GOTW: Middlesbrough v Norwich

First post for a while and there’s a load to get through.

The big news over the last couple of weeks was Birmingham’s nine point deduction for final irregularities last Friday, although the correct technical term is ‘a breach of profitability and sustainability’ rules.

As has been pointed out on twitter over the last week, it’s funny how clubs that have been managed by A Certain Manager have found themselves on the wrong end of these penalties. Know what I mean Harry?

It’s a shame for Birmingham City though. They were one of the most improved teams this season yet over the last few weeks they’ve had a lot of negative publicity after the assault on Jack Grealish and now the points deduction – which leaves them on the verge of a relegation scrap that looked unlikely for most of the season.

Then there’s Bolton. They have until April 3rd to sort their unpaid tax bill out or else they’ll be the first EFL club to go into administration since Aldershot almost six years ago. A potential points deduction would confirm relegation for the Trotters –  who are likely to be returning to League One anyway – and would basically reduce the situation at the bottom of the table to just one relegation spot.

On the field, at this moment only Norwich look like they might be heading back to the Premier League; having said that, Sheffield United have an easier run in and are probably a more balanced team, but Leeds still cannot be discounted as contenders for automatic promotion.

I think I’ve mentioned this scenario before, but the playoff positions look as if they’re going down to the wire. It may be significant that WBA still haven’t appointed a successor to Darren Moore, which makes me wonder if they’re preparing to for automatic promotion next season rather than in 2018/19.

At the bottom, it’s probably any one from Millwall, Reading and Rotherham that’ll be accompanying Bolton and Ipswich on the journey to League One next season, although neither Wigan nor QPR aren’t exactly safe as it stands right now.

Middlesbrough v Norwich (5:30pm, Sky Sports Football/Main Event)

Three – yes, three – home wins in fourteen games since mid-September is hardly promotion form even if two of those victories came against Sheffield United and WBA. Boro’s problem has been the same for the entire season: at home only Sheffield United have conceded fewer goals but only Ipswich and Bolton have scored fewer. Boro haven’t found the back of the net more than twice at Riverside since August and their leading goalscorer at home – Jordan Hugill – hasn’t notched since the middle of January and has only scored four goals.

As it stands this will be Norwich’s penultimate away game of the season against a team in the top half of the table: as I mentioned above, the Canaries have a straightforward looking run in and having lost only once on the road since the start of September this game doesn’t look to troublesome for them.

The fun part is the head to head. Norwich have only won twice in their last ten league games at either the Riverside or Ayresome Park and although their last win was in September 2017, the previous occasion was in 1988. Boro have won half of those last ten encounters, including three of the last five. The most important game between the two was the 2015 play off final:

In all likelihood I’ll be back next week…

 

 

GOTW: Leeds v Sheffield United

Well the last week or so was eventful.

Whether Darren Moore’s departure from WBA was a shock or not seemed to depend on how closely you follow the Championship.

If you don’t follow the competition closely, it was a surprise. If you do, it wasn’t – his dismissal clearly falls into the category of ‘You were supposed to win automatic promotion’, which clearly shows how little research the WBA ownership had done. There were some structural issues too: the Baggies’ defence is not quite good enough yet. However, what Moore has now is invaluable: managerial experience at this level. I’m pretty sure that we haven’t heard the last of him.

I’m not going to waste my time recapping what happened at St Andrews last Sunday other than to mention the fact that Sky Sports repeated the incident as often as they possibly could – I’m old enough to remember the likes of Jimmy Hill and Brian Moore stating very clearly that they wouldn’t be showing footage of pitch invasions as it was providing hooligans with the publicity they wanted.

Game of the week is a no-brainer: Leeds v Sheffield United (Sky Sports Football/Main Event, 12:30pm) is a Yorkshire derby between the clubs in second and third place who are only separated by two points. There have been four meetings in the league between the local rivals since the turn of the century – and Leeds have only won one of those matches, a single goal win in September 2010.

Other games to keep an eye on: Rotherham v Norwich and Wigan v  Bolton.

Championship involvement in the FA Cup may come to an end this weekend: the two sides left in the competition have home ties against Premier League teams: Swansea v Manchester City (BT Sport 2, 5:20pm) and Millwall v Brighton (BBC1, Sunday 2:00pm)

There’s an international break next weekend, so if it’s at all possible I’ll be back in two weeks.

GOTW: Leeds v WBA

To start this week’s post, an announcement.

Due to a major change in my professional life, for the next few weeks I’ll be posting on an ‘as and when’ basis due to being a lot busier than normal. I’m going to aim to post something at least once a fortnight, so please bear with me.

GOTW: Leeds v WBA (this evening, 7:45pm, Football/Main Event)

Only four points separate these two going into this evening;s game – Leeds have only lost twice at Elland Road since October but they’ve only won one game on the road this year and that’s the reason they’ve dropped out of the automatic promotion places. The Baggies have won four straight away games but haven’t won five in a row away from the Hawthorns at this level for ten years.

Baggies wins at Elland Road are few and far between: the last time they met in the league was 12 years ago and although West Brom won that encounter, they hadn’t won in Yorkshire before then since October 1978.

Other matches with implications at both ends of the table: Ipswich v Reading, Millwall v Norwich and Wigan v Middlesbrough

Neither Ipswich nor Bolton can escape the gravitational pull of League One this weekend but Reading have been thrown a lifeline by Rotherham‘s inability to win any of their last six games. Millwall and Wigan both have some breathing space but if they lose at home to their top six opponents they’ll be dragged right back into the relegation scrap.

The only other televised game this weekend is the Steel City Derby at Hillsborough on Monday (Sky Sports Football/Main Event, 7:45pm): it would take an improbable set of events for Sheffield United to leap into pole position, but it is possible – so I’d say if it looks likely, it’s probably a must watch.

I’ll be back soon, if anything dramatic happens I’ll post ASAP.

FA Cup Fourth Round Preview

With the exception of a game that’ll come to later, this weekend is all about the Fourth Round of the FA Cup.

Although there’s only one guaranteed place for a Championship in the next round, I think it’s likely that at least four teams should qualify.

This post is in a similar format to the most recent previews although this time round I’m covering the games featuring Derby and QPR at Buzzin’ League One Football. All matches kick off at 3pm on Saturday unless stated.

All Championship

Bristol City v Bolton (Friday, 7:45pm)

The only tie between clubs from the Championship is a chance for the hosts to reach the Fifth Round for the first time in eighteen years, an ambition that may be more realistic that winning promotion. Bolton got to the semis in 2011 and the Sixth Round the following year but they’re probably more preoccupied with avoiding relegation to League One. The only previous meeting at Ashton Gate in the FA Cup was 40 years ago and City won 3-1, but their most recent clash in the league was earlier this month – and The Robins won that too.

Championship v Premier League

Brighton v WBA

As you might expect from a team that’s recently been in the Premier League, West Brom have reached the fifth round or better in half of the last six seasons, but they’ve not won at Brighton since April 1990 and could be forgiven for focusing on their efforts to return to the promised land.

Chelsea v Sheffield Wednesday (Sunday, 6pm)

The timing and the nature of Maurizio Sarri’s comments about his Chelsea team were both interesting and appeared to work against Spurs on Thursday, but even so you’d have to expect Sheffield Wednesday to play at the very top of their game to win at Stamford Bridge, something they’ve not done for 26 years despite making eight trips there since. The last time Wednesday won at Chelsea in the FA Cup was before England won the World Cup.

Millwall v Everton (Saturday, 5:30pm, BBC1)

Definitely one to watch if you’re near a telly on Saturday tea time.

The Lions – who have got this far in the competition twice since reaching the semis in 2013 and have lost a home FA Cup tie for just over three years – will be up for this, especially as they’ve not been beaten by Everton in either of their previous encounters in the FA Cup in South London. The Toffees have lost four of last five road trips in the Premier League and haven’t won an away FA Cup tie for three years: don’t be too surprised if there’s a replay.

Championship v League One

Swansea v Gillingham

I’m pretty sure someone, somewhere has wasted an afternoon searching for a team that’s played Cardiff and Swansea in consecutive rounds of the FA Cup, but I’m not that person. The Swans reached the Sixth Round last season but it’s been fifteen years since Gillingham got as far as this and they’ve not beaten Swansea since 2006. The last time the teams played each other in this competition in South Wales, it ended with a convincing Swansea win – and with Gillingham involved in a relegation scrap, that might be the case once more.

Championship v League Two

Middlesbrough v Newport

Comparatively speaking Middlesbrough have been strong performers in the FA Cup recently,  having only failed to reach this stage in two of the last six seasons. Newport got to the Fourth Round last year but haven’t progressed any further since the previous incarnation of club managed to in 1949; they’ve lost both of their previous meetings with Middlesbrough, which were league games in the old Division Three in the late 1980s.

Championship v National League

Barnet v Brentford (Monday, 7:45pm BT Sport 1)

The last tie of the round and I’m also the last person to mention that it’s the Bees againt the Bees. It’s been a while since either team qualified for the Fifth Round and although the last meeting between them that Barnet hosted ended goalless (in the old Johnstone’s Paint Trophy just over eight years ago), Brentford won the only previous meeting in the FA Cup – at Griffin Park way back in November 1925.

The highlight of the League programme this weekend is at Carrow Road, where Sheffield United are the visitors. Only two  points separate the sides but unless Leeds suffer a surprise defeat at Rotherham, then Norwich will have to be content with second place even if they win. Sheffield United won the corresponding game last season, but that was only the second Blades victory at Norwich since 2000 and United have never won consecutive games at Carrow Road.

If anything unexpected happens I’ll update this post as and when, but otherwise I’ll be back next weekend.

Updates: Millwall beat Everton, Middlesbrough drew with Newport.

Ay Karanka…

A few seasons ago there were three particularly dysfunctional clubs in the Championship, but that appeared to have changed – until last weekend.

To be fair to Blackburn Rovers, Venky’s have more or less left the club to run itself over the past few seasons.

But then we come to Leeds and Nottingham Forest. The current leaders appear to have known nothing about Marcelo Bielsa’s spying mission before last weekend’s game against Derby although if it had been described as ‘scouting’ it wouldn’t have generated as much comment.

Aitor Karanka’s departure from the City Ground came after I posted last Friday, so I was unable to react to it.

I’ve been pretty clear that Forest had taken a big step this season under Karanka as they’ve moved into the ‘difficult to beat’ category from being a team that could have easily been relegated a couple of seasons ago. That being said, I also thought the best case scenario for them in 2018/19 was the playoffs and that next season could be a better chance for promotion. Yet not for the first time, a toxic mixture of nostalgia, unrealistic expectations (stop me if you’ve read that before) and unwanted advice has taken over at the City Ground. Martin O’Neill hasn’t managed a team in English domestic football for six years and it’s been almost a quarter of a century since he managed a team at this level: it’s also a big risk to return to a club where you were a legend as a player, so we’ll see how this pans out. Give it until next Christmas.

Last weekend’s game of the week ended all square – if anyone’s keeping count that’s the fourth draw in 11 games of the week and the second in the last three.

There was no real change at either the top or the bottom of the table after last weekend’s games. This week there are no outstanding candidates for the game of the week, but there are three games where teams from the top six face teams from the bottom six.

Derby v Reading

Despite being in their usual position, The Rams have only won one of their last six league games and haven’t beaten anyone at home since the start of last month. On paper they’ve got a relatively easy schedule coming up – this is the start of five matches against the bottom seven before the end of February – but they’ve already lost at Bolton, Millwall and Rotherham in 2018/19 and any repeat of those results could have a huge effect on their chances of promotion. I’m still far from convinced about Frank Lampard: the Rams are currently not as good as they were last season.

Reading beat Nottingham Forest last weekend. but haven’t won on the road since beating Preston in mid-September. The Royals have lost all six contests against the teams currently in the top six and new boss Jose Gomez has lost three of his first five games in charge: but before anyone writes off the chances of a possible upset, consider this. Since August 2002 the clubs have met in 16 games at Derby and the hosts have only won five of those contests – and Derby won at Southampton on penalties in the FA Cup earlier this week.

Middlesbrough v Millwall

It may come as a surprise to those of you that don’t follow them, but Boro have only won three games at the Riverside since mid-September and seem to be having particular problems with mid table sides. Their home record against the bottom third of the table is fine though: ten points from twelve and no goals conceded.

Millwall’s impressive form over the holidays was undone by losing at home to Blackburn last Saturday evening; their win at Ipswich is the only away victory they’ve recorded this season. Although I hasten to add that the Lions have earned points at both Bristol City and Nottingham Forest and since the start of the decade they’ve only lost twice in six trips to Middlesbrough.

Bolton v WBA (Monday evening, 8pm, Sky Sports Football/Main Event)

An interesting televised contest to round the weekend off.

When you’re involved in a relegation scrap, scoring less than one goal a game and having to play four of the top six over the next month or so far from ideal, but that’s the situation Bolton are in. They didn’t have a bad December at home – only one defeat in four outings – but their 2-1 win over Rotherham on Boxing Day was their first win in seventeen games.

WBA are still very much in contention for automatic promotion but seem to be having their first wobble since they went four games without a win in October/November. The New Year’s Day defeat at Blackburn ended a run of four consecutive away victories but the Baggies haven’t won at Bolton since December 2000 – the last time the clubs met in a league game in Lancashire that wasn’t in the Premier League.

The other televised games this weekend are Norwich v Birmingham (this evening, 7:45pm) and Swansea v Sheffield United (5:30pm tomorrow) – both are being shown on Sky Sports Football and Sky Sports Main Event.

Back to the FA Cup next weekend, so I’ll see you then.