Assessing the EFL’s under-achievers

Assessing the EFL’s under-achievers

Last update: 26 October 2017 Tags: Sunderland, Northampton Town, Mansfield Town, Stoke City, Birmingham City, West Ham United, Forest Green Rovers, Bury FC. Categories: Premier League, League Two, Championship, League One.

This season has been full of sides who were tipped to do so much better than they are currently performing, and I will assess two sides from each of the 4 divisions of the football league which I believe have been the biggest under-performers so far.

Premier League

Any side in the premier league can realistically go down, apart from the top six and a handful of sides, such as Everton, West Ham and Stoke. This could change this season, as these three sides all stand out as prominent underachievers so far this season.

Everton’s problems have been well documented this season, so I move onto to the other two sides.

West Ham will put their flaws down to needing more time to adapt to the new stadium. A side who invested heavily in the summer, bringing in the likes of Marco Arnautovic, Javier Hernandez, Pablo Zabaleta and Joe Hart, the Hammers find themselves in dangerous trouble, level on points with Everton. One area where the club didn’t strengthen though is at centre-half, and they continue to look lightweight at the back and get bullied by sides. Following the 3-0 hammering at home to Brighton, once again Bilic is feeling the pressure, being given two games to save his job.

Will their problems continue? Yes, as I don’t believe the ‘will he stay or will he go’ situation hanging over Slaven Bilic is doing them any favours. Either put him out of his misery or get behind him and give him the season.

Stoke have put together a talented squad, signing the likes of Jese Rodriguez, Maxim Choupo-Moting, Kurt Zouma and Kevin Wimmer over the summer, yet also find themselves level on points with Everton. One of the reasons is injuries, as Mark Hughes has had several defensive issues to deal with this season. Another reason could be down to consistency, in that players like Jese and Shaqiri can be world beaters on their day, only their day is about once every 8 games. Another reason could be that perhaps the side is almost ‘too talented for Stoke’, in that the egos of the some of the players may be bigger than the side. Remember QPR anyone?

Will their problems continue? I think they will in the short term, but ultimately there is far too much quality in that side to continue to struggle all season, and the more time spent playing together the better they will get. They do need to get Saido Berahino scoring again though, and quickly.


The most competitive and unpredictable division in England has stirred up some underperformers, with Reading proving that the play-off hangover does in fact exist, and the talented side of Brentford drawing games for fun. But two sides have particularly underachieved, Birmingham and Sunderland.

Birmingham gave ‘Arry loads of money to invest in the summer, and after raiding Brentford for the likes of Dean, Collin and the impressive Jota among a host of other new faces, the Birmingham hierarchy targeted the play-offs. After some incredibly poor results and of course cash flow problems, Harry Redknapp was sacked and the reigns were handed to Steve Cotterill, Birmingham’s fourth manager in just two seasons, as the decision to sack Gary Rowett continues to haunt the blues.

Will the problems continue? Yes, as a lack of a goal scorer and willingness to concede goals are major problems for the side.

Sunderland turned to Simon Grayson as the man to fire them back into the Premier League, and he signed ex-Premier League players Aiden McGeady, Marc Wilson, Callum Mcmanaman and Lewis Grabban to aid with his promotion push. However, fans discontent over the running of the club is growing, and the wage bill still needs to be cut. Furthermore, recently promoted sides such as Bournemouth, Watford and Huddersfield have shown that the secret to success in the championship is spirit, desire, momentum, and the possession of young, raw fearless players, not the likes of John O’Shea, Darron Gibson and Lee Cattermole.

Will the problems continue? Yes, as the high quantity of quality sides in the championship may be too much for Sunderland, and they continue to ship goals for fun.

League One

Another very unpredictable league which is getting stronger each year as a knock-on effect of the championship improving. Investing heavily to repeat the success of Rotherham and Burton doesn’t always work, as has been shown by Southend, however more so by Bury and Northampton, who are currently both in the bottom four.  

Bury were a lot of people’s tip for the season, after signing proven league one quality such as Chris Maguire and Jay O’Shea, and Championship experience in the forms of Nicky Ajose, Harry Bunn, Rohan Ince and even Jermaine Beckford. Perhaps the failure to get the side playing together, and Lee Clark constantly changing his tactics and side due to not yet knowing his best side has cost them so far.

Will the problems continue? Short term yes, but Lee Clark is on borrowed time and, a new manager always seems to have an immediate impact in League One.

Northampton signed a whole new side over the summer, and after signing the likes of Matt Crooks, Ash Taylor and Daniel Powell and Dean Bowditch, Northampton were an outside bet for the play-offs. However, Justin Edinburgh failed to implement his 5-3-2 formation successfully and was replaced by Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, but the lack of pace, width and goal scoring issues remain.

Wil the problems continue? Yes, until January, when Hasselbaink will clear out a lot of the deadwood and hopefully bring in some much-needed pace. If he can’t do that, then it could be curtains for Northampton.

League Two

Another fiercely competitive league which is not always about having the best players, as Portsmouth and Plymouth found out when they missed out on promotion for a couple of seasons despite being nailed on certainties every year.

Mansfield are another example this season, who invested heavily in the summer and boast arguably one of the most talented squads in the division. Mansfield have all the tools for promotion, Steve Evans, a successful manager and a side full of players have won promotion from League Two before, such as Zander Diamond, Alex MacDonald, Will Atkinson, Alfie Potter, Joel Byrom, Danny Rose and Kane Hemmings among several others. However, League Two is all about getting the right blend between quality, team spirit and fight, something which Mansfield haven’t shown enough of this season, and sit in a poor 13th place.

Will the problems continue? No, Steve Evans is an experienced manager and knows how to get a promotion.

Finally, another side who have underachieved this season is Forest Green Rovers. I am well aware of the fact that this is only their first ever season in the football league, however being ultra-critical, sides tend to have an excellent record when coming up from non-league., due to the strength of the National League. Stevenage and Crawley achieved back to back promotions, and Luton, Grimsby and Lincoln have all consolidated themselves as solid League Two outfits. Yet Forest Green are currently in the relegation zone, perhaps due to fear of the unknown. There is more than enough quality in that side to do a lot better, as Luke James, Lee Collins, Scott Laird and Keanu Marsh-Brown are solid League Two players.

Will the problems continue? If they can get Christian Doidge firing at his usual rate again, then I believe they will be fine, however the loss of skipper Liam Noble is huge.

Do you agree with these selections? Let us know in the comments below!