Back To Work

The first international weekend is over – I refuse to call it a break anymore – the transfer window is shut (although I nearly typed a rude word there) and although there have been no managerial casualties yet, this month could very see the first of them. There’s a full midweek programme next week (that’s why it’s not an international ‘break’), so this post is merely an overview of the weekend’s games.

This weekend there are five potential games of the week, including four featuring the top six/bottom six combination that occasionally produces the shock results. It may be significant that the four of the bottom six clubs have home advantage this weekend:

Leeds United v Huddersfield Town

A few weeks ago there were rumours that Gary Monk would be sacked if Leeds didn’t beat Fleetwood Town in the League Cup and a defeat at home to their Yorkshire rivals could see Monk depart. There always seems to be goals whenever the Terriers visit Leeds: the last time there were less than three was in March 1987 and there’s been an average of 3.87 goals per game in the eight meetings at Elland Road since then, including the 4-1 thrashing Huddersfield gave Leeds on their own patch in March. United have only won two of the last six encounters against Saturday’s visitors when they’ve had home advantage and have only won three of their last ten home games in the Championship.

Leeds 0, Huddersfield 1. The Terriers can’t be overtaken on Tuesday evening, Leeds drop into the bottom three.

Preston v Barnsley

Last season the Lillywhites scored 34 fewer goals than during their successful promotion campaign, which – to be fair – was offset by only conceding five more than they did in their last campaign in League One. That makes the decision to offload Joe Garner to Rangers an even stranger one: so far three players have scored more individual goals than Preston have managed as a team. Barnsley have won three of their last six trips to Deepdale and haven’t drawn there since November 2001: Preston have failed to win any of their last eight home games in the Championship. There’s a theme emerging here, isn’t there?

Preston 1, Barnsley 2. Last week, I wrote that Coventry were missing Adam Armstrong this season on Buzzin’ League One Football. His winner for the Tykes was sublime.

QPR v Blackburn

You’ve got to go back a long way to find the last time QPR lost consecutive home games at this level (the start of 2010), which indicates how unusual the recent defeat by Preston was – only their fifth home defeat in the league since the middle of September 2015 and the first time they’d failed to score at Loftus Road in 15 games. In comparison, Rovers have only won two of their last 15 road trips but since the turn of the century three of the last four encounters between these sides in London have ended all square. QPR haven’t beaten Blackburn at home since November 1993 but I think it’s fair to say that these clubs are moving in very different directions.

1-1. Rangers drop out of the top six, Rovers stay bottom.

Rotherham v Bristol City

It’s far too early to describe this match as a crucial one for both sides, but it may give us some indication of how the rest of the season pans out for both of them. Despite their current position in the table, it’s worth remembering that the Millers have only lost one of their last ten games at the New York Stadium and City have won only two of their last ten trips to Rotherham.

City overcame a two goal deficit to earn a point.

Sheffield Wednesday v Wigan

It’s not much of a surprise that Wednesday have had a sluggish start to the season but Carlos Carvalhal’s side have a couple of winnable looking home games over the next few days and could make up some lost ground. Wigan look vulnerable defensively away from the DW Stadium but this is only their third ever league visit to Hillsborough and there’s not enough information to make an educated guess about the outcome.

Wednesday 2, Wigan 1. Come from behind win for the hosts, Wigan are equal on points with Leeds but have a better goal difference.

Televised games: Reading v Ipswich (this evening, SS1 8pm kick off), Derby v Newcastle (tomorrow, SS1 5:30pm), Aston Villa v Nottingham Forest (Sunday, SS1 1:15pm). The last one looks like a choice for anyone feeling nostalgic for the late Seventies/early Eighties: only Newcastle and Forest are currently in the top eight in the table.

There’ll be a quick update on tomorrow evening, I’ll be back next Tuesday with a look at the midweek games.

Market Report: September 2016

No games this weekend due to the international break, so time for some early analysis of the season.

At the top Newcastle, Norwich and Brighton remain the favourites to go up, although I’d have to say that Newcastle haven’t beaten any of the teams above them yet and they don’t play Barnsley until next month. I know it’s early days yet, but none of them seem to have hit their strides yet.

Huddersfield and Fulham have also both shortened in the promotion market, but I think that the Cottagers may be the first to be found out. They’ve only played one team in the top half of the table (the surprise win over Newcastle on opening day). Huddersfield have had a far tougher start to the season, have performed well above may expectations and could be a genuine surprise package in 2016/17, but their current form is unsustainable. The Terriers have to face Brighton and QPR in a four day period in the middle of the month.

At the bottom, Preston‘s odds for the drop have been slashed dramatically after a poor start that has seen the Lillywhites lose four of their five opening games as well as the departure of striker Joe Garner: at the start of July they were 14/1 to go down, today they’re 7/2 . Blackburn and Rotherham are the favourites to go down and although Burton have drifted slightly after their victory over Derby last weekend, the bookies don’t fancy their chances over the entire season. However, it’s Blackburn that should be a real cause for concern: they were a poor team last season and so far they’re this season they’re a lot worse.

There have been a couple of intriguing moves further up the table as both Cardiff and Wigan have begun poorly, but it’s a case of ‘wait and see’ for both of them. Wigan are adjusting to a new division and Cardiff have a new manager.

Finally this week, the record transfer fee for a move between two Championship clubs was broken when Jonathan Kodjia moved from Bristol City to Aston Villa for a deal that could be worth £14m for the Robins. City beat Villa 3-1 last week without Kodjia – who hasn’t scored so far this season.

Back to normal service next week.

Welcome To The Twilight Zone

We all know the Championship can be a bit weird sometimes. We’re only two games into the season and it’s fair to assume that some clubs are either over or underperforming and the overall situation will change, it’s still not obvious which teams that will apply to. The first midweek games of the season could give us some clues – or they might confuse things even more.

For now, we have four clubs with two wins, including three who finished in the bottom half of the season. At the other end, five teams have no points – but apart from Newcastle, can anyone say that the other four strugglers are surprises? Anyway, here are the three games that could see some meaningful changes in position depending on the results.

Brighton v Rotherham

In 2015/16 Albion won all ten home games against teams that ultimately finished 15th or lower, they haven’t lost at home since New Year’s Day and haven’t conceded more than two goals at home since December. One of the reasons Rotherham are still in the Championship was their run of away form under Neil Warnock, but last season they also lost five of their six away games to those teams that finished in the top six. The Millers haven’t won in Sussex since November 1997 and lost 3-0 at Aston Villa on Saturday: this looks like one way traffic to me.

Brighton 3, Rotherham 0

Leeds v Fulham

It’s hardly a surprise that Leeds already look out of sorts: only Nottingham Forest and Blackburn Rovers have conceded more goals at home. Going back to the end of last season, Leeds have now gone five games without a win and although they drew both games against Fulham last season, the last time Leeds beat Fulham at Elland Road was when both of them were in the Premier League. The Cottagers haven’t won consecutive away games in the Championship since the end of 2014 but have only failed to score in three of their last ten aways. A Fulham win wouldn’t surprise me.

1-1. A very late goal from Chris Wood saved Leeds from a home defeat.

Norwich v Bristol City

Game of the week, purely because both are in the top six. I outlined the case for Norwich doing well this season in the previews but Bristol City weren’t on anyone’s radar and this game should give us an indication of who may go on to have the better season: the Robins have only won two of their last ten trips to Carrow Road in the league. There could be a few goals in this one: Chelsea loanee Tammy Abraham has scored half of Bristol City’s goals this season and is currently top scorer in the section alongside Gavin Ward of Ipswich. If City don’t lose, that may be an indication that they have improved beyond expectations.

Norwich 1, Bristol City 0

There’ll be an update on Thursday morning, but I might not be able to post a full preview for this weekend’s games as I’m attending a family birthday.

Newcastle and Villa Both Lose

You can’t really tell an awful lot from the first week of games, but there could be some useful pointers.

Five of the six new arrivals lost their opening games, including all three of the promoted teams. The season started with a surprise: Fulham‘s defensive problems last season had been highlighted by just about everyone before last Friday’s victory over Newcastle – they’ve now kept consecutive home clean sheets in the Championship.

The game between Nottingham Forest and Burton produced seven goals, but consider this. The last time Forest scored four goals at home was in February in a 4-1 win over Bolton and in three of their last ten games they’ve conceded more than two. To me all that indicates is that both sides have poor defences.

The ominous result for both teams was Blackburn losing 4-1 at Ewood Park to Norwich. Rovers were three goals down after 25 minutes: once again, they’d been widely predicted to struggle before the season began but the ease with which the Canaries cruised to victory should send a message to the rest of the section.

The first round of the League Cup was the usual disaster: this time, eleven Championship clubs fell at the first hurdle, including Aston Villa – despite taking the lead at Luton, Roberto Di Matteo’s charges lost 3-1. Newcastle and Norwich have yet to join the competition, but with none of the first round survivors having been drawn against each other, there should be a reasonable amount of Championship teams left by the time the Third Round takes place.

I’ll be back on Tuesday with a look at the first midweek round of games as well as taking a look at what happened this weekend. The only contender for Game of the Week this weekend was QPR v Cardiff, but considering the visitors have failed to score so far this season – including during an extra time defeat at Bristol Rovers in the League Cup last night – and QPR have only lost three of the last ten league meetings, I can’t see the hosts losing.

The only televised game this weekend is Brighton v Nottingham Forest (tonight, 7:45pm Sky Sports 1). Forest only won twice on the road against teams that finished in last season’s top ten and have won only three of their last nine trips to Sussex since the turn of the century, so I can’t see them winning at the Amex.

I’ll be back on Tuesday for a look at the first midweek round of games this season.

Sky Bet Championship: What To Expect in 2016/17

At the top:

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Newcastle had already won the Sky Bet Championship.

However, only three of the last ten clubs that have won the Championship over the last decade had been teams that were relegated from the Premier League at the end of the previous season. Last season Burnley became the first club that had been relegated to win the Championship since Newcastle United in 2010, which makes you wonder if any of the relegate clubs will win the title this season. Indeed, only ten of the 30 teams promoted from the Championship over the last decade were those that had been relegated at the end of the previous season.

So if we’re assuming that it’s an established Championship team that will win the title, who are the favourites? It’s fair to say that any of the clubs that finished in the top seven last season are in with a shout as only two of the last ten champions finished outside that position and went on to win the title.

In that case, if Brighton, Derby and Sheffield Wednesday can put potential playoff hangovers behind them, they should be amongst the front runners. A word of caution about Wednesday here: they were one of the most improved sides last season, but were a surprise nonetheless. It’s a slightly different tale with Brighton, who had clearly returned to being the side they were a couple of seasons ago.

Automatic promotion is a similar story. The last time a club relegated from the Premier League finished in second place was WBA in 2010. Four of the last five runners up have played at least one season in the Championship before promotion and any of the teams that finished in the top half of the competition should have a fair shout.

The playoffs have been the most reliable route for relegated teams to return to the Premier League, but as always there’s a catch. Four of the last five finals have been won by teams that had been relegated from the Premier League, but it’s the teams that have earned at least 31 points before demotion that have been successful. Aston Villa‘s awful campaign in 2015/16 implies that they won’t be at Wembley in May. Here’s the fun part for anyone who follows a team that finished in the bottom half of the table though: six of the last ten playoff winners had finished in thirteenth place or lower.

Market movers: as you’d expect,  there’s been a lot of money for Newcastle, who have been clear favourites to win promotion. However, the change of both ownership and management at Wolves has seen them cut to 6/1 to go up. I think that’s a ‘wait and see’ decision, purely because we have no idea what sort of impact Walter Zenga will have. It’s also worth remembering what happened when Kenny Jackett left Millwall a few seasons ago.

At the bottom:

Over the last decade it’s normally been the clubs that have finished lower than 15th or have been promoted from League One that have usually been relegated, although it’s fair to point out that in half of the last ten seasons all of the newcomers from the third tier have avoided relegation.

Having written that, I find it difficult to argue with the bookies about the favourites for the drop. By and large, League 1 was wide open last season and I’ve already argued that elsewhere that Wigan won the title because so many other teams managed to blow their chances at crucial points. I don’t expect the Latics to struggle, but Barnsley and Burton will. The Tykes put together a run of form at exactly the right time, but in the eight seasons before they were relegated from the Championship they finished no better than 17th: they also had a worse record last season than Yeovil did when they were promoted.

Burton have to be admired for their record since joining the Football League, but the Championship is both unforgiving and a huge step up in class. The big advantage Burton have is that Nigel Clough knows the territory whereas Paul Heckingbottom doesn’t.

That being said, there are a number of teams that have declined over the past few seasons to the point where they’re prime candidates for relegation. Blackburn, Fulham and Nottingham Forest all fit that description and the Cottagers look particularly vulnerable following Ross McCormack’s departure for Aston Villa earlier this week. Blackburn and Forest were two thirds of the trio that averaged one goal per game or less last season but weren’t relegated. It’s interesting to note that Preston‘s odds for relegation have shortened since the start of last month: the Lillywhites complete the goal shy trio, even though they conceded the same amount of goals as Sheffield Wednesday did in 2015/16.

Talking of which, the average number of goals per game in the Championship last season was 2.42, the first time that the average had dropped below 2.5 since the 2008/09.

Predictions:

  • Derby to win promotion. Rather like the Cardiff sides of few years ago, The Rams have been agonisingly close to a return to the Premier League. Nigel Pearson may have had a rather inglorious end to his career at Leicester, but he did almost all of the groundwork there and will want to remind his doubters of that.
  • Barnsley to be relegated. Once again, the similarities between last season’s Tykes and the Yeovil team that won the League One playoffs in 2013 are remarkable: both clubs were in the bottom third of the table in September – Barnsley were bottom of League One at the end of November 2015 – before putting together remarkable runs of form to win promotion. However, Yeovil were in the bottom three of the Championship by mid-September and eventually finished seven points from safety.
  • At least one semi finalist from the Championship in both the League Cup and the FA Cup this season, although it’s about time a second tier team won the FA Cup again.

Finally this week, here are the televised games this weekend, starting tonight. The times in the brackets are the actual kick off times: there’s usually half an hour of waffle before the game starts and – as usual – they’ve missed the game of the week, which is Derby v Brighton.

Friday 5th August: Fulham v Newcastle (7:45pm, Sky Sports 1)

Sunday 7th August: QPR v Leeds (noon, Sky Sports 1), Sheffield Wednesday v Aston Villa (4:30pm, Sky Sports 1)

I’ll be back next weekend.