Category: The Football Leagues


By Laurie Fitzgerald

The Football League Play-offs take centre stage once again this weekend as four teams battle it out for the ultimate aim of the season and clinch promotion.

On Saturday Huddersfield Town take on Sheffield United in the League One showpiece, before Cheltenham Town and Crewe Alexandra fight it out in the League Two play-off final on Sunday.

While we will look more into that game tomorrow, today’s feature concentrates on the all-Yorkshire affair as the Terriers and the Blades aim to get into the Championship.

Having gone into the play-offs as the top two sides of the quartet, both progressed from their semi-finals in tense fashion to make it to Wembley.

Huddersfield fought off a comeback from Milton Keynes Dons, while Sheffield United took 175 minutes to break down the fierce resilience of Stevenage before Chris Porter’s late second leg header put them one win away from joining local rivals Sheffield Wednesday in promotion back to the second tier this season.     Continue reading

By Laurie Fitzgerald,

Tomorrow, the richest game in world football takes place as Blackpool and West Ham United prepare to battle it out for an instant return back to the biggest league on the planet.

A packed Wembley stadium will host the 2012 Championship play-off final, and while the Hammers start off as favourites to get back into the Premier League, the Seasiders‘ attacking intent means there is every chance of a tangerine party.

Both teams had rather different passages to the final; West Ham eased past Cardiff 5-0 on aggregate, while Blackpool had to resist a stirring Birmingham fightback to edge the Blues 3-2 over two hard-fought legs and earn a crack at reaching the big time again.

Now they are just 90 minutes away, and going into the match there is certainly a contrast between the levels of pressure that each manager will face.     Continue reading

By Laurie Fitzgerald

Birmingham City’s quest for promotion back to the Premier League at the first time of asking came to a disappointing end when they were knocked out of the play-offs by Blackpool.

Despite pulling the aggregate score back from 3-0 down to trailing 3-2 with 20 minutes remaining, the Blues were unable to get the goal needed to take the tie into extra-time as Iain Holloway’s men progressed to Wembley to take on West Ham next Saturday.

However, Birmingham’s fightback was a prime example of the character and the determination to defy the odds that they have developed under manager Chris Hughton over the past 12 months.

When City were relegated on the final day of last season, it began a summer of turmoil that would see major changes from top to bottom of the club.

Owner Carson Yeung was arrested in his native Hong Kong following allegations of money laundering, and with his assets being the subject of a criminal investigation – on top of the huge loss of revenue after falling out of the Premier League – it inevitably lead to asset-stripping at St. Andrews.

Key players in their Carling Cup triumph departed, with the likes of Roger Johnson, Scott Dann, Cameron Jerome, Craig Gardner, Barry Ferguson and Ben Foster all moving on to pastures new.

It was too much for manager Alex McLeish, who decided to resign from his position. To make matters worse for Blues supporters, the Scot would eventually take charge of fiercest rivals Aston Villa.

Hughton was appointed as McLeish’s replacement, left with the task of stabilising the club following a traumatic few months and having to work with a threadbare squad preparing for life in the Championship.     Continue reading

By Laurie Fitzgerald

After a thrilling battle with fierce rivals Sheffield United, Dave Jones’ Sheffield Wednesday edged out their steel city counterparts by clinching the last automatic promotion spot back to the Championship.

Their 2-0 win over Wycombe at Hillsborough on Saturday was in front of a crowd of over 38,000, underlining the fact that this is a club that deserves to be at a far higher level than the third tier of English football it’s found itself languishing the past couple of years.

That victory over Gary Waddock‘s already-relegated outfit completed a stunning run of form under Jones, with 10 wins and three draws in a 13-match unbeaten run enough to oust United from second spot and condemn Danny Wilson’s men to the play-offs.

Jones deserves huge credit for coming into a squad already doing well under previous manager Gary Megson and continuing the momentum built up in the first three quarters of the campaign.

Many observers – as well as Wednesday supporters – were bemused when Chairman Milan Mandaric decided to axe Megson, and the former West Brom and Bolton boss deserves much of the acclaim for re-building the squad and changing round their fortunes in League One over the past couple of seasons.     Continue reading

By Laurie Fitzgerald

Today sees the conclusion of the 2011/12 Npower Championship season, and once again it has been a campaign full of drama and excitement.

There are still one or two permutations to be decided, with Southampton and West Ham fighting for the final automatic promotion spot.

Cardiff City and Middlesborough are also vying for the final play-off place and complete the line-up of those semi-finals, with both having steadily built up a promotion push with new and inexperienced sides respectively.

While these are outcomes yet to be revealed, this Championship season has thrown up plenty of talking points for the 24 clubs involved.     Continue reading

By Laurie Fitzgerald

Brighton & Hove Albion go into Saturday’s final game of the season at Barnsley with only pride left to play for after their play-off push ran out of steam over the last few weeks.

Gus Poyet‘s men have gone on a run of seven games without victory while their promotion rivals kept up the pace and pull away from the Seagulls at the business end of the campaign.

It’s a disappointing way for Brighton‘s first season back in the Championship to end, but looking at the bigger picture and there are plenty of positives to take and build on for the future.     Continue reading

By Laurie Fitzgerald

Charlton Athletic ended their 3-year absence from the Championship last Saturday when a Bradley Wright-Phillips strike gave them a 1-0 win at Carlisle United and earn the Addicks automatic promotion.

The South London club have lead League One since October, and despite the best efforts of both Sheffield clubs Chris Powell‘s side wrapped up a top-two finish with three games to spare.

This achievement was heightened when victory over Wycombe yesterday secured the League One title, and a possible 100-point season is still within reach.

For Powell and Charlton, it’s a great reward not only for a man that has the club very close to his heart, but also to a club that kept faith and backed a manager in his beliefs and convictions.     Continue reading

By Laurie Fitzgerald

Throughout any football season, there are plenty of shocks, thrills and spills that make the game we love so unpredictable.

However, one of the biggest shocks of this current campaign arrived on Monday morning, when it was announced that Steve Evans had stepped down from his position as Crawley Town manager to take over at fellow League Two side Rotherham United.

The 49 year-old signed a three-year deal with the Millers and replaces Andy Scott with United four points adrift of the play-offs thanks to their last-minute win at home to Cheltenham on Monday.

But Evans leaves a Crawley side that are just two points adrift of the automatic promotion places going into the final weeks of the campaign.

He had taken the Red Devils out of the conference with a record total of 105 points, and had overcome recent departures of key players to help put them in contention for back-to-back promotions.

Evans, who previously guided Boston United to the Football League, clearly believes that he can guide the club into the top six in these final weeks, otherwise he would have waited to take the job until the end of the season.     Continue reading

By Laurie Fitzgerald

After a hectic Easter period for all English clubs, we have now reached the decisive point of the season where every game and every point is critical for a team’s objective.

For Tony Mowbray and his Middlesbrough side, they will hope that they can maintain the kind of form that got them into contention for the play-offs in the final four games of the season.

Going into March, Boro looked assured of a top-six place after the Teeside outfit won four out of five league matches to leave them firmly in the frame for promotion from the Championship.

However, a run of eight games without a win has left them outside the play-offs with just 12 points left to play for, and while their top-flight dreams are still intact, Mowbray needs to find a way of galvanising his troops for the crucial run-in.     Continue reading

By Laurie Fitzgerald

Torquay United go into the crucial Easter period knowing that they are very much in control of their own destiny in the battle for automatic promotion.

The Gulls find themselves in the top three going into the final weeks of the League Two season, and a possible second promotion in the past three years is very much on the agenda.

Martin Ling‘s side took another big step towards this aim last week when a 1-0 win at Barnet made it four wins from their last five league matches, and just two points adrift of leaders Swindon Town.

They are one of the form teams of the division going into the business end of the campaign, and have a manager that knows what it takes to get the players into League One.

45 year-old Ling was in charge of Leyton Orient when they gained promotion to the third tier of English football back in 2006, and on top of that he ensured the O’s stayed there the following season – laying the foundations for the East London club to remain there ever since.     Continue reading

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