Stubbs Out, Jackett In At Rotherham

I’ll start by reporting another managerial change: unsurprisingly, Alan Stubbs was sacked by Rotherham after only five months in charge. The Millers are currently on target to be even worse than Blackpool were a couple of seasons ago; Rotherham set a club record for consecutive away defeats on Tuesday when they lost 4-2 at Birmingham. It didn’t take long to confirm Stubbs’ replacement: welcome back Kenny Jackett, you’ve got your work cut out for you.

On to this weekend and any of the top four could be in pole position on Saturday evening. At the bottom it’ll be an interesting round of matches for the three clubs currently between Derby and Rotherham: Blackburn travel to Bristol City and Cardiff visit Nottingham Forest. I’ll come to Wigan‘s game in a moment.

Here’s the shortlist for game of the week:

Burton v Birmingham (this evening, Sky Sports 1, 7:45pm)

Nigel Clough’s side aren’t that bad at home (just two defeats so far) but those defeats – along with a 3-1 reverse at Norwich last month – were against the better teams in the section, something that does not bode well for their televised game against the Blues. You know what’s coming next: having written that, both of Birmingham’s defeats so far this season have been in derbies and Burton is closer to Birmingham than Nottingham is…

Huddersfield v Derby

I’ve not had a reply for the Terriers fan who contacted the site a few weeks ago to take issue with my description of Huddersfield’s form as being unsustainable, so I’ll just comment that they’ve lost four of their last seven and are 12th in the current six game form table. That being written, they’re still the most improved team in the competition although I think they may just miss out on the playoffs.

Derby have only lost once in their last six outings and still have a formidable looking defence – only Brighton and Ipswich have conceded fewer goals – but the combination of a poor start, managerial chaos and no discernible goalscorer may well have ended their hopes of automatic promotion this season. If they can find a striker, the playoffs may not be out of contention but they’d need a hell of a run of form to pull that off.

Fascinating fact: Derby won 2-1 at Huddersfield almost exactly a year ago, but that was the Rams first win there since Boxing Day 1995.

Wigan v Brighton

Wigan seem to have turned some sort of a corner: after losing four of their first six games after promotion they’ve only lost once since the middle of September – even though they had to rely on a late goal to earn a point at Leeds on Tuesday night. Overall the Latics are not much better than the side that was relegated two seasons ago, but it’s probably fair to say that their fixtures have been tougher than average.

Brighton’s only away defeat so far was at Newcastle at the end of August and although they’ve only conceded two goals in seven games against teams currently in the bottom half, they’re slightly off the pace they set themselves last season. Let’s not forget that was good enough for the playoffs though – and they’ve yet to concede a goal in six games against clubs currently in the bottom ten positions.

Fascinating fact: Wigan have won our of the last five meetings between the sides in Lancashire. Considering they’ve only ever played Brighton in the North West seven times, that’s not bad going.

Finally this week, A reminder that I won’t be posting next weekend. I’ll be back in a fortnight with the next market report so I’ll see you then.


Fundraising Trio Visit 92 Football League Grounds In 92 Hours

October 19 2016 – Staff from audio branding specialist PHMG have raised over £2,500 for charity after completing a whistle-stop tour of all 92 Football League grounds in under 92 hours.

(L to R) Alan Aspden, Kristian Hunt and Luke Walker at Middlesbrough's Riverside Stadium during their 92 in 92 challenge.
(L to R) Alan Aspden, Kristian Hunt and Luke Walker at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium during their 92 in 92 challenge.

Kristian Hunt, Alan Aspden and Luke Walker took on the football-themed endurance test in aid of Manchester-based charity Once Upon a Smile, covering 2,300 miles – equivalent to the distance between Manchester and Moscow.

They kicked off the challenge at The Alexandra Stadium, home to League Two club Crewe Alexandra, and completed their goal at Old Trafford, just half a mile from PHMG headquarters.

The three-man team travelled as far south as Plymouth Argyle’s Home Park and as far north as St James’ Park, the home of Newcastle United.

Hunt, who is Client Services Director at PHMG said: “It was a tough task as we had to keep travelling almost continuously throughout the 92 hours, grabbing sleep when we could while someone else was driving.

“But, as football fans, it seemed like the ideal opportunity for us to raise money for such a worthy cause. We are all impressed by the great work done by Once Upon a Smile and wanted to do our bit to help.”

PHMG has already held several fundraising events in aid of Once Upon a Smile this year through the company’s official charity the PHMG Foundation. These included a football match where a team from PHMG took on the Once Upon a Smile all-stars, including Owen Coyle, Cell Spellman and Jake Quickenden.

The PHMG Foundation has already raised £26,000 for a series of good causes throughout 2016 and is working towards a target of £30,000 by the end of the year, which will be matched by an equivalent donation from PHMG.

Midweek Preview 18th/19th October 2016

The only game featuring the usual formula of top six/bottom six/any combination thereof is the latest episode of the Rotherham ‘Farewell To The Championship’ tour (the Millers visit Birmingham) so today’s post is just a quick catch up.

Norwich took over at the top after beating Rotherham; Huddersfield fell out of the top two after losing at home to Sheffield Wednesday on Sunday. Wednesday are now only outside the top six due to an inferior goal average but were arguably the weekend’s big gainers as many of the clubs around them failed to win. More about Wednesday later.

At the bottom, Cardiff and Derby both won their first games under new management but Aston Villa blew another lead at home (the fourth time in five games) on Saturday evening and are still in 20th place.

There could be some changes in the top ten this evening: potentially the most interesting game is Villa’s trip to Reading. The Royals haven’t won any of their last three games, but a victory could see the Berkshire club return to the top six, especially if Cardiff can maintain their form against Sheffield Wednesday. Blackburn (at home to Nottingham Forest) and Wigan (who travel to Leeds) could escape the bottom three if they win, but considering Blackburn have only won twice at Ewood Park since April that’s unlikely. On the other hand, Wigan have won two of their previous three trips to Elland Road in league games.

I’ll be back on Friday to take a look at the weekend action but before I go, there won’t be a weekend post for the weekend of the 28th/29th October as I am visiting some of my wife’s relations in Yorkshire during half term.

Back To The Future With Bruce, McClaren and Warnock

Welcome to this week’s post, which I’ve been planning for two weeks and includes one of my rare forays into editorial opinion. First things first though: let’s have a big hand for Steve Bruce, Steve McClaren and Neil Warnock in particular.

This is both NSFW and a thing of profound beauty.

July 13th 2016, Aston Villa preview: ‘Questionable morale at the end of last season plus adjustments on and off the field mean that they’re more likely to be Fulham than Newcastle’

New boss: Steve Bruce. Immediate reaction: expect a very painful transitional period to a defence first mentality with lots of 1-0 wins.

July 21st 2016, Cardiff City preview: ‘but at for now the defence isn’t good enough and the Bluebirds failed to beat any of the teams in the top half of the Championship away from the City of Cardiff Stadium last season. Trollope – who hasn’t managed a team for almost six years – is untested at this level and could have something of a baptism of fire.’

New boss: Neil Warnock. Gut reaction: the Bluebirds will be a mid table team by the time I start writing about Championship teams in the FA Cup.

Same date, Derby County preview: ‘If Derby don’t go up this season, I’ll eat my hat. Although I probably ought to point out that my hat is a pork pie hat.’

New boss: Steve McClaren. Gut reaction: is that the best you could do?

It’s not even three months later and all three of the clubs mentioned above have now replaced the managers they began the season with. When I re-read those extracts the only one that really surprises me is Derby, but it’s easy being wise after the event: the other two are spot on. I’m just a modest blogger, albeit one that’s been posting on an almost weekly basis about the Championship for over six years – so if I could tell what was going to happen at Aston Villa and Cardiff this season, why couldn’t their multimillionaire Asian owners?

I think the answer may be partly because of the way the clubs perceive themselves. Of the 24 teams in the 2016/17 Championship, only ten haven’t played at least one season in the Premier League over the last decade. Of the fourteen clubs that have played in the top flight over that period, only three – Aston Villa, Newcastle and Wigan – have spent more than half of the last ten seasons in the top flight. That indicates to me that Villa are clearly out of their comfort zone – this season is only their eleventh outside the top flight since the end of World War II – and may have thought that all they need to do was turn up every week and they’d be promoted at a canter: the owner, the fans (who are probably the most deluded group in the Championship on social media), the former manager and the players have suddenly come to the uncomfortable realisation that the Championship doesn’t work like that. And yes, I am old enough (just) to remember when Villa were a third tier side in the early 1970s.

On the other hand, Cardiff have spent most of their time since the end of the Second World War in the second tier. That period also includes 18 seasons in the bottom half of the football league between 1985 and 2003, so the current performance may just be a natural regression to the mean. I started prepping this article before Neil Warnock was appointed manager and I think that’s a great short term decision although as you can see above it could work both ways.

At the other end of the scale, in the case of Brentford and Preston, The Beatles have come and gone since they were last in the top flight and you’d have to be at least 50 to remember when Huddersfield were a first division team – once again, I do. All three are currently doing better than Aston Villa.

Games of the Week:

Cardiff v Bristol City (this evening, SS1, 7:45pm)

A lot can change in a year: after 11 games last season, Cardiff were two points off the play offs and City were in the bottom four. Those positions are almost reversed for this game, largely due to changes of manager at both clubs but this match should give us some sort of indication of the impact Warnock has had in two weeks as Cardiff manager as well as Bristol City’s credentials as a possible playoff team.

The Robins haven’t won at Cardiff in a league game since December 2002 and have lost six of their last seven trips across the Severn Bridge, but this is Cardiff’s first home game this season against any of the current top six and City haven’t lost any of their games against teams currently in the bottom half of the table.

Norwich v Rotherham (Saturday 3pm, no TV coverage)

The Canaries should return to the top of the pile before Sunday’s Yorkshire derby between Huddersfield and Sheffield Wednesday (SS2, 2pm kick off). The Millers last won at Norwich three months before England won the 1966 World Cup although it’s only right for me to point out that four of the last six encounters in Norfolk have ended all square. It’s also right for me to point out that Norwich’s current run of four straight home wins is their best performance at this level for over a decade; if Rotherham lose their next four games, they’ll have equalled their own record for consecutive defeats, set in the mid 1950s.

That’s all for this week, I’ll be back at the start of next week with a look at the midweek games.

Never A Dull Moment

Last weekend I found myself wondering exactly how much longer the Championship would last without a major story line. I didn’t have to wait too long for the answer: when I starting putting this post together on Thursday, the following events had taken place:

  • Nigel Pearson was suspended by Derby before Tuesday’s game at Cardiff, allegedly because of an argument with the club owner Mel Morris.
  • Tommy Wright (who was eventually sacked by Barnsley) and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink of QPR being included in the Daily Telegraph investigation into alleged corruption that made Sam Allardyce’s position as England manager untenable. Oh and Mr. Cellino of Leeds is also apparently involved.
  •  Newcastle beating Norwich in dramatic fashion on Wednesday:

So there you go. The games to keep an eye on tomorrow are a pair of matches in a top six/bottom six double bill: Brentford v Wigan and Rotherham v Newcastle. The televised game is Norwich against Wolves (SS2, 5:30pm)

Anyway, I promised that the second part of the market reports series would feature this week, so here it is:

It won’t come as much of a surprise to read that Newcastle, Norwich and Brighton have all seen their odds for promotion shorten over the last month, something that’s underlined by the fact that the three of them are the clear favourites in the ‘Top Six Finish’ markets.

After that, it starts to get interesting: Huddersfield are still available at 4/1 for promotion, but they aren’t really a decent proposition in the ‘Top Six’ market. Surprisingly, despite their recent form the bookies are still very unsure about Sheffield Wednesday: the Owls odds for promotion drifted between after the season began, but are now the same  – 4/1 – as they were at the start of July.

At the bottom, Rotherham have been cut to 3/10 for the drop, which is – to put it in laymen’s terms – a 75% chance of relegation. The Millers are a classic case of a poor team performing at an ever lower level than they did last season and although there’s still three quarters of the season left, at this point it’s difficult to make a case for them staying up. Oddly enough, the best strategy for the Millers might be to lay them for relegation on the exchanges and then trade out if Alan Stubbs’ side puts a decent run together.

Over the last four weeks, Derby, Fulham and QPR have all had their odds for relegation slashed. However, there appear to be different reasons for this. Derby have been poor and QPR were probably overrated before the season started but Fulham have actually been performing at a slightly better level than they were this time last season. The most interesting move has been Cardiff: my current projection has them relegated on goal difference along with Blackburn and Rotherham.

I’d perhaps wait until after the international break if you’re thinking about betting on some of these markets. One of the rumours doing the rounds on social media is that David Wagner may move from Huddersfield to Derby, which would not only be a questionable career move but would also have implications for both clubs. Then there’s the situation at Cardiff if Paul Trollope gets the chop, which is also possible.

I’ll be back in a couple of weeks, unless anything dramatic happens. And by dramatic, I mean really dramatic, like the discovery of football on Mars or something.