Rants and musings from the magazine team
It Was a Bad Weekend For…
Hart of the CityBy any measure you wish to take, this was an exceptionally bad weekend for the Premier League champions. Bad that they lost at Southampton; bad that their main title (and local) rivals ruthlessly took advantage of their slip-up; and bad they now sit closer to sixth place than first. This was an awful weekend for Roberto Mancini’s men.
Manchester City were humiliated in their 3-1 Saturday tea-time defeat at St. Mary’s after a series of glaring defensive and goalkeeping gifts gave the hosts control. Gareth Barry’s misplaced pass in the seventh minute, which led to Jason Puncheon’s opening goal, was a sign of things to come as City buckled under constant high pressing from the impressive Saints.
England goalkeeper Joe Hart suffered a nightmare as he let a routine save through his legs to allow Steven Davis to poke home, before a bizarre own goal from Barry shortly after half-time ended any small hopes of a comeback raised by Edin Dzeko's 39th-minute goal. But the huge errors should be the least of Mancini's worries, compared to the limp, heartless performance, wayward passing and ineffective attacking.
The following day, Manchester United inevitably seized the initiative. After a 2-0 home win over Everton stretched their lead to 12 points, Sir Alex Ferguson admitted that he had planned to rest seven players ahead of Wednesday's Champions League trip to Real Madrid. Psychologically crushing the neighbours – out of Europe and now with only the FA Cup to play for – and cruising towards a Liverpool-beating 20th title, it was as good a weekend for United as it was a bad weekend for City.
Still, say what you like about Joe Hart, but at least he has a flake- and itch-free scalp.
The Latics of LancashireThough there’s no doubting that Wigan weren’t as bad as the 4-1 reverse at Chelsea would suggest (and nor were Chelsea that good), alarm bells should definitely be ringing around the DW Stadium.
The defeat, combined with Aston Villa’s win over West Ham yesterday, sees the Latics fall to 19th, three points behind safety and in real danger of relegation. They’ve been here before – every season, or so it seems – but Wigan are without a victory in their six league games during 2013 (their only wins have been 1-0 FA Cup scrapes past Bournemouth and Macclesfield).
Their last victory was over Villa on December 29th; before that they'd had another six-game winless run (losing five) since scraping past Reading 3-2 at home. Their next league game is the return against Reading and they desperately need to win: one victory in 13 – a third of a season – is relegation form in anybody's book.
Manager Roberto Martinez is very well respected within the game, and makes an excellent and knowledgeable pundit, and it’s true that he has been hamstrung by Wigan’s constant requirement to sell their better players... but other than a win at Tottenham in November, this has been a season without many highlights and one that seems destined to end in disappointment.
With four teams now firmly in the relegation dogfight, Wigan will need more than luck to grab hold of 17th place.
Limp LionsMillwall’s defeat to Blackpool on Saturday was as unlucky as it was disappointing. OK, so the Lions enjoyed a giant slice of luck in the first half when James Henry put his side ahead by scoring direct from a corner, but a decent performance counted for nothing when Nathan Delfouneso's last-minute goal put Blackpool 2-1 ahead (pictured) – and then Shane Lowry hit the woodwork for Millwall seconds before the whistle.
The loss is the latest in a wretched sequence of results for Kenny Jackett's side: despite knocking Aston Villa out of the FA Cup, they've won only one Championship game in the last nine. Indeed, four defeats on the bounce have seen Millwall slip from play-off contention: in a tight division, they're now six points behind sixth place and only seven above the drop-zone.
The FA Cup is undoubtedly a distraction – the Lions have only gained one point from a possible 15 since their Third Round tie with Preston – and with non-league Luton up next, the run could go on for a while yet.
Three days after visiting Luton the Lions host lowly Peterborough before next weekend's trip to Middlesbrough (who certainly have their own problems). If they take nothing from those games, then a cup run could prove the highlight of their season – and possibly even the source of relegation trouble.
Wolves… and LeedsThere were some fantastic games in the Championship this weekend, starting with Watford and Crystal Palace's 2-2 Friday night draw. On Teesside, Middlesbrough and Barnsley exchanged the lead before the visitors stole it by the odd goal in five, while Sheffield Wednesday fought back from 2-0 down at home to Derby to rescue a point with two goals in six minutes.
But there are few games where both teams will have left as disappointed as Wolverhampton Wanderers' clash with Leeds United.Wolves led, as they have several times this season, following an own goal from Lee Peltier, before Luke Varney and Ross McCormack put the visitors ahead. A win for Leeds would have been vital in their push for a play-off place, with so many Championship sides in with a realistic shout of a top-six finish. However, Neil Warnock’s men lost concentration in second-half injury time to allow Danny Batth to head in an equaliser.
The home side will have felt disappointed, despite the timing of the equaliser, after again dropping points from a winning position. Results elsewhere conspired to send them just one place above the relegation zone, with Dean Saunders still seeking his first win after more than a month in the job.
So both left disappointed, but at least Leeds can look forward to an FA Cup tussle with the newly generous Man City next weekend.
League One title-chasersTranmere Rovers (League One pacesetters, undefeated in the league until October 20th, certainties for promotion) lost again on Saturday. The 2-1 defeat to Leyton Orient was Rovers’ third in four matches and second in successive weekends. It’s a good job that nobody’s capitalising on the league leaders’ mistakes.
See, Doncaster Rovers (second in League One, more wins than anybody else in the division, only two away defeats all season) also lost on Saturday. Their surprise 2-1 home defeat to Walsall was also their second in successive weeks.
What has caused the league-leading Roverses to suddenly start losing is anybody’s guess (although Dean Saunders' departure from Doncaster could have had some effect), but it’s certainly unusual for the league’s top two sides to both lose in consecutive weeks.
Will the trend continue next week? The chasing pack – led by Swindon and Bournemouth, both now just a point behind the top two – will certainly hope so.
'Proud' PrestonPreston North End are very much in trouble after a 1-0 defeat at fellow strugglers Colchester left them just five points clear of the relegation zone. North End have lost three in four games (admittedly, compared to Tranmere, that’s championship form), after only losing eight of the previous 26.
Unpopular manager Graham Westley said after the game that “the difference between what we're doing and winning is very slight.” But then so is the difference between going down and staying up.
Nobody at Preston will relish a visit to Yeovil tomorrow night, after the Glovers racked up their sixth win on the bounce on Saturday. Mind you, after that it's high-flying Bournemouth (who themselves have won four on the spin) at Deepdale – where Preston’s record is atrocious: only Hartlepool have won fewer home games.
Two surprise wins and all will be forgiven for Westley. Two unsurprising defeats and he could be in big trouble.
BradfordOn Sunday February 24th, Bradford City will walk out at Wembley Stadium to face Swansea in the League Cup Final with the goodwill and support of the entire footballing nation behind them. The Bantams have had an incredible, and well-documented, run to the final, beating Premier League sides Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa along the way.
But has their league form suffered as a result? It may be a little simplistic to blame the euphoric distraction of a once-in-a-lifetime cup run for a dip in league form but the fact is that Bradford have not won the league game directly following any League Cup tie this season (going all the way back to the first round).
On Saturday, Bradford lost 1-0 at home to second-placed Gillingham. Not a terrible result, but it continues a winless run stretching back to Boxing Day. Early-season form had put the Yorkshire side in promotion contention, but recent results have seen them drop six points behind the play-off zone.
Soon, the distraction will be over and Bradford can concentrate on trying to get out of League Two. The Bantams play Dagenham & Redbridge in the game immediately following the final, incidentally. Just in case you fancied a flutter.
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