Sky Bet Championship Weekend Preview 5th December 2015

Well so much for wondering if there’d be new leaders last weekend: Brighton now have a two point lead after beating Birmingham and Hull lost at home to Derby and are the only team in the top five playing at home tomorrow. At the risk of repeating myself, any  of the top four could be leaders but it’s the six point gap between Burnley in fifth and Birmingham in sixth that’s the real interesting bit as we head towards Christmas. I’ve discussed the correlation between the leaders at Christmas and the clubs that are eventually promoted more than once before now, but I’m currently working on the assumption that if this pace continues the top five now could very well be the top five in April.

The situation at the bottom remains more or less the same, but the rumours that have surround Bolton Wanderers this week are worrying and there seems to be a consensus forming around the idea that the Trotters may face a points deduction for financial irregularities at some point in the near future. Bolton won’t be able to escape the bottom three regardless of the result in their game against Cardiff tomorrow but some of the tweets I’ve seen this week have been almost desperate attempts to muster the fans to attend the Macron Stadium.

Two games of interest this weekend, both of which feature the top six against the bottom three.

Brighton v Charlton

The Seagulls will lose at some point, but probably not tomorrow as Charlton have only won three of their last ten league games at Brighton. The hosts haven’t lost at home since April but things tend to go awry after ten games without defeat and the forthcoming visit by Middlesbrough (which for some reason is a Saturday lunchtime kickoff even though the distance between Amsterdam and Hamburg is shorter) could be tricky. After six consecutive away defeats Charlton finally won on the road (at Birmingham last month) but were woeful when losing 3-0 at home to Ipswich last weekend: however, the Addicks don’t have a bad record when it comes to playing the top six – one defeat in four games. Karel Fraeye remains interim coach but no-one seems to have any idea how much longer that will be the case, probably because no-one in their right mind wants the job.

Birmingham v Huddersfield

Despite losing four of their last six, Birmingham are doggedly holding on to sixth place and could improve their position with a win over a Huddersfield side that hasn’t won an away game since September and has lost five of their last six matches. The Blues’ big problem is a lack of goals: just two in six games at St Andrews since mid September (and both of those came in the win over QPR), which means they’ve gone almost five hours without scoring at home. Huddersfield’s inability to keep an away clean sheet – just the one so far – should be music to the ears of Clayton Donaldson, but Town’s horrible record against the top half of the table might be deceptive, as they seem to enjoy playing at St. Andrews: they haven’t lost there since November 2000.

The Capital One Cup came to the almost inevitable conclusion this week, when Hull, Middlesbrough and Sheffield Wednesday were all beaten by Premier League opposition. All teams can concentrate on the league for a few weeks, although the draw for the Third Round of the FA Cup will be taking place on Monday evening. I’ll be back then, by which time Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink will be QPR manager and Reading will have replaced Steve Clarke, who was sacked after the Royals lost 1-0 at home to Hasselbaink’s new club…and I’ll also be able to welcome Dean Smith to Brentford.

Capital One Cup Quarter Final Preview

Only two Championship sides left in the competition and remarkably both games were FA Cup ties last season. Unfortunately, neither Derby or Bournemouth have particularly good records against their respective opponents but the Cherries may never have a better opportunity to beat Liverpool.

Derby v Chelsea (7:45pm, Sky Sports 1)

If the Rams progress to the semi finals for the first time since 2008/09 it would be a major surprise. The clubs have met four previous occasions in the competition, although none of those meetings have taken place since October 1972: the away team failed to win any of those games, but it’s fair to say that back in the early seventies Derby and Chelsea were moving in opposite directions. The most recent meeting in the Midlands was in the Third Round of last season’s FA Cup (Chelsea won 2-0) and the Rams have only won two of their last eleven meetings at home against Chelsea in all competitions: their last victory came in the Premier League in October 1999.

Oh and Chelsea have only lost once in the Premier League this season and haven’t lost an away League Cup tie over 90 minutes for over a decade

Bournemouth v Liverpool (7:45pm tomorrow, Sky Sports 1)

Like so many other aspects to their season, this is a trip into the unknown for Bournemouth: their previous best performance in the League Cup was in 1963/64, when they reached the fourth round before being knocked out by Stoke.

The Cherries lost 2-0 at home to Liverpool in January in the FA Cup, but their previous encounters in that competition on the South Coast both ended in draws. Bournemouth went back to the top of the pile last weekend after an eight goal thriller against Cardiff which was only settled by Callum Wilson’s late winner and are currently on an eleven game unbeaten run in the league that goes back to the end of September…when they lost at Derby.

Liverpool have only won two of their last ten games in all competitions; they’ve not won an away match in the League Cup since winning at West Brom in 2012 and they didn’t exactly have it their own way when they played Cardiff in the final almost three years ago.

I’ll update the results as they come in, but I’ll be back for the final post of 2014 on Friday. The usual Christmas preview will appear, but with three clubs failing the FFP rules and yet another sacking (Nigel Adkins at Reading), I think I might return to one of the major subjects I’ve been banging on about for the last four years…

Update: Derby lost 3-1 at home to Chelsea. Craig Bryson made the score 2-1 after 70 minutes but the game was more or less over when Jake Buxton was dismissed; four minutes later Chelsea extended their lead and that was that.

Birmingham. Leeds. Blackpool.

Originally this was going to be a preview for this week’s Capital One Cup ties but after last weekend I feel it’s necessary to discuss the surprising – even by Championship standards – events at St Andrews and Elland Road.

Birmingham City – who in case you needed reminding, lost 8-0 at home to Bournemouth at the weekend – should have sacked Lee Clark a year ago at the earliest. I appreciate that the situation with their former owner meant that there were some issues with who had responsibility for executive decisions at boardroom level but nonetheless this club is in a mess and I think they’re a very credible candidate for relegation. Last Saturday was the first time the Blues had conceded five goals or more at home in the league since September 2012 (Barnsley) and the first time they’d conceded six or more at home in the league since April 1993 (Swindon). Gary Rowett of Burton Albion is next man up: good luck with that.

As for Leeds, the sooner the clown in charge of the current regime at Elland Road leaves, the better. Both the appointment and sacking of some random Eastern European no-one had ever heard of as manager was beyond a joke. Unless they’re in the top or bottom six or get past the fifth round of the FA Cup, I’m not wasting my time writing about them again this season.

Blackpool sacked Jose Riga yesterday but I don’t think that was much of a surprise was it?

For the record, I feel sorry for all three sets of fans, all of whom deserve better.

So on to the Capital One Cup, where there’ll be one guaranteed place in the next round. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the clubs playing Premier League opposition takes their game to extra time, but as you’ll see below there are compelling reasons to think that Bournemouth and Brighton might not get any further.

Bournemouth v WBA

Last meeting: FA Cup 3rd Round, January 1999, Cherries won 1-0 but have lost both previous meetings in this competition, last game was a 4-1 defeat at Dean Court in August 2011. Bournemouth have never gone beyond this stage of the League Cup.

Fulham v Derby

The Cottagers have won both previous meetings in the competition; half of the last games between them in the league in West London have ended in draws. It’s been ten years since Fulham reached the fifth round; Derby reached the semis six seasons ago.


Spurs v Brighton

Haven’t met in any competition for over 30 years and Brighton’s only win at Spurs come in October 1981. The Seagulls haven’t reached the fifth round since 1978-79.

All being well, I’ll be back at the weekend. Unless anyone else gets the chop and/or there’s a major upset this evening…

Wednesday Hit For Seven

The Capital One Cup was the usual mixed blessing; Bournemouth, Brighton, Derby and Fulham are the only teams left in the competition and the gulf between the top of the Premier League and the middle of the Championship was exposed when Manchester City battered Sheffield Wednesday 7-0. Much was made of all the goals coming in the second half, but five of them were scored after Kamil Zayatte had been sent off. There’s one all Championship game in the next round when Derby travel to Fulham (week commencing 27th October) but I think it’s fair to say that whoever wins that match will probably be the last Championship side left in the competition.

This weekend Nottingham Forest may not have a better chance to extend their lead at the top of the table: they’re the only club in the top six at home this weekend but any those teams could occupy top spot on Saturday evening.

The games of interest this weekend are those featuring sides at the bottom. So far there’s only been one game between the current bottom six teams (Bolton beat Rotherham 3-2 two weeks ago), but only ten of the 30 games between the clubs that finished in those positions in 2013/14 ended in home wins, which may be good news for Fulham.

Birmingham City v Fulham

First meeting between these two at this level since August 2000. Fulham have only won three of their last ten trips to St Andrews, but the hosts have only won TWICE at home in the Championship at home since October 1st 2013. As Fulham’s away defence is the worst in the competition so far (they’ve conceded at least once in the first half of all four of their road trips this season) I can honestly say I’ve got no idea what’s going to happen. Even if the visitors win – which is a distinct possibility considering they had a lead at Forest after 66 minutes – they can’t climb out of the bottom three.

Blackpool v Norwich City

Bit of a rarity as this is only the fourth time the clubs have met at Bloomfield Road in a league game in the last four decades. The hosts have something of an incentive here: if they win, there’s a reasonable chance that they might not be in the relegation zone by the start of next week. The Tangerines also have a far better home record than Birmingham (two wins in their last ten games is almost Real Madrid compared to Birmingham’s dire performance at St. Andrews) but the hosts have not scored more than once in front of their own fans since the end of November. Cameron Jerome has been a prolific goalscorer for the Canaries recently and has already scored more goals this season than he has in the last two campaigns put together, so he’s the obvious threat to Blackpool.

Reading v Wolves is the only televised game this weekend (Sunday 1:15pm, Sky Sports 1); the home team in this series have only won three of the last ten games and Reading haven’t won more than two consecutive home games since this time last year.

I’ll be back on Tuesday (I promise) for another midweek installment.

Weekend Preview Round 5

Quite a bit to get through this week, so we’ll start with the Capital One Cup.

After this week’s games,  just under half of the clubs in the Championship are still in with a chance and we’ll come to them in a moment: Huddersfield, Rotherham, Watford, Millwall, Brentford, Charlton, Birmingham and Leeds will all be concentrating on the league until January and with five of those sides currently in the bottom half of the table I don’t think it’s unfair to suggest that is probably for the best. The Millers, Lions and Birmingham all lost to Premier League opposition whilst Watford and Leeds capitulated to League One sides – the latter made a real mess of it against Bradford.

The third round draw means two guaranteed places in the fourth round, but it’s not been particularly kind for those clubs drawn against Premier League teams.

Premier League Opposition: Bolton (at Chelsea), Middlesbrough (at Liverpool), Sheffield Wednesday (at Manchester City), Nottingham Forest (at Spurs)

All Championship: Cardiff v Bournemouth and Derby v Reading

League One Opposition: Fulham v Doncaster (who beat Watford), Norwich (at Shrewsbury)

League Two Opposition: Brighton (at Burton Albion)

Returning to the bread and butter, only Forest, Charlton and Sheffield Wednesday are undefeated so far and in one of those rare moments where all the planets align, game of the week features two of those sides and – even more remarkably – is televised.

Sheffield Wednesday v Nottingham Forest (Sky Sports 1, 12:00pm)

I’d imagine that Wednesday fans would be pleased with their start this season, but will probably remember that they were in exactly the same position two years ago but were in the bottom four by the end of September. The club’s current position is very deceptive: they’ve not won at home since the end of March (three draws and three defeats since) and although a goalless draw with Derby isn’t a bad result, Wednesday should have beaten Millwall a couple of weeks ago but a very late Magueye Gaye equaliser meant they only earned a point.

Since September 2000 Forest have won four of their last seven trips to Hillsborough but they’ve not won consecutive away games in the same season since March 2013 and have already had to come from behind at Bournemouth and Bolton so far. They’ve also been very inconsistent on the road over the last year: six wins in 23 games in the competition doesn’t really indicate that Forest are the type of team to win automatic promotion, especially as they’ve lost half of their last ten league games away from the City Ground.

Ir should be an interesting game, but I’d not be too shocked if it ended all square.

There are two other matches to keep an eye on:

Leeds United v Bolton Wanderers

Leeds beat Bolton at Elland Road on New Year’s Day 2013 but have lost half of the last six meetings between them in Yorkshire in the league and have only been victorious in three Championship games in front of their own fans since March. Given the nonsense with Brian McDermott last season, it should have come as no surprise that Dave Hockaday was apparently sacked and reinstated after last weekend’s thumping at Vicarage Road; I’ll be surprised if he makes it to Christmas (update: Hockaday lasted until Thursday evening)

Bolton got their act together away from home after Valentine’s Day, but although three defeats in their first four games has seen them drop into the bottom three, poor starts have been a speciality since Wanderers were relegated from the Premier League. They’re not the best team in the Championship and although they’re less dysfunctional than Leeds right now, anything could happen in this one.

Watford v Huddersfield Town

One home defeat in their last dozen home games bodes well for the Hornets this weekend, but since the turn of the century their record against Huddersfield at Vicarage Road is poor and includes a 4-1 defeat the last time these sides met back in May. The Terriers have improved since Mark Robbins left, but have only kept four away clean sheets in the Championship in the past year and will be hard pressed to add a fifth on Saturday.

It’s the first of the international weekends next week so there’ll more than likely be a recap next week with an overview of how the competition might develop.