United - Chelsea Almost Forgotten In A Week Of Cup Near-Misses
Bruce Halling looks back over a week of football which has included a disappointing clash of the titans and a number of near-misses for those who love a cup upset.
The 2013-14 season is now in full swing, with fixtures coming thick and fast. Over the past week not only have we seen league fixtures, but also the second round of this season's Capital One Cup. With results seemingly everywhere you look, here are some of the things to note from the last week of domestic football:
• Premier League sides given a run for their money in Capital One Cup
A number of Premier League sides found themselves in a spot of bother against lower league opposition in the Capital One Cup this week. Crystal Palace were knocked out by League One side Bristol City, while Everton, Liverpool, Fulham and Hull all needed more than the regulation ninety minutes to see off their opposition and book their place in Round Three. Other sides, particularly Newcastle and Sunderland, were made to sweat by their opponents even though they ultimately came through to win their ties in ninety minutes.
You'd expect this to be because the Premiership sides were fielding largely second-string sides, right? Looking at many of the lineups, this doesn't appear to be the case. Liverpool fielded an pretty strong side but were taken to extra time by Notts County, while Fulham were taken to penalties by Burton despite having what appeared to be arguably their best side out. With the bigger sides not unduly concerned about their progression in this competition at this stage and the lower league sides hoping to emulate Bradford's achievement in getting all the way to the final, many of these ties were always going to be nervy encounters. The real surprise here is that more top-flight sides didn't fall by the wayside.
• United - Chelsea was a huge disappointment
A game as big as Manchester United vs Chelsea so early in the season was always likely to get more hype than it probably deserved. There were plenty of underlying stories heading into the game too, with the return of Mourinho to face old foes with a new face, Moyes' first game against a fellow title contender, and the ongoing transfer saga surrounding Wayne Rooney and whether he will swap red for blue before next week's transfer deadline.
Unfortunately, all of this seemed to detract from what was important- that being the three points on offer for a victory, and from the way the match panned out I can't help but feel this game came too early in the season. Neither side looked like they were particularly desperate to win this game but were more concerned in ensuring they didn't lose, and 0-0 was ultimately a fair and disappointing result.
• Valley abandonment absolutely the right decision
Some deemed the decision to abandon Charlton's clash with Doncaster at the Valley as a controversial one, with Doncaster 3-1 ahead at half time and seemingly on course for all three points after making the better of the difficult conditions in the opening half of the game. Of course, you could argue with Doncaster also down to ten men, the game was there for the taking for Charlton, with the home side in a position to use the conditions and a man advantage to their advantage to make a rousing comeback and take the points.
Ultimately, the decision made to call it off at half time was the right one. The weather conditions were absolutely atrocious and by midway through the first half the pitch was in a virtually unplayable state. I admire the Doncaster player's enthusiasm for wanting to game back on - at that stage, they led 3-0 after all - but the game should probably have just been called off then, rather than attempting to get it back on and then eventually having it called off anyhow. No matter how many times you tried to clear the pitch of water, the situation wouldn't improve until the rain eased off and it hammered down in London (and in Essex, where I live) all afternoon, and really there was no sensible alternative than to abandon the fixture.
• Wolves off to good start under Jackett
It probably shouldn't come as any great surprise, given the Molineux side are the overwhelming favourites to win League One this season, but it's all too easy to fail to live up to expectations when you're a big side in this division - Sheffield United in recent seasons have to be one of the leading examples of that fact. The reason for this is because every other team in the league treats the games against your side as a mini cup final, which can then make playing your own brand of football quite a difficult thing to do because you're constantly finding yourselves against teams who have a nothing-to-lose-everything-to-gain mentality.
However, nothing should be taken away from the fact that Kenny Jackett has used his experience to ensure Wolves get off to a positive start. With Leyton Orient and Peterbrough off to absolute fliers, it's almost meant that Wolves haven't been under quite as much scrutiny as one might have expected initially, but this will probably suit Jackett's side. As long as they are able to continue in the same vein that they have started - getting the results, regardless of performances - they will be contenders to win this division.
• Hartlepool in danger of being left behind
It is often said that when a side moves up or down a division, it can often take them a little bit of time to adjust to life in their new surroundings. With the way the fixtures come thick and fast in the modern game, the amount of time that a team realistically has to find their feet isn't all that long, and Hartlepool are finding that one out the hard way, as they currently sit second bottom in League Two after a tricky start to the season.
You could argue that they haven't had the easiest run of fixtures to begin with, having already faced the likes of Rochdale and Fleetwood, but the issue runs deeper than that. In four league fixtures this season, Hartlepool have yet to find the net and that has to be the biggest immediate concern for Colin Cooper's side. I know it's a cliche, but goals win games and if you don't score you can't win matches and get points on the board. At current, Hartlepool are in danger of falling behind the pace of the pack and once that happens, it can be very difficult to get back on terms with the teams around you.