Saturday, 12 December 2015

Matchday #15: Results and Updated League Tables


Audenshaw Dynamo 0  Marine 3
Excelsior Marlow 6  Blyth Spartans 2
Gainsborough Trinity 6  Hartlepool Petrochemical 1
Hungaria 2  Stalybridge Celtic 4
Manchester Central 2  Locomotive Crewe Alexandra 0
Red Star Mossley 1  Liverpool St Helens 2
Spartak-Slavia 2  Dynamo Burnley 2
Wrexham 2  Northwich Victoria 2

Second Division

Atletico Espanol 5  Caledonia Thistle 1
Hendon Hotspur 0  Inter-Italiano 0
Manchester Newton Heath 3  South Liverpool Red Star 1
Marxist Polytechnic 2  Bradford Park Avenue 1
Merthyr Tydfil 2  Bohemians 1
Newcastle Blue Star 6  Excelsior Benelux 2
Sheffield Wednesday 3  Crystal Palace 1
Torpedo Tranmere 4  Newcastle-Gateshead Dynamo 1

So the league season reaches its halfway mark and the winter break with, as last term, somewhat surprise leaders of the Championship, this time in the form of Marine, returning after a year’s absence in the Second Division. Continuing the free- and top-scoring exploits of their promotion campaign, Crosby’s Mariners have achieved top spot largely courtesy of a ten-match unbeaten run that only a pair of recent consecutive defeats has allowed the chasing pack to gain a little ground, the highlights being a 4 - 2 victory over Gainsborough Trinity and then the astonishing 7 - 1 derby demolition of Liverpool St Helens which, followed immediately as it was by a fine comeback draw at champions Stalybridge Celtic, established them as credible challengers for the title, a welcome return to the upper reaches of the Championship after a fallow ten years - previously Marine had regularly featured around the higher placings, only once being crowned champions, back in 1992, but runners-up on a record six occasions, most recently in 2003 and finishing as high as third two seasons later.
In this most recent round of fixtures Marine, recovering winning ways after that two-game blip, negotiated what can be a tough and dangerous hurdle at Audenshaw Dynamo with an impressive 3 – 0 win that keeps them on top, whilst second-placed neighbours St Helens remain just a point behind after a fifth successive and admirable victory – a run that has coincided with the change of management following the derby debacle at Marine, the new set-up extracting significantly more from an obviously talented but previous underachieving squad – at Red Star Mossley, only the hosts’ second home reverse of a campaign that has begun to falter as the recess has approached, seemingly dashing their own hopes of mounting a viable challenge for the championship, the opening fixture fireworks of Mossley’s 5- 3 win over their next-door neighbours Stalybridge beginning to fizz out as winter has set in, with three defeats in four.

Level with the Saints are the very same Stalybridge Celtic following their thrilling 4 - 2 triumph at Hungaria, with the reigning champions’ defence of their title being competent to date, occasionally impressive but also punctuated by some surprise defeats, the four of which (including each of their Manchester derbies and then most recently and shockingly at second-bottom Burnley) at the halfway stage already equals their total for the whole of last season. However, and despite their points total being four fewer than the corresponding point of 2014-15, Stalybridge remain only that point off top spot and, should the irresistible performance at Hungaria be a portent for the second half of the season, they will be fancied to retain their crown, which is a far more positive position than most defending champions of recent seasons have found themselves in.

Two points below the top three, newcomers Spartak-Slavia dropped a point in a 2 - 2 draw at home to newly-branded Dynamo Burnley but can be satisfied with their maiden half-season in the top flight following last term’s promotion at the conclusion of their inaugural campaign at national level, the club’s progress still being very much on the up and a top-half finish well within reasonable expectations and their compass.

A further two points behind, Gainsborough Trinity’s 6 - 1 trouncing of hapless table-propper-uppers Hartlepool Petrochemical ends the first half of their season on a positive note, but Trinity would have hoped to have featured more closely among the leaders, and indeed were among the title favourites following last season’s strongly-finishing runners-up spot and subsequent Cup triumph, rather than being five points off the pace at mid-term, their challenge undermined by a flaky away record that, despite victory at St Helens, has yielded far too many defeats even though their home form has been faultless bar the early loss to Stalybridge. One thing to inspire hope in Trinity’s chances upon the resumption is a more favourable-looking fixture list on their travels, with a number of apparently eminently-winnable matches against teams in the lower half of the table in prospect, but they already seem to be left needing to win most of the reverse programme to be in the championship mix come the season’s business end - if they do and they are, it will be an impressive achievement.
Gainsborough’s most recent defeat occurred at Marlow, the first in a run of three consecutive victories for Excelsior that has culminated in the 6 - 2 pasting of Blyth Spartans and enabled the erstwhile champions to ease themselves away from another dangerous flirtation with the relegation places to the relatively heady heights of lower mid-table, a definite improvement on the last season and a half and perhaps the first signs of a recovery of their old selves, albeit in their new guise following the summer merger with Oxford.

Blyth, however, have had a hugely disappointing first half of the season after finishing last term in fourth place and as Cup runners-up, and that latest defeat leaves them only a point above Dynamo Burnley who occupy the second berth in the relegation zone but who have ended the first semester on the up with victory over Stalybridge and then the draw at Spartak-Slavia. Blyth and Burnley are separated by promoted Locomotive Crewe Alexandra, who, after a reasonable start to life back in the top flight, have sunk towards the bottom of the table with only two draws to show for the last six matches, since beating Hartlepool Petrochemical, as most teams have, with the newly-merged north-east ‘super’ club’s results being anything but - seven points from safety already, they appear doomed unless a miraculous resurrection occurs after the resumption in January. Audenshaw Dynamo head the three-club group a point clear of Burnley, the seemingly perennial brinksmen’s campaign thus far being the usual mix of unlikely victories and equally confounding defeats.
In between, there’s an air of mostly mid-table competence about Hungaria, Northwich Victoria and Manchester Central (formerly City), whilst Wrexham might well have to guard against slipping into the relegation battle if their results don’t show some general improvement (notwithstanding the defeat of Marine), particularly on their travels where they face the greater proportion of fixtures upon the new year resumption.

In the Second Division, Sheffield Wednesday, who narrowly missed out on promotion last term, have assumed pole position going into the recess, courtesy of their goal-drenched winning habit, although the second-placed Marxist Polytechnic returned to winning ways, in the process ending Bradford Park Avenue’s no-goals-conceded four-match winning sequence, after a pair of draws, the Manchester-based students’ season thus far being a model of consistency, mostly of grade-A quality - both clubs’ form suggest they are in the promotion race for the long haul and might well be the successful finishers, and whilst a first would be nice, a 2:1 would be achievement enough for the boys from the Poly.

Up to third, another newcomer in the form of Torpedo Tranmere are also enjoying a fine enough maiden campaign (with the Championship’s leading pair, Merseyside is most definitely on the up) to be considered contenders, as too are Crystal Palace despite that most recent reverse at Wednesday, whilst Bradford, Bohemians and Hendon Hotspur are sufficiently in touch with the top that should those above falter, a consistent run of victories could allow them to take advantage.
Five points adrift, Inter-Italiano, who played out a dismal goalless draw with Hendon that suggested both teams were desperate for the mid-season break and indeed had decided to take it a game early, appear as firmly ensconced in mid-table as it might be possible to be at this stage, whilst all those below, literally the bottom half of the division, are involved in a fluid relationship with the second of the relegation places and relative safety, all sufficiently inconsistent to suggest such flirtations will continue during the second half of the campaign. Atletico Espanol had appeared somewhat doomed at the foot, but this evening’s 5 - 1 pasting of Caledonia Thistle must provide a fillip and hope for better form and fortunes upon the resumption, which will be on Saturday 9th January, with a full league programme taking place that day - see you then, and best wishes to our reader(s) for the festive season in the meantime.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Matchday #14: Results and Updated League Tables


Blyth Spartans 3  Red Star Mossley 0
Dynamo Burnley 2  Stalybridge Celtic 1
Gainsborough Trinity 2  Audenshaw Dynamo 1
Hartlepool Petrochemical 2  Excelsior Marlow 3
Liverpool St Helens 2  Hungaria 0
Locomotive Crewe Alexandra 1  Wrexham 1
Marine 1  Manchester Central 2
Northwich Victoria 5  Spartak-Slavia 3

Second Division

Bohemians 2  Torpedo Tranmere 2
Bradford Park Avenue 2  Newcastle Blue Star 0
Caledonia Thistle 5  Merthyr Tydfil 2
Crystal Palace 4  South Liverpool Red Star 0
Excelsior Benelux 2  Manchester Newton Heath 1
Hendon Hotspur 3  Atletico Espanol 2
Inter-Italiano 1  Marxist Polytechnic 1
Newcastle-Gateshead Dynamo 1  Sheffield Wednesday 5

Defeats for each of this morning’s Championship top three has enabled Liverpool St Helens to move up into second place and stake their claim as title contenders as the season approaches its mid-term break after the next round of fixtures. Saints’ fourth consecutive victory after the 7 – 1 derby humiliation at Marine that precipitated a change of management means they now sit on the leaders’ shoulder, just a point behind the Mariners, who themselves were falling to a second successive defeat, and first of the season at home, surprisingly to consistently inconsistent Manchester Central, already also conquerors of Stalybridge Celtic but whose previous outing brought abject defeat at neighbours Audenshaw, that following a 7- 1 thrashing of Wrexham, the very team who then brought Marine’s ten-game unbeaten run to end last week: uncertain times indeed.

Stalybridge meanwhile were going down equally surprisingly at struggling Burnley, their fourth defeat of the season on the road but the first outside of Greater Manchester, enabling Dynamo to gain two crucial points and, although remaining second-bottom, at least keep pace with the teams immediately above them, with Blyth Spartans also tasting victory with a comprehensive 3 – 0 win over an insipid Red Star Mossley whose recent away form has faltered badly, Locomotive Crewe Alexandra arresting a three-match losing streak with a point at home to Wrexham and Excelsior Marlow coming out on top of a five-goal thriller at hapless Hartlepool Petrochemical, now ever-more firmly entrenched at the foot of the table and appearing certainties for relegation which will be a significant blow to the aspirations of the newly-formed north-east ‘super club’.
Northwich Victoria were impressive 5 – 3 goalfest victors against Spartak-Slavia, who began the day in third but consequently slipped a place, whilst Gainsborough Trinity kept in touch with the leading group by beating Audenshaw Dynamo by the odd goal in three, which result drops the losers three places to thirteenth and very much into the relegation mix.
In the Second Division, Sheffield Wednesday’s 5 -1 demolition job at fast-fading Newcastle-Gateshead Dynamo, their fourth victory on the bounce, enabled the Owls to take flight to the summit, replacing Marxist Polytechnic after the students’ draw at Inter-Italiano, with fellow victors Crystal Palace and Bradford Park Avenue (another Yorkshire club on a four-game winning spree, with an admirably stingy no goals conceded along the way) tucked-in close behind after Bohemians and Torpedo Tranmere also fought out an ultimate stalemate, trading four goals equally between them.  Hendon Hotspur’s narrow triumph over basement dwellers Atletico Espanol makes the top seven and the promotion race very close indeed.