Game of the Week: Brighton v Sheffield Wednesday

I’ve long been a believer that although the Championship is capable of producing some surprising results in individual games, overall the table doesn’t lie – and despite defeats for Brighton at Preston and Norwich at Rotherham, we go into this weekend with the situation at the top more or less as it was.

Seeing as though Brighton won’t lose that many games this season and Preston did so well against Arsenal in the FA Cup, here’s the highlights – with commentary for a change – from last weekend’s game at Deepdale:

Last week’s game of the week finished in a  2-0 win for Sheffield Wednesday, although the score was 1-0 when Huddersfield‘s Jack Payne was dismissed for a rash challenge on Sam Hutchinson with twenty minutes left…which brings me nicely round to the game of the week: remarkably, it’s being televised.

Brighton v Sheffield Wednesday (this evening, 7:45pm Sky Sports 1 HD)

Last week’s defeat at Preston was the first away reverse for Chris Houghton’s side since losing at Newcastle at the end of August, but the Seagulls haven’t lost at the Amex since September, have kept clean sheets in eight of their twelve games this season and – according to the bookies – are nailed on for automatic promotion. The only apparent weaknesses in their home form is that they need to score more goals in the first half of their games and seem to be vulnerable defensively in the first 30 minutes.

Wednesday are a little bit easier to analyse. Despite winning without conceding a goal at both Newcastle and Huddersfield this season, they’ve struggled defensively against other sides currently in the top half of the table and they’ve average just less than one goal per game on the road, having only scored twice in one of their games away from Hillsborough this season. To put that into perspective, four of the current bottom six have scored more away goals than Wednesday have, which is one of the reasons that although they’re one of the better teams in the Championship, they aren’t one of the best.

Wednesday’s last win at Brighton was in the first game of the 2014/15 season, when Albion were ‘managed’ by Sami Hyppia and only finished six points clear of the relegation zone. This season, exactly half of the sixteen games between the current top six have ended in home wins and although I’m not expecting lots of goals later on, I’d be surprised if Brighton lost at home – although they are due another reverse at the Amex soon.

Honourable mention:

Nottingham Forest v Bristol City

I am on record as saying that Forest looked like strugglers before the season began and so it’s no surprise to me that they’ve performed exactly as I thought they would, even down to appointing – and then sacking – Phillipe Montanier. Furthermore, the unsuccessful takeover of the club seems to have been the last straw with the fans, who were also less than delighted when news broke that Henri Lansbury will probably be leaving. His move to Aston Villa hadn’t been confirmed when I posted this, but I expect it will have been when you read this.

Bristol City have been in free fall since October, having lost twelve of their last fifteen games – which includes blowing leads in four of those matches. So far this season several other clubs in the Football League have sacked managers that haven’t done as badly as Lee Johnson recently, so there must be something about him that the City board sees that the rest of us don’t.

Head to head: Forest have only lost two of their last ten home games in the league against City, but those defeats have come in the last three meetings – and the visitors haven’t lost to a team below them this season.

Televised games: QPR v Fulham (Saturday, 12:30pm) which confirms my theory that Sky Sports are incredibly lazy: the production team will be in the pub by 3:00pm. However Barnsley v Leeds (Saturday 5:30pm) will be an absolute cracker.

Back to the FA Cup again next week, so I’ll see you then.

Game of the Week: Sheffield Wednesday v Huddersfield

Before I go any further, in case you haven’t heard, former Aston Villa, Lincoln City, Watford, Wolves and England manager Graham Taylor died today.

News of Mr Taylor’s death emerged as I was finishing this post, which is an early one as Reading are entertaining QPR this evening (8:00pm kick off, Sky Sports 1) although if the last ten meetings between them in Berkshire are anything to go by, the visitors won’t win and there won’t be many goals.

Looking back at Christmas, the following points are worth passing on:

  • Newcastle were in pole position on Boxing Day, but after two defeats in their last three games, Brighton have take over the lead and now have a two point lead at the top. Right now, I can’t see any outside those two for automatic promotion.
  • Reading, Huddersfield and Leeds have all made big improvements since last season whereas Sheffield Wednesday have maintained last season’s level. With three of the four playoff teams coming from Yorkshire, the rest of the season could be intense – starting with this weekend’s game of the week.
  • Rotherham were five points adrift of Wigan on Boxing Day and I think both clubs will continue to struggle. It’s not abundantly clear who else looks likely for the drop though: Blackburn look most likely to drop out of the section at the moment, but both Bristol City and Nottingham Forest are struggling badly at the moment and could end up flirting with disaster.

In managerial news, no-one got the chop over Christmas although Paul Warne still hasn’t been confirmed as manager of Rotherham despite having had a favourable impact on and off the field since he took over from Kenny Jackett on a part time basis.

On to the game of the week:

Sheffield Wednesday v Huddersfield (3:00pm Saturday)

With the clubs being separated by four points and 30 miles, the twelfth Yorkshire derby of the season should be a cracker.

Having only won two of the five games they’ve played against the teams immediately above them, this isn’t exactly a gimmee for Wednesday. Although they’re currently on a four game unbeaten streak at Hillsborough and haven’t conceded a goal for 278 minutes, Huddersfield haven’t lost on the road since mid-November and have conceded just two goals in their last four aways.

Head to head: the clubs have met eight times in the league at Hillsborough since the turn of the century, but Wednesday have only won two of those games including the last meeting in November 2015. Despite the recent defensive prowess of both teams, there’s a chance that this one could feature some goals, but you’ll have to read to the end of the next paragraph to understand why.

Bonus fun facts: none of the previous Yorkshire derbies this season have ended in a draw and there’s only been one undecided match between the protagonists in the last eight games at Hillsborough – when Jordan Rhodes scored all four goals for Huddersfield in a 4-4 draw just over five years ago. Also, only one of the fifteen games between the current top six has ended in a draw: Reading v Brighton in August.

Honourable Mention:

Burton v Wigan

After a solid start at the Pirelli Stadium, the wheels have come off recently. Burton have lost their last three at home and their lack of a proven goalscorer at this level should be something Nigel Clough addresses during what’s left of the transfer window. Wigan have only lost two of their last ten away games in the division but their home form has been bad enough to keep them in the bottom six for almost the entire season. The only other league meeting between the clubs at Burton took place last April when both sides were pushing for promotion and finished all square.

Other televised games: there are only five points between Leeds and Derby (tomorrow, 7:45pm, Sky Sports 1) so that looks like a decent game to watch. Remarkably, Wolves have never played Aston Villa at Molineux in a second tier game (Saturday, 5:30pm, Sky Sports 1) but the occasion will be overshadowed by the death of Graham Taylor, who managed both of the clubs during his career and was in charge at Villa Park when Aston Villa last played at this level. RIP.

FA Cup Third Round Preview

Just a quick look this time round as I’ve had some technical issues as well as a hacking cough for most of the last two weeks.

As I’ve been fond of repeating for the last few seasons, we’re lucky if half of the clubs in the Championship qualify for the fourth round and having not had a second tier winner for almost 40 years, there’s no point expecting one in 2016/17.

Championship v Premier League 

Considering that six of the eight ties in this category involve the Championship teams travelling to clubs in the Promised Land, I can’t see much hope for an early upset. Sheffield Wednesday visit Middlesbrough in what could be a very competitive game and the Midlands derby between West Brom and…errr…Derby should be worth keeping an eye on, but does anyone genuinely fancy Burton, Reading or Preston causing upsets?

All Championship

With only four guaranteed places in the next round, there’s a chance that whoever takes their opportunities now may stand a chance of reaching the last sixteen. For that reason, Birmingham v Newcastle is potentially the tie of the round in this category: on the other hand, neither Wigan nor Nottingham Forest will want to hang around in the FA Cup if they’re serious about avoiding the drop.

Championship v League One

In one of those quirks of fate that happens when the draw is made, all four of the ties in this category have the Championship clubs at home. I can’t see Brighton or Huddersfield having much trouble with MK Dons and Port Vale respectively, but there’s a possibility that Bristol City and Rotherham might find Fleetwood or Oxford too much to handle.

There’s only one game where a Championship club takes on one from League 2: Barnsley travel to Blackpool. On paper, both of the ties between sides from the Championship and non-league teams ought to be straightforward for both Brentford and Ipswich, although neither Eastleigh or Lincoln are mugs.

Televised games: Manchester United v Reading (BT Sport 1, 12:30pm tomorrow), Preston v Arsenal (BT Sport 1, 5:30pm tomorrow) and Spurs v Aston Villa (BBC 1, 4:00pm Sunday). The draw for the fourth round will be on Monday, I’ll probably update as the weekend progresses and I’ll be back next week.

Update: Leeds, Fulham, Brentford, Brighton, Huddersfield, Blackburn, Wolves, Derby and Wigan all won at the first time of asking over the weekend. Birmingham, Newcastle, Barnsley, Bristol City, Ipswich (against Lincoln!) and Norwich all face replays, so there are currently ten guaranteed places for Championship clubs in the fourth round.

So far the only confirmed fourth round ties involving Championship teams are:

Fulham v Hull, Chelsea v Brentford, Rochdale v Huddersfield, Derby v Leicester and Manchester United v Wigan. If Ipswich win at Lincoln in the replay, they’ll host Brighton in the next round and if Barnsley beat Blackpool in their replay they’ll travel to Blackburn.

I’ll be back on Thursday, in time for the Reading/QPR clash that evening.

2016 Sky Bet Championship Christmas Preview

I’m going to kick off this post with the news that Gary Rowett was sacked as Birmingham boss on Wednesday for no other apparent reason than the new Chinese owners wanted Gianfranco Zola to take over at St. Andrew’s. The Blues are currently eighth in the table, one point away from the top six: this is a classic case of something I’ve moaned about for years, so apart from registering my sympathy with Blues fans and being pretty sure that Zola – who hasn’t managed in the Championship for three years and has been sacked from his last two jobs – won’t last a full year.

Long term readers – if there are any – will know that how the table looks on Boxing Day usually has a profound impact on the rest of the season. The year I’m a bit pushed for time so I’m only going to look back at the past five seasons rather than the last ten, but even then the correlation between the table on December 26th and the final table is remarkable. Here are the highlights:

  • In four of the last five seasons, the team that was top of the table on Boxing Day was promoted – although not necessarily as Champions. Derby were top of the table on December 26th 2015 but eventually finished fifth.
  • In four of the last five seasons, three teams that were in the top six after the Boxing Day programme was complete were eventually promoted. Norwich were seventh on 26/12/14 but won the playoff final.
  • The club that is bottom of the table at the end of Boxing Day has been relegated in the last five seasons.
  • In three of the last five seasons, the clubs that were eventually relegated were already in the bottom six positions. In 2012/13 Wolves were 14th on Boxing Day but were eventually relegated after losing four of their last six matches: Portsmouth were relegated at the end of 2011/12 following their points deduction in February 2012 – they were 17th on Boxing Day 2011.

If we assume that those conditions won’t change substantially this season, then we have something of a problem making the rest of 2016/17 interesting. Either Brighton and Newcastle will be first or second on Boxing Day and considering that only two of the ten clubs in those positions have failed to go on to win promotion after occupying those slots at the end of December 26th, then we already have a good idea who will be playing in the Premier League next season.

At the bottom, Rotherham cannot overtake Wigan before December 26th, so I’m afraid going to have to write them off. That leaves two relegation spots and the key stat here seems to be that 13 of the 15 clubs relegated in the last five seasons had been either 20th or lower in the table on 26/12. In this respect, Wigan look as if they’re in trouble too but then it gets very murky. Considering only six points separate the Latics from QPR at the moment, it’s fair to say that one bad run of form could see any of the remaining clubs in the bottom seven playing in League One next season.

So does all of that really mean that the rest of the season is going to be about who wins the playoff final and who is relegated with Rotherham?

What to watch out for over Christmas:

Nottingham Forest could have a big impact on the Christmas programme: they host Wolves and Huddersfield before travelling to Newcastle.

Rotherham entertain Wigan and Burton after their local derby with Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday, but even if they win both of those home games the Millers still have a mountain to climb if they want to save themselves from relegation.

Blackburn have to play two of the current top six over the next week, with a trip to Barnsley in between.

Gianfranco Zola will go straight in at the deep end with Birmingham: Brighton on Saturday followed by a trip to Derby on Boxing Day – both of which will be televised (see below).

Here are the games to watch out for over the festivities, those in italic are televised, the others are significant matches between the current top/bottom six:

 

Saturday 17th December

Burton v Newcastle

Blackburn v Reading

Birmingham v Brighton (kick off 5:30pm, Sky Sports 1)

Sunday 18th December

QPR v Aston Villa (kick off 12:00pm, Sky Sports 2)

Monday 26th December

Rotherham v Wigan

Newcastle v Sheffield Wednesday (7:45pm, Sky Sports 1)

Tuesday 27th December

Brighton v QPR (12:30pm, Sky Sports 1)

Derby v Birmingham (3:00pm, Sky Sports 1)

Thursday 29th December

Aston Villa v Leeds (7:45pm, Sky Sports 1)

Rotherham v Burton

Friday 30th December

Brighton v Cardiff

Saturday 31st December

Huddersfield v Blackburn (12:30pm)

Derby v Wigan

Brentford v Norwich (5:30pm, Sky Sports 1)

I may very well be able to post updates but the next scheduled post will appear either on the last Thursday or Friday of this month. So I’d like to thank you all for reading and wish you a Happy Christmas!

Game Of The Evening: Leeds v Reading

Welcome to what is apparently my 400th post for Buzzin’ Championship Football. As a bonus, here’s Sol Bamba ‘losing his head’ last weekend, which seems to be part two of an occasional series titled ‘Championship Players Losing It And Attacking Their Comrades’.

The top three won’t change whatever the outcome of tonight’s games, although on paper Brighton have a chance of overtaking Newcastle at the summit. Although Rotherham won on Saturday for the first time since August, they’re still eight points behind Wigan although any of the clubs from QPR downwards could find themselves in the bottom three after this evening’s games have finished.

Game of the evening: Leeds United v Reading

OK, I didn’t see this coming. Both sides have done far better than I expected before the season began, so credit where it’s due to both Garry Monk and Jaap Staam.

Leeds’ only home defeat since mid-September was against Newcastle so there’s no shame there, but they’ve only won one of the last six games at Elland Road against this evening’s opponents. On the other hand, United have a very poor record in games against the other five teams in the top six, having lost all four of their matches without scoring: that’s an indication that they may be due for a change in fortunes fairly soon.

From Reading’s point of view, it depends which team turns up: they’ve won half of their last six aways, but suffered heavy defeats at both Brentford and Fulham in the same time span. At least this evening’s game isn’t being played in West London, but Reading were also tonked 4-1 at Newcastle earlier in the season, so if they concede an early goal things might not go their way.

Blackburn Rovers v Brighton

Rovers aren’t doing too badly at home against teams in the bottom half of the table and having won at both Newcastle and Derby this season, they look like one of those teams that are capable of raising their game against good opponents. Brighton are enjoying a 14 game unbeaten streak that will have to end soon, but since the turn of the century they’ve not been beaten by Blackburn in any competition.

Burton Albion v Huddersfield Town

I’ll return to the subject on Friday, but Burton’s season may be defined by how they do over the Christmas period. Their home form is fine, but this game is arguably the first real test they’ve had at the Pirelli Stadium since they beat on out of sorts Derby in September. The Terriers got back to winning ways on Saturday when they beat Bristol City last weekend, but Huddersfield have lost four of their last six road trips and have already lost twice against teams in the bottom six.

Cardiff City v Wolverhampton Wanderers

Neil Warnock’s recipe for avoiding relegation is to rely almost entirely on home form and to some extent it’s working at Cardiff (one defeat in the last six in the Welsh capital) so it’ll be interesting to see how the Bluebirds approach this one. Wolves have only lost twice in their last six away games and although I don’t think the visitors can win, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this ended all square.

Tomorrow: Wigan Athletic v Newcastle United

Newcastle returned to winning ways with an emphatic 4-0 win over Birmingham at the weekend and I can’t see them tripping up at the DW Stadium this evening. Will Grigg’s 88th minute winner against Wolves on September 27th remains the last time a Wigan player scored a goal in a home game in the Championship, although I have to point out that Wigan have won six of the previous seven meetings in the league in Lancashire. If the Latics win tomorrow night, it’s a contender for surprise result of the season.

Back on Friday for the Christmas Special, which usually writes itself.