Mike Roberts - Friday 19.12.14, 18:07pm
On 16th May 1999, Nottingham Forest and Blackburn Rovers were relegated from the Premier League. Forest had lasted one season after they’d won the old ‘Division One’ title and although Rovers returned to the Promised Land two seasons later and stayed there until 2012, this season represents Rovers’ longest period outside the first tier since England won the World Cup.
That same afternoon, Leeds United drew 2-2 at Coventry City to secure fourth place in the Premier League. United had lost just one of their previous 14 games and reached the semi finals of the old UEFA Cup at the end of the following season. They were relegated from the Premier League just over a decade ago and haven’t really been close to a return to that competition since 2010/11; like Forest, they’ve also spent time in League One within the past decade.
On 15th December 2014, all three clubs were given transfer embargoes following their inability to manage their budgets under the Financial Fair Play rules introduced into the Championship, which is ironic as the following day this happened to Nottingham Forest, although to be honest £250k won’t get much these days. Two weeks ago, Leeds’ ‘owner’ Massimo Cellino was disqualified from that position for failing the Football League’s ‘Fit & Proper Person’ test; this is only the latest chapter in the labyrinthine saga of Leeds’ financial mismanagement over the last ten years. I’ve commented on events at the City Ground in Nottingham and Blackburn’s Ewood Park over the last couple of seasons: my pre-season prediction for Forest looks spot on and although I still think Rovers are possible potential promotion material, their embargo may have ended those hopes even though Venky’s seem to have finally understood what it takes to run a football team.
All three clubs have a lot in common. They used to be ‘big’ clubs (and don’t seem to have been able to escape the nostalgia), they clearly don’t understand how to manage within a budget and they all have non-British ownership.
Let’s get this straight, I’m not a xenophobe. Even though they’re currently bottom of the Premier League, Leicester City’s recent success has been based on their Thai owners understanding the fundamental difference between business and football as well as having the necessary level of patience: the prospect of an experienced Foxes side returning to the second tier with tons of parachute payment cash is genuinely scary. I wasn’t sure that Watford were making the right move after they dismissed Sean Dyche, but compared to Leeds their Italian owners have demonstrated a knowledge of how the game works both on and off the field even if the recent chaos surrounding Oscar Garcia’s successors gave the impression that Project Watford isn’t quite the finished article just yet.
A quick look at the top of the Championship only underlines the following point: that right now you’re more likely to be a successful second tier team with British ownership than without it.
Remarkably, on 25th December 1914 Derby retained their spot at top of the old second division after a 2-2 draw at Nottingham Forest; the Rams went on to win the title! Huddersfield were in second place, whilst Birmingham, Blackpool, Fulham, Nottingham Forest and Wolves were also playing in the second tier. The Terriers form collapsed after Christmas (one win in ten) and Preston eventually finished runners up. Leeds City – who were expelled from the league for serious financial irregularities at the end of the season – were also present. That was the season Arsenal finished sixth in the competition, but then found themselves in the First Division following post war expansion. Lincoln, Grimsby and Stockport were all playing in the Second Division in 1914/15; Glossop North End finished bottom and never returned to the Football League, although the original club is still active in the Northern Counties League.
Back to the present: I’m not going over old ground (there’s plenty of it) but suffice to say whoever’s top at the end of Boxing Day will probably be promoted (just as Derby were a century ago) and whoever’s bottom with probably be relegated – which is exactly what happened to Glossop NE in 1914/15. All that’s left to do is point out some of the decent looking games over the Festive Period as well as all the fun of pointing out the shortcomings in the logic of whoever picks the games for Sky Sports.
Ipswich v Middlesbrough is the obvious highlight, but Bournemouth could do themselves a huge favour with a win at Blackpool. Watford and Norwich face interesting games: the Hornets make the short journey to Reading, where Steve Clark is the new boss. The Canaries (who are only outside the top six on goal difference) may be able to pinch something at Derby, who lost in the Capital One Cup during the week and have to play at lunchtime on Saturday (Sky Sports 1, 12:15pm kick off). At the bottom, Rotherham v Wigan Athletic is the pick of the games.
Also televised: Nottingham Forest v Leeds (Sky Sports 1, 5:15pm). Another one of those games that seem to have been selected on the basis that one or both clubs might be doing well, unless the Sky Sports planners thought it was the mid 1990s. The Football League Show is on at the usual Cinderella slot (BBC1 at 11:45pm) and will hopefully feature Ebeneezer Claridge.
Brentford v Ipswich (1:00pm) could be crucial for both sides in the long run, especially if the Tractor Boys have done well at Middlesbrough; at the other end of the table, Wigan Athletic travel to Leeds (3:00pm). If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in Leeds on Boxing Day and fancy watching a decent game, it might be an idea to miss that one and go to watch Leeds Rhinos and Wakefield Trinity Wildcats in the rugby league friendly at Headingley instead.
Watford v Wolves is the televised game (Sky Sports 1, 5:15pm) but it’s up against Downton Abbey (ITV) and A Shot In The Dark (Channel 5). No Football League Show, despite how important the Boxing Day programme is: presumably Clem will have eaten too many mince pies and drunk too much sherry after getting extricating himself from the chimney the previous evening, although perhaps he left Manish a tie this year.
Sunday 28th December
Nottingham Forest v Birmingham City (Sky Sports 1, 12:00pm) is of no real interest to anyone apart from fans of both sides and anyone who enjoys nostalgia; the sides met at St Andrews exactly 100 years ago, with the Blues winning 3-0. Has the advantage of not clashing with anything else on the schedule but a lie in or a walk in the woods might be more fun. At 3:00pm it’s Blackpool v Rotherham and Millwall face Bournemouth, so there could be some movement at the bottom of the table. The Football League show is on at 00:50am and 06:40am on Monday 29th December, further emphasising how important football is to the BBC; why not just show it once at 03:45am and have done with it?
I’ll try to update this post over the next week or so, but the next scheduled post is the preview of the FA Cup Third Round, which should appear around New Year’s Day. So on behalf of Buzzin’ Media, I’d like to wish you a Happy Christmas.
Mike Roberts - Tuesday 16.12.14, 16:01pm
Only two Championship sides left in the competition and remarkably both games were FA Cup ties last season. Unfortunately, neither Derby or Bournemouth have particularly good records against their respective opponents but the Cherries may never have a better opportunity to beat Liverpool.
Derby v Chelsea (7:45pm, Sky Sports 1)
If the Rams progress to the semi finals for the first time since 2008/09 it would be a major surprise. The clubs have met four previous occasions in the competition, although none of those meetings have taken place since October 1972: the away team failed to win any of those games, but it’s fair to say that back in the early seventies Derby and Chelsea were moving in opposite directions. The most recent meeting in the Midlands was in the Third Round of last season’s FA Cup (Chelsea won 2-0) and the Rams have only won two of their last eleven meetings at home against Chelsea in all competitions: their last victory came in the Premier League in October 1999.
Oh and Chelsea have only lost once in the Premier League this season and haven’t lost an away League Cup tie over 90 minutes for over a decade
Bournemouth v Liverpool (7:45pm tomorrow, Sky Sports 1)
Like so many other aspects to their season, this is a trip into the unknown for Bournemouth: their previous best performance in the League Cup was in 1963/64, when they reached the fourth round before being knocked out by Stoke.
The Cherries lost 2-0 at home to Liverpool in January in the FA Cup, but their previous encounters in that competition on the South Coast both ended in draws. Bournemouth went back to the top of the pile last weekend after an eight goal thriller against Cardiff which was only settled by Callum Wilson’s late winner and are currently on an eleven game unbeaten run in the league that goes back to the end of September…when they lost at Derby.
Liverpool have only won two of their last ten games in all competitions; they’ve not won an away match in the League Cup since winning at West Brom in 2012 and they didn’t exactly have it their own way when they played Cardiff in the final almost three years ago.
I’ll update the results as they come in, but I’ll be back for the final post of 2014 on Friday. The usual Christmas preview will appear, but with three clubs failing the FFP rules and yet another sacking (Nigel Adkins at Reading), I think I might return to one of the major subjects I’ve been banging on about for the last four years…
Update: Derby lost 3-1 at home to Chelsea. Craig Bryson made the score 2-1 after 70 minutes but the game was more or less over when Jake Buxton was dismissed; four minutes later Chelsea extended their lead and that was that.
Mike Roberts - Friday 12.12.14, 16:47pm
It’s still tight at the top: there’s only six points between top and sixth place and with five of the top half dozen winning (Derby, Ipswich, Middlesbrough and Watford all scored at least three goals in their emphatic victories) this weekend will be just as competitive.
At the bottom, Rotherham earned a point at Cardiff and leapfrogged Brighton but Millwall were 4-0 down at half time after Middlesbrough’s Belgian striker Jelle Vossen scored a first half hattrick. With no win in the last six and one in the last fifteen, surely Ian Holloway’s days at the New Den must be numbered. Fun fact this weekend: two of the three noteworthy games this weekend are being televised, including the game of the week. So here they are in chronological order:
Brighton v Millwall (Sky Sports 1, 7:45pm)
Over the last calendar year, Brighton have won just nine of their 26 home games in the Championship, they haven’t won consecutive league games at the Amex since February and after ten homes this season they’d kept just two clean sheets. The big difference between this season and last season is that the Seagulls have won two fewer home contests than they had after ten home games in 2013/14 and overall they’re 13 points off last season’s pace: it was around this time last year that they were coming to the end of a seven game streak during which they’d only lost once and I think it’s fair to say Brighton need to repeat that kind of form right now in order to escape the bottom three.
Millwall have shown resiliance on the the road recenlty (they’ve lost just twice on the road since the end of September) but as I mentioned last week, one win in fifteen outings is awful and last weekend’s performance against Middlesbrough doesn’t inspire confidence. The Lions have already used a staggering 25 players this season, nobody has scored more than three goals. The encouraging thing for Ian Holloway about tonight’s game is that over the last ten meetings Millwall have won as many points as they’ve dropped at Brighton and the hosts haven’t beaten the Lions since November 2008, but I think a draw is their best hope.
Brighton 0, Millwall 1.
Middlesbrough v Derby (Sky Sports 1, 12:15pm)
One of the more regular encounters in the Championship over the past few seasons and another one that looks like it could be a tight game. The leaders are undefeated in the three home games they’ve played against the other promotion contenders so far this season and Derby have only won once on Teeside in the league since August 1988. There also appears to more bad news for the Rams: if you look at the current top six as a mini league there’s only been one away win so far (Derby’s win at Watford last month), but there are contradictions within Middlesbrough’s form at the Riverside – Boro have only won two of their last half dozen league games in front of their own fans. Oh and despite losing at Leeds a fortnight ago, Derby haven’t lost consecutive aways since the spring.
Another draw perhaps? The hosts would go top if they won, but I’d be surprised if Boro were top by 6:00pm.
Middlesbrough 2, Derby 0. Ryan Shotton’s red card probably decided the result…but Bournemouth were top at 6:00pm after battering Cardiff 5-3 at Dean Court.
Watford v Wigan
Consecutive home defeats for the first time in a year looked as if they might have scuppered Watford’s chances of regaining a top six place but another spectacular Fulham meltdown combined with a Troy Deeney hat trick last Friday evening meant that the Hornets are back in the playoff places. Let’s also not forget that Watford have only lost three home games since the start of February and suddenly this looks like a mountain to climb for Wigan.
The Latics won at Derby at the end of October but since then they’ve only picked up two points in six games and the 33/1 odds for relegation that were available in July have now shortened to a tempting 4/1. They’ve won none of their previous seven visits to Vicarage Road in any competition and with the verdict on Dave Whelan’s comments due any day now this could be a pivotal couple of weeks in the history of Wigan Athletic FC.
Watford 2, Wigan 1. Level at half time, but Troy Deeney scored with eight minutes left to earn all three points for Watford.
I’ll be back early next week with a look at the quarter finals of the Capital One Cup and there’ll be a quick update after tomorrow’s games.
Mike Roberts - Tuesday 09.12.14, 08:53am
Here’s the draw for the Third Round of the FA Cup, with the ties played over the first weekend of the New Year. TV details to follow, but the headlines are that precisely a quarter of the Sky Bet Championship will be eliminated at the first hurdle and undoubtedly Birmingham City will be on everyone’s list of potential cup shocks; however I’d be slightly worried if I was a Forest fan and Rochdale beat Aldershot in their replay.
Championship v Premier League:
Aston Villa v Blackpool, Chelsea v Watford, Manchester City v Sheffield Wednesday, Sunderland v Leeds, Southampton v Ipswich
Bolton v Wigan, Brentford v Brighton, Charlton v Blackburn, Huddersfield v Reading, Fulham v Wolves, Rotherham v Bournemouth
Championship v League One:
Cardiff v Colchester, Millwall v Bradford City, Preston v Norwich
Championship v Pyramid
Derby v Southport
Blyth Spartans v Birmingham
Championship v TBD
Aldershot/Rochdale v Notingham Forest
Barnsley/Chester v Middlesbrough
There’ll be a full FA Cup preview on January 2nd, otherwise I’ll be back at the weekend.
Mike Roberts - Friday 05.12.14, 13:44pm
Well after last week’s gaze into the future and the results that followed it, it seems the following scenario might be not a million miles away from what actually happens next May:
Derby and Ipswich should go on to win promotion. I’m not saying that Brentford won’t be playing in the top tier of English football since 1947, but it’d be a big surprise if they did. Bournemouth, Middlesbrough and Blackburn may all miss out although there are reasonably good reasons why the Cherries could be promoted.
At the wrong end of the table, Brighton lost 1-2 to Fulham at the Amex, a defeat that dropped the Seagulls into 22nd place. I’m going to repeat myself here: in six of the last ten seasons, the side in 22nd place at the end of November have been relegated. So even though there’s over half the season left, I think we may be looking at just one more relegation place left to fill.
A lot could happen yet, but I’d not be at all surprised if I was really close.
Three games of interest this weekend, all of which feature teams in the top six facing opponents in the bottom six.
Derby v Brighton
The Rams suffered their third away league defeat this season at Leeds (more of whom later…), but it may be significant that their only two home defeats since April came at the hands of a couple of teams that reached the playoffs (QPR and Brighton). It may also be worth mentioning that although Derby haven’t won three consecutive home games at Pride Park since the spring, Brighton have only won twice in ten league games at Derby over a period of almost 35 years.
Brighton’s away form has been patchy: they haven’t won on the road since August but they’ve only lost two of their last half dozen away trips. To be fair to the Seagulls, they’ve started scoring away from home: since the start of October they’ve scored in all four of their away games but they’ve had to come from behind in three of those matches. Although they took the lead at Norwich last time out and were winning with 13 minutes to go, they had to settle for a point at Carrow Road, Sami Hyppia’s predictable desperation for someone resembling a regular goalscorer meant that former England striker Darren Bent arrived on loan from Aston Villa last week. Bent scored in the home defeat last weekend, but he’ll find the Rams a different kettle of…errr…sheep.
Huddersfield v Brentford
The reason why Town have dropped back into the bottom six since the end of September is that they’ve lost three of their last four matches. However, they are on a six game home unbeaten streak so this might not be straightforward for Brentford. The Bees have never won three consecutive away games at this level so if Huddersfield win this might be one of these games where the talking heads on Sky Sports or the Football League Show can bring out the ‘the Championship is unpredictable’ lines without actually explaining (a) what that means or (b) if it’s even correct. Brentford last won at Huddersfield in February 2007 but that was only their second win at the Terriers since November 1993; they’ve only lost three of their last ten trips to Huddersfield. Those types of stats usually indicate a draw.
Incidentally, am I alone in thinking Mark Warburton deserves much more credit for the job he’s doing with the Bees now we’ve seen how poor Uwe Roesler was without him at Wigan?
Millwall v Middlesbrough
With one win in 14 games (and that came at the end of October), Millwall’s apparently annual flirtation with relegation has begun in earnest. Since winning promotion at the end of the 2009/10 season, the Lions have only finished higher than sixteenth place in one of the last five seasons although they’ve not been in the bottom six since the end of last season.
In contrast, Boro have only lost one of their last 14 outings, but three consecutive draws indicates to me that their early season momentum may have expired, in which case Millwall may provide a stiffer test. That would be going against the recent past history of this game though: Millwall’s 3-1 in September 2012 was the first time they’d beaten Boro at home since January 1992, despite having four attempts to do so in the intervening period.
Before I go, the draw for the third round of the FA Cup takes place on Monday evening at 7:00pm on BBC2, but I doubt many of the Championship teams will be getting too excited. Judging by the last couple of seasons, the prospect of being thrashed by a Premier League club/knocked out by sides below you that are clearly better/a cup run ruining your chances of winning promotion or avoiding relegation isn’t that important these days.
And so to Leeds. On Monday, the FA announced that following some previously undisclosed (or should that be ‘recently discovered’) documents from an Italian court, Sr. Cellino is no longer a ‘fit and proper’ person to run a football club.
Well fancy that.