2014/15 Sky Bet Championship Season Preview Part 1

Welcome to the first part of the 2014/15 club by club previews. Hopefully I’ll have all 24 clubs finished by Friday but there’s a possibility that the annual ‘What To Expect’ post may appear first thing on Saturday morning.

All prices quoted below came from the Oddschecker website on 1st July 2014. Even if you aren’t a punter, they’re usually worth checking now and again to see how much they’ve changed.

Birmingham City

Manager: Lee Clark (since June 2012)

Promotion: 16/1

Relegation: 9/2

Last Ten Games: 2-1-7

Fourth season in the Championship. Spent almost all of last season in the bottom ten but weren’t ever really really threatened with the drop until the last day and the question remains: are there three teams worse than them this season? On last season’s evidence, there may not be: along with Blackpool and Millwall, the Blues recorded the fewest wins of the teams that weren’t relegated and they lost as many home games as Yeovil – who were.  Factor in a dreadful defence (Birmingham kept more clean sheets on the road than they did at home) and a manager who can’t be sacked for financial reasons and there’s a potential disaster waiting to happen.

Blackburn Rovers

Manager: Gary Bowyer (permanent manager since May 2013, de facto manager since March 2013)

Promotion: 13/2

Relegation: 20/1

Last Ten Games: 5-5-0

Third season in the Championship. Were never higher than eighth (final position) but twelve game unbeaten run as well as being mathematically able to reach the playoffs on the last day was indication of the progress that’s been made at Ewood Park. One of the reasons Rovers only had a mathematical chance of playoff glory was a terrible away defence: they conceded as many goals as Millwall and Barnsley and conceded three or more goals in nine matches: at home they kept more clean sheets than Leicester. Automatic promotion is a realistic aim.

Blackpool

Manager: Jose Riga (since June 2014)

Promotion: 40/1

Relegation: 6/4

Last Ten Games:2-2-6

Fourth season in the Championship. The same sort of predicament as Birmingham City, but at least the Blues didn’t find themselves having to cancel a pre-season training camp because they suppposedly only had eight players – none of whom was a goalkeeper – under contract. The Tangerines were actually top of the table in mid September, but a 17 game streak without a win between November and March saw them plummet like a stone even though they were only in the bottom three once: the statistical highlights include the joint Fewest wins of the teams that weren’t relegated (with Birmingham and Millwall), the three relegated teams scored more goals and Barnsley and Doncaster scored more goals at home than the Tangerines did. There may only be two relegation places to contest at the end of March because Blackpool may be left behind early on.

Bolton Wanderers

Manager: Dougie Freedman (since October 2012)

Promotion: 8/1

Relegation: 20/1

Last Ten Games:5-4-1

Third season in the Championship. A terrible start saw them bottom three until a win at Birmingham City (where else) at the start of October and the Trotters were never higher than fourteenth after that and even showed some reasonable form towards the end of the season, when it didn’t matter. Earned a reputation as draw specialists last season and although turning a couple of those ties into wins might see them briefly threaten the playoffs at some point in 2014/15, the glory years – such as they were – are well and truly over.

Bournemouth

Manager: Eddie Howe (since  October 2012)

Promotion: 8/1

Relegation: 14/1

Last Ten Games:6-6-2

Second season in the Championship, last time that they achieved that was in the late 1980s. The Cherries were the only club to score 40 or more goals at home that didn’t finish in the top six, but after a bright but inconsistent start their playoff chances were scuppered by an indifferent spell between November to February. A decent end to the season (only two defeats in their last ten) indicates they should be fine at this level again and they may even be surprise candidates for promotion. Bonus fact: haven’t been in an away goalless draw at this level since earning a point at Stoke in March 1990.

Brentford

Manager: Mark Warburton (since December 2013)

Promotion: 16/1

Relegation: 9/2

Last Ten Games:4-3-3 (in League One)

First season in the second tier since 1992/93, when they were relegated after finishing a point behind Sunderland but the last time they managed two seasons at this level was in the mid 1950s. Were in the top three in League One from mid December onwards, but failed to win any of their home games against the other three sides in the top four and failed to beat three of the four relegated sides away from home. Could  struggle defensively away from Griffin Park, but recent League One runners up have only been relegated once in the last ten seasons and a mid table finish wouldn’t be out of place.

Leicester Win The Title, But Almost Everything Else Is Up For Grabs

Leicester won the Championship on Tuesday night thanks to a win at Bolton. With two games still to play, the Foxes have already won more points than eight of the last ten winners and although they can’t overtake the 106 points Reading earned in 2005/06, they could still equal the 102 point haul Newcastle managed in 2009/10. While I’m on the subject, with 89 points Burnley would have won the title in half of the last ten seasons – and in the last 20 years only the 2002/03 Leicester side won more points whilst finishing as runners up.

So the remaining issues are: the last playoff place, which may very well go to the last game of the season and for only the second time in the last ten seasons it’s looking increasingly likely that there will be a playoff team that didn’t reach 70pts: Leicester achieved that last season, which – once again – indicates that next season’s promotion candidates are more than likely competing at the top of the table. More of that before next season, but my guess is that Reading will nick the last playoff spot on goals scored, but I wouldn’t recommend a trip to the bookies armed with that information.

Relegation: if Yeovil lose at Brighton this evening (Sky Sports 1, 7:45pm), they’re done for. Who will probably join them is still up in the air, but when all is said and done this season it’s noticeable that Barnsley, Charlton, Birmingham and Blackpool have all been far worse this season than in 2012/13 and all of those clubs have managed to score one less goal per game in this campaign. Of course, they can’t all be relegated but the survivors from that group will be amongst the favourites for the drop at the start of next season. I don’t want to sound too pessimistic about newly promoted Brentford surviving next season, but the Bees haven’t managed consecutive seasons in the second tier since the early 1950s.

There are three ‘top v bottom’ clashes worth keeping an eye on this weekend:

QPR v Millwall

If anyone needs to avoid the Curse of Fourth then it’s Rangers: the easiest way to do that would be for them to lose their remaining matches but that would be a ridiculous scenario. Although Millwall haven’t won at Loftus Road since February 1989, QPR have only won on the last seven league meetings on their own patch. That being said, Harry Redknapp’s side have taken 31 of the 33 points available from home games against teams currently in the bottom half of the table and Millwall have only lost two of their five away games against the current top six. Expect the unexpected: the Lions have been performing far better on their travels than at the New Den recently and actually have something to play for.

Wigan v Blackpool

If there’s a chink in Wigan’s armour, it’s their less than convincing performances at home against teams that have struggled: one win, three draws and a defeat to the current bottom six at the DW is part of the reason why the Latics haven’t quite confirmed their participation in the playoffs yet. Blackpool have conceded five at Reading and Derby and three at Leicester this season and although the Tangerines have won two of their last three league games at Wigan, a fifteen game streak without an away win looks ominous to me. This could be the last meeting between these clubs for a while.

Doncaster v Reading

Rovers are still up to their necks in it: five games without a win and three straight home defeats after not losing any of the previous eight matches at the Keepmoat is not a comfortable position to be in, especially as only Blackpool and Charlton have scored fewer goals this season. Donny have beaten Leicester, QPR and Wigan at home this season and so the Royals might be in for a tough afternoon: the problem for the hosts is that they’ve not actually beaten Reading at home since a remarkable 7-5 win in September 1982 despite seven attempts to do so. Additionally, Reading have only lost three of their eleven away games against the sides in the bottom half: the last of those was at Middlesbrough in December.

I’ll hopefully be back before next Friday, although the last of this season’s catch up games take place on Tuesday night and could have a big impact on both ends of the table. Wigan travel to Birmingham in a match that could be vital for both teams if results on Saturday don’t go their way.

Update: to no-one’s great surprise, both Barnsley and Yeovil were relegated. Birmingham v Wigan is going to be a massive game on Tuesday night: the Blues lost at home to Leeds yesterday and are now in the bottom three.