Opinion: 5 things Manchester City need to change if they are to win the Champions League

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Humans are habitual, they get a sense of pride and fulfilment by collecting things. Often, they are tangible items, things of little monetary value, yet of huge sentimental value. For most people, their hobby could be collecting antiques or empty bottles. I am not one of those people, as my biggest passion is in sport. Every gig or football match I attend, I keep the ticket stub safe and attach sentimental value to them, knowing that one day a decade or two down the line I will look back and remember everything about that night, with tickets from big City games or concerts of my favourite artists springing to mind.

Some collections are finite, many are not. A sticker book for example, you get a feeling of fulfilment once you have got every sticker – as a kid, you would spend your break at school trading sticker books and be in a never-ending search for the all allusive shiny sticker to complete your sticker book (usually some forgotten iconic player such as Ivan Campo, but that’s just my experience).

Yet, often, collections aren’t tangible. For me, I have a collection of Manchester City memories, but this collection is metaphorically similar to the sticker books of primary school days. It is missing one sticker.

I am only 21, I can’t brag that I was with City for three decades through the poor times. I wasn’t at York away and I was only two years old when Paul Dickov scored that goal in ’99. I have been lucky to see majorly good things at my club City and have mainly happy memories watching them win trophies at the Etihad, or on a sunny day at Wembley.

But yet, something is missing. One piece of my collection is missing: the Champions League.

I have been treated to watching some of the greats of the Premier League era strut their stuff at the Etihad, under the tutelages of the iconic Roberto Mancini and then Manuel ‘Mr. Nice Guy’ Pellegrini, through to the best manager in world football, Josep Guardiola.

The FA Cup and the League Cup have been ticked off my list, too. One thing is left to conquer: the Champions League. Then I could say with pride: “I have seen City win everything there is to win in England” (N.B. the Europa League/UEFA Cup of old and Community Shield are rendered somewhat irrelevant in my mind, although I have ‘ticked off’ the latter twice).

Evidently, City winning the Champions League would bring a sense of fulfilment to me. If I could get a ticket to the final, I am sure it would be remembered in the best days of my life. I am also certain that if City were to do it, it would be in peak ‘typical City’ fashion, probably scoring a last minute winner via a goal scored by the most unlikely source: let’s say for arguments sake it would be Kyle Walker who accidentally got in the way of Aguero’s shot and deflected it in off his backside.

If City are to do it and win the jugular, so to speak, Pep Guardiola seems the man to do it. Yet, in his first two seasons in Manchester, it hasn’t gone too well. In 2017, it was the free-flowing Monaco who played City off the park in the principality, whereas in 2018 it was Klopp’s Liverpool who got one over on City yet again.

The ghosts of Anfield and the Stade Louis II may haunt Pep Guardiola and although he puts on a brave face and adopts the attitude that the Premier League is much more important, the Catalan coach will hurt inside and have nightmares about his Champions League shortfalls in Manchester.

So, enough of the boring personal analogies and more of the football, what do Manchester City have to do to win the Champions League? Here, I have listed five things that Guardiola’s men must do (or change) to win Europe’s elite competition:

1. Believe

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“The only difference guys, between Real Madrid, Barcelona and us is that they are f*cking believers.”

“To climb the highest mountain guys is not about this, it’s about this”, Guardiola said as he pointed to his footballing brain.

These words from Guardiola stuck with me. They were said prior to the Liverpool defeat over two legs in the Champions League last season. City’s coach lauded over his team, saying on the field they were the best in the world, but one thing is holding them back: belief.

It is the singular word that I cited when previewing City’s European season for Breaking the Linesand is also the word that I used when describing City’s spineless performances against Liverpool and Manchester United in that catastrophic week that saw them lose the Manchester Derby and then be knocked out of the Champions League.

That day in the loss to United I used the word ‘winners’. It may be slightly different to ‘belief’ but the essence is the same.

When you look at Real Madrid, you see natural born winners: Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Toni Kroos, Cristiano— not anymore, but at the time, you almost knew they would win the Champions League because of this plethora of leaders who have ‘been there, done that’ and have the experience to conquer Europe again.

It is the sort of player that if a game is not going their way, they can turn it in the favour of their team (more on that in part 4).

On the pitch, I have every belief that City are the best team in the world with the best coach at the helm. But do they have the belief?

Do they believe in themselves to think not just “we can have a chance at the Champions League this season”, but “we will win the Champions League this season”. They have belief in the Premier League, they filmed the infamous Etisalat advert where they are referred to as Champions in February.

I’m not saying they should do a Germany of Russia 2018 and book their hotel for the final in advance, which would be in Madrid for the final at the Wanda Metropolitano, but City players need to believe they have what it takes to win the Champions League.

If City do that, they can win it.

2. Resilience

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Again, referring to that defeat at Anfield, as well as that demolishing at the Stade Louis II in Monaco, City showed they have little resilience in big games.

“But, City had a great defensive record in the league last season and Otamendi got into the team of the year”, I hear you say.

This is not an assassination of City’s defence. They have a great back four with some of the best talents in the world, including two marauding full backs and a quartet of central defenders who all bring something different to the table.

Resilience in these terms isn’t a question of how many goals a team can prevent, it is how they react to a goal being scored.

When City go one goal behind, you can almost physically see the morale drop – the body language becomes languid, the chins drop, players start pointing the finger about.

At the annual loss at Anfield, City always start well and are usually as good as their opponent, if not the better team, but when Liverpool go one goal up, the heads collectively drop and it is almost that defeat is accepted at that moment.

City have so far lacked the ability to proverbially say: “Right, five minutes, let’s get our heads and compose ourselves, then go from there.”

It was this that cost them in Monaco, Liverpool and multiple league games in Pep’s tenure, especially in the 2016/17 season. It is not a coincidence that often when City go 1-0 down, they go 2-0 down shortly after.

It is a fundamental flaw of the team that needs fixing, one that I am sure Guardiola is working on to put right. Things in football don’t go your way all season, there will be moments when you struggle on the pitch.

City’s resilience in this way has cost them in the past two seasons, and is an issue they must fix.

3. The fans

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14th September, 2011: Manchester City v Napoli. It is Manchester City’s first ever Champions League match. The stadium is packed with fans, with many missing out on tickets for one of the biggest nights in the clubs history. People get to the ground abnormally early, going against their usual match day routine because it’s a huge night and they want to be in to soak up the atmosphere.

Unfortunately for City, they were knocked out at the group stages that season, with Bayern Munich rampant and a Napoli side led by Cavani, Lavezzi and Hamsik dominant. But, this wasn’t seen as a disaster at the time, after all it was City’s debut season.

A few managers and Premier League titles later, City are one of the best teams in the world. The fans do not match that. Where has the attitude that you should feel honoured to be in the Champions League gone? Where has the anticipation of these cold nights in Manchester where you can see mist descending in the South Stand gone?

Champions League group stage matches are now on the same level as a home cup tie with lower league opposition, with the club’s methods of getting people through the doors failing, evidently.

The attendance at the home fixture to Lyon this week was 41,000 – it’s an issue for another discussion but it highlights the overriding problem: City fans have a disconnection with the Champions League and only turn up when it’s the business end of the competition, or when the big boys such as Barca and Bayern play at the Etihad.

One can’t help but wonder whether the attitude of the fans trickles down on to the pitch, whether the blasé, ‘can’t be bothered with this competition attitude’ affected the players in the Lyon defeat.

Whether it be prices, travel, work commitments, weather or whatever else, many City fans think it is better to stay at home on many European nights.

When thinking about this, I asked the fan base what the best atmosphere they have experienced at the Etihad was. The results were interesting, but one answer came up time and time again.

The Aguero goal? No. The Manchester Derby where City virtually won the league? No.

In fact, it was City’s Europa League quarter-final second-leg tie with German outfit Hamburg. City did not qualify that night, but the atmosphere has stuck with fans for the ten years after.

The whole ground was behind the team and it reflected on the pitch. The great Elano hit the woodwork more than once, and the collective “Ooooh!” from the crowd left ears ringing around the stadium for minutes to follow.

The 1894 Group do a great job of creating an atmosphere in the South Stand, and the flags and banners for some Champions League nights has been admirable in recent years.

However, should City really progress and be serious about the Champions League, the mindset of the fans must change and they must try and will City over the line as they tried to do in the second leg to Liverpool last season, or in the triumph against Paris St-Germain in 2016.

Whether this starts with moving on from booing the Champions League anthem and focusing more on their own team, I am not sure, but with a rocking Etihad Stadium (like we know it can be, but 9 times out of 10 isn’t), City can really go far in this competition.

4. Keep De Bruyne fit

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Now, obviously, this is out of the control of Manchester City FC, but… if City are to win the Champions League, they need their star man fit, just as Real Madrid needed Ronaldo to help them to their record three-on-the-bounce.

Kevin De Bruyne is more than City’s best player, he is a leader. Maybe not in the conventional sense, like a Vincent Kompany or a traditional captain barking orders and encouragement to his players. However, De Bruyne is a leader in the fact he leads by example football wise.

When the rest of the players are having an off day, Kevin De Bruyne is always the one to step it up and up his game to another level, which rubs off on the other players.

He is also often the player to score the goals in the tough games, earning him the ‘big game player’ tag.

Without De Bruyne, especially in the away games and tough home ties, City look void of ideas, lacking a driving force with a brain from midfield.

Should City progress further than ever in this competition, they need this leadership figure on the pitch.

5. Adaptability

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“I only believe in Plan A. Plan B is to get Plan A to work” – Marcelo Bielsa.

The Argentinian coach El Loco is one of Guardiola’s inspirations in coaching and the Catalan certainly adopts some of the ideologies of the revolutionary coach who is now at Leeds United. 

It is a view that is admirable. You very rarely see Guardiola sub on a 6 foot 5 target man if chasing a goal (not that he has any to do so, anyway), nor do you see him put on an extra defender in midfield, unless it is to run down the clock in the 93rd minute.

But, is it a view that is flawed?

As a Manchester City supporter, we often purr over the attacking and exciting football we are treated to at the Etihad, whilst criticising the somewhat ‘boring’ defensive performances we see over the city, but sometimes in big away Champions League ties, could Guardiola slightly alter?

It wouldn’t be drastic. It would not be a Mourinho of Chelsea and play David Luiz alongside Nemanja Matic and Ramires in a stubborn midfield. It would be more of a ‘let’s not commit every single man forward when we go forward and be more conservative’.

Guardiola has a plethora of options up his sleeve to adapt his attacking setup to break down stubborn sides such as those who ‘park the bus’ and sit in deep at the Etihad – he can switch formations in game with ease, as we saw in the win over Arsenal at the Emirates earlier this season, but can Guardiola learn to adapt his sides to be more solid at the back?

Pellegrini’s City couldn’t win the Champions League because of Pellegrini’s stubbornness to change from his 4-4-2 (a midfield duo of Toure and Fernandinho at the Bernabeu, nightmares).

Guardiola should learn these lessons and slightly alter his team in big away fixtures in the latter stages of this competition.

Despite the loss to Lyon, Manchester City have a real chance of winning this seasons Champions League, with a number of factors in their favour.

Last season, for one reason or another, City fell short in the Champions League. Despite this, they are ready to win Europe’s elite competition and if they put a few minor faults right, they are worthy favourites.

Also, if you read this you may think it is dramatically overreacting: it is. That’s what Manchester City fans do, they will never change. No matter how good City get, the fan base will always go into games expecting to lose: after all, City are the club who beat Barcelona and drew to Middlesbrough in the same week.

On a personal note, the Champions League is still a distant dream, but when I have my realistic head on, I know that Manchester City are worthy favourites. If they put these few things right, City can (will?) win it. 

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Opinion: Bernardo Silva proves City will be in good hands when his namesake retires

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When Manchester City announced the signing of Portuguese winger Bernardo Silva from AS Monaco in the summer of 2016, eyebrows were raised at the £43m price tag.

Rival fans criticised Pep Guardiola and City for spending big money on a player who only really had one top season under his belt, and wasn’t even a guaranteed starter at The Eithad, with Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sané seemingly dislodgeable in the starting eleven.

Yet, supporters of the ever-growing club who announced a club record income and further profits this week, were delighted at the signing of the Portuguese trickster who starred in Monaco’s surprise Champions League run under coach Leonardo Jardim.

From all corners of the Etihad, the winger was an exciting acquisition and fans started to speculate. Although he played predominantly as a right-winger in his opening season, fans had a vision for Bernardo Silva: to eventually be moulded into a central midfield player where he could star for City.

In fact, it was more than become a midfielder that City fans tasked and envisioned Bernardo Silva with, it was to take the reign of David Silva, Manchester City’s greatest ever player.

He first made his name amongst the City fan base in February 2017, during the Champions League clash between City and Bernardo’s Monaco.

Kylian Mbappé’s performances over two legs were heavily dissected as ‘a star was born’, but for many, Bernardo Silva was the shining light both at the Etihad and the return leg at the Stade Louis II, where Monaco played Pep Guardiola’s side off the park.

That performance in the principality of Monaco surely took the eye of Guardiola, who reportedly contacted the Portuguese star.

Fast-forward a few months, Bernardo Silva signed for City, becoming Guardiola’s first signing of a summer that will be remembered long in the memory of City fans, as they added the likes of Ederson, Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker to strengthen weak areas and set them up for a record-breaking season.

Although he made the most appearances for City last season, Bernardo Silva took a few months to get going, only really making substitute appearances in the first half of the season.

In the second half of the season, perhaps helped by the injuries of Leroy Sané and Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva came into his own, with fine performances against many top opposition that saw him on the scoresheet against Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal to name a few.

This pre-season signified a change for Bernardo Silva, however. After a below-par World Cup for Portugal, he returned to Manchester and was one of the first of City’s sixteen that went to Russia to join the pre-season tour of the United States.

There, Guardiola worked and worked on Bernardo Silva as a midfielder. After some eye-catching displays on tour in the States, it would seem that following a season used to settle into the new tempo of the Premier League, Bernardo Silva was ready for a place in Pep Guardiola’s demanding midfield.

In beating Chelsea 2-0 at Wembley in the Community Shield, his coach was full of praise.

“The performance of Bernardo Silva was a masterpiece,” Guardiola said.

“Right now, it is Bernardo and 10 others.”

“He is so intelligent, he is clever. He is a fighter, a competitor. I think he is the guy most beloved in our team and today he showed me a lot of things.”

Although Bernardo Silva showed promising glimpses at Wembley and in the victory over Arsenal at the Emirates, which included a well taken goal, the performance of Silva yesterday against Fulham was mesmeric.

City defeated Jokanovic’s side with ease at the Etihad, with goals from Sané, David Silva and Sterling, it was Bernardo Silva who was the name on many fans lips leaving the ground.

Bernardo managed five key passes, an 89.7% pass accuracy as well as 5 chances created. A smile could be seen on the face of the player who was awarded man of the match in the stadium.

The little magician, who was nicknamed ‘Messizinho’ when playing for SL Benfica, showed why he earned such names.

After David Silva made it 2-0 to City, I tweeted my joy for the player.

On a personal note, sometimes when I watch players I get a buzz inside. It is very rare and only a handful of players can bring this out of me. Lionel Messi did it when he was making his name at Barca, Kylian Mbappé was another with his performance against Argentina at the World Cup, Kevin De Bruyne against Stoke City when he racked up assist after assist in a 7-2 win, but it is rare.

Bernardo Silva did that. Watching him live at the Etihad yesterday was a pleasure.

I compared him to City’s biggest stars, the midfield partnership that ran the Premier League last season. The midfield partnership that sadly, only has a year or so left. If they had years ahead, there is no doubt they would go down as one of the best midfield duo’s in recent history, along with the likes of Xavi and Iniesta or Kroos and Modric.

Sadly for City fans, David Silva’s career is coming to an end. El Mago will be remembered as one of the greats of the Premier League era, but sadly, it is nearly over and the day of his departure is ever approaching.

But yesterday, City fans showed something that proved to them that Bernardo Silva could take that role and leave City in safe hands for years to come.

His nonchalant touch, his passing ability, the way he drove forward and linked the midfield and attack – just a few things to note from a memorable performance.

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“It’s almost impossible to be more pleased as a manager. That’s why he deserves to play all the minutes he’s playing. He’s a good example for us, all the guys”, said Guardiola after the game.

“Thank you so much to Manchester City for buying him.”

The only thing holding Bernardo back from getting full marks and a 10/10 was the fact he didn’t add a goal, missing a couple of chances that he could have done better with.

Soon, David Silva will move on, it will be a devastating day for all concerned with City, but yesterday especially showed that City are in great hands – Bernardo Silva is the heir to the throne that David Silva has reigned from for his eight-year stay in Manchester.

EFL Weekly: Gameweek Roundup 20 September

As the EFL Championship plays catch-up following the first international break of the season, its League One and Two counterparts took a step back during this midweek round of fixtures, as the focus was firmly set on England’s second tier.

With the games now split relatively evenly over two days to maximise Sky Sports’ new coverage rights, we at Steele Sport take an in-depth look into the action as it unfolded on both Tuesday and Wednesday night.

Tuesday

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Tammy Abraham celebrates scoring his first Aston Villa goal in the home win against Rotherham.

Marcelo Bielsa’s eye-catching Leeds gained revenge on Preston for their second round Carabao Cup defeat by inflicting a fifth loss of the season on North End whilst preserving their own unbeaten league record.

The Deepdale outfit dumped Leeds out of the cup three weeks ago – despite playing over an hour on that night with ten men – but it was Bielsa’s side who took control on Tuesday, which proved to be a memorable night for youngster Tyler Roberts.

The teenager, who signed in January from then-Premier League club West Bromwich Albion, was left frustrated last season having injured himself upon making the move to Elland Road.

But he’s certainly making up for lost time now, making his Leeds league debut on Saturday, and then making his mark with two goals to seal the points against lowly Preston on Tuesday.

It was captain Liam Cooper who headed the Whites into a deserved first half lead, but it was Roberts’ night as his two second half goals – including a delicate chip over goalkeeper Declan Rudd – crowned another impressive win.

Leeds’ nearest challengers heading into the night were Brentford, but Dean Smith’s high-flying Bees were stung by Ipswich summer signing Kayden Jackson, who equalised in the second half to cancel out Neal Maupay’s eighth goal of the campaign.

The 1-1 draw at Portman Road meant the Yorkshire league leaders extended the gap at the top to three points on the night, whilst Ipswich remained winless and rooted to the bottom; just below Preston.

At the Hawthorns, West Bromwich Albion moved into the playoffs for the first time this season with a convincing display at home to Bristol City, who they leapfrog.

As per usual, it was the trio of Jay Rodriguez, Dwight Gayle and Harvey Barnes doing the damage, with the former scoring a brace in a 4-2 win, but the visiting Robins remain in the top six despite the loss.

Goals from loan pair Tammy Abraham and Yannick Bolasie saw Aston Villa also move into a playoff position, albeit for 24 hours, with a routine 2-0 win at home to a Rotherham side who remain without a point on their travels.

Elsewhere on Tuesday night, Joe Allen scored the only goal against former club Swansea to haul Stoke away from the bottom three, Wigan continued their impressive start with a 2-1 win over Hull, and Derby drew a blank at home to Blackburn as Chelsea loan star Mason Mount, watched by England manager Gareth Southgate, went closest with a curling free-kick that struck the crossbar.

Wednesday

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Club-record signing Joao Carvalho opened his Nottingham Forest goalscoring account.

Middlesbrough capitalised on Brentford’s slip-up with a comfortable home victory against Bolton, which saw the Riverside outfit get back to winning ways after defeat at the weekend to Norwich.

George Saville and then Britt Assombalonga deep into second-half stoppage time scored the goals to condemn the Trotters to a third defeat in four games, after what had been a promising start to the season.

Boro had dropped to fourth after West Brom’s win the previous night, but jumped back into the top two with a victory that keeps them just a point behind Leeds, whilst Bolton now sit 15th.

One of the team’s moving above Phil Parkinson’s men are Norwich, who battled to a 2-1 win at Reading that made it back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018-19.

Teemu Pukki had fired the Canaries into an early lead before they were pegged back in the 72nd minute by Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, but the Royals were only level for a matter of seconds, as Mario Vrancic restored the visitors’ lead moments after the restart.

Reading’s loss means the bottom three is as you were heading into the gameweek – Paul Clement’s troops sitting just above Preston and Ipswich.

Millwall are the latest team to hover just above the drop zone as they went down 2-0 at Queens Park Rangers, with the Hoops’ mini revival under Steve McClaren extending to three wins from four.

Moving above last season’s surprise package Millwall are Birmingham who remain winless after a goalless stalemate at Bramall Lane, whilst Sheffield United reclaim their top six berth from Villa with the point.

And rounding off the midweek Championship action are Nottingham Forest, who laid old demons to rest at home to United’s cross-city rivals, Sheffield Wednesday.

Heading into the latest meeting between these two former giants of the English game, Forest were on a seven game losing streak against the Owls.

Times are changing on Trentside however, and that was evident through the Reds’ goals, as summer signings Lewis Grabban and Joao Carvalho scored their first goals for the club.

First, £6million man Grabban glanced a header in from a Ben Osborn free-kick, and the latter was involved again for the second as he neatly backheeled to Carvalho in the box before Forest’s Portuguese record signing curled in a beauty.

Substitute Stephen Fletcher pulled one back via a deflected effort late on, but Aitor Karanka’s men held out for only their second win of the season which ends their personal hoodoo against Wednesday, as well as the Hillsborough side’s four game unbeaten run.

EFL Weekly: Gameweek Roundup 16 September

As the first international break of the season draws to a close, the EFL marked its return to a full complement of fixtures in a predictably unpredictable fashion.

Yet more unbeaten records bit the dust in shocking and dramatic circumstances, whilst there were also goals, surprises and talking points aplenty across England’s second, third and fourth tiers.

But who were the big winners and losers of this mid-September weekend?

Championship

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The majority of talk surrounding the Championship over the international break had been about possible point deductions for both Birmingham City and Bolton Wanderers, for differing reasons.

News surfaced in the last week that the Trotters were set to enter administration, and with it, be handed a 12-point penalty in the league as a result, whilst fellow relegation candidates Birmingham were set to receive the same punishment for breaching the EFL’s profitability and sustainability rules.

Bolton managed to see their sanction scuppered due to a late deal being reached over the payment of a debt to the club’s main creditor, BluMarble Capital, but for the Blues, dark clouds and uncertainty continue to linger over St Andrew’s, despite an impressive showing in the Friday night fixture – a local derby against West Bromwich Albion.

It was the first time Birmingham had met their West Midlands rivals in a league encounter for over seven years, and Garry Monk’s side went into it without a victory against their cross-region opponents since 2006.

They did manage to get off to the best possible start however, despite their winless start to the season.

After dominating early proceedings, Jota got on the end of a Lukas Jutkiewicz knock-down to squeeze an effort in from a tight-angle at the back post, and just moments later, the Spaniard had a golden chance to make it two.

Kyle Bartley bizarrely handled a cross in the area which gifted Jota and the Blues an opportunity from the spot, but former Aston Villa man Sam Johnstone was equal to it, and Monk’s men were later made to pay – and not for the first time in 2018-19.

With little over five minutes remaining of the first half, full-back Kristian Pedersen – whose £2-million summer capture could also leave Birmingham in hot water for breaching the terms of their transfer embargo – sloppily lost possession after initially gaining it back from Matt Phillips, and the powerful winger finished calmly under goalkeeper Lee Camp.

Birmingham may have looked impressive, but it was Albion who went closest to nicking the points in the second half, as Harvey Barnes cannoned one off the crossbar.

Ultimately it ended a goal apiece and another story of what might have been for the Blues, but it was still a point that keeps them out of the bottom three – for now.

As for Bolton, there may have been good news earlier in the week for the Whites, but none so on Saturday as they went down 2-1 at home to Steve McClaren’s QPR, who are enjoying a mini-revival with two wins from their last three.

In the upper echelons of the division, Leeds cling onto top spot and keep their unbeaten run alive thanks to a last-gasp equaliser from Manchester City loanee Jack Harrison at Millwall.

The 1-1 draw at the Den means Marcelo Bielsa’s side remain the only team yet to taste defeat in the Championship this campaign, as an uninspiring Middlesbrough lost 1-0 at Norwich.

Leapfrogging Boro are Brentford and Bristol City, who both enjoyed home wins and clean sheets against Wigan and Sheffield United respectively. The impressive Bees sit second, whilst Lee Johnson’s Robins have won four in a row after failing to win any of their first three.

Derby drop out of the playoffs as new manager Frank Lampard saw Tom Lawrence sent off during their defeat to Rotherham, and they’re replaced in the top six by Swansea who drew a blank against the Rams’ local rivals, Nottingham Forest.

At the other end of the table, Reading leapfrogged opponents Preston after a 3-2 win at Deepdale earned them their maiden win of the campaign, whilst Ipswich remain rooted to the bottom after a 2-0 loss at Hull which sees the Tigers pull away from the bottom three.

In the remaining match-ups, Sheffield Wednesday came from two goals down to draw against Stoke at Hillsborough, and it’s now six-games without a win in all competitions for Aston Villa, who could only snatch a point in stoppage time at newly-promoted Blackburn.

League One

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All eyes were on London Road on Saturday, as the two early pacesetters in League One set out to do battle.

Both Peterborough and Portsmouth went into the afternoon’s eagerly anticipated match with unbeaten records on the line, with the former leading their opposition by two points having drawn one less game.

But despite home advantage, Posh crumbled, and it was Pompey who made the happy journey back down to the South Coast with three points in the bag.

After a goalless first half, Kenny Jackett’s side sprung into life in what proved to be a fatal 15-minute spell in the second period for Peterborough. First, Oli Hawkins got the opener just after the 60-minute mark, and Jamal Lowe made the points all-but-safe with a quarter of an hour remaining – both strikes assisted by the impressive youngster, Ronan Curtis.

Matt Godden got Posh on the scoresheet in the dying embers, but it was too-little too-late for the home side, who fall to defeat for the first time this season, and with it, down into second place behind their visitors.

And they weren’t the only team to lose for the first time this campaign, as the chasing pack in the playoffs all failed to register victories.

Barnsley succumbed to defeat at Coventry courtesy of Jordan Willis’ late goal, which gave the Sky Blues back-to-back wins, whilst Sunderland went down 2-1 at Burton and Walsall let a lead slip to lose 4-1 at home to Doncaster – a result that sees Rovers leapfrog the Saddlers and move into fifth.

Joey Barton’s Fleetwood occupied the final playoff spot heading into the weekend but they now drop out after a 1-1 home draw with Accrington – a result which sees Stanley extend their unbeaten run to seven league games.

Meanwhile, Shrewsbury were the big winners down at the bottom as two first-half goals gave John Askey’s men their first league win of the season at home to Southend, who they move a place above into 17th.

Plymouth seem to be mirroring their poor start of last year, as yet another defeat sees them remain bottom. The Pilgrims lost 1-0 at home to a Blackpool side who received two red cards in stoppage time, but held out to make it nine games unbeaten in all competitions.

Just above the Green Army are Oxford who drew 0-0 at Wycombe, Bristol Rovers’ poor form continues with a 1-0 loss at Luton, and Bradford now join them in the bottom four as a 2-0 home loss to Charlton makes it four consecutive defeats.

Gillingham are hovering dangerously above the drop zone as Ian Henderson’s hat-trick condemned them to a 3-0 defeat at Rochdale, and Scunthorpe complete the League One round-up with a first win for new boss Stuart McCall, as the Iron won 3-2 at AFC Wimbledon to climb the table.

League Two

yeovil newport

Six was the magic number for Yeovil, who won the ‘battle of the early season surprise packages’ in style at Newport to move into the playoffs.

The Welsh outfit went into the weekend on the back of an impressive run which had seen them soar into second place and level on points with leaders Lincoln, but an abysmal afternoon – which also saw half-time substitute Robbie Willmott dismissed late on – was certainly one to forget for manager Michael Flynn.

Darren Way and Yeovil’s 6-0 win also makes it six games unbeaten for the Glovers and lifts them into fifth – just two points behind their hosts – who drop to third.

That result made it advantage Lincoln in the race at the top, and Danny Cowley’s side capitalised in what was a battle between opposing ends of the league at Moss Rose.

The Imps dominated for large spells against struggling Macclesfield and led through Tom Pett, but were pegged back late on by Jamie Grimes’ scrappy goal.

With their equaliser coming seven minutes from time, the hosts seemed destined for a point which would have lifted them out of the relegation zone, but the hopes of the home faithful were dashed soon after by Jason Shackell’s winner.

Exeter are now the Imps’ closest competition, as the Grecians backed up last week’s thrashing of Notts County with an equally impressive win against another Nottinghamshire-based side in Mansfield.

Matt Taylor’s men ended the Stags’ unbeaten start to the season with a 2-1 win at the One Call Stadium, which makes it ten games unbeaten for City at Mansfield – a run that stretches back to 1996.

The loss for David Flitcroft’s Yellows means Forest Green and MK Dons are the only two unbeaten sides left, as the two teams shared the spoils in a competitive game that ended 1-1.

That point wasn’t enough to keep the Dons in the top seven however, as Bury and Oldham both move above them with impressive 2-1 and 3-0 away victories at Swindon and Grimsby respectively.

Colchester retained their playoff berth with a convincing 3-0 win at home to Cambridge, but Carlisle drop out after losing 2-0 at home to Tranmere.

At the bottom, Notts County ended their losing streak with a high-scoring 3-3 draw at home to Stevenage, but will be left thinking what might have been after leading three times at Meadow Lane. The result keeps them at the foot of the table on goal difference.

Morecambe remain just above the Magpies and Macclesfield despite having a fourth straight loss inflicted on them by Crawley, and it’s back-to-back defeats for Northampton, whose ten men went down 2-0 at Port Vale.

The only other game of the weekend and rounding us off was a goalless draw between Cheltenham and Crewe, which sees the two clubs side-by-side in 18th and 17th respectively. The less said about that one the better.

Rampant Wolves get second straight win: Wolves v Burnley report

Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolves registered a second straight Premier League victory as they saw off a poor Burnley side at Molineux on Sunday afternoon.

A lone second-half strike from Raul Jimenez was all that settled the sides in the end, as Burnley failed to win for the fifth consecutive match this season.

The scoreline of 1-0 was far from reflective of how the match went, as Wolves were dominant from start to finish.

Newly promoted side Wolves created chance after chance as Burnley struggled to get out, often suffocated by the press of Santo’s side.

The first half started with Wolves in the ascendancy and it was surprising that they did not take the lead.

Joe Hart, who has revived his career somewhat after a forgettable two years at Torino and West Ham, was the star of Burnley’s dismal show.

In fact, the ex-England number one answered every question that Wolves threw at him, with the aid of his back four who constantly put their bodies on the line to clear.

If you watched the game not knowing anything about these sides, you would be shocked to hear that Burnley finished 7th last season in the Premier League, whilst Wolves were playing in the second flight.

The game almost felt like a cup tie, with Burnley clinging on for dear life. Time after time, Hart would make a terrific save or a defender would clear off the line.

Pinball was the best word to describe the ball, as Wolves cannoned the Burnley goal.

Hart, who has started every Burnley game this season, had his best performance since his Manchester City days under Manuel Pellegrini in the 13/14 title winning season.

Sadly for Wolves, however, they could not penetrate and score a goal, so entered the half time break level.

After a bit more of prodding, Wolves did find the breakthrough.

Matt Doherty, who was a constant source of attacking threat, pulled back a low cross to striker Raul Jimenez who nicely finished from around the penalty spot, leaving the heroic Hart with no chance.

Molineux was sent into delirium, expectant of more points after seeing their side get a steady point against champions City followed by a super victory against West Ham.

From here, there was only one winner. Wolves continued to create a plethora of chances, but failed to add to the score.

As the game went on, pessimists may have thought that Burnley would nick something with a goal against the run of play. Gudmundson had a few attempts from set pieces, but goalkeeper Rui Patricio stood tall in the Wolves goal.

Santo’s side ended the match with 30 attempts, second only to Manchester City’s haul against Huddersfield on match-day two.

Adama Traore and Leo Bonatini had chances to double the score, but Hart and co answered all questions again.

Wolves were wasteful, but they won’t care, as the three points is all that matters.

Verdict: I was super impressed with Wolves, who were worthy winners. Burnley looked a shadow of their previous selves of last season, as they were poor defensively, allowing Wolves a lot of space down the flanks. Ruben Neves dictated the play yet again, as his side look well on for the -pre-season predictions of a mid table finish. Next week, Santo’s men travel to Old Trafford to play Mourinho’s United – it will be tough, but after today’s performance, who knows? 

Two points dropped for Monk’s men: Birmingham v West Brom report

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Birmingham City were held to a draw in the Friday night clash at St Andrews against newly relegated West Brom.

The Blues went into this game winless and that poor record continued, but not for the want of trying. A familiar story of missed chances and poor luck at the other end added up to mean that Birmingham end the game with just a point, in a game that they will feel they could and should have won.

Jota opened the scoring before missing a penalty, which summed up the story of the night for Birmingham: not clinical enough. Matty Phillips scored the equaliser just before half time which give Darren Moore’s side the time to regroup and fight for an away point.

Garry Monk’s side started the brightest in the all Midlands clash at St Andrew’s, with the pre-match favourites West Brom struggling to get into the game at all. Birmingham’s early advantage was evident but when the Baggies did attack, they looked dangerous.

The Blues’ territorial advantage was put to good work just before the half hour mark, as Birmingham opened the scoring through Jota.

The Spanish winger pounced first on a loose ball in the box to fire his side into the lead. Gary Gardner lofted a ball into the West Brom box which was poorly defended, allowing Jota to pop up and tap the loose ball into the vacated net.

Questions were asked of young left-back Conor Townsend, who made his first league start for West Brom tonight, ahead of Kieran Gibbs who missed the game through illness. The zippy full-back signed from Scunthorpe United switched off and let Jota ghost into a position of danger, ultimately costing his side.

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St Andrews’ was rocking with this goal, but the atmosphere was to go up a further notch a matter of seconds later.

Birmingham instantly won the ball back from West Brom, who were proverbially on the ropes at this point, and drove forward into the box through Jacques Maghoma.

The Congolese put a teasing cross into the box which Kyle Bartley tried to defend. Bartley, who spent last season at now league leaders Leeds, lofted his arm into an unnatural position and handled the ball in dramatic fashion.

The referee Andy Madley, who had an excellent night, pointed to the spot after eyeing the handball.

Just two minutes after his opener, Jota stepped up and saw his penalty SAVED by Sam Johnstone, much to the delirium of the travelling West Brom fans behind that goal.

The head of Jota evidently dropped, as Garry Monk knew this was a big chance spurned. His side entered this tie winless, desperately needing a win to match the pleasing performances.

Garry Monk was right. The missed penalty would go down as a rued opportunity, as West Brom equalised through Matty Phillips.

The Scottish international weaved through two defenders, including Kristian Pedersen who got beaten far too easily, before poking the ball past Lee Camp.

Phillips had been playing a wing back role for West Brom prior to the international break, but Darren Moore altered his system to a four-at-the-back shape, ahead of this clash.

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If you hadn’t watched Birmingham at all this season, you would never guess they were winless, as they were by far the better team against promotion tipped West Brom.

Chance after chance fell the way of Monk’s side, but to no avail. The best chance was for Che Adams, who skied a chance from 7 yards.

The young striker snatched at his chance that a more experienced player may have took a second and caressed the ball into the goal, rather than aiming for power over accuracy.

In fact, despite Birmingham’s dominance, West Brom looked the more likely to nick something at the end. Harvey Barnes extremely close, as he rattled the crossbar with ten minutes to play. Baggies players failed to get on the end of the rebound and Birmingham survived, as the St Andrews’ faithful took a collective sigh of relief.

Matt Phillips had another chance late on, but his shot had no real traction and was not going to beat the plethora of Birmingham defenders shielding Lee Camp’s goal.

Ultimately, it finished honours even at St Andrews.

The verdict: this game will be remembered as two points dropped for Birmingham and a point gained for West Brom. Winless in seven, Garry Monk’s side were extremely unlucky as they missed chance after chance. It is very early days of course, but the lack of a clinical edge in front of goal is seriously worrying for the Blues, who must look to address this immediately. As for Moore’s men, West Brom will look back on this as a point gained in a tricky away fixture, although some may go home thinking they could have gained maximum points as Dwight Gayle and the impressive Harvey Barnes came close.