The scenario: you’re the owner one of the smaller clubs in London and you’re having the best season in the league since the early 1950s. Promotion is still a possibility, even though it’ll probably have to be via the playoffs. Just over a year ago, your manager was pretty much unknown but he got an opportunity because his predecessor left for a ‘bigger’ club: it quickly became clear that the former boss might not have been as good as his assistant.
You also own a company that specialises in producing football statistics and you decide to take a slightly different approach to team recruitment and management to the one that’s currently working. It’s supposed to be a ‘European’ method, but to one cynical blogger in particular it looks an awful lot like the approach that Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s used during the ‘Moneyball’ era; it seems to remove a lot of the responsibility previously held by the current manager. And it’s worth remembering that there’s no equivalent to ‘walks’ in association football.
In a nutshell, that is why Mark Warburton is leaving Brentford at the end of this season. Seven years ago they were in a mid-table team in League Two and the last time the Bees played at this level, they were relegated after one campaign. They’ve exceeded expectations this season but although Warburton’s departure and Matthew Benham’s insistance on a new direction may be a watershed for the direction of the club, you can’t help but think the powers that be at Griffin Park are making a big mistake. The earliest clue will be who replaces Warburton; it’s a foreign manager with no knowledge of the Championship then I’ll practically guarantee you that Brentford won’t do anywhere near as well as they have done in 2014/15. I can’t imagine Warburton will be without a job for long, but given his stand on this issue I can think of a few clubs that he won’t be interested in: that includes Nottingham Forest, who announced this week that Dougie Freedman is only on a three month contract. I might actually apply for the job next time.
In the FA Cup last weekend, Blackburn and Reading continue to wave the Championship flag in the FA Cup but the draw for the quarter finals was a mixed bag. Both clubs are on the road: Rovers travel to Liverpool whilst Reading visit Bradford City. The law of averages says one of them should reach the semis, but I’ll take a closer look at which club that might be nearer the time.
Nothing much has changed at either end of the table over the last week: Bournemouth failed to beat Huddersfield last Saturday, which meant Middlesbrough have gone back to the top of the table after coming from behind on Wednesday at Birmingham. Both Derby and Ipswich have a chance to go top on Saturday and without anyone really taking the competition by the scruff of the neck this season any of the top ten could probably still go up. At the bottom, Blackpool and Wigan both picked up points over the last week: the Tangerines were down to nine men but still managed to earn a draw against Nottingham Forest with an equaliser in the 97th minute (Well fancy that! Forest blew a lead and ended up with a point!) whilst the Latics won at Reading, who may have been out of sorts following their cup win at the weekend.
There are only a couple of games worth following this weekend; Fulham visit Millwall and Watford entertain Norwich. There were some signs that Kit Symonds had started something of a revival at Craven Cottage after being appointed in September but six defeats in their last ten have seen the Cottagers drop back into the bottom six for the first time since the start of November. From a slightly less gloomy perspective, Fulham haven’t lost five away games on the bounce since they were relegated and haven’t lost at Millwall in the league since April 1982. The Lions haven’t won at home since October, have lost six of their eight games at the New Den since beating Cardiff and are averaging less than a goal a game in Bermondsey since then.
Norwich’s trip to Watford could well be a playoff game in May: the Canaries have only lost one of their last half dozen away games and seem to have put their autumn slump behind them. They’re now back in the top six for the first time since November and are only a couple of wins away from an automatic promotion spot, so although it’s probably too early to tell, Alex Neil’s appointment seems to have been the right decision. It also helps that the Canaries have three decent strikers: between them Cameron Jerome, Lewis Grabban and Gary Hooper have scored almost 60% of City’s goals this season.
Four straight defeats in November may have undermined any chance of Watford winning automatic promotion but the Hornets have only lost three of their last dozen outings in the Championship and they’ve not lost at home since Boxing Day. They’ve failed to beat any of the current top six sides but haven’t lost at home to Norwich since April 2004 and so I’d not be at all surprised if this ends all square. Eight of the 19 games between the teams currently in the potential promotion slots (42%) have been drawn and with no draw at Vicarage Road since October then I’d be tempted to have a couple of quid on the 5/2 on offer with some firms.
There’s a full midweek programme next week, so I’ll be back then.
Unless anyone else gets sacked.