Mike Roberts - Monday 02.12.13, 16:02pm
Despite writing that I’d be back on Tuesday, the multiple managerial dismissals this weekend have forced this issue. Barnsley and Sheffield Wednesday have now been joined by Wigan in the search for new managers.
It’s hard not to feel sympathy for Owen Coyle. In the last two seasons he’s been appointed and then dismissed by clubs that had been relegated from the Premier League and both Bolton and Wigan have quite a lot in common other than being based in Lancashire. Both have ambitious chairman who probably think of their clubs as somehow ‘better’ than the Championship and must have assumed that Coyle would have the ability to get them promoted.
Regular readers will already know this, but I’ve shown over and over again that the Championship does not work like that. To put it simply, a promotion contender needs to spend at least one season in the Championship: look at the top of the table after the weekend’s games. Of the top six, QPR and Reading were in the Premier League last season but although Blackpool and Burnley have recent experience at the top level, Leicester and Derby have spent the best part of a decade outside the top flight. Nigel Adkins, Sean Dyche, Nigel Peason and Steve McLaren all have plenty of experience in managing in the Championship.
So for the umpteenth time: the theory to be a successful Championship team is to become an established Championship team with a manager that has experience managing in the competition. So although I can understand the decisions made at Oakwell and Hillsborough over the weekend, Wigan Athletic have made a big mistake.
Leicester took over at the top of the table on Saturday after QPR and Burnley both lost: oddly enough, Jamie Vardy’s second goal against Millwall amd James Vaughan’s penalty for Huddersfield against Burnley were almost simultaneous. Burnley finished the game with ten men after Michael Duff was dismissed for a second yellow card following a foul on Vaughan with five minutes left. At the bottom, in the last post I emphasised the long term importance of Yeovil not finishing bottom at the end of the November and the Glovers duly won 3-0 at Watford. Defeats for Barnsley and Sheffield Wednesday meant the end for messers Flitcroft and Jones: I would expect the latter to be dragged into the Sky Sports studios over Christmas as a pundit.
There are three games of interest tomorrow and all are contests between the top and bottom six. Sheffield Wednesday’s only home win this season – and only their sixth win in the league at Hillsborough in 2013 – came at the start of last month when they battered Reading 5-2 but their record against teams in the top half of the table has been dire otherwise and includes three draws and five defeats. Leicester have only won two of their last seven visits to Hillsborough but have lost at both Doncaster and Charlton in 2013/14 so this might be as straightforward as it appears for the Foxes.
Yeovil and Blackpool haven’t met since the League One playoff final six and a half years ago and the Glovers have never beaten the Tangerines in Somerset: although this game can’t really be described as a ‘must win’ for the Glovers, the five points the currently separate the bottom three clubs from safety can’t be allowed to get any wider. So the question is whether last weekend’s success at Vicarage Road is either a flash in the pan or something more tangible and Blackpool will provide an answer: their only defeat away from Bloomfield Road this season was a 3-1 loss at Millwall in mid-September but Paul Ince may have to be happy with a point.
Charlton travel to Reading having only won twice on their travels this season and having lost three of their last four games. The last time they won in Berkshire was at the old Elm Park in 1981 and with the Royals not having lost at home in the Championship since January – a seventeen game unbeaten streak – Chris Powell’s men will have their work cut out for them. Despite the good work Powell has done at the Valley over the last few seasons, I think there’s a case to be made that either Powell or Lee Clark of Birmingham will be the next manager looking for a job: a bad run over Christmas with a poor result in the FA Cup may be all it takes.
On that cheerful note, I’ll leave you alone until Friday…
Mike Roberts - Saturday 30.11.13, 20:36pm
In the aftermath of their 3-0 home defeat at Oakwell by Birmingham this afternoon, Barnsley have sacked manager David Flitcroft.
The former journeyman midfielder took over from Keith Hill in mid January and although he managed to keep the Tykes in the Championship last season, as I mentioned on Friday Barnsley have been noticeably worse this season.
To make matters worse, Yeovil won convincingly at Watford - a result that means Barnsley are bottom of the table. In four of the last five seasons, the club at the bottom at the end of November has been relegated.
On Sunday Sheffield Wednesday decided to join in when they sacked Dave Jones. The former Cardiff boss was appointed in March 2012 and was in charge when Wednesday were promoted two seasons ago, but apart from a bright start at the beginning of last season they’ve not featured in the top half of the table in the season and a half since they joined the Championship.
Mike Roberts - Friday 29.11.13, 19:21pm
The top three are now all seven points clear of the pack – an unprecedented situation since the second tier was renamed the Championship. Since the start of the 2004/2005 season there have been a couple of occasions where two teams have made the early running: two years ago Southampton and West Ham were six points ahead of Cardiff and at the end of November 2005 Reading and Sheffield United were nine points ahead of Watford.
Here’s the interesting bit. This weekend’s games featuring the top three are huge: in four of the last five seasons, the teams that have been in the top two at the end of November have eventually been promoted. Not only that, in four of the last five seasons – although not the same ones – all the clubs that have eventually been promoted have been in the top six at the end of November.
Regular readers will know what’s coming next – the bottom six at the end of this month will give us a clue about who I’ll be writing about next season at the Buzzin’ League One blog. Without exception, the teams in the bottom six at the end of November have produced the sides that are eventually relegated. If Yeovil lose at Watford, that’s basically the end for them. In four of the last five seasons, the club at the bottom at the end of November has been relegated.
Burnley and QPR are both away this weekend – the leaders make the short journey to Huddersfield, where they’ve been remarkably successful over the years. Although the Terriers won at the beginning of last season, Burnley’s last league defeat at Huddersfield had been in February 1956 – but even though they’ve not really shown any discernible signs of improvement this season, Mark Robbin’s side has only been beaten at home once by the teams in the top half of the table this season and this looks like a very competitive match.
QPR arguably have the easier task at Doncaster, but this is the type of game that could be a lot tricker than Rangers might have wanted. They’ve only won twice in seven attempts in league games at either the Keepmoat or Belle View and although Rovers have already lost to Burnley and Blackpool at home, they’ve also beaten Leicester and drawn with Nottingham Forest.
It’s Leicester that probably have the most to gain if they can beat Millwall: it’s a big if, because the Lions have won three of their last four trips to the King Power Stadium. The hosts have won all of the games against teams in the bottom half of the Championship table and although Millwall have only won once away from the New Den this season, if you’re looking for ‘isn’t the Championship unpredictable’ cliches on Saturday night, this game is where you may find them.
At the bottom of the table, Barnsley v Birmingham looks like the eyecatcher, albeit for all the wrong reasons. As it looks increasingly likely that we’re going to be waving a long goodbye to Yeovil, this match already looks vital to the long term Championship survival of both clubs who have both regressed at a rate of knots since last season. Although the Blues have managed to avoid losing their last two games and can’t drop into the bottom three if Barnsley win, the Tykes are a far tougher proposition at home than they have been on the road this season. However, the midlanders have the advantage at Oakwell: they’ve only lost one of their six league games there since the turn of the century.
I’ll be back on Tuesday afternoon for a look at the last midweek round of games before Christmas.
Mike Roberts - Thursday 21.11.13, 17:12pm
The Sky Bet Championship returns after one of the most pointless international breaks we’ve had to tolerate since I began writing for this blog three years ago.
At one point a fortnight ago it looked as if there might be more surprises than there actually were: Burnley were six minutes away from losing their unbeaten home record but it was saved when Danny Ings scored an equaliser against Bournemouth. Leicester and Blackpool both suffered their first home defeats of the season: the Foxes lost at the King Power Stadium since April as Forest successfully defended a two goal half time lead and Ipswich took all three points at Bloomfield Road for the first time since November 2008 with a last gasp winner from Daryl Murphy.
One intriguing story that’s broken since I last posted is the apparent £60 million fine that QPR face due to the ‘Financial Fair Play’ rules. Over the past few seasons Rangers have acquired a reputation for overspending as well as sailing close to the rules and although the fine sounds enormous, it’s highly unlikely to be enforced. If QPR are promoted this season, they’ll have to pay it in 2015 – which would probably still mean they’d make a profit from the money they’d earn from the Premier League. If they aren’t, it’ll probably just be a transfer embargo. I’m not going to make any further comment on this story for the foreseable future as it strikes me that these measures are pretty toothless and won’t be applied evenly. Wait until a club from League 1 or League 2 gets into trouble.
Back to events on the pitch. Leicester and QPR will overtake Burnley if they beat Ipswich and Charlton on Saturday and the Clarets fail to gain a point at Nottingham Forest, but although the order at the top of the table could change, the chasing pack – led by Blackpool – are still at least five points off the pace. Both Derby and Leeds are in good form at the moment, while Reading and Watford have been indifferent over the last few games.
The bottom of the table is still clogged up, but with four of the bottom six clubs facing each other at the weekend the situation might become a lot more fluid.
One surprising fact at the current bottom six is that although they’ve met eight times this season, not one of those games has ended in a home win. Admittedly Doncaster and Yeovil have yet to play any of their relegation rivals at home yet – that’ll change on Friday – but both Sheffield Wednesday and Barnsley have failed to win any of the three home games they’ve played against the other strugglers. At least Wednesday have a reliable goalscorer, even though Matty Fryatt is on loan from Hull.
Yeovil will be looking forward to their trip to the Keepmoat on Friday (Sky Sports 1, 7:45pm) as they haven’t lost any of their previous five visits. Having only earned two points from eighteen available since beating Millwall in August, a win for Yeovil would be a major boost for morale although they cannot escape the bottom three. Rovers have had a tough start to the season – they’ve already played four of the current top six at home – and this is the type of game they need to win in order to put some breathing space between them and the teams around them.
Millwall host Barnsley on Saturday: the Tykes’ record in South London isn’t as good as Yeovil’s performances have been at Doncaster, but they’ve only lost three of their seven trips to the New Den since it opened just over 20 years ago. Having said that, the Lions haven’t lost at home since being thrashed by Derby in mid September and with eight different players scoring in their four home games since then it looks as if manager Steve Lomas might have solved some of Millwall’s issues at the moment.
There’s one catch up game next Tuesday: the long range weather forecast in South London doesn’t indicate the type of torrential rain that caused Charlton’s game against Doncaster to be abandoned at the end of August. Rovers were leading 3-1 when referee Lee Collins made the decision to end the game at half time.
I’ll be back next Friday – hard to believe that November has flown by so quickly and the Christmas period is almost upon us.
Mike Roberts - Wednesday 13.11.13, 16:21pm
Earlier today Middlesbrough appointed Aitor Karanka as their new first team manager.
Karanka’s only other managerial experience was as Spain’s under 16 boss between 2008 and 2010, although he is probably best known as being Jose Mourinho’s assistant at Real Madrid. Karanka has no managerial or playing experience in England so it’ll be interesting to see how he copes with a team in the bottom half of the Sky Bet Championship.
Middlesbrough have only finished in the top half of the competition in one of the five seasons since they were relegated from the Premier League and Karanka is their first non-British manager.
No post this weekend due to the international break, I’ll be back next Friday.