League One Preview: Chaos at London Road


Graham Westley

Here are The Football Lab’s previews for 3 of the weekend’s games in League One. Graham Westley has his first game in charge of Peterborough at Bradford, with the home side unbeaten in 5 games. Coventry City could move into the top 2 on Saturday, but standing in their way are in-form Bury, who have caused their fair share of upsets in recent weeks. Port Vale look to avoid a 4th defeat in 5 league games at Fleetwood, who have picked up just 2 points from a possible 12.

Bradford v Peterborough

In the first half of Bradford City’s 2-2 draw with Sheffield United on Sunday, the Bantams dominated the midfield through aggressive, tenacious and high tempo play. However, they seemingly ran out of energy after Devante Cole’s goal just after the interval and invited too much pressure, as their opponents fought back from 2 down.

That match certainly underlined Bradford’s need to improve their 2nd half displays, but there are positives that manager Phil Parkinson can take from it too. Winger Mark Marshall and midfielder Lee Evans both put in highly impressive performances. Marshall carried a threat down the right hand side of the pitch with his pace and dribbling qualities while Evans’ delivery from set pieces was excellent. Bradford have players in their team who can provide good service for target man James Hanson, who they often look to hit with early balls forward.

New Peterborough manager Graham Westley is known for employing similarly direct tactics to Parkinson, yet Westley’s recent letter to Posh fans suggests an unduly dramatic U-Turn from his usual long ball approach. According to the statement, he has set a target of ‘beyond 600 passes per game, leading to 25+ attempts at goal’ as if this were a scientific calculation, in which there is no correlation between the direction/quality of the passes and the creation of goalscoring opportunities.

Reading between the lines, one must infer that chairman Darragh MacAnthony had an influence on that letter. There is no way that Westley has ever set a pass completion target for his team before a match, it is simply not in his nature. And yet, it seems he is under pressure to change his tactics due to the wishes of MacAnthony and the Peterborough faithful.

This blog has unusual admiration for Graham Westley and what he achieved at Stevenage. However, for there to be any point in a manager being appointed, the chairman must show genuine belief in the new coach’s philosophy. If MacAnthony disagrees with the style of football Westley naturally encourages, then it seems illogical for him to give Westley the job.

There is a lack of clarity and structure at Peterborough United at the moment, and the sense of negativity among the club’s supporters will not help matters. This is an excellent opportunity for Bradford to extend their unbeaten run and pick up a 3rd win in 6 games.

Bury v Coventry

A month ago, this blog wrote an article criticizing Bury manager David Flitcroft for poorly-judged substitutions in his side’s 3-3 draw at Crewe Alexandra. That day, he put on a midfielder – Chris Sedgwick – for a striker – Danny Rose – in an attempt to protect Bury’s lead, and it backfired. Tom Pope was the only forward the Shakers had on the field, and he did not have the pace required to offer an outlet on the counter-attack. Bury’s defence was therefore under constant pressure in the latter stages, and the team threw away 2 points.

However, 4 straight wins in all competitions suggests Flitcroft has learnt from his mistakes at Gresty Road, and it is no coincidence that he did not replace a striker with a midfielder in any of the recent victories. 2 of them were away from home against the division’s current promotion favourites, Walsall and Sheffield United. The Shakers defended well for a 1-0 win in the Black Country, before late goals from Joe Riley and Leon Clarke gave them a 3-1 victory at Bramall Lane, thanks to a committed performance.

Bury now face another team competing for promotion, Coventry City. The Sky Blues have not conceded a league goal at Gigg Lane since August 1965, although the differing histories of these respective clubs dictate that their opponents will have had few chances to quash that statistic.

Coventry picked up a valuable 1-0 victory over Chesterfield on Saturday, after what could be described as a minor blip for the East Midlanders. Tony Mowbray’s side had not kept a clean sheet since the 2nd week of the season prior to kick-off, and a fortuitous 2-1 success at Burton had been their only win in 4. Adam Armstrong, whose first 5 goals had all come in the first 10 days of the league season, grabbed his first in a month with a delicate finish, after a good run from the impressive Jacob Murphy.

Given that they are playing away to an in-form Bury side that have already shown their capabilities against other top teams in the division, a draw would be an acceptable result for Coventry.

Fleetwood v Port Vale

Second half slumps were Port Vale’s main problem last season, and that trend has continued into this campaign. Vale lost 1-0 at Bradford due to a stoppage time winner from Devante Cole, they threw away a 2 goal lead against Wigan before claiming 3 points with a man advantage and let themselves down in the final half hour against Millwall and Bury.

The Valiants would be 6th, rather than 16th, if League One matches finished at half-time, and these poor post-interval performances may come down to a lack of strength in depth. In some ways, the fact that 9 Port Vale players have started all 8 league games creates valuable stability, but equally, there are not too many players in reserve who can change a game from the bench. In both of the previous 2 matches, manager Robert Page’s initial reaction to going 1 goal down was to make a like-for-like change, with AJ Leitch-Smith coming on for Louis Dodds. Leitch-Smith has plenty of energy, but rarely has he proved himself to be an individual match-winner.

Fleetwood, on the other hand, are struggling in a more defensive sense, with key members of the Cod Army back-line currently sidelined. Graham Alexander has acted quickly to bring in experienced defender Richard Wood on loan from Rotherham. This could be an important signing, because without talismanic captain Nathan Pond, Fleetwood do not have a physically imposing centre-back. The absence of right-back Conor McLaughlin represents a blow for Fleetwood and with Alexander experimenting with 3-at-the-back, there is potential for Vale winger Enoch Andoh, who has earned good reviews from his manager thus far, to have some joy down the left hand side.

Port Vale are a competent side and should stay up comfortably, but when judging them as potential play-off contenders, they do not have enough players who can turn tight games in their favour. Fleetwood, on the other hand, have new-found creativity in midfielder Jimmy Ryan, but costly defensive injuries they continue to rely too heavily on goalkeeper Chris Maxwell.

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