Mike Roberts - Tuesday 21.10.14, 15:45pm
Well, after giving Watford such a comprehensive slating last week you’d be wrong for thinking I’m going to apologise just because the Hornets are top of the Championship after winning 3-0 at Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday. They’re being chased by two very good teams: Derby and Middlesbrough both won at the weekend and the current leaders still haven’t proven themselves against their rivals, but I’ll return to that issue later.
At the bottom Fulham and Bolton both won, which means there’s only a five point gap between the 18th and 23rd placed teams, which means tonight’s games are probably more interesting that usual and should provide a decent alternative to the Champions League. However, Bolton’s win at St. Andrews was the end of the Lee Clark era at Birmingham City, which was hardly a surprise. It’ll be interesting to see who takes the job on though.
Anyway, I’ve got to be brief and so let’s look at Watford v Nottingham Forest.
Five of Watford’s seven wins this season have come against teams in the bottom half of the Championship: it may or may not be significant that both of their defeats so far in 2014/15 have been in away games against better sides (with ten men against Norwich and a single goal defeat at the much improved Charlton Athletic) but it is significant that they only won two of their twelve games against the teams that finished in the playoff positions last season. To put it another way, Forest should test Watford’s promotion credentials, but it’s also true vice versa.
Forest’s defeat at Cardiff at the weekend was their first pointless effort this season, but Stuart Pearce’s team has not won away from the City Ground since the end of August and Brett Assombalonga’s consolation goal in the Welsh capital was the first time the Tricky Trees had scored away from home in over 270 minutes. That’s not really what I’d call promotion form and fits in with Forest’s indifferent away performances going back to last season. Since Christmas 2014 they’ve won four games in eighteen attempts: they’ve only lost six times over the same period but as I mentioned in the pre-season previews, they need to convert wins into draws and that’s currently not happening.
Then there’s the head to head record between them in the league. Half of the last ten games between them when Watford have been hosts have been drawn, with the Hornets having only won twice in that period. I’m looking at this and thinking: ‘it’s going to be another draw isn’t it.’
If the game at Vicarage Road finishes all square, Derby probably have the best chance of exploiting the stalemate if they can pick up all three points at Blackpool. The Rams are on a nine game unbeaten streak and have only lost two of their five visits to Bloomfield Road since the turn of the century. The recent televised win against Cardiff was The Tangerines’ first home triumph since March but consecutive home wins have been in short supply by the seaside recently and despite a spirited comeback attempt at Huddersfield on Saturday, Blackpool were three goals down with less than 20 minutes gone. If the same thing happens tomorrow night, it’s hard to see Derby not winning.
I’ll be back at the weekend.
Mike Roberts - Friday 17.10.14, 12:44pm
Having lost precisely no games in his eight day period as manager of the Hornets, the Pozzo family decided that Billy McKinlay didn’t fit in with their long term plans for Watford – whatever the hell those might be – in the same way that Sean Dyche didn’t fit in with their long term plans either. Presumably ‘long term’ in this case means Halloween although you’d assume that some sort of ‘Europa League by 2020′ nonsense is behind this, in which case appointing a manager with no experience of managing in England who hasn’t completed a full season as a manager anywhere for two seasons is a really, really, good idea if you want to win promotion from the Championship.
I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been over this territory over the last four years and it’s getting to the point where these decisions are as predictable as they are laughable. Albert Einstein defined insanity as ‘…doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’, which can be applied to quite a few clubs in the Championship, some of which were dealt with in this post from February. The post that began it all is here and I wrote that four years ago when Malky McKay was in charge at Vicarage Road; although McKay left to take over at Cardiff, the facts are that in the last five years Watford have employed two managers who went on to win promotion to the Premier League with other clubs.
All I’m going to say is that if you look at the current Premier League table, Leicester City are twelfth and although they made some familiar mistakes along the way, at least they learned from them.
Anyway, it’s supposedly ‘Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday’ from now until the end of the season.
Only it isn’t. Including next week, there are only two midweek programmes left until the festive season and there’s another international break in mid November. Only four Championship teams are left in the Capital One cup, which puts a slightly different perspective on proceedings doesn’t it? So the next time you hear a BBC pundit (usually Ebenezer Claridge) drop that into his ‘analysis’ or a teenage millionaire going on about how tired he his, you’ll know better.
Still, with the top eight teams only separated by two points there’s plenty to look forward to before the middle of next month. In one of those odd scheduling situations that come up now and again, only one of the top half dozen is at home this weekend (Ipswich) and there’s a relegation six pointer at St. Andrew’s, where Bolton will have their first outing with Neil Lennon in charge.
Lennon’s appointment is an interesting one to say the least. Although he played over 300 games in England, his only previous managerial experience has been in the SPL, which has been a one horse race since Rangers were demoted four seasons ago. However, the expectations in Lancashire are different to those in Glasgow: avoiding relegation to the third tier for the first time in two decades is the immediate priority for Lennon. In order to do that, breaking a five game away losing streak is necessary: Matt Mills’ goal at Brighton in August was the last time the Trotters scored on the road in the Championship.
The good news for Bolton is that they’ve scored in seven of their last ten visits to Birmingham City in league matches: the bad news is that Wanderers have only won three of those games. Given the Blues’ terrible home form – one home win and two clean sheets in the last calendar year – it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise if Lennon gets off to a good start, but even a win wouldn’t drag Bolton out of the bottom three this weekend.
The other games with implications at both ends of the table are at Brighton and Fulham, who take on Middlesbrough and Norwich respectively. The Seagulls haven’t lost at home since August but haven’t won at any venue since Bolton at the Amex in the same month: four consecutive draws have seen them slide down the table and into the bottom six again. Boro have only lost two of their last ten away games (and only once this season) and have only lost once in their last six trips to Sussex, which doesn’t bode well for the hosts. Norwich travel to Fulham for their first league clash outside the Premier League for almost 14 years; furthermore the Canaries are on currently on a four game away winning streak in the Championship which is their best run in the league for years. With recent victories over Birmingham and Bolton, Fulham looked as if they’d turned the corner recently but having already shipped five goals at both Derby and Nottingham Forest already this season, there’s a possibility that this game might be another damage limitation exercise for the West Londoners.
I’ll be back on either Monday or Tuesday with a quick look at the next episode of ‘Who’s Going To Be Relegated From The Premier League in May 2016′.
Mike Roberts - Tuesday 07.10.14, 13:36pm
I’ll try to find out before the next post, but here’s all you need to know right now.
Mike Roberts - Thursday 02.10.14, 17:46pm
September has come and gone, so we’re now into the period before Christmas where the difference between wheat and the chaff will become more obvious every week. Long term readers will know that it’s more or less over bar the shouting after Boxing Day, but I’ll have more to say about that at the time.
Four times in the last five seasons the eventual winners of the Championship were in the top THREE at the end of the ninth month and it’s more or less the same story when it comes to being top of the table: the team that were in pole position at the end of September were promoted four times in the last five campaigns. The exception was in September 2011 – eventual title winners Reading were 14th – and two years ago Brighton were top of the table yet failed to reach the playoffs.
As you might expect, the post season is a long way off and trying to pick the playoff winner is a lottery. Only QPR last season and West Ham (2011/12) were in the top six at the end of September and went on to win via playoffs. However, in four of the last five seasons, at least one team in the top six at the end of September reached – but was unsuccesful – in the playoffs.
And then there’s Watford. In two of the last five seasons the Hornets have been in the top six at the end of September and failed to win promotion. In 2012/13 they reached the playoff final but were 19th (!) at the end of September.
At the bottom, in the last five seasons at least one club in the bottom six at the end of September has eventually been relegated, apart from in 2011 when none of the half dozen strugglers eventually dropped into League One. Remarkably, there’s still time to make a run at the playoffs from the bottom of the table. I’ve already mentioned Watford, but in 2011/12 Birmingham City did exactly the same thing. It’s worth pointing out immediately that the Blues were taking part in the Europa League that season and had played two fewer games than everyone else at that stage in the season
Overall, that analysis indicates a good season for Norwich but I’ll be surprised if any of the strugglers reach the playoffs. The world and his wife thought Blackpool would struggle, but it’s Bolton fans who should be very worried at the moment. If you’re looking for an outside bet for the playoffs, you could do worse than either Cardiff or Sheffield Wednesday.
On to this weekend and there are games over three days and a three way tie at the top. Neither of the televised games should have any substantial impact on either end of the table but there are three games that will.
Charlton Athletic v Birmingham City
After winning at Norwich on Tuesday, The Addicks were the major beneficiaries of Wolves‘ home defeat on Wednesday evening. The hosts have not lost at The Valley this season but they’ve only scored twice in their last three home games which indicates that Bob Peeters’ ‘defence first’ philosophy is having an impact and a long term playoff challenge isn’t out of the question. Birmingham broke a seven game streak without an away win at Millwall on Tuesday and have improved a little since last season but this game looks much tougher, although half of the last six league meetings between the clubs at Charlton have been drawn.
Watford v Brighton
Billy McKinley’s first game in charge at Vicarage Road was successful and with only one home defeat since February the Hornets will be looking to increase that impressive run, especially as their opponents have only won once at Watford in the last decade. It’s odd to see Brighton in the bottom six but not difficult to see why: no win in six and having been over dependent on Leonardo Ulloa for goals in 2013/14 they’ve failed to score in half of their games this season. When a defender and a midfielder are your leading scorers despite spending almost £2m on the League One Golden Boot winner, you may be in for a long season: Bristol City fans will recognise the slow season on season decline from promotion hopefuls to eventual relegation certainties and that might be happening in Sussex.
Nottingham Forest v Ipswich Town (Sunday)
Hard to know what to make of Forest right now: yes, they’re unbeaten but they’ve drawn four of their last five games and haven’t scored since the middle of last month, which is entirely consistent with Brett Assombalonga’s reputation as a striker who can have long streaks without notching. It’s also possible that other sides have worked out how to play against Forest: Ipswich don’t win that many away games but they’ve drawn three of their five away trips this season and have only lost once; their last win at the City Ground was in December 1999 but a point looks within their capabilities.
No post next weekend as it’s another pointless international break.
Update: Bolton are looking for a new manager after Dougie Freedman left by mutual consent on Friday. Without wanting to sound too cynical, it was after Freedman left Crystal Palace that saw an improvement in the Eagles’ fortunes: perhaps it’s also time that the board of directors at Wanderers realised they needed a boss with a proven track record in the competition.
Mike Roberts - Tuesday 30.09.14, 16:12pm
First of all, best wishes to Oscar Garcia, who has stepped down as Watford boss with immediate effect due to health issues. We didn’t get a proper chance to see how the Hornets would have performed with him at the helm, but it’s interesting to read that Garcia played a part in selecting Billy McKinlay as his successor. McKinlay doesn’t have much of a track record in club management, but the powers that be at Vicarage Road clearly think they have the right man.
Another murky managerial issue has become slightly clearer over the past few days: Russell Slade left Leyton Orient and is currently working as a managerial consultant at Cardiff City. There now follows a shameless plug for our companion site Buzzin’ League One Football.
On the field, Norwich took over at the top after coming from behind to beat Blackpool 3-1; Nottingham Forest could only manage a goalless draw against Brighton. In the other games I mentioned last week, Fulham won a league game for the first time this season: a 2-1 win at St Andrews cut the gap between them and Birmingham City to three points. Wolves almost won at Reading on Sunday but a very late Glenn Murray equaliser ensured the points were shared at the Mad House.
There’s a full programme over the next couple of days but just a couple of games worth following:
Wolves v Huddersfield Town
Kenny Jackett’s team could overtake Norwich at the top if they win and the Canaries fail to beat Charlton, but consider this: since December 1971, despite having entertained Huddersfield at Molineux in ten league games, Wolves have beaten The Terriers twice, the last time in November 1988. Over the last calendar year the hosts have only lost once at home which indicates another reverse is due soon, but are Huddersfield the team to do it? Town won at Reading in mid August, but have lost half of their last ten road trips in the competition and a point may be the best they can hope for.
Fulham v Bolton Wanderers (Wednesday)
Until comparatively recently this was one of those ho-hum Premier League games that no-one really cared about unless you were a fan of either team. However, this season it’s a Championship fixture featuring two of the bottom three sides, which automatically makes it far more interesting than usual. Wanderers haven’t won at Craven Cottage since November 1992 and haven’t scored an away goal since Matt Mills opened the score against Brighton on August 23rd and with Felix Magath and his bizarre cheese and alcohol rememdies having now departed West London, things look as if they could be on the up in West London.
I’ll be back on Friday with a look at the correlation between the tables at the end of September and the end of the season.