Clarke, Flitcroft... Freedman?! The 8 best tacticians in the Football League

It's no longer just a case of 4-4-2 and lumping it to the big man in the lower divisions. Mike Holden introduces the bright bosses leading the way further down the English football pyramid...

1. Derek Adams (Plymouth Argyle)

Beaten by ‘better teams’ in Portsmouth and Oxford, ‘lucky’ to edge out Notts County and Accrington, ‘unconvincing’ against a string of also-rans. There are plenty lining up to discredit Plymouth, yet Adams’ ability to switch formations from week to week – and often within the course of games – means they are currently lording it over League Two, five points clear at the summit. If the Pilgrims maintain their current run rate of 2.19 points per game, they will finish the campaign on 101 points. And why not? It’s not as if opponents have an easy code to crack or an established pattern to study and overcome. Even if opponents find one, they can be rest assured that Argyle will quickly adapt and morph into something else.

Derek Adams

Adams has led Argyle to the top of League Two with 11 wins from 16 matches

2. Steve Clarke (Reading)

With a settled back five and an interchangeable front six, Reading have used five different formations

Quality tacticians don’t need great players but great options, and nobody in the Championship has been mixing it up to such devastating effect as Clarke. With a settled back five and an interchangeable front six, Reading have used five different formations – none of them 4-4-2 – to carve out some of the division’s best statistics at both ends of the pitch. Contrary to his reputation as a defensive coach, the former West Brom boss has cobbled together an arsenal of seven attack-minded performers in advanced positions, while his appreciation of intricate forward play has enabled the Royals to win the first halves of their last five away games by an aggregate 8-0 scoreline.

3. John Coleman (Accrington)

A happy medium has now been found, with Stanley taking 18 points from their last nine matches and scoring 19 goals in the process

A higher defensive line was the priority for Coleman in the summer: Accrington shipped 77 goals last term, the worst defensive record in the basement division, but were breached only once every 158 minutes in their first seven matches this time around. Welcome though it was to be miserly, defensive excellence wasn’t enough for Coleman, who went back to the drawing board to get more out of his team going forward. A happy medium has now been found, with Stanley taking 18 points from their last nine matches and scoring 19 goals in the process. A stunning 60% shot ratio has been maintained throughout both phases, a rather incredible feat considering their top-heavy fixture list.

Coleman's players celebrate Sean McConville's winning goal in the 2-1 win over Barnet last month

4. Gary Rowett (Birmingham)

The real secret to his success, however, lies in how well he conveys the nuances to players who wouldn’t ordinarily be regarded as tactically astute

Averaging 1.67 points per game from less than 45% possession, no other manager in Europe has been squeezing so much out of so little. A staunch 4-2-3-1 advocate, Rowett favours the formation for its ability to morph into various alternatives with the slightest of tweaks. The real secret to his success, however, lies in how well he conveys the nuances to players who wouldn’t ordinarily be regarded as tactically astute. While the Blues are nowhere near the heavyweights of the Championship in terms of budget, the 79 points they have taken from Rowett’s 47-game tenure is proof enough that they are good enough to remain in the top six for the remainder of the campaign.

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