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Page last updated at 07:29 GMT, Wednesday, 26 August 2009 08:29 UK

Ask Steve Claridge

Steve Claridge
Claridge is the BBC's new Football League expert

It is still early days in the new season but if your club is at the top or bottom of your division it is easy to get carried away or press the panic button.

Cardiff City are leading the way in the Championship, on goal difference, while Darlington are bottom of League Two and are the only side in the Football League without a point.

Thanks to everybody who has been in touch with questions about the above teams - and plenty more besides. I have answered some more of your questions below.

If you have a question, use the form on the top right of the page.


Hi Steve, can Cardiff keep their current form going all season and get promoted? I worry that our bench is a bit threadbare. We've not had to play any 'big' teams yet, so is it even possible to form an opinion?
James, Wales

After four games it is possible to form an opinion but I do not know how informed that opinion will be - you can be top of the table after five games on luck, while you are certainly not going to be top on luck at Christmas.

Cardiff City striker Michael Chopra
Chopra has scored seven goals in four games for Cardiff this season

Obviously, Michael Chopra is going to play a big part in what happens. A lot of sides will consider themselves very evenly matched in that division and there will always be one or two players who make the difference and, so far, he is doing just that.

Cardiff certainly look a side who are going to create chances if Sunday's game against Bristol City is anything to go by - and let's remember that Bristol City have not had a poor start; they could have gone joint top had they won that game.

So to say Cardiff have not played anyone significant yet is not quite true. I don't know how you know that at this stage of the season.

What is on their side is that they have got a good manager and got everything in place with their ground now. Dave Jones knows what it takes to win promotion from the Championship and what type, and calibre, of player is needed.

Cardiff 3-0 Bristol City

Highlights - Cardiff 3-0 Bristol City

Of course, you are going to question their squad, and we don't know yet whether it will be strong enough over the coming months but I think they are going to be in for a good year.

After the disappointment of missing out on the play-offs by one goal last season they have freshened things up with a few new players and the omens are good.

Hi Steve, what do you think about the new seven substitutes rule being enforced in the Football League this season? Good for nurturing young talent or bad because of extra playing expenses for away trips?
Joe, England

Did we really need seven substitutes in the Football League? I don't think so. It is just more money - appearance money, bonus money and having to put people up in a hotel. I think five was too many - three should be enough.

Seven is fair enough in the Premier League because you have got squads of 30 to 35 players but in League Two, for example, of those seven players then three or four of them are going to be youth team players, so it might even be the case that you are stopping players from playing by saying travel with us instead.

I do not see the advantage for young players. If you want teams to have two kids on the bench then make them have two youngsters out of five subs, not two out of the seven.

I am writing in relation to Cheltenham Town FC. What are your views on Martin Allen's management style as it seems to be working quite nicely so far, despite many critics? Also what are your views on Cheltenham going for promotion straight back to League One this season?
Chris Snook, Gloucestershire

I think Martin has changed his management style - and I think he had to. I played under him at Brentford in the 2004/05 season and his style of play was not conducive to entertaining football.

But I have watched his sides play since and he has certainly changed what he is asking from his players. Martin is always going to want you to work hard and he is always going to maintain well-balanced and well-organised sides.

Cheltenham v Bradford

Highlights - Cheltenham 4-5 Bradford

I am not sure how he will take conceding five goals against Bradford at the weekend but he has had a very topsy-turvy time over the last couple of years and he is probably a bit more grounded now because of it.

I would imagine he takes things in his stride a little bit more these days. I cannot imagine him getting quite so affected by the results as he used to be.

In answer to the second part of the question, I don't know think they have the finances to get out of League Two this season. I think that is their level. It is not an impossible task for them to win promotion but it is a difficult one.

Hi Steve, as a Charlton fan who has watched our amazing fall from grace amidst various off-the-field wrangles, how easy is it as a player to stay focused when there is a lot takeover talk going on behind the scenes?
Ian, Australia

It's very easy - it shouldn't be a problem at all.

As a player, whatever goes on above your head, if the manager does his job right, it doesn't matter

The only time it affects a player is if you don't get paid or if the club is selling your best players left, right and centre, and if you're doing that then it doesn't matter if there is trouble in the boardroom or not, it is going to undermine what you are trying to do.

As a player, whatever goes on above your head, if the manager does his job right, it doesn't matter.

I'm a Darlington fan and have therefore had my fair share of ups and downs in recent times. Considering we only had two first-team players at the start of the season, our initial performances have shown promise but we can't seem to turn that promise into results. Do you think we can turn it around or are we destined for a non-league stint?
Alasdair Howe, Scotland

Well, my old mucker Dean Windass is up there as player-coach and he will be giving it everything he can to get them going.

Can they turn it round? They are the only team in the Football League without a point, which doesn't augur well, but if Dean starts scoring a couple of goals then they will be fine.

Dean Windass
Windass is yet to find the net for the Quakers this season

I have already seen a few games from that division and, let's be honest, you have to be pretty poor side to drop out of the League.

Darlington are paying for bad decisions by previous owners - why they built that massive big stadium I will never know. They have got a new ground but at what price? It just seems like ever since they built it they have been struggling to survive.

I would expect them to get better and be OK but, if you are bottom of that division by the end of the season then you deserve to get relegated because you are a poor side.

Hi Steve, with the lower leagues suffering financially, do you think the Football League should introduce salary caps to help keep clubs afloat? After all, football in England doesn't only consist of the Premier League.
Kit Williams, England

No, because there are not too many players in the Football League who get paid more than they should.

I have always said that there should be a salary cap in the Premier League because my train of thought was that, if you capped everybody, what you could then do is give them a bonus for appearances, wins, and playing a certain amount of games - it would all be incentive based. That could not just happen in England by the way, it would have to be implemented in all the major leagues.

Everything you do then, you earn. That way you would not have players in big money who are out of the team sitting in the stands and being unaffected when the manager talks to them.

You are not stopping players from earning big money, it just means they have to get out there and play. Even if you do not play, at that level, you would not starve. There would have to be a way round it if you got injured too.

But what I'm trying to say is that it is all performance related, so there would not be anyone in the stand earning an absolute fortune.

It is a ridiculous situation that clubs don't have a contract clause for relegation - absolutely crazy

The trouble is, if you introduce a salary cap in the Football League, with my system, if somebody does get injured they are not going to be able to survive.

I do not think there are too many people in the Football League who are earning fortunes or huge amounts of money. Clubs are already far more careful with their money.

The main problem is clubs coming down from the Premier League, who are stuck with massive wages. It is a ridiculous situation that clubs do not have a contract clause for relegation - absolutely crazy.

How can you put yourself in a situation where you are paying your players the same if you get relegated? If a player comes to your club and you say 'here's £40,000 a week but if we get relegated that goes down by half' and he says 'no, I won't sign that' then surely that is the time you realise you don't want him.

At the end of the day, if you are not willing to back your ability to stay in the Premier League then we do not want you. If you are part of a team that gets relegated then you have got to take your share of responsibility.

Hi Steve, I'm a Shrewsbury fan and have obviously been gutted twice in the last three years because we've been in the play-off final and lost. You said last week that the promotion play-off system could be changed - how would you change it? What do you think Shrewsbury's chances of promotion are this season?
Ned Thomas (aka Salop4League1 on 606), Shrewsbury

I like the present format and I know the third-placed team always gets the advantage of the second leg at home against the sixth-placed team but I can imagine it grates a lot if you finish third and then end up losing over two legs.

You have to give more advantage to the team that finishes third (or fourth in League Two, where three go up automatically) to reflect their performance over the season. The team that finishes sixth should travel to the team that finishes third and they should only play one match - the result would be settled there.

Shrewsbury Town boss Paul Simpson
Shrewsbury lost out at Wembley under Paul Simpson last season

The team that finishes fifth would have to go to the team that finishes fourth too.

But you would still have to go to Wembley for the final. You cannot favour the third-placed team there unless you have the final at their place too, and you do not even know if they have won.

And, in all honesty, if you had said to me as a player ahead of a play-off final and asked me if I wanted to play at my home ground or go to Wembley then, as much as it would be an advantage to play at my home ground, I would still want to go to Wembley.

What do you think about the style of football in the various divisions? As a Leicester fan I have just experienced League One for the first time. Initially I expected the quality of the other teams to be well below the standard of the Championship. However, I was very surprised by how many teams played good, open, passing football, as opposed to the much more direct style played by a lot of teams in the Championship. In fact, Leicester were outclassed several times, particularly by Peterborough. Do you think that the open style of play that has allowed Peterborough to get promoted will be to their detriment in the Championship, and that the more direct style which allows teams to get promoted to the Premier League leads to a lot of the newly promoted teams struggling when presented with the technical skill of the established Premier League teams?
Tim Mawby, UK

That is just a complete misconception. I do not think you can describe any of the divisions as long ball - and I certainly do not think the Championship is.

Each division has teams with different styles, it is the same at every level. There will always be people who like to get the ball forward earlier than others.

Peterborough are going to have to tighten up defensively, no matter what style of football they play.

Leicester v Barnsley

Highlights - Leicester 1-0 Barnsley

They are going through the same situation that West Brom went through in the Premier League because it is much easier to defend when you have got the ball and they are not going to have much of the ball this season. They have got to make sure they are tougher defensively.

I remember watching their 5-4 win over Bristol Rovers in League One last year and it was a case of you attack, we attack and you score, we score.

And, do not get me wrong, Posh are a good side going forward but in the Championship there are some sides that are equally good going forward and clearly there are also sides that are better without the ball than they are.

Highlights - Preston 2-0 Peterborough

Highlights - Preston 2-0 Peterborough

Their manager Darren Ferguson will know that but what he is trying to do is trying to give his players the chance to show what they can do.

That is fine and it is the right way to do it - they have come up from League Two together - but there will come a time when those players will have been proved to be either good enough or not good enough for the Championship. Basically he is finding out who is up to it, and who isn't.

Hello Steve, I am after your opinion on Bradford City and their manager Stuart McCall - he is a legend as a player at Valley Parade but destined not to be a managerial legend - poor to average is how I rate him. McCall promised promotion in his first year and failed, bought big players in his second year and failed and is now in his third term of expected failure.
Steve Geoffrey, Blackpool

Bradford are a massive club and they seem to have sorted themselves out off the pitch. They are getting some decent gates of 11 or 12,000 and when they get going they make some noise.

They underachieved last year, there is no doubt about that. I don't think their budget is as big as it was last year but you would still think it would be big enough for them to have a right go - and they have got to get into the top six this year.

Stuart is a big hero at Bradford from his time as a player and that is probably why he is still there.

Stuart McCall coached under Neil Warnock at Sheffield United
McCall coached under Neil Warnock at Sheffield United

He said last season that he would walk if they did not go up - and they fell apart. He has a decent coaching background but that does not matter, coaching and management are completely different.

That's another thing that we do not seem to understand in this country - you might as well be a milkman as be a coach, in terms of the experience it gives you for being a manager.

It is a total misconception and I wish I had a pound for every time a coach was made manager and it did not work. It happens so often.

A manager is basically somebody who has to have an eye for a good player and has to be tactically very sound. He does not have to coach and he does not have to be liked. He has to be respected but not liked.

A coach is totally different. A coach in a way needs to be liked because he has got to get people to train with him every day, he has got to be bubbly.

I am fed up with players who like their manager but they are in the bottom three - I always wonder about that.

There were plenty of managers that I did not like but I respected for the job they were doing because did it well - that is the most important thing.

Hello Steve. As a Leeds fan, I've seen the damage that is caused by administration. With more money now becoming available in the Football League, do you think there should be some sort of mechanism that takes a small amount of money from profitable teams and used to help teams close to administration? For example, scrap the points deductions (which do more harm than good) and take 1% of the profit of all profitable teams and let it be looked after by an independent panel, which then judges whether a club close to administration deserves a little helping hand. As a Leeds fan I wouldn't mind some of the club's money being used to help avoid the pain inflicted on fans by administration and prevent another Luton Town or Rotherham scenario.
Colin Sowerby, Chelmsford

No. Clubs have got to face up to their own problems.

If you are getting watched by 5,000 people you cannot have the budget of people who are getting watched by 50,000. You have got to be strong. If you spent £50m at a club, some fans would want you to spend £150m. If you spent £150m, they would want you to spend £500m.

There are three things you manage as a manager - firstly, you manage the team, then the people above you and, finally, the fans' expectations - and that last one is very important.

The more transparency you have got, the more understanding they will be over the situation. There has got to be more interaction between fans and football clubs - there is only so much money to go around and, a lot of the time, I do not think fans realise how much the people running their clubs put in. Sometimes these people are putting in millions and millions of pounds but you wouldn't think it because all they are doing is keeping the club afloat.

You have got to say to the fans 'this is what we're bringing in and this is what we've got - we're doing what we can do'. When you ask 'do you know anyone out there who wants to do a better job, anyone who wants to spend some money' that normally shuts everybody up.

Clubs have got to realise when they have reached their level because if you try to overreach yourself financially then it can end in tears.

Sometimes everyone in football needs a bit of a reality check. We all want too much and we want it now

They are just going through it at Portsmouth now. You give the fans something that is completely unrealistic and then you have to take it away and more - aren't you better off not having it in the first place?

You do not miss what you have never had but, once you give someone something, then you take it away, then you miss it. At least Pompey have got the FA Cup to show for the money they spent but I wonder how much consolation that will be - is the FA Cup worth the price of relegation, which is looking more and more likely?

We see it time and time again. Successful businessmen take over a club and their business acumen goes completely out of the window. They get caught up in the pressure and being told if we get one more player here and there.

Sometimes everyone in football needs a bit of a reality check. We all want too much and we want it now. It's almost like clubs are in a little bubble - and it is only when something goes wrong that people realise that maybe they might have been expecting a little bit too much.

Steve Claridge was talking to BBC Sport's Chris Bevan



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see also
Ask Steve Claridge
19 Aug 09 |  Football
Your chance to quiz Claridge
10 Aug 09 |  Football
Football league on the BBC
02 Aug 10 |  Football
BBC announces live football dates
01 Jul 09 |  Championship
BBC wins Football League contract
06 Nov 07 |  Football


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