Ryan O’ Neill is back with this week’s five conclusions from an action-packed weekend in the English Championship.
1. ‘Safe standing’ should not be an option
One of this week’s major talking points is the possible reintroduction of standing facilities at English football games, which has been discussed at a Football League meeting this week.
At the meeting, most of the 72 Football League clubs voted in favour of introducing ‘safe standing’ facilities, which take the form of adjustable seats that can be locked or unlocked depending on the club’s wishes for certain matches. The system has already attained moderate popularity in Germany, Austria and Sweden.
While I do understand the advocators’ argument that compulsory seating has somewhat stifled the atmosphere at football grounds in recent years, I don’t believe for a second that bringing back terraced standing, even in a so-called ‘safe’ form, would be a good decision for the game. Since its introduction in the wake of the inquiry into the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, seating in football grounds has significantly improved safety, with little to no reported deaths or serious injuries.
Even with today’s improved policing standards, I feel the reprise of standing terraces would be a backward step. Even with seating, England has become renowned as one of the best countries in terms of its footballing atmosphere, so I don’t think standing is necessary. Hooliganism does still exist, unfortunately, so that along with the comparative disorder that would accompany terracing should be enough to convince the higher powers that English football has little to gain from trying to relive a scarred past.
2. Cesar Needs Football
One member of QPR’s squad who has been missing out on the London club’s success in the Championship this season is Julio Cesar. The Brazilian ‘keeper has found himself completely out of contention at Loftus Road this year, a worrying trend as he looks to retain his place as first-choice for his country’s World Cup campaign this summer.
Owing to the success of number one Rob Green in goal this season, Cesar has failed to feature in a single game for his side this season, perhaps not surprising given his decidedly average performances between the sticks last campaign, when QPR were relegated from the Premier League. Despite this, Cesar still has the honour of being first-choice shot-stopper for his country, and it’s no surprise that he is has finally pushed through a loan move to MLS side Toronto FC until the end of the season. Footballers, and especially those who will be playing at football’s biggest tournament in June, need game time, something Cesar has not had at all over the last few months.
The move, I feel, is also positive for QPR. Having offloaded a lot of the high-wage, underperforming players they had among their ranks during the summer, Cesar was one of the old guard who was simply collecting his earnings without, well, earning them, and his move will further help Harry Redknapp’s team attain stability in a financial sense. The decision, therefore, is good for all concerned, showing QPR’s confidence in the more affordable Green, and letting Cesar warm up his gloves for his homecoming tournament in a few months.
3. Top teams will always find a way
With division leaders Leicester City having won their previous nine games in the league, many would have expected another good result against mid-table Watford on Saturday. Such a victory was not to be found, however, with a magnificent 90th minute strike from Danny Drinkwater earning the Foxes a 2-2 draw against Giuseppe Sannino’s team.
Nigel Pearson’s Leicester have been formidable opponents for any team they have encountered this season, and I have spoken on several occasions about the firepower they possess in attack. Saturday, therefore, was an alien sight, as 14th placed Watford dominated the league leaders for large parts of the game, going 2-0 up after 41 minutes before Jamie Vardy pulled one back for Leicester before half-time.
What Saturday showed about Leicester was their resilience while two goals down, something that could easily have broken them on Saturday what with them having become so accustomed to winning this year. Their goals came at crucial times, with Vardy’s strike on the stroke of half-time exactly what the opposition team never want to happen, and Drinkwater’s spectacular volley in stoppage time showing that, on the seemingly rare occasions where Leicester don’t play their best, they are still able to salvage a result, something that I feel will help them hugely as they continue on their quest for promotion.
4. Home form the key for Burnley
Burnley’s win over struggling Millwall on Saturday saw them set a new post-war club record of 19 games unbeaten at Turf Moor, bettering that of the team of 1973 (when, incidentally, they were promoted to the top flight).
Sean Dyche spoke after the game of his pride at achieving history at the club, and you can’t blame him for his euphoria. The sequence, which stretches back to the end of last season, has given Burnley their best league start in the club’s history and helped them into the automatic promotion spots in the Championship, something which has raise hopes of a Premier League return for Clarets fans.
A Danny Ings brace and a goal from Dean Marney helped Burnley to their first victory in four matches following three successive draws, and there’s no doubt that if they are going to achieve promotion this season, their home from will be essential. Two of those three draws were against Sheffield Wednesday and Brighton, teams Burnley arguably should have beaten, and only Forest have more draws out of the top 6. If Burnley can keep up their imperious form at home, and convert some of those draws into wins, they will have an excellent chance of automatic promotion come May.
5. Gray working Wednesday magic
I spoke a few weeks ago of Sheffield Wednesday’s need to appoint Stuart Gray as permanent manager, and the decision has proven a smart one, with The Owls stretching their unbeaten run to eleven games in all competitions after beating high-flying Reading on Saturday.
Wednesday had been on a slippery slope under Dave Jones, but have found a new lease of life under caretaker Gray, and the club’s decision to appoint the former Villa midfielder as permanent coach has proven inspired, with goals from Chris Maguire and Benik Afobe guiding them to a 2-0 victory at the Madejski Stadium on Saturday.
Wednesday’s improvement under Gray has been astounding, having been unbeaten in the league since December 21st, in addition to giving themselves some breathing space on the drop zone. Since their loss to Bournemouth on that date, Wednesday have won four matches, including an incredible 6-0 home win over Leeds United, and are now nine points above the relegation places. Despite loan signing Connor Wickham returning to Sunderland, Wednesday have not been short of goals, with Chris Maguire netting five in his last six matches since his reintroduction to the side by Gray. Having been frozen out by Jones for so long, it makes you wonder if managers sometimes shoot themselves in the foot by dropping certain players.
Employing external candidates can often disturb the peace within a club, and it’s been excellent to see Wednesday’s rejuvenation under Gray through simply sticking with what is working rather than unnecessarily changing things.
Pundit Arena, Ryan O’ Neill.
Featured Image By SWW4 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.