Weekend Notes: Great hidings we bring...
An 8-0 drubbing, Stockport? That's not very Christmassy. And there's more late drama in the Championship's relegation scrap
The EFL snow globe has been shaken and the flakes have settled, bunching in uneven drifts across the pyramid. As we head into the blizzard of a packed festive schedule, who knows how those drifts will stack up by New Year’s Day?
Welcome to the final Weekend Notes of 2023. We don’t suppose any of us will have time for another edition on the 25th as we scramble amongst the clutter and merrymaking of Christmas Day. Nevertheless, we have a festive schedule to brighten the darkest corners of the recycling-bound cardboard box:
Thursday 21 — Targets (National League) <Paid> — the brightest non-league transfer options
Friday 22 — A BRAND NEW PODCAST SERIES <FREE> — Get excited for Dear Ali & George!
Tuesday 26 — What can Halfway Day tell us? <Paid> — Huw Davies looks at promotions past to reveal this season’s future
Sunday 31 — End of Year Message <Paid> — George & Ali see out a glorious 2023
+ straight into January Transfer Window action as soon as 2024 begins.
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But before the globe is shaken once again, let’s dig into all 72 snowflakes to see how they settled over a weekend of…
Best goal in a 5-1 defeat ever?
Close your eyes and listen to the sweet kiss of the net.
The limb of Lynch — is this the save of the season?
Squint and it’s Barcelona — Shrimps full of flavour!
On a day of late goals, three very big ones came at the bottom of the table.
Two were scored by Sheffield Wednesday as they overturned QPR with strikes in the 86th and 94th minutes. It was a horrifying turn of events for the R’s, who now feel Danny Röhl’s outstretched hand grab their ankle from the depths below, just as it looked as if they’d climbed out of the basement to the relative respite of 19th. For Röhl’s Wednesday, this was huge.
Opportunities had been scarce – even QPR’s opener required Bambo Diaby to redirect Ilias Chair’s shot – so Bailey Cadamarteri seized on a half-chance to celebrate his new contract, fading a first-time shot into the inside netting. Anthony Musaba’s tap-in for 2-1 was Wednesday’s fourth stoppage-time goal in their last five matches, yielding an extra five points. There were another three injuries for the already-limping Owls, but whereas defeat would’ve left them nine points adrift of safety, they now have cause to hope.
Rotherham may not even have that. Without wanting to be Millerdramatic, defeats such as this 3-2 submission at Plymouth make you wonder how they’ll ever win on the road this season.
The Millers scored first, while Argyle lost both Ryan Hardie and his replacement, Mustapha Bundu, to injury. Could Rotherham haul in one of the fish they need to catch? No, because a moment of madness from grapple-happy Sam Nombe gave Plymouth a penalty in first-half stoppage time, then two moments of madness from Daniel Ayala gave Plymouth a man advantage, which they used to take the lead. And even after No.9 Tom Eaves scored his first Rotherham goal, 18 months into his spell, they conspired to concede again in the 96th minute as Morgan Whittaker found a winner. This is not a serious team.
Criticism of Ayala is merited. In returning from suspension only to collect another two bookings, he has effectively picked up four yellow cards in an hour of football. His handball for the second was so inexplicable that social media conspiracies are understandable; however, for all of the accusations that he’s a serial seasonal offender, Ayala has ‘got Christmas off’ through suspension only once before, with Nottingham Forest 10 years ago (although he did once miss Boxing Day amid 18 straight Middlesbrough starts). He has some miffed Millers to win back over.
At the top, Saturday’s early kick-off treated us to the Old Farm Derby between Ipswich and Norwich. As predicted, it was goalsy: 2-2, with one team much happier than the other.
Ipswich led when Nathan Broadhead converted their umpteenth early chance, but went behind to a Jon Rowe double either side of half-time – the first, a fine finish; the follow-up, fortuitous. Both goals had questions of offside about them, neither with particularly conclusive answers.
Even though Ipswich rescued a draw through Wes Burns (Ashley Barnes at fault from a Norfolkian perspective), this felt as though they’d missed a golden opportunity to silence the singing Canaries, who celebrated loudly – and with some relief – “14 years, 14 years, Norwich City” without their rivals beating them. This was the first time the pair had met in five seasons and they’ve drawn five of their last seven meetings, but that’s none of my business.
As phenomenal as Kieran McKenna’s Tractor Boys have been, you have to wonder if they can finish in the top two while shipping 60 goals. No team in the Championship’s 46-game era has won automatic promotion with 59 goals against, as Ipswich are on course to do, although one club has done it twice with 58 and 57 conceded… some fellas called Norwich.
After Ipswich gave up a chance to reclaim East Anglian bragging rights, Leeds gave up a chance to close in on Ipswich. They were frustrated in their 1-1 draw by a mass of Coventry bodies, though Cov have lately been reminding opponents of their own quality, and it’s always nice to see a centre-back score from open play, as Bobby Thomas did here. Crysencio Summerville’s opener had come from a cute through ball by the endlessly entertaining Georginio Rutter and his entrancing, dancing feet. Meanwhile, Geoff Eltringham beat the Royal Mail by delivering eight cards in 45 minutes during a lively second half.
Southampton drew level with Leeds by beating Blackburn 4-0. You know how 4-0 games are rarely ‘4-0 games’? Well, helped by a flurry in the closing minutes, Southampton’s xG here was exactly 5.
In Blackburn’s defence, they did have one until Callum Brittain was sent off. Rovers played some 45 minutes with 10 men after he was given a second yellow card for dozily booting the ball away – very far away – following a foul, having picked up a booking earlier in the game for an equally unnecessary pull-back. “What was Brittain thinking?” asked the EFL’s commentator, echoing the sentiments of Europe in June 2016.
A Russell Martin team is not the team you want to give a numerical advantage. The rest of the match was a particularly sadistic training exercise, featuring a goal for Stuart Armstrong and two more in stoppage time for Sekou Mara and Carlos Alcaraz. In the middle of all that, Alcaraz Panenka-ed a penalty over the crossbar, which is objectively funny. To be fair, he apologised to the fans for it a few minutes later, having thwacked in Southampton’s fourth. Bless him.
Somehow, Southampton’s September run of four alarming defeats, including thrashings from Sunderland and Leicester, was just the prelude to 14 games unbeaten, taking 32 points. It could continue, with a friendly fixture list coming up.
If that’s Martin’s Saints a-marching, are senseless Swans a-sinking? Swansea’s approach for Tottenham assistant Chris Davies has failed, necessitating a new approach to their approaches, because they’re approaching a busy period with no manager in place.
Their 2-1 home defeat to Middlesbrough was no cause for alarm, though. Things could have been different had any of Josh Key, Bashir Humphreys or Liam Walsh not missed the target with great opportunities during a strong first-half display.
Instead, Boro’s Sam Greenwood struck just before the break, and after Jamal Lowe drew the hosts level, Carl Rushworth – who’d just done brilliantly to deny Isaiah Jones – picked up a backpass. “It’s a tackle!” the young keeper could be seen shouting afterwards. It wasn’t. And so, Sammy Silvera hit the winner with that lesser-seen phenomenon: a successfully converted indirect free-kick inside the box.
Following four defeats in five, this was a handy win for Boro, rendered less handy by Seny Dieng’s injury.
Facing Hull City, Cardiff City dressed like Manchester City and played like Winchester City. The Tigers’ 3-0 win looked inevitable from the third minute, when Aaron Connolly was presented with a one-on-one chance from a goalkeeper kick that bypassed 10 visiting players.
Hull’s front four of Liam Delap, Ozan Tufan, Scott Twine and Connolly all shone. The latter tapped in Delap’s low cross, before Twine netted a free-kick (his 21st goal from outside the box over the past four and a half seasons, more than anyone else in English football) and Tufan made the three points safer than they already were. Hull moved up to 5th and Liam Rosenior earned a new contract, while Cardiff – who would’ve overtaken them with a win – slipped to 12th, a single goal above the bottom half, to conclude a horrible week.
Preston 1, Watford 5: who would’ve seen that scoreline coming when North End led after half an hour with eight shots on target? The visitors equalised with their second, Vakou Bayo heading home, then half-time happened and all hell broke loose.
Watford scored from kick-off – Preston’s kick-off – to take the lead through Matheus Martins, and after Edo Kayembe drilled in a long-range third, even Ryan Lowe’s quadruple substitution couldn’t stem the yellow tide. Kayembe’s pass for Bayo’s second, the Hornets’ fourth, was delectable. The pair were superb, as was fellow scorer-and-assister Ismael Kone (and keeper Ben Hamer, too, during the uncomfortable early exchanges), and Bayo could’ve had a hat-trick but for Jack Whatmough’s block on the line.
As for Preston, they did score the goal of the day, courtesy of Will Keane’s roulette pirouette. At the other end, however, they’ve now conceded the third-most goals in the league. Yet they remain in 8th, making for a fun goal difference compared to the teams around them.
Bristol City’s 1-0 win over Sunderland was settled by a Tommy Conway penalty, following impressive pressing by Jason Knight and Taylor Gardner-Hickman. The Robins had only six shots to Sunderland’s 18, and none after the half-hour mark, but they were fairly comfortable – indeed, Anis Mehmeti came closest in hitting the post, while eight of their opponents’ 11 second-half efforts came from set-pieces.
Millwall’s hosting of Huddersfield saw the plucky Terriers escape the declawed Lions’ Den with a draw. You’ve got to hand it to them. George Saville did, by punching away a shot to gift the visitors a penalty, which Delano Burgzorg happily converted in the 97th minute. Each side really could’ve done with winning this, however much a point may feel like three to Darren Moore in the circumstances. Lee Nicholls deserves sympathy: he made what could’ve been the double save of the season, only for Brooke Norton-Cuffy to bundle over him and bundle the ball over the line at the third or fourth attempt, arguably by kicking it out of Nicholls’ hands. Painful, either way.
On Sunday, West Bromwich Albion and Stoke also drew 1-1, via goals from Lynden Gooch (mishit cross) and Brandon Thomas-Asante (well-hit volley). Two points dropped for the Baggies, in a game of few chances in which they had the better. Finally, Birmingham v Leicester is on Monday Night Football. Enjoy!
It’s hard to imagine a more perfect weekend for those Portsmouth fans that filled the Shropshire air with delight, bouncing up and down in their blue Santa hats.
In fact, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect week.
Monday night’s win in the 1st vs 2nd-placed clash with Bolton saw a wholehearted display and a raucous atmosphere. A trip to Shrewsbury was an opportunity to double down on their status as the division’s best side, but the threat of an ‘After The Lord Mayor’s Show’ type performance lingered.
So, how about a win with three good goals and a clean sheet? How about star striker Colby Bishop returning from injury, while others – Abu Kamara, in particular – showed, once again, that they can step up? How about the teams in 2nd and 3rd place both dropping points? Portsmouth’s lead at the top extends to seven points; the gap to third is eight.
As was the case on Monday, a set-piece goal unlocked the game after a low-key start. A Marlon Pack long throw bounced on the edge of Shrews’ six yard box. Abu Kamara slid in to finish at the back post.
Their dominance from attacking set-piece situations is, as shown by Opta Analyst, a significant boon, and set-piece coach Joe Prodomo should take a lot of credit.
Shrewsbury have lost 11 of their 22 league games this season, and have failed to score on each occasion. Once Portsmouth took the lead, the result was unquestionable.
Pack, whose own return to injury has coincided with four straight wins, tapped home after good work from Paddy Lane. And Kamara produced a Sergio Aguero-esque finish – high into the near post – to make it 3-0. Play up, indeed.
Instead, it was Bolton who were impacted – mentally, physically, technically – from defeat in Monday night’s big game. Sloppy, loose and lethargic. Bristol Rovers, taking on a new shape under Matt Taylor, were a poor opponent to face: industrious and motivated. An excellent cross from Grant Ward set up John Marquis for the opener, then Aaron Collins capitalised on some carelessness and Ricardo Santos hauled him down. Red card.
Having seen off Ricardo Santos in the first half, Collins robbed Josh Dacres-Cogley and cut the ball back for Antony Evans to score. A 2-1 win in the end, and a fun week for travelling Gas fans: a cup win at Crewe, and now this. Their next league games are against Blackpool, Portsmouth and Charlton – it doesn’t get any easier, but this should breathe confidence into all at the club.
Peterborough beat Fleetwood thanks to a wicked swerver from Archie Collins. It’s rare to see a goalkeeper ‘sent the wrong way’ by a long shot, but perhaps Jay Lynch’s line of sight was impacted. In fairness to Lynch, he did make an astounding save from a Ricky-Jade Jones header in the second half.
Peterborough showed real dominance here, once again. It’s reached a stage where teams don’t know whether or not it’s worth pressing them. If you don’t, you allow them to reach the attacking third with ease and go from there. If you push up, you’re liable to get done in behind. Having failed to find a second, Fleetwood did have a couple of sniffs in the last 10 minutes, but it’s a sixth win in eight for Posh, and they’re into 2nd.
Des Buckingham is up and running. His Oxford United side beat Burton Albion 3-0, playing some excellent football and scoring some good goals. Cameron Brannagan was raking crossfield balls, Stan Mills was holding width, and Ruben Rodrigues’ movement saw him get into good positions. Two good finishes with his left foot had the game won. Marcus McGuane’s first league goal in his 110th appearance was worth the wait: a precision curler from range. “I think it’s a relief for my dad and my family,” said Buckingham, the born and bred Oxfordman. Sweet.
Exeter trudged into the away dressing at Stevenage at half-time in the following state: 0-1 down, down to ten men, and surely heading for twelve without a win. Gary Caldwell chucked on Yanic Wildschut at half-time. Yanic on the streets of Hertfordshire, panic in the Stevenage defence, as he equalised within minutes of the second half. Surprisingly, Steve Evans’ team couldn’t blow the house down, despite chances for Jordan Roberts and Elliott List. It’s fair to say this is one of Exeter’s best results of the season.
Not a lot happened in Derby 1-1 Wycombe until a dangerous Nathaniel Mendez-Laing cross was pushed into the path of Tom Barkhuizen to put Derby ahead in the 83rd minute. Wycombe were staring down the barrel of five straight defeats; Derby, looking at six straight wins. A home win seemed about right.
But football doesn’t work like that!
In stoppage time, Wycombe sent a long punt forward. A Hail Mary. A Joe Low flick-on. Joe Ward, the wrong side of David Wheeler, clipped the Wycombe attacker. Penalty. Luke Leahy dispatched it and the streaks were snapped.
Barnsley and Charlton Athletic came into this game looking to do something that neither have managed to do this season: beat a team higher than 11th in the league table.
In hindsight, this was always destined to be a draw.
Herbie Kane had already brought the best out of Ashley Maynard-Brewer before having a big impact in the game’s opener. The midfielder chased a lost cause down the left and was deemed to have kept the ball in play, much to the surprise of both George Dobson and Tennai Watson. Charlton’s defence were dragged out of position to cover the pair, leaving Adam Phillips free to finish from the other side of the box.
But Tykes captain Jordan Williams helped to keep up their unwanted record, first playing a loose pass back to the visitors, before touching Tayo Edun’s chipped pass in behind his centre-half, allowing Corey Blackett-Taylor to latch on, beat two and finish. That goal ensured Charlton left with a point and extends their unbeaten run to six matches. Barnsley remain in seventh.
Port Vale made it back-to-back victories as an Ethan Chislett hat-trick helped to see off Wigan Athletic in a five-goal thriller.
Chislett came close early doors, chesting the ball against the woodwork. He wouldn’t be denied a second time, as another driving run down the right, this time from Gavin Massey, led to a close-range strike. Chislett would score his second after excellent work from Ollie Arblaster, who evaded wild Sean Clare and Charlie Hughes tackles to find the bagsman free in the area to control and finish.
Wigan responded positively, a driving run from Callum Lang leading to a smart Chris Sze strike, then Shaun Maloney’s experienced heads stepped up as Callum McManaman crossed for Charlie Wyke to finish. Arblaster hit the post but the day was all about Chislett, who rounded off his hat-trick by getting the better of Baba Adeeko and seeing his deflected strike loop over Sam Tickle. The win sees Vale overtake Wigan in the table and move nine points clear of the bottom four.
Two late, deflected strikes were enough for Leyton Orient to grab a first league win in over two months away at Cheltenham Town.
A tight affair opened up after Ben Williams picked up a second yellow card inside 20 minutes. Cheltenham would focus on keeping their shape, leaving Orient to have more than three-quarters of the ball. Yet Darren Pratley had a moment of madness, scything down Will Ferry in the area to allow namesake Goodwin to finish confidently from 12 yards – that’s four in four for the 21 year-old striker.
Orient needed a moment of brilliance or a bit of luck… and the latter came in abundance. Sean Long helped out first, deflecting Shaq Forde’s strike past Luke Southwood. The goalkeeper was wrong-footed again in injury time, Ethan Galbraith’s effort hitting Lewis Freestone and bouncing in. Orient move up to 14th, while Cheltenham are now six points adrift of safety.
Another injury-time goal came at Brunton Park as Carlisle United were denied all three points by Northampton Town.
Shaun McWilliams broke down the left and his effort squirmed beyond the grasp of Tomáš Holý thanks to a Jon Mellish deflection. Northampton barricaded the goal, forcing the hosts to try their luck from distance. Jordan Gibson’s left-wing cross was tipped over and Jack Robinson hit the bar from 25 yards before Jack Armer equalised, the left-back's first-time cross finding the inside of the far post. Ryan Edmondson then flicked home a near-post corner, and the Cumbrians were ahead for only the sixth time this season — the fewest in the division.
Unfortunately for Carlisle, whose fans were berated by Paul Simpson for berating him and his players last week, Northampton aren’t easily beaten. Kieran Bowie found the gap between Holý’s legs to equalise and keep the Cobblers in the top half.
Reading picked up just their fourth point on the road this term, away to Lincoln City.
Lincoln took the lead very early via an own goal. Teddy Bishop found himself in the penalty area but with another 11 players on the same side of the box as him. He tried to feed the ball into the six-yard box and Nelson Abbey’s touch helped it beyond David Button.
Reading responded brilliantly, limiting their hosts to just four shots over the 90 minutes. They thought they had equalised when a Femi Azeez cross ended up in the net, but the goal was disallowed for a foul. They saw another disallowed when Andy Yiadom’s strike made it to the back post for a simple tap-in, only for the offside flag to be raised. If you watch the highlights closely, you’ll see a protest tennis ball launched in the linesman’s direction.
It was third time lucky for Reading. Jeriel Dorsett found Harvey Knibbs’ run towards the left channel and he finished confidently past Lukas Jensen.
Reading would have to chase victory without their manager, Ruben Selles, who showcased his footballing ability with a lovely flick. Unfortunately for him, it was rightly deemed as kicking the ball away to avoid a quick throw. Naughty Ruben.
Cambridge United came from behind against Blackpool as Neil Harris celebrated his first win as U’s manager.
Harris’ teams are often direct and strong from set-pieces, so he won’t have been happy with the opener, as Karamoko Dembele’s free-kick to the back post was headed in by an unmarked Jordan Rhodes – the last player in League One you want to leave alone in the box.
However, Blackpool are yet to win a game against sides below them away from home, and Cambridge exploited their vulnerability. Matthew Pennington and Ollie Norburn helped, looking towards the linesman for a flag that never came. James Brophy did what you’re taught to do as a footballer: play to the whistle. He crossed for Gassan Ahadme. He was denied; Elias Kachunga wasn’t. Ahadme would get his goal, played in behind by ex-Tangerine Sullay Kaikai and taken out by Daniel Grimshaw before dispatching the resulting penalty.
Cambridge shut up shop thereon, giving up just five shots to the visitors despite playing the final 10 or minutes or so with 10 men after Paul Digby was sent off. A draw at Charlton and a win here — fantastic start for Neil Harris.
Our league leaders, Stockport County, were in reasonably poor nick results-wise coming into the weekend. But any fears of a halt to their promotion push were not just allayed but outright annihilated with a remarkable 8-0 victory over struggling Sutton.
The Edgeley Park crowd was treated to a performance of the highest order from County, with four goals in either half on a joyous afternoon. Ryan Croasdale’s first-half brace set the tone for what was to come. His goalscoring antics ignited the forwards to join in on the fun – and boy, did they. There were goals for Kyle Wootton, Isaac Olaofe and of course Paddy Madden, scoring a hat-trick to pounce on Sutton’s woes. Oh, and a lovely moment for young Joel Cotterill, who scored his first senior goal.
Stockport simply couldn’t be handled on the day, and although it is easy to bombard Sutton with negativity, admiration must go to Dave Challinor and his side. If this marks the start of another winning run, then the title race may end up being a short one.
Sat one place behind Stockport, as the surprise festive package, are Barrow. They continue to impress under Pete Wild and a 3-0 victory away at Swindon stretched their unbeaten league run to 11, rubber-stamping their promotion credentials. Barrow have been effective from set-pieces this season, and a wonderfully intuitive one gave them their opener, as the ball was pulled back to Kian Spence and his low drive arrowed into the far corner. Spence is building up a very credible goalscoring montage.
Another huge strength of theirs has been capitalising on winning positions, and two more set pieces (obviously) ensured that three points were heading their way, with smart headers from Sam Foley and James Chester. It’s been a remarkable effort by the Bluebirds, and who knows what their ceiling might be?
If a Barrow promotion push is to materialise, then they’ll have to hope the form of Wrexham falls off, because they are another side who are ticking away nicely. After a wobbly start to the season, they are beginning to exert their dominance on games at the Racecourse now, and although it wasn’t plain sailing in the 2-1 victory against Colchester, it was yet another win which highlighted their resilience.
Elliot Lee has arguably been one of the players of the season so far and a birthday goal made this an upward battle for ColU from the outset. The red card shown to George Evans for a late tackle did invite pressure from the visitors, but Wrexham dealt with it relatively well and doubled the lead from a Zach Mitchell own goal. Jayden Fevrier responded late on, but Colchester didn’t leave themselves enough time to take anything from the contest.
The game with the most drama in League Two undoubtedly came at Gresty Road between Crewe Alexandra and Accrington Stanley, two of the league’s most attacking-minded sides. What happens when you pair them together? That’s right: a 3-3 draw. Crewe had the lead twice in the first half, with well-worked goals from Aaron Rowe and Mickey Demetriou, but the game didn’t truly ignite until the 80th minute when Luke Offord was dismissed for a last-man offence.
What followed was pure fourth-tier drama. Two Accrington goals and Harvey Davies errors in the Crewe goal looked to have changed the destination of the three points, but there was no way that late drama king Elliott Nevitt was going home without a goal. His rocket into the top-left corner meant both teams had to settle for a point in a topsy-turvy, excitement-filled game.
The departure of Derek Adams must’ve brought a sense of trepidation at Morecambe, and although there are still clear issues off the pitch that need resolving, those wearing the badge on a Saturday afternoon continued to do so with confidence, passion and quality.
Doncaster Rovers couldn’t live with the Shrimps and were left shocked by a 5-0 home defeat, with Grant McCann’s side now looking over their shoulder at the league table. A goal in each half for Michael Mellon highlighted his predatory instincts when given chances, scoring his 12th and 13th league goals of the campaign.
The pick of the bunch, though, was the fourth goal, scored by David Tutonda. Squint and it resembles pure Barcelona. Liquid football replete with a delicious dummy saw Tutonda presented with a shooting opportunity, and he rifled one off the underside of the crossbar and in. A brilliant performance and result for Morecambe.
No feel-good factor about Notts County right now. They succumbed to a 3-1 defeat against a clinical Harrogate Town. Of course, Luke Williams’ team had much more of the ball, but they were caught out way too often by Harrogate in what was an excellent home display. The opener by George Thomson was a goal of real quality, and Abraham Odoh added to the lead with a close-range tap in, with questions to be asked about Aidan Stone in the County net. Truth be told, this was an extremely poor performance all round for the visitors, and despite Jodi Jones scoring one of the goals of the season with a free-kick, they conceded a third just moments later via Matty Daly’s intricate flick.
Mansfield are the team with the fewest defeats in League Two and the L-column still reads “1” following another impressive 3-1 away win against an improving Crawley side.
Having Rhys Oates fit and firing will be crucial to their chances of promotion. His assist for the opener was one of sheer quality: close control, pace and a teasing delivery that was brilliantly headed in by Baily Cargill. A cheap penalty converted by Danilo Orsi saw the game levelled, but Mansfield took control after the break and made sure the game would be theirs. Davis Keillor-Dunn is one of the division’s hot-shots and neatly tucked one in to restore the lead before a tidy George Maris strike provided the cushion. Clough and Stags will take some stopping and are breathing down the necks of the top two.
Eyebrows were raised by the appointment of Graham Alexander at Bradford City, coming into a huge club that had been underachieving at this level. Things did not start well, but three wins in a row including this comfortable 2-0 victory at Gillingham suggested that things are improving. A remarkable save by Harry Lewis kept things level, but from that point onwards Bradford were the game’s dominant side and made sure their performance was rewarded.
Jamie Walker’s low finish broke the deadlock, and an Andy Cook free-kick sealed things. It’s not often you see big No.9s uch as Cook taking dead balls, but with shot power and goalscoring prowess, it is easy to see how he has it in his locker. Much more positivity around Bradford heading into the Christmas week.
Another managerial appointment that seems to be paying off is Mike Williamson to MK Dons. Their 2-0 victory over Forest Green meant they’re six unbeaten, and the level of comfort in the performance suggests that they could certainly be a promotion challenger. If you listened to Max Dean’s interview on a recent NTT20 pod, it would come as no surprise to see him doing so well. He plays with a smile on his face, and a confident opener showed just how much he’s enjoying his football at the moment.
MK were causing all kinds of problems down the right, finding acres of space and having the intelligence to find runners arriving. Jack Payne was one of those, and he also swept one in to take the game away from Forest Green. Although they have two games in hand, they are five points adrift of safety and struggling.
The game between Walsall and Tranmere had the feeling of a nervy one, with Matt Sadler under pressure from sections of the Walsall fanbase due to an inconsistent season. A narrow 1-0 victory, though, once again highlighted their ability to dig in and find wins when performances might not be at the highest level.
A quick glance at the league table would lead people to think Tranmere are one of the worst teams in the division, but recent performances under Nigel Adkins have been much improved. Rovers actually had the better of the chances here, but they failed to take any and Jamille Matt’s clinical second-half goal was enough for the points. If he’s to rediscover his form from his time at Forest Green, Walsall could be onto a winner.
Ali Al-Hamadi is one of the league’s most in-form players and playing beyond his years, but it wasn’t his day as Wimbledon were forced to settle for a goalless draw away at Salford. The 21-year-old Iraq international had several chances on the day but was just unable to convert them, despite a dominant performance. With him being so involved in every game and Wimbledon continuing to control matches, it will come as no surprise if they are in and around the play-off places come May. Salford flattered to deceive on the day, with question marks around Neil Wood’s future.
And if you offered Newport and Grimsby a point each before a ball was kicked, there’s every chance they’d both take it, but 19 shots apiece suggested that this was a game both teams wanted to attack and win. Dave Artell has really improved Grimsby since coming in, and one of his key strengths is keeping teams motivated. There will have been some disappointment when Omar Bogle opened the scoring for Newport relatively late on, but they responded quickly through Danny Rose to go home with a point. Both teams would certainly like to be higher in the table than they currently are, but there are definite signs of positivity.