2017/18 Preview Part III

Here’s the third part of our club by club guide to the 2017/18 Sky Bet Championship season.

The odds for promotion and relegation were sourced from Oddschecker.com on July 1st and will fluctuate as the season progresses.

Leeds United
  • Manager: Thomas Christiansen (June 2017), eighth season in the Championship
  • Last 10: 2-4-4
  • Promotion 11/2, relegation 14/1

Their highest league position for six years – based on one of the best home defensive records in the competition – wasn’t enough to see United qualify for the playoffs and both the failure to reach the playoffs and the long anticipated change at boardroom level seem to have led to Garry Monk moving to one of the club’s immediate rivals. His successor is untried in English football and by the time he gets used to the Championship it’s possible Leeds may have a lot of ground to make up to reach the playoffs.

Fun fact: Leeds finished seventh in the old Second Division at the end of the 1922/23 season but went on to win the title at the end of the following campaign.

Middlesbrough
  • Manager: Garry Monk (June 2017), relegated from the Premier League
  • Last 10: 1-3-7 (Premier League)
  • Promotion 9/4, relegation: 50/1

On paper, Monk’s appointment is a solid one for a team that had clearly lost its way under Aitor Karanka and hasn’t won an away game since last August; and the speed with which he left Leeds indicates that Steve Gibson clearly knows what he wants. The chairman’s hands off approach has worked with his managers in the past but the big question is whether Brett Assombalonga is going to justify such a large fee. He’s never played a full season at any club and hasn’t managed over 40 games since 2012/13.

Fun fact: the last time both Middlesbrough and Sunderland were both relegated from the Premier League, they finished in second and third place in the second tier at the end of the following season. Only Middlesbrough were promoted: Sunderland lost to Charlton on penalties in the playoff final.

Millwall
  • Manager: Neil Harris (March 2015), promoted from League One
  • Last 10: 6-2-2 (League One, including playoffs)
  • Promotion 33/1, relegation 5/4

Back after two seasons away, it’ll be interesting to see how the Lions respond to a promotion that looked unlikely for most of the season. The FA Cup run proved to both a distraction and inspiration, but their play off spot was only confirmed in the last game of the season and they seized the opportunity with both hands. Having written that, their away form in League One was average (they lost at two of the clubs that were eventually relegated) and they’ve only finished in the top half of the Championship once in the last decade. They proved last season that on their day they can beat anyone, but there’ll need to be quite a few of those days this season if Millwall want to stay out of a relegation dogfight.

Fun fact: Millwall’s last away win in the Championship was at Birmingham in February 2015.

Norwich City
  • Manager: Daniel Farke (May 2017), second season in the Championship
  • Last 10: 5-2-3
  • Promotion 7/2, relegation 40/1

To many neutrals, Alex Neil’s dismissal in March was harsh and seems to have been based on the idea that Norwich should have made more of their aim to win promotion back to the Premier League after an impressive start eventually came to nothing. Last season only Brighton and Reading won more points at home and nobody scored more goals in their home games than the Canaries; if you’re going to nitpick, their record against the teams that eventually finished above them wasn’t good enough, but with three of those sides missing this season and a couple of the others due to suffer playoff hangovers, Daniel Farke may find most of the spadework has been done for him, even though defensively they can be suspect.

Fun fact: last season only Brentford failed to score against Norwich in both league games

Nottingham Forest
  • Manager: Mark Warburton (March 2017), tenth season in the Championship
  • Last 10: 3-2-5
  • Promotion: 12/1, relegation: 11/2

Other than finally managing to sell the club in mid-May, Warburton’s appointment was arguably the best thing the Al-Hasawi family did since they took over at Forest. However, this is a far tougher job than either Brentford or Glasgow Rangers were and although now owner Evangelos Marinakis talks a good game, the Championship is not the Greek Super League. The club has been in decline for several seasons now and were one of the trio that faced relegation on the last day. I can only see this season going two ways: an improvement to mid-table levels or a total disaster from day one. Two away wins last season, the second worse defence in the section and the departure of Brett Assombalonga indicate the latter.

Fun fact: it’s been 19 seasons since Forest played in the Premier League, the longest time in the history of the club that it’s been outside the top tier.

Preston North End
  • Manager: Alex Neil (July 2017), Third season in the Championship
  • Last 10: 2-3-5
  • Promotion 12/1, relegation 5/1

Simon Grayson’s post-season departure for Sunderland made some sense, but I’ll be discussing that in the next post. Alex Neil’s appointment also makes sense in so far as he’s been successful at so-called unfashionable clubs: the former Norwich boss could provide the impetus that turns the Lillywhites from an average mid-table side into playoff challengers and he certainly won’t need motivating after his departure from Carrow Road. If that’s going to happen, North End really need to work on improving their away form against the top sides in the competition. In 2016/17 they lost seven of their ten matches at the clubs who eventually finished above them. That price for relegation looks far too short and should be avoided.

Fun fact: Despite have been founder members of the Football League, Preston have only finished eleventh in any division on four occasions – including twice in the last two seasons.

2017/18 Preview Part II

Welcome the second part of our club by club preview of the forthcoming EFL Sky Bet Championship season.

The prices for the season long outcomes for the teams were taken from Oddschecker.com on July 1st and will fluctuate throughout the season.

Burton Albion

Manager: Nigel Clough (December 2015), second season in the Championship
Last 10: 4-2-4
Promotion 40/1, relegation 6/4F

Other than Huddersfield’s promotion, Burton’s survival was arguably the story of last season as both the Brewers’ ‘us against the world’ mentality and their level of organisation stood them in good stead against some of the bigger but more dysfunctional clubs last season. Nigel Clough’s managerial experience at this level was obvious, however, it’s not abundantly clear what to expect from them this time round: more of the same seems likely, which makes the odds for relegation a bit harsh.

Fun fact: although Burton only drew four home games last season, four of the six goals in those matches were scored by Brewers.

Cardiff City

Manager: Neil Warnock (October 2016), fourth season in the Championship
Last 10: 4-3-3
Promotion: 8/1, relegation: 8/1

I’ve no idea why Mr Tan thought Paul Trollope was the right man for the job and it wasn’t a huge surprise when the Bluebirds improved dramatically almost immediately after Warnock was appointed last October. I’ll say top half without troubling the playoffs and the bookies seem to agree.

Fun fact: the Bluebirds were one of only three clubs to win both games against Huddersfield last season.

Derby County

Manager: Gary Rowett (March 2017), 10th season in the Championship
Last 10: 4-3-3
Promotion: 4/1, relegation: 25/1

One of the better teams in the competition over the last few seasons, the Rams have never really been either consistent or good enough to be one of the best and that’s probably because of a tendency for poor decision making when it comes to managers. Last season was a mess, but the Rams clearly benefited from the idiocy of Birmingham’s new owners when it came to the availability of Gary Rowett. I thought Derby would go up last season but they didn’t: I don’t think they will this season, so they probably will.

Fun fact: Derby failed to win any of their away games against the teams that eventually finished above them.

Fulham

Manager: Slavisa Jokanovic (December 2015), fourth season in the Championship
Last 10: 6-2-2
Promotion: 3/1, relegation: 33/1

Had a tough run in that I thought would be too much for their attempt to win promotion via the playoffs, but if they’d won half the games they eventually drew the Cottagers might have been contending for automatic promotion. It’s normally hard to make a case for the beaten playoff semi finalists to go one better purely due to recent history: however, the division looks slightly more competitive this season and if they score as many goals as they did last during the last campaign, there’s no reason to think that the Cottagers won’t be challenging for promotion again.

Fun fact: Fulham spent most of last season outside the playoff places but finished with a better goal difference than Huddersfield.

Hull City

Manager: Leonid Slutsky (June 2017), relegated from the Premier League
Last 10: 3-1-6 (Premier League)
Promotion: 11/2, relegation: 12/1

A dreadful end to their stay in the Premier League finished with Marco Silva leaving for Watford and his replacement looks like a typically risky vanity appointment by a chairman who’s increasingly alienating the fans. I wouldn’t be surprised if this season is a bigger struggle than anyone’s expecting: the Tigers haven’t finished in the bottom half of the Championship for a decade but although that’s unlikely, I can’t see them returning to the Premier League this season either.

Fun fact: Hull have been either promoted or relegated in four of the last five seasons.

Ipswich Town

Manager: Mick McCarthy (November 2012), 16th season in the Championship
Last 10: 3-2-5
Promotion 20/1, relegation 10/3

There could be all kinds of changes at Portman Road by Christmas if the Tractor Boys aren’t competiting for the playoff places by Christmas. Ipswich were last season’s draw specialists, but that’s not the only reason that last season saw the lowest league position in the Mick McCarthy era. When you combine that with sixteen consecutive seasons marooned at this level, it’s entirely possible that the situation may come to a head quite quickly and If McCarthy does leave – and he had about six years at both Ireland and Wolves before departing – expect to see him a lot on Sky Sports’ TV coverage of the competition.

Fun fact: Between mid-February and mid-March, Town drew six consecutive games last season – and took the lead in four of those games.

2017/18 Preview Part I

Welcome to the first part of the previews for the 2017/18 Sky Bet Championship season. Over the next four weeks we’ll be publishing club by club previews, finishing with the traditional ‘What to expect’ post on the first weekend of August.

All prices for promotion and relegation were taken from Oddschecker.com on July 1st and in all likelihood won’t be correct when you read these posts. They’re always interesting to refer back to though: they formed the basis of the Market Reports I introduced last season and were really quite interesting in their own right.

Aston Villa

Manager: Steve Bruce (October 2016), second season in the Championship
Last 10: 5-2-3
Promotion: 15/8F, Relegation: 50/1

Villa haven’t played consecutive seasons in the second tier of English football since the early 1970s and to be honest the transition from bad Premier League team to average Championship side was one of the non-stories of last season. Villa only lost three times at home in 2016/17 but only scored 14 goals in away games and to be brutally honest, when you spend £15 million on a striker you’d expect him to score more than five goals away from Villa Park. This season: you’d expect a Steve Bruce side containing John Terry to win a lot of games 1-0 and Villa might flirt with the playoffs, but unless they stop being a damp squib on the road another mid table season is highly likely.

Fun fact: Villa won both games against just three clubs last season. Two of them – Wigan and Rotherham – were relegated. The other: QPR.

Barnsley

Manager: Paul Heckingbottom (June 2016), second season in the Championship.
Last 10: 1-5-4
Promotion 33/1, relegation 15/8

Momentum is a funny thing: although last season was their best performance at this level since the turn of the century (at the end of January the Tykes were seventh), then they’ve not won at Oakwell since the start of 2017 and conceded more goals at home last season than any other club other than Rotherham. Barnsley may have over achieved last season and could find themselves struggling in 17/18: their away record was far better – they recorded the most victories of the non-playoff sides –  but if their away success evaporates and they can’t win at Oakwell the bookies think they could be in trouble.

Fun fact: last season Barnsley failed to beat any of the sides that finished in the top six.

Birmingham City

Manager: Harry Redknapp (April 2017), seventh season in the Championship
Last 10: 2-4-4
Promotion: 6/1, relegation: 11/1

Where do you start? The new owners made a stupid decision to fire Gary Rowett before Christmas and replace him with Gianfranco Zola; if Bristol City had scored in the last game of the season this preview would have been appearing on Buzzin’ League One Football rather than on this blog. It’s not hard to see what the problem was: the Blues kept only kept eight home clean sheets last season and conceded more than twice in five games at St. Andrew’s in 2016/17. If Harry Redknapp can sort that out then a mid table place isn’t out of the question but although the price for promotion is ridiculous, the odds for relegation might not be.

Fun fact: the only other team to beat Fulham twice last season was Brighton.

Bolton Wanderers

Manager: Phil Parkinson (June 2016), promoted as League One runners up
Last 10: 6-2-2 (League One)
Promotion: 33/1, Relegation: 9/4

Back following one season in League One following a gradual but obvious decline from 2013 onwards, it’s entirely possible that Wanderers may be more prepared for the Championship than Sheffield United. The big question mark is over Phil Parkinson, who hasn’t exactly got the best managerial record at this level. Gut instinct is that they’ll be better than they were when they last played at this level – they can’t be any worse – but that might have to mean spending the entire season in the bottom half of the table.

Fun fact: last time Bolton were promoted from the third tier as runners up, it only took them two seasons to reach the Premier League.

Brentford

Manager: Dean Smith (November 2015), fourth season in the Championship
Last 10: 5-2-3
Promotion: 7/1, Relegation: 10/1

Apart from a brief appearance in the playoffs at the end of September, The Bees buzzed around mid table for most of the latter half last season and I’d be hard pressed to tell you what – if anything – I wrote about them. Two things to notice though: this is their best run in the second tier since the end of World War II and only Fulham and Newcastle scored more away goals last season. They might be dark horses for the playoffs this year, but Bees fans might have to settle for another season of mid table consistency.

Fun fact: Brentford lost all of their away games at the teams that were relegated at the end of last season.

Bristol City

Manager: Lee Johnson (February 2016), Third season in the Championship
Last 10: 6-1-3
Promotion: 12/1, Relegation: 9/2

The final day home defeat against Birmingham aside, the Robins had an impressive end to 2016/17, but if they can’t replace Tammy Abraham’s goals and their occasionally irresponsible and often disastrous defending doesn’t improve, they’ll be struggling again this season. The summer activity in the transfer market indicates that Johnson has understood both areas need improvement and although the core of the squad now has more experience at this level, mid-table is the best case scenario and even that may be beyond them.

Fun fact: only lost once at Ashton Gate against teams that eventually finished in the bottom half of the table.

The Last Post of 2016/17

The playoff final highlights (such as they were):

That ginger kid in the blue shirt at the top is priceless. Your team wins promotion to the Premier League and rather than celebrating it, he’s filming it on his bloody phone. Kudos the girl next to him – she’s absolutely delighted.

Managerial Changes:

The one that looks as if it’s a shrewd move is Garry Monk to newly relegated Middlesbrough. I underestimated Monk’s ability at this level last season and yet he managed to transform Leeds into playoff contenders, so it’ll be interesting to see how he does on Teeside.

Of the other three appointments, they fit the same old tired pattern. I’ve heard of Leonid Slutsky (Hull) but Daniel Farke (Norwich – cue the ‘Silly Farke’ headlines) and Nuno Espirito Santo (Wolves) are new to me. None of them have managerial experience in England. Norwich clearly think that Farke will be the next David Wagner and in their infinite wisdom, the new Wolves board have appointed yet another goalkeeper, who also presided over FC Porto’s least successful season for decades.

I’ll be surprised if two of the three are in jobs by the end of next season: I won’t be surprised if Nuno is the first to go.

Update: on Thursday, Leeds appointed Thomas Christiansen as their new manager. His managerial experience: a couple of seasons in the Cypriot Super League, although the party line will be that he coached APOEL Nicosia on their run in the Champions League a few seasons ago.

I’ll be back next month – the previews for next season are well under way.

2017 Play Off Final Preview

Huddersfield v Reading

(Sky Sports 1, starts 2pm GMT, kick off 3pm GMT)

I mentioned at the beginning of last year’s preview that there was about an even chance of the winners of that final being relegated, which is exactly what happened to Hull at the end of this season.

Whichever team wins this is going to struggle mightily in the Premier League. Reading had the 15th best defence in the Championship in 2016/17 – Wigan conceded fewer goals and Blackburn just one more. Thirteen teams scored more goals than Huddersfield, who finished in the top six with a negative goal difference overall – the first time that’s ever happened since the second tier became the Championship thirteen years ago. A lot has been made of the fact that three of the four playoff teams this season finished in the bottom half of the table a year ago and those statistics indicate to me that both sides have overachieved without adequately papering over the cracks this season, let alone next.

Huddersfield are the favourites, but the bookies are expecting extra time.

Huddersfield Town

Last ten aways: 4-3-3 (I’m counting the semi final playoff win at Sheffield Wednesday as a draw over 90 minutes), goal difference -4

Playoff record at this level: winning semi-finalists 2017

Looking back at the season, it was a hot streak between December and March in which the Terriers only lost twice in eighteen games that saw them record their highest league position since the early 1970s. Since then they’ve not been as impressive (five wins in their last fifteen) but they maintained they spent all season in the top five without ever genuinely threatening either Brighton or Newcastle.

Strength: home form, which is irrelevant today.

Weakness: Goalscoring away from home. Huddersfield only scored more than two goals in one away match this season: the 3-2 win at Rotherham on Valentine’s Day was also the last time they scored more than once in an away game. Town failed to score in seven road trips, losing all of those games.

Ones to watch: Nakhi Wells and Elias Kachunga. Both strikers reached double figures this season but neither of them has been particularly prolific away from home – they haven’t scored on the road since February. If Town stand any chance of either winning promotion or staying in the Premier League, Kachunga and Wells have to contribute this afternoon.

Reading

Last ten aways: 3-2-5, goal difference -8

Playoff record at this level: Runners up 1995, 2011. Beaten semi finalists 2003, 2009

I still find it remarkable that a team that lost a game 7-1 at the start of last month is in the playoff final. After an inconsistent start, the Royals hovered between third and fifth from the end of October onwards and – like Huddersfield – never really threatened the automatic promotion playoffs. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but their form away from the Mad House isn’t very good: if this was a home game I’d not have any problems backing them but three of their five away wins in 2017 were against teams they ought to have beaten and two of those were settled in the last minute.

Strength: home form. Only Brighton earned more points at home than Reading and no club lost fewer home games. Once again, irrelevant today.

Weakness: away defence. In 2016/17 the average Championship defence conceded 34 goals in away games: Reading conceded 14 more goals than that. They conceded in 18 of their 23 matches away from home and let in more than two goals on eight occasions.

One to watch: Yann Kermogant. The veteran French striker is having his best season since he helped Bournemouth win promotion to the Premier League a couple of seasons ago: just over half of his goals this season have been scored in away games and if the Huddersfield defence don’t keep an eye on him then they could be in for a torrid time.

Final Stats Over The Last Decade:

The Higher side that finished higher at the end of the season has won six of the last ten finals. The third placed side has also won three of the last four finals between clubs that finished in third and fourth positions. Advantage: Reading.

Both teams haven’t scored in seven of the last ten, also less than 2.5. Settled by one goal in eight of last ten, only one AET in the last decade. Six of last ten have been 1-0. The last ten league games between today’s finalists have been pretty equal: two draws with the remainder split evenly.

Verdict: the stats above indicate that Reading might win by the margin of one goal, but I’ll be amazed if the final score is 1-0 to either team. It’s been five seasons since both teams have scored or we’ve had more than two goals in the final and considering how bad both of these defences were in away games during the regular season, this particular final could turn into a shoot out.

An update will follow immediately after the game is over.

Not the best advert for Championship football. Huddersfield won on penalties after extra time. There’ll be an end of season round up posted as soon as possible.