Rhian Brewster finally got his goal but the real Carabao praise should be directed at Newport and Morecambe…
Perennial giant-killers Newport County
In truth, I could have written this section before a ball had even been kicked at Portman Road, such is Newport’s penchant for knocking football pyramid superiors out of cup competitions.
Under Michael Flynn, not only have Newport transformed themselves from almost dropping out of the EFL into consistent performers at the right end of League Two, but they have beaten Leeds United, Leicester City, Middlesbrough and Watford in the two main cup competition under the Welshman’s stewardship, as well as taking Tottenham and Newcastle United to extra time and replays in similarly amazing runs.
That we picked the Exiles’ trip to Ipswich as a potential upset felt almost like cheating, like it was too easy to foresee Newport knocking out another team above them in the league standings, but these achievements must never be normalised.
Timmy Abraham’s – yes that is Tammy’s brother – fourth-minute opener was all that separated the sides in the scoreline, but on the pitch, Ipswich’s new look and much-changed side threatened and attacked for pretty much the rest of the game, but it was the Exiles who progressed.
It would be no surprise to see them take out yet another big hitter once more. Southampton await in the next round. Flynn should be managing against these bigger teams week in, week out, not just in midweek, winner-takes-all fixtures.
Now we promise, we’re not just including teams here who proved us right on potential Carabao Cup shocks on Tuesday night, but it certainly didn’t hurt their prospects of making it high up this column. Salford City, you were so close.
In terms of geography, Morecambe and Salford are relatively close, but their efforts and set-up off the pitch are worlds apart, and it makes it all the sweeter to see the Shrimps starting their first ever season in the third tier of English football with such a bang. Having been devastated to only get an opening day draw against Ipswich, Morecambe went the whole hog against a Blackburn Rovers side on a high of their own from the weekend.
Given their low income, relatively small budget in the division below, losing their promotion-winning manager and just generally being Morecambe, perennial favourites to exit the EFL every season up to and including the campaign they won promotion from League Two, many were expecting Stephen Robinson’s side to be whipping boys.
They may yet be, but the early signs suggest they will be anything but, and while they have their man in form up top, anything is possible, talking of which…
Two superbly taken goals on Saturday against Ipswich were joined by a cool equaliser against Blackburn. There were bigger players in Morecambe’s promotion-winning season and more obvious names to shine this time around, but Stockton is the name on everybody’s League One lips thus far.
Stoke City and the start of a beautiful friendship
When I was younger and much more hair adorned my head and much less flab adorned my stomach, my family and I were in possession of a notebook, only a couple of inches wide by twice as many tall; useful only for shorthand notes and cheat codes for Crash Bandicoot on the first Playstation console. This 100-page booklet was chock full of scribbled shapes, numbers, passwords and codes, and if I think hard enough, I can swear that the very back page simply read ‘Vrancic corner, Souttar goal’.
Optimism once again swirls the bet365 Stadium after far too long in the Potteries without such emotions being stirred. Michael O’Neill and Co. have largely ridden the ghosts of season’s past from the Stoke squad and are littering it with genuine talent and Championship experience.
Capable of playing some good football yes, but there is something in these parts that cannot resist the classic Stoke way of playing. Cross the ball in on a sixpence and get your massive centre-back to head it home. Australia international Harry Souttar is more adept at finding the back of the net than many of Stoke’s strikers in recent seasons, the 22-year-old scoring a scarcely believable six goals in five matches for his country and with new signing Mario Vrancic on set-piece duty in ST4, Souttar and his fellow centre-backs will be hopeful of replicating such numbers in the league having seen it work so excellently in Stoke’s 2-0 easing past Fleetwood Town on Tuesday night.
Having made the long list and just missing out in Saturday’s debut Championship Winners and Losers column despite scoring arguably the goal of the weekend and being his general colossal self throughout, QPR centre-back Dickie could not be discounted twice after making it two goals from as many games to start the season with a fine header against Leyton Orient.
And with Southampton being on the verge of losing Jannik Vestergaard to Leicester City in the final weeks of the transfer window, it may well be Dickie’s first and last inclusion in this iteration of the column if the Saints had any sense. Dickie already looks a Premier League player and his swift rise in the past couple of seasons is testament to the player’s ability and determination, as well as ridiculously outrageous talent in either penalty area.
If he stays, he could be a big factor in getting QPR to the Premier League; if he leaves for a top-flight club like Southampton, he could be equally as big in keeping them there.
I don’t care what the circumstances are, nor do I care about the opposition, the price tag, nor the long wait it took to get this point.
Rhian Brewster has broken his duck for Sheffield United and the celebrations against League Two Carlisle United in the first round of the Carabao Cup for the £23million man after 31 previous goalless appearances for the Blades shows just how much it meant to him.
Bigger tests on the pitch are still to come for Sheffield United, but it is only fair to Brewster to hope this is the start of the good times for him in south Yorkshire.
Having finished 15th, 18th, 20th twice and 19th last season in their five seasons in League One and having come into this season having lost their talisman, captain and top scorer Joe Pigott to Ipswich Town, many feared what was to come for Wimbledon this season.
It is unfair to make sweeping statements so early in the season, but necessary to review what little we have seen and feel optimistic for the way the Dons have begun the campaign, coming from behind away at Doncaster on the opening day to take all three points before knocking out London rivals Charlton Athletic at the Valley in the first round of the EFL Cup on Tuesday night. If Carlsberg did starts to the season…
There no fewer than 10 penalty shoot-outs on Tuesday night followed by the 11th and 12th of the round between London rivals Leyton Orient and QPR and then Burton v Oxford on Wednesday night. England fans may still be reeling from shootout events of a month ago, but seeing a plethora of spot-kicks across the board ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous was enough to bring a smile to even the most distraught fans’ faces.
League Two Stevenage knocked out Saturday’s big winners Luton Town with the Hatters failing to notch any of their three penalties, while Shrewsbury Town’s penalty shoot out victory over League One rivals Lincoln City sparked something of an embarrassing pitch invasion.
Hull City and Wigan Athletic took eight penalties apiece with the Tigers missing the crucial one, while Crawley Town and Gillingham provided the best late drama of the week, each scoring in injury time before sharing 19 successive spot kicks with the Gills progressing 10-9 eventually.
But the best/worst/weirdest shootout went to QPR, or more specifically, boyhood fan and match winner Albert Adomah, who celebrated this momentous occasion by jumping in with the fans. Irresponsible yes, and if there is a Covid outbreak at the west London club then fingers will be pointed, but those who ridicule such celebrations outed themselves as non-match-going fans.
This was not about progression to the second round of the EFL Cup, but rather a release at once again being able to celebrate with the fans. As a lifelong supporter himself, you have to let him.
As with Morecambe and Wimbledon and every club after two games of the season – one league and one cup – it is crucial not to make kneejerk statements and draw too many overarching conclusions from just 180 minutes of football, but it is fair to say that everybody expected the Tractor Boys to not look so stuck in the mud as they have in their three hours of competitive football this season thus far.
A raft of new signings were always going to take time to gel, and a host of changes between Saturday’s draw to Morecambe and this cup defeat were never going to accelerate those specific matters, but the Suffolk side are still looking low on confidence under manager Paul Cook, who didn’t pull up any trees in his first couple of months at the club towards the back end of last season.
That was to be expected. Cook was not brought in to get promotion last season, and those games in charge with a team which has been largely decimated was useful in allowing Cook to know who he wanted to keep, who he wanted rid of, and what he could expect from his team moving forward.
A draw to a Morecambe side riding the crest of the wave and defeat to a Newport side who have much bigger scalps in their locker are not disastrous by any means, and could be seen as mere blips on the way to stardom and success this season in the long run, but it has not filled Ipswich fans with as much confidence as they would have reasonably expected by now under Cook.
With this squad expensively assembled – in wages at least for League One level – and very much in Cook’s vision and mould, those ingredients will not easily be entrusted to a lesser chef, but results will need turning around sooner rather than later. In truth, exiting the cup may well turn out to be a blessing in disguise, but excuses will soon run out for Cook and his new-look Ipswich side.
It is quite ridiculous to think back less than half a decade ago and remember that Scunthorpe United were perennially one of League One’s better sides, consistently fighting near the top of the third tier in bids to return to the Championship where they had enjoyed, and oftentimes endured, brief stints.
Then along came Rotherham United in the 2017/18 season, knocking the Iron out of the League One play-offs and setting in a chain of events which have left the Glanford Park outfit on the cusp of exiting the EFL altogether last season and with little sign it’s going to get any better this time around.
Having lost to the Millers in May 2018, Scunthorpe were relegated from League One the season after and have since come 20th and 22nd in their two seasons in League Two and after losing to crackpot club Swindon Town 3-1 at home on the opening day, have dropped another two places to 24th.
Like with Ipswich, exiting the cup at this stage – even to Barrow’s first EFL cup win since their return to the Football League – could prove to be a good thing, but it was another miserable defeat in a miserable run which stretches back to last season, and in truth, over much of the last three.
While the Bluebirds will enjoy hosting Aston Villa in the second round, the Iron will be looking to prove their mettle at long last and fight their way up the league this season. A squad which used to boast bright young talent like Josh Morris, Duane Holmes and Hakeeb Adelakun and experienced exuberance in Neal Bishop and Stephen Dawson in the middle of the park, was one of the most exciting yet toughest squads in the bottom two divisions of the professional football pyramid in England.
You knew what you were getting with that team under manager Graham Alexander. Now, with the fans and board never further apart on seeing eye-to-eye, a manager with little proven track record and a plethora of players looking out of their depth at this level, the meek surrender and defeat to Barrow in the first round was just an obvious extension of much that has come before. If rock bottom isn’t hit soon, it may well be found in the National League.
Luton Town’s penalty takers
Having scored three excellently taken goals in their opening-day defeat of Peterborough United at the weekend, Luton’s much-changed squad could not keep those standards up, succumbing to a 2-2 draw against League Two Stevenage, but at least knowing they had penalty-taking experience in the shoot out.
Carlos Mendes Gomes arrived at Luton in the summer having been Morecambe’s outstanding player of the season in their promotion to League Two, and scoring the penalty which took the Shrimps to League One for the first time in their history.
Against Stevenage however, Mendes Gomes was unable to live up to his tag as one of the potential Championship signings of the season in his first start, missing Luton’s second penalty between similar efforts from Harry Cornick and Dion Pereira. If you’re going to fail, at least be consistent.
So Southampton have drawn the short straw in drawing Newport County. Maybe you’ll win it next year, Saints.