Mike Roberts - Friday 27.11.15, 17:08pm
We’re a bit spoilt for choice this weekend as we have two potential games of the week and two that could see some significant movement at the bottom.
Hull v Derby (Sky Sports 1, 7:45pm)
Brighton v Birmingham
The away sides are at a disadvantage in these two matches: in the eight games between the current top six this season, there hasn’t been one away win. Last season there were 10 in 30 (Norwich accounted for four of those wins alone) so one is bound to come along sooner or later – except it might take another week or two. Here’s why: Derby have only won three times at Hull in all competitions since April 1967 while Birmingham’s record at Brighton is even worse but a draw wouldn’t be the worst result for either of the visitors. Hull haven’t won more than three consecutive home games in the Championship since February/March 2013 whilst although Brighton have won three of their last five homes, they’ve drawn four of their six games against the current top ten and – amongst other scenarios – would need to beat The Blues and hope Hull lose to return to the top spot.
Any of the top five could be top by Monday evening and Middlesbrough (who travel to Huddersfield tomorrow) look well placed for a challenge. In 2015/16 the hosts have only recorded one win against the teams that are currently above them and have only beaten Middlesbrough at home twice in ten league games, the last victory coming over 30 years ago. Since David Wagner’s appointment at the start of this month, Huddersfield have collapsed defensively: they’d only kept two clean sheets before his arrival and have now conceded three in their last two games.
At the bottom, Bolton and Rotherham will not be able to escape the bottom three regardless of how they play, although the former will at least have the comparative luxury of not entertaining Brentford until Monday (Sky Sports 1, 7:45pm). The game of the week at the wrong end of the table is Rotherham v Bristol City. The Millers snapped four game losing streak last weekend with their first win at Leeds since August 1962 but with most of their rivals at the bottom picking up points it was something of a pyrrhic victory and Rotherham will have to hope other results go their way if they want to climb out of the bottom three before Christmas. City have only lost one of their last five games and seem to be on the road to becoming a difficult team to beat, which is admirable but can’t disguise the fact that the Robins haven’t won on the road since August and haven’t recorded a victory at Rotherham for two decades.
Last week’s rant meant I didn’t comment on Paul Lambert’s appointment at Blackburn Rovers. My first thought was that it’s an interesting appointment, as Lambert is both British and has had success at this level before and needs to re-establish his career after a poor spell at Aston Villa after he left Norwich.
I’ll be back next week (unless Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink decides to leave Burton for either Fulham or QPR), although it’s more likely to be in time for next Friday’s game.
Mike Roberts - Saturday 21.11.15, 10:05am
I’m happy to admit that I’m a traditionalist when it comes to the Football League. After all, it’s oldest organisation of its type in the world (there are older Australian Rules leagues) and only the Argentinian and Belgian competitions were playing before the turn of the twentieth century.
However the announcement last week that the Football League will be renamed the English Football League next season is as depressing as it is ridiculous as it is inaccurate. It’s not hard to see why rebranding should have been considered as an option: since 1992 the top tier of English football has been known as the <insert title sponsor here> Premier League, even though it’s not a ‘league’ in the strict sense of the word, it’s a division. In a world dominated by social media, the Premier League is usually abbreviated to EPL or BPL (the ‘B’ being the initial of the current title sponsor) but the Football League has been left behind by all this modern stuff. It doesn’t appear to have any kind of instantly recognisable hashtag – which is a pain in the backside when it comes to promoting these posts on twitter and Facebook – and was clearly caught flat footed by the Conference renaming itself the National League.
The problem is that #EFL is internationally recognised as the abbreviation of English as a Foreign Language and the three letter airport code for Cephalonia in Greece: then there’s also the fact that the oldest football league competition has now been reduced to a letter – we’ve got the A-league, J-League, K-League and presumably now the E-League. EFL is also one letter away from both an energy provider and a far right political party. Before anyone mentions the NFL, that organisation has been operating under that name since 1920, when they felt that the American Professional Football Association was a bit of a mouthful: that’s almost a century ago.
The social media aspect of this rebranding is only one part of the exercise – the derision that greeted the logo was almost universal as it looks like a load of blue bubbles swirling around a washing machine as much as it does a football. Presumably the logo will feature on arm patches and balls next season, although it remains to be seen if Sky Bet English Football League Championship will fit on them in anything other than a really small font. In fact, I wonder if The Championship is going to be a thing of the past: it’s been the title of the second tier for over ten seasons, which is an eternity these days. I’ve supported my club for over two decades and although they haven’t been outside the second and third tiers of English football over that period, those competitions have had their titles changed six times – and that’s not even counting the title sponsors.
In conclusion, changes could have probably been made to have given the Football League a higher profile, but the results have been widely derided and rightly so. I’ll be back next week.
Mike Roberts - Friday 13.11.15, 14:50pm
So farewell Kit Symons and Gary Bowyer.
Not entirely sure what the thinking was behind Symon’s departure, because losing to two of the playoff candidates isn’t necessarily a bad thing – unless of course that’s exactly what the problem is. Fulham need a top half finish this season to even begin to think about making a promotion bid in 2016/17 and although that’s still possible, the last two results indicate that there is still some way to go before the Cottagers can be regarded as genuine candidates to return to the Premier League. Clearly Shahid Khan doesn’t see it that way.
Bowyer’s departure is a little bit more comprehensible but perhaps a bit harsh. Blackburn have been under a transfer embargo for the best part of a year and even though Venky’s seem to have finally grasped the concept of how a football club works, the spectre of being a former Premier League team that’s not doing particularly well seems to have been the motivation for a change of coaching staff. The timing is a bit dodgy too: during an international break?
In other news, Charlton still haven’t appointed anyone and although there are several rumours about the identity of the next QPR manager, nothing has been confirmed – although one candidate would be predictably – and particularly – terrible. Leeds are also apparently up for sale, although I don’t think there’s a ‘Buy It Now’ option on eBay.
Back next Friday after the most pointless international break since the one in November 2013. Unfortunately, the re-branding of the Football League will be the main topic and although I may have calmed down by then, please don’t assume I’m going to react positively to another example of cretinous corporatism.
Mike Roberts - Thursday 05.11.15, 17:34pm
It’s not very often that two managers get the chop within hours of each other, but that’s exactly what happened on Wednesday when Chris Powell had his contract terminated by Huddersfield and Chris Ramsey left QPR.
Ramsey in particular seems to have been a victim of both circumstance and short sightedness with a large dash of unreasonable expectations. Rangers’ form this season has been indifferent (three defeats in their last five) but their general ineptitude on the road at this level has been a long term problem. Ramsey had no other managerial experience at this level, which is – as I pointed out in the pre-season preview for the club – a bad thing. Neil Warnock returns on a short term basis but I’d be willing to bet the QPR board appoint another manager who doesn’t ‘know’ the Championship.
Powell’s departure is easier to explain. This season Huddersfield have won three of their 15 games and although they’re five points clear of the bottom three, this is their fourth season in the Championship and they’ve yet to finish anywhere near the top half of the table. That points to a long term problem that Powell failed to address: the statement coming from the club yesterday mentioned that his departure ‘…signals a change of direction by the Club and a new approach’. Presumably finishing higher than sixteenth in the Championship would be seen as an improvement, but that’s not happened for a decade and a half and the rumours about a ’surprise foreign appointment’ have already begun. If that’s the case, the change of direction may not be the one that Huddersfield were anticipating.
Update: whilst I was writing this, David Wagner was appointed Head Coach of Huddersfield Town. Wagner is an American with no coaching experience in the Championship and was most recently manager of Borussia Dortmund reserves. I won’t make any further comment.
I hinted that there might be a change of leadership after Tuesday’s games and that’s what happened. Hull, Burnley and Brighton have all earned 31 points but the Tigers’ commitment to defensive excellence is obvious as they have a superior goal difference. However, only one point separates the top five clubs.
At the bottom, this is the first time I’ve written this in 2015/16: the bottom three will remain in those positions after this weekend’s games regardless of what happens. Bristol City and MK Dons both won at home on Tuesday to increase the gap between them and Bolton to four points.
And as luck would have it, we have four contenders for game of the week, starting with an old-fashioned blood and thunder local derby:
Nottingham Forest v Derby (tomorrow, Sky Sports 7:00pm, kick off 7:30pm)
The losing side in this game quite often sacks their manager either after the game or a couple of weeks later, so this game is one Dougie Freedman needs to win. The problem is that Forest haven’t won since mid-September, have lost five of their last eight and are lucky that Bristol City and MK Dons are worse than them defensively. Derby are on a ten game unbeaten streak and they’ve won two of the last four meetings at the City Ground; there’s been a red card in four of the last five meetings in Nottingham.
Bolton v Bristol City
Bolton have one home win this season and that was in mid-September against Wolves and have drawn five of their other seven league games in front of their own fans. City’s away form isn’t that much better but they’ve picked up three draws in their last five road trips and that would suit them on Saturday and put even more pressure on Neil Lennon. Bonus fact: Bolton haven’t beaten Bristol City in three consecutive home league games since the late 1960s/early 1970s. Current Bolton home win streak against City: two games.
Brighton v MK Dons
Six draws in their last ten indicates to me that although Brighton have returned to the form that ensured trips to the playoffs in two of the last four seasons, that may be the best case scenario for them in 2015/16. They’re on a sixteen game unbeaten streak, but with a trip to Burnley to come after the international break that run may not continue for much longer. The Dons picked up a rare win on Tuesday when they beat Charlton, but they’ve lost all five of their games this season against the current top six. Fourth league meeting in Sussex: Brighton have only won once so prepare for a possible upset.
Hull v Middlesbrough
Should have been game of the week, but given that it’s a match between the best defenses in the Championship, there could be a lack of goals at the KC Stadium and it’s unlikely Middlesbrough will win (two wins in ten league games at Hull over the last 43 years), I decided against it.
No post next weekend due to yet another international break, but if anything dramatic happens I’ll update this one.
Mike Roberts - Tuesday 03.11.15, 11:44am
Just a quick post today as there’s a televised game I’d like to cover on Friday night.
Saturday’s highlighted games went more or less to form although Brighton only drew at Reading and so The Seagulls’ lead is now down to two points. Nothing really changed at the bottom, although the point Bolton earned at Preston meant they overtook both Charlton and Rotherham even if they’re still in the bottom three.
The recent form table is interesting though. Over the last six games Brighton have clearly not done as well as Burnley, Derby, Hull and Middlesbrough and that seems to indicate that there could be a change at the top by Christmas. Boro have arguably the best chance of catching Brighton this evening: they entertain Rotherham, who haven’t won on Teeside since March 1965. Brighton have a tricky looking game at Sheffield Wednesday and neither Hull (at Brentford) nor Burnley (at home against Fulham) will have easy matches.
At the wrong end of table, MK Dons play Charlton. The Dons have won once in their last ten games whilst Charlton haven’t even managed that: in fact, the Addicks’ last away win was at Blackpool in March. This will be the fifth meeting between the clubs in Buckinghamshire and the Dons have only won one of the previous four. Worryingly for the hosts, this is probably their best chance of winning at home until the New Year; Charlton are one of the five clubs who have failed to win any of their last six matches and are now evens to be relegated – they were 10/3 second favourites for the drop at the start of July.
I’ll be back on Friday afternoon with a preview of one of my favourite games of the season: the first clash between Nottingham Forest and Derby.