Midweek Preview

As there’s another post due on Friday, rather than mess about with a two part midweek post due to Newcastle playing tomorrow here are the highlights of the round:

Birmingham v Preston

Going back to last season, the Blues have only lost one of their last ten games in the Championship and are the top team in the Midlands in this section: it’s also fair to say that right now they’re meeting my pre-season expectations of play off contenders. Preston have won two of their last three and haven’t lost three consecutive away games since the start of last season, but have only won twice at St Andrew’s since 1971. Could be a few goals in this one – eight of the last ten matches between them in the league in Birmingham have produced over 2.5 goals.

Cardiff v Derby

Two Ricky Lambert goals at Rotherham enabled Cardiff to drag themselves out of the bottom three at the weekend but that was only their second win of the season and they’re currently on course for their first bottom half finish in the Championship for over a decade. Derby’s woes continued with their fourth defeat in six games: losing at home to Blackburn indicates to me that their current situation is more fragile than I’d anticipated – to the extent that I’ve started looking up recipes that involve hats.

A win for either side could kick start their campaigns, but Derby have struggled in the Welsh capital over the last decade: one win in eight attempts.

Huddersfield v Rotherham

Two defeats in the last three games have seen the Terriers lose control at the top of the table, but they’re still very much in the mix and could return – briefly – to the top of the pile this evening. Huddersfield have not had a similar run of home form at this level for 18 years and are probably lucky that they’re playing Rotherham this evening. Since 1980, the Millers have only won one of their last ten visits to Huddersfield in the league and they’re currently on a five game away losing streak.

Newcastle v Norwich (tomorrow)

Just when it looked like Newcastle were going to turn into the juggernaut that everyone seemed to think they were, they lose at home to Wolves and throw away a lead at Aston Villa. I’m still happy with my pre-season prediction of the playoffs: they don’t have a particularly difficult looking schedule next month so this game looks like a decent yardstick for the time being.

The Canaries have a four game undefeated streak to protect but I think it’s only fair to point out that four of their six wins have been against clubs in the bottom half of the table. They haven’t won at St. James’ Park for almost exactly 28 years and of the eight games this season between clubs currently in the top six, only one (Newcastle v Huddersfield) has resulted in an away win.

I’ll be back on Friday with the second part of the Market Reports series. Don’t forget we’ve got another round of World Cup Qualifiers coming up in a couple of weeks though: I’ll be taking that weekend off too.

Focus On The Bottom

Before I get to the weekend action, a quick word about the League Cup. Six of the last 16 teams in the competition are from the Championship: Bristol City, Leeds, Newcastle, Norwich, Preston and Reading. Even better news is that will be two guaranteed quarter finalists as the draw paired Leeds against Norwich; Newcastle v Preston is the other all Championship tie. All games will take place during the last weekend of October.

Back to this week and it’s one of those odd weekends where the fixture computer has unwittingly got the bottom six playing each other.

It’s slightly too early for this type of analysis but as a reminder of how important these games could be after eight games last season, Blackburn, Preston and Rotherham were all in the bottom six, as well as two of the three clubs that were eventually relegated.

Setting Wigan aside (based on the fact that at least one promoted team can be expected to struggle early on), it’s significant that five of the bottom current six have something in common. If we assume that half a season is 23 games, none of the current teams in the bottom six have won more than eight games in the Championship over that period. Cardiff, Derby and Rotherham have all changed managers as well, with two of the new appointments (Paul Trollope at Cardiff and Alan Stubbs at Rotherham) raising some eyebrows when they were made.

Preston v Wigan (this evening, 7:45pm KO, Sky Sports 1)

Any hope that the recent 3-0 win over Cardiff at Deepdale was the sign of revival in the fortunes of the Lillywhites was crushed at Brentford last weekend. It’s probably fairer to say that the result showed how bad Cardiff currently are as it was the first time Preston had scored more than two goals at home at this level since May 2011. Simon Grayson’s team have won just 7 of their last 23 games in the Championship and one of their last ten at Deepdale: their previous home win was against Brentford in February.

Wigan earned a point against Fulham last weekend but although they’ve lost all their away games since promotion, the consensus is that they’ve been unlucky -they took the lead at Bristol City and Sheffield Wednesday, but conceded last minute winners against both City and Nottingham Forest. Deepdale has been a relatively lucky ground for the Latics in league competition: they’ve not lost there since April 1995 and have drawn four of their last six meetings at Preston.

Derby v Blackburn

The Rams were denied a victory at Bristol City on Saturday, but that was their first league point for almost a month and I think it’s fair to say that Nigel Pearson has got a slightly different job on his hands than the one he may have been expecting. Derby’s current medium term record is almost as bad as Blackburn and Preston but their problems are exacerbated by having had four managers in less than two years and the baffling decision to loan Chris Martin to Fulham. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they start going on a decent run of form though.

Rovers’ victory against Rotherham last week was their first this season but their away record (two wins in the last ten) has been lamentable for some time – the last time they score more than once away from home was last December and they’ve been shut out eight times in 17 road trips since then. Then there’s the fact that they’ve only won once at Derby in their last 10 meetings in the league: the last time was a Premier League encounter in December 2007.

Rotherham v Cardiff

I haven’t really got much to say about Rotherham because they’re performing exactly how I thought they would, although to be fair their medium term record is better than those of Blackburn, Preston and Cardiff. That’s only because Neil Warnock did so well at the end of last season, although it’s only fair to point out that the Millers haven’t lost at home this season and have only lost twice to Cardiff in the last ten games where they’ve been the hosts.

Cardiff’s drop to the foot of the table is more of a surprise, but with the benefit of hindsight the rot may have set in in South Wales when it became increasingly obvious in the spring that the Bluebirds were not going to reach the playoffs and Russell Slade would be leaving the club. One of the reasons that a place in the top six eluded them in 2015/16 was poor defending away from home and that’s continued this season. I wondered about Paul Trollope’s suitability for the job in the season preview and judging from some of the opinions being voiced by the fans I’m not alone.

The only other televised game this weekend is Aston Villa v Newcastle (tomorrow, 5:30pm Sky Sports 1).

I’ll be back on Monday or Tuesday with a very brief look at the midweek programme; next weekend’s post will be the second in the Market Reports series.

Update: Derby and Rotherham both lost at home after taking the lead. Preston beat Wigan on Friday night. Norwich took over at the top after beating Burton 3-1, Huddersfield lost at Reading. Back next week.

 

 

 

Game of the Week: Wigan v Fulham

The last unbeaten record in this season’s Sky Bet Championship went when Huddersfield lost at Brighton on Tuesday. That result – combined with Newcastle’s amazing recent form – means that’s there’s now only a one point difference at the top and top spot could belong to any of the top four on Saturday evening.

At the bottom: Blackburn lost at Leeds in the game of the evening and for the first time this season I can write that Rovers cannot escape the bottom three this weekend. The biggest surprise at the bottom is Derby – one goal in seven games – who visit Bristol City this weekend. The Robins travelled to Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday in an eventful game that was delayed by a thunderstorm:

And now, this week’s main event:

Wigan v Fulham

Scenario: Fulham could potentially be in second place on Saturday evening but with only three points between Aston Villa and Wigan, if the hosts manage just their second win of the season they could start climbing the table.

One thing that’s immediately noticeable about this game is that Wigan seem to have had a far tougher start to the season than Fulham. Three of the Latics’ five defeats this season have been away from home at teams that are currently in the top half and although they lost at Norwich on Tuesday, apparently Canaries boss Alex Neil was relieved that Wigan’s attempt to earn a draw had failed.

I’m still not sure what to make of Fulham’s start to 2016/17. The majority of their games so far have been against sides currently in the bottom half of the table, so the assumption that they are a ‘good team’ is probably based on the win over Newcastle on the first weekend of the season. The Cottagers have won only once in their last five outings.

I try not to go too overboard on the statistical side of things (I’m the first to admit that isn’t always possible!), but there are some remarkable trends in this game. Wigan have only won two of their last ten clashes with Fulham in Lancashire – SIX of the last ten have been drawn.

Televised games: Cardiff v Leeds (tomorrow, 12:30pm kick off, SS1) and Birmingham v Sheffield Wednesday (tomorrow, 5:30pm kick off, SS1). I wouldn’t bother with the first one, which features two clubs that have started poorly. The second looks much more intriguing – it’s far too early to mention play offs, but there’s only a point between them and both clubs could reach the post season, even though that’s nine months away.

I’ll update the post on Saturday evening, otherwise I’ll be back next weekend.

Wigan v Fulham finished 0-0, but Huddersfield and Norwich both won so it’ll be either of them that will be top at the end of next weekend’s games. Cardiff sank to the bottom of the table after a 2-0 home defeat by Leeds.

 

Game Of The Evening: Leeds v Blackburn

As I mentioned on Sunday’s update, Huddersfield cannot be overtaken at the top this evening after their win at Leeds on Saturday.

Huddersfield are at Brighton this evening: keep an eye on that one as Town haven’t won in Sussex since 2011. Here are the highlights from

Other than that, although there’s a seven point difference between the sixth and 21st, we’re still at the stage where a couple of wins could make a huge difference to both the table and the mindset of each club.

Before I move on to the game of the evening, the other contender for that accolade was the match at Carrow Road between Norwich and Wigan. It’s the first meeting between the sides since the 2014/15, when they left the Championship by different routes and the early signs for both of them indicate that could happen again. The Latics won their last trip to Carrow Road in March 2003, but that’s their only victory over Norwich outside Lancashire: they’re currently worse than the side that was relegated.

Leeds v Blackburn

I know it’s not even mid-September, but it’s already significant that of the clubs that were in the Championship last season, the current bottom three is composed of teams that are performing at a significantly worse level than they were last season. Blackburn and Leeds are similar in more ways than one: former Premier League clubs with stubborn and eccentric ownership is the first thing that comes to mind. Rovers are also rumoured to have debts of about £100m and apparently appointed Owen Coyle without considering any other candidates.

Before the season began I wrote that Leeds have been a bog standard Championship team for a couple of seasons but they probably wouldn’t be dragged into a relegation battle. The Blackburn preview began with the phrase ‘Uh oh.’ So far, they’ve combined for a total of one win in twelve games so far – Leeds won at Sheffield Wednesday in August. United have failed to win four of their last five at Elland Road and – as you saw earlier – lost to Huddersfield last weekend.

Significantly, Rovers have only won two of their last 16 road trips but they’ve won four of their last six league games at Elland Road and haven’t lost there since October 2003. Last weekend’s draw at QPR was the second game in their last three that Rovers haven’t lost – which is better than nothing – but over the last calendar year Leeds have only won seven of their 23 home games and if this game goes into the books with another defeat for the hosts then I can imagine that I might update this post with the news of the first managerial casualty of the season…

 

Back To Work

The first international weekend is over – I refuse to call it a break anymore – the transfer window is shut (although I nearly typed a rude word there) and although there have been no managerial casualties yet, this month could very see the first of them. There’s a full midweek programme next week (that’s why it’s not an international ‘break’), so this post is merely an overview of the weekend’s games.

This weekend there are five potential games of the week, including four featuring the top six/bottom six combination that occasionally produces the shock results. It may be significant that the four of the bottom six clubs have home advantage this weekend:

Leeds United v Huddersfield Town

A few weeks ago there were rumours that Gary Monk would be sacked if Leeds didn’t beat Fleetwood Town in the League Cup and a defeat at home to their Yorkshire rivals could see Monk depart. There always seems to be goals whenever the Terriers visit Leeds: the last time there were less than three was in March 1987 and there’s been an average of 3.87 goals per game in the eight meetings at Elland Road since then, including the 4-1 thrashing Huddersfield gave Leeds on their own patch in March. United have only won two of the last six encounters against Saturday’s visitors when they’ve had home advantage and have only won three of their last ten home games in the Championship.

Leeds 0, Huddersfield 1. The Terriers can’t be overtaken on Tuesday evening, Leeds drop into the bottom three.

Preston v Barnsley

Last season the Lillywhites scored 34 fewer goals than during their successful promotion campaign, which – to be fair – was offset by only conceding five more than they did in their last campaign in League One. That makes the decision to offload Joe Garner to Rangers an even stranger one: so far three players have scored more individual goals than Preston have managed as a team. Barnsley have won three of their last six trips to Deepdale and haven’t drawn there since November 2001: Preston have failed to win any of their last eight home games in the Championship. There’s a theme emerging here, isn’t there?

Preston 1, Barnsley 2. Last week, I wrote that Coventry were missing Adam Armstrong this season on Buzzin’ League One Football. His winner for the Tykes was sublime.

QPR v Blackburn

You’ve got to go back a long way to find the last time QPR lost consecutive home games at this level (the start of 2010), which indicates how unusual the recent defeat by Preston was – only their fifth home defeat in the league since the middle of September 2015 and the first time they’d failed to score at Loftus Road in 15 games. In comparison, Rovers have only won two of their last 15 road trips but since the turn of the century three of the last four encounters between these sides in London have ended all square. QPR haven’t beaten Blackburn at home since November 1993 but I think it’s fair to say that these clubs are moving in very different directions.

1-1. Rangers drop out of the top six, Rovers stay bottom.

Rotherham v Bristol City

It’s far too early to describe this match as a crucial one for both sides, but it may give us some indication of how the rest of the season pans out for both of them. Despite their current position in the table, it’s worth remembering that the Millers have only lost one of their last ten games at the New York Stadium and City have won only two of their last ten trips to Rotherham.

City overcame a two goal deficit to earn a point.

Sheffield Wednesday v Wigan

It’s not much of a surprise that Wednesday have had a sluggish start to the season but Carlos Carvalhal’s side have a couple of winnable looking home games over the next few days and could make up some lost ground. Wigan look vulnerable defensively away from the DW Stadium but this is only their third ever league visit to Hillsborough and there’s not enough information to make an educated guess about the outcome.

Wednesday 2, Wigan 1. Come from behind win for the hosts, Wigan are equal on points with Leeds but have a better goal difference.

Televised games: Reading v Ipswich (this evening, SS1 8pm kick off), Derby v Newcastle (tomorrow, SS1 5:30pm), Aston Villa v Nottingham Forest (Sunday, SS1 1:15pm). The last one looks like a choice for anyone feeling nostalgic for the late Seventies/early Eighties: only Newcastle and Forest are currently in the top eight in the table.

There’ll be a quick update on tomorrow evening, I’ll be back next Tuesday with a look at the midweek games.