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Mike Roberts - Saturday 21.11.15, 10:05am

I’m happy to admit that I’m a traditionalist when it comes to the Football League. After all, it’s oldest organisation of its type in the world (there are older Australian Rules leagues) and only the Argentinian and Belgian competitions were playing before the turn of the twentieth century.

However the announcement last week that the Football League will be renamed the English Football League next season is as depressing as it is ridiculous as it is inaccurate. It’s not hard to see why rebranding should have been considered as an option: since 1992 the top tier of English football has been known as the <insert title sponsor here> Premier League, even though it’s not a ‘league’ in the strict sense of the word, it’s a division. In a world dominated by social media, the Premier League is usually abbreviated to EPL or BPL (the ‘B’ being the initial of the current title sponsor) but the Football League has been left behind by all this modern stuff. It doesn’t appear to have any kind of instantly recognisable hashtag – which is a pain in the backside when it comes to promoting these posts on twitter and Facebook – and was clearly caught flat footed by the Conference renaming itself the National League.

The problem is that #EFL is internationally recognised as the abbreviation of English as a Foreign Language and the three letter airport code for Cephalonia in Greece: then there’s also the fact that the oldest football league competition has now been reduced to a letter – we’ve got the A-league, J-League, K-League and presumably now the E-League. EFL is also one letter away from both an energy provider and a far right political party. Before anyone mentions the NFL, that organisation has been operating under that name since 1920, when they felt that the American Professional Football Association was a bit of a mouthful: that’s almost a century ago.

The social media aspect of this rebranding is only one part of the exercise – the derision that greeted the logo was almost universal as it looks like a load of blue bubbles swirling around a washing machine as much as it does a football. Presumably the logo will feature on arm patches and balls next season, although it remains to be seen if Sky Bet English Football League Championship will fit on them in anything other than a really small font. In fact, I wonder if The Championship is going to be a thing of the past: it’s been the title of the second tier for over ten seasons, which is an eternity these days. I’ve supported my club for over two decades and although they haven’t been outside the second and third tiers of English football over that period, those competitions have had their titles changed six times – and that’s not even counting the title sponsors.

In conclusion, changes could have probably been made to have given the Football League a higher profile, but the results have been widely derided and rightly so. I’ll be back next week. Digg Technorati Blinklist Furl Reddit
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Fulham And Blackburn Join The Search For New Managers

Mike Roberts - Friday 13.11.15, 14:50pm

So farewell Kit Symons and Gary Bowyer.

Not entirely sure what the thinking was behind Symon’s departure, because losing to two of the playoff candidates isn’t necessarily a bad thing – unless of course that’s exactly what the problem is. Fulham need a top half finish this season to even begin to think about making a promotion bid in 2016/17 and although that’s still possible, the last two results indicate that there is still some way to go before the Cottagers can be regarded as genuine candidates to return to the Premier League. Clearly Shahid Khan doesn’t see it that way.

Bowyer’s departure is a little bit more comprehensible but perhaps a bit harsh. Blackburn have been under a transfer embargo for the best part of a year and even though Venky’s seem to have finally grasped the concept of how a football club works, the spectre of being a former Premier League team that’s not doing particularly well seems to have been the motivation for a change of coaching staff. The timing is a bit dodgy too: during an international break?

In other news, Charlton still haven’t appointed anyone and although there are several rumours about the identity of the next QPR manager, nothing has been confirmed – although one candidate would be predictably – and particularly – terrible. Leeds are also apparently up for sale, although I don’t think there’s a ‘Buy It Now’ option on eBay.

Back next Friday after the most pointless international break since the one in November 2013. Unfortunately, the re-branding of the Football League will be the main topic and although I may have calmed down by then, please don’t assume I’m going to react positively to another example of cretinous corporatism. Digg Technorati Blinklist Furl Reddit
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Tags: Blackburn Rovers · Charlton · Fulham · Leeds United · QPR

Powell, Ramsey Sacked On The Same Day

Mike Roberts - Thursday 05.11.15, 17:34pm

It’s not very often that two managers get the chop within hours of each other, but that’s exactly what happened on Wednesday when Chris Powell had his contract terminated by Huddersfield and Chris Ramsey left QPR.

Ramsey in particular seems to have been a victim of both circumstance and short sightedness with a large dash of unreasonable expectations. Rangers’ form this season has been indifferent (three defeats in their last five) but their general ineptitude on the road at this level has been a long term problem. Ramsey had no other managerial experience at this level, which is – as I pointed out in the pre-season preview for the club – a bad thing. Neil Warnock returns on a short term basis but I’d be willing to bet the QPR board appoint another manager who doesn’t ‘know’ the Championship.

Powell’s departure is easier to explain. This season Huddersfield have won three of their 15 games and although they’re five points clear of the bottom three, this is their fourth season in the Championship and they’ve yet to finish anywhere near the top half of the table. That points to a long term problem that Powell failed to address: the statement coming from the club yesterday mentioned that his departure ‘…signals a change of direction by the Club and a new approach’. Presumably finishing higher than sixteenth in the Championship would be seen as an improvement, but that’s not happened for a decade and a half and the rumours about a ’surprise foreign appointment’ have already begun. If that’s the case, the change of direction may not be the one that Huddersfield were anticipating.

Update: whilst I was writing this, David Wagner was appointed Head Coach of Huddersfield Town. Wagner is an American with no coaching experience in the Championship and was most recently manager of Borussia Dortmund reserves. I won’t make any further comment.

I hinted that there might be a change of leadership after Tuesday’s games and that’s what happened. Hull, Burnley and Brighton have all earned 31 points but the Tigers’ commitment to defensive excellence is obvious as they have a superior goal difference. However, only one point separates the top five clubs.

At the bottom, this is the first time I’ve written this in 2015/16: the bottom three will remain in those positions after this weekend’s games regardless of what happens. Bristol City and MK Dons both won at home on Tuesday to increase the gap between them and Bolton to four points.

And as luck would have it, we have four contenders for game of the week, starting with an old-fashioned blood and thunder local derby:

Nottingham Forest v Derby (tomorrow, Sky Sports 7:00pm, kick off 7:30pm)

The losing side in this game quite often sacks their manager either after the game or a couple of weeks later, so this game is one Dougie Freedman needs to win. The problem is that Forest haven’t won since mid-September, have lost five of their last eight and are lucky that Bristol City and MK Dons are worse than them defensively. Derby are on a ten game unbeaten streak and they’ve won two of the last four meetings at the City Ground; there’s been a red card in four of the last five meetings in Nottingham.

Bolton v Bristol City

Bolton have one home win this season and that was in mid-September against Wolves and have drawn five of their other seven league games in front of their own fans. City’s away form isn’t that much better but they’ve picked up three draws in their last five road trips and that would suit them on Saturday and put even more pressure on Neil Lennon. Bonus fact: Bolton haven’t beaten Bristol City in three consecutive home league games since the late 1960s/early 1970s. Current Bolton home win streak against City: two games.

Brighton v MK Dons

Six draws in their last ten indicates to me that although Brighton have returned to the form that ensured trips to the playoffs in two of the last four seasons, that may be the best case scenario for them in 2015/16. They’re on a sixteen game unbeaten streak, but with a trip to Burnley to come after the international break that run may not continue for much longer. The Dons picked up a rare win on Tuesday when they beat Charlton, but they’ve lost all five of their games this season against the current top six. Fourth league meeting in Sussex: Brighton have only won once so prepare for a possible upset.

Hull v Middlesbrough

Should have been game of the week, but given that it’s a match between the best defenses in the Championship, there could be a lack of goals at the KC Stadium and it’s unlikely Middlesbrough will win (two wins in ten league games at Hull over the last 43 years), I decided against it.

No post next weekend due to yet another international break, but if anything dramatic happens I’ll update this one. Digg Technorati Blinklist Furl Reddit
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Tags: Bolton · Brighton · Bristol City · Burnley · Charlton · Derby · Huddersfield Town · Hull City · MK Dons · Middlesbrough · Nottm Forest · QPR

Tuesday Night Preview

Mike Roberts - Tuesday 03.11.15, 11:44am

Just a quick post today as there’s a televised game I’d like to cover on Friday night.

Saturday’s highlighted games went more or less to form although Brighton only drew at Reading and so The Seagulls’ lead is now down to two points. Nothing really changed at the bottom, although the point Bolton earned at Preston meant they overtook both Charlton and Rotherham even if they’re still in the bottom three.

The recent form table is interesting though. Over the last six games Brighton have clearly not done as well as Burnley, Derby, Hull and Middlesbrough and that seems to indicate that there could be a change at the top by Christmas. Boro have arguably the best chance of catching Brighton this evening: they entertain Rotherham, who haven’t won on Teeside since March 1965. Brighton have a tricky looking game at Sheffield Wednesday and neither Hull (at Brentford) nor Burnley (at home against Fulham) will have easy matches.

At the wrong end of table, MK Dons play Charlton. The Dons have won once in their last ten games whilst Charlton haven’t even managed that: in fact, the Addicks’ last away win was at Blackpool in March. This will be the fifth meeting between the clubs in Buckinghamshire and the Dons have only won one of the previous four. Worryingly for the hosts, this is probably their best chance of winning at home until the New Year; Charlton are one of the five clubs who have failed to win any of their last six matches and are now evens to be relegated – they were 10/3 second favourites for the drop at the start of July.

I’ll be back on Friday afternoon with a preview of one of my favourite games of the season: the first clash between Nottingham Forest and Derby. Digg Technorati Blinklist Furl Reddit
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Tags: Brentford · Brighton · Burnley · Charlton · Derby · Fulham · Hull City · MK Dons · Middlesbrough · Nottm Forest · Preston · Reading · Rotherham · Sheffield Wednesday

Sky Bet Championship Preview 31st October 2015

Mike Roberts - Friday 30.10.15, 17:09pm

Brighton remain four points clear, although the chasing pack has been condensed: only nine points separating Hull and Sheffield Wednesday, both of whom qualified for the next round of the Capital One Cup during the week. The big story in that competition was Middlesbrough overcoming Manchester United on penalties at Old Trafford but a note of caution might be advisable for the Teeside club. Cup runs and promotion do not go hand in hand.

The only other significant move at the top is that Reading blew a two goal lead at Fulham last Saturday and dropped out of the top six for the first time since mid September.

The bottom of the table is still as tight as it was although the managerial change at Charlton which made the headlines. The Addicks haven’t won since August and had lost six of their last nine games before Saturday’s 3-0 home defeat against Brentford, which signalled the end of Guy Luzon’s 36 game stint as boss and once again proved my theory about managers. Luzon has been replaced by another Belgian coach no-one’s ever heard of on an ‘interim basis’ and I’ll bet Uwe Rosler is on the shortlist.

With Brighton’s lead being unchallengable this weekend, there are four games to keep an eye on:

Derby v Rotherham

The Rams are currently on an eight game unbeaten streak that has propelled them from just outside the relegation zone to the playoff places but in one of those odd stats that I like, so far in 2015/16 they’ve been unable to win either of their games against two of the three teams in the current bottom three. Rotherham have lost three of their last four and haven’t won at Derby since September 1965. Derby’s Chris Martin is currently second in the goalscoring charts and might fancy his chances against the worst defence in the competition.

Middlesbrough v Charlton

The recent 3-1 win at Wolves was Boro’s first victory for almost a month but the inconsistency of the other teams around them means that Aitor Karanka’s side aren’t too far off the pace at the top. I’ve already mentioned Charlton, but it’s worth noting that the Addicks last won at Middlesbrough in August 2005, when both were in the Premier League and so far this season only Bolton and Preston have scored fewer goals.

MK Dons v Hull

Only the third meeting between the teams and the Dons have failed to win either of the others. The Dons have had success at home when they’ve kept clean sheets but Hull have only failed to score in one game in the Championship on their travels this season, they’ve not lost on the road since mid-September and – as we’ve come to expect from Steve Bruce’s teams over the years – have conceded the fewest goals in the Championship so far. MK have picked up one point from 18 against teams currently in the top half of the table and have lost eight of their 13 games in the league this season.

Preston v Bolton (6:oopm, Saturday Sky Sports 1)

Almost but not quite game of the week, this is the first meeting between the Lancashire rivals in the League since New Years Day 2001. Preston have only lost one of their last five games but they’ve not won a league game at Deepdale since April and have failed to score more than once in front of their fans in any competition this season. That being said, they’ve not lost to any of the teams currently below them and even if the Lillywhites score once that might be enough to see off a Bolton side that has failed to score in four of their six away matches so far and hasn’t won an away game in the Championship since a 3-0 win at Cardiff in April.

As there’s a full midweek programme I’ll be back on Tuesday, so enjoy the weekend! Digg Technorati Blinklist Furl Reddit
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Tags: Bolton · Brentford · Brighton · Charlton · Derby · Fulham · Hull City · MK Dons · Middlesbrough · Preston · Reading · Rotherham · Sheffield Wednesday

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