Game Of The Week: Leeds v Brighton

Last post before the International Break, so here’s how things stand before the run in begins:

Derby and Nottingham Forest have new managers and neither of the new bosses will need any introduction. Gary Rowett has taken over at Pride Park after being sacked by Birmingham in December and Mark Warburton has taken over at Forest after leaving Glasgow Rangers.

I think both appointments are excellent – both have Championship experience and both have a point to prove. Additionally, next season – assuming Forest avoid the drop and Derby miss out on the playoffs – will be very interesting. Coincidentally, Derby visit Forest this weekend.

At the top, I think the only issues left to be settled are whether Huddersfield can win automatic promotion and which team from Fulham, Reading and Sheffield Wednesday will miss out on the playoffs. At this point, my guess is that Fulham’s run in will prove too tough – they have to travel to half of the current top ten before the season ends.

At the bottom, Bristol City won at Wigan last weekend but favourable results for Blackburn and Wolves on Tuesday evening saw the Robins drop back into the bottom three. There’s currently only a five point gap between Bristol City and Wolves and although the bookies have almost written Wigan off, the struggle to avoid relegation may very well go down to the wire. Burton have a particularly tough looking run in, with games against Huddersfield, Leeds and Newcastle to come over the next few weeks.

Over the weekend, there are two games that could indicate how the rest of the season might pan out: both feature sides from Yorkshire that have been unrecognisable from last season.

Bristol City v Huddersfield Town (Friday 7:45pm, Sky Sports 1)

City have only lost two of their last six home games, which is actually their best run of form at Ashton Gate since the autumn. They still haven’t beaten a team above them for a while – a 2-0 win over Ipswich before Christmas – and they’ve lost three of their five home games against teams currently in the top six. Despite that, the Robins have only lost two of their last ten league meetings in the South West against the Terriers, but it’s worth pointing out that so far this season, Huddersfield haven’t lost an away game to any side currently in the bottom half of the table and have only suffered one away defeat in the Championship since the start of December.

Leeds v Brighton (tomorrow 5:30pm, Sky Sports 1)

Brighton have probably been lucky so far that their recent patchy away from (two wins in their last six) has been partially overshadowed by Newcastle’s recent wobbles, but they can’t really afford to make any mistakes at Elland Road. Leeds have only lost once at home since the end of November and are clearly the ‘best of the rest’ of the teams that in all likelihood will have to navigate the playoffs to win promotion from the Championship.

One particularly interesting aspect of this game is that Leeds have been terrible against Brighton over the last six seasons. United have won just a single meeting between the clubs in that period, a 2-1 win in August 2013; Leeds have lost the six games.

I’ll be back in a fortnight. Enjoy the international break, it’s going to be intense when the Championship returns.

 

Joyce, McClaren, Neil All Sacked

Long term readers will be familiar with The Curse Of Fourth, but over the last few days a new and cruelly unusual curse has arisen: the Curse Of Not Beating Bristol City.

Warren Joyce (last weekend), Alex Neil (last Tuesday) and Steve McClaren (a few weeks ago) have all failed to defeat the Robins recently and although there were clearly other issues with McClaren, Neil and Joyce were dismissed almost immediately after their final games with their old clubs – both of which were against Bristol City.

Lee Johnson is still in a job at Ashton Gate and his side take on Huddersfield in a televised game on Friday – I’ll be back then.

View From The Bottom Part 2

I’m going to start this week with a bit of a moan. For the first time in several seasons there are no Championship clubs involved in the quarter finals of the FA Cup: considering that Millwall (who may be back in the Championship next season) and Lincoln City are both involved, you’ve really got to question the commitment of some of the clubs in this division. I’m not having a go at the clubs who were unlucky with the draw, but there are a few teams at the top of the table who clearly couldn’t have given a toss about the competition.

As the top six is beginning to look as if there may not be many changes before the end of the season, the only fluid situation concerns those teams attempting to avoid relegation. The bookies are no longer taking bets on Rotherham, but after that it looks like any two from Blackburn, Bristol City, Burton and Wigan, with the Latics currently odds on to return to League One after just one season. With only four points separating Burton Albion and Wigan Athletic at the moment, to me it looks as if we’re going right down to the wire but there’s still plenty of time for things to change.

Wigan Athletic v Bristol City

Fourth meeting since the turn of the century but the first time the clubs have met in Lancashire since August 2002. The Latics haven’t lost at home to any of the other teams in the current bottom six, but they’ve not won at the DW Stadium since January – their only home victory in their last ten attempts.

City’s away form is just as terrible – they haven’t won on the road since September (thirteen games ago) – although they’ve only failed to score four times during that streak and will be welcoming Tammy Abraham back.

Wolves v Rotherham

I must admit that I’d forgotten that Paul Lambert had been appointed Wolves manager in November. Sacking Kenny Jackett before the season began was an idiotic move by their Chinese owners, although it clearly inspired the ridiculous decision by the new Birmingham City owners to replace Gary Rowett with Gianfranco Zola. A goalless draw at Ipswich on Tuesday evening ended a five game losing streak, but four defeats in the last six at Molineux indicates the task that faces Paul Lambert before the season finishes.

As for Rotherham, they’ve never won at Wolves. The Millers have lost their last ten away games and haven’t scored in seven of those matches. Ordinarily you’d expect a Wolves win, but this is the Championship and strange things often happen.

I’ll be back next Friday, but there are couple of catch up games in West London on Tuesday that may be worth following. Wolves travel to Brentford whilst Fulham host Blackburn Rovers – both matches could see changes in the landscape at the bottom of the table.

Update: literally just as I posted this, Norwich City announced they’d sacked Alex Neil. Alan Irvine takes charge for today’s game against Blackburn.

Midweek Preview 7th March 2017

A quick recap of last weekend:

Newcastle’s 3-1 victory at Huddersfield actually did Brighton – who lost at Nottingham Forest – a favour: the Magpies are now five points ahead of the Seagulls, but the Terriers are now five points behind Brighton. With all teams having just ten or more games left after this evening’s matches, the five point gap between Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday in sixth and seventh places may be significant: at this stage last season, only goal difference separated Sheffield Wednesday and Cardiff for the last playoff place.

At the bottom, Bristol City slipped into the bottom three for the first time this season despite a goalless draw at home against Burton Albion. If you’ve not seen Lloyd Dyer’s miss yet, I’d recommend looking up on YouTube. Blackburn beat Wigan thanks to a Marvin Emnes goal just before the hour.

Only a couple of games worth monitoring this evening – the fact that it’s the penultimate midweek programme of the season is arguably more important that the actual games themselves:

Sheffield Wednesday v Burton (7:45pm)

Saturday’s romp over Norwich was the first time Wednesday have scored more than four goals at home in the Championship since January 2014. They’ve only failed to score twice at Hillsborough in the League since August, this is their last home game against any of the teams that are currently in the bottom six and they’ve won four of the previous five against the sides currently in that category.

Surprisingly, Burton haven’t conceded an away goal in their last two games but they were lucky that Bristol City both had a goal disallowed and missed a penalty at the weekend. If they can keep a third consecutive clean sheet on their travels, the Brewers can take a huge step in conserving their status in the Championship. It’s a very big if though…

Reading v Newcastle (8:00pm)

I’ve mentioned how impressive the Royals have been at home more than once recently, but if they’re serious about the playoffs they need to win this game. Reading are unbeaten at home against the other clubs in the top six, but Newcastle are unbeaten away at the same teams. Something’s got to give – this is only the fifth meeting in the league between the clubs in Berkshire but Reading have only lost one of the previous four. That may be worth remembering at 10pm.

Usual drill, back on Friday. No FA Cup previews though as all the Championship teams are out.

View From The Bottom

In case you missed it, here’s how the top of the table clash played out earlier this week:

Huddersfield v Newcastle (Saturday, Sky Sports 1, 5:15pm) would normally be the choice of game of the week, but I think I’ve been concentrating on the top of the table too much recently – and the bottom of the table is just as fascinating at the moment.

Only four points separate Wolves, Bristol City, Blackburn and Wigan. The Lancashire duo are the bookie’s favourites to join Rotherham in League One next season, but as we’ve seen over the past seasons there are usually a few twists and turns along the way and it’s not as if the four clubs are new to the wrong end of the table.

The big game in the battle to avoid relegation looks as if it may between Blackburn Rovers and Bristol City on Easter Monday, but rather frustratingly I won’t be around to cover it as I’m away for the previous week.

There are three games that look crucial this weekend:

Blackburn Rovers v Wigan Athletic

Rovers have suffered just two defeats in their last six at Ewood Park and have won without conceding in both of their most recent outings in front of their own fans including a win over Derby on Tuesday courtesy of a goal from Craig Conway. A new manager bounce was inevitable, but the last seven years have not exactly made Tony Mowbray a household name when it comes to football management.

Wigan have only lost half of their last six aways, but they’ve only won twice since the start of December. The Latics still have to visit Newcastle and Brighton before the end of the season as well as hosting Bristol City and Rotherham, so they look as if they still have their destiny in their own hands. It’d be a shame if they only lasted one season before returning to League One, but considering the last two winners of that division are also struggling, I wonder if that’s a sign that the gulf between the Championship and League One is beginning to be as wide as that between the Premier League and the Championship.

Wigan have only won one league game at Ewood Park in nine attempts since 2006: a 1-0 win in the Premier League in May 2012, which meant Rovers were relegated to the Championship. Almost five years later, a similar result could contribute to Blackburn being relegated to the third tier for the first time since 1979.

Reading v Wolves

Despite losing at both Brighton and Huddersfield in quick succession, Reading are still pretty formidable at home, having only been beaten once since the end of November. Considering the Royals still have to host Blackburn and Wigan, they could still have a considerable impact at both ends of the table.

Wolves have only lost half of their last six aways but the damage is being done at Molineux, where they’ve lost four of their last five games and failed to beat Birmingham a couple of weeks ago despite the Blues playing most of the second half with ten men after Paul Robinson was dismissed.

Reading have only lost twice to Wolves in their last ten league games in Berkshire, but the last time the visitors won was in April 2005. Since then, three of the four games have ended in draws.

Bristol City v Burton Albion

The continuing mystery of why Lee Johnson is still in charge at Ashton Gate continues: one theory is that having been offered and signed a long term contract before it was adequately proven that he was the right man for the job, it’s too expensive for the club to get rid of him. For the record, City have won twice at home since November, during which time they’ve also blown leads at home against Reading and Cardiff.

Just like Wigan and Wolves, Burton have only lost half of their last six away games but they’re currently unbeaten in three and are currently in their highest league position this season. Something to look out for tomorrow: Bristol City’s home defence is about average for the Championship, but this season Burton haven’t lost an away game when they’ve opened the scoring.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that this is the first meeting between the two sides at Ashton Gate. The last time City entertained a team from Burton in a league game was when Burton United lost 4-0 just before Christmas 1905. Bristol City won the Second Division title that season, finishing four points ahead of Manchester United.

I’ll be back next Tuesday for a quick look at the midweek games.