With Sheffield United having won the league a while back, the only thing for them to worry about is whether they can reach a century of points. Standing in their way are MK Dons and the already relegated Chesterfield. For the next four teams though it’s fighting for that final automatic promotion place.
Bolton Wanderers missed a chance to make things a little less nervy as they were surprisingly held to a goalless draw at home to Bury. They should in theory be favourites for second, given that they play Port Vale this weekend, who not only are battling for League One survival but have failed to win in their last four games. If they fail that hurdle then they will hope that Gillingham who have been playing relegation chicken, will fail to add to their one win in the last seven. Fleetwood though might want to be aware that the only win in the barren run has come against playoff chasing Bristol Rovers, whose dreams of Wembley promotion are crushed. Fleetwood then on the final game of the season host Port Vale. You have to feel for the Vale in that two of the three remaining games come against Promotion chasing teams.
Either way Bolton and Fleetwood are at least assured of a playoff place if they don’t achieve automatic promotion. The only other team with a guaranteed playoff place are Scunthorpe Utd. Their 3-1 win over relegated Chesterfield meant that they could not drop out. For Bradford they in theory only need a point from their home game against Wimbledon. Southend are the only club that could reach 75 points but seeing that they have hit a one win in four game run, even though Southend travel to relegation threatened Shrewsbury, Bradford should be there. Bradford though face Rochdale who are within three points of Millwall who are in the fourth play off spot.
Whilst other teams can probably secure their playoff place with a point, Millwall unfortunately dont have that luxury, regardless of a struggling Southend below them. Both their remaining two opponents Oxford Utd and Bristol Rovers wont be pushovers although in the previous fixtures, they won both games. Things would be easy if that were the case, but at the same time the London club had lost to Port Vale, who as previously mentioned find themselves languishing at the wrong end of the table. Victory for Millwall and defeat for Southend will all but confirm their play off spot. Should Millwall drop points then not only will Southend still have a chance, but if Rochdale beat Oldham, then it could be an uncomfortable final 90 minutes in the last game of the season.
With Brighton winning away in London on the Friday and Newcastle United losing on the Saturday, it saw the two teams swap places as they aim for glory. It was the seagulls third win in six days and looks enough to keep them in the automatic promotion spots, but as we have seen, nothing is quite guaranteed. For Friday’s game it looked like it could fizzle out in to a draw that would have quite suited their rivals Newcastle.
Glenn Murray had bagged his 21st of the season and his goals going on in the final few games will prove crucial to the South Coast outfit’s promotion chances. Chances were few and far between either of the clubs (eight out of twenty eight combined) but sometimes you just need to convert the ones you take and two out of three for Brighton was enough.
For Newcastle United, their day was the opposite. They were up against it playing Sheffield Wednesday who themselves aiming for a play off spot. It didn’t get any better after 29 minutes when they lost their star striker Dwight Gayle. Despite having the more shots and possession, Rafa Benitez’s men showed that stats don’t count for nothing. Like the game at Loftus Road, it was one of second half showing. A goal on hour and one ten minutes later had most certainly secured the points for the Owls, even though Jonjo Shelvey had netted for Newcastle close to the end.
Huddersfield who are currently third, may have a game in hand but they have a ten point deficit and it could very well be the Easter weekend fixtures that seal the automatic promotion or see oportunities still open. Huddersfield host Preston on Friday and travel to Derby County on the Monday. Two top ten teams battling for position more than anything as they seem too far back in hoping for a playoff spot but for Huddersfield automatic promotion is the feint hope they have whilst they look to cement their playoff spot. Seven points separate Huddersfield and Derby County so points will be crucial come this weekend.
Brighton face Wolves on Good Friday and host Wigan on Easter Monday whilst Newcastle host another promotion chaser in the form of Leeds United and struggling Ipswich. Brighton should be the happier of the two clubs come Tuesday morning as they should take six points, whilst Newcastle United may find themselves only picking up four, especially if they are without their top scorer Dwight Gayle.
Reading, who are a point behind Huddersfield will be hoping to reclaim third spot, which for a number of weeks was their home. Their last game was one to forget as they went crashing to a 7-1 defeat away to Norwich City. Their run in though gives them hope for securing a playoff spot, Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest break up the two games against relegation favourites Wigan and doomed Rotherham. Whilst Nottingham Forest find themselves at the wrong end of the table, they should be safe from the drop.
Having had a bad start to the season, Leeds United are doing their bit to make sure they have a playoff hope and a return to the top flight once more. They though have a marginally easier run in. Apart from the trip to Newcastle on Good Friday and a home game against promotion rivals Norwich City at the end of April, it’s a case of the strugglers. Of course though never understimate the strugglers. They will have all to play for and will no doubt not have a care in the world with regards to who is challenging for the title or chasing a play off place.
Fulham who lie just outside the playoff spots by two points will be hoping that their recent good form will keep them moving higher and into the playoff spots although for the West London club, it will be a little more trickier journey. Fulham travel to Norwich on Good Friday whilst hosting Villa on the Monday. Fellow promotion chasers Huddersfield, who will have their own place to secure host Fulham in the penultimate game whilst a game against midtable Brentford brings their season to a close.
It’s going to be quite close and exciting for fans of the top six seven although for Brighton given their position, they will be the more happier. A top two spot for them is definitely going to happen, it’s just down to whether they or Newcastle have the bottle to go the stay the course. Newcastle with the experience and leadership of Rafa Benitez should guide them to another championship trophy and return to the Premier League.
Playoffs? well that’s where the fun starts and although the current spot takers are Huddersfield, Reading Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday, I think one of the later could find themselves losing out to Fulham.
France hosted Spain on Tuesday night and it was more than just a friendly. When I say more than just a friendly, nothing controversial happened. What did happen though was the first game to feature a video assistant referee making a decision a game. It was the second to feature the French national side in the FIFA trials.
The home side had a goal ruled out when the VAR based outside the stadium, had spotted that Kurzawa was slightly offside when he headed across for the Madrid striker. The Spanish had the reverse in fortunes when their second goal was awarded despite being ruled out by the linesman. Deulofeu’s goal from Jordi Alba’s cross was deemed offside by the pitchside official. Thirty seconds or so later the goal was allowed to stand.
There appeared to be no complaints from the players which bodes well for the future especially if the game time is minimal. The English FA hopes to use it in next seasons FA Cup from round three. It could certainly make a difference in the competition, especially when there have been games that could have done with them.
I personally think that technology in football is useful and helpful in the long run. That is though only if it is on certain game changing incidents like in this case goals standing or being chalked off. I think it should also be used for missed yellow and red card decisions. It maybe an end to the retrospective offences panel, but it would also help with players thinking they can get away with off the ball incidents that the referee or assistants may have missed.
Just imagine if Video Assistant Referees had been around for a few years. Just imagine if there had been VAR. Diego Maradona’s handball would have been scrubbed off, Frank Lampard would have netted against Germany in South Africa, Graham Poll wouldn’t have able to book Josep Simunic three times before sending him off. Thierry Henry would not have been able to get that infamous handball goal against France.
Of course if the system meddles too much, then it will end up ruining the game, I hope though that this doesn’t happen and that the VAR can be good.
When I left for Australia, the Premier League looked quite reasonable, Chelsea were strolling, the chasing pack were still chasing and the teams at the bottom were still battling although some more than others. During the time away however, it seemed to all go a bit mad.
Chelsea’s charge to the title continued with seven from nine, only a draw at Burnley denied the league leaders a 100% February record, that also included a 3-1 home in against Arsenal. Come the end of the month they were able to maintain a lead at the top of 11 points. It was Burnley’s first dropped points in four games and first goal conceded at home in the same four games as they look to cement their Premier League status.
Manchester City, having put that wobble against Everton in January firmly behind them, were back on the chase in February with three wins from three. The blue half of Manchester will know having over come a similar points difference to steal the title in 2011-12 with six games to go, they can take some comfort that they have a few more to try and pull off another storming late run to victory. They will need a confident looking Chelsea to have a bit of a melt down, but as we all know watching football anything can happen.
Having dropped four points in January, February looked like being much kinder with their three games, although their title aspirations were dented a little further with a 2-0 defeat at Anfield, that said Stoke were made to pay as they were thrashed 4-0. The only thing that can derail their top four place are injuries and the FA Cup run albeit with two games that can affect them given that the FA Cup final is back in its right place as the end of season fixture. Given the FA Cup and international fixtures, the coming month will not make it easier for Tottenham.
Given the spending at Old Trafford, you would think they could be doing a tad better than what they are. This season, whilst on a long unbeaten run, they have failed to kill off games when needed or nabbed a draw to rescue a point. February looked to be a 3 from three, but Hull denied them at the start by holding them to a scoreless draw. They could though get back on the winning run with victories over Leicester and Watford. With games to rearrange and two cup runs, it will be interesting to see if this unbeaten run continues, or whether the wind in the sails changes direction as they chase a top four spot.
Liverpool, oh Liverpool. Having sped a long nicely, 2017 seems to have thrown a curveball. Out of both domestic cups, the league was the main focus although that seemed to be a mare for them. A home game against Spurs finally snapped the winless run. The joy was shortlived, managerless Leicester City seemingly annoyed some of their own fans as they scored a 3-1 win against Liverpool. Liverpool’s top four chase is going to be tricky especially if they drop points, even more with some of the clubs around with games in hand, but of course a game in hand is only worth the final result and if the club doesnt win, that all counts for nothing.
For Arsenal, well I think they have had enough over the last few weeks but never rule anything out with the Gunners even if they have had a bit of a mare.
Of course it’s not all about the top, there is the crucial battle for survival and in February that realisation of relegation can become all too real.
Crystal Palace fans thought seeing the back of Pardew might bring a better future, then of course that future was with Sam Allardyce. February hasnt been kind to the Eagles. A 4-0 pasting at home to fellow strugglers Sunderland was followed up by a narrow defeat at Stoke. The final game of the month saw them net a 1-0 win over fellow strugglers Middlesbrough. Things can only get better said a certain music group just over 20 years ago…
Sunderland’s hopes for the great escape seem all but dead, having take two points in January with draws against Liverpool and Spurs, February had promise. Well it did on February 4th but that’s where it ended. Having stuffed Crystal Palace 4-0 in London, Southampton did exactly to them as they had given out. A trip to Everton was never going to end well as the home side extended their winning run with a 2-0 victory. They have a testing March, which if they can get a run together they might just have a chance on the final game of the season to survive.
In an ideal world, regardless of sexual orientation and gender, we could all go watch or play in a football match where ever its held in the country and enjoy it, good banter between fans and players where the game is the winner. Sadly we don’t live in that world, as there are morons up and down the country that seem to think that it is ok for people to be harrassed physically, verbally or virtually because of their orientation. Frankly it is not acceptable and will never be, which is why it is important to have groups campaigning against homophobia. You don’t need to be a straight man or woman to find homophobia appalling and disgusting, at the end of the day as a football fan we should come together to stand up against such vile hatred.
The Football Association together with various clubs up and down the country work together with LGBT organisations to help bring down homophobia in the game. Stonewall and FootballvHomophobia are two groups that work towards making the game we all love, easier for people in the LGBT community, there will be more of that later.
In a BBC Radio 5 Live Survey last year 82% of sports fans said they would have no issue with their club signing a gay player, however 8% of football fans said they would stop watching their team. Whilst it may only be 8% it is still 8% too much and frankly if they would stop watching their team because they signed a player who was gay, then it is no loss to the club or the game. Unfortunately the Football Association Chairman appeared to take the easy way out with his personal view that the abuse must be stopped before a player comes out. Greg Clarke was wrong in his personal view because homophobia wouldn’t be tolerated within the workplace of the Football Association so why should it be allowed to carry on in the stands of a football club, which is as much a workplace as an office or a factory. Those fans who choose to resort to abuse at a game or online should be identified and banned from attending games. We don’t tolerate hooligans or racists, neither should we tolerate homophobes.
The month of February sees the month of action from the Football v Homophobia where clubs, officials and fans can work together to highlight the issues of homophobia in the game. Of course for the group, the it’s not just February but every month they work hard. Im sure they would rather not be having to do it, but all the whilst there is homophobia in the game, they will be working hard to eradicate it. At some point I hope to chat but you can find out more at http://www.footballvhomophobia.com. I also look to chat with gay supporters clubs around the country and how they find tackling the issue.
So 1977 saw the reds of Liverpool and Manchester claim the League and FA Cup and Liverpool successful in the European Cup. Liverpool had in fact retained the League title. Liverpool had battled in a three way title challenge with Ipswich Town and Manchester City, who would finish second. It was also Liverpool’s tenth league title and a new record.
The FA Cup that saw the final between Liverpool and Manchester United, had seen United along the way avenge their Wembley defeat against Southampton the season before. Liverpool in the Semi Final faced their Merseyside neighbours Everton. A 2-2 draw at Maine Road meant a replay at Goodi. It was definitely a case of the blues for the hosts as Liverpool stormed to a 3-0 win.
It was double misery for Tottenham as not only they ended up finishing bottom and relegated, they also went out in the third round to second division Cardiff City.
The 1976-77 had seen the introduction of yellow and red cards and a change from goal average to goal difference. The change to goal difference was designed to encourage more goals scoring.
International football saw a disappointing run of summer games for England compounded by Don Revie’s controversial resignation as he went off to manage in the Emirates. It was also the yeat that saw the famous scenes at Wembley where Scottish fans invaded the pitch and break the goal posts.
1977 saw the beginning of the rise of Wimbledon, who were elected into the fourth division. Having seen a successful run in non league football, they were rewarded with League football participation and for the Dons, life in the league was about to get interesting and in ten years time it would become even more special.
It was soon time for a new season and newly promoted Nottingham Forest were making themselves known as they topped the table at the end of the first month. Other promoted sides, Birmingham City and West Ham both started winless.
Newcastle were in all sorts of trouble, bottom of the table, they found themselves sacking their manager Richard Dinnis who had also criticised the club chairman.
International misery for England once more as they failed to qualify for the 1978 World Cup, making it an absence of eight years for the 1966 winners.
Finally it was big transfers as Kenny Dalglish became the most expensive player signed from a British club when he moves from Celtic to Liverpool. The price was 440,000. Pricey for the Scotsman, not sure whether it would work out though for the defending champions…..
Well that’s all for now on the opening Flashback 40 series. Be sure to check out more.