Weekend Preview 23-25th November

It’s a brief post this week due to work commitments.

Somewhat different from swanning off to France, but at least one will pay for the other 🙂

At the top there’s five point gap between the top six – altough if Norwich lose at Swansea they could be overtaken by Leeds, Middlesbrough or Sheffield United. I fell into a typical Championship trap by praising Leeds last post didn’t I! I don’t think anyone saw them losing so heavily at WBA – it’s well over 30 years since they lost by three goals at the Hawthorns.

At the bottom: Ipswich are five points adrift but only two points separate the six clubs immediately above them. As I noted in the previous post, I was expecting Bolton to get trapped in a relegation battle but the only team in that group that’s moving in a positive direction is Preston.

As luck would have it, two of the three games that are contenders for game of the week are both being shown on Sky Sports Football/Main Event. Ipswich v WBA (this evening, 7:45pm) and Rotherham v Sheffield United (Saturday 12:30pm) both feature teams from either end of the table: Ipswich have only won two league games at Portman Road since January, but before any Baggies fans get carried away, it’s only fair to point out that West Brom haven’t won on the road since the end of September.

The twelve Yorkshire derbies we’ve had so far have been fairly well balanced (half have been drawn with the remaining games split evenly between home and away wins), but whilst Rotherham have only picked up one point in three attempts, Sheffield United have earned four points in the same number of games.

The other game of note is between Millwall and Bolton – in six meetings in all competitions in London since the turn of the century, the Lions have only won once (six years ago), but Wanderers have only scored one away goal since mid-September.

Additionally Brentford v Middlesbrough (Saturday 5:30) and Aston Villa v Birmingham (Sunday, noon) are also being televised – the former shouldn’t be any surprise considering how close Griffin Park is to the Sky Sports HQ and I don’t think many of us would have predicted that the first Second City Derby of the season would have seen the protagonists only separated by goal difference.

All being well, I’ll be back next Friday although that may also be a brief post.

GOTW: Sheffield Wednesday v Middlesbrough

Welcome to the second – and penultimate – post of October 2018.

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last wrote anything, but although we’re already just over  a quarter of the way through the season something statistically significant may have happened: only the current top six are on course to make the playoffs. I wouldn’t expect to see something like that until much nearer the end of the season. 

As it stands, any of the top four could be in pole position at the end of this round of games and with another midweek programme next week the overall situation still looks pretty fluid. A stat that’s worth considering: only Leeds and Sheffield United have played fewer than three games against their immediate rivals for promotion. On the other hand Middlesbrough have already played four games against the other five team in the top six.

Anyway, without any further ado, here’s the game of the week – a televised Yorkshire derby!

Sheffield Wednesday v Middlesbrough

(this evening, 7:45pm, Sky Sports Football/Main Event)

After having predicted another season of slow decline from Wednesday, I’m now going to both eat my words based on their recent performances. They’ve suffered only one home defeat in their last ten (although they’ve drawn the last three at Hillsborough – blowing leads against Leeds and WBA) and only two reverses in their last ten at all venues. Before I get too carried away, I’d still be a bit wary of their defence though: they’ve conceded in nine of their last ten matches.

Middlesbrough’s recent home defeat by Nottingham Forest was their first loss at the Riverside since last season’s playoffs, but before anyone writes Tony Pulis’ side off they should remember that they’ve only lost twice away from home since the end of January. Stopping Boro from scoring is imperative but as you just read, that’s not exactly Sheffield Wednesday’s strength right now.

HTH: Wednesday have won three of the last five games at Hillsborough, but haven’t recorded a victory since two goals in two minutes gave them a 2-0 will in February 2015.

Verdict: there’s only been one away win in the eight games between the current top six so far this season, but half of those games ended all square. I think a draw is highly likely. Incidentally, my GOTW record so far: two home wins, two draws, two away wins.

Other games to follow this weekend are both at the bottom, where Paul Clement and Nigel Atkins will both be attempting to avoid being the next manager without a job:

Hull v Preston: the Tigers have lost four of their last five, but after four consecutive defeats Preston have picked up four points from the last six and could be poised to make one of those impressive runs similar to the one last season that took Millwall from flirting with the drop to dreaming of the Premier League. Talking of which…

Reading v Millwall: this will be Reading’s 20th league game since the end of March and they’ve won precisely three of them: two of those victories were against Preston. After six defeats in seven games, Millwall are unbeaten this month.

The other televised games are between Blackburn and Leeds (noon Saturday, Sky Sports Football red button) and Derby v Sheffield United (5:30pm Saturday, Sky Sports Football/Main Event). Both of those look as if they might be worth watching, although the game from Ewood Park will be overshadowed by the clash between Jose Mourinho’s former employers that’s also being shown on Sky at more or less the same time.

Finally this week, Brentford appointed Thomas Frank as manager following the departure of Dean Smith to former Premier League outfit Aston Villa. The Dane had previously managed at Brondby in Denmark, but has no previous managerial experience in the UK.  And we all know what happened to the last Brentford manager who had a similar record .

I’ll be back be next weekend.

Eight Out Of Ten Stats

The last post of the month is going to be stats driven, so please be patient.

It’s still really early in the season, but after four games there seem to be some surprise team at both ends of the table.

First of all, here are the highlights from last weekend’s game of the week:

This isn’t the best stat of the week, but it’s been over a decade since Ipswich had a shirt sponsor that wasn’t Marcus Evans.

Anyway, I’ve identified a number of teams who were playing in the Championship last season but are currently performing either above or below the level they were in 2017/18. I looked at how they’ve performed against (a) the current teams in the top six and (b) those sides currently in the bottom six, then compared the points they earned from those games against the grand total they’ve earned this season:

This seems to suggest the following:

  • Any club that’s earned more than 50% of their total points against teams from the bottom six has probably had an easy start: Bolton, Brentford, Leeds and Preston fall into that category – although the Lillywhites are currently underperforming compared to last season, which indicates this may be a bump in the road rather than a crisis.
  • Birmingham have had a bad start due to having already played Bolton, Middlesbrough and Swansea, but they don’t have to face another club in the current top six until the middle of next month. That being said, you have to wonder if the Blues would have been in this position if they’d had an easier schedule: I think it’s highly likely that the end of last season was something of a dead cat bounce.
  • I’d be very worried if I was a QPR fan. A couple of seasons ago Rotherham were relegated to League One after finishing 19 points adrift at the bottom but after four games The Millers had one win and three goals under their belts – which is a better record than Steve McLaren’s team currently has.
  • Nottingham Forest have improved – they couldn’t have got any worse without being relegated – but probably not enough to be considered promotion candidates. They to come from behind at both Bristol City and Wigan to earn draws, struggled to beat Bury in the League Cup and lots of teams are going to beat Reading this season.

Once again, although this is far too early in the campaign to make predictions, I think that Aston Villa, Brentford and Middlesbrough will be in the mix at the end of the season. It’s a ‘wait and see’ situation with Leeds (when isn’t it?) but I’d be very surprised to see Bolton in the top half of the table at Christmas. Overall though, I think it’s still wide open at the top.

At the bottom, it’s Birmingham, QPR and Reading who will need to look over their shoulders – I picked Reading out before the season began – but I’ll be honest and thought that QPR were the type of team that could do well. Of course, that could still happen. I deliberately haven’t mentioned any of the new arrivals in this post, but Stoke have had a dreadful start.

Elsewhere I’d suggest keeping an eye on Frank Lampard’s progress at Derby. It could go either way but at the moment I’d suggest their lowest finish in the Championship for half a dozen seasons is a realistic outcome: a guaranteed playoff hangover combined with an inexperienced manager is not a recipe for success.

This weekend’s televised games: Middlesbrough v WBA (this evening, 7:45pm, Sky Sports Main Event/Football) and Nottingham Forest v Birmingham (Saturday, 5:30pm, Sky Sports Main Event/Football). The first one looks like an interesting one, the second one has draw written all over it.

It’s the second round of the League Cup next week and I’ll cover that in next weekend’s post. I may not have a hangover by then 🙂

2018 Playoff Final Preview

Saturday’s game is the eighth playoff final I’ve covered for this blog.

Before we go any further, I have to warn any Fulham fans that I don’t have a great record of accurately predicting the outcome of this game.

Aston Villa v Fulham

(Saturday 5pm kickoff, Sky Sports Football/Main Event will begin broadcasting at 4pm)

Statistically I always treat this as an away game for both teams and there’s a big difference between them in this respect.

Aston Villa

Last ten aways: 5-1-4, 14-9. Five clean sheets, failed to score in four games.

Don’t read too much into those numbers. Only two of those five wins were recorded against teams that finished in the top ten and Villa’s away record against the other teams in the top six was worse than that. Although their win at Middlesbrough in the first leg of the semi final duplicated the result at the Riverside at the end of December, it’s worth remembering that they only picked up 13 away points from 33 available against the other clubs in the top half of the Championship and Steve Bruce’s side failed to beat Brentford, Derby and Millwall either at home or away. Indeed, Preston had a better overall away record than Villa.

Villa have been pretty settled this season – four players have appeared in 40 or more games – and their main sources of goals are Albert Adomah and Conor Hourihane, who have scored 25 times between them this season. A note of caution here: Adomah hasn’t scored away from Villa Park in the league since mid-November and hasn’t scored at all since the start of February. He’s currently 3/1 in the ‘anytime goalscorer’ market.

Fulham

Last ten aways: 6-2-2, 16-9. Three clean sheets, failed to score in one game.

This season Fulham’s away record against the other teams in the top six was far better than Villa’s. The Cottagers earned nine more away points against the teams in the top half of the table than their opponents did (only Wolves had a better record on the road this season), but interestingly one of the reasons Fulham are playing in the final rather than watching it is that they failed to beat either Brentford or Bristol City this season. It’s also interesting to note that Fulham are going into the final having not won on the road since beating Millwall in April: they haven’t lost three away games in the Championship since the end of 2014.

As you might expect, Fulham have also been settled this season: six of their squad have made 40 or more appearances this season including the phenomenal teenage ‘defender’ Ryan Sessegnon, who has an extremely bright future ahead of him regardless of whether he stays at Craven Cottage or not. The arrival of Serbian international striker Aleksandar Mitrovic from Newcastle at the start of February was an inspired managerial move by fellow Serb Slavisa Jokanovic: unlike Albert Adomah, Sessegnon and Mitrovic have both scored away goals recently and are first and second favourites in the ‘anytime goalscorer’ market.

Head to head

This is where it starts looking ominous for Villa. They’ve only won three of their last ten games against Fulham and only two of the last six.

Random stats

I’ll be returning to this theme in a moment, but the last five finals have produced a grand total of just four goals in 90 minutes with two going to extra time. The last time both teams scored in the final was six years ago when West Ham beat Blackpool.

This is the first final between teams that have finished 3rd and 4th in the final table since 2015, when Norwich beat Middlesbrough. Generally speaking, the higher placed team have won half of the last ten finals.

Six of the last ten playoff winners have won at least 80 points, including five of the last six. In four of the last six finals, both teams have won at least 80 points. That’s significant – as is the fact that no team over the last decade has reached the final having won more points than Fulham did this season.

Verdict

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I picked Fulham for promotion before 2017/18 began so I can’t go against them now. One thing that may go in their favour is that the weight of expectation on Aston Villa – who have never appeared in a playoff final – may be too much: Steve Bruce played down reports of a ‘feisty’ training session earlier this week – which is odd, considering how Villa ‘won’ the Fair Play title in the Championship this season.

However, I do think there will be a few goals in this game. Nobody scored more away goals than Fulham this season – nine more than Villa – but eight teams (including Villa themselves) conceded fewer away from home than Fulham did.

In their away games this season, Villa have vulnerable in the fifteen minutes after half time: just over a third of the goals they’ve conceded on their travels have been scored during that period. However, almost a quarter of the goals they’ve scored have come between the 61st and 75th minute.

It’s the final 15 minutes that could be explosive. Fulham have scored 35% of their away goals in that period. However the Cottagers are defensively vulnerable at the end of each half whilst Villa often go on a defensive footing during that period: indicates that it might come down to Fulham looking for a late winner and seeing how the Villa defence holds up.

Owing to yet another family occasion, it’s unlikely there’ll be an update immediately after the game but I’m hoping to have something in place as soon as possible.

Fulham are up after a 1-0 win on Saturday – report to follow ASAP.

GOTW: Millwall v Fulham

To no-one’s great surprise, Wolves were promoted to the Premier League last weekend:

Only Aston Villa, Cardiff and Fulham can still win automatic promotion.

After that any of the other clubs in the top nine could still go up, but although neither club are mathematically out of it, I don’t think either Brentford or Bristol City will make the playoffs.

As I’ve been writing for the past few weeks, I think Burton and Sunderland have had it, but the battle to avoid 22nd place is still very tight. Right now I think Barnsley have too much to do.

Millwall v Fulham (7:45 pm, Sky Sports Football, Main Event)

A televised game of the week this late in the season is basically a can’t miss for those of you who are able to watch it. The clubs involved have had remarkably similar runs since Christmas and are top of the current six game form table. Additionally, there always seems to be one late season match that turns out to be a dress rehearsal for the playoffs and this could be the one.

The Lions have a 17 game unbeaten streak going into this one: they’ve not lost at home since the start of November (to Burton!) and haven’t conceded more than one goal at the New Den since Boxing Day.

Lee Gregory has pitched in with 5 of 18 in that period but the defence hasn’t been breached in three and a half hours of play at the New Den. That record might not last much longer: after Fulham, the Lions host Villa in the last home game of the season in what might turn out to be a showdown for home advantage in the playoffs.

Fulham are just as impressive: 21 games without losing with their last away defeat coming way back in mid December at Sunderland. On the road they’ve been not been as impressive defensively as Millwall have been at home but four straight away wins is plenty of proof how good the Cottagers are at the moment.

Half of the last five league meetings between the pair at Millwall have ended in draws, but Millwall haven’t beaten Fulham at home since they won by the odd goal in seven in an old Division Three game at The Den in April 1982.

Verdict: so far this Millwall haven’t lost any of the three home games they’ve played against teams that are above them, but their only victory was against Middlesbrough in December and it’s fair to say that Boro are a different proposition altogether now Tony Pulis has taken over. Fulham have lost at both Aston Villa and Wolves this season but have won at both Cardiff and Middlesbrough since the turn of the year and for that reason – in addition to their record against Millwall – I can’t see the Cottagers losing.

The other factor here is that if Millwall lose narrowly, only Derby can overtake them.  The Rams face Middlesbrough tomorrow.

Sunderland v Burton

A classic ‘if, then, or else’ game if ever there was one: the loser will be playing Accrington Stanley in League One  but there’s a combination of results where both clubs could go down regardless of what happens at the Stadium of Light. Sunderland have record two home wins in their last 21; Burton’s mini revival around Christmas didn’t last and the Brewers have only won once away from home in their last eight attempts.

I’ll be back with an update on Sunday.

Here it is: Wolves are your 2017/18 Sky Bet Championship title winners.

Sunderland have been relegated. Wigan Athletic have been promoted.