Jury delivers verdict on League One managers... and it’s not good reading for Paul Lambert
- Credit: Archant
On what should have been Grand National day the journalists who report on League One’s clubs have been assessing the managerial runners and riders from the part completed 2019/20 third-tier race. Sadly, it doesn’t make good reading for Ipswich Town boss Paul Lambert...
ROMPED HOME: The manager whose side played the most attractive football.
WON BY A NOSE: The manager who snatched a win without deserving one.
TOP JOCKEY: The thoroughbred in the field. Man of the moment.
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Club: AFC Wimbledon
Paper/website: South London Press
ROMPED HOME: Paul Warne and Rotherham looked a force to be reckoned with on the opening day at AFC Wimbledon and haven’t really looked back since. The Dons were outclassed for the opening period and Rotherham showed good grit to get a late winner after a competitive second-half. Honourable mention to Oxford, who also looked a class act when they visited Wimbledon back over Christmas too.
WON BY A NOSE: Accrington ground out a decent point with 10-men against the Dons back in August in a game which Wimbledon really should have won.
TOP JOCKEY: Gareth Ainsworth has done a ridiculous job to have Wycombe competing where they are. They seem to have come out the other side of a tough period after being surprise leaders and are still right in the race, which is some feat. I didn’t think Gillingham were too impressive against the Dons a few weeks back, but I think Steve Evans deserves some credit for having them in the mix for the play-offs – especially after such an influx of players over the summer.
FELL AT FIRST HURDLE: Think it’s hard to look past Paul Lambert at Ipswich. When you consider the strength of the squad and their position even as recently as January, the way that they’ve tailed off and fallen out of the top six has been a bit of a disappointment.
Name: Matt Scrafton
Paper/website: Blackpool Gazette
ROMPED HOME: Karl Robinson, Oxford United. The U’s absolutely battered the Seasiders at Bloomfield Road back in August yet somehow found themselves on the wrong end of a 2-1 defeat. Despite the result, it’s the best performance I’ve witnessed from an opposing side this season – home or away. They took revenge when they beat the Seasiders by the same scoreline at the Kassam in February. Honourable mention to Rotherham as well.
WON BY A NOSE: Ben Garner, Bristol Rovers. The Gas were fortunate to beat the Seasiders in David Dunn’s first game in caretaker charge. Pool were by far the better side but let slip a one-goal lead to lose 2-1, the home side coming from behind after Ben Heneghan’s straight red card on the stroke of half-time. Even with 10 men, the Seasiders had more than enough chances to make life more comfortable for themselves.
TOP JOCKEY: Gareth Ainsworth, Wycombe Wanderers. Even though the Chairboys have dropped off the pace a little bit, they’re still well in the hunt – sitting just three points off Rotherham in second. To have his Wycombe side competing at the top end with the budget and players at his disposal is nothing short of a miracle. His side is horrible to play against and extremely difficult to beat. Not only that, he’s the coolest manager going, too.
FELL AT FIRST HURDLE: Paul Lambert, Ipswich Town. The Tractor Boys should be fighting for the title, not scrapping to stay in the top half of the table. What he did to earn a five-year contract, I’ve no idea. Even when Ipswich were winning at the start of the season, they never looked convincing. Seems like the sort of manager who sets out not to lose first and foremost, which isn’t really good enough for a club the size of Ipswich in League One.
Name: Marc Iles
Club: Bolton Wanderers
Paper/website: The Bolton News
ROMPED HOME: Got to give that to John Coleman at Accrington. His side absolutely pummelled Bolton at the Crown Ground at a time when I fancied them to start climbing the table. They also won comfortably in the cup and got a solid 0-0 draw at the UniBol, all with good football. Pretty impressive.
WON BY A NOSE: Blackpool’s caretaker David Dunn gets that nod from me. Bolton fully deserved a point at Bloomfield Road until Keiran Dewsbury-Hall grabbed a late, late winner. There have been plenty of kicks to the gut at Wanderers this season but that one hurt more than most.
I’m also going to name check Sam Ricketts’ Shrewsbury here, too. They got a point at the UniBol but until Jason Lowe got sent off I think they were on course for defeat.
TOP JOCKEY: I can see the eyes rolling in Bolton, and maybe even on Wearside, but Phil Parkinson. Took on an absolute basket case of a job at Sunderland and got some fearful stick up to Boxing Day when Wanderers went up there to get a goalless draw. But he got to January, brought his type of player in and has turned things around quite well, and that took some guts. I still think they will go up, whenever this madness ends.
FELL AT FIRST HURDLE: Everybody is going to go Paul Lambert, aren’t they? Whenever I have met him down the years he seems a decent chap – and his teams have invariably played good football. But why on earth are Ipswich languishing in 10th place? Blackpool have surprised me too. I can’t understand with the players they signed in January why they are not in contention.
Name: Sam Frost
Club: Bristol Rovers
Paper/website: Bristol Live
ROMPED HOME: Mark Robins’ Coventry City have climbed to the top of the table by playing the right way. With flying wing-backs, class throughout midfield and a plethora of attacking threats, the Sky Blues have been hugely impressive in all four of their games against the Gas this season.
WON BY A NOSE: Gareth Ainsworth is probably worth a mention for Wycombe Wanderers’ basic yet effective methods, but I will go for former Bristol Rovers boss Graham Coughlan. The Dubliner found a knack of stealing victories as he took Rovers to fourth in the table by beating Ipswich Town away before Christmas. That was his final game in charge, dropping down a level to manage Mansfield Town – much closer to his Sheffield home – and Rovers’ form since has emphasised Coughlan’s ability to grind out results.
TOP JOCKEY: Mark Robins gets this one for me. Taking his team to the top of the table without playing a genuine home game is a fine achievement, and he has done it in style too.
FELL AT FIRST HURDLE: Bristol Rovers boss Ben Garner has certainly underperformed thus far, winning just twice since the turn of the year, but I think it’s between Simon Grayson and Paul Lambert for the biggest underachievers. Both are/were backed well, with expectations of a promotion charge. Given the prestige of the club, I would say Lambert has come up the shortest.
Name: Colston Crawford
Club: Burton Albion
Paper/website: Derbyshire Live
ROMPED HOME: This may come as a surprise to some and it may even have been a one-off, but it was Russell Martin’s MK Dons. They were dreadful when Burton won 3-0 away, with Paul Tisdale as manager, in October. Under Martin, they lost 1-0 at the Pirelli Stadium in January and it was, frankly, an utter travesty that they went away with nothing after 73 per cent possession. They were eager, neat and enterprising and the feeling was “no way they can go down.” Yet they still might.
WON BY A NOSE: Lincoln City at Sincil Bank in March. They had been pretty good when they won 2-0 at the Pirelli earlier in the season. They weren’t in the return game which Burton dominated in almost all phases. Lincoln had three shots on target, scored three goals, won 3-2. A handball in the build-up to one goal, a man down injured (with the ball out of play) for another, a missed penalty that would have made it 3-3. It was all there. “Mixed emotions but the most important emotion is that we won,” was Michael Appleton’s reaction.
TOP JOCKEY: It will be no surprise if most respondents do not say Mark Robins. I already knew the bloke was honest and straight-talking from when he ended his playing career at Burton but the job he has done at Coventry City is exceptional. He has managed to make a backs-to-the-wall positive out of not playing at home and they’ve steadily built momentum. It will be a great achievement to take them back to the Championship, assuming that happens in the end.
FELL AT FIRST HURDLE: Equally, I guess most people will say Paul Lambert at Ipswich Town. They have the resources, they have the players and they had the start. To miss out on the play-offs from there is a shocker. The weight of expectation is heavy, granted, but they should be in the top six, at least.
Name: Liam Hoden
Club: Doncaster Rovers
Paper/website: Doncaster Free Press
ROMPED HOME: I’d have to go for Karl Robinson and his Oxford side. They’ve been the only team this season to comprehensively beat Rovers - something they did with a combination of smartly shutting Doncaster down before producing some really good attacking play of their own. They were really dangerous in the reverse fixture too. You can see they’re a team that’s been built over a few transfer windows and they seem well drilled in what Robinson wants them to do.
WON BY A NOSE: That would have to be Kenny Jackett and Portsmouth. Rovers absolutely dominated the fixture at the Keepmoat back in September and played some brilliant stuff. Portsmouth showed real ruthlessness to take the lead, and then snatch an injury time winner after Rovers had equalised. The term smash and grab was invented for such a game. This was at a time when Pompey were really inconsistent but they’ve kicked on massively since.
TOP JOCKEY: It is brilliant what Paul Warne has done again at Rotherham but I’ve got to go for Mark Robins. What he’s managed to deliver since taking the job on is exceptional, given the most trying of circumstances at the club, but he has taken it to another level this season. He’s got his side playing really good, aggressive football and it’s delivered the goods. The fact that they’ve only lost once at St Andrew’s is very impressive given the bizarre experience of playing there.
FELL AT FIRST HURDLE: You try to look beyond Paul Lambert at Ipswich but you keep coming back to Paul Lambert at Ipswich. With the relative resources at his disposal there is no doubt Ipswich should be doing much better. But I think the most disappointing aspect has been the manner in which they’ve dropped off after a start which should have been more than enough to put them firmly in the promotion race.
Name: Luke Cawdell
Paper/website: Kent Online
ROMPED HOME: Karl Robinson, Oxford United. Gillingham bumped into an in-form Oxford United and were blown away. The game came days after United’s 4-0 win over West Ham in the League Cup and a week after scoring six past Lincoln. They were rampant. It was 3-0 at the break and it could have been a lot more. Gills’ only comfort was that they managed to subdue them in the second half, with no more damage done.
WON BY A NOSE: Glyn Hodges, AFC Wimbledon. Wimbledon have done the double over Gillingham this season but the first game, in particular, was about as one-sided as it gets. Twenty-two attempts at goal and the Gills just couldn’t score. Former player Scott Wagstaff got the winner against the run of the play, taking the points in a 1-0 win. Gills’ afternoon was made worse with a stoppage-time dismissal as their frustration boiled over.
TOP JOCKEY: Mark Robins, Coventry City. Coventry City’s issues with their ground took the focus off the players and the manager and Mark Robins has gone about his business in great fashion. They have come through a sticky spell around October time and looked to be warming up nicely before the league was halted. If the league is ever resumed then they look on course for promotion.
FELL AT FIRST HURDLE: Paul Lambert, Ipswich Town. Gillingham fans were gutted to see goalkeeper Tomas Holy head for Ipswich in the summer, lured for bigger money and the prospect of a promotion season. Many clubs must have been looking over at Ipswich’s buying power with envy but, despite a decent start, it’s all gone wrong for Paul Lambert now. They might even finish behind Gillingham this season which, if budgets are taken into account, is a pretty spectacular failure on his part.
Name: Stuart Watson
Club: Ipswich Town
ROMPED HOME: Rotherham battered Ipswich both home (1-0) and away (2-0). Paul Warne’s men get labelled physical, which undoubtedly they are, but that does a disservice to the pace and passing talent in that team. Ipswich have played Coventry four times this season and every time I’ve enjoyed watching the Sky Blues play. Mark Robins has managed to combine style and substance - not an easy thing to do at this level. Peterborough deserve a mention too. Ipswich snatched an undeserved draw at London Road back in August, then were taken apart by the incisive front three of Toney, Dembele and Szmodics in a 4-1 loss at Portman Road. It was a counter-attacking masterclass.
WON BY A NOSE: Can’t really level that at any manager. Ipswich’s dropped point have been down to their own deficiencies in both boxes. The 2-1 loss at Blackpool, in which Freddie Sears spurned a one-one-one before they went straight up the other end to win it in stoppage-time, sums that up in a nutshell.
AFC Wimbledon parked the bus in both games, coming within minutes of a point at Portman Road and grinding out a 0-0 at their place, but you can’t knock them for that approach.
TOP JOCKEY: What Gareth Ainsworth has done with Wycombe is remarkable given they started the season as relegation favourites. Paul Warne may be a Norwich fan, but I’ve got a lot of time for the way he conducts himself. Joey Barton showed some class (yes, really) when he later admitted he’d been ‘naive to test the boundaries of Ipswich’s psychology’ after some early season mind games back-fired.
FELL AT FIRST HURDLE: The obvious answer, sadly, is Paul Lambert. Ipswich did the hard part by shaking off the relegation hangover, but squad rotation and postponing games through choice disrupted momentum. No real identity has emerged. There’s been a lot of debate about how good this squad actually is and, yes, key injuries have not helped. However, no two ways about it, to finish outside the top six (which looks very likely) would be a massive underachievement.
Name: Mark Whiley
Club: Lincoln City
Paper/website: Lincoln Live
ROMPED HOME: I would go for Mark Robins, whose Coventry side played Lincoln off the park in the first half at St Andrew’s. Great football but, more importantly, it was positive, pacey and purposeful, not just passing for the sake of it. They led 1-0 at the break, but it could have been several more. Lincoln improved in the second half and should have had penalty but, overall, 1-0 was a flattering final score to the Imps.
WON BY A NOSE: Wimbledon, under recently-appointed Glyn Hodges, were in good form when Lincoln visited on November 1. But the Imps should have left with three points after controlling the game for long periods and led thanks to Jack Payne’s first half goal. City were comfortable for most of the second half until they began to drop deep in the closing stages and then switching off to allow Kwesi Appiah to nod home the equaliser deep into added time. It summed up Lincoln’s fortunes at the time – playing okay but not being able to finish teams off.
TOP JOCKEY: Has to be Mark Robins. Having played every game away from home, it would be a monumental achievement for him to lead the Sky Blues to automatic promotion. In fact, I’d make him the overall manager of the year, let alone the top League One boss. They’ve done it in style too.
FELL AT FIRST HURDLE: Paul Lambert is the obvious one given how Ipswich have fallen away, but I’d go for Keith Hill at Bolton. I was expecting much more from the Trotters after his appointment, followed by some astute signings. They were never going to stay up, but I thought they’d give themselves a fighting chance and at least overhauled Southend. The way they collapsed late on against Lincoln was alarming.
Name: Toby Lock
Club: MK Dons
Paper/website: MK Citizen
ROMPED HOME: Peterborough’s Darren Ferguson has got a chequered history with MK Dons fans. From the promotion battles of 2007/08 and 08/09 there has always been a bit of spice between the sides. But when one side is down, there’s no love lost. Posh gave Dons a right good shoeing at Stadium MK and ran out comfortable 4-0 winners.
WON BY A NOSE: Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion did a number on Dons at Stadium MK in pretty easy fashion as the Tisdale era looked on its last legs. But at the Pirelli, they stuck everyone behind the ball, got a goal on the counter, and reversed the bus back. You can’t fault it.
TOP JOCKEY: I really like what Joey Barton has done at Fleetwood. Few would have had them up where they are, certainly not above some of the teams they currently are. A shout-out to Gareth Ainsworth at Wycombe too as they seem to have survived that massive wobble and are still there or thereabouts.
FELL AT FIRST HURDLE: He was only manager for four months this season, but Paul Tisdale did his reputation in the game no favours for Dons’ poor start. Ten games without a win, dropping into the relegation zone and the most anti-football performance against Fleetwood. Sure, he had no strikers for three months, but bigger things of him were expected than going out with a whimper.
Name: David Pritchard
Club: Oxford United
Paper/website: Oxford Mail
ROMPED HOME: Not many teams have shown up Oxford United this season, but Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion gave a masterclass in intelligent tactics at the Kassam Stadium in August. The Brewers were ruthless on the break, running out 4-2 winners, while they were also awkward customers at the Pirelli, where United needed a stoppage-time strike to salvage a point.
WON BY A NOSE: How Blackpool ended up winning 2-1 against the U’s at Bloomfield Road remains an unsolved mystery. Simon Grayson was decent enough to admit as much in his post-match interviews.
TOP JOCKEY: Gareth Ainsworth has worked miracles at Wycombe, but it’s hard to see past Mark Robins. Amid all the chaos off the pitch which effectively means they play away from home every week, he’s quietly got on with it and built a young, exciting team who are five points clear at the top with a game in hand.
FELL AT FIRST HURDLE: It’s got to be Paul Lambert at Ipswich Town. The play-offs would have been a disappointment for them, so to be 10th is a long way short. In both games against Oxford they were very underwhelming.
Name: Alan Swann
Club: Peterborough United
Paper/website: Peterborough Telegraph
ROMPED HOME: Coventry are far and away the best team I’ve seen play Posh, even though they didn’t beat us. With a more clinical strike force they would have been four up at half-time after forcing Darren Ferguson to change shape and make a substitution after 20 minutes such was their dominance and the quality of their football. Sitting back in the final stages cost them as Posh equalised in the 95th minute, but that shouldn’t deflect from how good Coventry were that day.
WON BY A NOSE: Most times Posh have lost they’ve deserved to. The one exception was at Wimbledon who, for the second year running, fluked a 1-0 win at Kingsmeadow. Posh must have missed 10 goal-scoring chances in the final 30 minutes.
TOP JOCKEY: Wycombe’s blatant cynicism during games stops me nominating Gareth Ainsworth so it’s Mark Robins at Coventry for me. To achieve what he has (so far) despite effectively playing every game away from home is remarkable.
FELL AT FIRST HURDLE: Ipswich and Sunderland don’t have the quality squads clubs of their size should demand at League One level, Simon Grayson at Blackpool is the biggest disappointment for me. I tipped the Seasiders to make the play-offs as Grayson is a League One promotion specialist and because of the feelgood factor at Bloomfield Road following the arrival of a sane owner.
Name: Neil Allen
Paper/website: The News
ROMPED HOME: Darren Ferguson, Peterborough. It was pitched as the battle as the promotion contenders when the sides met in March but was a hopeless mismatch. The Posh produced the best display I have witnessed this season, inspired by the classy Ivan Toney and pacy Siriki Dembele. With Sammie Szmodics and attacking wing-backs, they surely must be unstoppable on their day.
WON BY A NOSE: Graham Couglan, Bristol Rovers. Hosts Bristol Rovers were 2-0 down with 78 minutes remaining and were so lacklustre that many home supporters headed home early, having accepted defeat. Then the improbable comeback arrived, with the leveller three minutes into time added on. To make it even more gut wrenching, the equaliser was an own goal off the head of keeper Craig MacGillivray after team-mate Ross McCrorie had kneed a Gas corner against his own crossbar.
TOP JOCKEY: Mark Robins, Coventry City. It’s impossible not to have a sneaking regard for Gareth Ainsworth’s continued overachievement at Wycombe, despite their tiresome time-wasting antics. However, Mark Robins has done magnificently at Coventry, particularly considering their relocation to St Andrew’s and the accompanying supporter boycott which renders it devoid of any atmosphere or intimidation.
FELL AT FIRST HURDLE: Paul Lambert, Ipswich Town. Lambert’s reputation as an heroic firefighter dispatched to save clubs is somewhat bewildering. Admittedly, it was a tough job he inherited at Ipswich yet, following seven months in charge, relegation and buying fans free pints, it appeared ludicrous he was rewarded with a five-year contract. After a bright start they have folded dramatically and now don’t even appear play-off candidates. Ipswich fans don’t need reminding that’s not good enough.
Name: David Beddows
Club: Rotherham United
Paper/website: Rotherham Advertiser
ROMPED HOME: They might not have much brass but for as long as I can remember Rochdale have always tried to get the ball down and play, even if their pitch doesn’t always lend itself to a passing game. Brian Barry-Murphy has carried on the tradition and, credit to Dale, they’ve “done” us twice this season, winning 1-0 at the New York and 3-1 at their place just before everything came to a halt.
WON BY A NOSE: I’ve always believed in the silly season, the time in the closing weeks when those in the dog fight at the bottom throw one or two spanners in the works. Rotherham were nailed on to beat AFC Wimbledon at home last month but the Dons spoiled the party by scoring a 93rd minute penalty to grab a point.
TOP JOCKEY: Gareth Ainsworth and his miracle-working at Wycombe, Darren Ferguson and his explosive Peterborough side, quiet achiever Joey Barton at Fleetwood and our own Paul Warne all deserve high praise. Call me biased but it’s Coventry boss Mark Robins, a man who cut his managerial teeth at Rotherham, who has done a stand-out job given all the off-field distractions at that club.
FELL AT FIRST HURDLE: I’m repeating a few others with this one but Paul Lambert’s Ipswich have been a milk float in League One when they should have been a juggernaut. Big crowds, good resources and a strong player pool ought to have had them well entrenched in the top-six push at a minimum. Burton, who don’t have half as much going for them, are only four points behind and could even finish above them when we do eventually re-start.
Name: Lewis Cox
Club: Shrewsbury Town
Paper/website: Express and Star
ROMPED HOME: Fleetwood have been good twice, the first was a 3-0 victory in September to end Shrewsbury’s unbeaten home record. Joey Barton was panto villain and his side saw the game out brilliantly. They showed their other side in the 2-2 Highbury draw in January with some delightful football leading to their goals.
WON BY A NOSE: I can’t say that Portsmouth have looked particularly brilliant. A wondergoal saw Shrewsbury beat them 1-0 on the opening day which wasn’t entirely undeserved while Pompey made hard work of a home win against Town in February. Coventry were poor and not fitting of their lofty status at the Meadow in December as Shrews won 2-1. Tranmere’s recent 3-2 win at Shrews was a smash and grab!
TOP JOCKEY: I don’t think Fleetwood are exactly paupers but Barton has done well to get them where they are and plays great football there. Brian Barry-Murphy has Rochdale playing the right way and MK Dons have tried to and made a decent first of it under rookie Russell Martin.
FELL AT FIRST HURDLE: Ipswich beat Shrews 3-0 at a canter in August when they were flying and I thought they would stroll the league - I still think they should have and 10th is poor with the squad Paul Lambert has there. Simon Grayson seemed to be well-backed to build a good squad at Blackpool and despite the troubles upstairs the Seasiders should’ve been better off in the table.
Name: Chris Phillips
Club: Southend United
Paper/website: Southend Echo
ROMPED HOME: Darren Moore at Doncaster. They won 7-1 at Roots Hall, which is the heaviest home defeat in Southend’s history. Rovers then followed that up with a 3-1 win at the Keepmoat Stadium.
WON BY A NOSE: Gareth Ainsworth and Wycombe Wanderers. Southend were 3-2 up until the 89th minute and lost 4-3.
TOP JOCKEY: It’s between Mark Robins and Joey Barton for me. Robins’ Coventry side are playing their home games at Birmingham this season which is far from ideal while Fleetwood are fifth and can’t have much of a budget.
FELL AT FIRST HURDLE: People will look at Southend and Bolton for this but they are impossible clubs to manage right now. I’ll say Paul Lambert at Ipswich because I think they should be much higher than 10th.
Name: Phil Smith
Paper/website: Sunderland Echo
ROMPED HOME: Sunderland travelled to Rochdale earlier in the season and though they came away with a 2-1 win, no side impressed as much as Brian Barry-Murphy’s. The bravery in possession, the willingness to commit players forward, the trust in youth... They were an absolute delight. Though I suppose the season as a whole has shown how difficult it can be to sustain that approach and the shortcomings of it, I’ve nothing but admiration for the philosophy and the belief in it.
WON BY A NOSE: Curiously, Rotherham were immensely fortunate to escape with a point from the Stadium of Light earlier this season. They’ve had an outstanding campaign, but Sunderland were all over them and had Aiden McGeady converted his penalty, Jack Ross would have gone on to secure three crucial points that could have left things very different.
TOP JOCKEY: Mark Robins has done an outstanding job but for me, this award has to go to Gareth Ainsworth. The football is not to everyone’s taste, and certainly not to mine, but he carries himself so well and is a tremendous ambassador for his club. Dignified, patient, and clearly adored by his players. What he has done this season is remarkable.
FELL AT FIRST HURDLE: I thought Simon Grayson’s Blackpool were certain to be strong play-off contenders and, similarly, it’s hard to fathom that we’re in a situation where if the football does resume we’re barely even able to see Ipswich as outsiders for the top six.
Name: Tom Cavilla
Club: Tranmere Rovers
Paper/website: Liverpool Echo
ROMPED HOME: I would have to go with Karl Robinson’s Oxford United side, who played Tranmere off the park in a 3-0 win at the Kassam Stadium back in September. Cameron Brannagan is a joy to watch in his midfield role and made everyone on the Tranmere team appear rather below par. In attack, Ben Woodburn and Tariqe Fosu were causing all kinds of problems with their pace. Football that’s easy on the eye and exciting for supporters.
WON BY A NOSE: The majority of matches in which Tranmere have dropped point this season has, predominantly, been self-inflicted. One game they were possibly unfortunate to lose, though, was their 1-0 home defeat to Sunderland in late January. Phil Parkinson’s side managed only one shot on target during the 90 minutes, arriving in the form of Chris Wyke’s 60th minute winner. A share of the spoils would have been a fairer reflection.
TOP JOCKEY: When Tranmere walked away from Stadium MK with a comfortable 3-1 victory in November, the Dons appeared dead and buried. This defeat marked a ninth league loss in 10 outings and saw Paul Tisdale’s dismissal announced shortly after the full-time whistle. In came Russell Martin as his replacement, taking on his first managerial position. Following his appointment, Martin masterminded impressive wins in quick succession against Oxford and Portsmouth, backed up by later triumphs over Bristol Rovers, Rochdale, Wycombe and Bolton to ease relegation fears.
FELL AT FIRST HURDLE: It’s difficult to not select Paul Lambert in this situation. Rovers were blown away by a ruthless second-half performance from Ipswich when the sides met early on in the season at Portman Road. This 4-1 win saw the Tractor Boys maintain top spot in the division, having claimed an impressive 24 points out of a possible 30 on offer. After watching that performance, which highlighted Town’s quality in all areas of the pitch, anything but promotion seemed out of the question. The fact that Ipswich currently find themselves 10th in League One is rather difficult to comprehend and can only be viewed as a poor season, which showed real promise for a long period of time.