Mike Roberts - Friday 23.01.15, 16:11pm
Something a little different for this round. Based on some of the research I did when the draw was made, I thought it might be interesting to see what the driving distance between each club was and thanks to Sportmapworld.com it was pretty easy. What I wasn’t expecting was that Cardiff and Reading are the same distances from each other as Manchester and Middlesbrough! So from closest to furthest, here’s the preview.
Saturday (kick off 3pm unless stated)
Birmingham v WBA
Distance: Less than five miles between them – a genuine local derby.
This fixture has a genuinely impressive FA Cup pedigree: not many games this weekend have previously been semi finals twice and the clubs contested the 1931 final. This is their first meeting in the FA Cup since the semi final in April 1968, which the Baggies won 2-0 and went on to win the competition. Oddly enough, Birmingham have lost all three games in the competition when they’ve had home advantage, although the last time this pair met in the FA Cup at Birmingham was in a replay in January 1908 that the Blues lost 2-1. Although the hosts have only reached fifth round once in the last ten seasons they face a Baggies side that would probably prefer to stay in the Premier League than have a cup run. Since Gary Rowett took over the Blues they’ve been unrecognisable: one home league defeat in six games, including a 6-1 demolition of Reading in the middle of last month. A good cup run could be a catalyst for something more tangible in the league next season.
Derby v Chesterfield
Distance: 31 miles apart despite being in the same county.
This is their first meeting in the cup since January 1948 and Chesterfield have never won at Derby in any competition. It’s been five seasons since Derby reached the fifth round and although their chances of getting through are decent, the big question here is whether the Rams really want to have to the distraction of a cup run at the same time as going for promotion. Last weekend’s defeat by Nottingham Forest was only Derby’s second home defeat in the last ten and although Derby haven’t lost at home in the FA Cup to team in a division below them since 2008, Chesterfield will be up for this one. The Chesterfield half of the preview is here.
Liverpool v Bolton (5:35pm kick off, BT Sport 1)
Distance: 40 miles, so a classic cup tie from the North West rather than a derby.
Liverpool have only won one of the four FA Cup ties between the clubs at Anfield (January 1946) and they’ve not clubs met in the competition since January 1993, when Bolton (then in the third tier) won 2-0 in a replay at Anfield in a huge upset. Wanderers have only lost one of their last five away games in the Championship but I think it’s fair to say that none of their opponents were as good as Liverpool can be on their day. As the FA Cup is arguably Liverpool’s best chance of winning a trophy this season I’d be very surprised if they didn’t beat Bolton.
Cardiff v Reading
Distance: 112 miles, almost all of it being the M4. I suppose it might count as an international derby?
As you might expect, the only tie where a Championship side is a guaranteed winner is between two mid table clubs who seem to be on the decline in the league but have reasonable cup records. Their last meeting in the FA Cup was in January 2009 and although they’ve met on three other occasions in South Wales in the competition, Cardiff have only lost once (November 1934). The newly restored Bluebirds beat Reading 2-1 in November in a game the Royals’ Alex Pearce would rather forget (he scored an on goal and was sent off), but since the start of last month they’ve won once in the Championship. Reading’s away form has been just as bad: one win in ten in the league.
Manchester City v Middlesbrough
Distance: 112 miles. Not a derby.
An interesting stat similar to the Liverpool/Bolton game: in th three previous meetings in the competition in Manchester, City haven’t won any. Last meeting was in the fifth round in 1997 – Boro won 1-0 but eventually lost the final to Chelsea. Aitor Karanka’s side have been solid rather than spectacular on the road this season, but have failed to score in their last three away league games: hardly the sort of form you want when you’re up against the side that’s currently second in the Premier League.
Blackburn Rovers v Swansea (12:45pm)
Distance: 239 miles. God knows what time the Swansea supporter buses must be leaving.
Third meeting in the FA Cup, first game between them at Ewood Park in the competition since January 1955, which Blackburn lost 0-2. Rovers have reached fifth round or better three times in last decade but have been a bit wobbly at home recently: since the start of last month they’ve only won once in four attempts at Ewood Park in the Championship. Goals might be a problem for Blackburn but not for Swansea as Rovers have only kept three clean sheets at home this season and considering Swansea have apparently launched a bid for Jordan Rhodes, that could be a long term problem for the hosts. Having said that, I’d not be surprised by a draw.
Sunderland v Fulham
Distance: 271 miles. London to Paris is only 12 miles further.
Both previous meetings between the sides in the FA Cup at Sunderland have featured an average of five goals per game and no draws. The last game was a 4-1 win for Fulham in January 1969 which was a major shock: the Cottagers were rock bottom of the old second divsion at the time and would only win one more away game that season whilst Sunderland were mid table in the old First Division. Three away wins in 13 games since returning to the Championship is an indication of how far off the pace the Cottagers are this season as is the worst overall defensive record in the competition but that’s actually better than the 1969 side was. A possible upset.
Aston Villa v Bournemouth (3:00pm)
Distance: 167 miles, but (ahem) not much in terms of football league positions.
Here’s a thought for you: the Cherries are the highest placed Championship team left in the FA Cup and are only half a dozen league places behind Villa. They’ve never met in the FA Cup and Bournemouth have never won at Aston Villa. If we assume Eddie Howe is more interested in promotion than the FA Cup then the scenario is the same for Bournemouth as it is for Derby; what’s more important? The midweek defeat at Leeds was their first since the end of September and puts Middlesbrough, Ipswich and Derby within striking distance of the top: if Bournemouth want to visit Villa Park again next season, they need to concentrate on the league rather than the FA Cup.
Brighton v Arsenal (4:00pm kick off, BT Sport 1)
Distance: 57 miles. Watch out for vintage rally cars and hipster fans from both teams (or even some horrific combination of both)
Brighton are the lowest place team left in the Championship and have lost all three of their home FA Cup ties against Arsenal, who victorious by the odd goal in five a couple of seasons ago. Wednesday’s 3-2 victory over Ipswich was only the Seagulls’ second home win since the end of September and Albion are not out of the woods yet when it comes to relegation: I’d imagine another valiant losing effort might galvanise the Sussex faithfull for the rest of the season, but there’s also a chance that this could be very one sided.
And now the bad news. The fifth round draw is scheduled for 7:20pm on Monday evening on BBC1, which means that you’ll have to sit through 20 minutes of The One Show, which is what the Football League Show would be like if there wasn’t any football on it. I’ll update the scores as the weekend progresses, but there may be a delay tomorrow as I’m going to my niece’s birthday party which happens to be very near to one of the games mentioned above.
Mike Roberts - Friday 16.01.15, 17:44pm
I did a quick comparison between this season and last season after 25 games and it’s clear that we’ve got a much more competitive competition on 2014/15. The gap between first and six place around this time last season was fifteen points (it’s currently only seven), but the current gap between 12th and bottom is exactly the same this season as it was in 2013/14. The main difference in the struggle for survival is that both Yeovil and Barnsley had earned the same points as Blackpool have this season.
Despite losing at home for the first time since September, Bournemouth are still top albeit only on goal difference from Derby, who won at Ipswich. At the bottom, Brighton continued their mini revival at Charlton, which gave the powers that be at the Valley the opportunity to sack Bob Peeters, who was replaced almost immediately by Guy Luzon (no, me neither) who is yet another foreign manager with no experience of managing in English football whatsoever but – as you’d expect – has a connection with Charlton’s Belgian owner. Since Roland Duchatelet took over at the Valley in January 2014, the club has had three managers, two of whom (Peeters and Jose Riga) came and went without challenging any of my theories about foreign managers who have no experience of the Championship.
The weekend could be overshadowed by another managerial departure, albeit one that wouldn’t come as much of a shock to regular readers. The fixtures start with the Derby/Nottingham Forest game (12:15pm, Sky Sports 1) which has a recent record of red cards and the losing manager getting the chop. Here’s what I wrote about Forest before the season began:
‘Seventh season in the Championship, sixteenth outside the Premier League. Forest haven’t reached the playoffs since 2011 and their average position over the last three campaigns is twelfth. Pearce has never managed a club side at this level and hasn’t managed any club for seven years, so I’m confused why his appointment is being treated as some kind of second coming. His ‘to do’ list should include
* Not blowing leads in games that end in draws, which happened eight times last season (already happened twice)
* Keeping only six clean sheets away from home (so far: five)
* Stopping players being sold without his knowledge or approval (the so-called ‘transfer embargo’* hasn’t helped here)
Prediction: mid table with a possible acrimonious departure. It’s the Forest way.‘ (well fancy that.)
So to be brutally honest, Pearce has had a negative impact on Forest. Under Billy Davies, after 25 games last season they were in fifth place and had ten more points: Pearce’s record is similar to those of Steve Cotterill and Steve McLaren, neither of whom lasted more than five months – although both of them are doing far better elsewhere these days. The obvious conclusion is that the ‘new’ owners still don’t know what they’re doing.
Three games to follow this weekend:
Brighton v Brentford
The Seagulls have won one league game in ten at the Amex since August and only three times against teams above them all season. Bees have won three of their last five aways and will be looking for revenge after Brighton knocked them out of the FA Cup; they also haven’t lost any of their games against the current clubs that are seventeeth or below.
Millwall v Ipswich
Four straight home defeats and a battering – literally in some cases – in the FA Cup replay at Bradford City make you wonder if Ian Holloway will also soon find himself out of a job: losing to Ipswich may be the last straw and the Lions’ record against the current top ten at the New Den is 0-2-4. The Tractor Boys have only lost one of their last ten away trips in the Championship and can concentrate on promotion after a narrow home defeat by Southampton in their FA Cup replay during the week; it’s the first time I’ve mentioned this, but Ipswich’s remaining away games don’t look particularly daunting.
Rotherham v Bournemouth
The Millers have only lost twice at the New York Stadium since September, but they need to start winning games at home to give themselves a decent chance of staying up: the bad news is that they’ve only earned one point from the 21 available in their games against the current top six this season. The Cherries have won seven of their last eight on the road and have a perfect away record against teams currently in the bottom half of the table.
Finally this week, the revised FA Cup draw is as follows:
Saturday 24th January (3:00pm unless stated):
Birmingham City v WBA, Blackburn v Swansea (12:45pm), Cardiff v Reading, Derby v Chesterfield, Liverpool v Bolton (5:30pm), Manchester City v Middlesbrough, Sunderland v Fulham
Sunday 25th January
Aston Villa v Bournemouth (3:00pm), Brighton v Arsenal (4:00pm)
There are four catch up games next week but the next scheduled post will be an FA Cup preview, which should be up next Friday.
* Don’t get me started on the transfer embargo.
Mike Roberts - Friday 09.01.15, 14:09pm
So both Christmas and the Third Round of the FA Cup has come and gone: Bournemouth were top and Blackpool were bottom on Boxing Day, which usually indicates that we’re only looking at the competition for one automatic promotion place and two relegation spots for the next five months.
Three of the current top six won both their Christmas games: Derby, Bournemouth and Ipswich all picked up two wins with Wolves and Sheffield Wednesday (possibly a team to watch next season!) also managing that feat. Five clubs failed to earn a single point: Brentford are just about hanging on to their playoff spot but Nottingham Forest have reverted to type and already look out of the promotion race. Leeds and Millwall are now both in the bottom six and Fulham appear to have gotten over the honeymoon period under Kit Symonds.
Thankfully, the game of the week is televised (Sky Sports 1, 12:00pm) and the first thing to note is that a draw is the last thing both sides need: Bournemouth entertain Norwich at 3:00pm and would remain top if this one ended all square and the Cherries didn’t lose to the Canaries; new Norwich boss Alex Neil will have an early chance to assess the differences between the Championship and the Scottish Premier League.
Ipswich haven’t lost at home since August and have won five Championship games in a row at Portman Road but have twice lost at home to Derby in the last five meetings in Suffolk. Striker Daryl Murphy is on fire at the moment; he’s averaging a goal per game over the last half a dozen contests and is responsible for just over 40% of Ipswich goals in 2014/15 but as we’ve seen in previous seasons, being over reliant on one striker isn’t a guarantee of success. To put that into some kind of perspective, Chris Martin of Derby has scored 30% of their goals.
The Rams have been a bit wobbly on the road recently: three defeats in the last five have dropped them back into the playoff positions after they were top at the start of December. Two of those losses were at Brentford and Middlesbrough, which is consistent with the way the mini league containing the top six is developing. Of the 15 matches that the current promotion contenders have played against each other, only two have resulted in away wins so this already looks like a game Derby may not win.
The other two matches worth keeping an eye on:
Blackpool v Millwall
This will be only Blackpool’s second home game against the current bottom six (they drew with Rotherham at the end of last month) so if the Tangerines want to save themselves from the drop now would be a good time to start winning some games. The big problem for them is that if Millwall can win at Brighton and draw with Wigan, the Lions ought to be able to come away from Bloomfield Road with at least a point; there hasn’t been a draw in the league between them in Lancashire since March 1981.
Brenford v Rotherham
The Bees have been very efficient against the strugglers this season (5-1-0 against the bottom six) but three straight defeats in all competitions indicate to me that that they need a morale boosting victory against the Millers. Rotherham haven’t managed an away win this season against sides that are above them but are unbeaten in six league games and are beginning to build a reputation as draw specialists; they’ve only lost one of their last seven league games at Griffin Park.
There’ll be a quick update tomorrow evening and I’ll be back next week.
Mike Roberts - Tuesday 06.01.15, 17:37pm
Another less than spectacular third round for the Championship, with almost half the sides being eliminated at the first hurdle. Birmingham and Derby eventually saw off non-league opposition but there will be nine teams in this evening’s draw for the next round with the possibility of at least another club joining them after the forthcoming replays.
Arguably the biggest surprises were Norwich losing at Preston and Rochdale beating Nottingham Forest, but I mentioned the latter game as a potential upset when the draw was made and Preston aren’t exactly doing badly in League One. Neil Adams resigned as Canaries boss on Monday afternoon but early indications are that a return is planned in the summer, so watch this space.
One managerial change to report: Sami Hyypia resigned as Brighton boss on December 22nd and was replaced almost immediately by former Norwich boss Chris Houghton. Hyypia’s time at the Amex was underwhelming and his departure wasn’t a surprise; Houghton is the fourth manager at Brighton since May 2013 and has a decent record in the competition, which indicates the powers that be at Albion may have got it right this time rather than making another vanity appointment.
4th Round Draw (matches scheduled for Friday 23rd January – Tuesday 27th January)
Aston Villa v Bournemouth, Birmingham v WBA, Blackburn v Swansea, Cardiff v Reading, Chelsea v Millwall or Bradford, Derby v Scunthorpe or Chesterfield, Manchester City v Middlesbrough, Sunderland v Fulham or Wolves, Liverpool v Bolton, Southampton or Ipswich v Crystal Palace
Mike Roberts - Friday 02.01.15, 19:39pm
Due to a very nasty flu bug that hit my entire family over the Christmas and New Year period, I’ve been unable to write the FA Cup preview. There should be a round up posted early next week.