Where’d My Shooting Boots Go?!?

Why prolific Championship strikers often fail to step up to the Premier League

Flashback to late 2007: The “David Nugent for England” bandwagon was in full swing. Signing for Portsmouth that summer for six million pounds, he scored in a pair of pre-season matches and suddenly the media was talking him up to be the next big England striker. How ironic, then, that Nugent did receive one call-up to the national team and scored in the match. So what followed this stunning rise? 6 goals in 45 appearances for Portsmouth over the next 3 seasons. He’s back in the Championship, struggling to play regularly for Leicester City.

Let’s look at the stats for a few more “prolific” strikers from the second division.

Jason Scotland (Wigan): Making his name in Scotland (no pun intended) before a move to Swansea City saw him manage a goal every two games, hopes were high that Scotland would help Wigan Athletic become more than perennial relegation candidates. In his one season in the Premier League, he managed just one goal in 32 appearances, and as usual, Wigan narrowly avoided relegation. Now back in the Championship playing for Ipswich Town.

Diomansy Kamara (Portsmouth/West Brom/Fulham): Kamara’s first stint in the EPL came with Portsmouth, where he managed 6 goals in 29 appearances. Followed that up with 2 in 29 for West Brom and 18 in 59 appearances for Fulham. He’s now playing for Celtic in the SPL, which is nearly the equivalent of the Championship these days.

Jermaine Beckford (Everton): Was prolific in League One for Leeds United and announced himself to the world by scoring the only goal in a stunning F.A. Cup upset against Manchester United. Everton took a punt on him last season, and he managed 10 goals in 40 appearances, which doesn’t seem terrible, but most of those goals came at the end of the season. Now in the Championship at Leicester City, where he hasn’t managed a goal yet.

Starting to see the pattern here?

The question is, why is it that strikers who can score for fun in the 2nd division are suddenly out of their depth in the Premier League? After all, many defenders and midfielders make the step up quite nicely (Scott Dann, Adam Johnson, Keith Andrews, and Charlie Adam just to name a few).

1.  The Media. Fans and pundits alike are always quickest to jump on the bandwagon when a striker is doing particularly well. Let’s face it: the sport is about goals, so strikers’ performances are the easiest to judge and when someone stands out, they are thrust into the spotlight. And with the media obsessed with every aspect of footballers’ lives in England, many players who spent their careers in the lower divisions struggle to adjust to the drastic changes. Each game without a goal brings a bit more uncertainty, but guarantees a lot more talk.

2.  Dependency. The majority of Championship strikers who make the step up are usually brought in by either teams who were just promoted or lower mid-table teams in the EPL. These teams often believe they can’t compete with the big boys by playing the standard 4-4-2 formation, choosing instead to go with 4-5-1. With the emphasis on defending, the pressure is turned up even more on the striker, who is on his own up front and is expected to score from the one or two chances he may get in the match (prime example: Jozy Altidore at Hull City). Even the best strikers would struggle with those odds, so a striker not used to the EPL and playing with lesser quality around him can only do so much.

So what are the results of teams often using 4-5-1 with these strikers?

Kamara: Relegated with West Brom.

Altidore: Relegated with Hull City.

Cameron Jerome: Relegated with Birmingham City.

Beckford: Everton’s worst season in years.

Scotland: Nearly relegated with Wigan.

Nugent: Relegated with Portsmouth.

There are exceptions of course, with Kevin Doyle and Steven Fletcher both performing admirably for Wolves. West Brom’s Shane Long has already scored against Manchester United and Chelsea this season, playing on his own up front both times. But these plans are only successful with a quality midfield backing up your striker.

Moral of the story for managers who use 4-5-1: either give your under-pressure striker a partner, or splash a bit more cash on some better quality in the midfield. Swansea City are reaping the benefits of the former, while Norwich City’s midfielders are providing quality service for Steve Morison up front.

Let’s hope the likes of Morison and Jay Bothroyd (QPR) can defy the odds and have successful seasons.


EPL: 3 Big Clubs Going Backwards

With each passing season, it seems that the gap between the Premier League and the Championship (England’s 2nd division) continues to grow. The teams who win promotion are usually the favorites to go straight back down. However, this could be the year that one or two (or even three) of the EPL’s mainstays shockingly fall through the dreaded trapdoor of relegation. Two years ago, it was Newcastle United. This year, it could be one or two out of several teams. Here are three possibilities:

Blackburn Rovers

What Rovers fans wouldn’t give for the good old days when they were constantly on the verge of getting into Europe under Mark Hughes’ management.  These days, they are owned by the Poultry company (yes, you read that right) Venky’s, who bought the club last year. They immediately showed their ineptitude by claiming the club would soon be playing in the Champions League.

Their first move: to inexplicably sack Sam Allardyce and replace him with his assistant, Steve Kean, who had absolutely no EPL management experience. This was followed by audacious (I say laughable) attempts to sign the likes of Ronaldinho and David Beckham. After failing to get any of their January targets, they continued to sink down the table, narrowly avoiding relegation in May. Kean proceeded to get convicted of a DUI charge over the summer.

Rovers’ biggest issue last term was a lack of goals. They’ve brought in the once-prolific Yakubu, who endured a torrid time at Everton before rediscovering some decent form at Leicester City. Doubts remain that he’ll solve the club’s scoring problem though, particularly with a lack of quality service from the midfield.

This summer, they mysteriously sold midfielder Nikola Kalinic, seen by many as Rovers’ most talented midfielder, and have also lost veterans Brett Emerton and Keith Andrews. They also lost starlet defender Phil Jones to Manchester United, although they secured a real coup with the signing of Scott Dann from Birmingham, who should prove a more than suitable replacement to partner Chris Samba.

All in all, with an inexperienced and unpopular manager, hated owners, a lack of goals, and precious little quality in the midfield, Blackburn don’t look like relegation possibilities so much as near-certainties. Zero points after three games supports this widespread theory.


This one has probably been coming for a while. Manager David Moyes has done a fantastic job at Everton, and he is thought to be one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s favored candidates to replace him at Manchester United someday. For nine years, Moyes has constantly kept Everton among the EPL’s elite with almost no money to work with, but this summer, owner Bill Kenwright revealed that he has no money left (to put into the club), they can’t borrow any more from the bank, and there are no prospective new buyers for the club. Plans for a new stadium have come to nothing, leaving an air of real negativity around the club.

In short, Everton’s normally high standards will have to come down this season. They have lost star winger Mikel Arteta to Arsenal, striker Jermaine Beckford has gone to Leicester City, and the often-injured forward James Vaughn left for Norwich City. Arteta aside, these may not seem like big losses, but Everton have had a dangerously thin squad for several years now. If injuries to key players come up, they usually have to rely on youngsters from their famed academy. This season will be no different.

After a summer with no transfer activity, deadline day saw Denis Stracqualursi (try saying that five times) arrive as an unknown forward from Tigre, while young midfielder Royston Drenthe comes in on loan from Real Madrid, a real coup for the club.

The biggest problem for Everton is the same as it was last year: where are the goals going to come from? They cannot continue to rely on the wonderfully skilled midfielder Tim Cahill, who led the team with just 9 goals. On the other hand, they still have a well-groomed back four and the always-reliable American Tim Howard in goal, as well as midfield starlet Jack Rodwell.

Expectations are down for Everton this season, and it is made all the worse by the optimism currently surrounding arch-rivals Liverpool. With such a thin squad to work with, Moyes will do fantastically well just to achieve mid-table mediocrity this season. Should a few injuries to key defenders such as Phil Jagielka or Joseph Yobo occur, they could be dark horses for relegation this season.

Aston Villa

Let’s get this out of the way: Aston Villa should not be in any relegation danger this season. That said, it’s been quite a busy and controversial summer for the club. After last year’s interesting appointment of Gerard Houiller came to an end due to a heart condition, new manager Alex McLeish arrives after being relegated with arch-rivals Birmingham, making him an extremely unpopular appointment to say the least. They have also seen plenty of comings and goings among the playing staff, making Villa one of the hardest teams to predict this season.

Star wingers Ashley Young and Stewart Downing have departed for Manchester United and Liverpool respectively, while midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker (Bolton), defender Luke Young (QPR), and veteran goalkeeper Brad Friedel (Tottenham) are all gone as well.

The most notable newcomer is the always-confident winger Charles N’Zogbia from Wigan, while in Shay Given they have acquired one of the consistent keepers in the EPL over the past decade. Scottish defender Alan Hutton and former England regular midfielder Jermaine Jenas arrive from Tottenham, both of whom having something to prove after seeing their once-high reputations come down over the past few years.

Given aside, the new signings don’t quite measure up to the departures. N’Zogbia can be brilliant on his day, but he needs to do more of his talking on the field rather than off it. How he performs could go a long way to determining Villa’s position this season. That, and of course the goals of England striker Darren Bent.

Another important issue is that besides managing his new club’s arch-rival, McLeish was well-known for employing a 4-5-1 formation with more emphasis on keeping clean sheets than scoring goals. This will not go down well with Villa fans who became used to the free-flowing football they saw under Martin O’Neill. Villa will need to hit the ground running, otherwise the fans will (continue to) call for McLeish’s head.

The incoming signings (and the new manager) this summer seem to indicate that Villa are not aiming for the same lofty standards they held a few years ago. As I said before, they should not be in relegation trouble, but they will definitely not be among the elite. McLeish will do very well simply to get Villa to the top half of the table this season.