This weekend’s action in the Football League was a joy to behold for the neutral. Wherever you looked, there was a cracker of a game of football as everybody seemed to have something to play for, whether situated in battles at the top or bottom of the table or drifting in mid-table. There were plenty of goals, too, as some of our teams went slightly goal crazy.
The thrills and spills of a dramatic weekend in the closing weeks of a football season were epitomised in the Championship as Doncaster and Portsmouth played out a keenly fought game as both teams battle for survival at the bottom of the table. In a thrilling game which swung back and forth, eventually Portsmouth were able to snatch the win, albeit in contentious circumstances, relegating Dean Saunders’ side in the process. I personally thought Doncaster were tremendously unlucky and were on the bad end of some woeful refereeing on the day, but in some ways it’s summed their season up.
I remember the opening day of the season, when Doncaster looked tremendously dangerous at Brighton until losing Billy Sharp to injury, and they didn’t look the same side until he came back in six weeks later – a spell in which Donny managed just a single point and would see them off the pace early on in the season, and ultimately it has proven to be critical. Doncaster will return to the third tier after a four year spell in the Championship, and with it, comes the end of an experimental transfer policy in which the club had worked with agent Willie McKay to bring in star names like Habib Beye, El-Hadji Diouf and Frederic Piquionne, with chairman John Ryan stating his belief the experiment wouldn’t work at a lower level.
In League One, there was joy for Charlton, as they beat playoff-chasing Carlisle 1-0 to clinch promotion to the Championship, and it is no more than Chris Powell’s side deserves after a season in which they have consistently looked like the strongest side in the division. Much was made of the decision to make as many changes to the squad as Powell did over the summer, but his choices have clearly been vindicated.
Charlton have looked as good a team as you can expect to see at League One level, and I have no doubt that they will be able to compete instantly at a higher level, even if Powell was to sign nobody over the summer. The season has also heralded the maturing of Bradley Wright-Phillips, who is finally beginning to look like the type of striker that he has clearly always had the potential to become. I expect him to score goals and to continue to be a crucial part of the Charlton side in the Championship next season.
There were certainly thrills and spills aplenty elsewhere, even if an immediate and imminent change of division was not at stake, as three Football League clubs went particularly goal-crazy over the weekend. West Ham United were the first of these teams, finally producing the type of home performance that Hammers fans know their team should be capable of as they gave Brighton a 6-0 thrashing, featuring a hattrick from January signing Ricardo Vaz Te. It’s difficult to say, at just three points off an automatic promotion place, that West Ham are out of the running to secure a top two finish, but with just three games to go, I’m unsure they can make the points up. Even if Allardyce’s side win their three games, it will still require Southampton to slip up and I’m really not convinced that the Saints will now, especially following the recent defeat to Reading in a result which may well decide the Championship title in favour of Brian McDermott’s side.
Elsewhere, Stevenage were rampant as they too knocked six past Yeovil Town as they look to keep up the chase for the all-important final playoff place in League One. Luke Freeman starred for the Hertfordshire side, while Jon Ashton, Jamaal Lascelles, Patrick Agyemang and Mark Roberts also chipped in with goals to give Gary Smith’s side some good momentum heading into the run-in. Stevenage currently lie 4 points behind Notts County, who currently occupy 6th place, but Smith’s team enjoy a game in hand, which they will play this week against Carlisle – who are also chasing the same place in the playoffs. It is a must-win game for both sides, but Stevenage have home advantage and that could well be the critical factor.
Bristol Rovers scooped the result of the weekend, however, with a 7-1 tonking of struggling Burton Albion. Rovers themselves were strugglers earlier in the season, but have improved greatly under new boss Paul Trollope and this result will give the side confidence that, with a better start to the campaign, a challenge further up the table will be possible next season.
For Burton, it shows that their alarming slump in form over the course of the second half of the season has not yet been stopped fully under caretaker boss Gary Rowett, who will be hoping for better results between now and the end of the season as he attempts to convince the Burton board that he is the right man to take the club forward in the future. I genuinely feel for Burton, they’d had a brilliant first half of the season and looked like potential playoff challengers at stages in the season, but the team’s form evaporated after Christmas and they’ve struggled to impress anybody in the second half of the season.
With every game that is played in the Football League at this stage of the season, a little more can be decided, and by the time we reach this stage next week, I fully suspect a lot more will have been decided at both ends of each division.