope but for me they are ‘doomed’, as Private Fraser used to say (for those old enough to remember Dad’s Army). Wigan’s stay in this division might be brief but I give them hope possibly at the expense of Rotherham who had to endure the moronic Bermondsey sideshow last weekend.

A glut of clubs including Reading, Bolton, Brighton, Cardiff, Leeds and Fulham cross fingers and prey those beneath them prove incapable of catching them. All have experienced long periods without winning before jolting themselves in to action before promptly returning to slumber. The Championship truly is a weird division, teams dreaming of Premier League fortunes and League One oblivion in the same season – it really does mess with one’s mojo!

Didn’t mention Charlton, Huddersfield or Birmingham and why should I? To be fair Charlton sit seventh in the Form Table and are worthy of mention and the other two play in Blue – there you go everybody’s happy now.

Eighteen hours more football, plus injury time and it’s all over.

Who will be having kittens in the final hour still not knowing their fate?

As long as it isn’t me I don’t really care.


David Goodwill

2014/15: Sky Bet Championship – January 2015

skybet‘Another year over and a new one just begun’, sang Mr Lennon, John not Neil and ‘let’s hope it’s a good one without any fear’. The countdown has started towards May – glory misery and relief are assured, but the recipients are as yet unknown. Those of us of a nervous disposition are already scouring the fixture lists for crunch games, potential wins and a points total to satisfy the ultimate goal – survival.

The recent fog of disappointment I have typed previous reviews through, has momentarily being replaced by a shaft of light as rare consecutive wins, last minute winners and a quiet transfer window befalls the mighty White gods. Then again, the owner has been a naughty boy and banished to his yacht to muse over his next move.

Eighteen games and fifty four points are available for collection, so nobody is up, nobody is down but plenty are half way up or down! Bournemouth end January topping the pile and offering £5 million pounds for a teenager with a handful of games to his name, proof, if it were needed that football has gone mad. However, it displayed a clear statement of intent from the Dorset club who show no signs of disappearing despite the persistence of Derby and ever improving Middlesbrough.

The Boro’ buoyed by Cup victory at Manchester City, look the real deal with quality throughout the squad, and deadline day additions at the Ipro have stiffened the promotion challenge of their East Midlands rivals The Rams. A small gap has opened to Ipswich, Brentford and Watford, resolutely hanging in there in search of the big prize. A glut of fixtures in February will examine their playing squads and credentials to last the course. I expect Norwich to split the pack, still cash rich and surely will find the consistency to break the top six probably at the expense of their East Anglian rivals.

I have previously suggested Blackburn will make the play-offs and I’m not changing my mind at this point. However, the sentimentalists might like to see Wolves return to the top flight following the passing of Sir Jack Hayward recently. I’m not and believe a mid-table finish is more likely as two thirds of the league scrap for survival.

Sheffield Wednesday sits tenth, but are only eleven points from Millwall – currently occupying the final relegation spot. I expect the bottom three teams to change place regularly like a giant game of pass the parcel and when the music stops on 02 May three will bid the Championship a fond farewell. Blackpool are three wins from safety but as yet have not thrown in the towel. Wigan have moved players in and out and surely have too much quality to stay there permanently – so who will go down?

I am going to make a bold prediction that as many five teams will not know there fate until after the final fixture. My stomach is churning at that thought already, but the competitive nature of this division makes that prophecy an unfortunate possibility. Will a Psycho free Forest halt their alarming run as Hughton resurrects Brighton post-Hypia and will Cardiff return to playing in Red?

This and many other answers will become clearer as the final dozen fixtures begin in March.


David Goodwill

2014/15: Sky Bet Championship Review – December 2014

This review is fast becoming a very unpleasant experience – each month my own team descends into further turmoil and despair.  December consisted of one draw in five, a single goal from open play, two calamitous own goals and the Owner forced to stand down for yachting irregularities.

Can 2015 get any worse? Oh yes it can and probably will to the amusement of the rest of the Country.

Enough about Leeds United, I can barely type through the tears. The half way point has come and gone; no more trite comments from Managers about there being ‘a long way to go’ and ‘plenty of points to play for’. The January transfer window for those without embargo’s is an opportunity to bolster promotion ambitions or recruit for the relegation dog fight.

Each contest will be as closely fought as the other – Bournemouth sit proudly on top of the pile having accumulated points and goals with alacrity. Every team will now be aware of The Cherries strengths, but can anybody stop them?  I still back thoroughbreds over course and distance and boldly take Norwich and Derby for the top spots with Middlesbrough, Watford, Blackburn and Bournemouth making up the top six.  There you go, it’s done and in ‘Black and White’ with five months of the season to go.

Ipswich, Brentford, Wolves and Cardiff may have other ideas and Messrs McCarthy, Warburton and Jackett have exceeded my expectations and I fancy those of their own supporters.  I am envious of all the above, but that’s the lot of a football fan, trade in your car, move home, change jobs, but you are stuck with your Club forever.  Even the acquisition of the abhorrent half scarf doesn’t entitle you to follow the fortunes of another…

The monthly accolades must go to Bolton and Birmingham, transformed by shrewd Managerial appointments and unrecognisable from the opening months of the season. Proof that change can and does work – whether long term remains to be seen, but the immediate future looks bright.

The first month of 2015 punctuated by FA Cup fixtures and postponements will see little change to the League positions, but will end with squad additions, departures and Agents filling their grubby, greedy pockets.

My focus is very much on the relegation scrap, three from half a dozen for me despite the proximity of several other clubs.  Those that can hit the back of the net usually escape, Fulham Reading and for my money Brighton have the fire power to do that.  The rest will be involved in a long slog, eking out points where they can and hoping fortune favours them. The reality of course might be entirely different and the quintessential game of opinions often makes you look very foolish.

Happy New Year to Championship Supporters everywhere, except the twenty three who play away from Elland Road and may all your hopes and dreams be fulfilled!


David Goodwill

2014/15: Sky Bet Championship Review – November 2014

Another International Break meant there were relatively few games played in the calendar month of November. Therefore, most sides found themselves jockeying for position ahead of the hectic Christmas period and the mid-way point of the marathon Championship season.

The latest Manager to hit the exit door was The Latics German number One Uwe Rosler, replaced by Scot Malky Mackay who is still fighting allegations of improper conduct a situation compounded by Wigan Chairman Dave Whelan’s explaining his appointment with all the tact of Alf Garnett, landing himself with an FA Charge. At least they can share a taxi to Gloucester Place and a takeaway on the journey home; I suggest neither Thai nor Chinese!

Seven of the bottom ten sides have now terminated the contracts of their chosen leader for the current campaign with Hyypia, Holloway and Evans looking over their shoulder at Brighton, Millwall and Rotherham respectively.

It’s a pleasure to report my own Club (Leeds United) completed a month without change, but then again had the Owner disqualified to ensure no semblance of stability is allowed to take root. This will ensure several more turbulent months and further expensive Legal battles for the benefit of nobody other than Rumpole of the Bailey.

The division is incredibly congested, Blackpool apart, but even they are not without hope and the immediate improvement of Bolton and Birmingham following new appointments will ensure others follow suit and teams in the top half can’t discount relegation approaching the New Year.

If anybody predicted Brentford, Bournemouth and Ipswich to be amongst the top four places in December they are lying! All three have enjoyed a fabulous month and will have designs on staying the distance and local Premier League derbies with QPR and Southampton respectively.

My own outside tip for the top Middlesbrough remain resolute and consistent and if Blackburn continue to have the luck afforded to them for much longer even the East Lancs rivalry could be resurrected in the top flight.

Many of the financial heavyweights in this league sit menacingly a few points and places behind stalking their prey waiting for signs of weakness, circling before likely flexing their muscles in the January transfer window. Wolves have regained that losing feeling they became accustomed to pre Kenny Jackett, Forest are firing again, Cardiff and Norwich are able to draw on their hugely expensive playing squads and will expect an improved second half of the season.

A short interlude from Championship chatter to bemoan the sighting of more hideous half-scarves, the latest is at the Chelsea versus Tottenham game and a worrying trend that needs stamping out of the game. Indeed, I witnessed Leeds and Charlton scarves with my own eyes for a midweek Championship fixture with 150 visiting supporters at best, but presumably all clamouring for a memento of this classic 2 -2 draw.

I’ve started to breathe again so back to the Review and honourable mention for the vast improving Fulham who have reverted to a home grown coach like many other in this division and are reaping the rewards.

I notice that Bolton are considering giving ex-Icelandic Trotter Eidur Gudjohnsen a contract at the ripe old age of 36 which made me wonder why? Surely, the opportunity should be given to an aspiring young British player rather than another foreigner looking for a last pay day. Hang on, if am not careful will be joining Malky, Dave and Massimo at FL Headquarters – then again would be a hell of a Taxi ride!

To sum up November, the Blues beat the Reds who beat the Greens who lose to the Whites who then lose to the Blues who had beaten the Reds and Brentford beat all of them!

As ever, don’t get carried away as a miserable defeat is just round the corner.


 David Goodwill

2014/15: Sky Bet Championship Review – October 2014

My enthusiasm for this review waned throughout a miserable, dispiriting month for my own club.  Not a solitary victory and of course another coach through the revolving doors at LS11. I am of course referring to Leeds United, a club which should be stamped with a Government Health Warning.

However, putting aside my pain, anguish and desperation for now I will don my impartiality hat and look back over the merry month of October. Another side to sink like a stone is Nottingham Forest; Psycho ably demonstrating that playing heroes are not always the best choice to return to former glories. I believe a top six position will still be achieved but the weight of expectation needs to be overcome.

AFC Bournemouth heads the table alphabetically and staggeringly statistically as Eddie Howe’s men gather goals and points with alarming regularity. The demolition of Birmingham City was positively rude in its execution, borne by a freedom to play uncomplicated, slick attacking football other supporters crave. The majority of clubs and opposing fans have The Cherries as low priority and I think they thrive on the small town mentality, little history to speak of but possibly to make.

Now they have reached the summit we shall see how they cope with expectation and pressure, very well I think and serious contenders for top six. Geographically, Middlesbrough couldn’t be further away, but a consistent run of results has catapulted The Smoggies to their highest League position in years and one I forecast in previous reviews. Pitiful crowds at The Riverside never seem to dampen the Chairman’s ambition for his club and shrewd work in the permanent and loan market over a period of time make Boro‘ a real force.

The panic button was pressed at Bolton, Birmingham, and Blackpool – oh and again at you know who? Fulham and Leeds appointed from within, Bolton and Birmingham successful young managers and Blackpool hired Lee Clark or Red Adair, such is the task ahead of him.  The Tangerines currently the only club adrift with a host of sides battling to join them.  Could fifty points see a club go down this year? I suspect it will.

Honourable mentions must go to Huddersfield Town & Brentford, teams traditionally living in the shadows of near neighbours now looking imperiously over their shoulders. Chris Powell is a manager destined for big things in my opinion, very possibly the first Black England manager, you heard it here first!

Away from the Championship one of my pet hates raised its ugly head again the other week, the abominable ‘half-scarves’ at Old Trafford for the Chelsea game. Football tourists sporting cringe worthy red and blue…I can’t go on…am getting annoyed.

Back to reality, Wolves and to a lesser extent Rotherham have made the step up one division with conviction and potentially none of the three promoted clubs will be returning from whence they came.  The same could be said for the three relegated sides with Norwich, Cardiff and Fulham spluttering to find form and any consistency in the toughest of leagues.

The majority of other sides take on step forward and two back or vice versa as the middle of the table is as congested as the M62, M25 or wherever you reside on a rush hour afternoon.

Another half a dozen games and we will reach the Christmas period and the January sales, the best wheelers and dealers have much to gain or lose in search of riches or sanctuary from the drop.

As always, I won’t wish supporters of other clubs the best as it would be a hollow gesture but support your team, lambast referees, moan at you Chairman and generally conduct yourself in a manner fitting of a biased, embittered loser like myself.


David Goodwill