Welcome to the last post before the first international break of the season.
After last week’s results, the situation at the top has changed a little. The leading nine clubs are only separated by three points and with all the 100% records gone there could be some big changes. The current top three all seem to have improved since the end of last season, but in terms of consistency it’s probably Watford who may be the most genuine long term contenders for promotion.
It’s a similar situation at the foot of the table, where the bottom ten sides have only three points between them. Compared to last season, Bolton (who lost at home to QPR), Charlton (who were losing at home to Doncaster until the game was abandoned as the Valley had turned into a paddling pool by last weekend’s rainstorms) and Birmingham are underperforming, but it’s probably Millwall and Barnsley who have the most to be worried about in the long run.
I was spot on with my prediction for last week’s game of the week: Andy Reid gave Nottingham Forest an early lead at Vicarage Road, but it was almost inevitable that Lewis McGugan would score against his former club to salvedge a point for Watford.
Barnsley performed their party trick at Blackburn – conceding five goals and having a man sent off – and Millwall finally scored, although it was a Kamil Zayatte own goal that gave them the lead at Hillsborough. Andy Keogh’s late penalty earned the Lions a point, but they still haven’t scored a goal in league from open play this season.
There are a couple of candidates for game of the week, but Leeds v QPR wins because for the second week running there’s a top of the table clash being televised on Sky Sports 1 (12:15pm kick off). The other match is a 3:00pm kickoff at Bloomfield Road, where Blackpool entertain Watford, but as we featured the Hornets last week, Leeds win.
I wrote that Leeds needed to start keeping clean sheets away from home if they wanted to establish themselves as promotion contenders and it’s now time for them to do the same at Elland Road. They’ve only kept three clean sheets in the last ten home games in the Championship, which underlines their inconsistent form since they lost to Cardiff at the start of February – since then Leeds have only won five games.
So far this season Brian McDermott has resisted the temptation to make many changes to the lineup. Keeper Paddy Kenny and Stephen Warnock provide the experience at the back and Ross McCormack is currently the leading scorer with three goals. Teenage striker Dominic Poleon is one to keep an eye on: although he’s yet to score this season, he’s featured in every league game.
Unbeaten in the league, QPR have begun well in their first season back in the Championship since 2010/11 but it will be interesting to see if their surprise midweek defeat at home to Swindon in the Capital One Cup will have an impact or not. Over the years, Rangers’ form at Leeds has been pretty poor: they’ve only won two of the their last ten trips to Elland Road and haven’t scored there since Gareth Ainsworth gave them an early lead in a game in November 2004 that they eventually lost 6-1.
Harry Redknapp hasn’t changed his starting XI in the Championship that much: eight players have played in all league games this season (five of them also played against Swindon) and if Karl Henry and Joey Barton return to the midfield there’s always a chance that this game could get lively. I’ll stick my neck out again and predict another draw!
Last meeting at Elland Road: 18th December 2010 – here’s the preview for that weekend.
Leeds United (1) 2 (Gradel 2), QPR 0 (att: 29, 426)
Leeds: Schmeichel, Connolly, Collins, Bruce (Bromby), McCartney, Gradel (Sam), Johnson, Howson, Kilkenny, Snodgrass, Becchio (Paynter). Manager: Simon Grayson.
QPR: Kenny, Walker, Hill (Hall), Connolly, Gorkss, Derry, Orr, Taarabt, Mackie, Smith (Ephraim), Hulse (Helguson). Manager: Neil Warnock.
Even though two goals from Max Gradel (now with St Etienne) saw QPR slump to their second league defeat in a week, Rangers remained three points ahead of Leeds with a game in hand. Although QPR were promoted at the end of the season, that was as good as it got for Leeds: they only won one of their next six games and eventually finished three points off the last playoff place.