Mike Roberts - Monday 21.04.14, 19:48pm
First of all, apologies for not posting yesterday – I got back far later than I’d anticipated.
After a dramatic afternoon in the Championship, it’s congratulations to Burnley, who won promotion to the Premier League after four seasons in the second tier. First half goals from Ashley Barnes and Michael Kightly ensured a win over Wigan.
At the bottom of the table, Yeovil conceded a last minute goal to Huddersfield at Huish Park and now have to rely on other teams slipping up to preserve their status as a Championship team. Blackpool dropped into the bottom three for the first time this season despite coming behind to earn a point at Brighton and look as if they’re in deep trouble.
I’ll definitely be back on Friday
Mike Roberts - Thursday 17.04.14, 22:50pm
So it’s been almost two weeks since I last posted and this is a ‘catch up’ for me as much as anything else.
Regular readers know that I don’t get hysterical about how important Easter is: Leicester were one of my picks to win the Championship in August, just as Burnley were one of my picks to win promotion. At the bottom of the table, three of the five sides I mentioned in that post are facing the drop and as I never tire of repeating, Christmas is far more important if you want a long term view of what’s going to happen.
Anyway, Leicester are up regardless of what happens. Burnley have an eight point lead over Derby with four games left, with – in all likelihood – the Rams and QPR having clinched playoff places. After that, I’d say any of the teams in the top eight could win the last two playoff spots with sixth place – as now – being a toss up between Brighton, Reading and Ipswich. Wigan were leading Arsenal in last weekend’s FA Cup semi final before succumbing to penalties and it’ll be interesting to see how they react to two successive defeats.
There are a couple of stories from the ‘there’s always next year’ angle: Stuart Pearce will be taking over as manager of Nottingham Forest in July and Massimo Cellino’s takeover at Leeds United has finally been ratified. Call me a cynic, but I’ll be surprised if either of these developments will be as successful as the hype currently surrounding them. Wolves will be back in the Championship next season after winning promotion from League One and it’s looking increasingly likely I’ll be posting about Cardiff next season.
At the bottom, Yeovil are five points adrift of safety and even though Barnsley won at Charlton on Tuesday, I still think the Tykes will go down. Charlton now only have one game in hand over their nearest competitors in the bottom six but any of the clubs from Huddersfield onwards could find themselves in trouble with just a couple of poor results over the next couple of weeks. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Millwall overtake Blackpool before the end of the month, but anything could still happen.
Rather than look at the weekend’s programme as a whole, I’ll look at Monday’s games separately. There’s quite a compelling reason to do that as there’s a televised double header on Friday which is not only rare, but also features two of the day’s more intriguing matchups.
The outstanding game of the 3:00pm kick offs is Wigan v Reading. The Latics surprisingly lost at home to Millwall last Tuesday to end an eleven game run without a home defeat and it’s worth pointing out that although Wigan haven’t beaten any of the sides above them at the DW Stadium, they’ve only lost one of their six games against the other teams currently in the top half. Reading lost at Bournemouth on the same night to end their six game undefeated away streak, but the Royals don’t have a great record at Wigan, having only won once in the five league meetings between the two clubs in Lancashire and that was the first time they met – in December 2003.
Friday’s televised games are the Lancashire derby between Blackpool v Burnley (Sky Sports 1, 5:15pm) followed by the (ahem) ’six pointer’ at the Keepmoat between Doncaster and Derby.
Quite frankly, Blackpool’s record at Bloomfield Road has been horrible: since mid December they’ve only won twice in twelve attempts and although they’ve beaten Wigan and Reading this season, the last of those victories was in mid October! Although I’ve got some sympathy for Barry Ferguson, the malaise that the Tangerines find themselves in has been self inflicted and although they’re facing relegation back to the third tier for the first time in eight seasons, if Blackpool manage to stay up but the situation of the field continues in such a shambolic way then next season will be an absolute disaster.
Burnley haven’t lost on the road since Boxing Day but have alternated wins with draws since then and if that pattern continues this one will be a draw – something that’s not happened in games between the two local rivals at Bloomfield Road since 2000 and an outcome that neither of them can really afford at such a crucial point in the season.
At one point recently it looked as if Doncaster’s form at the Keepmoat might keep them up, but with consecutive defeats against Birmingham and Bolton have cast a fairly substantial shadow over Rovers’ prospects of avoiding relegation. To be fair, Donny haven’t lost three homes in a row since they were relegated two seasons ago and have beaten Leicester, QPR and Wigan at home this season. It looks like Derby’s work may be cut out for them in this game, especially as their form has been patchy away from Pride Park recently – one win in five – and there’s never been a draw between the sides in a league game in South Yorkshire.
The only game on Saturday worth keeping an eye on is QPR’s visit to the King Power Stadium to take on champions elect Leicester, although if Derby win at Doncaster that might effectively end any hopes Rangers might have of automatic promotion and could even make them this year’s victims of The Curse Of Fourth Place. Remarkably, Leicester have only won two of the last six league meetings they’ve hosted against QPR but one of the reasons Harry Redknapp’s side have fallen off the pace over the last few months is that they can’t score on the road against their fellow promotion challengers – a fact that doesn’t bode well for their playoff prospects.
I’ll be back on Sunday, but it might be a bit later than usual as I’m travelling during the day.
Mike Roberts - Saturday 05.04.14, 16:59pm
Congratulations to Leicester City on winning promotion to the Premier League this afternoon: having beaten Sheffield Wednesday last night, QPR needed to win at Bournemouth today – and a goal from Louis Grabban after an hour at Dean Court meant that Rangers lost by the odd goal in three.
Edwin Huxley - Wednesday 02.04.14, 18:59pm
Burnley’s one, and so far only foray into the Premier League came in the 2009-10 season but sadly for Clarets fans, the club were immediately relegated and haven’t returned since. In this current campaign, promotion looks assured but are Sean Dyche’s side better equipped to survive in the top flight this time around?
It’s been an impressive season in the Championship and with just seven games to go, Dyche’s men have built up a healthy, nine point lead over third placed QPR. But why have the side been so successful and what areas will Dyche need to address ahead of 2014-15’s likely Premiership campaign?
Brian ‘The Beast’ Jensen was something of a cult figure at Turf Moor but as Burnley’s keeper in 2009-10, opposition players targeted a perceived lack of mobility. That may be a controversial assessment but in 2014-15, former England Under-21 stopper Tom Heaton shouldn’t have similar problems.
Heaton sits behind the meanest defence in the Championship and it’s likely that the manager will keep him at the club as they return to the Premier League. If Dyche seeks an experienced alternative, it’s been reported that Vito Mannone may be on his way out of Sunderland in the summer.
The Clarets have fielded a settled back four in Ben Mee, Kieran Trippier, Michael Duff and the captain Jason Shackell. One of the issues is a lack of top flight experience and that may be one reason why Dyche has brought in the versatile Chris Baird on a short-term deal. If the former West Brom player impresses at Turf Moor, Baird could have a bigger role to play next season.
24-year old Junior Stanislas does bring Premier League experience after spending three years at West Ham and his goal against Doncaster was his third of the campaign. Dean Marney had a brief spell at Spurs before being moved on to Hull and at 30, he will be desperate to prove he can compete in the top flight.
Scott Arfield has also been instrumental in Burnley’s rise up the Championship but unlike his midfield partners, the Scotland B international hasn’t been tested at the highest level. Along with the defence, this is another area where Dyche will feel he has to enter the transfer market.
In order to survive a campaign in the Premier League, Burnley must surely have to hold on to Danny Ings who has already been linked with a number of clubs. Fortunately for Dyche, Premier League managers seem reluctant to take a chance on players from the lower leagues after a number of notable failures including David Nugent and Connor Wickham, so it’s likely that the bigger sides will want to take a look at Ings in the top flight before deciding whether to make a move.
The 21-year old has scored 20 times in 34 league games for the Clarets while striking up a potent partnership with Welsh international Sam Vokes who has 20 in 39. Dyche will want to keep both players in the side but with a lack of experienced cover, a summer signing seems almost certain.
A proven Premiers League player coming to the end of his career may be the best option for Burnley, with West Ham’s Carlton Cole one suggestion.
Malky Mackay’s purchases for Cardiff in the summer of 2012 saw him receive criticism and the sack from club owner Vincent Tan but Sean Dyche is unlikely to want, or need, similar wholesale changes.
There is a good quality core to the side and the players most likely to feature for Burnley next season are Heaton, Shackell, Stanislas, Marney, Vokes and Ings. All that’s needed are a few additions with Premier League experience.
Burnley are as short as 1.06 with Betfair to be promoted but one wonders if the odds on the Clarets staying up next season would be equally slim. Yet there is genuine potential in the current squad and if they are joined by some shrewd acquisitions, the club looks far better equipped to survive in the top flight.
Mike Roberts - Friday 28.03.14, 14:14pm
Well, I wrote at the end of January that I wouldn’t mention Leicester by name again until one of the other promotion contenders were within three points of them – and 56 days later that’s the case!
The only reason the leaders have been caught is because they’ve dropped points against Blackburn and Yeovil in their last couple of games – and as most of you are probably aware, they were seconds away from losing to the Glovers on Tuesday. With the rest of their challengers having either lost or found momentum recently, both Leicester and Burnley have shown a remarkable degree of consistency this season: neither of them have been outside the top three since September and they’ve occupied the top spots since the beginning of last month. If – as seems likely – they both win promotion, it’ll be the first time both teams have played together in the top flight of English football since the mid 1970s.
I’ve looked at tomorrow’s game from multiple angles and the outcome is very unclear, which is all the more reason to watch it on TV (12:15pm, Sky Sports 1) if you can’t actually be at Turf Moor. To begin with, Burnley have only won two of their last ten league meetings with Leicester at home with the last victory coming in August 2010, but the Clarets haven’t lost at home in the Championship for over a year and have won the three home games against the other clubs in the top six. They’re also currently on a five game home winning streak.
From Leicester’s point of view, they’ve only lost four away games this season and three of those defeats fall firmly into the category of surprises. Although they’ve yet to play at either Reading or Wigan, tomorrow’s clash is the first time the Foxes will have played on the road against a team in the current top six since before Christmas. Losing tomorrow wouldn’t be that big a surprise, which makes you wonder if it’s Burnley’s year long streak without a defeat that might be more at risk than any adverse outcome for Leicester.
Burnley need to stop Leicester – and particularly Jamie Vardy – from scoring first. In nine of their last ten away games the Foxes took the lead and only lost once; they won six of those matches but it’s worth remembering that four of those victories were against teams currently in the bottom half of the table. Vardy – who has notched six times in nine away games since the defeat at Sheffield Wednesday – is the only Leicester player other than Anthony Knockaert and David Nugent to have scored more than one goal in that period, but – like Burnley - the current Leicester squad is well balanced and isn’t over reliant on one goalscorer.
When Danny Ings picked up a ligament injury in the middle of the month, Burnley fans might have been forgiven for thinking they might be struggling for goals without him. That’s not happened: Scott Arfield and Sam Vokes in particular have taken on the job in recent games but the defence – currently the stingiest in the Championship along with Brighton – is the foundation of the side: hardly a surprise given that Sean Dyche was one of the best central defenders in the lower half of the league in his playing days.
Looking at the bigger picture, a point would be ideal for both sides but it depends on how much winning the Championship means to both sets of players and their managers. With a ten point gap between Burnley and QPR it’s also conceivable that if either side lost it might not make any difference to their promotion chances.
Before I go, it would be amiss for me not to point out that there are two other games to watch out for: the bookies were probably delighted that Barnsley won at Reading on Tuesday, but the Tykes have to travel to Yeovil tomorrow. Gary Johnson’s side has shown a lot of fighting spirit recently and could even escape the bottom three if Charlton are battered at Derby.
I’m not sure when the next post will be as I’m on a short break before Easter, so until next time enjoy your weekend and I hope your team wins.