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August: An Intriguing Yet Hardly Compulsive Start To 2015/16.

Mike Roberts - Friday 04.09.15, 15:30pm

Apologies for the lack of an update recently, but I’ve been on holiday outside Europe in August for the first time since I started writing for Buzzin’ Championship football. It seems a bit odd to posting for the first time since the season began just before the first international break of the campaign, but although everyone’s played at least four games with 90% of the campaign to go, it’s almost pointless speculating about how things will eventually pan out. For example, only 2.39 goals per game have been scored so far, which is well below the average for the last five seasons.

Ipswich, Cardiff and Middlesbrough are already in the top six: the Bluebirds are one of the four remaining unbeaten teams in the Championship. Rotherham were widely predicted to struggle before the season began and so it’s not much of a surprise that they’re currently at the foot of the table. I thought Bolton might be in for a difficult season and so far that opinion seems to be justified.

Brighton have raised a few eyebrows with their impressive start but their current form is unsustainable and three of their four wins have come against teams that are currently in the bottom half of the table. To be fair, the victory by the odd goal in five at Portman Road last weekend could be a sign of a big improvement but time will tell. Chris Houghton and Kazenga Lua-Lua won the Manager and Player of the Month awards for August.

The Capital One Cup has – once again – proved to be a disappointment for most teams, although with eleven Championship clubs remaining in the competition there’s still a reasonable chance that one of the quarter finalists could come from the second tier. I’ll be back after the international break, so I’ll see you then.



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Tags: Bolton · Brighton · Cardiff · Ipswich · Middlesbrough · Rotherham

Sky Bet Championship 2015/16: What To Expect

Mike Roberts - Tuesday 11.08.15, 17:20pm

While I was looking at stats during the summer, something jumped out at me. I’ve been posting here for five years and over that period I’ve tended to think that the Championship has been fairly static in terms of teams coming and going. When I checked, in August 2010 exactly half of the teams that are playing in the competition for 2015/16 were playing at this level. Only five teams have played in all five seasons since then, but only five have played in the Championship in fewer than of two of the last five campaigns; or to put it another way, 23 of the 24 clubs in this season’s Championship have played at this level since August 2010. The exception are MK Dons.

At the top:

Based on the trends over the last decade, we’re looking for a team from the South or the Midlands that finished in the top ten in May to win the Championship this season. Brentford, Ipswich, Wolves and Derby all fit the bill; Middlesbrough not so much. Not only do beaten playoff finalists usually fail to reach the post season at the end of the following campaign, but – if you include Cardiff – 80% of the last ten title winners have come from either the Midlands or Southern Britain. This isn’t a tip by any means, but the progress that Wolves have made over the past couple of seasons under Kenny Jackett has been really impressive.

Automatic promotion is far harder to predict, but there are some clues. Once again, it’s clubs from the South or the Midlands that have done well over the last decade. Half of the last ten runners up have come from sides that were either promoted from League One or relegated from the Premier League at the end of the previous season, whilst over the same period three clubs that had finished eighth at the end of the previous season improved enough to take the runners up spot. That’s good news for Derby but there’s been a subtle shift of the last five years: clubs promoted from League One have finished runners up in the Championship in two of the last five seasons. If that’s the case, Bristol City and MK Dons could very well be the dark horses this season but a word of caution is necessary here. City haven’t played in the top flight since 1980 and this is uncharted territory for MK, whereas both Southampton and Norwich were – to some extent – slumming it outside the top tier.

The playoffs are even more random. Three of the last four winners had been relegated from the Premier League at the end of the previous season, but in the last decade, only one of the six playoff winners that had spent at least one season in the Championship had finished in the top ten at the end of the season before. That was Swansea City and indicates that if any of the teams that finished in the bottom half of the table in 2014/15 could make a run at the playoffs.

At the bottom:

20 of the 30 clubs relegated from the Championship over the last decade had either finished below 15th at the previous season or had been promoted from League One; eleven of those sides had finished between 19th and 21st. This is particularly bad news for Brighton and Rotherham fans but this is also something of a warning for Bristol City. Three of the five teams that were immediately relegated back to League One after one season were the reigning League One champions, but it’s MK Dons and Preston who are probably most at risk. The Dons finished last season with a very similar record to the Peterborough side that finished runners up in the third tier in 2009 but finished rock bottom of the Championship a year later. Preston are comparable with the Scunthorpe team that won League One in 2007 but finished 23rd in the Championship at the end of the following season.

One thing to note: last season Wigan became the first team since Leeds in 2008 to have reached the playoffs and then been relegated. If anything else, that’s a crumb of comfort for Derby, Middlesbrough and Ipswich fans.

Goals:

Last season saw an average of 2.67 goals per game, the highest figure for a couple of seasons but still some way off the 2.74 per game in the 2010/11 campaign. Only twice in the last ten seasons has the average been under 2.5 goals so I’d expect another season where there’ll be plenty of goals.

Cups:

Forget it. It’s almost 36 years since a second tier side won the FA Cup and next spring it will have been a quarter of a century since Sheffield Wednesday beat Manchester United in the League Cup final. I’d be very surprised if there wasn’t at least one club from the Championship that reached the quarter finals of both competitions, but the big prize in this competition is promotion.



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2015/16 Sky Bet Championship Preview Part 4

Mike Roberts - Friday 07.08.15, 10:18am

The last part of the 2015/16 preview of the Sky Bet Championship season. Don’t forget that Brighton v Nottingham Forest is live this evening (kick off 7:45pm, Sky Sports 1HD and Sky Sports 5HD), Leeds entertain Burnley tomorrow (noon, SS1HD and SS5HD) and Middlesbrough travel to Preston (Sunday at noon, SS5 HD). Talking of Preston…

Preston

Manager: Simon Grayson

Promoted to League One via the playoffs

Last ten games (League One only, not counting playoffs):

Promotion: 14/1

Relegation: 5/1

First season back in the second tier since 2010/11 but don’t read too much into their easy passage through the League One playoffs. Grayson knows the territory but wasn’t particularly impressive with either Huddersfield or Leeds and there are concerns about being over reliant on Joe Garner and Jermaine Beckford for goals as well as lacking something of a killer instinct. Capable of a mid table finish but a lot may depend on the outcomes of their derbies against their three Lancashire rivals; could struggle if results don’t go their way early on.

QPR

Manager: Chris Ramsey

Relegated from the Premier League

Last ten games: 2-2-6 (Premier League)

Promotion: 6/1

Relegation: 12/1

Very much a yo-yo club in recent seasons: too good for the Championship but nowhere near Premier League standards. The last time they were in the second tier their away record was appalling and I am on record as writing that Derby should have gone up instead of them a couple of seasons ago: that aspect of their performance was why they were relegated last season. Chris Ramsey has received plaudits from plenty of pundits about his coaching ability, but as we’ve seen elsewhere, successful sides in the Championship tend to have managers with experience in the competition and Ramsey doesn’t have that yet. He’s also overseen an overpriced celebrity clear out, but may also find his hands tied due to FFP and so I can’t see an immediate return to the Premier League even if the bookies do.

Reading

Manager: Steve Clarke

Third consecutive season in the Championship

Last ten games: 1-3-7

Promotion: 11/1

Relegation: 11/2

Don’t let the comparatively straightforward run to the FA Cup semi finals last season fool you: the Royals regressed dramatically under Nigel Adkins and although Steve Clarke managed to save Reading from a relegation battle, it was their lowest finishing position in the second tier since 1998, which doesn’t bode well for this campaign. Former Fulham striker Orlando Sa is an interesting acquisition but it’s the defence that needs attention: the clean sheet at Derby in May was their first away shut out since February. We should have a very good idea of how 2015/16 will pan out by the end of September. If the Royals begin as badly as they ended last season, it could be a long season in Berkshire.

Rotherham United

Manager: Steve Evans

Second consecutive season in the Championship

Last ten games: 2-3-5

Promotion: 40/1

Relegation: 11/8

It’s all very well playing the underdog role but United shot themselves in the foot at the end of last season with a needless points deduction due to administrative reasons. Rotherham took over from Barnsley in the role of the South Yorkshire club that will struggle for a few seasons and depend on three other clubs being worse than them before being relegated, but there’s every chance that they might not even last that long. Only five teams won fewer games (four of whom went down) and four sides scored fewer goals. Evans is clearly trying to build a squad full of Championship experience but Ben Pringle’s departure to Fulham is a serious blow.

Sheffield Wednesday

Manager: Carlos Carvalhal

Fourth consecutive season in the Championship

Last ten games: 2-5-3

Promotion: 7/1

Relegation: 15/2

Stuart Gray was replaced during the summer as the new board had decided to search for a ‘big name’, but let’s be honest: Carvalhal isn’t well known to Championship supporters and Grey’s tenure at Hillsborough was exemplified by some turgid football at home (eleven home draws and the fewest home goals of any team last season). They’ve not managed a top half finish at this level since 2007 and although there have been some interesting comings and goings at the club during the close season, I don’t expect that record to be broken in 2015/16 as Carvalhal will need at least one season to get used to the demands of the second tier. The worst case scenario is being drawn into relegation battle.

Wolves

Manager: Kenny Jackett

Second consecutive season in the Championship

Promotion: 4/1

Relegation: 20/1

Only missed out on the playoffs due to goal difference and although their first season back at this level was impressive, a five game losing streak in November and an inability to pick up away points against the better sides in the competition in 2014/15 indicated that Wolves have room for improvement. Adding Adam Le Fondre to a strike force which already includes Nuoha Dicko and Benik Afobe is a sign that Kenny Jackett is ready to launch a bid for automatic promotion and I’d be surprised if they don’t reach the playoffs at the very least.



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Tags: Preston · QPR · Reading · Rotherham · Sheffield Wednesday · Wolves

2015/16 Sky Bet Championship Preview Part 3

Mike Roberts - Monday 03.08.15, 08:16am

Here’s the penultimate part of the preview of the 2015/16 season in the Sky Bet Championship. The prices were the best on offer at Oddschecker.com on 1st July and are unlikely to be still available. If some of them are, it’s usually an indication that there’s been little or no money wagered on the specific outcomes mentioned below.

Hull City

Manager: Steve Bruce

Relegated from the Premier League

Last ten games: 2-2-6

Promotion: 10/3 (second favourites)

Relegation: 40/1

If the Tigers’ recent history is anything to go by, they’ll have a fairly poor first half of the season in the Championship because any new signings will take a while to settle and judging by past performance Hull won’t be promoted again until May 2018. I’d say middle third with an outside shot at the playoffs but that’s what I thought about Fulham last season: however Steve Bruce has a lot of experience as a manager at this level , so I’d expect quite a few 1-0 wins at the KC Stadium.

Ipswich Town

Manager: Mick McCarthy

12th consecutive season in the Championship

Last ten games: 5-2-3 (doesn’t include last season’s playoff semi finals)

Promotion: 8/1

Relegation: 12/1

Reaching the playoffs was a massive step in the right direction and the Tractor Boys were doing well until Christophe Berra was dismissed in the second leg of the playoff semi final, but it’s hard to assess how Town will do this season. At best I’d expect a challenge for automatic promotion and although I can’t see them finishing any lower than tenth, they’ll need just as many goals from Darryl Murphy to be serious contenders. However, expecting a striker coming to the end of his career to reach 20 goals might be unrealistic, which is presumably why Brett Pittman was acquired from Bournemouth. Teenage Arsenal loanee Ainsley Maitland-Niles might also be worth keeping an eye on.

Leeds United

Manager: Uwe Rosler

Last ten games: 2-3-5

Sixth season in the Championship

Promotion: 11/1

Relegation: 6/1

The farce at Elland Road continued until Neil Redfearn stepped in once again and started grinding out results at roughly the same time that Massimo Cellino was banned from being a director. At that point Leeds seemed to be back to their mid 1950s incarnation of a mid table second tier team that’s hard to beat, but Uwe Rosler’s appointment should set all sorts of alarms off. It’s now abundantly clear that Mark Warburton was the brains behind Brentford’s dramatic improvement over the last couple of seasons and Rosler’s spell at Wigan was thoroughly unimpressive. I’m not expecting anything other than the bottom half of the table yet again for United, but there’s also a real chance that Leeds could be caught up in a relegation firefight.

Middlesbrough

Manager: Aitor Karanka

Last ten games: 6-1-3 (doesn’t include last season’s playoffs)

Seventh consecutive season in the Championship

Promotion: 7/2 (third favourites)

Relegation: 28/1

Uh oh. Playoff final defeats tend to result in rather large hangovers and Aitor Karanka will have to motivate his team after a disappointing loss so soon after automatic promotion looked like a real possibility. 2014/15 was the best season for the Teesiders for some time though and should be there or there abouts again this season but it remains to be seen how well Kike and Grant Ledbitter perform now that Patrick Bamford has moved on. Generally speaking though, Boro are on the up: it was only three seasons ago they finished five points ahead of Peterborough, who were relegated.

MK Dons

Manager: Karl Robinson

Last ten games: 9-1-0

Promoted as League One runners up.

Promotion: 14/1

Relegation: 5/1

First ever season at this level so it’s hard to gauge what might happen, but I’ll be astonished of they’re able to dominate their opponents at home in the same way as they did in League One last season, especially as Dele Alli, Will Grigg and Benik Afobe have all left and don’t seem to have ¬†been adequately replaced. I wouldn’t be too surprised if they get off to a reasonable start but that may be due to none of their early opponents presenting much of a challenge rather than the Dons being better than expected. We should know more about them by the end of September but my gut feeling is that we’re looking at a side who will perform similarly to Peterborough’s recent championship campaigns.

Nottingham Forest

Manager: Dougie Freedman

Last ten games: 1-3-6

Eighth season in the Championship

Promotion: 7/1

Relegation: 14/1

The bookies must love Forest. Every summer they’re priced up among the favourites to attract punters who haven’t done their homework and see Forest as a ‘big’ team in the competition because of their fabled successes almost four decades ago. By Christmas they’re usually struggling to stay in the playoffs before dropping into the top half of the table and sacking the manager. I can’t see that being any different in 2015/16 – they were terrible at the end of last season – but I can see new signing Matt Mills scoring at least one own goal.



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Tags: Hull City · Ipswich · Leeds United · MK Dons · Middlesbrough · Nottm Forest

2015/16 Sky Bet Championship Preview Part 2

Mike Roberts - Thursday 23.07.15, 15:18pm

Part two of this season’s preview, including three of the clubs that could be amongst the front runners. Once again, the prices mentioned below were taken from Oddschecker.com on 1st July and will fluctuate throughout the season.

Channel 5 announced the presenters for ‘Football League Tonight’ yesterday and although the show hasn’t begun yet, the choices look pretty solid to me.

Burnley

Manager: Sean Dyche

Relegated from the Premier League

Last ten games: 3-2-5 (Premier League)

Promotion: 9/2

Relegation: 20/1

One of the better teams in the Championship before being promoted in 2014 and although it’s a terrible old cliche, the Clarets should be ‘there or there abouts’ next May, especially after capturing Jelle Vossen, who probably should have scored more goals for Middlesbrough. Despite only having one season in The Promised Land, the experience (and the cash) the Clarets gained will be invaluable. Should be capable of a top ten finish at the very least, but automatic promotion might be wishful thinking as it took four seasons to win it last time and five seasons before winning it in 2009. On a side note, this is easily the best period in the history of the club since the 1970s: almost 30 years ago Burnley nearly dropped out of the league altogether.

Cardiff City

Manager: Russell Slade

Second season in the Championship

Last ten games: 5-3-2

Promotion: 8/1

Relegation: 8/1

I never thought Ole Gunnar Solksjaer was never going to work out as a manager in English football so early in his career, but what looked like a so-so season after relegation was salvaged by a very impressive end of season sequence that bodes well if Cardiff can maintain that form. It’s easy to see why the bookies are unsure about their prospects this season: they’ve not finished in the bottom of the half of the Championship since 2004/05 and they reached the playoffs in three consecutive seasons before promotion in 2013. If Shola Ameobi and Kenwyne Jones can form a decent partnership watch out.

Charlton

Manager: Guy Luzon

Fourth season in the Championship.

Last ten games: 3-3-4

Promotion: 25/1

Relegation: 10/3 (second favourites)

Those odds for relegation look wrong to me and here’s why. Despite being a rich man’s plaything, the Addicks did seem to turn a corner after the previously obscure Guy Luzon got the job: they lost only seven of his 20 league games in charge and ¬†although they drew too many games to be promotion contenders, Charlton were far better than they were under Bob Peeters and could be amongst the front runners this time. They’ll need to be more consistent in 2015/16 and the key to that may be more goals from Igor Vetekele. This season will be their longest period at this level since the mid 1990s,which could be another reason the bookies think they may be relegated.

Derby County

Manager: Paul Clement (appointed June 2015)

Eighth season in the Championship

Last ten games: 2-5-3

Promotion: 11/4 favourites

Relegation: 33/1

They ought to change their nickname to The Bridesmaids rather than the Rams. Defeated playoff finalists don’t have a particularly good record in the following season, but even though the Rams only dropped out of the automatic places in March they still looked as if they’d be playoff certainties. Yet they saved their worst form of the season for the most important part of it and the defensive collapse over the last three games seemed to indicate that Steve McClaren was unable to do anything about the malaise that had descended on the club. Expect a regression to mid table; Paul Clement may have an impressive CV but even if he’s half as good as Aitor Karanka is he’ll still need a season in the Championship to get used to the weekly insanity.

Fulham

Manager: Kit Symons

Second season in the Championship

Last ten games: 3-4-3

Promotion: 8/1

Relegation: 9/1

Ultimately a forgettable season, even if 2014/15 at Craven Cottage should be seen as warning to the Premier League bottom feeders that there’s a huge difference between the Promised Land and the Championship. Kit Symons’ side should be too good to go down – especially as there won’t be an unexpected culture shock this term – but with the defence having conceded 80 plus goals in both of the last two seasons, it’s really easy to see where the changes should be made. If they start getting decent results away from home against the promotion contenders and can win both games against more than one team, Fulham should finish higher than they did last season but the summer signings so far indicate that packing the midfield seems to be the way forward.

Huddersfield

Manager: Chris Powell

Fourth season in the Championship

Last ten games: 2-7-1

Promotion: 33/1

Relegation: 9/2

There was a change of manager very early on that resulted in a slight improvement based on the ‘hard to beat’ style of mid table survivalism that eventually got Chris Powell the boot at Charlton, but the best that Terriers fans can hope for is another modest step forward and that can only be achieved by consistency and winning a few of the games they drew last season. As I pointed out at the beginning of 2014/15, it’s been a while since Town finished in the top half of the second tier and that’s probably an unrealistic target once again, there are worse places to be than plodding along in the bottom half of the table without the immediate threat of relegation. Finishing above Leeds might be something to aim for and if you’ve not seen or heard of Jordy Hiwula before, you might be in for a treat.



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Tags: Burnley · Cardiff · Championship Teams · Charlton · Derby · Fulham · Huddersfield Town

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