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League One

Andy Ritchie's Blog 8

10 October 2012

It takes bottle to step up and take a penalty but sometimes discretion is the better part of valour. It definitely was at the weekend for Crewe Alexandra's Mathias Pogba against Hartlepool United, who decided he was going to take a spot-kick for Alex and promptly blasted his effort over the bar.

The funny thing was, Pogba wasn't even the designated penalty taker. That was Harry Davis, son of manager Steve, but Pogba got it into his head that he'd try his luck, and failed miserably. Luckily for him Crewe still won the match 2-1.

Spats over who's going to take a penalty are nothing new but the really bizarre thing is Steve Davis revealed after the match that every time he'd seen Pogba take one in training, they'd gone high or wide, so why on earth he suddenly decided he was the right man for the job is mystifying. Taking it away from the manager's boy was just asking for trouble.

Steve could afford to be philosophical about it after the game because the three points were safely in the bag but if I was Pogba's manager I'd still be having a quiet word in his ear and making it crystal clear he'd find himself on the bench very quickly if he disobeyed team orders again.

A manager who didn't hold back at the weekend was Bury boss Kevin Blackwell, who described some of his players as "garbage" after the team's 1-0 defeat to SwindonTown at Gigg Lane on Saturday.

I've given players both barrels in my time as a manager but I never criticised them in public and I was surprised Kevin was so outspoken. I don't believe in treating players with kid gloves but there is also a danger of alienating them if you're too harsh. Players can be sensitive souls at times and it's easy to dent their confidence.

I read this week that Swindon are under a transfer embargo after falling foul of the Financial Fair Play regulations and it will be fascinating to see how that impacts on the top of the npower League 1 table as the season continues to unfold.

It's difficult to overstate how significant injuries - or the lack of them - can be in the race for promotion. At this level, managers depend on keeping their top 14 or 15 players fit and available but all the best laid plans can unravel very quickly if they suffer a series of injuries.

Paolo Di Canio has already said he needs new players if the Robins are going to maintain their push for promotion but it is the same for their rivals even at this early stage of the season. Every team is one hamstring pull or badly-timed tackle away from a major setback.

It's certainly the case for Tranmere Rovers, who found out this week they'll be without Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro for three months after the striker broke a bone in his foot in Saturday's win over Notts County. The boy has scored seven times already this season in 13 appearances and to lose him until the new year is a massive blow for Rovers.

Jake Cassidy, who's on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers, and Andy Robinson have both been in good form in front of goal but the Akpa Akpro injury is a big threat to Rovers' flying start to the season.

The dream situation for every manager is to have two players of equal quality for every position but the reality is always a little different and when I look at the top six in the table, I see six clubs just one or two injuries away from a major headache.

Stevenage in particular have worked wonders so far with a modest squad. They have impressed everyone this season and along with Tranmere and Sheffield United, they remain unbeaten in npower League 1 after their 1-0 victory over Scunthorpe United.

It's unusual for three sides to still be unbeaten after 11 games and it will be fascinating to see who blinks first. Tranmere have made all the headlines with their flood of goals and an amazing plus-20 goal difference while United have been a bit more workmanlike. Boro have been the surprise package but I have to say I suspect the real challenge is yet to come for them.

After the Scunthorpe match, Stevenage boss Gary Smith described the winning free kick from Greg Tansey as David Beckham-esque. It was definitely a cracker but I'm not convinced that 'Bend It Like Tansey' is going to catch on any time soon.

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