GOTW: Leeds v Ipswich

Two big stories last weekend: all teams have now lost at least once and in case you missed it, Harry Redknapp was sacked by Birmingham City.

I’m fairly sure that if the Blues had been relegated at the end of last season he’d have walked away regardless, so to some extent his departure was predictable even without the expensive spending spree that resulted in six consecutive defeats.

Anway, here’s how Leeds United lost their unbeaten record at the New Den:

Earlier this week, five Championship clubs qualified for last sixteen of the League Cup: all were drawn against Premier League opposition, but only Bristol City were drawn at home. The most dramatic game came at Turf Moor, where Leeds drew 2-2 with Burnley and then won a penalty shoot out.

The next round takes place in about a month’s time and I’ll preview the games in the post for Friday 20th October.

This weekend any of the top seven teams could go top and only Bolton Wanderers cannot escape the bottom three.

Leeds United v Ipswich Town

The key question in this game is how Leeds will respond to losing their unbeaten record and having to play to penalties in the League Cup on Tuesday evening. The current leaders have not lost consecutive games since April but managed that particular feat five times last season and so Ipswich might fancy their chances, although they’d be well advised to keep an eye on both Kemar Roofe and Pierre-Michel Lasogga, who between seem to have replaced Chris Wood.

The problem for the Tractor Boys is that they’ve only won three of their last ten road trips and have only won at Elland Road twice in their last ten attempts over the last decade. The recent wins at Barnsley and Millwall were their first consecutive away wins since the end of 2015, which indicates to me that this is an important game for Mick McCarthy’s team: if they can earn at least a point at Leeds, then they should taken seriously as promotion candidates.

Bolton Wanderers v Brentford

I know it’s not even the end of September, but if Bolton don’t start picking up points soon they’re toast. The Trotters are currently performing at a lower level than they were when relegated two seasons ago and at a considerably worse level than Rotherham did last season. Brentford haven’t won an away game in the competition since March: if you’re looking for a reason why they’ve regressed so badly, they’ve only won six aways over the last calendar year.

Sunderland v Cardiff City

Since relegation, The Black Cats have managed one goal from open play – the other was a consolation penalty – and one point at the Stadium Of Light. There are already mutterings from the faithful about Simon Grayson’s ability to ‘do the job’ (whatever that means this season), but I’d say that’s more to do with the mess he’s inherited rather than his ability to manage at this level. Cardiff’s recent mini wobble – two points from the last nine – hints that their fast start may be a thing of the past, but the Bluebirds have only lost three of their last ten aways.

Wolves v Barnsley

I’m still not completely sure what to make of Wolves. They’ve only lost twice since April – but only once this season – but ten of their 17 points so far have been earned against teams that are currently in the bottom half of the table. That’s not good news for Barnsley who are currently only three points outside the relegation zone and have been poor away from Oakwell for some time: four points from their last ten matches.

Televised games: Aston Villa v Nottingham Forest (tomorrow, Sky Sports Main Event 5:30pm) is a bog standard middle of the table clash between two  Midlands clubs that won the European Cup years ago and is yet another chance to watch Villa. However, on Sunday it’s the first Sheffield Derby (Sky Sports Football or Sky Sports Main Event, 1:15pm kick off) at Hillsborough for just over five and a half years and I think that’s required viewing.

I’ll be back next Friday, but there’s a midweek programme next week and Cardiff City v Leeds United is being shown on Sky Sports Football next Tuesday evening (7:45pm kick off). So if you’re not at a game (I will be), then that match should be worth watching.

 

New Sky Deal: Is It Worth It?

The timing of Tuesday’s announcement of the new EFL TV deal with Sky Sports was interesting: all three EFL divisions had almost full midweek programmes and it was almost exactly three months since the Financial Times published this:

‘Premier League football suffered the biggest drop in viewing on Sky TV for at least seven years, raising questions over the popularity of live sports as well as the sustainability of a lucrative source of funding for English clubs.’

If Premier League coverage has reached saturation point – and it appears it has – it’s now clear why Sky Sports rebranded their sports channels during the summer and are looking for a new revenue stream.

That’s us.

So what are we getting in just under two years then? With one major exception – which I’ll come to in a moment – it’s not much more than you’re currently getting with a Sky Sports subscription. They already broadcast games from the EFL, the League Cup and the EFL Trophy.

The first difference is that Sky Sports will be broadcasting ‘sixteen Championship games on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings’: to put that into context, this season there are five midweek programmes of at least ten games each (it’s not clear yet if Boxing Day will be part of the new deal), in which case the new deal means Sky Sports will be broadcasting just under a quarter of those games.

Clearly that’s more than now, but the issue here is which games on which evenings. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that the ‘juicy’ games will be scheduled for broadcast against the Champions League games on BT Sport, which implies that Sky Sports might -at the very least – try to influence the EFL fixture computer. On the other hand, Sky Sports poor record of selecting live games in the Championship might continue: from tomorrow until the end of the month, five games are being televised: we going to be watching eighteenth placed Aston Villa twice, four clubs that are in currently the bottom half of the division and two derbies, only one of which (The Steel City Derby on 24th September) will feature teams currently in the top ten. And all of those teams have played in the Premier League at some point over the last two decades, which makes the match selection process look even lazier, doesn’t it!

As for the League Cup and the EFL Trophy, Championship sides don’t perform well in the former and aren’t even involved in the latter.

However, the unique selling point of this deal is being able to stream Championship games that aren’t (a) on a Saturday and (b) aren’t being televised by Sky via individual club websites. For my club for the duration of this season, that’s currently £110 a year and £12.50 a month: as there won’t be any league games between the end of May and the beginning of August, ten months at £12.50 will cost £15 more than an annual subscription. It’s important to remember that’s what it costs at the moment: it’ll be different in August 2019 anyway and may cost considerably more by then.

Once again, Sky Sports’ bottom line is profit, not necessarily what’s in the best interest of ordinary fans. This is where we come to another issue.

I’m happy to admit that how I watch – or should I say consume – football is a reflection of my age. I’m a season ticket holder at my local club and on average attend at least one or two away games a season. Having grown up with extremely limited options – BBC Radio, the weekly highlights programme on ITV and BBC, Ceefax – I like the idea I can get goal flashes on my mobile phone, but if I’m not at the game then as long as I know what the score is I don’t particularly care.

I have a Sky Sports subscription but I watch just as much Super League and NFL as I do Premier League: I always try to watch Championship and League One games because that’s why this blog and Buzzin’ League One football exist. If there’s a decent midweek game from the Championship on Sky Sports in a couple of years time, I’ll probably watch it if I can find the time.

But I’m not paying any more for that and I suspect I may not be alone.

A very brief look at this weekend’s action now. If I’d been writing a normal post, the game of the week would have been Cardiff City v Sheffield Wednesday, with Millwall v Leeds United and Birmingham City v Preston not far behind. Cardiff lost their unbeaten record earlier this week when they lost 3-0 at Deepdale, but it’s been over a decade since Wednesday won in the Welsh capital.

Don’t forget that next week there are several games in the League Cup featuring Championship teams: if anything dramatic happens I’ll update this post. Otherwise it’s business as usual next Friday, so enjoy the weekend.

 

 

GOTW: Norwich v Birmingham

We’ve reached September and if you’re a fan of any of the Championship clubs that are still in the League Cup, you’ve got seven games to look forward to this month.

By the time October starts, we’ll be almost a quarter of the way through the season and we’ll also have a much better idea of how it will pan out. I caught some flak early last season for claiming that Huddersfield’s start to the season was unsustainable (it was, but they still won promotion) and so I’d expect nothing less if I say the same thing about Cardiff’s start this season.

The last game of the week finished more or less as I’d expected. Cardiff had almost twice as many shots as QPR (17 to 8) and just under half of those were on target compared to just one for Rangers:

Cardiff now lead by three points – they’ll probably still be top this weekend even if they lose at Fulham – but I’d still say that Leeds are currently their biggest rivals. At the bottom there’s only three points between Millwall and Bolton but Brentford and Norwich remain the surprise strugglers. Which leads me nicely on to…

Norwich City v Birmingham City

A different type of GOTW this weekend: two clubs who haven’t really got going yet.

Remember when Sami Hyypia was appointed manager of Brighton a few seasons ago? Following two consecutive playoff finishes under Gus Poyet and Oscar Garcia, they spent the entire 2014/15 season in the bottom half of the table and were 23rd when the Finn was sacked at the end of 2014. Remember what I wrote about Norwich in July? The Canaries currently have the worst defensive record in the Championship and might be the latest victims of The Curse of the Trendy Foreign Manager.

Birmingham City – who were a ridiculous 6/1 to win promotion at the start of July – have won just three of their last ten games in the Championship and haven’t scored more than one goal on the road since they won at Wolves in February. No wonder the Blues have to drifted to 25/1 to go up: there’s an old expression about not being able to polish a turd which I’m assuming Harry Redknapp is familiar with.

Head to head: Norwich have won half of their last six games against the Blues at Carrow Road, Birmingham’s last win in Norfolk was in March 2002.

Also on the menu:

Leeds United v Burton Albion

Despite having kept four consecutive clean sheets (just over six hours of football) United haven’t won at Elland Road since April and haven’t scored at home this season. Their opponents have only won two of their last ten aways, one of those victories being ensured by a 96th minute winner by Jackson Irvine at Huddersfield: Burton lost 2-0 at Elland Road last season and I wouldn’t be surprised if a similar scoreline will be read out on Sports Report on Saturday.

Sunderland v Sheffield United

A patchy start for the Black Cats has quickly turned into a poor one following two defeats where they’ve failed to score; their single victory this season came at Norwich which – as I implied above – may not be much to brag about. The Blades might be fifth at the moment, but they’ve lost both of their away games so far without scoring – and remarkably, they’ve not scored in an away game at Sunderland since January 1998, although to be fair it’s 12 years since there’s been a competitive game between them.

Televised games: Derby County v Hull City (this evening, 7:45pm kick off, Sky Sports Football) and Sheffield Wednesday v Nottingham Forest (Saturday, 5:30pm, Sky Sports Main Event).

I’ll be back next Friday – I won’t be covering the midweek games this season due to a change in circumstances.

 

Book Review: The Premier League

One of the more tiresome aspects of the new season is the Silver Anniversary of the Premier League, which has produced all kinds of articles, quizzes and clickbait over the last month or so.

Most of that indulges in the myth created by Sky Sports and perpetuated by almost all of the major football magazines and websites that English football only invented tools and began walking upright in August 1992. Being the writer of this blog as well as being a fan of a Championship club that hasn’t had the opportunity to be relegated from the Premier League after one season, the only times I ever mention the Promised Land are at either end of the season and if anything remarkable happens during either of the domestic cup competitions.

That being said, ‘The Premier League’ by Lloyd Pettiford (Urbane Publishing, £12.99) is a very enjoyable account of the history of the Premier League. There’s a good reason for this: the strapline ‘Written by the fans for the fans’ is exactly what this collection is. Pettiford (a Southampton supporter) contacted fans of all the clubs that have participated in the Premier League – including those that realistically don’t have much of a chance of returning there – for their thoughts on the competition. It may be something of a surprise that Liverpool and Spurs fans seemed most the most reluctant to get involved but then again, Leicester City have won the Premier League more times.

The format is a hybrid of a football blog, fanzine articles and a reference book (1) that by and large works well: because each season has an individual chapter, it doesn’t need to be read chronologically so if you’re a Swindon Town fan you can dive straight into the glory days of 1993/94. The only aspect that doesn’t really work is the overuse of YouTube links in footnotes, but I have a lot of sympathy with Pettiford here as it’s hard to think of another way that these could have been referred to in print. Imagine if you can a print version of the posts on here over the last seven years and you aren’t far off.

One of the real strengths of the book is that it reminds you of what you’ve forgotten along the way. Everton are almost relegated, Middlesbrough are relegated after having points deducted and losing both the major domestic cup finals and Leeds‘ disastrous ‘win or bust’ strategy regarding the Champions League almost seems like a harbinger of financial crisis of a decade ago. On the other hand, readers in their teens will probably find it hard to believe that Oldham were a Premier League team for two seasons and less than two decades ago Manchester City were playing in what we know as League One. If you ignore that fact that only six teams have won the Premier League in 25 years (two fewer than won the old Football League title in the quarter of a century before that), arguably the real story of the Premier League is about the clubs that haven’t been as successful as the Big Five and the experiences of their fans. ‘The Premier League’ is all about that point of view.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it wholeheartedly, even though I have to admit I don’t have anything like the enthusiasm I had for the Premier League even a decade ago. That’s probably why my favourite quote is from the focus on Stoke City in the chapter about the 2014/15 season:

‘But generally speaking, the slow and somewhat painful journey through the second and third tiers was the interesting bit, not the Premier League…’

(1) Breedon Books having long since gone into administration, any book that features Premier League tables should be treasured.