EFL stories you may have missed: Stoke on the slide, baffled Barrow and Port Fail

A key theme coming out of the weekend was congestion. While this applied to the M25 and other motorways across the country, it is also an appropriate way of describing the league tables in the EFL. Across all three divisions, teams are bunched together, meaning a win one week can take a side from mid-table obscurity into play-off contention or from relative safety to being dragged into a relegation dogfight.

The leaders in all divisions heading into the weekend all failed to win — Leicester City losing to Leeds United on Friday, Portsmouth drawing with Charlton Athletic, and stumbling Stockport County being held by Swindon Town at home.

It left Mansfield Town able to go top of League Two after thumping Salford City 5-1. Perhaps things will start to spread out soon, but maybe they won’t, which is fun for neutrals as multiple sides remain unaware of their fate towards the season’s conclusion.

This week, we look at free-falling Stoke City, a controversial postponement, self-destructing Port Vale and a goalkeeper in inspired form.

Schumacher’s Stoke on the slide

Non-Stoke-supporting fans probably had a good giggle when they saw Ricky Martin trending last week. Although it was nothing to do with the singer, nor the ex-wrestler who won BBC show The Apprentice all those years ago.

This Ricky Martin was Stoke’s technical director until Thursday when it was announced he was sacked after only 15 months in the post. “With results having fallen significantly short of our ambitions during the current season, we believe it is essential to take on a new direction,” Stoke chairman Peter Coates said, with former forward Jonathan Walters taking up the role on an interim basis.

It is the latest change the club has made recently as they try to halt their malaise. They sacked Alex Neil in December and replaced him with Steven Schumacher, who had been making positive strides with Championship newcomers Plymouth Argyle. His impact is yet to have the desired effect, however. Going into Saturday’s game against Cardiff City, they had only won three out of his 11 games in charge and were sliding down the table.

Things did not improve in the Welsh capital as they fell to a 2-1 defeat. The manner of the goals they conceded was poor; the first from a set piece they should have defended better and the second coming after Junior Tchamadeu dallied in possession. His first sight after picking himself off the floor would have been Karlan Grant wheeling away in celebration.

Grant scores Cardiff’s second (Athena Pictures/Getty Images)

The defeat leaves Stoke in the relegation zone and, with promotion-chasing Leeds United, Preston, Norwich and Hull all to come in their next five games, it is difficult to see Stoke escaping from the mire any time soon.

Livin’ la vida loca, Stoke are certainly not.

Baffled Barrow

There were bizarre scenes at League Two side Barrow which left them, their opponents Bradford City, and both sets of supporters confused and frustrated in equal measure.

Despite both teams believing the Holker Street pitch was playable, the final call was made by referee Tom Nield to postpone the game just over an hour before kick-off. Nield voiced concerns about the six-yard box in front of the Holker Street End, where the ball wasn’t bouncing due to the increased moisture. Another area nearby, just inside the 18-yard box, close to the byline, had similar issues.

Nevertheless, it was a decision that infuriated Barrow boss Pete Wild. “There’s a two per cent area where the ref was saying the grass was quite loose and in the six-yard box, the ball doesn’t bounce,” he said. “Anyone that’s been to Holker Street this year will know that when the weather comes here, the ball might not bounce a little bit. It’s the same with any League Two pitch.”


To help prove their point, Barrow held an open training session on the pitch that was deemed unplayable. Wild had offered for Bradford to train on one half of the pitch and his side on the other and perhaps even have a training game among themselves. Bradford declined so, instead, Barrow played an inter-squad nine-v-nine game. To hammer home their point further, Barrow applied sprinklers to the pitch, posting on X, formerly Twitter, that it was “a lovely afternoon of weather”.

“We’re very disappointed that the match officials have called today’s match off,” a Barrow statement said. “We believe the pitch is in a playable state and are extremely disappointed by this outcome. We’ll put a complaint towards the EFL.”

The EFL did not comment when contacted by The Athletic but are assessing the situation.

And Stoke think they have problems…

There is not much fun for football fans in the Potteries, with Stoke’s rivals Port Vale in dire straits, too.

The appointment of Darren Moore as Andy Crosby’s replacement was widely viewed as a shrewd move; someone with a good track record and who could help kickstart their season. Two away defeats were not the ideal start for him, but a first home game, against Lincoln City, was a great occasion to get things up and running.

Or not.

Only 90 seconds had been played when Port Vale won a free kick in their half. Goalkeeper Connor Ripley had come out of goal, about 40 yards away, seemingly to take the free kick. For some reason, though, he had started his run up closer to the touchline. Still, there was no danger as the ball was dead.

Defender Nathan Smith opted to take the free kick quickly, which would have been fine if he had not opted to play the ball square. Inexplicably, he was unaware that Joe Taylor was standing between him and his defensive partner Jesse Debrah. Taylor intercepted the pass and, with the goal gaping, he gave Lincoln the lead.

The goal probably sums up Port Vale’s season to date: a mess. They conceded again in second-half stoppage time to lose the game 2-0 and remain in the League One relegation zone.

Addai’s inspired display

A goalkeeper who did crown himself in glory on Saturday was Corey Addai of League Two Crawley Town.

The former Arsenal and Coventry goalkeeper made 11 saves as his side won a hard-fought game 1-0 away at Accrington Stanley.

Whether it was one-on-ones, saves from long range or instinctive stops, Addai kept the home side at bay and, for as long as they remained in the game, could prepare themselves for the archetypal smash-and-grab victory.

In the 68th minute, their inevitable against-the-run-of-play goal came through Harry Ransom — and despite incessant pressure from Accrington, Crawley managed to hold on for a key victory against a play-off rival.

Crawley were widely predicted to be relegated this season, but with them now one place outside the play-off places following three straight wins and three successive clean sheets, can Scott Lindsey drive them to an unlikely play-off place?



Analysing the art of the assist – with the set-up king, Notts County’s Jodi Jones

(Top photos: Joe Taylor and Steven Schumacher, by Getty Images)

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