Amidst the interminable sound of a ticking grandfather clock, the gentle snores of octogenarians, and the pitter patter of piss on a linoleum floor, you’ll hear papers rustling and debate escalating between the two oldest football league experts in the country. It’s the January EFL round-up.
Saint: Here we are then, Jim. Another year.
Greavsie: I know, Saint. Doesn’t it go on. I’m beginning to wonder if it will ever end.
Saint: What are you talking about you old fool?! You should be thankful. We’ve both lived long, happy and successful lives! And even in our winter years we’re still a vital part of the football conversation.
Greavsie: Do you really think so? Because I get the awful feeling that very few people are reading these columns you know. I suppose we’ll never really know, will we. It’s not like top brass will give us the circulation figures.
Saint: I don’t think you have circulation figures for online content, Jim.
Greavsie: No, of course not. Blimey. I’m so out of touch, Saint. I don’t know whether I’m coming or going these days. You can’t call a spade a spade now can you, not like in my day. You can’t say boo to a goose. You can’t throw paint at your Pakistani neighbours. You can’t always get what you want. If only we could go back, eh? Do you ever have any regrets?
Saint: Och, no Jim. I’m happy with my lot. I’ve had a wonderful life. Though I suppose I do rather regret purchasing this elderflower cordial! It’s bloody rubbish.
Greavsie: Elderflower cordial?! What are you drinking that for you ponce? You’ve been watching too much of that Pink Floyd on the telly. Getting arty farty ideas about food and drink.
Saint: Well as you know, Jim, usually I’d enjoy a nice glass of brandy when we get together for this round-up, but as its Dry January I’ve been trying some new things out.
Greavsie: Dry what?
Saint: Dry January. It’s an initiative where you go the whole month not drinking booze, since the whole of the festive period is usually one big piss-up. It’s supposed to help your kidneys recover.
Greavsie: Oh do me a favour, Saint. I don’t need the thought police to tell me when and when not to drink. I’m an old man now, and getting blackout drunk is one of the few pleasures left in my life, so if you think I’m going to kowtow to this new fangled modern medicine quack nonsense you’ve got another thing coming.
Saint: Right you are, Jim. But just to let you know, you’ve pissed yourself.
Greavsie: I know I’ve pissed myself. Obviously I meant to do that. It’s a statement of my freedom.
Saint: Ah, right you are. Shall we, er, get on with the round-up then?
Greavsie: Please tell me you’ve got some good news, Saint.
Saint: Well as a matter of fact you might enjoy this one, Jim. January has been a fantastic month for a little club from West London called Fulham.
Greavsie: Oh marvelous!
Saint: Yep, having spent much of the first half of the season hovering around mid-table, they’ve put together an extraordinary run of results and are now sat in the playoffs, with plenty of momentum behind them to start challenging the teams above them. Four wins on the bounce, including a crushing 6-0 victory over Burton Albion puts them far and away at the top of the form table, with a fantastic 14 goals in January.
Greavsie: So what’s made the difference?
Saint: Well after reaching the play-offs last season, Slavisa Jokanovic’s side were always considered to be one of the favourites to challenge this year, but they’ve taken a little time to get going. The real spark has been seventeen year old Ryan Sessegnon. After breaking through into the first team at left-back last season, he’s found himself used in a more attacking role in recent weeks – thanks in part to the loan signing of Matt Targett from Southampton. Anyway, Sessegnon has scored six goals in January and emerged as a serious goal threat for the Cottagers. If he maintains this kind of form, they’ll be a serious force to be reckoned with as we head towards the business end of the season.
Greavsie: How old did you say he was?
Saint: Seventeen, Jim.
Greavsie: Strike a light! Not even old enough to join in the pre-patch loosener down the pub. Perhaps I should make my way over there on matchdays and have his pint for him! Eh? Eh? What do you reckon, Saint? Shall I have old Ryan’s drink for him?
Saint: (nervously) Err..yes, if you like Jimmy. Anyway, its also been a good month for Norwich City, another side fancied pre-season who’ve struggled to click until recently. Manager Daniel Farke was on the brink of losing his job in the New Year, but three wins – including an impressive victory away at Bristol City – have brought them back into mid-table. It might be a big ask for them to trouble the play-offs, but Farke could certainly use this run of form as a springboard heading into next season.
Greavsie: Any good news for QPR or Millwall?
Saint: Well the Lions have had a decent month, with two wins and a draw putting them comfortably above the relegation zone, while the Hoops sit just behind them. Both should be involved in the Championship next year as things stand. Brentford however…
Greavsie: Oh gawd, of course. I forgot about Brentford. They’re not in trouble are they?
Saint: No, no. Quite the opposite. Those busy Bees have had a very good month, with two wins pushing them into the top half and putting them in touch with the playoffs. They’ll need a lot to go their way in order to trouble the promotion picture.
Greavsie: Good old boys. Did you know, Saint, that Brentford’s Griffin Park is the only ground in the country that has a pub in all four corners?
Saint: I did know that Jim, yes. Do you know why I know that?
Saint: Because every single time we get asked to cover a Brentford match you insist on visiting all four of them before and after the game. Last time you fell asleep before the match had even started.
Greavsie: What can I say. I’m not here for a long time, I’m here for a good time.
Saint: Anyway, down the bottom the relegation picture is beginning to look a little clearer, with arguably seven teams now in contention for the drop, with just five points separating 18th and 24th. It’s been an appalling month for Reading who, lest we forget, were a penalty kick or two away from the Premier League last year. Since then it’s all gone wrong for Jaap Stam, and his side haven’t won a game since the beginning of December.
Greavsie: That’s not true, Saint. They won a game the other night, 3-1 at Burton.
Saint: Oh, so they did. Have you been doing research without me?
Greavsie: (not listening) I’ve always wondered…what does Jaap Stam call his urethra?
Saint: Probably just his urethra, Jimmy. Or whatever the Dutch for urethra is.
Greavsie: Hmm. That makes sense. But surely that win suggests those Royals will be able to stay up ahead of the dross down there?
Saint: Well Burton Albion look like they’re going through the trapdoor sooner rather than later, but Bolton Wanderers have rallied this month and have given themselves a great chance of staying up. Nigel Adkins’ appointment hasn’t quite galvanised Hull City in the way he might have hoped, and they’re very much in the mix alongside Sunderland and Birmingham City. In short, it’s all to play for.
Greavsie: League One?
Saint: You’ll not be surprised to discover that Wigan Athletic are still top of the league, and are now unbeaten in ten league games after two wins and a draw in January.
Greavsie: They also knocked the happy Hammers out of the cup!
Saint: Yes, but we don’t talk about that here, do we Jim? Remember? Our contract explicitly forbids content referencing the FA Cup or Premier League fixtures.
Greavsie: Oh, of course, yeah. Still, they’ve got a big game coming up in the next round against…
Saint: (sternly) What did I just tell you?
Greavsie: Oh right, of course. Well let’s just say they’ll be looking forward to giving…Pete Gladioli a game next month.
Saint: Yes, quite. Anyway, Wigan are top, Shrewsbury are back in second…
Greavsie: The Shrews!
Saint: …but the big movers this month have been Rotherham United. Relegated last season, the Millers have found heavy weather in League One, but eight points from four games has seen them rise into the play-off places at last. Their success has been built on the foundation of a solid defence, and Slovakian goalie Marek Rodak has conceded just two goals in January. The Chuckle Brothers will be pleased!
Greavsie: To me!
Saint: To you!
Greavsie: To me!
Saint: …to you.
Greavsie: To me!
Saint: That’s quite enough. Gillingham have also been in good form, dragging themselves away from the relegation picture with four wins in January, while AFC Wimbledon will have been delighted to leapfrog their arch-enemies MK Dons after securing nine points from four games. An excellent month from the original Crazy Gang.
Greavsie: To me!
Saint: Down the bottom and Rochdale have all but added their name to Bury’s in the list of teams definitely getting relegated to the fourth tier this season. A rotten month for the Dale brought four defeats on the bounce, and it’s going to take something miraculous to save them now. Oldham Athletic are also beginning to look doomed.
Greavsie: Oh dear oh dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear.
Saint: Are you broken? Anyway, better news for Southend who, after a poor run of results, sacked manager Phil Brown and replaced him with fan favourite Chris Powell. The former Shrimpers full-back won his first game in charge against Scunthorpe United, and will be hoping to turn the tide on the East Coast. Shall we move on to League Two?
Greavsie: To me!
Saint: Now Luton Town suffered a surprise defeat at Chesterfield this month, but they’re still top of the league by nine points so I reckon they’ve got it in the bag. Notts County have suffered a little wobble in January, winning only one of their four games to allow the chasing pack to close the gap on them, but the big story this month has been the rise of Mansfield Town.
Greavsie: Aren’t they the team what’s run by a woman, Saint?
Saint: That’s correct, Jim. Carolyn Radford has been Chief Executive at Field Mill since 2011 and to my eyes it looks like she’s doing a good job. The Stags are in contention for their first promotion to the third tier of English football since 2002, thanks in no small part to the goals of Danny Rose. The former Bury striker has eleven league goals already this season, closely followed by Kane Hemmings.
Greavsie: Well there you have it. Proof if proof were needed that women can do just as well as men in business.
Saint: Alright, steady on Jim. It’s going to be tight for Mansfield if they are going to earn promotion, as there’s an almighty cluster of teams at the top of League Two all vying for those top three places. Ten points separate Notts County in second and Carlisle United in 13th, while three points are between 3rd and 7th. If you’re looking for a league with plenty of excitement in it then you could do worse than League Two.
Greavsie: Who else is having a good time of it?
Saint: Well Crawley Town are the form team in the league currently, and they’ve added their name to that group of teams looking to break into the play-offs. Three wins, including victories over Notts County and Accrington Stanley, have brought them to within five points of the top seven. Coventry City, too, had a good month, posting three tight wins to sneak into those play-off places ahead of Lincoln, who’ve seen their form drop off a cliff. Newport County are also worth keeping your eye on, with the side from South Wales returning to their early season form and going through January unbeaten.
Greavsie: And at the other end?
Saint: I’ll be frank, Jim. It’s been a bad month for Barnet.
Greavsie: Oh mine too, Saint. Well what I’ve got left of it. I tell you, I wake up in the morning and its all over the shop. I’ve started having to wear a nightcap so it doesn’t flail everywhere when I’m asleep.
Saint: Oh like Wee Willy Winky?
Greavsie: I beg your pardon?
Saint: Wee Willy Winky. He was a nursery rhyme character. Went round everywhere in his dressing gown. Wore a nightcap.
Greavsie: Oh did I say wear? I meant drink. I’ve been drinking a nightcap. To be honest by the time I’ve finished a bottle of scotch I’m catatonic, so you won’t find me thrashing around in the night that’s for sure.
Saint: Well, that’s a relief. Anyway, Barnet are rock bottom – is this the year they fail to escape?
Saint: It was a rhetoric question, Jim. It’s been an even worse month for Grimsby though, who’ve picked up just one point in January and slipped down to 17th. If they don’t pull their socks up they might find themselves embroiled in a relegation scrap. Forest Green Rovers, Chesterfield and Yeovil Town are currently the sides in danger of the drop.
Greavsie: Well that’s marvelous. Anyway, if you don’t mind I’ve got a few things to be getting on with.
Saint: Like what?
Greavsie: I’m covered in my own stinking urine, Saint. I’ve been sat here for the past half an hour pickling in my own juices. I know I’m an old man, but I’ve still got my dignity and, frankly, I’m amazed my union rep hasn’t been in touch to share his disgust.
Saint: We don’t have a union rep, Jim. We’re not technically employed.
Greavsie: Oh, brilliant. How am I supposed to clean up this mess then?
Saint: I’ll do it, pal. Come on. Let’s get those slacks off.
Greavsie: Steady on, Saint. Hey, come on. You’ll tear them! Don’t be so rough!
Saint: See you next month, folks! Get them off Jimmy…