Mike Roberts - Friday 27.02.15, 18:08pm
There’s not much to report after the midweek games: of the sides that have already earned 50 points only Bournemouth lost, but only Middlesbrough can overtake Derby this weekend and with seven points between Wolves in eighth place and Nottingham Forest in ninth then I don’t think we’re going to see any ‘late surges’ for the playoffs this season.
At the bottom, Brighton did themselves a favour with a 2-0 win over Leeds, which means Bolton drop back into the bottom six for the first time since just after Guy Fawkes’ night. The Trotters have lost six of their last ten, so I’d like you all to welcome Mr. Lennon back from his honeymoon.
With four games that will have a direct impact on the promotion and relegation issues this weekend looks like a cracker. Wigan visit Blackpool in a game that will in all likelihood decide who finishes bottom: incredibly the Tangerines haven’t lost to any of the other clubs in the bottom six but with the Latics still having to play at Fulham, Rotherham and Millwall after this it’s a must win for Wigan if they’re going to stand any chance of avoiding League One next season.
Fulham entertain Derby, but the tasty looking contest at the wrong end of the Championship is at Rotherham, where Millwall are the visitors. Like Blackpool, the Millers have a decent home record against the other strugglers but the Lions have a habit of parking the bus in these games: in their matches at Fulham, Wigan and Blackpool there have been a total of two goals and the Londoners have been far better defensively on the road since Norwich hit them for six on Boxing Day. That being said, although Rotherham have only lost one of their last seven home games, they’ve not beaten Millwall at home for 15 years.
However, the game of the week is the Old Farm Derby on Sunday (Sky Sports 3, 2:00pm). Two points and forty miles seperate Norwich and Ipswich and Sunday’s encounter looks as if it could be the most competitive match between them for some time.
The Canaries have won five of their last six games at Carrow Road and are one of only four clubs to have broken the 60 goals mark this season, but Norwich have only won four of the last ten meetings with Ipswich on their own patch. The 4-1 victory in November 2010 was the first time Ipswich had ever conceded four goals in a league game at Carrow Road and isn’t likely to happen this time, even though Ipswich have conceded more goals than Millwall on the road this season and despite recent defeats at Brighton and Rotherham, Town have only lost four away games so far this season.
Things to watch out for:
Norwich have scored in all but one of their 16 home games in the Championship in 2014/15…Ipswich haven’t kept an away clean sheet since mid-December and have only managed three all season, all of which came against teams currently in the bottom half of the table…former Celtic strikers have been successful for both clubs: since Boxing Day, Daryl Murphy has scored five of Town’s eleven away goals in the Championship, over the same period Gary Hooper has scored six of Norwich’s 16 home goals…Ipswich have scored within ten minutes of kick off in three of their last five away games, whilst Norwich have scored nine of their sixteen goals over the last five games at Carrow Road in the first half…Ipswich haven’t won at Carrow Road in a league game since February 2006…it’s been almost 20 years since the clubs last met in the top flight, both clubs were relegated at the end of the 1994/95 season.
There’s another midweek programme next week so I’ll be back either on Monday or Tuesday.
Mike Roberts - Tuesday 24.02.15, 17:44pm
Not much changed at the weekend, which included managerial changes. At least those that occured in League One were deadline friendly.
Derby returned to the top of the table for the first time since December after coming from behind twice to beat Sheffield Wednesday by the odd goal in five at the iPro Stadium, but Middlesbrough (who lost at home for the first time since the end of August, Leeds scoring after three minutes) and Bournemouth (who lost 3-1 at Brentford) could overtake the Rams tonight. I’m very conscious of using ‘could overtake’ a lot recently and I’ve got a feeling that’s only going to get worse as we reach the end of the season.
At the foot of the table, the point Millwall earned against Fulham put them within striking distance of Brighton (who beat Birmingham in a seven goal thriller) and Rotherham, who were thumped 5-0 by Wolves, for whom recent signing Benik Afobe netted a hat-trick. That was the Millers’ heaviest defeat at this level since they lost by the same score at Sheffield United in September 2003 and distorted their goal difference to the extent that they’ve now only conceded six fewer goals than Millwall.
Which brings me nicely round to the only game tonight that features sides from both the top and bottom six: Rotherham visit Watford, who were comprehensively turned over by Norwich on Saturday, a result that proved once again what a lousy tipster I am.
The Millers haven’t kept an away clean sheet since the beginning of December and have only kept one in all of their eight trips to Vicarage Road from February 1969, so this might be a case of how many rather than if the Hornets can score. Although they failed to score against Norwich at the weekend, they rebounded after similar defeats to Cardiff and Wolves earlier in the season and have scored at least twice in nine of their sixteen home games this season.
However, in the interests of keeping it brief due to a ‘two post’ week, I’ll have to love you and leave you now. I’ll be back on Friday…unless anyone gets the sack.
Mike Roberts - Friday 20.02.15, 19:10pm
The scenario: you’re the owner one of the smaller clubs in London and you’re having the best season in the league since the early 1950s. Promotion is still a possibility, even though it’ll probably have to be via the playoffs. Just over a year ago, your manager was pretty much unknown but he got an opportunity because his predecessor left for a ‘bigger’ club: it quickly became clear that the former boss might not have been as good as his assistant.
You also own a company that specialises in producing football statistics and you decide to take a slightly different approach to team recruitment and management to the one that’s currently working. It’s supposed to be a ‘European’ method, but to one cynical blogger in particular it looks an awful lot like the approach that Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s used during the ‘Moneyball’ era; it seems to remove a lot of the responsibility previously held by the current manager. And it’s worth remembering that there’s no equivalent to ‘walks’ in association football.
In a nutshell, that is why Mark Warburton is leaving Brentford at the end of this season. Seven years ago they were in a mid-table team in League Two and the last time the Bees played at this level, they were relegated after one campaign. They’ve exceeded expectations this season but although Warburton’s departure and Matthew Benham’s insistance on a new direction may be a watershed for the direction of the club, you can’t help but think the powers that be at Griffin Park are making a big mistake. The earliest clue will be who replaces Warburton; it’s a foreign manager with no knowledge of the Championship then I’ll practically guarantee you that Brentford won’t do anywhere near as well as they have done in 2014/15. I can’t imagine Warburton will be without a job for long, but given his stand on this issue I can think of a few clubs that he won’t be interested in: that includes Nottingham Forest, who announced this week that Dougie Freedman is only on a three month contract. I might actually apply for the job next time.
In the FA Cup last weekend, Blackburn and Reading continue to wave the Championship flag in the FA Cup but the draw for the quarter finals was a mixed bag. Both clubs are on the road: Rovers travel to Liverpool whilst Reading visit Bradford City. The law of averages says one of them should reach the semis, but I’ll take a closer look at which club that might be nearer the time.
Nothing much has changed at either end of the table over the last week: Bournemouth failed to beat Huddersfield last Saturday, which meant Middlesbrough have gone back to the top of the table after coming from behind on Wednesday at Birmingham. Both Derby and Ipswich have a chance to go top on Saturday and without anyone really taking the competition by the scruff of the neck this season any of the top ten could probably still go up. At the bottom, Blackpool and Wigan both picked up points over the last week: the Tangerines were down to nine men but still managed to earn a draw against Nottingham Forest with an equaliser in the 97th minute (Well fancy that! Forest blew a lead and ended up with a point!) whilst the Latics won at Reading, who may have been out of sorts following their cup win at the weekend.
There are only a couple of games worth following this weekend; Fulham visit Millwall and Watford entertain Norwich. There were some signs that Kit Symonds had started something of a revival at Craven Cottage after being appointed in September but six defeats in their last ten have seen the Cottagers drop back into the bottom six for the first time since the start of November. From a slightly less gloomy perspective, Fulham haven’t lost five away games on the bounce since they were relegated and haven’t lost at Millwall in the league since April 1982. The Lions haven’t won at home since October, have lost six of their eight games at the New Den since beating Cardiff and are averaging less than a goal a game in Bermondsey since then.
Norwich’s trip to Watford could well be a playoff game in May: the Canaries have only lost one of their last half dozen away games and seem to have put their autumn slump behind them. They’re now back in the top six for the first time since November and are only a couple of wins away from an automatic promotion spot, so although it’s probably too early to tell, Alex Neil’s appointment seems to have been the right decision. It also helps that the Canaries have three decent strikers: between them Cameron Jerome, Lewis Grabban and Gary Hooper have scored almost 60% of City’s goals this season.
Four straight defeats in November may have undermined any chance of Watford winning automatic promotion but the Hornets have only lost three of their last dozen outings in the Championship and they’ve not lost at home since Boxing Day. They’ve failed to beat any of the current top six sides but haven’t lost at home to Norwich since April 2004 and so I’d not be at all surprised if this ends all square. Eight of the 19 games between the teams currently in the potential promotion slots (42%) have been drawn and with no draw at Vicarage Road since October then I’d be tempted to have a couple of quid on the 5/2 on offer with some firms.
There’s a full midweek programme next week, so I’ll be back then.
Unless anyone else gets sacked.
Mike Roberts - Friday 13.02.15, 17:41pm
No big surprises regarding the last four Championship clubs left in this season’s FA Cup: none of them are strangers to the Fifth Round but it’s a different matter when it comes to qualifying for the quarter finals
Saturday – both 3:00pm kick offs.
Blackburn v Stoke
Rovers regularly qualify for this stage of the FA Cup. They’ve only failed to reach the fifth round on six occasions in the last two decades but Blackburn haven’t won the competition since 1928 and haven’t reached the final since 1960. Therefore it shouldn’t come as much of a shock that they’ve only reached the sixth round twice in the last decade. Despite being original members of the Football League, these clubs have never met in an FA Cup tie at Ewood Park. They’ve met twice at Stoke though, one 1-0 victory each.
Derby v Reading
This is Derby’s best chance of reaching the Sixth Round since the late 1990s but – like Blackburn – they’re regulars at this stage of the competition without threatening the latter rounds; their win in 1946 remains the only time they’ve ever reached the final. Reading are as bad – they have reached this stage or further in three of the last five campaigns but haven’t reached the semi finals since 1927; one Championship side usually reaches the last four and it may be that one of these sides manages that.
This is the first ever meeting in the competition, but the Rams won 2-0 in the Capital One cup in October. One thing worth remembering: the Royals have been a bogey team for the Rams. Reading have won four of the last five games in the league between them at Derby.
Arsenal v Middlesbrough (4:00pm)
Boro also have a decent recent cup record (they’ve only lost in the third round three times in the last decade) but they’ve not reached the sixth round since they were relegated from the Premier League at the end of the 2008/09 season. The last time they reached this stage as a second tier club was in 1991/92, when they beat Manchester City in the Third Round but lost a replay to Portsmouth in the Fifth Round. Middlesbrough were eventually promoted at the end of that season, so will history repeat itself?
It doesn’t look good for the current leaders, but that would have been the majority opinion before the last round. However, Boro have never won at Arsenal in the FA Cup (two meetings, the last in 2004) and lost the 2002 semi final when they met. Middlesbrough’s only appearance in the FA Cup final was in 1997, when they lost to Chelsea.
In the league, the only game featuring a team in the bottom six playing one in the top six is Charlton v Brentford, so it looks as if most of the attention will be focussed on Bournemouth. The Cherries face Huddersfield at Dean Court and could go two points clear at the top if they win: they also don’t have to play again until next weekend, which is an advantage as Derby and Middlesbrough have to play again on Tuesday.
As for how the rest of the season pans out, all of the current top eight teams could still win promotion. Middlesbrough and Bournemouth have made huge strides forward this season but Derby are only a little better than they were last season and the playoff final loss probably counts against them. One thing that has been impressive is that Brentford have not looked out of their depth at this level.
Of the mid table teams, the change of management at Birmingham City has clearly worked wonders and that’s something that needed to happen at Reading. Sheffield Wednesday need to start turning draws into wins next season.
At the bottom, Blackpool and Wigan look doomed, but it’s Brighton that are the surprise strugglers. Millwall have been consistantly poor over the last couple of seasons but have experience of fighting relegation battles successfully and two successive promotions have clearly been a step too far for Rotherham despite Steve Evans trying to blame referees every week.
Usual drill for FA Cup ties: if something amazing happens, you’ll read about it below. Otherwise, I’ll be back next Friday.
Blackburn and Reading qualified for the next round; Rovers were particularly impressive against Stoke.
Mike Roberts - Tuesday 10.02.15, 12:09pm
One of the more remarkable aspects of this season is how the promotion races in both the Championship and League One are beginning to resemble each other. After the top two in the latter competition met on Saturday, three days later the top two in the Championship face each other at Dean Court. To complicate matters even further, if the game finishes all square, a win for Middlesbrough at Blackpool could see the Teesiders take over at the top.
Bournemouth have held on to the top spot in the second tier since mid December and it’s a lot easier to do that when you’re top scorers in the Championship (ex-Coventry striker Callum Wilson has 14) and only three clubs have conceded fewer than you (including the frankly baffling Sheffield Wednesday). The really impressive part of their campaign is their away record but we’ll have to deal with that another day; fifteen wins from their last 20 and only one home defeat since the end of September should be a sufficient indication of exactly how good Bournemouth are right now.
Derby have bounced around the top five since October, but haven’t won more than three games in a row this season. With almost perfect timing, Saturday’s 4-1 win over Bolton was their third win on the bounce since they lost at Forest last month, so the Rams may have to settle for less than maximum points this evening. It’s also worth pointing out that in 2014/15, games between the current top six have resulted in four away wins in eighteen games, but Derby are responsible for half of those wins and shouldn’t be written off – especially as the Rams have conceded less than a goal per game on their travels so far.
As you might expect from two sides that have avoided each other for most of their professional careers, there’s not much to go on in head to head terms. Bournemouth’s only home win against Derby in any competition came in August 1984: since then, the Cherries have had to be content with a point (January 1986) and they lost the corresponding game last November.
As if the game on the South Coast wasn’t enough, Watford travel to Brentford in a game that could be a playoff final in May. Despite knowing the West Hertfordshire/Middlesex area reasonably well, I’ve never really thought of any clash between the Bees and the Hornets as being a derby but as the crow flies there’s only twelve miles between them so I suppose the ‘Battle Of The Insects’ fits the bill. The Bees have lost two of their last three games at Griffin Park and haven’t beaten Watford at home in any competition since March 1977! Watford won three straight aways in December but since September they have lost four of their last ten road trips so this clash isn’t exactly between two form teams.
I’ll be back on Friday with a look at the Fifth Round of the FA Cup and some idle speculation about how the rest of the season may pan out, although regular readers will know that I’m pretty sure we already know two of the teams who will start next season’s FA Cup campaign in November…