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Sky Bet Championship Preview 6th February 2016

Mike Roberts - Friday 05.02.16, 17:09pm

After another round of underwhelming performances in the FA Cup, it’s a huge weekend in the Championship with big games at the top and bottom of the table. So here we go – as we used to chant back in the day. All kickoffs are 3pm and unfortunately none are televised.

Bolton v Rotherham

As I’ve mentioned more than once this season, it’s not Bolton’s home form that’s the problem in 2015/16. Just three defeats since August but only three wins, two of which have come after Boxing Day. Rotherham have been dire on the road though: the recent draw at Cardiff was the first point the Millers had earned away from home since their win at Leeds in November, but they’ve only won two of their last 10 trips to either Burnden Park or the Macron Stadium. the last victory coming in 1990. The visitors will be keen to put last weekend’s thrashing by Charlton out of the way, but that result could have been a sign that Rotherham could be heading back into the bottom three very soon indeed.

Burnley v Hull

The Clarets are on fire at Turf Moor recently, scoring four goals against Bristol City, Charlton and – far more surprisingly – Derby and keeping three clean sheets in the last four. Not only that, Burnley don’t have the toughest run in and will probably have an influence at the bottom of the table as well as the top over the rest of the season. Hull seem to have righted the ship after a poor December with wins at QPR and Fulham but this is the start of a tough looking sequence of away games where the Tigers have to travel to Middlesbrough and Ipswich before the end of March. Hull have only won once in their last five games at Turf Moor.

Charlton v Bristol City

Last weekend’s 4-1 win at Rotherham doesn’t disguise the fact that the Addicks haven’t won at home since the start of November (six games since) and although they’ve drawn four of their last five games at the Valley the jury is still out. If the Robins are going to dig themselves out of hole then they need to score in this one: in seven of their last eight aways they’ve failed to find the back of the net but there are signs that their defensive woes may be over. Even so, since 1970 Charlton have won seven of the ten league games between the clubs.

Fulham v Derby

Hard to see which team is more out of form here: Fulham have won two of their last ten at Craven Cottage and have lost three of their last four and have picked up only three points from 15 games against teams in the top half of the table. Derby have lost at Middlesbrough and Burnley since the turn of the year, but haven’t lost three successive games at this level since October – December 2012. On the other hand, the Rams haven’t won in the league at Craven Cottage since 1969 – although they were 5-2 winners at Fulham in the Capital One Cup last season.

No post next weekend as my wife and I are taking advantage of the curious timing of Half Term where we live…



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Tags: Bolton · Bristol City · Burnley · Cardiff · Charlton · Derby · Fulham · Hull City · Ipswich · Leeds United · Middlesbrough · QPR · Rotherham

FA Cup Fourth Round Preview

Mike Roberts - Friday 29.01.16, 15:57pm

Here we are at Fourth Round weekend with more than half of the clubs in the Championship having been eliminated and  only one guaranteed place in the Fifth Round.  I’d expect MK Dons to be hammered by Chelsea, but I’ve selected three games that will be under the radar over the next couple of days – I’ll also be taking a look at the games between Championship and League One sides at Buzzin’ League One Football, so if you’re a fan of Hull, Sheffield Wednesday or Reading head over there.

All games below are scheduled for 3:00pm kick offs tomorrow.

Bolton v Leeds

Something of a must win for Bolton, who could do with the cash a Fifth Round tie would bring but who haven’t got past this stage since 2012. The problem is that since the World War II they’ve played Leeds twice at home in the FA Cup and lost both games and they’ve also not beaten Leeds at home in any competition since May 2004 (four games since). Leeds haven’t reached the 5th round since 2013 and have lost their last three away ties without scoring a goal, including a 1-0 defeat at Rochdale two years ago.

Nottingham Forest v Watford

Here’s a nice stat to impress your friends. Forest have only hosted Watford twice in the competition, but that was in the first season after World War II when there was no league structure and ties were played over two legs – and in this case, a replay. Forest failed to win either game back then and have been poor against the Hornets recently (three league wins in the last ten games at the City Ground), but Dougie Freedman’s side haven’t lost at home since the start of October. Watford haven’t won an away FA Cup tie since a victory at Plymouth nine years ago nor won a Premier League away game since mid December: it was a decade since the Hornets reached the semis but – like Forest – have only reached the fifth round once in the last ten years.

Reading v Walsall

The Mad House may be where an upset occurs this weekend, although in the three previous FA Cup ties between them the home team has yet to lose and Reading have a good recent record in the FA Cup in home games against teams in divisions below them. The Royals reached the semi finals of the competition last year and although they’re a better team than last season, their recent home form has been inconsistent. For further information go to Buzzin’ League One Football.

The only televised games involving Championship sides are Derby v Manchester United (tonight, BBC1, 7:55pm kick off) and MK Dons v Chelsea (Sunday, BBC1, 4:00pm) but although the ‘national’ angle is how bad Manchester United have been under Louis Van Gaal, almost nobody seems to have mentioned how Derby haven’t won in the Championship since Boxing Day and were beaten 4-1 by Burnley on Monday night.

As if all this FA Cup Action wasn’t enough, there’s a very important game at the bottom of the table tomorrow when Charlton face Rotherham. The Millers’ mini revival at home came badly unstuck when they were beaten by QPR a fortnight ago but nonetheless Rotherham have won four of their last six home games without conceding a goal and Jordan Clarke-Harris, Joe Newell and Daniel Ward all scoring three apiece in that run. In ten games Charlton have won just three points on the road since the end of September and have conceded an average of almost four goals a game over their last five away trips. This looks extremely one sided to me – especially as Charlton haven’t won at Rotherham since April 1963.

I’ll provide updates over the weekend.

Update: Blackburn, Hull, Leeds and Reading are all through after winning on Saturday. They’ll play Liverpool or West Ham, Arsenal (again), Watford and WBA/Peterborough respectively.



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Tags: Bolton · Burnley · Charlton · Derby · FA Cup · Hull City · Leeds United · MK Dons · Nottm Forest · QPR · Reading · Rotherham · Sheffield Wednesday · Watford

Game Of The Week: Burnley v Derby

Mike Roberts - Monday 25.01.16, 18:09pm

A rare Monday night encounter in the Sky Bet Championship and – even more rarely – a televised Championship game featuring two genuine promotion contenders.

Let’s have some context first. After Saturday’s results, neither side can overtake either Hull or Middlesbrough if they win, but they need to be mindful that Birmingham and Ipswich are challenging for play off places. In other words, this is precisely the type of situation where a run in the FA Cup could ruin the chances of automatic promotion for both clubs. Derby entertain Manchester United on Friday whilst Burnley travel to Arsenal on Saturday and although you’d not fancy the Clarets to win at the Emirates Stadium, given the rather bewildering state Manchester United are in at the moment, Derby may not have a better chance to beat the Red Devils in the FA Cup at home for the first time since 1897.

The hosts have only one defeat in their last six at Turf Moor, but Burnley have not played a home league game for three weeks and despite keeping three consecutive clean sheets they’ve only won three of those games – and all of those victories were achieved against sides currently in the bottom six. On the other hand, the Clarets haven’t lost at home to any of the sides currently above them this season, but their last match at home against another promotion contender was a draw against Brighton in November. Andre Grey has scored half of his fourteen goals in that six game period and although he’s clearly justifying his hefty price tag, the Clarets are clearly over reliant on him for goals. Scott Arfield and Sam Vokes are the only other players to have notched at least five this season.

After a decent start, Derby have been inconsistent on the road recently but once again that’s deceptive as they’ve had far tougher opponents over their last half dozen aways – four of the top six plus the enigmas that are both Leeds and Nottingham Forest. From that point of view their recent record away from the iPro Stadium doesn’t look too bad, but when you consider the Rams haven’t won in the league for a month you start to wonder if this is the type of wobble that cost them promotion last season. One factor in Derby’s favour is that there are goals throughout the team: of the eleven players who have appeared in at least 20 games this season, only Cyrus Christie has failed to score and only one (Jason Shackell) is over 30.

Head to head: Derby have failed to score in seven of their last ten league games at Turf Moor and their last win there was in October 2004.  That points to a game Derby might not win, especially as it’s also worth pointing out that there have been just three away wins in the 17 games between the current top six this season and Middlesbrough have accounted for two of them.

Verdict: a good chance to see if either of these teams can put pressure on Hull and especially Middlesbrough at the top of the table but if anyone’s expecting a classic they’ll probably be disappointed.

I’ll be back on Friday with a quick look at the FA Cup and abbreviated league programme.



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Tags: Birmingham · Brighton · Burnley · Derby · Hull City · Ipswich · Leeds United · Middlesbrough · Nottm Forest

Boro Upset Could Lead To Hull Takeover

Mike Roberts - Friday 22.01.16, 09:17am

I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again: on a weekly basis, the Championship can provide as many surprise results as any other competition in the world. We had one last Saturday: Middlesbrough could have equalled all kinds of defensive records if they hadn’t conceded a goal at Bristol City but Wes Burn’s injury time winner meant that the Robins became the first club to win both their games against Boro this season, something that only Hull, Cardiff and Reading could still achieve this season.

Hull moved to within two points of Boro – and the Tigers cannot be dislodged from second place this weekend regardless of their result at Fulham – following a 6-0 win over an increasingly dysfunctional Charlton side. Hull were 4-0 up at half time and the Addicks have now conceded 15 goals in their last five league games.

Bolton lost at Nottingham Forest, but were granted a stay of execution in the High Court on Monday. The club has until 22nd February to sort out their finances to HMRC approval but the consensus is that this is the Last Chance Saloon for Wanderers, especially as the staff at the club will not be paid for their work this month.

With one notable exception, the FA Cup replays went the way you’d expect. However, Ipswich lost at Portsmouth – a result that wouldn’t have raised any eyebrows at all a few years ago, but is considered an upset these days. The Fourth Round features just ten Championship clubs, with four teams having to play Premier League opposition. I’ve suggested elsewhere that Championship teams should enter at the Second Round stage in order to stop wasting everyone else’s time and to give clubs from League One and League Two a chance of a decent pay day and a potential upset and on this season’s evidence I think that’s a good idea.

There are three possible games of the week: having given it some thought, I’ll write a separate preview for Burnley v Derby as it’s televised (Monday, Sky Sports 1, 7:45pm kickoff), which leaves us with the following pair:

Fulham v Hull

One win in 13 games is the reason why Fulham have dropped into the bottom six; they’ve only won twice at Craven Cottage in the league since the end of September and have kept one home clean sheet this season. Any sudden run of form by the teams around them and the Cottagers could be in big trouble if they don’t improve soon – which could be difficult, considering they also host the Derby and Middlesbrough over the next few weeks. Another factor to consider when assessing Fulham is that Slavisa Jokanovic was attempting to win promotion to the Premier League with Watford so his managerial ability to deal with the wrong end of the table will be under scrutiny over the next few months.

Hull haven’t been half as good on the road as they’ve been at home in 2015/16, but they snapped a four game away streak without a win when they won at QPR on New Years Day and the Tigers have also won at Brentford this season so won’t necessarily be put off by a trip to West London. However, if Hull have a weak spot, it’s in precisely these types of games: defeats at Charlton and Rotherham shouldn’t be ignored.

Bolton v MK Dons

First ever meeting in Lancashire: Dons won by a single goal in August in the only other game they’ve played but the key factor here might be fatigue. Both teams played in the FA Cup earlier this week and although the Dons cruised past Northampton Town, Bolton were given a game by Eastleigh and only beat the National League side by the odd goal in five. Wanderers have actually only lost three times in the Championship at the Macron Stadium, they’ve thrown away leads in three of their last seven home games and that could prove fatal in the long run. Additionally they’ve also failed to beat any of the half teams immediately above them.

The Dons have been awful away from home, but there despite starting the season with a 4-1 win at Rotherham, there appear to be some mitigating circumstances. A lack of goals on the road – they’ve been shut out seven times in twelve matches – has been the main issue but overall their record against the other strugglers hasn’t been that bad, with victories over Blackburn, Charlton and Bolton plus draws with Fulham and Bristol City. A point would be better for the Dons than the Trotters: given that exactly half of the games this season between the sides currently in the bottom six have ended all square, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the outcome tomorrow.

I’ll be back on Monday with the game of the week preview.



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Tags: Bolton · Bristol City · Cardiff · Charlton · Fulham · Hull City · Ipswich · MK Dons · Middlesbrough · Nottm Forest · Reading

Boro Take Control: Cotterill Sacked By Bristol City

Mike Roberts - Friday 15.01.16, 17:04pm

After the last midweek programme until the end of next month we’ve learned the following:

* Middlesbrough are going to take some stopping, although I’m going to keep banging on about the fact that losing playoff finalists don’t have a good record when it comes to automatic promotion at the end of the following season. Hull are a better team now than they were in 2012/13, when they were promoted to the Premier League.

* Sheffield Wednesday could be automatic promotion contenders next season if they continue to improve at the rate they have done in 2015/16: although Brighton are still better than they were last season, this weekend could see these two clubs switch positions. The Seagulls have now lost four of their five games.

* Of the newly promoted teams,  I clearly underestimated Preston as much as I overestimated Bristol City.

However, the most baffling story of the week was the reappointment of Jose Riga as manager of Charlton on Wednesday. Riga last appeared on this blog in October 2014 when he was sacked by Blackpool: he replaced Chris Powell at Charlton in March 2014 but was binned at the end of the season. Since leaving Blackpool, Riga has managed two teams (Standard Liege and Metz) for a total of 38 games: he hasn’t managed a full season at a team for three seasons. I know the Charlton owner is idiosyncratic (to put it mildly) but this situation reminds me of the musical chairs that went on amongst the top banks at the time of the financial crisis.

The other story that will happen over the next few days will be if Bolton will go into administration on Monday or not. There’s been a fire sale of sorts at the Macron to keep the wolves (not ‘the’ Wolves) from the door, it remains to be seen if that’s too little too late. If Bolton go into administration, there’s a good chance they’ll become the first club to relegated from the Championship having suffered a points deduction since Portsmouth in 2012.

This weekend there are a couple of games where the strugglers face the leaders and both look spectacularly one sided.

Bristol City v Middlesbrough

Bizarrely, the Steve Cotterill era at Ashton Gate ended three years to the day after Sean O’Driscoll was appointed. Nobody expected the Robins to perform as well as they did in League One last season, but not many people would have thought last season’s League One title winners would have been this bad either – at almost exactly the same level as the team that finished dead last in 2012/13. Two home wins this season – the last at the start of November – a porous defence and a habit of conceding late goals is why City are in the bottom three and Cotterill is out of a job. With seven of their remaining ten home games coming against clubs in the current top ten, the chances of them remaining in the Championship are bleak.

On the other hand, Middlesbrough arrive at Ashton Gate with an astonishing record: nine consecutive clean sheets in the Championship and no away defeats since the start of November. With seven of their last eleven away games against teams currently in the bottom half of the table, Aitor Karanka’s side are almost a mirror image of Bristol City. Boro have only won three of their last trips to Ashton Gate in the league, but all of those wins have come in five games from September 1994 onwards, so I think it’s fair to say that City have their work cut out for them.

Hull v Charlton

The Tigers are on a roll at the moment: one home defeat this season (against Derby) which was the only time they’ve let in more than one goal at the KC Stadium in all competitions in 2015/16. It’s far too early to start this type of analysis, but based on their remaining home fixtures it looks like Hull could have an easy run in as well as having a disproportionate influence on promotion and relegation issues.

In contrast, Charlton have only won on the road once this season, have been shut out in just over half of their away games and have only scored more than once in one game – which they lost by the odd goal in five at Brighton at the start of December. Talking of fives, the straw that broke the camel’s back and signalled the departure of Karel Fraeye (no, me neither) was a 5-0 defeat at Huddersfield on Tuesday, the first time the Addicks have conceded that many on the road since January, when Watford battered them by the same score at Vicarage Road.

Update: MK Dons, Bolton and Reading all won their FA Cup replays; Bristol City, Huddersfield and Ipswich are out.



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Tags: Bolton · Brighton · Bristol City · Charlton · Derby · Huddersfield Town · Hull City · Middlesbrough · Preston · Sheffield Wednesday

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