Just as it was for fellow Royals goalkeeper Luke Southwood on his loan spell, it was playoff heartbreak for Lewis Ward and Forest Green Rovers this week as poor discipline cost them a place at Wembley in the League Two playoff final. Losing 2-1 on aggregate to Tranmere Rovers (much to Mike Dean’s delight if you’ve seen the video), the Royals loanee regained his place for both legs of the playoffs but was unfortunately on the losing side.
Tranmere won the first leg 1-0 at home, before the second leg finished 1-1 at Forest Green, but a red card in each leg for Rovers really cost them going for the tie. Former Royal Joseph Mills grabbed Forest Green’s goal in the game but it was not enough as their season comes to a disappointing end.
Disappointing end to a fantastic five months at @FGRFC_Official from making my football league debut to playing in the playoffs!! I would like to thank all the players, staff and fans for everything and all the best in the future pic.twitter.com/f7RH5z7WIE— Lewis Ward (@lewismward) May 14, 2019
More disappointment for our goalkeepers as Vito Mannone was between the sticks for Minnesota United as they lost 2-0 at Chicago Fire this past Sunday. The Italian has been an ever-present for Minnesota so far this season, but he was unable to stop the club’s three-game unbeaten run coming to an end.
This brings us to Joey van den Berg. So, if you thought the playoff system in Bulgaria was bad, or even in the Vanarama National, have a look at the playoff system in the Dutch second tier (Eerste Divisie) in which Joey plays. Let me explain: the first two games of the season are played and, after this, the season is split into four stages of nine games, while an overall league table is still maintained.
Whichever team finishes top of the table after each stage qualifies for the playoffs at the end of the season (so in theory you could have a good nine game spell, be rubbish for the rest of the season and still get in the playoffs). At the end of the season, the highest-placed teams that haven’t already qualified for the playoffs will qualify until the eight teams in the playoff picture are determined.
Youth teams cannot be promoted to the Eredivisie if the senior squad is in that division so, for example, Jong Ajax and Jong PSV can’t get promoted. If they were the high placed team, their playoff place would be passed down to the next side. The playoffs consist of four rounds; the first round consists of two games between the four lowest placed teams in the playoffs (which is where Joey comes in - I’ll get to that in a minute).
To make matters worse, in the next round, the teams that finished 16th and 17th in the Eredivisie enter the next round of the playoffs, essentially replacing the two teams that were knocked out in the previous round. These eight teams then contend in a knockout phase until there are two left. These two sides will then play in the Eredivisie next season, which could mean only the champions are promoted, or three teams from the Eerste Divisie could be promoted.
Got your head round that now? Good.
All that background... to fall at the first hurdle (thanks Joey). NEC Nijmegen were knocked out in the first playoff round 3-2 on aggregate by RKC Waalwijk. It all looked rosy for NEC after the first leg, winning 2-0 at home. Joey came on in that game with just over ten minutes to go to cement the first leg win for NEC.
However, an almighty comeback in the second leg by Waalwijk saw them win 3-0 and book a place against the team that finishes 16th in the Eredivisie. Van den Berg had no place in the matchday squad for the second leg and this result brings the season to an end for NEC and Joey, with the Dutchman set to be released at the end of his contract this summer.
On the other side of the world, the bad times continued for Sone Aluko as Beijing Renhe were defeated yet again in the Chinese Super League, this time 2-0 by Chongqing Lifan. Sone Aluko played the full 90 minutes but was unable to help his side avoid defeat, which sends Renhe back to the bottom of the league after their decent couple of games moved them briefly out of the relegation zone.
An ill-tempered game between the top two in Bulgaria resulted in a 0-0 draw as Ludogorets took on CSKA Sofia. Adrian Popa was brought on as a first half substitute for an injured team mate, but tasteless scenes in injury time saw a man from each side sent off. With three games left to play, Ludogorets sit three points clear at the top of the Bulgarian table.
Former Reading manager Steve Clarke managed to get one over on current Reading player Marc McNulty this past weekend, with Kilmarnock picking up a 1-0 win over Hibernian at Rugby Park. A controversial 32nd-minute Eamonn Brophy penalty was the difference in a game that the hosts deserved to win. McNulty was substituted just after the hour as his side pressed on to try and get an equaliser.
To complete the miserable loan report for this week that saw almost no loanee on the winning side, Andrija Novakovich and his Fortuna Sittard team were on the wrong end of a 3-0 demolition by Groningen. The American was substituted just after the hour with his side already 2-0 down. Sittard will finish the season narrowly avoiding the relegation playoff.