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  1. Football Manics writer ARLukomski looks at the transfers which have taken place in League One so far this summer, finishing with part two. Luton Town Andrew Shinnie (Birmingham City) (CAM) – Free Sonny Bradley (Plymouth Argyle) (CB) – Free Matty Pearson (Barnsley) (RB) – Undisclosed Oxford United Cameron Norman (Kings Lynn Town) (RB) – Free Samir Carruthers (Sheffield United) (CAM) – Loan Armani Little (Southampton) (CM) – Free Peterborough United Aaron Chapman (Accrington Stanley) (GK) – Free Rhys Bennett (Mansfield Town) (RB/CB) – Free Mark O’Hara (Dundee) (CAM) – Undisclosed Alex Woodyard (Lincoln City) (CM) – Undisclosed Matt Godden (Stevenage) (ST) – Undisclosed Jason Naismith (Ross County) (RB) – Undisclosed Louis Reed (Sheffield United) (CM) – Undisclosed Colin Daniel (Blackpool) (LM/LB) – Free Siriki Dembele (Grimsby Town) (W) – Undisclosed Plymouth Argyle Conor Grant (Everton) (CM) – Free Niall Canavan (Rochdale) (CB) – Free Freddie Ladapo (Southend United) (ST) – Free Joe Riley (Shrewsbury Town) (RB) – Free Calum Dyson (Everton) (ST) – Free Harry Burgoyne (Wolverhampton Wanderers) (GK) – Loan Ashley Smith-Brown (Manchester City) (LB) – Undisclosed Peter Grant (Falkirk) (CB) – Free Portsmouth Louis Dennis (Bromley) (RM) – Free Ronan Curtis (Derry City) (LW) – Undisclosed Craig MacGillivray (Shrewsbury Town) (GK) – Free Tom Naylor (Burton Albion) (CM) – Free Lee Brown (Bristol Rovers) (LB) – Free Rochdale Stephen Dooley (Coleraine) (RM) – Undisclosed James Finnerty (Aston Villa) (CB) – Free David Perkins (Wigan Athletic) (CM) – Free Aaron Wilbraham (Bolton Wanderers) (ST) – Free Jordan Williams (Liverpool) (CM) – Free Scunthorpe United Olufela Olomola (Southampton) (ST) – Free Shrewsbury Town Fejiri Okenabirhie (Dagenham & Redbridge) (ST) – Undisclosed Kieran Kennedy (Macclesfield Town) (CB) – Undisclosed Ryan Haynes (Coventry City) (LB) – Undisclosed Southend United Sam Barratt (Maidenhead United) (W) – Undisclosed Tom Hopper (Scunthorpe United) (ST) – Free Sam Mantom (Scunthorpe United) (CM) - Undisclosed Harry Lennon (Charlton Athletic) (CB) – Nominal Fee Sunderland Alim Ozturk (Boluspor) (CB) – Free Chris Maguire (Bury) (W) – Undisclosed Jon McLaughlin (Hearts) (GK) - Free Walsall Andy Cook (Tranmere Rovers) (ST) - Free Josh Ginnelly (Burnley) (LM) – Free Chris Dunn (Wrexham) (GK) – Free Zeli Ismail (Bury) (W) – Free Wycombe Wanderers Darius Charles (AFC Wimbledon) (CB) – Free Ryan Allsop (AFC Bournemouth) (GK) - Free Share your thoughts about this feature article on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the chat with fellow football fans.
  2. Football Manics writer ARLukomski looks at the transfers which have taken place in League One so far this summer, starting with part one. Accrington Stanley Will Wood (Southampton) (CB) – Free AFC Wimbledon Mitch Pinnock (Dover Athletic) (LW) – Tribunal James Hanson (Sheffield United) (ST) - Undisclosed Barnsley None Blackpool Michael Nottingham (Salford City) (CB) – Free Harry Pritchard (Maidenhead United) (LW) – Free Joe Dodoo (Rangers) (ST) – Loan Chris Taylor (Bolton Wanderers) (LM) – Free John O’Sullivan (Carlisle United) (CM) – Free Jordan Thompson (Rangers) (CM) – Free Joe Bunney (Northampton Town) (LB) - Loan Bradford City Tom Clare (Barnsley) (ST) - Free Josh Wright (Southend United) (CM) – Free Joe Riley (Manchester United) (RB) - Undisclosed Thomas Isherwood (Bayern Munich (CB) – Free Anthony O’Connor (Aberdeen) (CB) – Free Connor Wood (Leicester City) (LB) – Undisclosed Sherwin Seedorf (Wolverhampton Wanderers) (LW) – Loan Bristol Rovers Ed Upson (Milton Keynes) (CM) – Free Sam Matthews (AFC Bournemouth) (CM) – Free Burton Albion None Charlton Athletic None Coventry City Zain Westbrooke (Brentford) (CM) – Free Reise Allassani (Dulwich Hamlet) (W/ST) – Undisclosed Bouwa Bosma (Lewes) (CM) – Undisclosed Junior Brown (Shrewsbury Town) (LB) – Free Jonson Clarke-Harris (Rotherham United) (ST) – Free Abu Ogogo (Shrewsbury Town) (CM) - Free Doncaster Rovers Tom Anderson (Burnley) (CB) – Free Max Watters (Ashton United) (ST) – Undisclosed Fleetwood Town Joao Morelli (Middlesbrough) (ST) – Free Eddie Clarke (Tranmere Rovers) (LB) - Free Jason Holt (Rangers) (CM) – Loan Craig Morgan (Wigan Athletic) (CB) – Free Lewis Coyle (Leeds United) (RB) - Loan Gillingham Regan Charles-Cook (Charlton Athletic) (RB) – Free Dean Parrett (AFC Wimbledon) (CM) – Free Josh Rees (Bromley) (CM) - Undisclosed Share your thoughts about this feature article on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the chat with fellow football fans.
  3. The World Cup is upon us - let’s have a look at the teams, groups and what might happen in Russia. Group D Argentina, Croatia, Nigeria, Iceland Argentina Manager: Jorge Sampaoli Captain: Lionel Messi World Ranking: 5 Lionel Messi will grace the World Cup for a fourth time in hope he can finally claim the one trophy that has eluded him. Argentina will look to try and win the trophy they haven’t won since the days of Diego Maradona. Argentina have a wealth of attacking options including Messi, Juventus pair Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain as well as Man City’s Sergio Aguero. They also have a stern defence including Nicolas Otamendi Javier Mascherano. Sampaoli has used many formations in qualifications and friendlies to try and get Argentina to click. Messi, Dybala and Aguero can switch around playing up front and either, out wide or behind the lone frontman. All three players skill, creativity, technical ability and goalscoring prowess make them one of the most potent attacks at this summer’s World Cup. Lucas Biglia and Ever Banega are the knitters in the midfield whilst Cristian Pavon, Giovanni Lo Celso and Angel Di Maria will battle it out to determine who starts on the wing. Pavon and Lo Celso are two players to watch out for. They can be quite solid defensively, having conceded only 16 goals in qualification. They have the quality to get through, but a lot will be expected from them after an inconsistent qualification. Croatia Manager: Zlatko Dalić Captain: Luka Modric World Ranking: 20 Croatia once again will have a squad with talent in abundance but since they finished 3rd in 1998, they haven’t reached the knockout stage. This year their squad is stacked with stars. Luka Modric is one of the best midfielders in world football. Mario Mandzukic has had another fantastic season with Juventus. Dejan Lovren has got to the Champions League Final and Ivan Rakitic has won La Liga with Barcelona. Marcelo Brozovic is a brilliant centre midfielder and big things are expected of young winger Marco Pjaca. Whilst playing as a wide man for Juventus, Mandzukic can player there for Croatia or as a striker, although this is mainly Hoffenheim goal machine Andrej Kramaric. Modric and Rakitic help support the front three, which also includes Brozovic’s Inter teammate Ivan Perisic. Rakitic is a big factor in midfield with his combination of passing, hard work and perseverance. Brozovic himself plus Mateo Kovacic, like to get forward, but whether both will start is still a big question. However, committing several players forward may leave them prone to being caught on the counter attack. Former Tottenham defender Vedran Corluka is likely to start in the back four despite picking up an Achilles tendon injury earlier this year. The front men are the key to Croatia getting through as is getting off to a good start in what is probably the closest group. They have the squad to get through, but it all depends on which Croatia team turn up. They will be hopeful not to repeat the groups stage exits of 2002, 2006 and 2014. Iceland Manager: Heimir Hallgrimsson Captain: Aron Gunnarsson World Ranking: 23 Iceland are entering their first World Cup off the back of a great qualifying campaign and brilliant performance at Euro 2016, their first major competition. They are the smallest nation to ever qualify for a World Cup with the country’s population only 339,000. Gylfi Sigurdsson is the teams star man, his technical and creative skill shining throughout qualification and his current stint in the Premier League. Augsburg striker Alfreð Finnbogason had one of his best seasons to date, scoring 12 goals in the Bundesliga. They are defensively solid and have several good players all around the pitch. Johann Berg Gudmundsson has had a superb season with Burnley, who are very much the Iceland of the Premier League and so Gudmundsson should be used to the set up. They have several players from the Championship including captain Aron Gunnarsson, Villa’s Birkir Bjarnason and Bristol City’s Hordur Magnusson. PSV winger Albert Gudmundsson is one to watch out for. Iceland are very hardworking, in which, they may lack in skill and flair in some areas, they make up for it with grit and determination. They are very compact and strong. Johann Berg Gudmundsson, Bjarnason and Sigurdsson will be the attacking outlets. Sigurdsson will start centrally with Gunnarsson, with the former Swansea midfielder moving forward to support Finnbogasson. Sigurdsson can also play behind the striker against better opposition, which allows Udinese midfielder Emil Hallfredsson to sit deep with Gunnarsson, making the team even more defensively solid and harder to break down. They are also dangerous from long throws, as shown against England at Euro 2016, where centre half Ragnar Sigurdsson got on the end of a long throw which wasn’t dealt with. Ragnar is likely to start at Centre back with either Sverrir Ingi Ingason or Kari Arnason partnering him. Iceland will be tough to beat and should not be underestimated despite it being their first World Cup. They may not have a consistent goal scorer at national level, but goals can come from all around the team. Nigeria Manager: Gernot Rohr Captain: John Obi Mikel World Ranking: 48 Nigeria enter their 6th World Cup having progressed through a hard-qualifying group including 2014 qualifiers Algeria and Cameroon, plus former Africa Cup of Nations champions, Zambia. They have an influx of pace in the side including Kelechi Iheanacho, Victor Moses and Moses Simon. Captain, Mikel likes to get forward for the national team, something he wasn’t used to at Chelsea. Ogenyi Onazi and Leicester’s Wilfried Ndidi should provide lots of creativity for the front men, who will consist of three of Moses, Iheanacho, Simon, Odion Ighalo, Ahmed Musa or Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi. Nigeria will look to play it long to Ighalo or Iheanacho and try to bring the wingers and the creative midfielders into the game. The wingers are especially important, as they will try and use their pace to get in behind opposition defences. Their defence seemed unconvincing in the first half, in their friendly against England and their midfield will have to work hard to adapt from attack to defence. The centre back pairing of Elderson Echiejile and new Brighton signing Leon Balogun are experienced. For the 5th time in the last 7 World Cups, Nigeria were drawn with Argentina in the same group. The Super Eagles have a good chance of progressing as anyone could go through from this group. They can give any team a game on their day and have been a lot more prepared for this World Cup, then they have for past editions. Predictions (Argentina 1-1 Iceland FT) Croatia 2-2 Nigeria Argentina 0-1 Croatia Nigeria 1-1 Iceland Iceland 1-0 Croatia Nigeria 1-2 Argentina 1. Argentina 2. Iceland 3. Croatia 4. Nigeria Share your thoughts about this preview on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the chat with fellow football fans.
  4. The World Cup is upon us - let’s have a look at the teams, groups and what might happen in Russia. Group C France, Denmark, Peru, Australia France Manager: Didier Deschamps Captain: Hugo Lloris World Ranking: 7 France really could not have asked for an easier draw could they? For me, they have the best squad in the tournament. Their strength in depth is frightening. Griezmann, Mbappe, Lemar, Dembele, Giroud, Pogba, Kante, Matuidi, Varane, Umiti, Lloris, Tolisso. That such quality means, Dimitri Payet, Alexander Lacazette and Anthony Martial were not able to make the final squad. The team has become stronger since the end of Euro 2016. Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele are looking to have breakout tournaments and look to be stars of the present and future. Both players recently had transfers worth over 100 million euros. The two will look to get down the line as the midfielders look to take advantage of both men’s pace. Whilst, they will control most games, if the opposition is attacking and the French win it back, they will look to use Mbappe and Dembele to get them on the attack. Antoine Griezmann’s goalscoring abilities will be crucial but he is currently one of the best strikers on the planet and is very reliable. They have midfield options to suit all opponents. Blaise Matuidi is a regular under Deschamps and can be used to cover the defence a bit more whilst also producing long passes out towards the wingers. Thomas Lemar is another player looking to star on his first venture onto the world stage. He can be used as a winger or an attacking midfielder. There is such an amazing brand of quality players there, it’s hard not to tip them to add a second star to that badge. Denmark Manager: Åge Hareide Captain: Simon Kjær World Ranking: 12 Denmark have returned to the world stage after missing the party four years ago. New coach Åge Hareide (formerly of Malmo) got the team to the World Cup after a play-off win over Republic of Ireland. The new generation of young players who impressed at the 2015 Euro U21’s have taken their opportunity in the first team. These include Pione Sisto, Andreas Christiansen, Riza Durmisi, Viktor Fischer and Yussuf Poulsen. Not to mention as well Ajax’s Kasper Dolberg. Their star man is Christian Eriksen who makes everything tick for the Danes and is usually allowed free roam in attacking midfield. However, their team is a lot more talented now than it was in 2010 and their talent lies not just with Eriksen. Poulsen is a striker but plays right wing and this is where he sometimes plays for the national team with ex Cardiff pilot Andreas Cornelius or Nicolai Jorgensen playing in the main striker position. Sisto will be a big help with his pace down the left and can help create chances easily, as shown by his nine assists in La Liga this season, for Celta Vigo. He is sure to become a world-class player in years to come. Werder Bremen's Thomas Delaney and experienced central partner William Kvist will provide the steel in the team infront of a back four consisting of Kjaer, Christiansen along with Brentford’s Henrik Dalsgaard and Austria Wien’s Jens Stryger Larsen. Peru Manager: Ricardo Gareca Captain: Paolo Guerrero World Ranking: 11 Peru have a very nice team and have qualified for the first time since 1990. Andre Carrillo and Jefferson Farfan are the game changers and match winners in the team. Andy Polo is also one to look out for. Captain Paolo Guerrero recently had a drug ban overturned and is ready to lead the line for the South Americans. Cristian Cueva is a good talent and will play in the Eriksen/Dzagoev role and free roam behind the frontmen and try to create. Renato Tapia is a versatile player who can play in defensive midfield and at centre back. He mainly plays in midfield at national level. His grit and range of passing are crucial. Peru push many players forward when attacking including Guerrero, Carrillo, Farfan, Cueva and sometimes left back Miguel Trauco. This is where they are vulnerable and if teams can counter quickly against them, they may be in trouble. The team also struggles against physically imposing strikers. Chris Wood caused a variety of issues against them in the play-offs. The match against Denmark looks to be a massive game in deciding who goes through. They are ranked next to each other in the world rankings and are both on 15 match unbeaten runs coming into the tournament. Australia Manager: Bert van Marwijk Captain: Mile Jedinak World Ranking: 36 Australia head into their 5th World Cup on the back of scraping through qualification. The experienced Tim Cahill will compete at his fourth World Cup whilst Celtic’s Tom Rogic looks set to stand out for the Socceroos along with Aaron Mooy. Van Marwijk hasn’t had long to get the Aussies into shape after previous coach Ange Postecoglou quit after securing qualification. Rogic’s ability to create and help the striker will be of huge importance to a team who has only escaped the group stage once. However, Rogic can be inconsistent when playing for his country. Mooy, who has had a good season with Huddersfield, will look to start attacks from deep. Captain Mile Jedinak is a reliable penalty taker and is hard working, winning the ball back and supporting the defence whilst his defensive midfield partner Mooy gets forward. Jedinak somewhat helped steady the ship when he returned from injury, as Australia initially leaked goals in qualifying before his return. Matt Leckie and Bursaspor’s Aziz Behich are quick options in wide positions. 19-year-old Daniel Arzani became the youngest ever Australian player to make a World Cup squad. He was awarded the NAB young footballer of the year award in the A-League and recently scored in a 2-1 friendly win against Hungary. The Australians are a physical team and are defensively strong but their lack of goals maybe their undoing. Predictions France 3-0 Australia Peru 1-1 Denmark Denmark 2-1 Australia Peru 0-2 France France 2-1 Denmark Australia 1-1 Peru 1. France 9 (+6) 2. Denmark 4 (0) 3. Peru 2 (-2) 4. Australia 1 (-4) Share your thoughts about this preview feature article on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the chat with fellow football fans.
  5. So, the World Cup is just days away now and with the global spectacular event almost upon us, let’s have a look at the teams, groups and what might happen in Russia. Group B Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Iran On paper, this group should be easily predictable with Spain and Portugal cruising through. Spain Manager: Fernando Hierro Captain: Sergio Ramos World Ranking: 10 The 2010 champions have had not just their World crown took off of them, but their European crown as well. They will be eager to get both back starting this summer. They have an abundance of talent including the of the best goalkeepers in the world in David De Gea as well as David Silva, Andres Iniesta, Diego Costa, Sergio Ramos and Sergio Busquets. I expect them to ease through. Spain will look to play their possession-based game, as they always have done since Euro 2008. Isco will be crucial to Spain, playing as an advanced midfielder or a winger, supporting the striker who is likely to be Costa, as Alvaro Morata didn’t make the final team. As with many of the bigger teams, they may struggle to break down teams who like to sit back and absorb pressure but with the quality inside the team, they can beat anyone on their day. The creativity and skill of the Spanish team is one of the best at the tournament. Note – At the time of writing Julen Lopetegui was sacked as manager of Spain and Fernando Hierro appointed in his place. Portugal Manager: Fernando Santos Captain: Cristiano Ronaldo World Ranking: 4 The team that took Spain’s European crown are gearing up for another shot at World Cup glory with their best effort being a semi-final. With star player Cristiano Ronaldo having picked up his form at club level and the emergence of a good core of young talent such as Andre Gomes, Goncalo Guedes and Raphael Guerreiro, they should progress with their Iberian neighbours. Portugal are very strong defensively, as shown by several of their Euro 2016 wins, especially against Croatia and France where they were able to nullify the threat of the opposition. Bernardo Silva and Ricardo Quaresma will need to be up to their best, getting forward to support the front two. These two will most likely be Ronaldo and AC Milan’s Andre Silva. The wingers are crucial for Portugal as their creativity comes from their, trying to create chances for the front two. One weakness for Portugal is their lack of pace at the back. Jose Fonte, Pepe and Bruno Alves are all experienced but lack pace to keep up with faster strikers. Morocco Manager: Hervé Renard Captain: Medhi Benatia World Ranking: 41 Morocco have qualified for the first time in 20 years. They have two very good players in the midfield in Southampton’s Sofiane Boufal and Ajax’s Hakim Ziyech who are key creators in the team. They have the experience of Mbark Boussoufa and captain Mehdi Benatia. Roman Saiss also had a great year in the Championship with Wolves. This could be a break out tournament for youngsters Sofyan Amrabat and Achraf Hakimi. Morocco have a strong midfield with ex Aston Villa player Karim El Ahmadi protecting the defense whilst Boussoufa will be a key factor with his range of passing. Younes Belhanda will push up from midfield to support the front three. They will aim to play direct, down the middle or to the wings. They have a talented squad but with Spain and Portugal in their group, reaching the knockout stage may seem a stretch too far. Iran Manager: Carlos Queiroz Captain: Masoud Sojaei World Ranking: 37 Iran qualified top of their qualifying group with comfortable ease but they have not been able to transfer that success to the World Cup. They have been eliminated in the group stages in 1998, 2006 and 2014 and I can’t see anything different happening here. They have two goalscorers they can count on though, in Sardar Azmoun and Reza Ghoochannejhad as well as AZ regular Alireza Jahanbakhsh in midfield. Jahanbakhsh plays on the wing for Iran and is the main creative outlet, looking to take on his man and supply for the striker. They are good defensively, helped by their slightly defensive set up. They will keep one midfielder sitting deep to protect the back four, the man to do this job being experienced midfielder Omid Ebrahimi. This might mean they have to sacrifice goalscoring, in order to stay in games. They only scored 10 goals in the final round of qualifying, compared to Group B winners Japan’s 17. This was also shown in a late friendly where they barely managed to defeat Lithuania 1-0. Their lack of goalscoring and the difficulty of the group will be the main reasons why they are unlikely to reach the round of 16 for the first time. Predictions Spain and Portugal to progress Spain 1-1 Portugal Morocco 1-0 Iran Portugal 2-0 Morocco Iran 0-2 Spain Spain 3-1 Morocco Iran 1-2 Portugal 1. Spain 7 (+4) 2. Portugal 7 (+3) 3. Morocco 3 (-3) 4. Iran 0 (-4) Share your thoughts about this preview feature article on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the chat with fellow football fans.
  6. So, the World Cup is just days away now and with the global spectacular event almost upon us, let’s have a look at the teams, groups and what might happen in Russia. Group A Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay Russia Manager: Stanislav Cherchesov Captain: Igor Akinfeev World Ranking: 70 The opening match of the World Cup takes place in the Luzhniki Stadium between Russia and Saudi Arabia. The hosts do have some decent players in CSKA’s Aleksandr Golovin and striker Fedor Smolov, but their ageing defence is a worry. Alan Dzagoev is a threat in midfield, playing in a No.10 position behind the striker but he is generally allowed to roam free around the oppositions half, bringing the ball forward and helping support Smolov, whilst Golovin will help support both as they press the opposition. Golovin is also a good free kick taker. If the threat of Dzagoev is negated, then Russia will resort to direct play from the centre backs or wing backs. The wide players mainly being the experienced pair of Aleksandr Samedov and former Chelsea player Yuri Zhirkov. If this comes to fruition, then it may well play into the oppositions hands with only Smolov on his own up front to chase the defenders down. This might hand the opposing team the chance to come forward. The lack of goals from strikers Smolov and Artem Dzyuba at international level are a problem and may hinder them from progressing. Saudi Arabia Manager: Juan Antonio Pizzi Captain: Osama Hawsawi World Ranking: 67 Saudi Arabia boast one of the top goalscorers in the entirety of World Cup qualifying in Mohammad Al-Sahlawi, but they have only made the knockout stage once. I also think they don’t have enough quality in the squad to get beyond either Uruguay or Egypt. Juan Antonio Pizzi has his work cut out to get through the group and has had little time to prepare as he was only appointed in November. Midfielder Taisir Al Jassim will look to create chances from the heart of midfield, getting forward from a deep position into an attacking midfielder when the Saudis sustain pressure, in a similar role to that of Alan Dzagoev. Pizzi sets the team up to counter attack. This tactic may seem effective, but they might not have the required quality to be able to progress. Uruguay Manager: Óscar Tabárez Captain: Diego Godin World Ranking: 14 Uruguay look good bets to finish top of the group, especially with the strike force of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. They also have an influx of talented midfielders such as Matias Vecino, Lucas Torreira, Nahito Nandez, Rodrigo Bentacur and Federico Valverde. Jose Gimenez and Diego Godin form a formidable central defensive partnership and know each other well as they both play for Atletico Madrid. They have been known to play a direct style of play and look to use Cavani and Suarez’s ability to get in behind the defence. Their quality in attack is almost certain to help them reach the knockout stage, having two goalscorers, not just the one. Central midfielder Bentacur is deployed as a winger and likes to get forward to support the two frontmen. The creative ability of Vecino and Torreira will be crucial into helping them break down teams who like to sit back and absorb pressure like Saudi Arabia. One to watch out for is 21-year-old Celta Vigo forward Maxi Gomez, who scored 17 goals in La Liga last season. Egypt Manager: Héctor Cúper Captain: Essam El-Hadary World Ranking: 45 Egypt’s standout player is obviously Mohamed Salah who recently picked up the PFA Player of the Year award for 2018. Sam Morsy has had a great year with Wigan as well and attacking midfielder Abdallah Said scored three goals in qualifying and will supply for the striker, usually Salah or Al Ahly’s Marwan Mohsen. Mohamed Elneny of Arsenal will be key, helping from a deeper midfield position, eventually getting forward to help support attacks. They should have enough to get through. Essam El-Hadary looks set to beat Faryd Mondragon’s record of becoming the oldest player to play at a World Cup. Salah is currently in a race against time to return for The Pharaohs’ first game, their chances of making it through will be a lot bigger if he can. Predictions Russia 1-1 Saudi Arabia Egypt 0-2 Uruguay Uruguay 3-0 Saudi Arabia Russia 1-1 Egypt Uruguay 2-1 Russia Saudi Arabia 0-1 Egypt 1. Uruguay 9 (+6) 2. Egypt 4 (-1) 3. Russia 2 (-1) 4. Saudi Arabia 1 (-4) Share your thoughts about this preview feature article on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the chat with fellow football fans.
  7. Accrington Stanley Position: 1st (Champions, promoted to League One) Grade: A* Champions and promotion to the third tier for the first time in their history. Also the fact that they’ve got one of the smallest budgets in the league makes this an even better achievement. Helped by an amazing run that saw them win 18 of their last 23 games. Billy Kee’s 25 goals this season made him the top scorer in League Two. Couple that with other good performances by key players as Kayden Jackson, Sean McConville, Seamus Conneely and Mark Hughes plus the amazing team spirit they have and they have had pretty much the perfect season. Barnet Position: 23rd (Relegated to the National League) Grade: F Getting relegated out of the Football League is horrendous for any club. However, this is the 2nd time in six seasons Barnet have suffered this fate. A decent start was washed away after a 12 game winless run sent them crashing into the bottom two. They never climbed out of it from then onwards. The signings of Shaq Coulthirst and Dave Tarpey, plus keeping John Akinde were a good sign for the season but Akinde and Tarpey would be out for most of the season with injury. Alex Nicholls contributed well but it was not enough to save The Bees from another relegation. Cambridge United Position: 12th Grade: C After almost making the play-offs the previous season, this feels like a bit of a step backwards for The U’s. They made some good summer signings in Gary Deegan and Jabo Ibehre and I was expecting them to push on a bit and try and make the play-offs. Shaun Derry resigned in February with the team 14th in the table. Joe Dunne was placed in caretaker charge and was eventually placed in permanent charge after a good run of form late in the season helped them finish in the top half. The U’s need to aim for the top 7 next season. Carlisle United Position: 10th Grade: D After the agony of going out in the play-offs last season, Carlisle dropped a few positions and they are expecting a summer of change with Keith Curle leaving the Brunton Park after almost four years. The Cumbrians did not make many summer signings with notable ones including Kelvin Etuhu and Richie Bennett who scored 15 for Barrow in the National League in the 16-17 season. They never had consistent enough form throughout the season to sustain a real challenge for the play-offs. A decent FA Cup run to the third round was the only real highlight in an otherwise uneventful season. Cheltenham Town Position: 17th Grade: C Survived comfortably with a small budget. Made improvements on the 16-17 season and with Mo Eisa, they have unearthed a gem. His 23 goals, second only to Billy Kee in the scoring charts, made him one of the standout players of the season. However, they had one of the worst defences in the league this season with 73 goals conceded. Something Gary Johnson has already tried to cover for next season, with the signing of Johnny Mullins from Luton. Chesterfield Position: 24th (Relegated to the National League) Grade: U Yes, it was that bad I couldn’t even give them an F or G. The club is a mess from top to bottom and were almost super-glued to 24th place all season long. The only team to not climb above 40 points, the worst defence in the league, the most losses, the worst goal difference and finally the least points. The Spireites’ season couldn’t have gone any worse. In the summer, I thought Chesterfield had bought well and despite how bad Ashley Carson and Dave Allen run the club, I expected them to be at least mid table. Gary Caldwell was sacked after only eight games and club legend Jack Lester couldn’t save the sinking ship. Martin Allen has been assigned to help them get back into the Football League. Colchester United Position: 13th Grade: D Another team who finished just outside the play-offs in 2016-17, finishing a bit lower this time around. The U’s occupied a play-off spot on two occasions this season, but otherwise it was a quiet season. Three wins from their last thirteen ensured they finished well outside the top seven. Sammie Szmodics was the standout player with 12 goals. He is sure to be a future star. Former Sunderland striker Mikael Mandron also had a good season notching 10 goals. Like Cambridge, play-offs must be the aim. Coventry City Position: 6th (Promoted to League One via the play-offs) Grade: A With the budget they had and the squad at their disposal, Coventry should have really gone up automatically but they got into the play-offs and proceeded to win them after getting past Notts County in the semi-finals and Exeter in the final. Despite all the trouble at board level over the past few seasons, Mark Robins has done a terrific job to steer the ship in the right direction and back to League One. Talisman Marc McNulty bagged 23 goals on their way to the play-offs and with a young core coming through the ranks, with players such as Tom Bayliss and Jordan Shipley; does the future finally look bright for the Sky Blues? Crawley Town Position: 14th Grade: C Harry Kewell did a brilliant job in his first season in management. It looked worrying for Crawley at the start of the season. The team struggled to score and wins and points just didn’t come. But a great run of form from December onwards helped them up into mid-table security where they stayed for the rest of the season. Key performers for The Reds were Jimmy Smith and Enzio Boldewijn who both scored 10 whilst Charlton loanee Karl Ahearne-Grant (signed in January) scored 9 goals in 15 appearances. Crewe Alexandra Position: 15th Grade: D At one point, Crewe looked in serious danger of dropping into the relegation zone, but a burst of form at the back end of the season helped them stay clear of the bottom two. Crucial performers over the season include Chris Porter and Charlie Kirk. Several youth players have broke through into the first team and a lot of them have signed new deals to remain at the club with The Alex hoping to have a good go at the play-offs next season. Exeter City Position: 4th Grade: C Once again they got to Wembley and once again they lost against a team who had been relegated the previous season and who have poor ownership. Paul Tisdale built on last season’s near promotion miss by once again being involved in the promotion race, once again qualifying for the play-offs. The Grecians started the season off well, topping the table for most of the first eight games and after, retained a play-off place for most of the season. They defeated Lincoln over two legs before another Wembley disaster and with that the Paul Tisdale era ended. He had been in charge for twelve years. He eventually moved on to Milton Keynes with ex City player Matt Taylor taking the reigns at St James Park. Forest Green Rovers Position: 21st Grade: C Forest Green achieved success staying in the Football League in their first season out of non-league. However, some might have expected more from them. Christian Doidge carried on from where he left of last season, scoring 20 goals and finishing 5th in the scoring charts. An influx of players in January and a good run of form in February, helped FGR avoid becoming the first club to go straight back down to the National League. Grimsby Town Position: 18th Grade: E It was almost curtains for Grimsby but three wins from their last four helped them keep their heads above water. After Matchday 21, The Mariners sat in a 11th placed but went on an abysmal run of 20 games without a win, a run that dropped the club into 21st placed. The bad run cost Russell Slade his job and he was sacked after a 3-0 away defeat to Crawley. Michael Jolley took over and led Town to safety after crucial victories against Chesterfield and Swindon. Lincoln City Position: 7th Grade: B A fantastic first season back in the Football League for Lincoln in which they finished in the play-offs and won the Checkatrade Trophy. Sincil Bank was a formidable place for opposition teams and they used their physical style to good effect. Matt Green and Matt Rhead were crucial in getting the Imps into the top seven in which they just missed out to Exeter. They will hope to go one better next season. Luton Town Position: 2nd (Promoted to League One) Grade: A The Hatters have had a brilliant season and have deservedly been promoted with their style of fast attacking football bringing great rewards for a team who looked certain of promotion. The signings of James Collins and Luke Berry added to the impressive squad, meaning they had three of the top nine goalscorers from 2016-17 (including Danny Hylton). They blew teams away including an 8-2 opening day win against Yeovil, a 7-1 win against Stevenage, a 7-0 win against Cambridge and a 5-0 win away at Swindon. Their grade though doesn’t hit A* level as they should have quite easily won the title. Mansfield Town Position: 8th Grade: D The grade given might be surprising, but with all the money spent last summer and with the good signings they made, Mansfield couldn’t even get into the play-offs, never mind the automatics. They failed. It took a while before they looked like they had gelled fully but when that looked like it had happened, Evans left for Peterborough. Swindon manager David Flitcroft was appointed and things went downhill with them winning only two of their last twelve games. Morecambe Position: 22nd Grade: C Morecambe once again defied the odds to stay up, but this time it went to the last game of the season where a point at Coventry was enough to keep them in League Two. The Shrimps went winless in their last nine and it almost cost them dear. On loan Wigan striker, Callum Lang stood out, scoring 10 goals. Jim Bentley has worked a miracle once again. Newport County Position: 11th Grade: B A massive improvement on the last few seasons for The Exiles. After narrowly escaping relegation the last two seasons (both 22nd placed finishes) this season was a lot quieter for Newport. An excellent FA Cup run helped in which they beat Leeds United and drew at home to Tottenham. The club went unbeaten in their first four games and were in and around the play-offs for the first few months. A bad run of form after Christmas, saw them win only twice in fourteen games and also meant that they would not extend their season. The 11th placed finish was a huge step forward for a club who badly needed stability. Notts County Position: 5th Grade: B The first full season under the stewardship of Kevin Nolan and Alan Hardy, saw Notts make a vast improvement on the previous two seasons, finishing comfortably in the play-offs. The season saw a good FA Cup run too, in which The Magpies made it to the fourth round. Notts made the play-offs, a great achievement but their inability to sign an injury-free quick goalscorer in January meant they missed out on an automatic promotion spot, one, which they held for fourth months. Whilst some decisions went against Notts in the play-off semi-final against Coventry at crucial points, we did not do enough over the two legs to warrant a place at Wembley. With an enthusiastic owner and a bright young manager at the helm though, the club looks to be on the up. Port Vale Position: 20th Grade: E A year after dropping out of League One, Vale nearly dropped out of League Two. An awful start to the season where they lost six of their first eight games cost Michael Brown his job. Former club legend Neil Aspin came in and rescued The Valliants from certain doom. They finished 20th, one point clear of the relegation zone (although they were safe with three games to go) after winning only twice in 2018. Stevenage Position: 16th Grade: D Yet another team who just missed out on the play-offs in the 16-17 season finishing a lot lower this time around. Stevenage had one of the best strike forces in the league in Danny Newton and Matt Godden but it never clicked for them and they spent the entire season in mid-table. Newton did still manage to score 14 goals but it was not enough to take Boro any higher. Former club striker Dino Maamria replaced Darren Sarll near the end of the season. Youth players have stood out for Stevenage this season with Ben Wilmot and Mark McKee breaking through into the first team. Swindon Town Position: 9th Grade: D Swindon had a big budget but eventually failed to reach the play-offs. The Robins started off well but there poor home form meant consistency was hard to find. Flitcroft left to join Mansfield in March and was eventually replaced by Phil Brown. By this point, the play-offs were all but gone. Key players hadn’t stepped up as much as they would have hoped. £350,000 was spent on Kaiyne Woolery but he only scored four goals. A leaky defence was also a big issue as they conceded 65 goals, more than any other team in the top half. Wycombe Wanderers Position: 3rd (Promoted to League One) Grade: A* Gareth Ainsworth guided Wycombe to promotion on a relatively small budget beating teams like Coventry, Mansfield and Swindon, all of whom had a lot more to spend. This also comes only four years after just escaping relegation to non-league. Adebayo Akinfenwa had his best season, scoring 17 goals and leading The Chairboys to a 3rd placed finish. They scored the second most amount of goals in the league (79) and had a tendency to score late goals to claim vital points. All in all, a brilliant season. Yeovil Town Position: 19th Grade: D Another season, another relegation avoided for Yeovil. Darren Way managed to get The Glovers over the line despite conceding the joint-third highest goals in the league. They recovered from their opening day 8-2 thrashing at the hands of Luton and good runs of form in December and again at the start of February helped push Yeovil away from the bottom two. Francois Zoko’s 13 goals were massive in keeping the team away from the relegation zone. More solid perfomers included Southampton loanee Olufela Olomola, Omar Sowunmi and Ryan Dickson. Share your thoughts about this feature article on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the chat with fellow football fans.
  8. We are approaching crunch time in League Two and wins are a must for every team in the division. This weekend, nearly all the promotion contenders face the relegation strugglers. Luton face Barnet, Notts face Chesterfield, Wycombe face Port Vale, Mansfield face Forest Green and Coventry face Grimsby. Carlisle United vs Cambridge United The Cumbrians come into this one six games unbeaten and are only six points off the play-offs. However, I do not believe they will end up in the play-offs since they haven’t built up enough consistency over the whole season. Cambridge are winless in four and are probably the only team guaranteed to not go either way. They are not in danger of relegation but aren’t challenging the play-offs any time soon. Prediction: Carlisle United 1-2 Cambridge United Coventry City vs Grimsby Town Coventry are on a fantastic run of five games unbeaten with crucial points picked up against fellow promotion contenders Mansfield, Wycombe and Luton. The Sky Blues are timing their run to absolute perfection. Grimsby’s revival under Michael Jolley hasn’t got going yet and last weekend’s Lincolnshire Derby loss to Lincoln will be a big kick in the fish and chips. They have not won since December 9th and are on a run of 17 games without a win. Prediction: Coventry City 3-0 Grimsby Town Crawley Town vs Cheltenham Town Despite Crawley’s revival, they’ve hit a stumbling block recently with a run of four games without a win. However, I must give Harry Kewell huge credit because at the start of the season a Crawley goal was rarer than a flying pig and they looked relegation certs. The Robins have won once in six but don’t look in danger of relegation. A 3-0 triumph in their last away game at Swindon was very impressive to say the least. Prediction: Crawley Town 2-1 Cheltenham Town Exeter City vs Swindon Town A big match in the promotion race. One which could push the winner further into the automatic promotion battle. Exeter got back to winning ways in midweek with a 1-0 win against Port Vale. However, The Grecians haven’t won at home since January 31st, something they will need to improve if they are to grasp an automatic promotion place. Phil Brown got off to a winning start as Swindon boss with a 3-1 win at Cambridge. It’s a good appointment for Swindon with the former Hull manager getting Southend promoted in 2015. Prediction: Exeter City 1-1 Swindon Town Forest Green Rovers vs Mansfield Town Forest Green have up and down and everywhere. They’ve been in and out of the relegation zone throughout the season. They will go on a bad run of form then a good run of form. They were five unbeaten but recently have lost three in a row. Since David Flitcroft took charge of Mansfield, they have drawn all their games which could be bad for them as at this stage they need to turn draws into wins. Steve Evans leaving for Peterborough has hurt them slightly. Prediction: Forest Green Rovers 1-1 Mansfield Town Morecambe vs Lincoln City Morecambe have started to edge away from the bottom two after a run of only one loss from their last six. They have beaten promotion hopefuls Wycombe and Exeter in that time. Lincoln have the boost coming from their derby win against Grimsby. They also won 3-1 in their last away game against Chesterfield. If Lincoln don’t go up this season, which I don’t think they will, they have a great chance next season. Prediction: Morecambe 2-2 Lincoln City Newport County vs Crewe Alexandra Newport have been on a five-game unbeaten run, although four of them have been draws. They picked up a good point at home last time out against Luton. They have drawn their last three home games Crewe won a big relegation six pointer in midweek with a 3-1 win over Forest Green. Their recent away record is good with four points from their last to trips. Prediction: Newport County 0-0 Crewe Alexandra Stevenage vs Colchester United Stevenage changed manager this week with Darren Sarll sacked and being replaced by Dino Maamria. The former Nuneaton manager is an ex Boro player and will be hoping to turn around a run of form which has seen them win only two of their last ten games. Colchester still have an outside chance of the play-offs, but their hopes are fading fast with them winless in five. It will take another winning run similar to last season to break into the top seven. Prediction: Stevenage 1-0 Colchester United Wycombe Wanderers vs Port Vale Could this be Wycombe’s year? Two successive away wins after pushed them into the top three. In contrast, The Chairboys are winless in three at Adams Park. Neil Aspin’s start as Vale manager went well but they are still yet to win a game in 2018. Could this be what sends them down? They, like Grimsby need wins, and fast. Prediction: Wycombe Wanderers 3-2 Port Vale Luton Town vs Barnet A League Two game on TV! Hooray for football! Luton have seemed to hit a sticky patch of form at the worst possible time. Winless in five (four of them draws) and a key loss to Accrington who subsequently, replaced them at the top of League Two, The Hatters haven’t been the same demolition unit they were at the start of the season. Danny Hylton’s goal drought hasn’t helped. Well, well, well. Where do we start with Barnet? Another month, another manager. Graham Westley out and who in? Guess who: Martin Allen. He is back for a fifth spell in charge with The Bees’ chances of avoiding relegation becoming thinner by the week. Prediction: Luton Town 3-1 Barnet Chesterfield vs Notts County (Sunday) ANOTHER LEAGUE TWO GAME ON TV. Yes, you did read that correctly. Chesterfield come into this one having lost 5 of their last 7 league games, including 4 of their last 5 home games. The Spireites need point quickly if they are to climb above the dotted line and to safety. Notts performed well last Saturday and put in a solid display despite the 99th minute shenanigans. We have got back to doing what we were doing at the start of the season and we have looked a lot better this month. Saying that, Notts don’t like the TV cameras. Prediction: Chesterfield 1-2 Notts County Share your thoughts about this preview feature article on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the chat with fellow football fans.
  9. We are approaching the business end of the season and there is still plenty to fight for at both ends of table in League Two. The biggest game of the weekend comes from Kenilworth Road where top of the table Luton take on 2nd placed Accrington. The Hatters’ lead at the top has been cut to one point and this match might be the one to decide who finishes 1st and who finishes 2nd. Chesterfield vs Lincoln City These two need the points for very different reasons. Chesterfield need the points to stay in the division and are five points from safety. However, they got back to winning ways last time out with a victory at home to Swindon. Lincoln need the points to keep up the play-offs and hopefully for The Imps, get back into them. They are winless in three, but they rescued a point on Tuesday with a 1-1 draw at Mansfield. Prediction: Chesterfield 1-1 Lincoln City Coventry City vs Barnet After a poor run of form which saw them drop to 9th, The Sky Blues got back to winning ways with a 1-0 away win at promotion rivals Wycombe. This could be the result they need to kick in and make their way into the play-offs and maybe even the automatics. Could the great escape be on the for Barnet? They are six points off safety and got their first away win under Graham Westley with a 1-0 triumph at Colchester. However, I think Coventry will kick start their run into the play-off places with a win Prediction: Coventry City 3-0 Barnet Crawley Town vs Morecambe Crawley’s home form has been impeccable in the last few months. They have not lost at home since Boxing Day. Harry Kewell has turned his side from relegation contenders into outsiders for the play-offs. They come up against a Morecambe side who got an astonishing win away at promotion chasing Wycombe, even going 4-0 up. However, that is The Shrimps only win in their past eight and I see them struggling at the Broadfield Stadium. Prediction: Crawley Town 2-0 Morecambe Exeter City vs Carlisle United The Grecians have won their last two games and have games in hand in abundance. Winning most of these games could propel them into the top three. Carlisle have suddenly rose to 10th and are only three points off the play-offs, after four successive wins. However, The Cumbrians’ record away to promotion contenders this season isn’t great with them losing to Accrington, Coventry, Notts, Mansfield, Luton and Wycombe. Prediction: Exeter City 1-0 Carlisle United Forest Green Rovers vs Notts County FGR come into this one five games unbeaten and having won their past five home games. Bringing a lot of players in, in January has seemed to work for the Nailsworth based club in their fight against the drop. As a Notts fan, things have been very frustrating as of late with us being unable to go on an unbeaten run, not helped by us not finishing off teams despite numerous chances. However, our away record is not befitting of a promotion team and this could be our undoing here. Notts must get their act together in front of goal otherwise, we might not even make the play-offs. Prediction: Forest Green Rovers 2-1 Notts County Grimsby Town vs Port Vale Grimsby recently appointed Michael Jolley as their new manager with a clear statement that they believe he is the man to keep them up and then take them forward. However, he must turn around a winless run of 11 games with The Mariners sliding dangerously towards the drop zone. Vale are yet to win in 2018 and are on a 9-match winless run. They are 22nd, five points clear of 23rd placed Chesterfield. A win here for either side is crucial in this relegation six pointer. Prediction: Grimsby Town 1-0 Port Vale Luton Town vs Accrington Stanley Luton have hit a bit of a stumbling block this year with their lead at the top being cut each week. However, despite this, I expect Nathan Jones’ team to go up as champions. They are unbeaten in five. Accrington are on an amazing run with them losing only one of their past 12 games. They are unbeaten in seven, winning six and drawing one. Prediction: Luton Town 2-2 Accrington Stanley Mansfield Town vs Colchester United David Flitcroft recently took charge of Mansfield after Steve Evans left for Peterborough. The former Barnsley manager jumped ship from Swindon who were sat 7th at the time. His first game was a 1-1 draw with Lincoln on Tuesday with them conceding a late equaliser. Swindon fans say this became repetitive during his stay at The County Ground. Colchester have lost their last two, both 1-0 defeats, thus ending a streak of 5 games unbeaten. They are seven points off the play-offs with a game in hand Prediction: Mansfield Town 1-1 Colchester United Stevenage vs Crewe Alexandra When Stevenage came to Meadow Lane a few weeks ago, I honestly think they were one of the worst teams to visit the Lane this season. With no Matt Godden, they lacked a little in front of goal even with Danny Newton still in the team. It hasn’t been a good month for Crewe off the pitch but on it they finally picked up their first away win since Boxing Day with an impressive victory at Lincoln. They are six points clear of the relegation zone but have the third leakiest defence in the league, something they will need to change fi they are to escape the drop. Prediction: Stevenage 0-1 Crewe Alexandra Swindon Town vs Cheltenham Town After the departure of David Flitcroft to Mansfield, Matt Taylor took over as interim manager till the end of the season with The Robins still hoping to snatch a play-off or automatic promotion place. Despite their troubles at home during the first part of the season, Swindon have won all their home games in 2018. Cheltenham are winless in four but obtained two very good draws with Luton and Notts recently which will help them in the run in. Mo Eisa has helped them stay out of the relegation battle with 15 goals to his name this season. Prediction: Swindon Town 2-0 Cheltenham Town Wycombe Wanderers vs Cambridge United Despite them climbing into the automatics with frequent late goals in their games, Wycombe have slipped up recently with two successive home defeats to Morecambe and Coventry. Cambridge have had a good turn around under Joe Dunne with them winning their first three matches. A defeat to Accrington ended their run but The U’s picked up a good point at home to local rivals Luton last Saturday. Prediction: Wycombe Wanderers 2-2 Cambridge United Yeovil Town vs Newport County The Glovers come into this one, having lost their last two games. They are 8 points clear of the relegation zone. However, they have two games in hand and this could be crucial if they want to pull away from the relegation scrap. Newport are winless in seven, drawing their last three and have dropped off from the play-offs a little. This game needs to be used as the game which sees The Exiles get their play-off bid back on track. But at least they are not in the same position they were last season. Prediction: Yeovil Town 2-3 Newport County Share your thoughts about this preview feature article on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the chat with fellow football fans.
  10. In League One this Saturday, the game of the day comes at Greenhouse Meadow, where 1st placed Shrewsbury Town take on 4th placed Rotherham United. There is also a big game at the Keepmoat as Doncaster take on Fleetwood with both managers looking to start a run of results that will help them keep their jobs a little longer. AFC Wimbledon vs Bristol Rovers Wimbledon have slipped back into the bottom four after a run of four successive defeats and Neal Ardley has said that all the hard work he has put in would be undone if they are relegated. On the other hand, Bristol Rovers have lost only one of their last nine, winning four of their last five as they have recovered after losing Billy Bodin to Preston. The Pirates have pulled away from the relegation zone and have inched up into mid-table. Prediction: AFC Wimbledon 0-0 Bristol Rovers Doncaster Rovers vs Fleetwood Town A crucial game for both managers. Doncaster are winless in eight and they have dropped from 10th to 16th. Donny have drawn six of these eight games and still haven’t won in 2018. I had Fleetwood to finish 2nd in my pre-season predictions for League One. How badly wrong have I been? They have lost their last four games. They have only won three of their last sixteen games. For a team that looked like play-off contenders at the start of the season, The Cod Army are slipping dangerously close to the bottom four. Prediction: Doncaster Rovers 2-1 Fleetwood Town Gillingham vs Walsall Steve Lovell has done a brilliant job at the Gills. Before the season, I had them nailed down as relegation certainties and I was being proved right until the former Bournemouth striker took the reigns at Priestfield. They have lost only one of their last eleven games and they sit comfortably in mid-table. Walsall’s form has picked up this month with two wins and a draw, a run of results which has seen them move clear of the relegation zone and up into mid-table. Walsall were another team I had predicted for relegation at the start of the season but Jon Whitney has proved me wrong Prediction: Gillingham 2-1 Walsall Milton Keynes vs Charlton Athletic Dan Micciche is yet to pick up a point as manager so far and they are winless in six, losing their last four. The squad is decent but Robbie Neilson didn’t get enough out of the team, which resulted in him losing his job. A revival is needed quickly to spare MK a second relegation in three seasons. Karl Robinson will want to win against his former side but off the back of two successive postponements, The Addicks haven’t won in their last three, which has seen them fall out of the play-off places. Prediction: Milton Keynes 1-1 Charlton Athletic Oxford United vs Plymouth Argyle Oxford, who have lost their last two and have slipped to 13th, have still not found a new manager after the sacking of Pep Clotet. Sol Campbell was recently in talks with the U’s after Frank Lampard turned the job down. They have also been given permission to talk to Everton youth coach David Unsworth. Plymouth have been on an exceptional run which has seen them go from bottom of the league to 8th. This has seen them go from relegation certainties to play-off contenders Prediction: Oxford United 2-2 Plymouth Argyle Scunthorpe United vs Northampton Town The Iron have been n a run of one win in seven but they have retained their place in the play-offs and look set for another go at promotion to the Championship after being eliminated in the play-offs last season by Millwall. Northampton are only two points above the relegation zone going into this game. A short burst of form propelled them out of the bottom four but two home losses on the bounce have dragged them back into the mire. Prediction: Scunthorpe United 3-1 Northampton Town Shrewsbury Town vs Rotherham United Shrewsbury regained top spot in mid-week after a 2-1 win away at Fleetwood and with Wigan slipping up in the past two games, it is a great chance for The Shrews to pull away at the top. Paul Warne has got Rotherham going and The Millers are on a 12 game unbeaten run, 9 of them wins. They have also free-scoring with them bagging 22 goals in that 12 game sequence. Prediction: Shrewsbury Town 1-2 Rotherham United Southend United vs Portsmouth The Shrimpers have been revived under Chris Powell and are four games unbeaten. They have won both of their home games under the former Charlton manager. Pompey have hit a bad patch and have only one win in their last seven, seeing them slip away from the play-offs. Inconsistency is the South Coast clubs’ biggest problem with them winning and losing 14 games this season with only four draws. Prediction: Southend United 2-1 Portsmouth Share your thoughts about this preview feature article on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the chat with fellow football fans.
  11. In League Two this weekend there are big games for teams at both ends of the table. There is a promotion clash between Exeter City and Mansfield Town, and a relegation six pointer between Morecambe and Forest Green Rovers. Barnet vs Accrington Stanley The Bees come into this game having won only 3 of their last 25 games, a run of form which has seen them bottom of the table since mid-December. They got their first win under Graham Westley last Saturday against Notts County but didn’t follow that up on Tuesday, as they lost 2-0 away at Yeovil. Accrington are on a really good run of form and have a four point advantage to the play-offs. They have won their last four and look in good place to earn a first promotion to League One. I really can’t see this being a hard game for Stanley Prediction: Barnet 0-2 Accrington Stanley Cambridge United vs Grimsby Town Cambridge are in a mess. A takeover has just taken place but Shaun Derry recently resigned and the U’s are on the lookout for a new manager. They earned a decent point at home to Lincoln and followed that up with a late win over Chesterfield on Tuesday. Grimsby also have no manager having sacked Russell Slade. The Mariners are slipping ever closer into the relegation dogfight and might want to get on with appointing a new boss before they slip any further. However, I expect these two physical sides to cancel each other out. Prediction: Cambridge United 0-0 Grimsby Town Carlisle United vs Chesterfield When I saw Notts play Carlisle on Tuesday, I thought the Cumbrians were a very poor side, despite Notts’ best efforts to make them look like Atletico Madrid. Carlisle have struggled for inconsistency this season and have sat in mid-table, virtually all season. Chesterfield need the points to stay in the division and were dealt a blow when they lost late on, on Tuesday to Cambridge. But they have goals in them under Jack Lester and they have crucially kept hold of Kristian Dennis Prediction: Carlisle United 1-2 Chesterfield Cheltenham Town vs Wycombe Wanderers In Mo Eisa, Cheltenham have the most inform striker in the division. He has scored nine in his last fourteen games. They destroyed Port Vale 5-1 last Saturday at Whaddon Road but followed that up with a 1-0 loss to Lincoln. Wycombe are the form side in the division and seem to keep grabbing late winners lately, with goals against Carlisle and Swindon keeping them in the top three. The Chairboys are unbeaten in their last seven, winning five but trips to Cheltenham have proved difficult for some of the promotion contenders this season. Prediction: Cheltenham Town 1-1 Wycombe Wanderers Crawley Town vs Lincoln City Crawley are an example of a team of what can happen when you give a manager enough time to turn things around. They are one of the form sides currently and play some very impressive football and have won 7 of their last 10 games. Lincoln’s chase for the play-offs has stuttered recently due to, too many draws. In the seven games they’ve played since the start of the year, four of them have been drawn. Prediction: Crawley Town 2-1 Lincoln City Crewe Alexandra vs Colchester United After the events of the past week and with their form getting worse, it’s fair to say Crewe are a mess. They have lost five of their last six, twenty of their last twenty-eight. They are my favourites to go down and their bad run of form doesn’t look like stopping anytime soon. Colchester are unbeaten in their last five but have not won away since Boxing Day. However I fully expect the U’s to get that win here and push them further into the play-off picture. Prediction: Crewe 2-4 Colchester Exeter City vs Mansfield Town This game is a massive promotion six-pointer. This is Exeter’s fifth game in six against a fellow promotion contender with games against Coventry, Notts, Luton and Wycombe resulting in a mixed bag of results. The Grecians are also unbeaten in their last three at home. Mansfield are on a good run of form and having put five past Newport on Tuesday, will be full of confidence. However, I can see these two cancelling each other out. Prediction: Exeter City 1-1 Mansfield Town Morecambe vs Forest Green Rovers A big six pointer down near the foot of League Two. 21st vs 20th. The Shrimps are winless in their last five, drawing three and losing two. They sit four points clear of the relegation zone. Forest Green sit five points clear of the relegation zone and have won their last two, but haven’t won away since October. Prediction: Morecambe 0-0 Forest Green Newport County vs Notts County Newport’s FA Cup adventure ended at Wembley against Tottenham but The Exiles look like they have been suffering an FA Cup hangover, having lost 5-0 on Tuesday. This means they have lost their last three games but all were away from home. Their home form has been very strong this season and they will hope to bounce back with a win here. Notts got back to winning ways on Tuesday against Carlisle but it wasn’t convincing and having lost Mason Bennett to injury, we lack a pacey striker. Notts’ away form has been woefully bad this season having won only five and dropping points to teams lower down the table. With a virus spreading through the team, it has affected the players. Notts need to win all three games in the coming week but sadly I don’t see us winning here. Prediction: Newport County 1-1 Notts County Stevenage vs Yeovil Town Boro are winless in their last four but I don’t see them dropping into the relegation battle. Their strike-force is one of the best in the league, in my opinion, and they have underachieved for me. Yeovil are on a good run of form, unbeaten in their last four and keeping four clean sheets in a row. However three of these wins have come at Huish Park and they haven’t won away since Boxing Day. Prediction: Stevenage 1-1 Yeovil Town Swindon Town vs Port Vale Swindon are in the thick of the promotion race and sit in sixth, five points off the automatics and two points clear of 8th placed Exeter. They have had a mixed run of results against promotion contenders in recent weeks, beating Mansfield, drawing to Lincoln but losing to Accrington and Wycombe. Vale had a good run of form before the turn of the year but in 2018, they have not won a game yet, they are winless in seven and are slipping ever-closer back into the relegation scrap. Prediction: Swindon Town 3-1 Port Vale Share your thoughts about this preview feature article on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the chat with fellow football fans.
  12. This weekend in League One sees the big fixture come from Sixfields as Northampton Town take on MK Dons in the derby. This is also a relegation six pointer as MK sit 19th on 30 points whilst Northampton are 21st with 29. There is also an intriguing match at the New York Stadium as both Rotherham United and Portsmouth look to move into the play-off positions. There aren’t many standout fixtures, but this will be a crucial matchday as teams look to bring players in whilst the transfer window is still open. AFC Wimbledon vs Blackpool The Dons’ form has picked up in recent matches with a win and two draws from their last three games including two successive clean sheets. However, despite this, they’re the second lowest scorers in the division, something they will need to address quickly if they’re to avoid the drop back to the fourth tier. Despite being in and around the play-offs for the first few months of the season, Blackpool’s form has dipped of late and they have dropped to 16th after only two wins in their last fifteen games. Also, the news coming out of Bloomfield Road this week is that Karl Oyston’s son Sam has been appointed Chief Executive of the club. Just when the Oystons looked like they were selling the club, things get worse. Prediction: AFC Wimbledon 1-0 Blackpool Bristol Rovers vs Bradford City Despite going through half the season with no draws, the Pirates have drawn three of their last four games. Rovers have also won 8 of their 13 home games but inconsistency in the team is a factor. Bradford’s amazing home record from last season has vanished with them losing seven times at Valley Parade in 2017/18. However, their away form reads for good reading with them losing only one of their last six games away from home. The Bantams have hit the net in the last ten successive league games. Prediction: Bristol Rovers 2-2 Bradford City Charlton Athletic vs Walsall Charlton had a bit of a dip in form over the festive period, with not one win in December. But back-to-back 1-0 wins has kept them in the play-off places. This could be the up-turn in form The Addicks need but the loss of Ricky Holmes is big and leaves a big void empty at left midfield. Walsall got back to winning ways last weekend against Oxford and it could be the boost in confidence they need and with Erhun Oztumer, they have a player who can swing a game in the way of The Saddlers. Their away form has been mixed this season with them playing 12, winning three, drawing three and losing six. However, they’ve failed to win in their last three away games. Prediction: Charlton Athletic 2-1 Walsall Fleetwood Town vs Blackburn Rovers I had Fleetwood to finish 2nd at the start of the season but it hasn’t gone to plan for the Cod Army who sit 11th in the table. They might have won three of their last four games but they’ve all been away from home and they haven’t won at Highbury since late October. This squad, for me, had so much promise at the start of the season but it hasn’t shown on the pitch. lackburn have been in unstoppable form as of late. They’re unbeaten in their last 15 games and have just come off the back of a massive 3-1 win against promotion rivals Shrewsbury. They have all the confidence in the world going into this game and having signed Paul Downing permanently and made the quality loan additions of Adam Armstrong and Jack Payne, this Rovers side looks a force to be reckoned with. Prediction: Fleetwood Town 1-3 Blackburn Rovers Northampton Town vs Milton Keynes A big relegation six pointer or is it too early to call it that? Northampton have won back-to-back games with a 3-1 success at home to Southend, backed up by a 2-1 win away at Bradford. Could this finally be, Hasselbaink’s plan coming together to try and pull The Cobblers away from the relegation zone. They have also recently captured Gbola Ariybi on loan from Nottingham Forest who spent the first half of the season on loan at The Cobblers’ opponents this weekend. On the other hand, Robbie Neilson’s men have not been in such good form with them winning only two of their last sixteen league games. MK have not won away from home since the end of September. This mixed bag of form has seen them slip dangerously close to the relegation zone. Prediction: Northampton Town 2-1 Milton Keynes Oxford United vs Bury Oxford’s home form has improved since they lost 7-0 to Wigan. They won 3-1 against MK and 1-0 against Blackpool at the Kassam Stadium. This is a good chance for the U’s to get closer to the play-off places. Everything seems to be going wrong for Bury. Chris Lucketti’s short spell in charge ended in mid-week where he was sacked. The team had failed to win in his eight games at the helm. Lucketti’s reign saw the team draw his first game in charge 0-0 with Northampton before going on to lose seven successive games, in which The Shakers didn’t score in any of them meaning Lucketti hadn’t even seen his team score. They have only scored nineteen goals all season and have a measly 17 points. Relegation looks a certainty. Prediction: Oxford United 3-0 Bury Peterborough United vs Oldham Athletic Peterborough’s form has been dipping up and down all season. They won three games in a row in December before losing to MK and drawing their last two. They recently bought in Joe Ward from Woking and George Cooper from Crewe in a bid to aid their play-off push. Oldham have a lot of good news recently. Their proposed takeover is moving ever closer, Kean Bryan has extended his loan from Manchester City till the end of the season and they have completed the permanent signing of Jack Byrne. This might be the boost The Latics need after a run of seven games without a win. Prediction: Peterborough United 1-1 Oldham Athletic Plymouth Argyle vs Wigan Athletic After a woeful start, Plymouth have found their rhythm, moving from 24th to 13th. However influential midfielder Toumani Diagouraga has departed to Fleetwood. But they’re on a good run of form, unbeaten in their last seven. Wigan are unbeaten in their last nine games and still sit top of the tree in League One. They’re the highest scorers in the division and have lost only two of their twelve away games this season. Prediction: Plymouth Argyle 1-1 Wigan Athletic Rochdale vs Southend United Rochdale have lost their last four and have won four times this season. It has seen them slump to 23rd and they’re now 7 points from safety. Southend have also lost their last four but recently sacked manager Phil Brown with Chris Powell looking the likely candidate to replace him. The Shrimpers are only two points clear of the relegation zone so an upturn in form is needed quick. Prediction: Rochdale 0-0 Southend United Rotherham United vs Portsmouth Rotherham have been one of the form teams of late, unbeaten in their last seven, winning four. But it has been sparks of bad form that has kept The Millers out of the play-off places. Pompey have been inconsistent this season, but they sit only one point off of the play-offs. This for sure is a crucial game for both teams. Prediction: Rotherham United 2-2 Portsmouth Scunthorpe United vs Gillingham The Iron have lost only one of their last fourteen games and have made good additions in January as Graham Alexander’s team keep up their play-off push. Steve Lovell has done wonders since he was appointed manager till the end of the season. He has only lost once at the helm of The Gills and they have currently been on run of six games unbeaten as they have started to edge away from the relegation zone. Prediction: Scunthorpe United 1-1 Gillingham Shrewsbury Town vs Doncaster Rovers The Shrews have defied absolute belief this season and see themselves sitting in second place and they could be on the verge of an improbable promotion to the Championship. However, last weekends 3-1 defeat to promotion rivals Blackburn leaves them only two points clear of Rovers in the race for automatic promotion. Darren Ferguson’s team have been in good form recently, unbeaten in their last six. They currently sit 12th in the table and look to have enough to avoid being sucked into the relegation battle. They have also signed Benjamin Whiteman to permanent deal from Sheffield United whilst extending the loans of Jordan Houghton (Chelsea) and Rodney Kongolo (Man City) till the end of the season. Prediction: Shrewsbury Town 1-0 Doncaster Rovers Share your thoughts about this preview feature article on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the chat with fellow football fans.
  13. The promotion race in League Two is hotting up with 3rd down to 11th only separated by five points. This weekend sees a few big clashes in the promotion race as 2nd place Notts County take on 5th placed Exeter City. 8th placed Coventry will look to bounce back into the top three against 9th placed Swindon. There could be some big repercussions in the promotion and relegation battles this weekend. Newport County vs Crawley Town This fixture takes place this evening (Friday night). Newport come into this game after losing only one of their last eight including winning their last two. They have been the most improved side this season after being in the bottom two most of last season; they’re now battling for a play-off place. However The Exiles’ home form hasn’t been brilliant over the last few months with only one win in their last seven home games. Crawley have won their last three and it finally looks like Harry Kewell’s style is settling in. They have won six of their last nine games and they have a man in Enzio Boldewijn who has hit three in his last three games. Prediction: Newport County 1-1 Crawley Town Accrington Stanley vs Port Vale Accrington are another team that have won their last three games and picked up considerably over the last few matches. Stanley had an amazing start but recently lost four in a row before their current upturn in form. They have kept three clean sheets in a row and Billy Kee is in great scoring form. Vale looked certs for non-league before Neil Aspin came in. Aspin has won eight of his seventeen games in charge and they have surged up the table. However, they haven’t won in their last three and have lost their last two away games. Vale will need to pick up their form again if they’re to avoid being sucked in to the relegation scrap once again. Prediction: Accrington Stanley 2-0 Port Vale Barnet vs Lincoln City Things can’t get much worse for Barnet. They’re bottom of the league and are onto their third manager of the season already. They have lost their last five games and have only won two of their last twenty-one. Now, Graham Westley, who is not the most popular bloke in football, takes the reigns at The Hive. Lincoln have been on a good run with them winning 5 of their last 8 games. They’re what I like to call a typical League Two team with two quick wingers and a target man next to a quick striker, up front. The Imps are a difficult side to combat against, as they’re very physical. Prediction: Barnet 1-2 Lincoln City Colchester United vs Grimsby Town After a difficult start, Colchester have risen up the table and are in the hunt for a play-off place. The U’s have lost their last two games though, conceding seven. The defence will need to tighten up to stop this current leak of goals if they’re to still be in with a shout at the end of the season. Sammie Szmodics has been in great form the U’s and he is a player that can change a game so quickly with his quickness, agility and great range of creativity. Grimsby have not been in great form as of late as they have not won in their last seven games, losing their last four. In these seven games, The Mariners have failed to score on five occasions. Grimsby can’t afford to get suckered into the relegation scrap. Prediction: Colchester United 0-0 Grimsby Town Coventry City vs Swindon Town It’s been a mixed last week for Coventry. Before last Saturday’s match they found themselves in 3rd. At the end of their game with Exeter, they were 8th. They had a good month in December, winning 3 of their 5 games. Out of the teams that are in that very small gap from 3rd down to 11th, The Sky Blues have scored the least out of all of them with 28. Swindon have the best away record in the division, having only lost three of their twelve away games. They have also won their last three. This is a crucial match in the promotion race and may see either team jump into the play-offs or the automatic promotion places. Prediction: Coventry City 1-1 Swindon Town Crewe Alexandra vs Wycombe Wanderers Crewe recently sold their best player in George Cooper to Peterborough and have the funds to bring in more players in the January transfer window. The Alex have slipped dangerously close to the relegation zone, having lost 16 of their last 23 games. They sometimes throw out a really good performance at Gresty Road but they have had some shockers including losing 5-0 to Carlisle, 3-0 to Swindon and 4-1 to Lincoln. Wycombe come into this one, having won their past two games and coming off a derby win against Colchester. They have kept plugging away at their promotion rivals and a run of five wins in eight sees them sit in 4th. Prediction: Crewe Alexandra 0–2 Wycombe Wanderers Forest Green Rovers vs Cambridge United Forest Green have been stuck near the relegation zone all season and despite an upturn in form around October and November, a run of one win in their last nine and seven losses in that spell have seen them slump down to 23rd. FGR have bought in several new faces in January in a bid to avoid becoming the first team to be promoted to League Two and go straight back down again. Newport did something similar to this last season but it still took a last gasp run of form from them to stay in the league. Shaun Derry has been told he will remain manager at The Abbey Stadium despite supporters calling for him to be sacked. They have lost only three of their last fifteen games. However, Cambridge are the lowest goalscorers in the division with only 25 goals to their name. Prediction: Forest Green Rovers 3-2 Cambridge United Luton Town vs Morecambe Luton have been the pace setters for much of the season so far but two losses in their last two away games has seen them not run away with how we expected them to do from January onwards. However, their home form is still in good steed and I think they will have no problem against the lowly Shrimps. Morecambe have been in good form though lately and are unbeaten in their last three with two wins and a draw. However, this is Luton and this time I think the pace setting hatters will have too much for them Prediction: Luton Town 3-1 Morecambe Mansfield Town vs Cheltenham Town Mansfield are in good form having lost only one of their last thirteen games and have won their last two. They went out of the FA Cup in midweek, which will allow them to focus more on the league. They are good steed to keep pushing for a place in the top three. Gary Johnson’s side are having a mixed run of results at the minute where they have won three, drawn three and lost four of their last 10 games. In the previous game between these two, Cheltenham won comfortably by 3 goals to nil. I expect The Robins to make it difficult for Steve Evans’ men. Prediction: Mansfield Town 1-1 Cheltenham Town Notts County vs Exeter City As a Notts fan I am begging the club to bring in a striker as the gap to 4th is now only five points. Notts are still unbeaten at home this season and have a gritty determination about them to get results no matter what. The Magpies received some good news this week as it was announced Jorge Grant would be staying till the end of the season. Transfer speculation has affected the Forest loanee’s form but now with that behind him, Grant and Notts can push on in their hunt for promotion. Exeter have been up and down in their form recently. They keep winning at home and losing away and it’s this away form that has kept them out of the top three. This is a massive game in the promotion race Prediction: Notts County 2-1 Exeter City Stevenage vs Carlisle United After a run of only two wins in fourteen, Stevenage have bounced back with four points from their last two. Home form has been an ally to Darren Sarll this season as the away form of The Boro has been nothing short of atrocious. Carlisle can’t seem to put a good run of form together and despite the 1-0 success over Crewe last weekend, fans were still complaining about the performance of the team. Prediction: Stevenage 3-1 Carlisle United Yeovil Town vs Chesterfield This is a huge match in the relegation scrap as 21st hosts 22nd. Yeovil are five points clear of the relegation zone coming into this match. They have conceded 48 goals this season and are on a run of three games without a win. Chesterfield ended their bad run of results with a superb 2-0 win over Luton which is surely the confidence boost Jack Lester’s side need to pull away from the drop zone. The Spireites have bought in a few new faces in January to help in their fight against relegation. I expect this one to be a tight but nervy affair Prediction: Yeovil Town 0-1 Chesterfield Share your thoughts about this preview feature article on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the chat with fellow football fans.
  14. It was December 14th 2016. I came home from college and looked on the BBC Football website to see what was going on in the football world. The first thing I saw was ‘Birmingham sack manager Rowett.’ I was in complete shock. Why would a club sack a manager when they are seventh in the table and three points off of third? Since that day, Birmingham City have become a shambles. Through three more managers, over 16 million pounds spent on rebuilding the squad and one disaster after another, the club is stuck in the Championship relegation zone. Gary Rowett was appointed Birmingham manager in October 2014. Birmingham had just lost 8-0 at home to Bournemouth and only had two wins all season. In his first game in charge, Blues kept a clean sheet against high-flying Wolves at Molineux. They would go on an a fantastic run picking up 52 points in the 32 remaining games propelling them to a tenth place finish, a position that had seemed impossible at the start of the season due to the start they had with the lack of funds. In the 2015-16 season, Birmingham once again finished 10th. The club finally had some sort of stability and the new owners had been given exclusivity of the club. All that was needed now was the takeover to be completed. They had the manager, the stability and now all that was needed was the backing. Trillion Trophy Asia finally completed their takeover on October 17th 2016. Birmingham had a good start to the season, sitting in and around the play-off places, punching way above their weight due to their limited budget compared to other clubs and the ability of the playing squad, which under Rowett had massively overachieved but had no doubt proved they were capable of playing in the Championship. However, Birmingham had no chance of competing financially with Villa, Sheffield Wednesday, QPR, Brighton, Newcastle, Norwich, Fulham, Wolves, Forest, Derby, Bristol City and Leeds. They had one of the lowest budgets in the division that season. But the week he was sacked was a week for change for Birmingham. On Monday 12th December, three new directors were appointed to the board. The next day Birmingham beat Ipswich 2-1 at St Andrews. The next day Rowett was sacked along with his backroom staff. When Rowett told the players, they were apparently furious over the decision. Later that day Gianfranco Zola was appointed manager. He had apparently been approached for the job a while ago. That Saturday was Zola’s first game in charge at home to high-flying Brighton. After hitting the post in under a minute and Lukas Jutkiewicz giving them the lead, Stephen Gleeson, who was playing fine in the centre of midfield was bought off for Josh Cogley. This defensive tactic worked against and Brighton won the game 2-1 in the 90th minute. This foreshadowing of tactical ineptness would plague Zola’s reign and it took him nine league games and eleven overall to win his first game in charge. He would only win one more game, a 2-1 win away at rivals Wolves. Zola resigned after a 2-0 home defeat to Burton on Easter Monday. Blues had only won twice in twenty-four games, drawing eight and losing fourteen. Their goal difference had gone from -1 to -21 and they had dropped from 7th to 20th. A meeting with all club staff in the middle of Zola’s reign did nothing to help the morale of the team. Zola had tried to do too much too quickly and the owners had expected too much as well. They had expected Birmingham to compete with teams who had bigger budgets in the Championship, completely showing their inexperience as directors/owners and showing their lack of knowledge of the English league and game. Birmingham were still in no position to be promoted or be challenging for place in the Premier League. They needed to continue to stabilise as they had, had next to no money to spend for so long and a squad, which was assembled with a limited budget. This immediately showed TTA that success isn’t guaranteed when you appoint ‘a big name.’ TTA’s stubbornness to get rid of Zola and their unwillingness to own up and admit they’d made a huge mistake derailed the 2016-17 even further and it dragged Blues from potential play-off contention to a relegation battle. Harry Redknapp was appointed the day after and came to the rescue with two wins in the final three games to stay up. They finished 19th. He worked this entire period, free of pay. He carried on as manager in the summer and overhauled the squad so he could play his passing style of play. Gary Rowett’s side was more used to his tactics of more long ball and counter attack, which suited the side. Thirteen players arrived in the summer: David Stockdale, Marc Roberts, Cheikh N’Doye, Isaac Vassell, Harlee Dean, Maxime Colin, Jota and Jason Lowe all arrived permanently. Whilst Cohen Bramall, Carl Jenkinson, Sam Gallagher, Jeremie Boga and Liam Walsh arrived on loan. The club now clearly had a squad, which could compete at least for a play-off place. But like all teams which have a squad overhaul in the summer, in needs time to gel. However, only two games after the summer transfer window, Redknapp was sacked. This made no sense as he had bought 13 players in the transfer window (6 in the last 3 days) and they had been given only two games to gel. It was clear the team needed time and they had lots of time. Even after the loss at home to Preston, they still had another 38 games to go. But again the owners showed their inexperience and lack of knowledge and got rid of him. The clear ignorance of the fact, the team needed time to gel and that Birmingham were in a transition period on and off the pitch. The budget had increased; the style of play had changed and the squad was overhauled to accommodate this change in style of play. The team needed time but the owners didn’t have any patience. Redknapp needed longer in charge to make his plans work. Steve Cotterill was appointed manager later that month. Blues won 1-0 against 2nd placed Cardiff in his first game in charge. However, Birmingham had only scored 7 goals in the first 11 league games before his appointment and Cotterill’s defensive style of football has started to wear thin. For a team that needs to start scoring a lot more goals, defensive football should not be needed. An attacking style of play is needed for Birmingham to start scoring more goals and winning games. His record at Championship level isn’t great and this once again, like the Gianfranco Zola appointment, brings into question the decisions made on managers by the directors, their lack of knowledge of the English leagues and game, their unwillingness to learn from their mistakes and the direction the club is going in. Zola’s CV wasn’t really glittering with him being sacked from West Ham and Qatar club Al-Arabi whilst also resigning from Watford. Cotterill’s record at Championship level isn’t good with him being sacked by Bristol City after 4 wins in his opening 26 games. For me, comments about the squad not being good enough are ridiculous. This is the best squad Birmingham has had since they dropped down from the Premier League in 2011. The squad is clearly good enough to compete. The problems lay with Cotterill’s style of play and the bad decisions made by the board leading up to this season. If TTA aren’t careful they could may be forced to swiftly move out of the club very soon if things carry on. A creative midfielder must be bought in January and the team needs to start playing more attacking football to ensure more chances are created, more goals are scored and more are games won. Birmingham always needed a manager to play attacking football and have a focus on team togetherness. It’s been a year since Birmingham sacked Rowett and since that day, funnily enough, they have played 46 league games, the equivalent to an entire season. In that time, they have won 8, drew 11 and lost 27. That means over an entire season, the club would have picked up only 35 points. Enough points to be relegated from every season of the Championship since it’s inception in 2004-05. The reasons why Birmingham have had such turmoil over the last year: - The sacking of Gary Rowett who bought stability to the club - The owners and directors expecting too much too soon and expecting Birmingham to compete with teams who had far bigger budgets and the fact they were in no position to be promoted. - The appointments of Zola and Cotterill when there were better managers out there. - The owners and directors expecting too much too soon in terms of the playing squad gelling resulting in Redknapp’s sacking - A defensive style of football when the team needs goals - Dressing room unrest and the big egos of some of the players Blues need a clear ears on the ground man. A person who knows the football club inside out and who knows what the championship and the English leagues are about. Someone like Paul Devlin or Michael Johnson. Someone like this would immediately do a good job with engaging with the Blues fans because of their previous history with the club, their popularity would get them on side. Birmingham are a big club and the fans deserve so much better. There is potential at the club that is yet to be unlocked and hopefully the club can unlock it and fulfil it but for now things need to change. Share your thoughts about this feature article on Football Manics by signing up for FREE to the website, visiting the forum and joining the chat with fellow football fans.

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