What a weekend for East Midlands football. It had pretty much everything. All 6 of the region’s Sky Bet Football League teams went unbeaten last weekend, a great feat considering some of the tough fixtures they faced. For example Chesterfield went to high-flying Scunthorpe and gained a valuable 1-1 draw. Mansfield also faced a team in-form in the shape of Southend. Notts County also faced play-off chasing Coventry City.
We start with Mansfield. They went into this round of fixtures on a downward spiral which has seen them plummet from the play-off places to a relegation battle in the space of a few months. This Saturday saw promotion hopefuls Southend United arrive at Field Mill. The match finished 2-1 to the hosts after Southend spurned many chances to get themselves back into the match. 10 shots with only 2 on target gives some idea as to how the afternoon went for Southend. Mansfield recorded their first league home win since September. This has clearly been the main problem in their demise. You can’t expect not to win at home for 5 months and progress. This hopefully will be a springboard for the Stags. They need to start picking up valuable points, especially at home, to ensure the looks over their shoulders don’t become even more nervous.
Chesterfield travelled to Lincolnshire to face promotion rivals Scunthorpe United on Saturday, sitting top of the League Two table and unbeaten in 5. They were eager to ensure this became 6 and successfully achieved this. The 1-1 scoreline was a balanced and fair result on reflection as Chesterfield were forced to hang on towards the end of proceedings as the Iron looked to capitalize on a nervous looking Spireites defense and reclaim their league lead. Sub Gary McSheffrey’s deliveries towards the end caused havoc for Chesterfield but they held on and retained their unbeaten record. The future looks good for the Derbyshire outfit. Only 2 years ago they won promotion from this very league and will hope to show the same grit and determination to get themselves over the line this time out too.
Notts County are starting to become the most enigmatic team in the Football League. You just never know which one will turn up. They have gone from being stuffed 5-1 at home Walsall to outplaying and beating a resurgent Coventry City team 3-0. Goals from Mullins, Spencer and Sheehan helped the Magpies climb out of the League One relegation zone. Shaun Derry certainly knows what sort of division he has started his managerial career in now. Anyone can beat anyone and Notts County will certainly be praying that this continues as they desperately need to start gathering some consistency and momentum to ensure they are not dragged back into immediate danger. They have come a long way in a short space of time and with a good managerial team in place, the future look bright. Provided they avoid the drop of course.
Moving up the league pyramid, Leicester City appear to be all but promoted after a run of 9 consecutive wins had moved them 10 points clear of the chasing pack before the visit of Watford to the King Power Stadium this weekend. Although The Foxes have been destroying all comers in recent weeks, they did not get it all their way against a very organised Watford side on Saturday. The Hornets raced into a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Forestieri and Sean Murray and looked in control of the game. However, this is the league leaders they are playing. A goal just before half time from Matty James gave Leicester hope and after dominating the second half, their pressure eventually told and Danny Drinkwater’s 20 yard thunderbolt in the fourth minute of stoppage time gave Nigel Pearson’s men a deserved point. This moved Leicester further clear in the race for the Premier League. Surely now it is a case of playing consistently and the title is theirs? After last season’s heartache however, Pearson will take nothing for granted.
Nottingham Forest are another East Midlands team that are simply unstoppable at the minute. The Reds are now unbeaten in 15 and are hunting down the promotion pack like a hungry animal. Billy Davies is a willy manager and is playing down his side’s promotion ambitions but if this run carries on, it’s only a matter of time before one of the teams above them slip up under the pressure. This weekend saw Davies take his injury-hit side to the North West coast for a match against a struggling Blackpool team. Forest started with their usual verve and took a 45th minute lead through academy starlet Jamaal Lascelles’ header. Blackpool came out snarling in the second half and bossed a lot of the possession stats. Their endeavor paid off 4 minutes from time when Andy Keogh headed in a Jack Robinson cross. Blackpool could even have nicked all 3 points but loan signing David Goodwillie fired wide moments before time. Forest go from strength to strength but the loss of 2 important midfielders in the shape of David Vaughan and Henri Lansbury could see Davies dip into the loan market to ensure his depleted squad do not go off the boil.
Derby County had to wait until Monday night to play arguable the most important match of their season against QPR due to television scheduling. QPR are one of Derby’s rivals for both automatic promotion and a play-off place. There is Derby, QPR, Burnley, Leicester and Forest in the running to go up as things stand and 5 into 2 simply doesn’t go. Derby went into the match knowing that a defeat would mean the R’s would go 7 points clear of them in the race for the promise land. Derby came out with this in mind and attacked the QPR defense in the first half hour. This defense has been the best in the division this season so breaking them down would be no mean feat. Derby finally made the breakthrough when Rob Green failed to clear a corner and John Eustace’s looping header beat everyone to prop into the far post. This was the midfielder’s first goal in over 2 years and it proved to be the winner. Derby set out to frustrate QPR and this worked with Joey Barton and Niko Kranjcar falling victim especially. Derby keep proving all the doubters wrong but their defensive vulnerabilities may eventually prove fatal in their bid for automatic promotion. The play-offs before the season however were a pip dream and this only goes to show the great job Steve McClaren has done.