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Page last updated at 12:29 GMT, Friday, 1 January 2010

Ask Steve Claridge

Steve Claridge
Claridge is the BBC's Football League expert

A few of you have emailed in asking me who I think are the best players in each division of the Football League this season and I thought the New Year was the perfect time to look at the star performers so far.

I've also had a lot of correspondence from Bournemouth fans unhappy about my comments about the penalty they were awarded in their win over Torquay earlier this week so I've explained again why I have the opinion I do on the incident.

I also give my views on whether undersoil heating should be compulsory, whether Brighton will stay up and why Bristol Rovers are unstoppable at home but struggle so badly away.

If you have a question for Steve, you can submit it through Twitter at http://twitter.com/AskClaridge or use the form on the top right of the page.


Steve, you seemed so sure on the Football League Show this week that it was a dive from Bournemouth striker Brett Pitman that led to their decisive late penalty in Monday's win over Torquay, despite having only seeing one very bad camera angle to judge from.

I can assure you, having had the benefit of the best possible view right in front of the incident, that there were two hands on Pitman and a shove. My instant and honest initial reaction was that it was a penalty. Rather than slamming Bournemouth why not make a point about the incredible season they are having, grinding out results despite a transfer embargo, the smallest squad, injures to key players and many more handicaps.
Lucas, England

A lot of Bournemouth fans have got in touch about this incident and, firstly, if people think there is anything personal behind my comments then I am staggered.

Bournemouth v Torquay

Bournemouth 2-1 Torquay

I made my professional debut for Bournemouth in 1984 but some of their fans have got it in their heads that, when I was at Weymouth, I said there was only one decent team in Dorset. I didn't say that and it's quite ridiculous because I have a real soft spot for Bournemouth and fond memories of my time there.

I'm so pleased that they are doing well under Eddie Howe and I like Brett Pitman too. I did a scouting report on him for The Guardian last year and said how much he had improved, and he is just getting better and better. I've got no issues with him, and no issues with anybody at Bournemouth - I've got nothing against any football club.

With the penalty, all I can do is judge it for myself. I don't just turn up at the studio, watch it once and then give a judgement. We are in before three o'clock and watching football for nearly nine hours - and we study all the video of contentious incidents.

I must have watched the Pitman penalty more than 50 times and I stand by what I said from a one-camera view. Brett goes down and there is no forward momentum in his fall - if you get pushed you move forward but he just goes down and crumples into a heap.

I've spoken to Torquay manager Paul Buckle about it this week and he told me that the way I described it was the way his defender Chris Robertson described it to him - he said that he wasn't even touching him and he just fell to the ground.

It's all too much of a coincidence that the incident happens in the 95th minute of a must-win game. And, as a pundit, if I am suspicious of anything then I will give my opinion of how I saw it. I know that by doing so, I cannot keep everybody happy.

Who has been the best player in the Championship so far this season?
NK, United Kingdom

There are a few players that have caught my eye in all three Football League divisions so far this campaign.

I like the look of Derby defender Miles Addison, who came back into their side against Newcastle this week, and another Rams player who has done alright - and it's really surprised me - is Robbie Savage. Every time I've seen him play he's done well and I don't know what they would do without him.

Leeds striker Jermaine Beckford
Beckford is wanted by Newcastle - and several other clubs

For Nottingham Forest, Robbie Earnshaw is having a fantastic season up front and Paul Anderson has also looked good. Elsewhere, Tom Cleverley at Watford and Graeme Dorrans at West Brom have done really well and so has another midfielder Keith Southern. Victor Moses has been fantastic for Crystal Palace too - and you can see why he is being linked with so many Premier League teams.

In League One, Jermaine Beckford has done brilliantly for Leeds when you consider that a lot of players in his position would have had their heads turned and demanded to leave the club.

Instead he has got his head down - he has only had one little huff when he got taken off against Southampton earlier this month, and there is nothing wrong with that. He has carried on doing the business.

Grant Holt has done the same for Norwich and David Connolly has been a great signing for Southampton; he will get stronger as the season goes on. Rob Snodgrass is having a good season for Leeds, Charlie Austin has come from nowhere to look a real star for Swindon and Carl Baker has been impressive for Stockport despite them struggling so badly.

In League Two there is the lad I have just been talking about, Brett Pitman, as well as John Grant at Aldershot. Lee Hughes has been scoring goals for Notts County too, which is exactly what was asked of him, and you could probably just say the whole Rochdale team deserves a mention because they have done brilliantly.

Do you agree with me that all Football League clubs should have undersoil heating to stop all the postponements we have seen recently.
Matt Sherratt, England

Bournemouth's game against Notts County was a victim of the big freeze on 21 December
Bournemouth's game against Notts County was a victim of the big freeze on 21 December

In an ideal world, I'm sure they would but finances mean that isn't possible. I don't know how much it would cost but you would probably need a grant of some description otherwise it is out of reach for clubs who already have their finances stretched.

Some clubs are trying to build their ground first, like Blackpool - who had a couple of games called off over the festive period. I bet everyone who goes to Bloomfield Road is pleased that end is filled in now so it's not like a wind tunnel down there anymore!

But, if you can afford it, it makes sense to have heating: all fans would love it and the clubs would love it because it would mean there are far less postponements.

The time they probably need it the most is over Christmas and New Year when people have time to go to matches and a bit of money in their pocket, rather than getting a fixture backlog for later in the season when fans are asked to spend an awful lot of money to go to a lot of games in a short space of time.

As a Brighton fan, it was a great result for the mighty Albion on Monday, hopefully the start of things to come under Gus Poyet. He needs to bring in a few new faces in the transfer window to help our climb up the table... but where do you think we will finish this season?
Jay Sanderson, England

I've seen Brighton twice fairly recently, but their last game I saw was four or five weeks ago and things have changed an awful lot since then.

Wycombe 2-5 Brighton

Wycombe 2-5 Brighton

When I saw them, I thought they needed a bit of width on the left-hand side but they didn't seem a million miles away from getting things together. They are better than where they are in the League One table for a start and, if you take the best four or five teams out of that division, the rest are much of a muchness.

They haven't quite got the balance right yet between attacking and defending, though, because if they score plenty they always concede a few too.

They should be safe from relegation by the end of the season but, in terms of what they need to be sure of that, then apart from someone to give them something different on the left, I'm not sure. They have certainly got enough going forward because they have got Nicky Forster up there who practically guarantees you goals - but they do seem to miss Dean Hammond in midfield, a player who can control a game.

Steve, as a Bristol Rovers fan I guess you could call us the Jekyll and Hyde of League One. At home we have no problem in finding a win but when it comes to backing it up with an away win we don't even look like scoring, let alone winning. Can you put your finger on why this is?
Piere, UK

Rovers have won their last four League One games at home and lost their last seven away. From what I saw of their game against Millwall on Monday, they were a bit unlucky - they hit the woodwork and had numerous chances and got caught out for some silly mistakes rather than being a fundamentally poor team.

Millwall 2-0 Bristol Rovers

Millwall 2-0 Bristol Rovers

But they have to address this run. They were winning away games at the start of the season so something has gone wrong somewhere.

I haven't seen enough of them to know for sure but one reason I can think of is that it is something like the situation Burnley have been in since they were promoted to the Premier League.

They just go for it at home but away you can't set up like that away, you would be too vulnerable.

So they change to a 4-5-1 and never look like scoring or winning a game, or go to 4-4-2 and look more likely to score but are all over the place at the back. Burnley seem to fall between two stools and it might be the same for Rovers.

I don't think you ever go into away games with a negative outlook even if you are on a bad run - I never did because every game is different. But you certainly approach them differently, not because you think you are going to get beaten but because you know you cannot be so gung-ho.


Steve Claridge is a BBC Football League pundit who played more than 800 matches for 15 clubs over the course of a 24-year playing career. He was talking to Chris Bevan.



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see also
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BBC wins Football League contract
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