GOTW: Leeds v Ipswich

Two big stories last weekend: all teams have now lost at least once and in case you missed it, Harry Redknapp was sacked by Birmingham City.

I’m fairly sure that if the Blues had been relegated at the end of last season he’d have walked away regardless, so to some extent his departure was predictable even without the expensive spending spree that resulted in six consecutive defeats.

Anway, here’s how Leeds United lost their unbeaten record at the New Den:

Earlier this week, five Championship clubs qualified for last sixteen of the League Cup: all were drawn against Premier League opposition, but only Bristol City were drawn at home. The most dramatic game came at Turf Moor, where Leeds drew 2-2 with Burnley and then won a penalty shoot out.

The next round takes place in about a month’s time and I’ll preview the games in the post for Friday 20th October.

This weekend any of the top seven teams could go top and only Bolton Wanderers cannot escape the bottom three.

Leeds United v Ipswich Town

The key question in this game is how Leeds will respond to losing their unbeaten record and having to play to penalties in the League Cup on Tuesday evening. The current leaders have not lost consecutive games since April but managed that particular feat five times last season and so Ipswich might fancy their chances, although they’d be well advised to keep an eye on both Kemar Roofe and Pierre-Michel Lasogga, who between seem to have replaced Chris Wood.

The problem for the Tractor Boys is that they’ve only won three of their last ten road trips and have only won at Elland Road twice in their last ten attempts over the last decade. The recent wins at Barnsley and Millwall were their first consecutive away wins since the end of 2015, which indicates to me that this is an important game for Mick McCarthy’s team: if they can earn at least a point at Leeds, then they should taken seriously as promotion candidates.

Bolton Wanderers v Brentford

I know it’s not even the end of September, but if Bolton don’t start picking up points soon they’re toast. The Trotters are currently performing at a lower level than they were when relegated two seasons ago and at a considerably worse level than Rotherham did last season. Brentford haven’t won an away game in the competition since March: if you’re looking for a reason why they’ve regressed so badly, they’ve only won six aways over the last calendar year.

Sunderland v Cardiff City

Since relegation, The Black Cats have managed one goal from open play – the other was a consolation penalty – and one point at the Stadium Of Light. There are already mutterings from the faithful about Simon Grayson’s ability to ‘do the job’ (whatever that means this season), but I’d say that’s more to do with the mess he’s inherited rather than his ability to manage at this level. Cardiff’s recent mini wobble – two points from the last nine – hints that their fast start may be a thing of the past, but the Bluebirds have only lost three of their last ten aways.

Wolves v Barnsley

I’m still not completely sure what to make of Wolves. They’ve only lost twice since April – but only once this season – but ten of their 17 points so far have been earned against teams that are currently in the bottom half of the table. That’s not good news for Barnsley who are currently only three points outside the relegation zone and have been poor away from Oakwell for some time: four points from their last ten matches.

Televised games: Aston Villa v Nottingham Forest (tomorrow, Sky Sports Main Event 5:30pm) is a bog standard middle of the table clash between two  Midlands clubs that won the European Cup years ago and is yet another chance to watch Villa. However, on Sunday it’s the first Sheffield Derby (Sky Sports Football or Sky Sports Main Event, 1:15pm kick off) at Hillsborough for just over five and a half years and I think that’s required viewing.

I’ll be back next Friday, but there’s a midweek programme next week and Cardiff City v Leeds United is being shown on Sky Sports Football next Tuesday evening (7:45pm kick off). So if you’re not at a game (I will be), then that match should be worth watching.

 

New Sky Deal: Is It Worth It?

The timing of Tuesday’s announcement of the new EFL TV deal with Sky Sports was interesting: all three EFL divisions had almost full midweek programmes and it was almost exactly three months since the Financial Times published this:

‘Premier League football suffered the biggest drop in viewing on Sky TV for at least seven years, raising questions over the popularity of live sports as well as the sustainability of a lucrative source of funding for English clubs.’

If Premier League coverage has reached saturation point – and it appears it has – it’s now clear why Sky Sports rebranded their sports channels during the summer and are looking for a new revenue stream.

That’s us.

So what are we getting in just under two years then? With one major exception – which I’ll come to in a moment – it’s not much more than you’re currently getting with a Sky Sports subscription. They already broadcast games from the EFL, the League Cup and the EFL Trophy.

The first difference is that Sky Sports will be broadcasting ‘sixteen Championship games on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings’: to put that into context, this season there are five midweek programmes of at least ten games each (it’s not clear yet if Boxing Day will be part of the new deal), in which case the new deal means Sky Sports will be broadcasting just under a quarter of those games.

Clearly that’s more than now, but the issue here is which games on which evenings. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that the ‘juicy’ games will be scheduled for broadcast against the Champions League games on BT Sport, which implies that Sky Sports might -at the very least – try to influence the EFL fixture computer. On the other hand, Sky Sports poor record of selecting live games in the Championship might continue: from tomorrow until the end of the month, five games are being televised: we going to be watching eighteenth placed Aston Villa twice, four clubs that are in currently the bottom half of the division and two derbies, only one of which (The Steel City Derby on 24th September) will feature teams currently in the top ten. And all of those teams have played in the Premier League at some point over the last two decades, which makes the match selection process look even lazier, doesn’t it!

As for the League Cup and the EFL Trophy, Championship sides don’t perform well in the former and aren’t even involved in the latter.

However, the unique selling point of this deal is being able to stream Championship games that aren’t (a) on a Saturday and (b) aren’t being televised by Sky via individual club websites. For my club for the duration of this season, that’s currently £110 a year and £12.50 a month: as there won’t be any league games between the end of May and the beginning of August, ten months at £12.50 will cost £15 more than an annual subscription. It’s important to remember that’s what it costs at the moment: it’ll be different in August 2019 anyway and may cost considerably more by then.

Once again, Sky Sports’ bottom line is profit, not necessarily what’s in the best interest of ordinary fans. This is where we come to another issue.

I’m happy to admit that how I watch – or should I say consume – football is a reflection of my age. I’m a season ticket holder at my local club and on average attend at least one or two away games a season. Having grown up with extremely limited options – BBC Radio, the weekly highlights programme on ITV and BBC, Ceefax – I like the idea I can get goal flashes on my mobile phone, but if I’m not at the game then as long as I know what the score is I don’t particularly care.

I have a Sky Sports subscription but I watch just as much Super League and NFL as I do Premier League: I always try to watch Championship and League One games because that’s why this blog and Buzzin’ League One football exist. If there’s a decent midweek game from the Championship on Sky Sports in a couple of years time, I’ll probably watch it if I can find the time.

But I’m not paying any more for that and I suspect I may not be alone.

A very brief look at this weekend’s action now. If I’d been writing a normal post, the game of the week would have been Cardiff City v Sheffield Wednesday, with Millwall v Leeds United and Birmingham City v Preston not far behind. Cardiff lost their unbeaten record earlier this week when they lost 3-0 at Deepdale, but it’s been over a decade since Wednesday won in the Welsh capital.

Don’t forget that next week there are several games in the League Cup featuring Championship teams: if anything dramatic happens I’ll update this post. Otherwise it’s business as usual next Friday, so enjoy the weekend.

 

 

GOTW: Norwich v Birmingham

We’ve reached September and if you’re a fan of any of the Championship clubs that are still in the League Cup, you’ve got seven games to look forward to this month.

By the time October starts, we’ll be almost a quarter of the way through the season and we’ll also have a much better idea of how it will pan out. I caught some flak early last season for claiming that Huddersfield’s start to the season was unsustainable (it was, but they still won promotion) and so I’d expect nothing less if I say the same thing about Cardiff’s start this season.

The last game of the week finished more or less as I’d expected. Cardiff had almost twice as many shots as QPR (17 to 8) and just under half of those were on target compared to just one for Rangers:

Cardiff now lead by three points – they’ll probably still be top this weekend even if they lose at Fulham – but I’d still say that Leeds are currently their biggest rivals. At the bottom there’s only three points between Millwall and Bolton but Brentford and Norwich remain the surprise strugglers. Which leads me nicely on to…

Norwich City v Birmingham City

A different type of GOTW this weekend: two clubs who haven’t really got going yet.

Remember when Sami Hyypia was appointed manager of Brighton a few seasons ago? Following two consecutive playoff finishes under Gus Poyet and Oscar Garcia, they spent the entire 2014/15 season in the bottom half of the table and were 23rd when the Finn was sacked at the end of 2014. Remember what I wrote about Norwich in July? The Canaries currently have the worst defensive record in the Championship and might be the latest victims of The Curse of the Trendy Foreign Manager.

Birmingham City – who were a ridiculous 6/1 to win promotion at the start of July – have won just three of their last ten games in the Championship and haven’t scored more than one goal on the road since they won at Wolves in February. No wonder the Blues have to drifted to 25/1 to go up: there’s an old expression about not being able to polish a turd which I’m assuming Harry Redknapp is familiar with.

Head to head: Norwich have won half of their last six games against the Blues at Carrow Road, Birmingham’s last win in Norfolk was in March 2002.

Also on the menu:

Leeds United v Burton Albion

Despite having kept four consecutive clean sheets (just over six hours of football) United haven’t won at Elland Road since April and haven’t scored at home this season. Their opponents have only won two of their last ten aways, one of those victories being ensured by a 96th minute winner by Jackson Irvine at Huddersfield: Burton lost 2-0 at Elland Road last season and I wouldn’t be surprised if a similar scoreline will be read out on Sports Report on Saturday.

Sunderland v Sheffield United

A patchy start for the Black Cats has quickly turned into a poor one following two defeats where they’ve failed to score; their single victory this season came at Norwich which – as I implied above – may not be much to brag about. The Blades might be fifth at the moment, but they’ve lost both of their away games so far without scoring – and remarkably, they’ve not scored in an away game at Sunderland since January 1998, although to be fair it’s 12 years since there’s been a competitive game between them.

Televised games: Derby County v Hull City (this evening, 7:45pm kick off, Sky Sports Football) and Sheffield Wednesday v Nottingham Forest (Saturday, 5:30pm, Sky Sports Main Event).

I’ll be back next Friday – I won’t be covering the midweek games this season due to a change in circumstances.

 

GOTW: Cardiff City v QPR

Regular readers will know what a sham the international ‘break’ is. It’s a misleading term: there are always two games during the following week, so it’s hard to tell who this ‘break’ is designed for.

As for the League Cup draw being held in China before dawn UK time on Wednesday morning, you can probably guess what I think of that. The draw – which seemed to go smoothly this time round – was very unkind to the remaining Championship clubs: despite just over half the teams remaining in the competition, seven were will play Premier League clubs in the next round with only Bristol City and Reading having home ties. There’ll be two guaranteed places in the fourth round and Wolves entertain Bristol Rovers – who beat Fulham earlier this week.

Based on last year’s trends – but bearing in mind we’ll only 10% of the season will be completed after this weekend’s games – currently the only team currently in the top ten after four games that looks like a genuine promotion contender is Leeds United, but following Chris Woods’ move to Burnley it’ll be interesting to see how Thomas Christensen adapts to life without his star striker. However, the presence in the top half of the table of some of teams that finished in the bottom half at the end of last season indicates that this trend is happening again. We’ll see.

Four of the top six play each other this weekend, so it was a toss up between Cardiff City v QPR and Nottingham Forest v Leeds United, but as the latter is being televised – it almost always is – then I’ll go with the former for the game of the week.

Cardiff City v QPR

The Bluebirds have only lost twice at home since the end of January so perhaps their impressive start to the season shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise: on the other hand, Rangers’ recent point at Sheffield Wednesday was the first they’d earned on the road since March. and Jamie Mackie’s goal at Hillsborough was only the third time Rangers had scored in an away game since February.

Looks one sided doesn’t it? The problem is that QPR have only lost twice at Cardiff in the league since they met in the third tier playoff final in May 2003 and the last time the Bluebirds beat them in the Welsh capital was eight years ago. In that case, the time is ripe for another Cardiff victory, but if Rangers earn a point I might have to start revising my opinion about them.

Honourable mentions: Ipswich Town v Fulham and Wolves v Brentford both feature clubs that have had good starts hosting teams that have not. I mentioned in the last post that it’s far too early to make any kind of predictions, but if Brentford lose at Molineux, there’s a possibility that they might struggle to get out of the bottom three over the rest of the season.

Televised games: Bristol City v Aston Villa (this evening, Sky Sports Main Event 7:45pm kickoff), Nottingham Forest v Leeds United (tomorrow, Sky Sports Main Event 5:30pm kickoff).

Home advantage could be crucial in both matches: Bristol City have only lost two of their last ten games at home whilst Villa have only won two of their last ten aways – both of those victories came last season at teams that were eventually relegated. Forest and Leeds looks like it might be a good game, but it’s been six years since Leeds won at the City Ground and both sides might have to be content with a point.

Back next week with a book review – I don’t remember having done one before!

 

 

2017/18: What To Expect In The Sky Bet Championship

A year ago I wrote that over the last decade only three of the clubs that won the Championship had been relegated from the Premier League at the end of the previous season: despite Newcastle’s triumph at the end of last season, that remains true.

The starting point this season is whether Hull, Middlesbrough or Sunderland can become the third consecutive ex-Premier League club to win the Sky Bet Championship.

Judging from the changes in the odds since the start of last month, Middlesbrough look the most likely of the new arrivals to do so. At the start of July Boro were second favourites for promotion behind Aston Villa, but the Teeside club are now joint favourites to win promotion and clear favourites to win the title: poaching Garry Monk from Leeds United and Britt Assombalonga from Nottingham Forest seems to have given them an edge over the Midlands outfit in the minds of the ante post punters and to some extent I’d agree with them. I’m far from sure about either Hull City or Sunderland: although the former club have recent experience in the Championship, Leonid Slutsky is a risk appointment. Simon Grayson is a safe pair of hands and should be able to stabilise the Mackem ship, but that’s about it.

A more likely destination for the title will be one of the clubs that finished in the top half of the competition but more likely than not failed in the playoffs. Sheffield Wednesday have been consistent over the past couple of seasons but need to improve in order to win the title and last season much was made of the fact that Fulham, Huddersfield and Reading all finished below sixteenth place at the end of 2015/16 but still reached the playoffs. In 2017/18 it’ll be interesting to see if Fulham and Reading are able to sustain the form that stood them in good stead: it should not be forgotten that only nine clubs conceded more goals than the Royals last season, which is nowhere near good enough for a team with Premier League aspirations.

Automatic promotion and the playoffs

Six of the last ten runners up in the Championship had played at least one season in the competition beforehand and all but one of those clubs (Watford) finished in the top half at the end of the previous season. This is where Aston Villa, Leeds United and Norwich City come into consideration although there are question marks about all of them; if you want further details, see the individual previews. It’s been five seasons since a team that was either relegated from the Premier League or promoted from League One has finished in second place at this level and with apologies to those clubs that fit that description, I don’t see any of them finishing second in 2017/18.

The playoffs are another matter entirely. With the benefit of hindsight, Huddersfield’s rise from nineteeth place to playoff winners should probably not have come as a surprise: half of the last ten successful finalists had finished in the bottom half of the table at the end of the previous season, even though the only team to finish lower than 19th was Hull who finished 21st in 2006/07. If that trend continues, Cardiff City and possibly Wolves could be worth watching. The playoffs may also be the best case scenario for Hull.

Relegation

Just over half of the 30 teams that were relegated over the last decade had finished in the bottom half of the Championship at the end of the previous season. It’s the clubs that finished in 17th place or below that are those in the biggest danger of the drop: Burton Albion, Nottingham Forest and QPR look the most likely – the Brewers being pre-season favourites – but both Ipswich Town and Birmingham City regressed significantly last season and the latter were the only team to score less than a goal per game that wasn’t relegated.

However, this is also where newly promoted clubs are also significantly represented, but surprisingly it’s the teams that have been promoted automatically that seem to have struggled, with two League One champions (Doncaster Rovers and Wigan Athletic) and one runner up (MK Dons) making immediate returns to the third tier in the last five seasons. The playoff winners have normally been fine, but it’s worth noting that the the Millwall team that lost to Barnsley in the 2016 League One playoff final performed at a better level than the team that beat Bradford City in May and the Lions – along with Bolton Wanderers – are currently the same price to go down as Rotherham United were last season.

Predictions

I got none of these right last season, so don’t expect miracles this time round. So for what it’s worth:

Fulham will win promotion

There will be at least three teams worse than Bristol City

Daenerys Targaryan will marry Jon Snow

Ian Holloway will not be manager of QPR on Christmas Day