EFL Weekly – Gameweek Roundup 2-3 October

It was a quick turnaround for teams in the EFL as gameweek 11 was quickly upon us after Friday and Saturday’s action.

In true EFL fashion, you could never be quite sure of what was going to happen – with struggling sides trumping teams at the top, late drama aplenty and even a managerial sacking to boot, this is EFL Weekly.

Championship

BREBIR
Brentford celebrate Josh McEachran’s equaliser against Birmingham City

Cabbages, dramatic comebacks and managerial casualties; it’s been quite the week for Aston Villa.

Heading into Tuesday night’s Villa Park meeting with struggling Preston, Steve Bruce’s team had suffered an indifferent start to the season, having recorded just one win from their last nine matches in all competitions.

That came at home to a Rotherham side still yet to pick up a point on their travels, but as referee Peter Bankes blew his whistle to signal the end of the first half against North End two weeks on, it appeared that the Villans luck may well be changing.

Bruce had enjoyed a 45-minute period which saw his side comfortably two goals up thanks to strikers Jonathan Kodjia and Tammy Abraham, but little did the 57-year-old know that was – almost typically – all about to change.

Centre half James Chester was sent off less than ten minutes into the second half, and Daniel Johnson scored from the spot to give the visitors a lifeline, and all of a sudden, doubt was creeping in at Villa Park once again.

Set piece specialist Paul Gallagher then curled a free-kick in to level things up, before turning provider for Louis Moult, who headed the veteran’s corner in four minutes from time to complete a remarkable comeback.

That sparked a huge display of discontent from the Villa faithful, with one fan even bizarrely throwing a cabbage at the home side’s under-fire manager; an incident that is now being investigated by police.

On the other hand, Alex Neil’s men seemed set to be on course for a vital three points that could have lifted them out of the drop zone, but little did the Lilywhites know that disaster would strike – not once, but twice – in stoppage time.

First, Everton loanee Yannick Bolasie levelled the match again after firing home a 91st minute equaliser, and then, right at the death, Johnson fouled Birkir Bjarnason in the box, giving Villa the chance to take the points after all.

The responsibility was left on the experienced shoulders of midfield general Glenn Whelan, but the Irishman’s low effort was brilliantly kept out by North End shot-stopper Chris Maxwell, diving away to his left, to make himself the hero of the night and earn his side a precious point.

But the disappointment didn’t stop there for Bruce, who was later sacked on Wednesday after overseeing a difficult start to the 2018-19 campaign. The search is on for bosses at Villa Park to find his replacement, but for now, the Midlands club find themselves in 13th and two points off the top six.

Elsewhere on Tuesday, Leeds and Middlesbrough both leapfrogged leaders West Bromwich Albion with 1-0 and 2-0 away wins at Hull and Ipswich, whilst Brentford failed to capitalise on a Maikel Kieftenbeld red card by drawing 1-1 at home to Birmingham – extending the Bees winless run to four matches, whilst the Blues are now unbeaten in seven, despite lingering down in 18th.

Stoke went to within two points of opponents Bolton by winning 2-0 at the bet365 Stadium, Queens Park Rangers pulled further clear of the bottom three with a 1-0 win at Reading, and Wigan played out a goalless draw with Swansea, as both sides missed out on the chance to claim a top six place.

Moving on to Wednesday, and there was more late drama involving a club from the West Midlands, as West Brom fought from two goals down to steal a point from South Yorkshire.

Albion could have returned to top spot in the Championship with a Hillsborough victory against Sheffield Wednesday, but found themselves two behind at the break after Fernando Forestieri’s strike was preceded by Adam Reach, who added to his collection of screamers.

The game seemed to be petering out, but two goals in a spectacular sixty seconds saw the Baggies level in the final five minutes, as first Joey Pelupessy put into his own net, and then youngster Harvey Barnes equalised with a stunning solo effort.

As a result, Darren Moore’s side drop below Leeds, Boro and Wednesday’s cross-city rivals Sheffield United, who continued their good form with a 2-0 win at Blackburn to go level on points with the top two.

Meanwhile, Norwich consolidated their playoff position despite seeing their five-match win streak in all competitions come to an end in a 1-1 draw at Derby, Nottingham Forest threw away a 2-0 lead to draw with Millwall in a game that was interrupted by floodlight failure at the City Ground, and the deadlock remained unbroken at the New York Stadium as Rotherham and Bristol City played out a goalless draw.

League One

SUNPET
Ten-man Sunderland hit the front late on against Peterborough thanks to Jerome Sinclair’s goal

Accrington continued their fairy tale return to the third tier after almost sixty years by moving into the playoffs with a 1-0 home win over Doncaster.

It’s now three wins in a row for Stanley, who ended Rovers’ run of four straight victories, and John Coleman’s men remain unbeaten since an opening day defeat to Gillingham.

Offrande Zanzala was the hero in the 87th minute after the Congolese striker latched onto a Billy Kee through ball to slot in the winner and send the home side into the top six for the first time this season.

Doncaster remain third – a point above Stanley – and joining the pair in the playoffs are Barnsley – who could only draw at home to basement club Plymouth – and Sunderland, who played their part in an enthralling clash at the Stadium of Light.

Peterborough were the visitors and looking to regain top spot from Portsmouth, but had to settle for a point after a frantic, action-packed game.

19-year-old Josh Maja fired his team ahead in the first half with an eighth goal of the campaign, but as the Black Cats looked comfortable, disaster struck with a quarter of the contest to go.

Bryan Oviedo lashed out at Marcus Maddison and was consequently sent off, with Posh then taking full advantage six minutes later through substitute Joe Ward’s equaliser.

The visitors may have fancied their chances of finding a winner, but it was their hosts who retook the lead with just over ten minutes to go thanks to Jerome Sinclair’s first goal for the club.

But the drama didn’t stop there, and it was former Newcastle striker Ivan Toney who had the last laugh, scoring six minutes from the end to steal a point for a Peterborough side who were second best throughout.

Two points dropped for the travelling side mean Portsmouth extend their lead at the summit, as Ronan Curtis’ goal in first-half stoppage time secured a 1-0 win for Pompey at Coventry to maintain their unbeaten start.

At the bottom, there was a huge three points for Bradford as the Bantams claimed a narrow first win for new boss David Hopkin at AFC Wimbledon, which lifted them out of the drop zone.

Replacing City in the bottom four are Wycombe, who fought back to earn a point at Fleetwood in a 1-1 draw, whilst ten-man Oxford faced devastation as a 98th minute goal from Dan Potts condemned them to a 2-1 home defeat against Luton.

Elsewhere, there were goalless draws for Rochdale and Walsall at home to Bristol Rovers and Shrewsbury respectively, Southend came from behind to win 2-1 at Burton, and Scunthorpe made it three wins from four as the Iron beat Charlton 5-3 in the game of the night to boost their pursuit of the playoffs.

League Two

CAMFGR
Matt Worthington sealed victory at Cambridge late on for unbeaten Forest Green Rovers

Lincoln’s lead at the top of the fourth tier was lessened as the Imps faced a shock 1-0 defeat at Tranmere.

The league’s leading scorer James Norwood bagged the game’s only goal on the hour with his eighth of the campaign, but went from hero to zero in stoppage time as he received a second yellow and was subsequently sent off.

It didn’t count for much as the hosts held out for a mightily impressive three points to jump five places into tenth, but there will be concern for manager Micky Mellon with his talismanic striker missing Saturday’s trip to Morecambe.

Newport, who started the night second, missed a glorious chance to go level on points at the top, but ultimately were more than happy with a point after a crazy game at Rodney Parade.

The Exiles hosted winless Macclesfield, but it was the Silkmen who astonishingly found themselves two goals to the good after just eleven minutes.

Fiacre Kelleher’s header was followed up by a David Fitzpatrick penalty, but County fought back through first Dan Butler and then Mickey Demetriou.

Macclesfield were awarded a second penalty with less than ten minutes remaining which captain Fitzpatrick again converted, but Newport snatched a draw at the death as Jamille Matt’s goal in the seventh minute of added time rounded off a pulsating finish.

It was a result neither side had hoped for, with the visitors remaining bottom of the EFL, and Mike Flynn’s team dropping into third as Exeter took full advantage with a 1-0 win at home to Stevenage, who went into the game sitting fourth.

Colchester and Forest Green, who also had playoff places to retain, did so in style with 3-1 wins against Yeovil and Cambridge, with the latter dropping into the relegation zone as visiting Rovers preserved their unbeaten record in 2018/19.

Oldham dropped out of the top seven after holding out to a goalless draw away to dominant Mansfield, whilst MK Dons leapfrogged the Latics with a comfortable 2-0 win at Port Vale.

At the bottom, Grimsby ended their run of six straight defeats with a vital 1-0 win at Carlisle that lifts the Mariners out of the bottom two – but only on goal difference – with Northampton making it three teams on eight points after goalless draw at home to play-off pushing Bury.

Just above them, Harry Kewell continued the revival at Notts County by making it four unbeaten and two wins in a row with a 3-1 home success over his former employers Crawley, who remain midtable.

And completing the round up are Cheltenham and Morecambe – who fought out an entertaining 2-2 draw at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium – and Crewe, as the Alex bounced back from Saturday’s defeat in Nottingham to beat Swindon 1-0 at Gresty Road.

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EFL Weekly – Gameweek Roundup 30 September

After an enthralling midweek schedule of Carabao Cup action, it was back to league action as the EFL closed out September with a bang.

The big winners in Round 3 of England’s 58-year-old domestic cup were Derby County, who stunned the country by beating giants Manchester United on penalties at Old Trafford to heap more misery on Frank Lampard’s former mentor, Jose Mourinho.

It’s been quite a ten days or so for the ex-England midfielder, who celebrated the birth of his daughter with an impressive home win over Brentford that was followed by that famous trip to the North West, but could they back it up at the University of Bolton Stadium?

The focus is on the Rams as we take a look at the latest round of EFL fixtures.

Championship

MILSHU
David McGoldrick scored two late goals to earn three points for Sheffield United.

It was an emotional afternoon in the SkyBet Championship as Derby were brought back down to Earth by a resolute Bolton Wanderers side in a tight game.

In attendance at the University of Bolton Stadium was former right-back Stephen Darby, who announced his retirement from football less than two weeks ago after being diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease.

Saturday’s match-up against the East Midlands outfit marked the club’s first home game since their defender’s devastating news was made public, and the 29-year-old was paid tribute to as the Bolton XI took to the pitch pre-match in shirts bearing their former teammate’s name and number.

And the start which followed shortly after was only fitting.

In the tenth minute, winger Will Buckley twisted Fikayo Tomori inside and out before floating a left-foot cross towards the back post.

Arriving late was Craig Noone, who connected with the ball on the corner of the six-yard box and headed it back to whence it came – across the helpless pair of Scott Carson and Jayden Bogle – and into the net.

The former Cardiff man sprinted towards Darby, sat in the stands, and the pair celebrated with a warm embrace in a picture that painted a thousand words – a moment and memory that will last a lifetime.

And after that, Bolton as a unit were emotionally-charged and fully determined to put an end to their five-game winless streak.

Phil Parkinson’s side put in arguably their best defensive display of the campaign, restricting their visitors – who had over 73% of the possession – to just one shot on target all game; an on-the-stretch volley from Mason Mount in the closing stages, well saved by goalkeeper Remi Matthews.

The result sees Bolton sit 14th, a point behind their opposition, and a healthy nine clear of the drop zone after a positive start to their second season back in the Championship.

There’s food for thought for the Rams however, as Lampard’s side drop out of the play-offs after yet another loss away to one of the pre-season relegation candidates – the other defeats coming at Millwall in August and Rotherham two weeks ago.

Norwich were the main benefactors as the Canaries claimed their fourth successive win. Mario Vrancic scored the only goal of the game with a late penalty at home to Wigan, lifting his side six places into fifth.

There was also a welcome return to the playoffs for Brentford, who move into sixth place on goal difference after a topsy-turvy game against Reading at Griffin Park.

The league’s top scorer, Neal Maupay, put the Bees ahead with his ninth goal of the campaign, before Reading responded, first through Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and then John Swift, who put the Royals ahead in the second half.

Brentford’s cause worsened late on as Said Benrahma was sent off for two yellows, but rising highest in the second minute of stoppage time was Yoann Barbet, who headed in a floated Chris Mepham cross.

Swansea join Dean Smith’s team on 16 points and sit seventh after a comprehensive 3-0 home win over Queens Park Rangers, whilst Wigan and Derby are also level on points after their away losses.

At the top, Leeds failed to capitalise on a dominant second half display in the Yorkshire derby at Hillsborough on Friday night as they drew 1-1 with Sheffield Wednesday.

It was a tale of two world-class strikes; Adam Reach tremendously volleyed the hosts ahead late in the first half with an outrageous effort, but that was cancelled out by Mateusz Klich’s inch-perfect curler less than ten minutes into the second.

That result meant Middlesbrough could go top on Saturday afternoon, but Tony Pulis’ men missed the chance after letting the lead slip at Hull in a 1-1 draw.

Taking full advantage were West Bromwich Albion however, as Darren Moore’s side beat basement club Preston in a game which saw all five goals scored in the second half at Deepdale.

The Baggies now lead by a solitary point at the top, with Leeds, Middlesbrough and Sheffield United all behind them on 19, after the Blades made it back-to-back wins at The Den.

Billy Sharp saw a late first-half penalty saved before he headed his team in front minutes later, but two quick-fire goals after the interval saw Millwall ahead.

Chris Wilder’s side were given a second chance from the spot with just over ten minutes to play, and David McGoldrick took the responsibility from Sharp to fire United level before scoring again two minutes from the end to secure all three points.

It’s now three defeats in a row for 23rd place Millwall, and joining them in the relegation zone with Preston are Ipswich, who threw a two-goal lead away at Birmingham to draw and remain the only winless side in the division.

Elsewhere, Rotherham also blew a two-goal advantage to draw at home to Stoke, Blackburn made it 25 league matches unbeaten at Ewood Park after an eventful 2-2 draw with Nottingham Forest, and Bristol City shared the spoils with Aston Villa at Ashton Gate on Friday in a match that finished one apiece.

League One

COVSUN
Jonson Clarke-Harris celebrates his equaliser for Coventry at the Ricoh Arena.

The lead at the top of League One changed hands yet again after another high-scoring afternoon in England’s third tier.

Peterborough went into the weekend ahead of the chasing pack, but Steve Evans’ side twice let a lead slip against Blackpool to draw 2-2 at London Road.

It was a good day for the Tangerines, who were also handed a glamour tie away to Arsenal in Saturday night’s Carabao Cup fourth round draw, just hours after making it eight league games unbeaten with their point on the road.

And capitalising on Blackpool’s perseverance were Portsmouth, who returned to the summit with a come-from-behind victory in the North West against Rochdale.

38-year-old striker Aaron Wilbraham had put Dale ahead with a stunning volley inside four minutes, but it was a lead they couldn’t sustain as Pompey drew level through Jamal Lowe midway through the first half.

Kenny Jackett’s side then took control in the second period and won the contest through Brett Pitman and Matt Clarke goals, meaning they remain unbeaten in the league after ten games.

Closing the gap on the automatic promotion places are Doncaster, who continued their upwards surge with a fourth straight win at Plymouth.

Striker John Marquis scored a brace on his 100th league appearance to become 2018/19’s top scorer in League One with eight goals, and in the process helped his side to a 3-2 victory which condemns Plymouth to a third straight loss, leaving the Green Army winless and rooted to the bottom.

Rovers move above Sunderland who drew 1-1 in the early kick-off at Coventry, and joining them in the playoffs are Barnsley – who won 3-1 at Fleetwood – and Charlton, who took until the 95th minute to snatch a 2-2 draw from Luton courtesy of Chris Solly’s first goal in over six years.

The bottom four is as you were, with Oxford, Bradford and Gillingham accompanying Plymouth in the relegation zone after all three failed to register wins in big six-pointers.

Karl Robinson’s Yellows lost 2-1 at AFC Wimbledon, the Bantams put an end to their five-game losing streak by drawing a blank at home to Bristol Rovers, and a late goal apiece saw Shrewsbury and Gillingham earn a point each in a well-contested game.

Meanwhile, Southend survived a late comeback to win 3-2 at Wycombe, Accrington extended their unbeaten run to nine matches with a 1-0 win at fellow top six challengers Walsall, and Burton – now the lowest ranked side left in the Carabao Cup – drew with Scunthorpe in a goalless stalemate at the Pirelli Stadium.

League Two

CHLLIN
Danny Cowley’s Lincoln have now won eight of their opening ten games in League Two this season.

Yeovil moved back into the playoffs in midweek with a late draw at home to MK Dons, but lost ground on their rivals after losing 3-1 away to Crawley on Saturday.

Carl Dickinson equalised minutes before half-time for the Glovers after Crawley scored halfway through the first period, but strikes from Ashley Nathaniel-George and Filipe Morais after the interval made it three wins from four for the hosts.

It’s now three games without a win for Yeovil since they hit Newport for six, and their Welsh opposition that day have certainly responded well in the two weeks since that infamous game.

County won at Tranmere last weekend before thumping Chelsea’s youth side in the Checkatrade Trophy on Tuesday, and they made it three successive wins in all competitions at home to Cambridge on Saturday.

Mike Flynn had found his side two goals down with just a quarter of the game gone at Rodney Parade, but a Mickey Demetriou penalty on the stroke of half-time spurred them into life as Padraig Amond and a Jamille Matt brace rounded off an impressive 4-2 win for the early season’s surprise package.

It wasn’t enough to close the gap on leaders Lincoln however, as the Imps secured a routine 2-0 win at Cheltenham to make it a third victory on the spin.

Exeter complete the top three, but they lose ground as substitute Idris Kanu scored a dramatic equaliser seven minutes into stoppage time for Port Vale in a 1-1 draw.

But despite that disappointment, there was good news below the Grecians as all four sides sitting in the playoffs prior to the weekend failed to pick up wins.

As well as Yeovil’s loss in West Sussex, Colchester lost 2-1 at home to Bury, Oldham drew 0-0 at Swindon and Carlisle lost at home to Stevenage, with Ben Kennedy scoring the only goal to lift his side into fourth.

Forest Green moved back into the top seven and maintained their unbeaten start to the season with a 1-1 draw at Macclesfield, whilst the Silkmen remain winless and bottom of the EFL despite a big improvement on their 8-0 loss at West Ham on Wednesday.

Joining them in the relegation places are Grimsby, whose dire run continues with a 2-1 home loss against Morecambe, marking their sixth-straight league defeat in a result that lifts their visitors away from the drop zone.

And there was finally some good news for Notts County, as Harry Kewell’s side earned their first three points of the season to move out of the bottom two with a 2-1 home success against Crewe.

After leapfrogging Grimsby, Northampton will be next in the Magpies’ sights after the Cobblers were thrashed 4-0 at Mansfield, largely thanks to a stellar showing from star striker Danny Rose who had failed to force a summer move through to League One side Peterborough.

And finally, rounding off this weekend’s EFL action are both MK Dons and Tranmere who played out a 1-1 draw to stay mid-table, but only one and two points off the playoffs respectively.

Opinion: Leeds must show they have bouncebackability after first defeat

For Football League World, Lewis Steele looks at how Leeds United need to recover from their first league defeat. 

Leeds suffered their first league defeat of the season last weekend as ex-manager Garry Monk led his Birmingham side to a 2-1 victory at Elland Road.

It was far from disastrous, with Leeds playing satisfactory on the day, but it was a loss nevertheless and the question now is how Bielsa’s men respond to this setback.

Often, football is a game of clichés. A lot of the words and phrases commentators, pundits and fans use when talking about football would not make sense in a non-sport setting. One of the most common clichés is ‘bouncebackability’. It may not be in the Oxford Dictionary and would certainly lose you marks if you used that word in a formal piece of writing such as an exam, but it is a word generally accepted in the footballing world to mean: can said team recover from a big loss?

This is often where titles or trophies are won and lost. The mark of all good sides in any league in the world is the attribute to mentally put setbacks aside and move on. Think of Manchester City last season: you could argue that they play better after a loss or draw, going on big runs.

If Leeds are serious about promotion, this is a crucial thing they must do. Having the talent on the pitch is one thing, but it doesn’t win you titles or promotions. Team spirit, mental grit, bouncebackability – the mental aspect is just as vital as the talented pool of players at Bielsa’s disposal.

Next up for Leeds is a tough trip to Sheffield on Friday night where they will face Jos Luhukay’s Sheffield Wednesday side who will be well up for the Yorkshire derby on the back of a win at Villa Park last time out. Should Leeds win, it will send a serious message to the rest of the division that they are true candidates for promotion. On the other hand, a loss would send out signals that they can be broken and do have weaknesses.

The rise of Edin Džeko from besieged Sarajevo to breaking records across Europe

As originally featured on This Football Times, Lewis Steele charts the rise of Edin Džeko from the war-torn Sarajevo to the top of the footballing ladder.

The story of most world-class footballers starts on a local park, where the future star would spend hours a day kicking a ball around with friends from an early age. The standard edition is usually a case of something along the lines of: “he would rise with the sun and play football until the sun set at night”. A scout would spot the player and sign them up for the city’s top academy, where the kid would ease their way through the ranks of the academy setup and eventually make their name in a prestigious first team.

But, for Edin Džeko, it was different. The land the Bosnian spent his days on was worlds away from a fancy park with flat, even playing turf and an expensive ball. In fact, the park that Džeko mastered the techniques and traits that saw him work his way up the footballing ladder was in the centre of a war torn Sarajevo, which was populated with a rare blade of unharmed grass and a ball only in shape, rather than the average football that you can buy over the counter in a sports shop.

Many footballers have stories of tough beginnings to life and how they have been inspired— but this is the story of Edin Džeko’s meteoric rise from the minefields of Yugoslavia to the pinnacle of European football, where he has cemented his name as one of the most prolific strikers of the past decade or so.

For most of the formative years of Džeko’s upbringing, his hometown Sarajevo was a heavily targeted area for ‘ethnic cleansing’ operations by the Bosnian Serbs in the Bosnian War, which lasted from April 1992 to February 1996, and left a devastating trail of savagery and broken families in its wake.

Known as ‘The Siege of Sarajevo’, the siege was the longest of a capital city in the history of modern warfare, as the Bosnian capital was attacked by forces of the ‘Yugoslav People’s Army’.

During the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina followed the suit of other states and declared independence. The Bosnian Serbs had the strategic goal of creating a new Bosnian-Serb state known as Republika Srpska. They encircled Sarajevo with a siege force of more than 13,000, assaulting the city with artillery, tanks and other arms.

In the years of the war, nearly 14,000 people were killed, including over 5,000 civilians. Edin Džeko and his family lived in the middle of Sarajevo, so the sound of bombs and explosions were not rare.

Luckily, the Džeko family survived, but that didn’t prevent the events having a long lasting negative affect both physically and psychologically.

The family home of the Džeko’s was destroyed in this period, along with 35,000 other homes in the city. They had to move between substandard homes, if they could be described as ‘homes’, probably better described as a living space secured with not much more than a door diseased with bullet holes from the conflict, with no more than one meal per day.

Edin Džeko is tough, with a strong mentality. What was going on outside wouldn’t stop him from expressing his passion: football.

At the time of Džeko’s birth, Yugoslavia was becoming one of the powerhouses of football. The national team reached the quarter finals of the 1990 World Cup in Italy, to be knocked out by Argentina led by the great Diego Maradona, whilst Red Star Belgrade won the 1991 European Cup. Shortly after this, however, the conflict started as the Yugoslav army went to war with separatist Croatia, before Bosnian Serbs aimed to remove all other ethnicities from their land.

Sport as we know it today was virtually rendered into non-existence, especially in a competitive sense. There were no organised matches or tournaments to watch, as the war plagued leisure activities in Bosnia. This did not affect one thing: passion. The people loved sport, especially football, and Edin Džeko was no exception to this.

Bosanki Dijamant, which translates to ‘The Bosnian Diamond’, spent a large majority of his childhood kicking a ball of rolled up duct tape around the war torn surroundings in his hometown.

His mother, Belma, was skeptical of the idea of her young son being on the streets, but conceded that for Edin, the only way to disconnect from the tragic conflict was for him to follow his dreams and play football.

Screen Shot 2018-09-27 at 07.56.41

Despite this, one day Belma refused and told her son that he must not leave the house on that day. She made the right call. That day, the field and area where the future Bosnian captain played, was bombed and all but destroyed.

The kids of today perhaps take their upbringings for granted, if you compare them to Džeko and other children of Sarajevo. The modern childhood probably consists of days playing video games and spending some time outside with friends. For Džeko, however, it was a matter of life and death – it is hard to play in a field that may be blown up the next minute.

These harrowing experiences never thwarted Džeko’s dream: to be a footballer. He never dreamt of being the star that he is today, he never thought about the fame, he never considered the money he could one day make. For Džeko, it was the simple fact that he lived and breathed football and he wanted to express his ultimate passion.

Often in life, bad experiences shape us. The war helped Džeko mature at such a young age – he had to, there was no other option if he wanted to survive. Football was one of the few things Džeko had in his tarnished childhood, so if anything, the war grew his love for the beautiful game that he has become a master of.

Džeko continued to follow his dreams and just after the war, was signed up by his first professional club, FC Željezničar Sarajevo. The name Željezničarmeant ‘railway worker’, originating from the group of railway workers who established the club in 1921. Finally, it looked as though Džeko had made his break in professional football and completed his dream.

Sadly, however, it didn’t work out for Džeko at the most successful club in modern day Bosnia. Fans and journalists close to the club described Džeko as ‘klok’, a slang word that best translates as (wooden) ‘log’ in English. Despite his childhood idol being Andriy Shevchenko, Džeko played as a midfielder in his early days. He was too tall and his lanky structure meant he struggled, as he lacked the technical abilities needed to thrive as a creative player. He was labeled lazy and told he was not cut out to be a professional footballer.

To succeed, he had to move – both playing position and country. And so he did. In 2005, Džeko moved to Czech Republic club FK Teplice for the fee of €25,000. Years later, one of the Željezničar directors claimed this fee felt like their club had “won the lottery”. After two good goal-scoring seasons in the Czech leagues, Džeko was signed for VFL Wolfsburg by Felix Magath for a €4m fee.

During his time at Wolfsburg, Džeko was part of one of the most historic seasons in German history, playing a huge role as Die Wölfewon their first ever Bundesliga title in 2008/09. Along with Brazilian Grafite and fellow Bosnian Zvjezdan Misimović, Džeko completed what was known as the ‘magisches Dreieck’, or‘magic triangle’, as the trio led Magath’s side to unprecedented glory.

The next season, Džeko scored 22 goals and won the golden boot in the Bundesliga. After years of struggling to impress professional scouts and coaches in his homeland, Džeko was thriving in Germany. He left his comfort zone and excelled – all those hours in the minefields of Sarajevo paid off, as Džeko looked like a natural born finisher with predator-like instinct of when to pop up in the box.

The Volkswagen Arena was the first place where Džeko truly played with no pressure and for this, he molded into a top striker.

His ex coach at Željezničar, Jiří Plišek, said: “I met him [Džeko] for the first time in 2003 when I started to coach Željezničar. He was 17 and amazingly no one saw him as any kind of talent, but I saw his gift.”

Sadly, this has been one of the themes running through the career of The Bosnian Diamond: many do not appreciate him for what he is and many do not notice or appreciate his vast array of talent – almost a case of, to quote teenagers going through high-school breakups, ‘you don’t know what you’ve got until you lose it’.

That was the case for fans of his next club, Manchester City. In the Premier League,Džeko was often viewed as ‘good, but not great’, and would almost certainly feature in a fantasy XI made up solely of ‘super-subs’. In Manchester, Džeko played a huge role in two title wins for City under Roberto Mancini and then Manuel Pellegrini.

The first time round, Džeko was the prequel to the Agüero-ooooo goal, where his header leveled the score before Argentinian Sergio Agüero scored the most memorable goal in Premier League history to win his side their first league title in a whopping forty-four years. Three seasons later, Džeko played a pivotal role in City’s 13/14 title win, scoring 26 goals despite often playing second fiddle to the partnership of Sergio Agüero and Alvaro Negredo. Again, Džeko will often be secondarily cited as a reason for City’s success, instead many will note the brilliance of Yaya Touré’s heroics or Steven Gerrard’s unfortunate slip against Chelsea.

Džeko turned down the opportunity to play for the national teams of countries he played in, such as the Czech Republic and Germany. Instead, whenever he wins a trophy, as he did plenty of times in the sky blue of Manchester City, he drapes himself in the blue and yellow flag of Bosnia, grasping the flag aloft with the same pride as he held high the iconic Premier League trophy two times.

Now, Džeko is a dime of Bosnia. When he scores a goal for the national team, it represents much more than a goal to add to the score-sheet: it is a goal for every Bosnian that went through physical and mental pain in the 90’s; it is a goal for peace; it is a dedication to all those that were not as fortunate as Edin Džeko to survive and become a sporting great, or a national icon.

Muhamed Jonjić, ex-defender and first ever captain of the Bosnia-Herzegovina national team in 1995, speaks extremely fondly of Džeko: “We see him rise through all that and make his global career, to become a great – a Bosnian great, a world great – but he stayed the same boy. Genuine, kind and straightforward – that’s the beauty of his greatness.”

Džeko kept his humble character despite being a superstar. Ahead of the 2014 World Cup that Bosnia qualified, which is another story in itself, Edin Džeko took part in a charity friendly to raise funds and awareness for floods that engulfed villages and cities in Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia, that caused damage beyond repair. Along with his other team-mates, Džeko and the Bosnia national team played against 100 children from families affected by the devastating floods.

That day, there was only one Edin Džeko, for obvious reasons, but on the pitch, every child tried to imitate their hero, by wearing shirts with ‘Džeko #9’ on the back and trying to play football in the style of their role model.

After seemingly conquering England and Germany before it, Džeko sought a new challenge, so moved to the eternal city of Rome, signing for AS Roma. Whilst the Bosnian has no Serie A titles to his name, his legacy will live on with the Giallorossias he won the golden boot with 29 goals in the league, and has been part of many famous nights in Rome.

It was indeed Edin Džeko that started the unforgettable comeback as his side ‘rose from their ruins’ in Rome to defeat the mighty Barcelona, who had a 4-1 advantage going into the second leg. His name will rarely be mentioned when talking about that day, as it is when discussing City’s title win in the last minute against Queens Park Rangers. This adds to the common theme that Džeko goes rather unnoticed in the wider footballing community, and is vastly underappreciated.

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The story charting the journey of Edin Džeko is inspiring. It may not be the tale of a glittering career, dusted with Balon d’or’s and World Cup trophies, nor will Džeko go down as one of the best strikers to grace our leagues, but the story carries weight nevertheless.

It is the story of a boy, who kicked a ball around a park and went home at night not knowing if the park would be there the next day. It is the story of a Bosnian child who watched buildings and families be destroyed one by one alongside him, who went on to be a great. It is the story of how tragedy shaped ones passion and how a young man with a dream went on to represent his beloved Bosnia at a World Cup, despite having the chance to play for Czech or German national teams.

Edin Džeko will never be spoke about in the same breathe as the greats at his clubs. But, as the only player to have 50 or more league goals in England, Germany and Italy, he should be regarded as one of the most underrated players of his generation.

The war child from Sarajevo disproved the feeling that it was not possible to succeed from Bosnia as a sportsman, by clinging on to his love and passion for football at a time when there was little else to smile about. Džeko remained humble and rose from the depression of his house covered in bullet holes, to conquer three of the best leagues in the world.

As a story, Džeko’s career has a few chapters left yet. He isn’t a player that relies on pace. Instead he uses his ‘slow and lazy’ approach, which saw him sold by his first club FC Željezničar, to light up the biggest stages in world football. Thus, there is still life in the big Bosnian yet.

If you have learned one thing from this story, make it be: do not undermine or underrate the talent and character of Edin Džeko – he will continue to prove you wrong, just as he has done from a young boy through to becoming Bosnia’s greatest ever player and a prolific goal-scorer around the continent.

Opinion: Jack Grealish must prove his worth following new deal

For Football League World, Lewis Steele calls for Jack Grealish to step up to the next level whereby he starts ‘winning games on his own’. 

Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish penned a new big-money deal on Monday, keeping him in contract at Villa Park until 2023.

The intricacies of the contract were not disclosed however, many strong reports have suggested Grealish’s wage has doubled to around £50k per week.

Money talks: the fact Villa were willing to fork out such a substantial fee on Jack Grealish speaks volumes about his reputation at the club. The hierarchy obviously see him as irreplaceable and of the utmost importance to any promotion bid Steve Bruce’s side may launch.

However, is Grealish really worth this amount of money? Villa think so, but realistically only time will tell.

For the player, he needs to show the Villa faithful exactly why he is worth so much. By a significant distance, Grealish is Aston Villa’s best footballer. There is little doubt about that. However, does he have it in him to start winning more matches on his own and subsequently push Villa to the higher ends of the table.

The reported wage should be reflective of this ability. If Grealish does do the aforementioned and start influencing games to his true potential, it will be worth every single penny.

If Villa do earn promotion, there is no doubt Grealish will be a huge factor and also no doubt that this new deal will be cited. Fans of other clubs have criticised Villa in the past days, but should Grealish launch them to the Premier League, this new deal is worth it tenfold and more.

Grealish did indeed deserve the transfer saga linking him to big Premier League outfits, but with this new deal, he needs to up his game further and start influencing games on a higher level, catapulting Villa back to the top flight.

EFL Weekly – Gameweek Roundup 23 September

The EFL returned to its full complement of fixtures following a Championship-focused midweek in style with goals and coupon-busters aplenty across all three divisions.

Things are hotting up in the second tier with a mere five points separating the top half, the lead changed hands once again in League One, and one of the early season surprise packages became the only unbeaten team left in League Two.

This is EFL Weekly.

Championship

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Mason Mount celebrates scoring Derby’s third against Brentford

There was a huge shock at the top of the SkyBet Championship on Saturday as Garry Monk got one over his former side Leeds at Elland Road, giving struggling Birmingham their first win – and Leeds’ first defeat – in the league this season.

Former Sheffield United man Che Adams was the hero, as the striker struck twice to have the Blues 2-0 up at the break.

Marcelo Bielsa’s outfit uncharacteristically struggled to produce anything of note, but managed to find a late goal through Ezgjan Alioski.

It wasn’t enough for a point however, as the Blues held out for a huge three points, meaning they are now five league games unbeaten; astonishingly, the longest unbeaten run currently intact.

Leeds meanwhile remain top – but only just – thanks to Middlesbrough failing to capitalise on the Whites’ slip-up.

Despite having more than three times the shots on goal their opposition did, Boro failed to find a breakthrough against a resolute Swansea team and could only draw a blank at the Riverside, seeing Tony Pulis’ men go level on points at the top of the table.

As a result, the big winners of the weekend were West Bromwich Albion, who beat Millwall 2-0 at the Hawthorns to claim their fifth home win in a row and move into third – a point off the summit.

Darren Moore’s team had suffered an indifferent start to life back in the Championship, but they moved into the top six for the first time with victory over Bristol City on Tuesday night and continued their upward surge against a Millwall side who drop into the relegation zone.

One of the clubs leapfrogged by the Baggies were Brentford, who started the day third but finished it seventh after letting a lead slip to lose 3-1 at Derby, who themselves go above the Bees and return to the top six.

Also sitting pretty in the playoffs after claiming yet another home win are Wigan – who beat Bristol City in the Friday night fixture courtesy of Nick Powell’s second half header – and they’re joined by Sheffield United who complete the top quarter of the table.

The Blades appeared to be cruising to victory against an out-of-sorts Preston side, but Daniel Johnson and Callum Robinson’s two goals in as many minutes hauled Alex Neil’s team level.

It wasn’t to be for long however, as David McGoldrick struck three minutes from time to ensure the points would stay in Sheffield after all.

The result means Preston now sit bottom of the table after a third straight loss, and moving ahead of them are Ipswich, despite Paul Hurst’s Tractor Boys now being the sole winless team in the division after Birmingham’s success – the Portman Road outfit could only manage a goalless draw at home to the ten-men of Bolton.

Reading moved out of the bottom three after a first home win since April saw them defeat former manager Nigel Adkins’ Hull 3-0 – despite having John O’Shea sent off late on. The Tigers move below the Royals and sit a point clear of the drop zone.

One of the games of the day came at the bet365 Stadium as Stoke were inches away from completing a comeback against Blackburn having been three goals down.  Saido Berahino and Tom Ince scored two goals in sixty seconds to bring the Potters back to 3-2 with ten minutes to play, but the former then saw a penalty crash against the crossbar in stoppage time which would have stolen an unlikely point.

Elsewhere, John McGinn’s early contender for goal of the season wasn’t enough for Aston Villa as they lost 2-1 at home to Sheffield Wednesday, Nottingham Forest made it back-to-back victories at the City Ground by beating Rotherham through a late Lewis Grabban penalty, and Norwich made it two away wins in a week with a 1-0 win at QPR, having previously not recorded three points on the road since January.

League One

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Karlan Ahearne-Grant scored his second late on to see off Plymouth at the Valley

Portsmouth’s brief stay at the top of League One came to an end as Kenny Jackett’s side let a late lead slip at home to Wycombe.

Pompey trailed at the break to Bryn Morris’ curling effort, but fought back through second half goals from Gareth Evans and Brett Pitman.

The striker’s header came in the 86th minute and appeared to have given the hosts a hard-fought win, but Wycombe struck back moments later as Christian Burgess clumsily conceded a penalty which was converted by Joe Jacobson.

A point for Wanderers keeps them just clear of the relegation zone, but it was a result that was equally as important for Peterborough, who regained top spot in the third tier by coming from behind to claim an impressive win at Gillingham.

The Gills scored two quick-fire second half goals to lead 2-1 at the Priestfield Stadium, but Posh responded with a double of their own, before Callum Cooke landed the fatal blow minutes from time.

As a result of what was a fourth straight loss, Gillingham fall into the drop zone – but their poor run of form isn’t the worst in the division.

One spot below Steve Lovell’s side are Bradford, who went down 2-1 in a Yorkshire derby against Doncaster to mark their fifth consecutive defeat, extending the Bantams’ disastrous record to just five wins from their last 29 league matches.

Rovers on the other hand move one place up into fourth, and two teams joining them in the top six are Charlton and Walsall, who both enjoyed wins against relegation-threatened sides Plymouth and Oxford respectively.

Third place Sunderland meanwhile bounced back from their first defeat at this level since 1988 in style, as a brace apiece from youth academy graduates Josh Maja and Lynden Gooch helped the Black Cats to an impressive 4-1 home win over Rochdale.

In pursuit of the playoffs, Accrington made it eight games unbeaten by securing their first home win of the season – a 2-1 victory over AFC Wimbledon – whilst Blackpool could only draw 0-0 with Luton, and ten-man Fleetwood lost 1-0 at Southend.

Meanwhile, Bristol Rovers moved out of the relegation zone with a 3-1 home win over Coventry, Shrewsbury avoided dropping into the bottom four despite a 1-0 loss at Scunthorpe, and Barnsley – who had gone into the weekend just outside the top two – fell out of the playoffs after their match with Burton at Oakwell was postponed due to a medical emergency shortly before the scheduled kick-off.

League Two

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Jason Shackell’s 95th minute winner for Lincoln sent Sincil Bank into raptures

Lincoln opened up a six-point gap over the automatic promotion chasing pack after Jason Shackell’s dramatic stoppage-time header inflicted a first defeat of the season on MK Dons.

The defender’s winner completed a second half turnaround after the Dons had hit the front with just over a quarter of the game remaining.

Danny Cowley’s side have now won seven of their opening nine fixtures, and also maintain their three point lead over nearest challengers, Exeter City.

The Grecians made it three wins in a row as they too came from behind at home, beating Cheltenham 3-1 thanks to two goals in the last ten minutes from Jayden Stockley and summer signing Jonathan Forte.

Occupying the third and final automatic promotion spot are Newport, who bounced back from their horrific showing against Yeovil last week to win at Tranmere thanks to Fraser Franks’ fifth minute goal.

It’s now three straight victories on the road for the Exiles who, unlike last weekend, showed great defensive resilience to keep a clean sheet against a team that included the league’s top scorer, James Norwood.

In the chasing pack, Colchester remain fourth but fail to keep pace with the top three after blowing a 3-1 lead at Oldham with just five minutes remaining, a result that sees the home side cling on to their own playoff berth.

Despite having Jerry Yates sent off late on, Carlisle won 1-0 at Bury to go level on points with Colchester and move up six places, and completing the top seven are Forest Green, who are now the only unbeaten side left in League Two after Reuben Reid’s deflected effort gave them their first home win of the season against Crawley.

At the bottom, Notts County’s wait for a league win in 2018-19 continues after a goalless stalemate at Northampton – who stay 20th – but the Magpies are off the bottom as ten-man Macclesfield lost 2-1 at Morecambe in a relegation six-pointer.

Andy Fleming struck the winner just five minutes after Danny Whittaker had scored an equaliser for the battling Silkmen, but ultimately the three points put an end to Morecambe’s four-game losing streak and lifts them above Grimsby, who themselves have lost five on the spin after a 1-0 defeat at Stevenage.

And finally, rounding off this weekend’s EFL roundup – Cambridge struck late to steal a point from visitors Mansfield, Swindon comprehensively won 3-0 at last weekend’s big-hitters Yeovil, and Port Vale picked up a first away win in 17 attempts at the best place possible – the home of their bitter rivals, Crewe.

The victory is Vale’s second in a row, makes them three unbeaten, and means they have now lost only one of their last six trips along the A500.