Another international ‘break’ is over: the somewhat double edged reward for a Saturday off for Championship teams is three games in a week. This weekend the action starts at noon on Saturday with two derbies and won’t finish until around 7pm when it’s full time in the televised game between Middlesbrough and Leeds (5.20pm Sky Sports 2); there’s a full programme on Tuesday as well.
There are four games between top six and bottom six sides with the most intriguing match being a derby with an international angle that always has a highly charged atmosphere: despite being in different countries, Bristol is pretty much the same distance from Cardiff as Swansea is. On paper the ‘Severnside Derby’ between the second placed Bluebirds and bottom of the table Robins looks as if it should be an easy win for Cardiff but as the pundits are so fond of telling us, derby games often feature the defenestration of the mythical form book.
It’s worth mentioning that although Bristol City have not won at Cardiff City since December 2002, the visitors have only lost twice in ten regular season trips to South Wales. The Robins are one of only three teams in the Championship that have not trailed at half time in away games and there’s a possibility that this game could be a lot closer than people think although Bristol City’s porous defence may have a torrid time with Jay Bothroyd.
It’s a shorter journey from South Yorkshire to Lincolnshire and Doncaster Rovers make the 26 mile trip to Scunthorpe in the other early kick off in the knowledge that they have an excellent record when visiting their neighbours – they’ve only lost once in their last ten league visits – and if this game follows form then it could be a score draw, possibly with Rovers’ striker Billy Sharp scoring against one of his former clubs.
If you’re not making the journey along the eastbound M181 or the westbound M4, the traditional three o’clock kick offs have plenty to offer. Watford’s away form has been sensational this season – Danny Graham has scored four of his six league goals away from Vicarage Road – and earlier in the season the Hornets would have probably been favourites to beat Portsmouth: however Steve Cotterill’s side have put together a nice run of form at Fratton Park recently and seem to have made the vital transition from pushovers to difficult to beat. Watford’s unbeaten run could be in danger: there’s only been one draw between these two on the South Coast in the last ten league meetings.
There are a couple of games with interesting subplots. Sheffield United host Burnley in a repeat of the 2008/09 playoff final: losing that game seems to have seriously undermined United’s morale since, but one of the reasons that Burnley only spent a season amongst English football’s elite was their poor away form. This trend seems to have continued on their return to the Championship: their last league victory away from Turf Moor was a 4-1 win at Hull last April. Erratic is probably the best way of describing Sheffield United’s home form this season: they’ve beaten other sides in the bottom six but have had trouble with better sides, in which case Burnley might be able to pick up their first win at Bramall Lane since August 1973.
Despite a 2-0 win at Norwich at the end of September, Hull’s away form is just as bad as Burnley’s and it’ll be interesting to see what kind of reception Tigers manager Nigel Pearson gets when he returns to the Walkers Stadium for the first time since he left Leicester City in the summer. Sven-Göran Eriksson will no doubt be keen to get off to a winning start in his first match in charge at the Walkers Stadium.
There’s absolutely no doubt whatsoever about the game of the week though: QPR v Norwich – it’s a slightly sobering thought for those of us of a certain age that this was a fairly regular Premiership game but their last meeting at that level at Loftus Road in March 1995! This looks like the type of game where we could find out a lot about both sides: considering it’s mid October it’s remarkable that Rangers haven’t conceded a goal at home in the league yet, but that stat is definitely under threat as Norwich have scored in all their away games this season and have kept consecutive clean sheets in their last two road trips.
It may be a little too early to look forward to next week’s games but Watford v Ipswich (Tuesday) looks as if it could be a good one, QPR visit Bristol City on Friday night (Sky Sports 1, 7:30pm) and Crystal Palace’s trip to Preston on Saturday could be between two sides moving in opposite directions.