Five things we learned – Football League

Joseph Stephens reviews the Saturday action outside the top flight in England.

1. This season is shaping up to be as exciting as ever

As the gap between the Premier League and everybody else grows ever wider, it’s not unusual to hear those who follow teams outside of the top flight argue that whatever the lower leagues may lack in quality and finances, the football more than makes up for in its excitement and unpredictability. A quick glance at the stats and you can see where they’re coming from – we’re only two rounds into the season and yet Football League matches have so far thrown up a total of 167 goals (an average of nearly 2.5 per game). The goals are being shared around, too; only seven teams across the three divisions are yet to get off the mark for the season, while seven is also the number of clubs who can still boast a 100% record at this early stage of the campaign.

2. Things are looking up for Blackburn Rovers

Whichever team you support, it’s hard not to feel sorry Blackburn’s fans. The one-time Premier League champions have been reduced to little short of a laughing stock since the club’s takeover by the Indian chicken giants, Venky’s, in 2010. With recent ill-advised comments from so-called ‘global advisor’ Shebby Singh the latest in a long line of gaffes that have put Rovers in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, it’s difficult to imagine a set of supporters more desperate for the talking to stop and the football to begin once again than the Ewood Park faithful. And for once, matters on the pitch seem to be going to plan – Blackburn have begun the season unbeaten, with a late Jason Lowe own goal in their opening match against Ipswich the only thing denying them a 100% start thus far. Colin Kazim-Richards, the loan signing from Galatasaray, already has two goals to his name, and even the veteran Nuno Gomes seems to going the right way about silencing the laughter that greeted his arrival at Ewood this summer.

3. Jack Butland is human after all

If you’ve been following the career of Jack Butland lately – and if you were keeping an eye on England during Euro 2012 his should be a name you are at least familiar with – then you could be forgiven for wondering if the man ever puts a foot wrong. Having gone from playing on loan at Cheltenham Town to making his full international debut all in a matter of months, not to mention that trip to Poland and Ukraine in between, the 19-year-old Birmingham City goalkeeper is undoubtedly one of the most exciting prospects in English football right now – so much so that when Butland allowed Jose Semedo’s cross to pass unhindered through his fingers, a momentary lapse which led directly to Sheffield Wednesday’s opening goal in their defeat of Birmingham on Tuesday, the mistake was met with surprise rather than cries of “Oh no, not again”. In truth, the costly clanger could well prove beneficial to Butland, both in terms of easing the hype surrounding him as well as in keeping his feet on the ground, metaphorically-speaking. He may not be the finished article yet, but the potential is unarguably there.

4. Paolo Di Canio is in danger of earning himself a reputation…

…A reputation as a top quality manager, that is. The colourful Italian’s Swindon Town finished last season miles clear of just about everybody, comfortably claiming the League Two title as well as reaching the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final (although their fans would probably rather forget that one), and have started this campaign where they left off. After a hard-fought 0-0 draw at Hartlepool on the opening day the Robins scored three without reply against Crawley Town on Tuesday night, a performance which Di Canio hailed as the team’s best yet under his stewardship. He might not be everybody’s cup of – as high-profile rows with members of his own playing staff both this season and last will testify – but there’s no doubt that behind the flamboyance and the pantomime there lies the steel, the determination and, most importantly, the tactical know-how of a genuine managerial star in the making.

5. Some things never change

The start of any new football season should be a clean slate; a chance for any team to erase the nightmare of the previous campaign and an opportunity for supporters to believe, however fleetingly, that this year might not be so bad.  Two matches into the a season, however, and for some it must feel like the nightmare never ended. Take Plymouth Argyle and Barnet, for example – both clubs endured torrid seasons last time out, eventually finishing in 21st and 22nd place respectively with 46 points apiece. How familiar it must now feel for supporters of both clubs, as they find themselves occupying 22nd and 23rd positions in the League Two table, with no points and just one goal between them.

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Joseph Stephens

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