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Archives for January 2010

Hill taking Rochdale to new heights

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Paul Fletcher | 10:15 UK time, Monday, 25 January 2010

The word "Hillcroft" evokes images of a thatched cottage overlooking a quaint patchwork quilt of radiant English countryside.

In Rochdale, it is an affectionate term used by supporters of the town's football team to describe manager Keith Hill and assistant David Flitcroft - Spotland's very own Brangelina, though Dale fans will no doubt hope rumours that the Hollywood couple are about to split are not a portent for a parting of the ways in their own backyard.

A cursory glance of the League Two table reveals why Hill and Flitcroft and viewed as the darlings of The Dale.

Currently nine points clear at the top and a healthy 13 points above Rotherham in fourth place, the club, who have spent the last 35 years in the basement division, are on the verge of claiming only the second promotion in their 102-year history.

"Promotion would lift the monkey off the back of our supporters," said Hill. "They have been ridiculed for a long time as fans of the least successful team in English professional football."

However, the former Rochdale defender, who made more than 150 appearances for the club, is not taking anything for granted. "There are no givens at this moment in time," he insisted.

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The cold reality of life in League Two

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Paul Fletcher | 18:11 UK time, Monday, 18 January 2010

Aldershot manager Kevin Dillon was secretly rather happy when his team were hit by a couple of postponements in mid-December.

His team had played eight games in the space of 28 days since he took over from caretaker boss Jason Dodd and Dillon was relishing the chance to spend some more time preparing his players.

Fast forward a month and he is now itching for a return to action because the Shots have played just once since 12 December as the snow and freezing temperatures have led to the postponement of five fixtures for his side.

What's more, Dillon readily admits that his wife is starting to tire of seeing so much of him around the house.

Thankfully his side are scheduled to make a return to action for the first time since Boxing Day when they take on League Two leaders Rochdale on Tuesday evening.

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Lambert rubs salt into Colchester's wounds

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Paul Fletcher | 21:08 UK time, Saturday, 16 January 2010

At the Weston Homes Community Stadium.

The sign above the Colchester dressing-room door on Saturday read: "You don't win on emotion, you win on execution."

I can only assume that it was the Norwich players leaving their dressing-room directly opposite who absorbed the message at a sodden Weston Homes Community Stadium on Saturday.

Six shots on target, five goals scored - statistics that signalled misery for the vast majority of the record crowd of 10,064, but guaranteed the very sweetest of revenge for the Norwich supporters who had watched their team humbled 7-1 at home by the same opposition on the opening day of the season.

The away support missed no opportunity to gloat and glee - and provided the perfect backdrop as Norwich manager Paul Lambert revelled in the role of pantomime villain.

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QPR crying out for stability

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Paul Fletcher | 11:43 UK time, Friday, 15 January 2010

Queens Park Rangers long ago became a watchword for instability - and although the news that Paul Hart has left the club after just five games in charge might feel wearyingly depressing it hardly rates as surprising.

Hart lasted 28 days and is the sixth full-time manager to depart Loftus Road since Flavio Briatore moved in at the club in August 2007.

The Italian quickly dismissed John Gregory, while Luigi De Canio, Iain Dowie, Paulo Sousa and Jim Magilton have also come and gone. And then there is Mick Harford, Gareth Ainsworth and Steve Gallen, who have had temporary spells in charge.

Of the managers appointed since Briatore arrived, fellow Italian De Canio has lasted the longest, managing 35 games at the helm before leaving for personal reasons.

Sousa was there for 26 games, Magilton 24 and Dowie 15. Is it really surprising that Rangers remain a Championship club?

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Burnley take huge gamble over Laws

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Paul Fletcher | 16:08 UK time, Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Brian Laws was sacked at Sheffield Wednesday on 13 December because his team were in the bottom three of the Championship and playing like a team for whom victory was an extinct concept.

Fast forward to 13 January and, after a festive season relaxing with his family, Laws is back in management as the new boss of Burnley.

What's more, Laws is now the boss of a Premier League club, a level at which he has never managed before. The 48-year-old could be forgiven for thinking that he has hit the jackpot.

In one sense it looks like an appointment that has rewarded failure and even in such an unpredictable and volatile industry it is one that leaves me scratching my head.

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The other side of Chris Sutton

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Paul Fletcher | 16:27 UK time, Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Difficult and testy, sullen and surly; I heard plenty of descriptions of Chris Sutton before interviewing him, virtually all of them portraying a man you really did not want to sit next to on a long journey.

A brief browse though his career did little to suggest I had been misinformed. After all, this is the man that refused to play for England B in a match against Chile and never represented his country again.

It is the same Chris Sutton that incensed Arsenal by violating an unwritten rule of sportsmanship when he chased down a throw-in after the Gunners had put the ball out of play to allow an injured player to receive treatment. Rovers won a corner from which they scored and Sutton was unrepentant.

As a player he was England's first £5m footballer when he joined Blackburn from Norwich in 1994, cost Chelsea £10m in 1999 and Celtic £6m the following year.

To him the game was all about winning. He was not on the pitch to make friends and he certainly didn't do small talk.

Fast forward to January 2010 and Sutton, now 36, is in his fourth month as manager of League Two strugglers Lincoln City.

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What makes Darren Ferguson special

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Paul Fletcher | 14:33 UK time, Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Darren Ferguson is the new manager of Preston North End - and according to Russell Martin, his former captain at Peterborough, the Lancashire club has landed a man heading to the top of his profession.

Ferguson, son of Manchester United legend Sir Alex, masterminded back-to-back promotions as he took Posh from League Two to the Championship.

A talented midfielder in his own right, Ferguson walked through the doors at London Road in January 2007 after impressing owner Darragh MacAnthony during a lengthy telephone interview.

His first full campaign saw the unfashionable Cambridgeshire club promoted after finishing second to MK Dons and the following year his team hugely upset the formbook by again clinching automatic promotion, this time as runners-up behind Leicester.

"Playing for Darren was thoroughly enjoyable," said Martin, who joined Posh in the summer of 2008 and was both skipper and an ever-present during the League One promotion campaign.

"When he left the lads were queuing up to see him. They wanted to thank him for what he had done for their careers."

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Warnock at Wednesday - don't make me laugh

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Paul Fletcher | 13:19 UK time, Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Like Arsene Wenger taking over at Tottenham or Sir Alex Ferguson moving to Manchester City, the prospect of Neil Warnock becoming the next manager of Sheffield Wednesday is as absurd as it is unlikely.

Warnock, of course, is a life-long Sheffield United supporter who enjoys nothing more than baiting the Blades' cross-city rivals.

The 61-year-old once quipped that if he was ever manager of Wednesday he would try to engineer their relegation.

"I would buy some bad players, get the sack and then retire to Cornwall," said the Sheffield-born Warnock.

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Church lights the way for new-look Reading

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Paul Fletcher | 22:20 UK time, Saturday, 2 January 2010

At the Madejski Stadium

Best of, worst of, quotes of, top 10 of this and most repugnant list of that - the Noughties have been appraised, assessed and put firmly to bed over the last week or so.

But watching Reading draw with Liverpool during their engrossing FA Cup tie on Saturday I wondered how the two teams would prosper in the new and as yet unnamed decade that we have entered upon.

Certainly Liverpool, trophy-less since 2006, appear to be as far from ending their wait for the Premier League title as they did at the start of the millennium.

With more and more serious rivals intent on breaking into the top four, Liverpool currently have their work cut out qualifying for next season's Champions League, let alone winning the league title.

If you were to select the strongest XI from all the teams (apart from the current top three) seriously aspiring to a top-four finish - Liverpool, Manchester City, Aston Villa and Tottenham - how many would come from Rafael Benitez's squad? A disappointing number I suspect.

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