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Some things from the weekend ~ 08-05-12

Premier League ~ Chicken set loose as Blackburn go down
Blackburn Rovers fans have made it their business to protest against manager Steve Kean and owners Venky's this season. Last night a fan managed to smuggle a chicken into Ewood Park and, adorned in a Rovers flag and a "Kean Out" placard, it was released onto the pitch in the seventh minute. Wigan goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi and Blackburn's Yakubu formed an unlikely partnership to corner the fowl in the goal net before capturing it and handing it to a steward.

In the match itself, Wigan secured their Premier League status at the expense of Blackburn thanks to an 87th-minute goal from Antolin Alcaraz. Rovers will be in the Championship next season but Kean says he wants to continue in his job, despite the protests against him: "I am not going to walk away. I will sit down with the owners and discuss a plan on how to assemble a squad to help us bounce back up straight away."

Championship ~ West Ham too strong for Cardiff
West Ham United went through to the Championship play-offs final with a comfortable 5-0 aggregate win over Cardiff City. Having won the first leg 2-0, the Hammers defied their poor home record – they have lost four and drawn eight at Upton Park this season – to win the second leg 3-0. Goals from Kevin Nolan, Ricardo Vaz-Te and Nicky Maynard sealed the most comfortable semi-final victory since Hull City beat Watford 6-1 on aggregate in 2008. On that occasion Hull went on to beat Bristol City the final and reach the Premier League.

West Ham manager Sam Allardyce said: "We have a huge opportunity to get into the golden league, not for the money from my point of view but because that is where it all happens. There has been a lot of hard work and it paid off today. The players excited and entertained the crowd." West Ham will play either Birmingham City or Blackpool in the final. The second leg of that tie is at St Andrews tomorrow, with Blackpool leading 1-0 from the first leg.

League One ~ Sheffield Wednesday go up as United face the play-offs
Sheffield Wednesday beat Wycombe Wanderers 2-0 at Hillsborough on Saturday to seal promotion to the Championship. In front of 38,082 fans, the Owls never looked in danger of letting their one-point lead over Sheffield United slip. Goals from two loanees, Michail Antonio and Nile Ranger, confirmed that Wednesday will be a Championship club next season. The Owls ended the season with a run of 14 games unbeaten, dropping only six points since their victory in the Steel City derby on February 26.

A priority for manager Dave Jones and chairman Milan Mandaric will be signing some of their loanees, particularly Antonio and defender Danny Batth, on permanent contracts. Antonio has already said he would like to stay, though it is up to his now Premier League parent club Reading. "I have enjoyed my time here. I could never say 'no'. The fans have taken to me and I have taken to the club."

Wednesday's victory means that Sheffield United will have to compete in the play-offs. They are the first team to reach 90 points and not win automatic promotion since Sunderland in the division above in 1998. United will not relish the prospect; they have been in the play-offs four times without ever being successful. In three of those seasons, they have reached the final and lost it without scoring.

In the semi-finals this year they play Stevenage, who confirmed their sixth-place finish with a 3-0 win over Bury. The first leg is on Friday and their manager, Gary Smith, is ready for it: "It will be quick, it will be energetic, it will be physical. It will be up and at them and I will have the guys on raw meat and razor blades all week."

League Two ~ Crawley are promoted again but Hereford are relegated
Crawley Town made it two promotions in a row by winning 1-0 at Accrington. Their caretaker boss, Craig Brewster, took over when former manager Steve Evans left to join Rotherham United. He has since guided Crawley over the line, despite their indifferent end to the season that has brought three wins in their final eight games.

Their players are keen to make sure Evans is not forgotten in the celebrations, though, with right-back David Hunt saying: "Evans assembled the squad and got us to where we were. I have had good luck messages every game since he has gone. People don’t know him; they have a perception of him. I have nothing but praise for him. He gave me a chance whenever I was fit, got my career back on track and got us winning stuff. He has got in touch with all the lads and he cared. This is what he put together."

At the bottom of the league, Hereford were relegated despite beating Torquay United 3-2. A win for Barnet at Burton Albion meant Hereford's victory was not enough to save them. They will play in the Conference next season for the first time since 2006 but chairman David Keyte has pledged to continue supporting the club's development.

"I came in into it two years ago not wanting to carry on with tight purse strings," he said. "The ground needs developing and all the off-field things need to move forward which, in turn, supports the team. We have made progress and all we needed was the football team to be held together. We’ve spent in excess of £100,000 on player budget compared to Graham’s last season. We just haven’t got the results and the results this squad should have got."

Conference ~ York City are going to Wembley again
York City will be calling Wembley "Bootham Crescent South" if they continue like this. They are through to the Conference play-off final with a 2-1 aggregate win over Mansfield Town. It took them until extra-time to overcome Mansfield, with a Matty Blair header in the 111th minute the difference between the sides. York City will play Luton Town in the final on Sunday May 20. Before then City will take on Newport County at the same ground, this time in the FA Trophy final.  Tom Hocking

Comments (13)
Comment by geobra 2012-05-08 14:20:52

It is extraordinary how every year there are more and more of what one would once have called 'traditional non-league clubs' in League 2 (with some now in League 1), with the reverse process taking place in the Conference. The days when a drop into the Conference was a temporary inconvenience are well and truly over, and clubs who were in the league for the best part of a century are in danger of becoming the new 'traditional non-league clubs'. Unless and until, that is, the Conference is renamed 'League 3', because that is effectively what it has become.

Comment by JimDavis 2012-05-08 15:59:52

Same could be said of the Championship and the top division. It's all becoming a bit friends reunited. I'm sure Blackburn fans will be surprised at just how many grounds they will be "re-visiting" next year.

Comment by ingoldale 2012-05-08 18:46:40

Except that the gap between teams at the bottom of the Conference, who are mostly still part-time and have seriously inferior gates, is quite large in terms of quality.

The problem mentioned be geobra is largely down to both the 2 up/2 down system and the increasing number of professional teams this has brought about in the Conference. This has contributed to the difficulty of bouncing back and the addition of ambitious chairman bank rolling club such as Fleetwood and Crawley has only increased this.

Lincoln City were the last club to bounce straight back up and this time round they narrowly avoided relegation. Take a look at the records and see when it was they did go back up at the first time of asking. You'll be surprised.

Comment by jameswba 2012-05-08 19:42:41

ingoldale, without looking at the records, I do know that Shrewsbury Town bounced straight back up in 2003/2004. They did it through the play-offs, though, and Hereford, who'd finished streets ahead of them in second place with a really good side, were especially unlucky to miss out.

But I agree with your wider points - the part-timers really struggle these days. For that and other reasons, I was delighted to see AFC Telford hang on.

Comment by geobra 2012-05-08 23:09:13


@ ingoldale

I don't see it as a 'problem'. It's a fact. The introduction of the pyramid has surely been the saviour of non-league football. When I first started watching, at Woking in the 1950s, the various amateur and semi-professional leagues were independent entities with no promotion or relegation, which meant that a large number of matches, maybe the majority, were meaningless unless you were in with a chance of winning the championship. Of course times were different then, and there were still lots of cracking games.

At the same time certain clubs were perennially seeking re-election to the league, which they nearly always got due to the 'old pals act'. Now they have to earn the right to stay in the league, which is surely as it should be. And if some old-established league clubs have been found wanting, that's life (and football).

Besides, going down to the Conference from League 2 isn't exactly the equivalent of being consigned to outer darkness, especially as you will now find lots of your old friends there.

Comment by madmickyf 2012-05-09 04:44:23

"It will be quick, it will be energetic, it will be physical. It will be up and at them and I will have the guys on raw meat and razor blades all week." - a very succinct and accurate description of Stevenage's style of play, if they do make it into the Championship it will be like Cambridge Utd under John Beck all over again!

Geobra - could you please let the mainstream media know that going down to the Conference isn't the equivalent of dropping of the face of the earth as they don't seem to have grasped this. There are clubs down there whose average gates are higher than those of clubs in League 1 yet the coverage on TV and in the national press is virtually non-existant.

Comment by Adam Wilson 2012-05-09 09:38:12

Re: part-time footballers in the Conference - team of the year Braintree? Solidly mid table in their first year at this level, no danger of relegation, lots of goals. And all this despite crowds of 700-800, ludicrous league rules enforcing tens of thousands of pounds on irrelevant 'stadium upgrades' for usually non-existant segregation purposes.
And it's nice to see League 1 get its annual injection of an 'ex-big boys club': welcome to Coventry and Portsmouth!

Comment by ingoldale 2012-05-09 10:36:32

@geobra By 'problem' I meant the increased difficulty of returning to the league in a positive light. I couldn't agree more with you. The Conference is more competitive and popular than ever - you only have to compare gates with 15 years ago when if one club got over 1,000 people in, that was good! Now under a thousand is considered poor!

@Adam Wilson I think team of the year has to be Southport. Like Braintree, also part-time, and less than 1hr from Liverpool's jugernaut clubs, have managed decent crowds and to maintain a play-off place to nearly the end of the season!

Braintree deserve a mention, espeically their left back Thomas (who I think they'll be lucky to hold on to), but I'd give the ward to high-flying-right-to-the-death Southport.

Comment by ingoldale 2012-05-09 10:37:53

@jameswba Yeah, I remember, under Simpson. Should have specified as Champions which is a much meaner feat as demonstrated by the fact that you mentioned Hereford United finishing ahead of the Shrews.

Comment by ingoldale 2012-05-09 10:38:25

Actually, no, that was Carlisle, wasn't it? Simpson?

Comment by geobra 2012-05-09 14:55:48

Mention of Hereford and Shrewsbury might remind people of a feisty debate back in December on whether the play-offs should depend on the number of points that separate the first team to miss out on automatic promotion and the team immediately below, as happens in Italy.

On attendances, I agree totally. And not just in the Conference National. Woking, who have admittedly had a sensational season, were never below four figures at Kingfield, with a high of 4,048 and an average of about 1,800.

Back in the mid 80s Dartford, in one of their two seasons in the Conference, played lovely football under John Still in front of crowds that hovered between 500 and 700, and it was considered sensational when the big derby against Maidstone drew 1,075!

I also agree about Braintree, but maybe now they must ensure that they don't 'do a Histon'. I think that I would add Alfreton to the list of clubs to be commended, because at the beginning of the season they seemed completely out of their depth.

Some people may not know that back in the 50s, when I started watching, leagues like the Isthmian didn't even have fixture lists. The following Saturday's games were published every Monday in the Telegraph and the Times!

Comment by geobra 2012-05-09 14:55:48

Mention of Hereford and Shrewsbury might remind people of a feisty debate back in December on whether the play-offs should depend on the number of points that separate the first team to miss out on automatic promotion and the team immediately below, as happens in Italy.

On attendances, I agree totally. And not just in the Conference National. Woking, who have admittedly had a sensational season, were never below four figures at Kingfield, with a high of 4,048 and an average of about 1,800.

Back in the mid 80s Dartford, in one of their two seasons in the Conference, played lovely football under John Still in front of crowds that hovered between 500 and 700, and it was considered sensational when the big derby against Maidstone drew 1,075!

I also agree about Braintree, but maybe now they must ensure that they don't 'do a Histon'. I think that I would add Alfreton to the list of clubs to be commended, because at the beginning of the season they seemed completely out of their depth.

Some people may not know that back in the 50s, when I started watching, leagues like the Isthmian didn't even have fixture lists. The following Saturday's games were published every Monday in the Telegraph and the Times!

Comment by jameswba 2012-05-09 15:02:57

Yes, Shrewsbury came up under Jimmy Quinn. Kevin Ratcliffe took them down the season before. I saw Hereford play at Telford (just before the latter went bust) in 2003/2004. They won 3-0 with possibly the best performance I've ever seen from a supposed non-league side. It's partly because of that that I commented on how unlucky they were that season.

They took a long time to get back up after their 97 relegation (covered in Gary Nelson's Torquay book). I suspect they'll take at least as long after this latest relegation, thus further proving what you and others have been saying about the Conference.

It's a league I watched very regularly in the 80s and 90s (I don't now as I live abroad) and it's changed out of all recognition. I do have a nostalgia for the days when Altrincham, Enfield, Kettering and Telford were among the strongest clubs in it.


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