GOTW: Preston v Wigan

Just a quick one this week as we’re only one game in.

Only one game ended in a draw last weekend, which just happened to be the first match of the EFL season:

Going into this week, we’ve got thirteen unbeaten teams, but only Barnsley, Millwall and Birmingham kept clean sheets. Brentford, Fulham and Preston failed to score in their first matches – it may be significant that of the latter trio, only Brentford (at Middlesbrough) are away this weekend. Arguably the surprise result last week was Charlton winning at Blackburn; the Addicks scored all three goals in a 2-1 win.

League Cup: Birmingham are already out of this season’s competition having lost 3-0 at Portsmouth. The Blues will be able to concentrate on the league until January. Everyone else plays next week.

Preston v Wigan

Lancashire derbies will be few and far between this season – the next one won’t be until the end of October – and as this is the only match up fitting my traditional ‘top six v bottom six’ parameter, it’s a bit of no-brainer.

The Lillywhites lost at Millwall last weekend for the first time since 2011 (when they were relegated) but are tough to beat at Deepdale even if they find it hard to win at home – Preston have only lost two of their last ten outings there, even though they’ve only won twice in the same period.

Wigan’s away form last season was awful: they beat Leeds in April but hadn’t won on the road in nineteen previous attempts after a victory at Stoke almost a year ago.

HTH: Only the fifth meeting between the Lancashire rivals at preston since the turn of the century – Wigan have failed to win the last three and were battered 4-0 in the corresponding fixture last season having gone two goals behind before Darron Gibson was sent off.

Only one televised game this weekend and it will come as no surprise to long term readers that it’s Leeds v Nottingham Forest (Saturday, Sky Sports Main Event, kick off 12:30pm) which those imaginative b*stards at Sky Sports normally schedule for Boxing Day afternoon.

Back next week…


Sky Bet Championship Preview 2019-20

The hard facts are as follows:

If you want to win the Championship you need to earn at least 90 points and to go up without a detour via Wembley you’ll need at least 89 in the bag.

Those amounts have changed a bit over the last couple of seasons, but something else has to0 – even though at the moment it may only be possible to draw provisional conclusions.

Consider this – odds quoted below are for promotion, regardless of how it’s achieved:

Of the twelve teams that won Automatic Promotion over the last six seasons only two had been relegated from the Premier League at the end of the previous season – indicating that despite receiving parachute payments not only were those clubs not good enough to stay in the top tier but that they also weren’t good enough to finish in the top two at the end of the following season. If you look at the same stats over the last decade, only four of the new arrivals from the Premier League were promoted.

However, for me the main change is where the teams that eventually won automatic promotion had finished at the end of the previous season in the Championship.

Seven of those 12 – including two of the last six winners – had finished between tenth and fifteenth at the end of the previous season. I was going to to consider the teams that finished in those positions last season, until Hull and Sheffield Wednesday changed managers but at time of writing – a day before the season starts – Wednesday still haven’t replaced Steve Bruce and although Grant McCann is a good choice for Hull, I can’t see the Tigers making waves in 2019/20.

That being said, Preston (14th – 10/1), Brentford (11th – 9/2) and Swansea (10th, 10/1) are worth considering. Brentford in particular had a strong finish to last season, Preston recovered well after a poor start and Swansea now have a full season in the Championship under their belts.

The obvious contenders are Leeds (7/4F) and WBA (4/1), but there’s as much chance of both of them having playoff hangovers as there is of them finishing in the top two.

Leeds were the second lowest scoring side in the top six last season, whilst only ten teams conceded fewer goals than the Baggies; three of them were relegated. Slaven Bilic might be a step in the right direction, but his recent body of work is unconvincing and although he’s managed West Ham in the Premier League, he has no experience in the Championship. Leeds’ fans should also be aware of the fact that only two of the favourites to win automatic promotion over the last decade actually achieved a top two place.

Moving on to the playoffs, a couple of seasons ago I would have said that 70 points was enough for a top six finished, but that’s also changed: now the magic number is 72.

The post season is where the teams relegated from the Prem tend to have their best chance of an immediate return but it’s been three seasons that a club that had been relegated won at Wembley: the last two winners were teams that had reached the semi finals at the end of the previous season (so Leeds and WBA again!)

I’d still expect teams that finished in the top half to be competing for playoff spots but probably only Cardiff (7/2) from the teams that weren’t good enough to stay in the Premier League to challenge for the post season and that’s almost entirely down to Neil Warnock’s knowledge of how to win promotion.

Again, when I started writing this preview I’d included Birmingham (18/1) and Nottingham Forest (13/2) in the ‘possibles’ list but I’m going to discount them as I’ve got no idea what’s going on with either of them. Forest are overrated at the start of every season and you’ll be reading about the Blues in a moment.

The one team that should at least be making a serious attempt at a top six finish is Bristol City (15/2). The Robins have come close to the playoffs over the last couple of seasons and a combination of managerial stability and impressive recruitment over the summer might push them into promotion contention – although like so many other clubs, they need a proven striker.

I can’t see either Derby (13/2) or Middlesbrough (11/2) doing much this season. Frank Lampard’s move to Chelsea belies the fact that he did next to nothing with the Rams and Jonathan Woodgate is going to need at least one season to change the legacy of Tony Pulis’ defence first style at the Riverside.

Moving swiftly downwards…the odds quoted below are for relegation.

As a general rule over the last half dozen seasons, anything less than a 1.1 points per game and you’re in trouble as is any team finishing below sixteenth place at the end of the previous season.

Using that criteria, Reading (3/1) and Millwall (4/1) are the obvious contenders for the drop this season. As for other possible strugglers, in four of the last six seasons at least one of the promoted teams have struggled and I think this is where Luton (9/2) could be candidates. The last team to win successive promotions from League 2 was Rotherham a few seasons ago and the Millers never finished higher than 21st before being relegated at the end of 2016/17.

Both Charlton (9/4F) and Barnsley (5/2, 2F) have relatively recent experience at this level but that’s doesn’t mean either can be complacent. At one point over the summer it looked as if Lee Bowyer wouldn’t be with the Addicks for much longer whilst The Tykes have something of a reputation as a yo-yo club and haven’t finished in the top half of the second tier since it was renamed the Championship.

If you’re looking for outsiders, even though I’m a fan of Mark Warburton I think QPR (7/2) might continue to struggle and after a couple of seasons where Birmingham (9/2) had apparently turned the corner, I’m expecting the Blues to regress back to the team that struggled especially as the appointment of Pep Clotet is baffling, considering he did nothing at all at Oxford and didn’t last a full season at Malaga either.

It’s also highly unlikely that any of the new arrivals from the PL will be relegated to League One: Sunderland remain the only team since 2013/14 to have completed that particularly unenviable double.

TV Games: one a day from Friday to Monday – all Sky Sports football, kick off times in brackets.

This evening: Luton v Middlesbrough (7:45pm), Saturday: Forest v WBA (5:30pm), Sunday: Bristol City v Leeds (4:30pm), Monday: Huddersfield v Derby (7:45pm)

I’ll back next Thursday with a brief preview, but from now on it’s uninterrupted coverage until the first international weekend of the campaign…in a month.

Opening Weekend 2019/20

The fixtures for the new season were released this morning, here are the opening weekend’s games:

Friday August 2nd

Luton v Middlesbrough (7:45 – Sky Sports Football)

Saturday August 3rd

Barnsley v Fulham, Blackburn v Charlton, Brentford v Birmingham, Millwall v Preston, Reading v Sheffield Wednesday, Stoke v QPR, Swansea v Hull, Wigan v Cardiff, Nottingham Forest v WBA (5:30 – Sky Sports Football)

Sunday August 4th

Bristol City v Leeds (4:30 – Sky Sports Football)

Monday August 5th 

Huddersfield v Derby (7:45 – Sky Sports Football)

We already have a number of new managers: Birmingham and Hull have yet to name replacements for Garry Monk and Nigel Adkins respectively, but Luton, QPR, WBA. Middlesbrough and Swansea all have new managers.

The League Cup fixtures are out later on today but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Right, guess who’s off to start putting a preview together…

Burnley are the Champions, Middlesbrough runners up.

Burnley had a stroll to the title in South London as they beat Charlton 3-0, whilst Middlesbrough were promoted after drawing 1-1 with Brighton, who had Dale Stephens sent off after a horrific tackle on Gaston Ramirez.

Play Offs (all to be televised on Sky Sports, channels TBA)

Friday 13th May: Sheffield Wednesday v Brighton (7:45pm)

Saturday 14th May: Derby v Hull (12:30pm)

Monday 16th May: Brighton v Sheffield Wednesday (7:45pm)

Tuesday 17th May: Hull v Derby (7:45pm)

Update: Burton Albion will be playing in the Sky Bet Championship next season. The Brewers drew 0-0 at Doncaster Rovers, who were relegated to League Two and finished the game with nine men due to an injury crisis after they used all their substitutes.

I’d expect comparisons between Burton and Yeovil to start almost immediately.


Game of the Week: Middlesbrough v Brighton

After 540 games the situation at the top of the Sky Bet Championship is set for a classic final day ending. Burnley can seal the title with a win at Charlton, but all eyes will be on the Riverside, where Middlesbrough entertain Brighton. Both games will be televised simultaneously at 12:30pm tomorrow: Charlton/Burnley is on Sky Sports 2 and Middlesbrough/Brighton is on Sky Sports 1.

There’s been enough hype this week already without extending it to this game and that’s probably just as well, because there’s every chance that it could be an anti-climax. The advantage is clearly with Middlesbrough as two of the possible outcomes tomorrow favour them. They’ve gone eight games without a home defeat and have kept a staggering 15 clean sheets at the Riverside this season; not only that, Boro have won all four of their other encounters on Teeside with the other clubs in the top six without conceding a goal.

Although Brighton are the underdogs tomorrow, they arrive in the North East having won five of their last six away games; the Seagulls haven’t lost on the road since their surprising defeat at Cardiff in mid-February. The big difference here is that although Brighton haven’t lost at any of the clubs in the top six, all four away games at Burnley, Derby, Hull and Sheffield Wednesday have been drawn. That won’t be good enough tomorrow.

What to watch for: since the start of 2016, Boro have scored 15 goals in the Championship at the Riverside, but just under half of those have been scored from the 76th minute onwards. Uruguayan midfielder Gaston Ramirez has scored five of those goals, but only one of them has been in that time frame.

Brighton have also scored 15 goals in their away games since New Year’s Day with Tomer Hemed weighing in with four, including a brace at MK Dons at the start of March. The Seagulls are normally at their most effective in front of goal at the start of the second half, but will be without Lewis Dunk in defence after his red card against Derby on Monday:

Verdict: Middlesbrough will want to put last year’s disappointment in the play off final behind them. Brighton need to win to overtake Boro, which is something they’ve managed three times in their last 10 visits in the league, the last victory coming in April 2013. I’d not be at all surprised if this was all square with fifteen minutes left before Boro nick it.

Of course, there are still a number of other issues in the Premier League and League One that will determine who will be playing in the Championship next season. If you want to see the situation in League One, please visit our companion blog at Buzzin League One Football, although I’m guessing I won’t be spoiling anything when I congratulate Wigan for returning to the competition after one season away.

The Premier League doesn’t finish until next weekend, so we won’t know who’ll be relegated with Aston Villa yet. We’ll know the play off schedule by 2:30pm tomorrow, so I’ll get a preview written ASAP but I’ve got to inform you that my wife’s birthday is next weekend and I’ll be unable to write individual previews for next weekend’s games although I should be able to post updates if I don’t get too caught up in the Eurovision Song Contest party that we’ve been invited to…