Game Of The Week: Huddersfield v Fulham

Two games worth following this weekend: the first is between two rivals for playoff berths, the second features a team staring relegation in the face against a club who has one final – but slim – chance of winning automatic promotion but could guarantee home advantage in the playoffs with a victory.

Huddersfield v Fulham

With only two wins in their last six, it looks as if the wheels have come off the Terriers’ campaign to reach the Premier League, but they’ve only lost four home games this season. Half of those defeats have been against other teams in the mix for promotion, so this is a really good test for both teams.

Despite have the toughest run in, Fulham have been impressive recently with four wins in their last six. They’ve also got a good record against the teams above them, having only lost three of their eight contests against those sides.

Bonus fact: Huddersfield haven’t beaten Fulham in a home league game since September 1993 and have lost two of the last four meetings in Yorkshire.

Nottingham Forest v Reading

Two wins since the start of March – or to put it another way, one win since Mark Warburton took over – confirms my suspicions that the problems at the City Ground were inherent before he took over. Fortunately for Forest, this is a home game and they’ve not been too bad against the promotion contenders – something that Reading should remember considering their brittle away defensive record. Only Norwich and Rotherham have conceded more goals on their travels this season and Jaap Stam’s side have only kept two clean sheets in away games since the start of the year.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there are a few goals in this game – five of the last six meetings between the clubs at the City Ground have seen three or more goals but Reading have only won three of their last ten visits. This one os going to come down to desire: Forest’s to stay in the Championship and Reading’s to escape it.

That’s all for this week, if anything dramatic happens I’ll update this post tomorrow evening.

Huddersfield reduced their chances of automatic promotion to practically none after losing 4-1 at home to Fulham – despite taking an early lead. If Newcastle beat Preston on Monday, they’re up.

At the bottom, Wigan will have to win both of their remaining games to stand any chance of reaching safety but that will be irrelevant if Birmingham earn a point against Aston Villa tomorrow. Blackburn also need to win their remaining games, but will have to score at least nine clear goals in order to overturn a significant disadvantage regarding goal difference.

 

Post Easter Update

Yesterday Brighton were promoted to the Premier League after beating Wigan and Huddersfield failed to beat Derby. The Latics are in big trouble after losing at Brighton – they’re five points from safety with nine to play for.

Gianfranco Zola resigned as Birmingham City manager following a disastrous spell at the club: the Blues won two games from the 24 during his tenure. He was replaced almost immediately by Harry Redknapp, with former Bristol City boss Steve Cotterill as his assistant.

Sheffield United won League 1 and will return to the Championship for the first time since they were relegated in 2010/11.

There *may* be a post on Friday, but we had another addition to the family yesterday and any post might be a bit basic as we’ve got to travel half way across the country to visit the new baby.

Easter: 2016/17 Edition

Here we are again: a week before Easter, I’m off to France on Monday an so here’s the annual post about how the rest of the season is going to pan out. But before we go any further, here’s the frankly ridiculous refereeing brain fart by Keith Stroud during the Newcastle/Burton game on Wednesday:

Newcastle won regardless of Stroud’s mistake and with Brighton beating Birmingham the top two are as good as up with the only remaining issue being who wins the title. As usual the playoffs are a little bit more complicated – it’s still mathematically possible that Preston could still reach the post season.

It’s a little clearer at the bottom: Rotherham are already down and with Wigan seven points adrift of Blackburn, it still looks likely that the last relegation spot will be between Blackburn, Bristol City and Nottingham Forest.

TOMORROW

Nottingham Forest v Huddersfield Town

Forest haven’t been any lower than 20th this season, but their recent form has been awful and they could drop into the bottom three if they lose this one and results elsewhere go against them. That being said, they’re far better at the City Ground – two defeats in the last six – than on their travels and they’ve only lost once at home against any of the other clubs in the top six. Fun fact: the last drawn league game between these two in Nottingham was in October 1972.

Wigan Athletic v Rotherham United

An absolute must win for the hosts, but even a victory might not save them from the drop.

Sheffield Wednesday v Newcastle United (Sky Sports 1, 5:30)

Newcastle haven’t lost at any of the top six teams this season, but Sheffield Wednesday’s victory against Huddersfield in January is the only time the hosts have beaten any of their immediate rivals for promotion at Hillsborough. On paper this is more important for Wednesday than Newcastle, but I’m sure Rafa Benitez has exhorted his team to finish as Champions and to some extent the pressure is off Newcastle.

GOOD FRIDAY

Nottingham Forest v Blackburn Rovers

As I mentioned above, Forest are much better at home than they are on the road and with Rovers having not won an away game since the end of November, a defeat for either side at the City Ground could leave them with a mountain to climb before Easter Monday’s matches. However…Blackburn have only lost two league games in ten at the City Ground since 1994.

Newcastle United v Leeds United (Sky Sports 1, kick off 7:45pm)

First meeting between the sides at St. James’ Park since January 2004, which seems almost inconceivable to me. They’ve met in the League Cup since then, but Leeds do not have a good record on Tyneside. Good choice for a televised game though.

EASTER MONDAY

Blackburn Rovers v Bristol City

This looks like the game that could settle the last relegation spot. Rovers have been halfway decent at Ewood Park against teams in the bottom half of the table and haven’t lost at home to City since December 1990. The Robins have only recorded three away wins all season and may have to rely on their home performances to give themselves a fighting chance of staying up.

Brighton v Wigan Athletic

Reading v Rotherham United

From this point onwards I’ll be providing the usual service, but as it stands these are the games that will matter at both ends of the table:

Saturday 22nd April

Burton Albion v Leeds

Huddersfield Town v Fulham

Nottingham Forest v Reading

Saturday 29th April

Reading v Wigan

Brighton v Bristol City (Sky Sports 1, kick off 5:30pm)

Looks as if it was deliberately chosen to showcase Brighton’s promotion and/or City’s relegation: if that’s the case, it should be compelling viewing, especially if both issues can be decided simultaneously.

Sunday 7th May – last day of the season, all games kick off at noon.

Burton Albion v Reading

Sheffield Wednesday v Fulham

Wigan Athletic v Leeds United

There’s a chance that we could see a familiar name return to the Championship from League One tomorrow, so I’ll update this post sometime tomorrow evening.

Last Midweek Preview Of The Season

Last weekend’s game of the week was settled by a first half goal from Yann Kermogant…

….however, the real drama came at Huddersfield, when Jackson Irvine’s winner for Burton came deep into stoppage time, some of which was due to the furore over Dean Whitehead’s second yellow card after 88 minutes.

Huddersfield’s recent poor form couldn’t have come at a worse time and they’ve now got a battle to preserve home advantage in the first leg of the playoffs on their hands rather than chasing automatic promotion. Fulham moved into the last playoff place after winning at Rotherham, who were relegated.

There’ll be a more detailed look at the bottom of the table on Friday, but realistically the situation is who is going to join Rotherham next season. Wigan look doomed, but there are currently three likely contenders: Blackburn, Bristol City and Nottingham Forest, but the results of a couple of games over the couple of days might add some clarity to the situation:

THIS EVENING

Reading v Blackburn Rovers (this evening, 8pm)

The Royals have suffered one defeat in the last ten at the Mad House and have a very easy run in at home. As I’ve written over the last few weeks, it’s their away form that will probably let them down in the playoffs. Blackburn’s narrow defeat at Brighton last weekend was their first defeat in the league since Valentine’s Day, but Rovers haven’t actually won on the road since November. They have a decent record at Reading though: only one defeat in their last five visits.

Sheffield Wednesday v Rotherham is live on Sky Sports 1 (7:45pm kickoff) – Wednesday can move back into the playoff positions if they win and Fulham fail to win at Derby, but I have a hunch that now that Rotherham have succumbed the inevitable, they could be a match for their Yorkshire neighbours.

TOMORROW

Newcastle v Burton Albion (tomorrow, 7:45pm)

Fun fact: Newcastle don’t have any more 3:00pm kick offs at St. James’ Park this season, but that probably doesn’t matter. After picking up their first home win since February and establishing a ten point lead over Huddersfield with seven games to play, it’s fair to say that Newcastle’s return to the top flight is almost inevitable.

That’s not to say that Burton will be pushovers. One defeat in their last six has left the Brewers in charge of their own destiny (as our American friends like to say) and although this will be their toughest away game before the end of the season, if they can reproduce their recent form against Leeds and Reading at the Pirelli Stadium they’ll be featuring in our pre-season preview over the summer.

Huddersfield v Norwich is live on Sky Sports 1 at 7:45pm – which might have made more sense in November, which is the last time both teams were in the top six.

Back on Friday with the Run In Special.

Game of the Week: Reading v Leeds

Both of the games that I highlighted a fortnight ago produced interesting results: Brighton knew they could overtake Newcastle on Saturday evening if they’d won at Leeds, but the hosts took a huge step towards confirming a playoff place with a 2-0 win:

Almost 24 hours earlier, Bristol City demolished Huddersfield 4-0 at Ashton Gate in a game that illustrated exactly how unpredictable the Championship can be – although the Robins beat the Terriers by exactly the same score last season.

This weekend, Rotherham will be relegated if results go against them: I can’t see Fulham sparing them at the New York Stadium tomorrow.

The theme this week is top against bottom – the ‘run in’ post will be up next Friday, but with two games in the next seven days everything could change dramatically before the Easter programme. There won’t be a post on Good Friday as I’m going to France for a week.

Brighton v Blackburn Rovers

All of Brighton’s last four home games are against teams that could still be relegated – and that includes Birmingham – so the Seagulls will be looking to win as many points as possible against the strugglers. Rovers haven’t won on the road since the end of November and although they’ve not lost an away game since Valentine’s Day, they blew valuable leads at Burton and Norwich and were very lucky to earn a point at Fulham. They also haven’t won at Brighton since March 1992.

Huddersfield Town v Burton Albion

The Terriers have lost two of their last ten games at the John Smith’s Stadium and this is by far their easiest remaining home game but if you think this is going to be straightforward, I’m going to spoil it. Huddersfield have already dropped points at home to both Blackburn and Wigan this season, haven’t scored more than once in front of their own fans since the start of February and lost heavily at Bristol City last weekend: hardly the best time to play a team that’s scrapping for survival. Burton have lost only lost two of their last six away games and if they’re capable of taking four points from a possible six against Sheffield Wendesday this season.

Newcastle United v Wigan Athletic

With consecutive home games against Wigan and Burton over the next week, the Toon can either take a couple of huge strides towards an immediate return to the Premier League or make their fans incredibly unconfortable over the next few weeks. Wigan still have to visit Brighton and Reading before the end of the season and have never won at Newcastle; additionally the Latics haven’t won consecutive away games at this level since they attempted to avoid relegation two seasons ago.

Reading v Leeds United (Sky Sports 1, 5:30pm kick off)

Game of the week, especially because if the season finished today this would be the first leg of a playoff semi final.

Although the Royals haven’t lost to a club currently in the top half of the table, failure to beat either Brighton or Newcastle and poor away form will cost them automatic promotion. Stam has been linked with the West Ham job recently but only four teams have conceded more away goals than Reading have this season and I can’t see him being considered a serious contender for the job if it becomes available.

Leeds have only lost three of their last ten aways and they are far tighter defensively even though both Leeds and their opponents have scored in nine of those away games. They’ve still got to play at Newcastle, but with a seven point cushion and a reasonable run in, I think United have the best chance of returning to the Premier League since they reached the playoff final in 2006. Having written that, I feel duty bound to point out that Leeds only won once in their seven league games at Reading since the turn of the century.

There’ll be a very quick post looking at the midweek games, but as I mentioned earlier there’ll be a run in special next weekend.

Update: unsurprisingly considering this has been their worst season ever, Rotherham were relegated to League One after losing at home to Fulham. The biggest shock of the afternoon – if not the season – came at Huddersfield, where Burton won thanks to a 96th minute goal from Jackson Irvine. Two consecutive defeats to struggling sides will probably prove fatal to Huddersfield’s chances of automatic promotion.