It is the international break, which means that the Premier League and Championship take a break for a week, but that doesn’t mean that there is no football on, as you know. What is gives me a chance to do is to delve into Leagues One and Two and have a detailed look at some of the teams in there instead – something I do every week but don’t write about due to lack of time. This week, however, I can.
I have watched Luton ever since they came back into the Football League a good few seasons ago now, and they have honestly gone from strength to strength. Appointing Nathan Jones as manager back in January 2016, following the sacking of John Still, proved to be masterstroke. He was previously the first-team coach at Brighton, and worked under the likes of Oscar Garcia, who guided the Seagulls to the play-offs in the 2013-2014 season before resigning after their failure to gain promotion, so he has gained some good experience of how to make a team successful. At Luton, he has introduced a free-flowing style of football that aims to force opposing teams onto the back foot, and against Plymouth yesterday, they did just that. They were helped by some awful Plymouth defending, but the Hatters themselves played the ball through the ranks so smoothly that it was beautiful to watch, and it’s a style that means even the best defences can’t stop them most of the time. I thought there could have been anyone in the Luton team that could have got Man of the Match, but I picked out James Justin, who played at left-back in this match. He was outstanding, and every time he got the ball, something happened, whether it be a pinpoint cross or a goalscoring opportunity, and he controlled the left flank mercilessly. To think that he is still only 20 and is normally a right-back shows that he has a huge future, and I would be very surprised if he isn’t being looked at by clubs in higher divisions who maybe need a long-term solution to an ageing full-back.
Luton, although they had James Collins starting as the striker today, were missing their top scorer from the last few seasons today, Danny Hylton, and still managed to get five goals. That is nothing against Collins, because like Hylton he is a 20-goal-a-season striker too, and is currently sitting on 7 this season, but it is scary to think that, had Hylton been playing, it maybe could have been 8 or 9 for the Hatters yesterday. The Hatters are definitely going up and up in their current form.
Most of what I can say on Plymouth defensively has been said above, but they didn’t defend well yesterday. However, two things make me confident that they will be alright this season. The first is that their recent form of three wins in six games is in stark contrast to their early season form, so there is some promise there for Derek Adams and his players. Striker Freddie Ladapo has shown what he can do when he is given the opportunities in front of goal, having already notched 7 successful strikes this season, and I think he will continue to score when he is given those chances. But the other thing that makes me confident they will be fine this season is that they did exactly this last season. They had an awful start, were bottom of the league, and then suddenly they got going and ended up finishing 7th in the league, just three points outside the play-offs. I would be very surprised if something as extraordinary as that didn’t happen this season too. Remember we are still only in November and there is plenty of time yet.
Barnsley when they were fighting relegation from the Championship last season went on a mini spending spree in January, bringing in players such as Guadeloupe international right-back Dimitri Cavare, Senegalese forward Mamadou Thiam, and Ipswich striker Kieffer Moore, who had spent the first half of last season at then-League One side Rotherham United, scoring 13 goals for the Millers. Whilst none of these really made the impact that the Tykes were hoping for, and they were eventually relegated to League One, they began this season by appointing former Hannover boss Daniel Stendel, and what a difference he has made. Cavare and Thiam are now essential to Barnsley’s style of play, whilst other players at the club, such as George Moncur, Cameron McGeehan and Cauley Woodrow have also proven to be outstanding additions. Moncur is a box-to-box midfielder who makes things happen all over the pitch, McGeehan is an attacking midfielder who is creative and scores goals. He started his career at Norwich City before moving to Luton and making a name for himself there. A lot of eyes were raised when Woodrow was brought in on loan from Fulham, as they had just sold Tom Bradshaw to Millwall, but I commented when he was signed that despite Bradshaw’s departure being a blow to the club, Woodrow is a similar sort of striker who gets in the right areas. As for Kieffer Moore, he is without a doubt a League One striker. He did it for Rotherham, and he is now doing it for Barnsley. He already has 9 goals this season, and with him in the side you will never expect Barnsley to be forced into a goalless draw against anyone. The question over him is whether he will be able to do it in the Championship, should Barnsley be promoted or should a current Championship side sign him in January, because with the chances he has had in that division, he hasn’t been the same player. But one thing that can be said about him is that he has undoubtedly got quality and a predator’s instinct in League One.
Just a quick note on Notts County, and it is an obvious one. Last season, they reached the play-offs after an outstanding season, and were unlucky to not reach the finals. However, they then went out and spent big on good strikers such as Kristian Dennis from Chesterfield and Kane Hemmings from Oxford United, who had impressed whilst on loan at rivals Mansfield Town last season. Signing Crawley Town attacking midfielder Enzio Bouldewijn also seemed to be a good addition to the attacking ranks, and yes they have been good additions as they have all had matches when they have shown their quality. But what the Magpies didn’t do is improve the defence, and that has cost them severely this season. They have gone from a high-flying promotion contender to a team that, frankly, will do well to just stay in the Football League this season. Goalkeeper Ross Fitzsimmons, rightly called “the most over-worked goalkeeper in the Football League” in commentary on Saturday, has absolutely no protection. I also think that they may also be suffering from some complacency after last season, and thinking that they got to the play-offs once, and can do it again. But they aren’t working for it, and they just don’t seem to have any organisation or leadership which is what they need in the defence. The phrase “headless chickens” came to mind a lot when I watched their 3-0 loss to fellow strugglers Cheltenham Town yesterday, and it is something they desperately need to address. The new manager, I feel, has to be someone who has a knack of getting defences solid enough to then build on with the attack that they possess.
Crewe Alexandra v Tranmere Rovers
This isn’t an analysis of the teams as such, but just a mention to some players that featured in this match that I think have futures in higher leagues. Those are Tranmere striker James Norwood, who is currently the top scorer in the Football League with 13 this season, and Crewe attacking midfielder Callum Ainley, who scored twice yesterday, and winger Charlie Kirk, who got the other in Crewe’s win against Tranmere. Norwood will move on either in January or in the summer, I feel, because he is ideal for a club in League Two that is looking to get promoted, or a League One club of any kind. Ainley is a midfielder who gets in space, either out wide or down the middle, and has an eye for goal, and that adds a lot to any team, and Kirk is a winger who is very capable of cutting inside and scoring goals and creating chances too. That is something that a lot of teams would love to have in their ranks too, as it adds a different element to the attack.