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…

Game Of The Week: Sheffield Wednesday v Cardiff City

Due to -or perhaps because of – the Bank Holiday we’ve got games spread over four days.

I’ve decided I’m going to write a quick preview of Brighton v Derby in time for Monday’s game and concentrate on Saturday’s match that should confirm the identity of the last play off team.

There’s been a lot of hype about Cardiff visiting Sheffield Wednesday this weekend, but I’m not convinced that it’s as competitive as some of the experts seem to think. The visitors are in the classic ‘if…then…else’ scenario and need to overcome a six point difference with six points to play for. Wednesday have the advantage of knowing that if they don’t lose then they’ll be in the play offs, albeit as the weakest seed.

After a poor start that saw them win only one of their first seven games, Wednesday have been in the play off places since their 2-0 victory over Leeds United in January.

It’s fair to say that Carlos Carvalhal’s side have earned themselves a reputation as draw specialists. Only Hull have lost fewer home games and scored more home goals this season, but only QPR have drawn more games overall. They’re probably fortunate that this game is at Hillsborough, where they’ve only lost one of their last ten outings – but Owls have only won two of their last six since February. They’ve also only won two of their eight home games against the other sides in the top half of the table.

Cardiff have been in the top ten since the end of December, but have never really looked like a play off side despite having had a number of chances to make a move on the top six. It’s not hard to see why: at home they’re as good as Wednesday, but the Bluebirds’ away record against the top half of the table is worse than those of Charlton and MK Dons. City are also currently on a four game streak without a win on their travels and haven’t scored more than two goals on their travels since the end of January.

Furthermore, Cardiff have a poor record in the league at Hillsborough. They’ve only recorded two wins in their last ten visits (last victory was in March 2013) and they’ve lost half of the last six games at Sheffield Wednesday. Not looking particularly good for the Bluebirds is it?

Verdict: in order to overtake Wednesday, Cardiff would have to win at Hillsborough and at home against Birmingham on the last day of the season and hope Sheffield Wednesday don’t earn a point either tomorrow or at Wolves next weekend. Taking everything into account, I don’t think much of Cardiff’s chances and to be honest I don’t think either of them will be playing in the Premier League next season.

Televised games: Birmingham v Middlesbrough (Sky Sports 1, 7:45pm tonight) – Boro can take temporary charge at the top if they can win at St. Andrews. The hosts have been very wobbly at St Andrew’s since the start of last month,  but that’s not to say Boro have been any better. Might not be the most inspiring start to the weekend’s football.

Bolton v Hull (Sky Sports 1, 12:30pm Saturday) – a dead rubber if ever there was one. The only thing Hull have to play for is home advantage in a likely play off game against Derby.

One last thing: Paul Lambert won’t be returning as Blackburn manager next season. Rovers are on course to finish in their lowest league position since Jack Walker took over in 1991 and although that’s not necessarily Lambert’s fault, there was clearly a difference of philosophies between the Scotsman and Venky’s.

I’ll be back on Sunday evening or Monday morning with a look at Monday afternoon’s games, although I suspect we’re going down to the wire in the race for automatic promotion.

All Change At Bolton And Forest

This past week has all been about managerial changes: two that happened and one that didn’t. I’ll deal with one that didn’t and one that did in the appropriate match previews, but my thoughts on Nottingham Forest are as follows.

Since I started writing for Buzzin’ Championship Football about six years ago, Forest have had eight full time managers and their average finishing position at the end of each season has been tenth. This is currently their longest continuous spell in the second tier since between 1926/27 to 1948/49. They have been in League One more recently than the Premier League and haven’t won anything of note since 1998. In other words, a typical mid table Championship team that’s going nowhere.

Good luck to the next incumbent at the City Ground. Moving swiftly onwards, here are the four big games this weekend.

Middlesbrough v Hull (tonight, 7:45pm, Sky Sports 1)

It’s rather confusing when a club issues a statement that the manager is staying with the club, but that’s exactly what Middlesbrough did when they confirmed Aitor Karanka was going to remain on Teeside despite rumours that he was leaving after some kind of training ground argument. It’s not hard to see why Karanka almost walked away – Boro are hopeless away from home at  the moment – but tomorrow’s game is at the Stadium of Light, where they’ve only lost twice in the league this season. That being said, they’ve failed to keep a home clean sheet in 2016.

Hull are almost a mirror image of Boro. The Tigers are finding home wins hard to come by at the moment but have won four of their six aways in the league in 2016; they have a reasonable looking run in and only have one remaining road trip to another team in the top six this season – if Derby are still in the top six, which is apparently going to be down to Harry Redknapp’s role as Dumbledore to Darren Wassall’s Harry Potter. They’ve already lost at Brighton and Burnley this season, but both of those defeats were by a single goal, but Middlesbrough away has been a very unsuccessful fixture for Hull over the years. They’ve not won a league game there since March 1986 and have lost eight out of their last ten visits.

Fun fact: only one team has scored in seven of the previous ten meetings in the league on Teeside.

Bristol City v Bolton

Since arriving in the Championship in August 2012, Bolton have only employed three managers: Owen Coyle (now managing Houston Dynamo in the OAPs home called MLS), Dougie Freedman (sacked by Forest last weekend) and Neil Lennon, sacked earlier this week because of a combination of the new owners wanting to go in a new direction, poor form and presumably three consecutive Scottish managers resulting in some kind of obscure curse. They’re bottom of the form table, they’re eleven points from safety with nine games left, several bookies have already taken them off the board for relegation and they haven’t played in the third tier since 1992/93. I might not mention Bolton again this season until I can confirm that they’re down.

City’s home form has been extremely unpredictable this season. They’ve only won four times at Ashton Gate and only Rotherham and Fulham have conceded more goals at home this season, but three of those wins have come against teams in the top half of the table. One of the reasons for this bizarre form is the redevelopment of Ashton Gate is far more noticeable this season: home fans now occupy two and a half stands while the new West Stand is under construction and it’s fair to say the atmosphere – or lack of it at some matches – is a bit like moving into a new house when you’re a kid: it’s home, but it doesn’t quite feel like it. City have won six of the last ten league meetings at Ashton Gate but only half of the last four and they’ve not beaten any of the teams around them at home this season: after this one, the next home game is against Rotherham. If the Robins avoid defeat in both of those games, they should be appearing in these posts next season.

MK Dons v Brighton

I don’t remember who it was, but someone tweeted that Karl Robinson is the only manager at a team in the bottom half of the table who hasn’t been sacked this season. There’s a reason for that: he’s the most successful manager the Dons have ever had and if he steers them away from relegation he’ll be there for a while longer. However, it’s a big if: although MK have only lost three of their last ten games, they’ve only won twice over the same period and have struggled against the teams who may be in the Premier League next season. If the Dons are in the Championship next season then Robinson will have done well, but unless he recruits a striker before August the Dons could be up against it from the word go next season.

In the period between mid December and mid January, Brighton looked as if they were about to drop out of the top six altogether, but due to a combination of one defeat in their last eleven and their immediate rivals slipping up, the Seagulls are back in the automatic promotion places. Tomorrow’s game is a good indicator of whether they’ll stay there: they’ve been inconsistent recently but are one of the best defensive units in the Championship and that should hold them in good stead against one of the most anaemic attacks in the competition; Sam Baldock also almost always seems to find the net against his former teams.

Fun fact: Brighton have never won at Milton Keynes in any competition.

Sheffield Wednesday v Charlton

Just when it was all going so well, Wednesday had a wake up call a fortnight ago when they lost at home to Rotherham for the first time since August 2002. That defeat was also only the second time they’ve lost at Hillsborough this season. They’ve earned four points and kept two clean sheets in a pair of away games since then, but if they fail to win promotion then one of the reasons is their away form against the top half of the division (one win in nine) and their inexplicably poor form against the current bottom four (three defeats in six games). I’ve got them in a five way tie with Derby, Ipswich, Cardiff and Birmingham for the last two playoff spots and this situation will be the one to watch over the next few weeks.

Charlton – who beat Middlesbrough at the Valley on Sunday afternoon – have only lost twice in seven league games at Hillsborough since the turn of the century, but are still five points from safety and have only beaten one club in the top half of the table this season. The current three game unbeaten run is the best stretch of form since the first few games of the season, but this feels like too little too late and it’s worth remembering that the Addicks haven’t won consecutive home games in the Championship since this time last season, when they were a far better side than they are now. Any team that’s already used 31 different players in a season will always struggle.

There won’t be a post next weekend (even if someone is sacked) as it’s both the international break and Easter. So have fun and I’ll see you in a fortnight.

Sky Bet Championship Preview 12/13th March

Welcome to the second blog post in as many days – don’t get too used to it, we’ve got an International Break coming up 🙂

Anyway, half of the bottom six are playing teams in the top six and two of the strugglers are playing each other so that’s what I’m looking at today.

Fulham v Bristol City

I suspect that when Fulham hammered the Robins at Ashton Gate in October, most people would have considered the Cottagers as promotion contenders. They were tenth in the table – just four points off the playoff spots – and had only lost four games at that point.

Four months and just three wins later, Fulham are only above City on goal difference and are only two points from safety. Only Charlton have conceded more goals and only Charlton and Bolton have won fewer games: since taking over in December, Slavisa Jokanovic has failed to win ten of his 13 games in charge. At this point last season, Fulham were only three points better off after 36 games: at the moment they’re probably lucky to have such a good goal difference and that three teams are worse than them, but Fulham could easily be dragged into the bottom three. On Tuesday they blew a half team lead against Burnley, which makes you question their collective state of mind at the moment.

Bristol City performed their party trick at Wolves on Tuesday, conceding a ridiculously late winner after having looked to have earned a vital point at Molineux. After apparently having turned the corner when Lee Johnson was appointed at the start of last month, the Robins have now lost three of their last four and are now only two points away from dropping back into the bottom three. Their next two games – at Fulham this afternoon and at home to Bolton next Saturday – are crucial to their chances of staying in the Championship, but City have a particularly tough looking set of games in April. To be fair to them, they’ve only lost one of their previous four away games against the other teams in the bottom six.

Head to head: since 1972, Fulham have only won half of their ten home league games against Bristol City, although it’s worth taking into account that this is the first league meeting between the clubs since December 1997. That being said, the hosts have been reasonably good at Craven Cottage against the bottom half of the Championship and City’s away defeat at Wolves was their first since the end of January; this game may come down to how well City’s defence copes with Fulham’s attack.

Hull v MK Dons

Second meeting on Humberside, Hull won the other 3-2 way back in October 2004. The hosts were thrashed in the FA Cup by Arsenal earlier this week, which left Reading as the sole Championship club in the competition until they lost at home to Crystal Palace last night. The Tigers have two games in hand but are now seven points behind Burnley and although they have only lost one other game at the KC this season (Derby in November), they’ve failed to score in front of their own fans since hitting Charlton for six in January.

I’d love to try to say something positive about MK Dons’ away record this season, but it’s been very poor. The recent win at Derby broke a fourteen game streak without a win on the road, but they’ve failed to score in half of their road trips so far. Even though they drew 0-0 at Charlton on Tuesday – yes, that’s right, the Dons couldn’t score against the worst defence in the Championship – they are averaging less than half a point per game on their travels and the bookies think it’s between them and Rotherham for the last relegation place. Yes, I know that’s assuming that Bolton and Charlton are already down.

Rotherham v Derby

Three straight wins have given the Millers a chance at salvation but considering that it’s been almost exactly 34 years since they won more than three in a row at this level – and that was with a playoff calibre team that finished above Chelsea – this might be a game too far. That being said, it’s not inconceivable that Rotherham could spring another surprise at the New York Stadium: they’ve not lost at home since the end of January and have won three of their five home games against the current top six.

As for Derby, four away defeats in six games since New Year’s Day have left them looking unlikely candidates for automatic promotion even though they could still finish second. This is the first of three away games against the strugglers, so it looks as if the Rams might have a big impact on both ends of the table: half of their last ten visits to Rotherham have finished all square and although Derby failed to score at QPR earlier this week, they’ve not been shut out in consecutive away games at this level for over a year.

Charlton v Middlesbrough (Sky Sports 1, Sunday 3:30)

A nice TV windfall for Charlton: with the FA Cup taking priority for armchair fans over everything else this weekend, this is actually an intriguing – but potentially awful – game between two clubs who are both out of form at the moment. The Addicks haven’t won at home since the start of November, a couple of weeks ago they scored three goals in a home game for the first time since they beat Sheffield Wednesday and still lost and the relationship between the fans and the owners couldn’t really be any more toxic.

Boro have only won once in their last six away games and have been shocking in their away games against the current bottom six this season.  They’ve already lost at Bristol City and Rotherham in 2016 and have to travel to Bolton in the middle of April. That being said, Boro have won four of their last six league games at Charlton and have one of the best away defences in the Championship, so I’d be surprised if the Teesiders lose again.

I’ll be back next Friday, when it’s Middlesbrough v Hull. I wouldn’t expect too many goals in that one though…

Update: Nottingham Forest have sacked Dougie Freedman and all kinds of rumours are swirling around the internet that Aitor Karanka might walk away from Middlesbrough – and those were circulating BEFORE before lost 2-0 at Charlton on Sunday afternoon.