On paper, this evening’s match looks like a good one – the Tangerines have started well and already look like genuine promotion candidates and while none of the clubs promoted from League 1 look as if they’re going to emulate Norwich and Southampton this season, Huddersfield look as if they’re the best prepared for the long haul. Simon Grayson knows his way around the Championship and with a reported figure of £8 million in the war chest following the sale of Jordan Rhodes to Blackburn, funds could be available for the Christmas transfer window.
There should be a few goals at Bloomfield Road later – in the last 20 meetings in the league going back to the mid 1950s there’s been an average of exactly three goals per game – but the advantage clearly belongs to the hosts. Ian Holloway’s side have only lost only lost twice at home in the Championship in almost a year and although the Terriers were beaten at Cardiff in the first game of the season, it’s probably fair to say they’ve not been tested yet. Their three wins so far have come against teams currently in the bottom half of the table.
Talking of Cardiff, regular readers over the last couple of years probably won’t need any reminding of how many times the Bluebirds Redbirds have been given an opportunity to establish themselves at the top of the table – and how many times they’ve screwed it up completely. Well, it’s not even the end of September and they’re at it again: last Saturday they blew a two goal lead at Crystal Palace as Glen Murray scored a hat-trick at Selhurst Park. Hull lost at Leicester yesterday which means that Brighton may be two points clear for a little while longer after beating Millwall on Saturday: they were already two goals up before Chris Taylor was sent off for a foul on Tomasz Kuszczak.
At the bottom, Peterborough are so far off the pace at the moment that I’ll only mention them in future if they drag themselves out of the bottom three, but Charlton’s win at Ipswich prompted a lot of speculation about whether Harry Redknapp might be on the point of taking over from Paul Jewell at Portman Road.
There was no doubt about the surprise result of the weekend: Birmingham City hadn’t conceded more than four goals in a competitive game at St Andrew’s since Liverpool won 7-0 in an FA Cup tie in March 2006 and you have to go back even further to find the last time that happened in a league game…although Barnsley scored five there in October 1988! Craig Davies alone managed to almost double the amount of goals Barnsley had scored this season in a game that rapidly turned into the Tykes against Jack Butland and ten statues and any thoughts Blues fans might have about promotion should be put on the back burner.
This week also sees the third round of the Capital One Cup, but there are only five Championship clubs left in the competition and three of them play opposition from the Premier League. Burnley and Middlesbrough arguably stand the best chance of qualifying for the next round, but they have tricky away games at Swindon and Preston respectively and it wouldn’t come as a massive shock if none of the second tier clubs got through. However, Leeds will get the chance to show what they’re made of when they entertain Everton tomorrow night (Sky Sports 2, 7:45pm).
With a couple of exceptions, it’s back to 3pm kick offs on Saturday: at time of writing I’ve not been able to establish why Brighton’s game against Birmingham is a 5:30pm kick off but on Sunday lunchtime it’s the next episode of Derby v Nottingham Forest. I’ll be back on Friday evening with a weekend preview, but until then have a good week and don’t forget your raincoat.
It’s worth starting with Blackpool once again, primarily because they’re the only side with a 100% record in the league – although there are currently also four other undefeated teams – and they feature in the only televised game this weekend, when they travel to Leicester (5:20pm SS2) so you can make up your own minds about Ian Holloway’s team. I’ve already commented on Blackpool several times this season (and I have a feeling they’ll be featuring a lot this season), so how about the joint pre-season favourites? After their opening day win over Peterborough, Leicester have lost three in a row including a 4-2 home defeat to Burton Albion in the Capital One Cup on Tuesday – and a three game losing streak hasn’t happened to the Foxes since March 2010.
Other than that It’s the last weekend before the first international break of the season and oddly all of the top six are away from home and five of the bottom six are at home, so I’d expect there’ll be a few teams determined to do well going into what is effectively a fortnight off. Birmingham v Peterborough was almost game of the week – the Blues seem to be suffering from a classic playoff hangover while Posh are already up against it having lost all three of their league games so far.
Game of the week is Leeds v Blackburn – they’ve not met in the second tier for over 20 years and with both sides looking to return to Premier League in May this game could be crucial to the ambitions of both teams. Rovers need to overcome their recent history at Leeds: they have only only won once in their last 20 trips to Elland Road. There might be a few goals in this game: Argentine striker Luciano Becchio has already scored three times this term (he’s already on target to beat last season’s 11 goal haul), while Colin Kazim-Richards’ five year trip round Europe obviously hasn’t diminished his goalscoring ability – he’s already scored twice for Blackburn.
As for the Capital One Cup, the second round was a total disaster. Only five teams are left in the draw for the third round and with three of them being drawn against opposition from the Premier League it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise if none of them are left in the competition before Christmas, but I’ll take a closer look at their chances towards the end of the month.
After the usual mixed bag of first round results, the second round of the newly christened Capital One Cup takes place this week with sixteen of the 24 Championship clubs involved.
Although the draw ensured there’d be no guaranteed third round places, there might be a few surprises. A couple of seasons ago Bolton were in the Premier League whilst Crawley Town were playing in the Conference, but Crawley have a lot of experience of beating Championship teams in cup competitions – Hull, Bristol City and Derby can all vouch for that.
Preston and Crystal Palace were both in the Championship in 2010/11 and Deepdale hasn’t been the happiest of hunting grounds for the Eagles in recent years, with only two wins in their last ten visits. Nottingham Forest entertain Wigan at the City Ground and Fulham visit Hillsborough for the first time since they beat Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup almost four years ago.
At the other end of the scale, both Barnsley (at Swansea) and Peterborough (at Reading) look as if they may have to concentrate on the league until the 3rd Round of the FA Cup comes round, but you never know.
The only televised game from the Capital One Cup is Thursday evening’s game between Northampton Town and Wolves at Sixfields (SS1, 7:45pm), which is a repeat of last season’s second round tie in the same competition. Wolves won that game 4-0.
I’ll be back on Friday with a look at the weekend’s fixtures but don’t be too surprised if I mention Blackpool in the first paragraph.
Tonight is the first of six midweek rounds before Christmas and game of the night is Leeds‘ trip to Blackpool, which is the only match between clubs that both won on Saturday. Leeds haven’t won at Bloomfield Road since March 1967, but that’s deceptive as they’ve only played three games there since and last season’s single goal defeat was the first time they’d played the Tangerines in the league since 1971!
A brace from Tom Ince earned Ian Holloway’s side all three points at Millwall on Saturday while Luciano Becchio scored the only goal at Elland Road in the narrow win over Wolves. Although both sides have got off to a good start in the league, Leeds have won both of their competitive games so far this season, which already puts them into an elite group: only six other Championship clubs have done that – that group includes Barnsley, who many people (including myself) wrote off before the season started.
From a wider perspective, the poor showing in the Capital One cup wasn’t a massive surprise – it’s possibly a bigger surprise that there are more teams left in the competition after the first round than there have been in the last two seasons. Cardiff City – runners up in 2011/12 – were knocked out by Northampton Town last week while six other clubs who played in the Championship last season were also eliminated.
At the other end of the scale, five clubs have failed to win either of their opening games in either the league or the Carling Cup: that group includes one team that had a top ten finish last season (Brighton, who have yet to score) as well as Millwall and Bristol City, who were amongst the strugglers last season. Brighton have a tough looking game at home to Cardiff tonight, while Millwall and Bristol City both face teams that also lost on Saturday: the Lions visit Peterborough and the Robins entertain Crystal Palace – who conceded two late goals at home to Watford, giving Gianfranco Zola his first win as a manager at Championship level.
Tomorrow night Blackburn face Hull for the first time since both clubs were in the Premier League (a single goal from Martin Olsson settled that game) and on Friday night Nottingham Forest visit Bolton (Sky Sports 2, 7:45pm), but I’ll take a closer look at that game on Friday afternoon.