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2015/16 Sky Bet Championship Preview Part 2

Mike Roberts - Thursday 23.07.15, 15:18pm

Part two of this season’s preview, including three of the clubs that could be amongst the front runners. Once again, the prices mentioned below were taken from Oddschecker.com on 1st July and will fluctuate throughout the season.

Channel 5 announced the presenters for ‘Football League Tonight’ yesterday and although the show hasn’t begun yet, the choices look pretty solid to me.

Burnley

Manager: Sean Dyche

Relegated from the Premier League

Last ten games: 3-2-5 (Premier League)

Promotion: 9/2

Relegation: 20/1

One of the better teams in the Championship before being promoted in 2014 and although it’s a terrible old cliche, the Clarets should be ‘there or there abouts’ next May, especially after capturing Jelle Vossen, who probably should have scored more goals for Middlesbrough. Despite only having one season in The Promised Land, the experience (and the cash) the Clarets gained will be invaluable. Should be capable of a top ten finish at the very least, but automatic promotion might be wishful thinking as it took four seasons to win it last time and five seasons before winning it in 2009. On a side note, this is easily the best period in the history of the club since the 1970s: almost 30 years ago Burnley nearly dropped out of the league altogether.

Cardiff City

Manager: Russell Slade

Second season in the Championship

Last ten games: 5-3-2

Promotion: 8/1

Relegation: 8/1

I never thought Ole Gunnar Solksjaer was never going to work out as a manager in English football so early in his career, but what looked like a so-so season after relegation was salvaged by a very impressive end of season sequence that bodes well if Cardiff can maintain that form. It’s easy to see why the bookies are unsure about their prospects this season: they’ve not finished in the bottom of the half of the Championship since 2004/05 and they reached the playoffs in three consecutive seasons before promotion in 2013. If Shola Ameobi and Kenwyne Jones can form a decent partnership watch out.

Charlton

Manager: Guy Luzon

Fourth season in the Championship.

Last ten games: 3-3-4

Promotion: 25/1

Relegation: 10/3 (second favourites)

Those odds for relegation look wrong to me and here’s why. Despite being a rich man’s plaything, the Addicks did seem to turn a corner after the previously obscure Guy Luzon got the job: they lost only seven of his 20 league games in charge and  although they drew too many games to be promotion contenders, Charlton were far better than they were under Bob Peeters and could be amongst the front runners this time. They’ll need to be more consistent in 2015/16 and the key to that may be more goals from Igor Vetekele. This season will be their longest period at this level since the mid 1990s,which could be another reason the bookies think they may be relegated.

Derby County

Manager: Paul Clement (appointed June 2015)

Eighth season in the Championship

Last ten games: 2-5-3

Promotion: 11/4 favourites

Relegation: 33/1

They ought to change their nickname to The Bridesmaids rather than the Rams. Defeated playoff finalists don’t have a particularly good record in the following season, but even though the Rams only dropped out of the automatic places in March they still looked as if they’d be playoff certainties. Yet they saved their worst form of the season for the most important part of it and the defensive collapse over the last three games seemed to indicate that Steve McClaren was unable to do anything about the malaise that had descended on the club. Expect a regression to mid table; Paul Clement may have an impressive CV but even if he’s half as good as Aitor Karanka is he’ll still need a season in the Championship to get used to the weekly insanity.

Fulham

Manager: Kit Symons

Second season in the Championship

Last ten games: 3-4-3

Promotion: 8/1

Relegation: 9/1

Ultimately a forgettable season, even if 2014/15 at Craven Cottage should be seen as warning to the Premier League bottom feeders that there’s a huge difference between the Promised Land and the Championship. Kit Symons’ side should be too good to go down – especially as there won’t be an unexpected culture shock this term – but with the defence having conceded 80 plus goals in both of the last two seasons, it’s really easy to see where the changes should be made. If they start getting decent results away from home against the promotion contenders and can win both games against more than one team, Fulham should finish higher than they did last season but the summer signings so far indicate that packing the midfield seems to be the way forward.

Huddersfield

Manager: Chris Powell

Fourth season in the Championship

Last ten games: 2-7-1

Promotion: 33/1

Relegation: 9/2

There was a change of manager very early on that resulted in a slight improvement based on the ‘hard to beat’ style of mid table survivalism that eventually got Chris Powell the boot at Charlton, but the best that Terriers fans can hope for is another modest step forward and that can only be achieved by consistency and winning a few of the games they drew last season. As I pointed out at the beginning of 2014/15, it’s been a while since Town finished in the top half of the second tier and that’s probably an unrealistic target once again, there are worse places to be than plodding along in the bottom half of the table without the immediate threat of relegation. Finishing above Leeds might be something to aim for and if you’ve not seen or heard of Jordy Hiwula before, you might be in for a treat.



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Tags: Burnley · Cardiff · Championship Teams · Charlton · Derby · Fulham · Huddersfield Town

2015/16 Sky Bet Championship Preview Part 1

Mike Roberts - Friday 17.07.15, 13:27pm

Well, it’s mid July and although it’s a couple of weeks before the season starts, that usually means it’s time to start posting the season previews. As usual, there are four parts plus a ‘What to expect’ post that should be appearing on 7th August just before the season opener between Brighton and Nottingham Forest.

One big change this season is that the highlights package on terrestrial television has moved from BBC to Channel 5. It remains to be seen how C5 will cover the Football League, although the new show will be titled ‘Football League Tonight’ and will air at 9:00pm on Saturday evenings. Having moaned a lot about the Football League Show over the past few seasons in a way I’m sad to see it go, but mid evening slot is an immediate improvement already.

The prices were taken from Oddschecker at 4:00pm on Wednesday 1st July and I’ll be surprised if any of them are the same on 7th August. They’re a reasonably good barometer of pre-season sentiment but probably won’t reflect the situation in May 2016. Last August Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich were 8/1, 7/1 and 10/3 for promotion respectively: Nottingham Forest and Wigan were both shorter than that and Fulham were the same price as Norwich.

Birmingham City

Manager: Garry Rowett

Fifth consecutive season in the Championship

Last ten games: 5-2-3

Promotion: 16/1

Relegation: 9/2 (second favourites)

The Blues recent history can be divided into before and after Lee Clark, who should have been released far earlier but who was retained due to the chaos at boardroom level. After losing 8-0 at home to Bournemouth a mid table finish looked wildly optimistic but Garry Rowett’s appointment had an immediate impact. A consistent goalscorer would help the general improvement, but Blues fans may have to wait for at least another season before their team can contend for the playoffs. However, they won’t have to worry about relegation to the third tier and could be a surprise playoff contender if they get off to a good start.

Blackburn Rovers

Manager: Garry Bowyer

Fourth consecutive season in the Championship.

Last ten games: 4-4-2

Promotion: 10/1

Relegation: 9/1

I’m happy to admit that I overestimated Rovers’ abilities before last season; they drew far too many away games and although they tightened up defensively that remains a priority for Gary Bowyer if Rovers are going to make it to the next level. Could be a pivotal season for a number of reasons, including being one campaign away from being an average Championship club rather than one that should be aiming for promotion. Tough to beat, but that’s not been enough to see them comfortably in the top six since relegation.

Bolton Wanderers

Manager: Neil Lennon

Fourth consecutive season in the Championship

Last ten games: 2-4-4

Promotion: 14/1

Relegation: 11/2

I can’t remember writing much if anything about them last season: after a terrible start the Trotters spent almost all of the season in the bottom third without ever looking as if they’d be relegated, which is almost exactly the same as what happened in 2013/14. Expect more of the same in 2015/16, but it’s worth remembering that Bolton won almost a quarter of their points from the teams that were relegated and they might find themselves in a scrap at the foot of the table, especially as they’re such a soft touch on the road. Only Blackpool lost more road trips last season.

Brentford

Manager: Marinus Dijkhuizen (appointed June 1st 2015)

Second consecutive season in the Championship

Last ten games (not counting the playoff semi final): 4-4-2

Promotion: 5/1

Relegation: 20/1

The Bees’ highest league position since 1951 was definitely something to celebrate, but as we’ve seen over the past few seasons a playoff hangover combined with a change of manager isn’t exactly a recipe for success in the Championship (see immediately below for confirmation). I didn’t expect them to get anywhere near the 2015/2016 playoffs before they appointed a Dutch manager with no experience of coaching in England; I can’t see any reason why I should change my opinion but I doubt they’ll struggle either.

Brighton & Hove Albion

Manager: Chris Houghton

Fifth consecutive season in the Championship

Last ten games: 1-4-5

Promotion: 10/1

Relegation: 15/2

A classic example of team having a playoff hangover and making a vanity appointment as manager, who made a ‘big’ signing (Sam Baldock) who – not for the first time – was underwhelming at Championship level. The decision to appoint Chris Houghton was the right one, but having finished in their worst position in the second tier since they went down a decade ago, this season could the Seagulls involved in a relegation battle that looked unlikely last August. Won the fewest games of the clubs that weren’t relegated; one bright spot was their away defence, but in eight of their ten away defeats in 2014/15 were by one goal. Have never lasted more than four straight seasons at this level, so watch out: one of the teams that the bookies seem very unsure about.

Bristol City

Manager: Steve Cotterill

Promoted as League One Champions

Last ten games: 5-5-0 (League One)

Promotion: 7/1

Relegation: 9/1

Apart from relegations in 1924 and 1999, City’s campaigns in the second tier immediately after winning promotion have produced top half finishes including an unexpected run to the playoff final in 2008. Combine that with the average finishing position of League One champions over the last decade being eighth and one possible outcome is that the Robins might be one of the better teams in the Championship and should be competitive at the very least. The small squad that won the League One title was incredibly fortunate with injuries and needs reinforcing in key positions, but Steve Cotterill knows his way around the Championship, the board are insistent they won’t make the same mistakes as the last time they were here and momentum is in their favour.



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Tags: Birmingham · Blackburn Rovers · Bolton · Brentford · Brighton · Bristol City · Nottm Forest

Former Wolves Legend Kenny Hibbit Wins Footballers’ Golf Classic

Terry Lane - Tuesday 23.06.15, 15:47pm

Wolves football legend Kenny Hibbitt as he finally tasted victory in the Footballers’ Golf Classic

Wolves football legend Kenny Hibbitt wins Footballers’ Golf Classic

Thirteen is an unlucky number for some but not for Wolves footballing legend Kenny Hibbitt as he finally tasted victory in the Footballers’ Golf Classic at Spain’s prestigious La Manga Club at the 13th time of asking.

Kenny Hibbitt, 64, had never finished higher than sixth in his previous appearances in the popular annual event, sponsored by Stace, but he put years of disappointment behind him to romp to success on the sun-drenched fairways of the world-renowned resort in Murcia, south-east Spain.

The two-handicapper, who made 544 appearances for Wolves between 1968-84 and also played for Coventry City and Bristol Rovers, lay joint-third alongside ex-Wigan and Ipswich boss Paul Jewell after the first round of the 54-hole competition at La Manga Club with 32 Stableford points before making his decisive move on the second day.

Hibbitt’s second-round tally of 39 points gave him a two-point lead over Jewell going into the last 18 holes, and he closed out victory in impressive style by top-scoring for the second day running with 35 points to finish with a total of 106 points and lift the trophy amid emotional scenes.

Hibbitt’s final score was six points clear of former Reading, West Ham and Southampton coach Wally Downes, who surged through the field in the last round to take the runners-up spot, with ex-Aston Villa and England midfielder Lee Hendrie one point further back in third.
But Jewell had a final day to forget and could only manage 28 points on La Manga Club’s North Course to finish in sixth place, one point behind first-round leader Steve Lovell and Andy Morrison.

“I’ve been trying to win this title for 13 years but have never come close,” reflected an emotional Hibbitt, who won two League Cups with Wolves in 1974 and 1980.

“I never thought it would be possible to win off such a low handicap and to take the title with 106 points ranks alongside anything I achieved in football. As I get older, this means more than you can ever imagine.”

This year’s Footballers’ Golf Classic, the 19th time it has been staged, featured a galaxy of stars from the footballing world including former England internationals Terry Butcher, Darius Vassell and Graham Roberts and ex-Southampton duo Jason Dodd and Francis Benali, who were all making their debuts.

And joining them on La Manga Club’s famous fairways were the likes of former Liverpool, Tottenham and England striker Paul Walsh, past winners Pat Jennings and Russell Osman, ex-Chelsea and Scotland striker David Speedie and other former England internationals including Mark Wright, Luther Blissett, Ray Clemence and another Wolves’ legend, Steve Bull.

The golf classic featured four days of competitive golf: the one-day Alan Ball Trophy and the three-day main event, which was sponsored for the first time this year by construction and property consultants Stace, with competitors playing alongside a different footballer each day.

Ex-Millwall and Wales striker Steve Lovell missed out on his quest for a third title in five years but still had cause to celebrate as his sons Jon and Mark joined up with friend Lee Browning to claim victory in the overall team competition victory, with their side ‘The Lovell-Lees’ lifting the title with 242 points after a dramatic play-off with ‘The 3 Irons’.



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Tags: Wolves

First Day Games Announced

Mike Roberts - Wednesday 17.06.15, 13:32pm

The first weekend of the 2015/16 season will start on Saturday 8th August 2015 with the following games:

Birmingham City v Reading

Blackburn Rovers v Wolves

Bolton v Derby

Brentford v Ipswich

Brighton v Nottingham Forest

Cardiff v Fulham

Charlton v QPR

Hull v Huddersfield

Leeds v Burnley

Preston v Middlesbrough

Rotherham v MK Dons

Sheffield Wednesday v Bristol City

The match at Griffin Park between the two losing playoff semi finalists looks like a contender for game of the weekend, but I wouldn’t expect all of these games to kick off at 3:00pm on Saturday afternoon. The first round of the Capital One cup was drawn on Monday, but as I’m in summer holiday mode right now I’ll let you look those games up yourselves. See you in about a month, when the season preview will appear.



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Tags: Fixtures

2014/15 Sky Bet Championship Play Off Final Preview

Mike Roberts - Friday 22.05.15, 15:31pm

This season’s edition of The Biggest Game in the Entire History of the Universe ™ is here again and this season Middlesbrough and Norwich will compete for roughly a 50% chance of being relegated or a 90% chance of finishing in the bottom half of next season’s Premier League. That’s not me being sarcastic either: since the second tier became the Championship ten seasons ago, five playoff final winners have lasted just one season in the Premier League and only one team (West Ham in 2006) has won the final and gone on to finish in the top half of the Premier League at the end of the following season. Last season’s playoff finalists (QPR) will be rejoining the Championship in August.

Monday’s game is live on Sky Sports 1 (2:00pm) with the actual football starting at 3:00pm. If you’re interested in who is going to win the last promotion place from League One, I’ll make no apologies for making a shameless plug for my League One Playoff Final preview here; why not make a Sunday afternoon of it by watching Hull and Newcastle trying to avoid relegation to the Championship earlier in the afternoon? That was sarcasm by the way…

Middlesbrough

The Curse Of Fourth appear to have ended in dramatic fashion when QPR won last season’s final with a last gasp goal from Bobby Zamora, but that was the first time a fourth placed finisher had won the final since Charlton beat Sunderland on penalties in 1998 and Rangers lasted one season in the Premier League. Boro have spent five of the last six seasons outside the top ten in the Championship and as this is only their second playoff campaign then I think it’s fair to say this game is a rare opportunity to do something unique.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Boro have a good record against the other three playoff teams and although their convincing playoff win over Brentford went to form, don’t forget that Aitor Karanka’s side lost half of their last ten aways. That’s why probably they’re in the playoffs rather than on the beach after the open topped bus parade; Boro had the best defensive record in the Championship this season (21 clean sheets) and the defence first approach that’s worked for Karanka over the past couple of seasons could work in a one off game like this. On the other hand, Middlesbrough scored the fewest total goals amongst the sides in the top six (they were shut out twice by Bournemouth, Leeds and Reading), could find it hard to replace Patrick Bamford if they go up and could struggle to come from behind on Monday.

Key player: Grant Leadbitter. A goalscoring midfielder is what every Championship club needs and the 29 year old Mackem has almost doubled his previous best total this season. Has tons of experience in the Championship but has played at the highest level in the past and could do so again. Won’t need much motivation.

Norwich

Looking back at the pre-season preview for the Canaries, it strikes me that I was pretty much on the mark. Norwich began well after being relegated but were knocked off top spot at the start of October and by the end of the following month had dropped into mid table, which is more or less what I predicted. What many of us didn’t see coming was the appointment of Alex Neil in January; that was the catalyst for a sustained promotion bid and although Norwich never regained top spot, Neil’s record at this level has been very impressive. The problem is that his record also unsustainable; but the immediate issue is whether Neil is a good enough manager to win one game and on current evidence the answer is yes.

There’s no doubt that the Canaries deserve to be one game away from an immediate return to the Premier League. They beat Watford and Ipswich twice during the regular season by aggregate scores of 6-0 and 3-0 respectively. Only Bournemouth lost fewer games this season and Norwich only failed to score in three league games at Carrow Road and four times on their travels. However, here’s where the big red warning sign starts flashing. The only team that stopped Norwich scoring in both league games was Middlesbrough, who were one of only two clubs to win both games against the Canaries (for the record, the other was Reading).

Key player: John Ruddy. The giant goalkeeper made 90 Premier League appearances over the three seasons the Canaries played in the top flight after promotion in 2011 and is still young enough to make an international comeback after a broken finger ruled him out of the England squad for Euro 2012. Ever present this season and helped to keep fourteen clean sheets in 2014/15 which included five in the ten games against the other clubs in the top six.

Head to head

Norwich have only won once in their last ten games against Middlesbrough in all competitions, a 1-0 win in October 2010 that was just after Gordon Strachan’s departure from the Riverside and was also on my list of games to keep an eye on that week. Boro have won five of the remaining nine matches but have been a couple of high scoring draws that might be worth recalling on Sunday. In May 1993 they shared six goals on Teeside and almost 12 years later it finished 4-4 at Carrow Road!

General Facts

This is only the fourth time the teams finishing third and fourth have met in the playoff final over the last decade. The third place finisher has won two of the last three; the last time in 2008, when Hull beat Bristol City. All three of those games finished 1-0.

Since 2005, fourth placed finishers have gone 1-3 in finals and all of those games have been settled by no more than one goal.

Six of the last ten finals have featured less than two goals and in seven of them only one team has scored. So it won’t come as much of a surprise that 1-0 has been the most common score in the last ten seasons and even less of a surprise is that eight of the last ten finals have been won by a margin of one goal. Only Watford in 2006 and Swansea in 2011 have had a higher margin of victory, which implies next season’s final might be one sided…

This will be the first final without a team from London, the South East or Lancashire taking part since 2008.

Verdict

If – as seems likely looking at the stats immediately above – we’re looking at a tight, low scoring game then the advantage is with Middlesbrough. That’s also the pattern in the recent games between the sides but as I mentioned earlier in this post, if Norwich take the lead then Boro may be forced out of their comfort zone and I’m not sure that coming from behind is their strength.

All being well I should be able to update after the game. If you’re interested in who might be coming up from the League One final, why not have a wander over to Buzzin’ League One Football to read the preview.

Update: Norwich were promoted to the Premier League following a 2-0 win over Middlesbrough his afternoon. The Canaries scored twice in the first 15 minutes and as I mentioned above, Boro were unable to come back.

In other news…Leeds hired Uwe Roesler…Derby have fired Steve McClaren…Preston will be back in the Championship after thrashing Swindon 4-0…and I’ll be back next month with the first day fixtures for next season and any other housekeeping.



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Tags: AFC Bournemouth · Brentford · Charlton · Ipswich · Leeds United · Middlesbrough · Norwich · QPR · Reading · Watford

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