GOTW: Sheffield United v Bristol City

It’s a couple of weeks before I my annual post about how the Boxing Day table has a correlation to the final one, but the ten point gap between Wolves and Bristol City looks highly significant.

At the bottom, Bolton finally seem to have woken up and their recent form – eight points from 15 – has given the relegation zone a very competitive look for the first time in 2017/18.

One new appointment: Nigel Adkins was appointed Hull City manager this morning. I’m willing to give him a ‘wait and see’ period, but his spells at Reading – the last time he managed at this level – and Sheffield United weren’t exactly successful and he’s got a lot to prove.

The game of the week is televised, so without any further ado…

Sheffield United v Bristol City (tomorrow, 7:45pm, Sky Sports Football and Sky Sports Main Event)

Suddenly there’s a vulnerability about The Blades that hasn’t been seen since the start of the season: three defeats in their last six, without a home win since the start of last month and no clean sheets at Bramall Lane since mid October.

City are on a nine game unbeaten away run that will have to end at some point but they’ve scored as many goals on their travels this season as Wolves and have actually earned one more point on the road than they have at Ashton Gate.

Head to head: Sheffield United have won eight of the last ten league games between the clubs in South Yorkshire; City’s only other win since the start of the 1957/58 season was in August 2014, when they went on to win League One

Top Six Comparison: in the dozen games between the current top six so far this season there’ve only been two away wins, but only Bristol City haven’t lost any of their four matches against their immediate competitors.  Sheffield United have already beaten Derby and Wolves at home but this is their first game against another club currently in the top six since the end of September. Interestingly, neither Aston Villa or Derby have beaten any of the teams currently above them in seven attempts this season

Additionally, there are two games featuring teams at both ends of the table:

Barnsley v Derby

It’s now pretty obvious that The Tykes over achieved last season and have now reverted back to the team that finished between 17th and 21st for seven consecutive seasons before being relegated to League One in 2014. As I mentioned above, although Derby are in the top six, they’ve yet to prove they can compete directly with the other teams for whom promotion is the aim this season.

Wolves v Sunderland

Wolves have won seven of their last eight at Molineux; Sunderland finally ended their miserable away form at Burton at the end of November, but in the grand scheme of things that’s hardly an achievement.

Televised games: Norwich v Sheffield Wednesday (Saturday, 5:30pm, Sky Sports Football and Sky Sports Main Event) is another one of those games that looked good on paper at the end of last season. Reading v Cardiff (Monday, 8:00pm, Sky Sports Football and Sky Sports Main Event) is far more interesting than it would have been a few weeks ago: the Royals have improved at home and Cardiff have only won twice at the Mad House since they were promoted back to the Championship.

Finally this week, the last post of 2017 will appear on either 22nd or 23rd of December and I’m currently trying to think of a creative angle for it. The first post of 2018 will be the FA Cup Third Round Preview, which will appear at the earliest on Thursday 4th January.

FA Cup Third Round Draw

The draw for the Third Round of the FA Cup was made last night and I think it’s fair to say that it wasn’t particularly favourable for Championship teams.

There’ll be four guaranteed places in the Fourth Round, but with seven clubs facing Premier League opposition it’s not out of the question that half the teams in the division might not make it past the first hurdle.

The ties – to be played over 5th to the 8th of January – are as follows:

Championship v Premier League

Bolton Wanderers v Huddersfield Town, Fulham v Southampton, Manchester United v Derby, Norwich v Chelsea, Nottingham Forest v Arsenal, Watford v Bristol City and Wolves v Swansea.

All Championship

Birmingham City v Burton Albion, Ipswich Town v Sheffield United, Middlesbrough v Sunderland, Millwall v Barnsley

Championship v League One

QPR v MK Dons

Championship v League Two:

Brenford v Notts County, Cardiff City v Mansfield Town, Newport v Leeds United, Stevenage v Reading, Wycombe v Preston

Dependent on replays:

Aston Villa v Woking or Peterborough United, Blackburn or Crewe v Hull City, Gillingham or Carlisle United v Sheffield Wednesday.

I’ll be back on Thursday.

Slutsky No Longer Manager At Hull

It’s hard to believe that there are still Championship clubs who think appointing a manager with absolutely no experience in British football is going to work out well.

That’s exactly what Hull City did with Leonid Slutsky in June.

Ten defeats in 21 games, no home win since the end of September, seventeen points dropped from winning positions and with only two teams having conceded more goals at the moment, it was becoming increasingly obvious that the decision had backfired. So it wasn’t a huge surprise that Slutsky – who had started to predict his own demise – was sacked yesterday.

Slutsky joins a long list of names that have failed in the competition that includes Sami Hyypia, Walter Zenga, Roberto di Matteo, Henning Berg, Jose Riga, Marinus Dijkhuizen, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, Bob Peeters, Guy Luzon, Karel Fraye (I’d completely forgotten him), Darko Milanic and arguably the king of them all: Felix Magath.

Unbelievably, Nigel Adkins – who hasn’t managed in the Championship for three years and turned Sheffield United into a bog standard mid table League One side – is apparently amongst the favourites to succeed Slutsky.


Middlesbrough’s Title Challenge Is Still on Track

Middlesbrough were amongst the pre-season favourites for the Championship title, with many punters expecting the Teesside outfit to
bounce back from the disappointment of Premier League relegation.

Unfortunately, Boro made a slow start to the season with a string of
inconsistent performances, yet they still remain on the edge of the
playoffs and following their 2-o victory against Birmingham, they appear
to have put themselves back in the promotion picture.

Source: Away Games via Twitter

Middlesbrough started the campaign with a narrow 1-0 defeat at Molineux,
which left fans disappointed after a summer of upheaval. The club
appointed former Leeds boss Garry Monk, who quickly made some
eye-catching additions to his squad. Experienced midfielder Johnny
Howson arrived in Teesside and was joined by Darren Randolph, Ashley
Fletcher, Martin Braithwaite and prolific frontman Britt Assombalonga as
the club assembled a squad to fire them back up to the top flight.
During their promotion campaign under Aitor Karanka, Middlesbrough’s
home form was key to their success and they began this campaign with
three wins from four at the Riverside but narrow defeats against Norwich
and Cardiff saw fans become a little impatient. Many pundits feel that
the Teessiders haven’t quite hit top gear yet with many of their
victories coming against struggling opponents. There have been flashes
of brilliance but this side has largely underwhelmed yet they remain
sixth in the Championship table.

Source: Goodbrand Stats via Twitter

Britt Assombalonga has hit the ground running since joining the club and
has scored nine times in his first 17 appearances, including netting
three doubles against Burton, Birmingham and Bolton. He notched the last
goal of the match during their recent narrow defeat at Elland Road, as
correctly predicted by Oddschecker, and almost got his side a valuable
point from their trip to West Yorkshire.

Middlesbrough cannot risk their season simply petering out and must
ensure the fans stay onside during their upcoming home fixtures. There
are few stadiums less intimidating than the Riverside at near-full
capacity and they must use that to their advantage. Following Steve
Gibson’s summer investment, Garry Monk and his coaching team must guide their talented side back to the Premier League. Wolves lead the way and look a certainty for promotion leaving a further automatic spot up for
grabs or the possibility of progressing via the playoffs.

The chairman’s claim that Middlesbrough are going to “smash it” may have raised expectations but fans are expecting their side to challenge this
campaign. Monk is still finding his best starting eleven but with over
£40 million worth of talent added during the summer, the pressure is on
Boro to maintain their position in the top six.

A Big Weekend At Both Ends

I’m afraid it’s going to have to be a brief post this week, entirely due to circumstances of my own making.

Last week’s game of the week finished all square:

This weekend Wolves cannot be overtaken at the top even if they lose; both Cardiff and Sheffield United will remain in second and third places but then there are four clubs vying for the remaining three playoff positions. At the bottom, Sunderland – who appointed Chris Coleman as their new manager last Sunday – are the only club that cannot escape the bottom three this weekend, but Birmingham could drop back into the relegation zone if Bolton win or Burton draw and the Blues lose.

This is where it gets interesting: this weekend there are three games where clubs from the top six play sides from the bottom six. Wolves and Sheffield United are at home to Bolton Wanderers and Birmingham City respectively; Bristol City travel to Hull City. If that wasn’t enough, Burton Albion entertain Sunderland at the Pirelli Stadium.

Televised games: Barnsley v Leeds United (tomorrow, 12:30pm kick off, Sky Sports Football/Main Event) – should be an excellent atmosphere at Oakwell, but neither side is in the best of form at the moment. Sheffield United v Birmingham (tomorrow evening, 5:30pm, Sky Sports Football) will be an interesting one considering what happened at Bramall Lane earlier this week:

There’s a rare Monday night televised game but I have to admit that I laughed when I saw what it was: QPR v Brentford. Both sides are in the bottom half of the table and Loftus Road is about a 30 minute drive from Sky’s HQ in Isleworth. Yet another example of lazing planning.

Over the next couple of weeks I’m aiming for posts on Thursday, as I’ve got a 50th birthday party on the Friday and a 40th the week after that – there might be a lot of disruption over the next few weeks, so stay tuned.