With an intriguing first month of the Football League season now behind us, BPF’s Chris Mann runs the rule over some of the main talking points the early rounds of the campaign have thrown up in our first Football League monthly review.
Despite the nightmarish, doom-laden predictions which preceded Newcastle United’s start to life in the Championship, The Magpies have become the early pacesetters in the division. Shola Ameobi, perhaps for the first time in his career, can be described as “prolific”, with an impressive four goals in five games guiding his side to good results against the likes of Reading, Crystal Palace and Leicester City.
West Bromwich Albion, this season led by the enigmatic Roberto Di Matteo, have again set about fulfilling their tag as “a great footballing side”, exhibiting some expansive passing play to rack up eleven points from their early fixtures and looking likely to continue their yo-yo existence.
At the other end of the table, Roy Keane’s Ipswich Town have made an unconvincing start to the season, the Tractor Boys perhaps being guilty of placing more importance on aesthetics – yes, Roy Keane of all people has put together a team that plays cultured football – than results. The basic structure for a successful team, however, is well in place in Portman Road and it is surely only a matter of time before the wins start to arrive for Keane’s side.
The surprise package in these early stages of the campaign have been Blackpool, a team who have struggled in recent seasons but are looking completely reinvigorated this term under their zany new manager Ian Holloway. The Seasiders’ solid start sees them sitting in tenth place after encouraging results against QPR, Cardiff and Coventry as well as emphatically knocking Wigan Athletic out of the Carling Cup. Things are looking up on the Lancashire coast.
Finally, the prize for the biggest kerfuffle of the season thus far must surely be jointly awarded to Nottingham Forest and Derby County. The teams came to blows after the final whistle in the first East Midlands derby of the season when Forest’s Nathan Tyson decided that taunting the Rams’ fans by enthusiastically waving the corner flag at them would be a really good idea. Cue an excessive amount of pushing, shoving and general carnage. You silly, silly boy Nathan.
With so many fallen giants scattered amongst League One’s twenty-four teams this season, English football’s third tier is looking uncannily like the Premier League circa 1993. Of all the former top-flight sides in the league, it is Phil Parkinson’s Charlton Athletic and Simon Grayson’s Leeds United who have come out of the blocks quickest, both clubs impressively recording six wins from six games and already establishing a five point cushion over third-placed Huddersfield Town.
The other so-called “big boys” of League One haven’t had it quite so good, with Norwich City enduring a 1-7 hammering by Colchester United on the opening day of the season – a result which ultimately cost Bryan Gunn his job – and Alan Pardew’s Southampton getting off to a shaky start which has seen the side pick up just four points to leave them well adrift at the bottom with a rather depressing -6.
Of the clubs promoted from League Two last season it is Gillingham who have fared the best in the early exchanges, Simeon Jackson’s goals firing the team to a series of good results, the most emphatic being a 5-0 home win against a Swindon Town side who’ve been playing some accomplished football themselves. Brentford have also made a confident start to life in League One, although Wycombe and Exeter have struggled in the opening rounds of the season. Exeter’s signing of Craig Noone on a three month loan from Plymouth Argyle may, however, give the St James’ Park outfit an added impetus in the run up to Christmas.
The coverage of the early stages of the League Two season has been less about the division as a whole, instead focussing on the new circus that’s come to town, more specifically the takeover and new “footballing project” at Notts County. The Middle-Eastern/Swiss takeover group, Munto Finance, has stunned English football by appointing Sven-Goran Eriksson as the club’s director of football and then promptly signing Sol Campbell and paying him a reported £40,000 a week, making the former England international the highest paid player outside of the Premiership. If the club continues to develop at such a pace we should expect to see County in and around the top end of the division come the end of the season. These are exciting times at Meadow Lane.
Despite Notts County courting all the headlines, it has been Rotherham and Bournemouth who have enjoyed the best form during the first month of the campaign. Both The Millers and The Cherries have won five of their opening six games and look likely to set the pace in the early stages of the season. Hot on their heels just two points behind are Ian Hendon’s Barnet and John Still’s Dagenham & Redbridge; the Daggers being inspired by the goals of Paul Benson as they seek to improve upon their eighth place finish of last season.
Paul Peschisolido’s Burton Albion have impressed, last season’s Blue Square Premier champions picking up three early wins against Morecambe, Lincoln City and Northampton Town. The Staffordshire side were many punters’ favourites to be relegated straight back down to non-league football, but the team have acquitted themselves well and are sat just outside the play-off spots at the time of writing.