The Art Of Draw

Here’s a quick run down before we get to the first op-ed of the season.

Burnley took over at the top after a late win over Bolton, who are now seven points from safety. Hull and Middlesbrough both failed to take their opportunities to overtake the Clarets, although Boro still have a game in hand. At the bottom, Rotherham could overtake MK Dons this weekend – although the Millers have to travel to Sheffield Wednesday – while Charlton remain marooned in the relegation zone after they came from 3-1 down to lose 4-3 at home to Reading.

This week’s post confirms a hunch I had a couple of weeks ago. When preparing for these articles I normally take a look at the table from different points of view and I found myself wondering if there had been more drawn games this season than usual. The simple answer is yes, so here are the numbers:

* From 2006/07 onwards, eight of the last ten seasons (including this one) there have been fewer than 30% drawn games – including a low of 22% in the first season mentioned.

* We’re currently on target for the highest percentage of drawn games since 2007/08 – at the moment, 31% of the games in the Championship have finished all square.

* Almost half of the drawn games this season have finished 1-1.

* The highest number of draws by one club in a single season is 20 (or 43% of their total) by Swansea in 2008/09 and Ipswich the following season. Neither side finished in the playoffs.

Going back to the current table, only eight teams have drawn fewer than ten games this season and that includes two at the top (Hull and Middlesbrough) and one of the strugglers (Rotherham), but that doesn’t take into account Brighton and Bolton. The Seagulls have drawn ten of their seventeen away games this season (including six in a row between the end of October and Boxing Day) whilst the Trotters have drawn nine of their seventeen home matches in 2015/16, although to be fair to Bolton they’ve only drawn once at the Macron in 2016.

So what – if anything – does this mean?

Looking at the other two divisions in the Football League, the combined number of teams that have drawn more than ten games in Leagues One and Two is still fewer than the clubs that have drawn more than ten games in the Championship, which implies that any of this weekend’s games in the second tier has far more of a chance of finishing all square than in the other two divisions. If all teams were equal and 31% of tomorrow’s games (ie three out of ten) should be draws then the odds for a draw this weekend should be 11/5, but with the exception of Brighton’s game at Preston all the other matches tomorrow have bigger odds than that. Statistically speaking, the games at Bristol City, Derby, Leeds and MK Dons are all with five percentage points of that 31% figure so if you’re draw hunting they may be good places to start.

Additionally, the teams that have drawn more than ten games in all three divisions are more likely to be contending for promotion than battling relegation even though Bolton and Oldham in League 2 don’t fit that pattern. From 2007/08 onwards, only four teams in the Championship that have drawn more than 15 games have been relegated – Bolton are on course to become the fifth – while almost four times as many have finished the top six. On a very basic level, that means the games at Bristol City and Derby might end as draws because Cardiff (tomorrow’s visitors to Ashton Gate) are on the cusp of the playoffs and have already drawn 13 times this season, whilst Derby are currently fifth and have already drawn 12 games in 2015/16.

There’s a full midweek programme on Tuesday but I’m giving myself the evening off and so I’ll post a quick update when tomorrow’s results are in. Otherwise I’ll be back next Friday.

Update: there were draws at Preston and Reading – Burnley remain top after beating Blackburn, but they could be overtaken by Middlesbrough if they lose at Fulham on Tuesday. The situation at the bottom remains more or less the same, although after Rotherham unexpectedly won at Sheffield Wednesday yesterday, the gap between the Millers and MK Dons is down to three points. Charlton also won, which means Bolton are bottom again.

Still Time To Back A Winner

With roughly about one third of the season left, now is a good time to search for any value bets in the Championship promotion and relegation markets. It’s also important to remember that you’re the customer and you should always try to find the best prices – websites that review online bookies can help.

At the top Hull and Middlesbrough are favourites to both win the Sky Bet Championship and for automatic promotion, but both are too short to back in the latter market. However, it’s worth noting that The Tigers haven’t won a divisional title since 1966 and over the last ten years just two teams who lost the Championship play off final have gone on to win promotion the following season – which indicates that Boro may be the better selection.

Let’s not forget that three teams will be promoted to the Premier League at the end of the 2015/16 season and so a potentially more profitable option is to identify a team that’s capable of winning the playoffs but could still make a run for automatic promotion. Before Christmas Derby would have been a popular choice for promotion but the surprise dismissal of Paul Clement last week indicates the tide may have turned for the Rams. At the start of the season Brighton and Sheffield Wednesday didn’t look like obvious choices for promotion, but the Seagulls are the most improved team in the Championship this season and even if going up might be beyond Wednesday this season, they should be amongst the pre-season favourites next summer.

Meanwhile, at the wrong end of the table Rotherham and Charlton were pre-season favourites for relegation and their current prices reflect that, but Bolton were outsiders for a return to the Third Tier for the first time since the early 1990s. Last summer both Birmingham City and Huddersfield Town had shorter odds for the drop than Bolton, but although Huddersfield are still available to back at about 25/1 for what must now be considered for a surprise relegation to League One, the Blues have outperformed expectations and could even win promotion.

With the current bottom three all at short prices for relegation, Bristol City and Milton Keynes Dons are probably the remaining value bets for a return to League One. However, the odds for the Robins going down have drifted considerably since the start of February and although the Dons seem to have a slightly easier run in, both sides seem to have recently begun to grind out results suggesting they’ve learned how to compete in the competition.

That leaves one intriguing option: Fulham’s defeat at Blackburn on Tuesday evening leaves them precariously close to the bottom three and they still have to host four of the five clubs immediately below them – all of whom will be desperate to defy their odds for relegation.

Whichever way you look at it, there’ll be an exciting climax to the 2015/16 Championship!

Sky Bet Championship Preview 6th February 2016

After another round of underwhelming performances in the FA Cup, it’s a huge weekend in the Championship with big games at the top and bottom of the table. So here we go – as we used to chant back in the day. All kickoffs are 3pm and unfortunately none are televised.

Bolton v Rotherham

As I’ve mentioned more than once this season, it’s not Bolton’s home form that’s the problem in 2015/16. Just three defeats since August but only three wins, two of which have come after Boxing Day. Rotherham have been dire on the road though: the recent draw at Cardiff was the first point the Millers had earned away from home since their win at Leeds in November, but they’ve only won two of their last 10 trips to either Burnden Park or the Macron Stadium. the last victory coming in 1990. The visitors will be keen to put last weekend’s thrashing by Charlton out of the way, but that result could have been a sign that Rotherham could be heading back into the bottom three very soon indeed.

Burnley v Hull

The Clarets are on fire at Turf Moor recently, scoring four goals against Bristol City, Charlton and – far more surprisingly – Derby and keeping three clean sheets in the last four. Not only that, Burnley don’t have the toughest run in and will probably have an influence at the bottom of the table as well as the top over the rest of the season. Hull seem to have righted the ship after a poor December with wins at QPR and Fulham but this is the start of a tough looking sequence of away games where the Tigers have to travel to Middlesbrough and Ipswich before the end of March. Hull have only won once in their last five games at Turf Moor.

Charlton v Bristol City

Last weekend’s 4-1 win at Rotherham doesn’t disguise the fact that the Addicks haven’t won at home since the start of November (six games since) and although they’ve drawn four of their last five games at the Valley the jury is still out. If the Robins are going to dig themselves out of hole then they need to score in this one: in seven of their last eight aways they’ve failed to find the back of the net but there are signs that their defensive woes may be over. Even so, since 1970 Charlton have won seven of the ten league games between the clubs.

Fulham v Derby

Hard to see which team is more out of form here: Fulham have won two of their last ten at Craven Cottage and have lost three of their last four and have picked up only three points from 15 games against teams in the top half of the table. Derby have lost at Middlesbrough and Burnley since the turn of the year, but haven’t lost three successive games at this level since October – December 2012. On the other hand, the Rams haven’t won in the league at Craven Cottage since 1969 – although they were 5-2 winners at Fulham in the Capital One Cup last season.

No post next weekend as my wife and I are taking advantage of the curious timing of Half Term where we live…

FA Cup Fourth Round Preview

Here we are at Fourth Round weekend with more than half of the clubs in the Championship having been eliminated and  only one guaranteed place in the Fifth Round.  I’d expect MK Dons to be hammered by Chelsea, but I’ve selected three games that will be under the radar over the next couple of days – I’ll also be taking a look at the games between Championship and League One sides at Buzzin’ League One Football, so if you’re a fan of Hull, Sheffield Wednesday or Reading head over there.

All games below are scheduled for 3:00pm kick offs tomorrow.

Bolton v Leeds

Something of a must win for Bolton, who could do with the cash a Fifth Round tie would bring but who haven’t got past this stage since 2012. The problem is that since the World War II they’ve played Leeds twice at home in the FA Cup and lost both games and they’ve also not beaten Leeds at home in any competition since May 2004 (four games since). Leeds haven’t reached the 5th round since 2013 and have lost their last three away ties without scoring a goal, including a 1-0 defeat at Rochdale two years ago.

Nottingham Forest v Watford

Here’s a nice stat to impress your friends. Forest have only hosted Watford twice in the competition, but that was in the first season after World War II when there was no league structure and ties were played over two legs – and in this case, a replay. Forest failed to win either game back then and have been poor against the Hornets recently (three league wins in the last ten games at the City Ground), but Dougie Freedman’s side haven’t lost at home since the start of October. Watford haven’t won an away FA Cup tie since a victory at Plymouth nine years ago nor won a Premier League away game since mid December: it was a decade since the Hornets reached the semis but – like Forest – have only reached the fifth round once in the last ten years.

Reading v Walsall

The Mad House may be where an upset occurs this weekend, although in the three previous FA Cup ties between them the home team has yet to lose and Reading have a good recent record in the FA Cup in home games against teams in divisions below them. The Royals reached the semi finals of the competition last year and although they’re a better team than last season, their recent home form has been inconsistent. For further information go to Buzzin’ League One Football.

The only televised games involving Championship sides are Derby v Manchester United (tonight, BBC1, 7:55pm kick off) and MK Dons v Chelsea (Sunday, BBC1, 4:00pm) but although the ‘national’ angle is how bad Manchester United have been under Louis Van Gaal, almost nobody seems to have mentioned how Derby haven’t won in the Championship since Boxing Day and were beaten 4-1 by Burnley on Monday night.

As if all this FA Cup Action wasn’t enough, there’s a very important game at the bottom of the table tomorrow when Charlton face Rotherham. The Millers’ mini revival at home came badly unstuck when they were beaten by QPR a fortnight ago but nonetheless Rotherham have won four of their last six home games without conceding a goal and Jordan Clarke-Harris, Joe Newell and Daniel Ward all scoring three apiece in that run. In ten games Charlton have won just three points on the road since the end of September and have conceded an average of almost four goals a game over their last five away trips. This looks extremely one sided to me – especially as Charlton haven’t won at Rotherham since April 1963.

I’ll provide updates over the weekend.

Update: Blackburn, Hull, Leeds and Reading are all through after winning on Saturday. They’ll play Liverpool or West Ham, Arsenal (again), Watford and WBA/Peterborough respectively.

Boro Upset Could Lead To Hull Takeover

I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again: on a weekly basis, the Championship can provide as many surprise results as any other competition in the world. We had one last Saturday: Middlesbrough could have equalled all kinds of defensive records if they hadn’t conceded a goal at Bristol City but Wes Burn’s injury time winner meant that the Robins became the first club to win both their games against Boro this season, something that only Hull, Cardiff and Reading could still achieve this season.

Hull moved to within two points of Boro – and the Tigers cannot be dislodged from second place this weekend regardless of their result at Fulham – following a 6-0 win over an increasingly dysfunctional Charlton side. Hull were 4-0 up at half time and the Addicks have now conceded 15 goals in their last five league games.

Bolton lost at Nottingham Forest, but were granted a stay of execution in the High Court on Monday. The club has until 22nd February to sort out their finances to HMRC approval but the consensus is that this is the Last Chance Saloon for Wanderers, especially as the staff at the club will not be paid for their work this month.

With one notable exception, the FA Cup replays went the way you’d expect. However, Ipswich lost at Portsmouth – a result that wouldn’t have raised any eyebrows at all a few years ago, but is considered an upset these days. The Fourth Round features just ten Championship clubs, with four teams having to play Premier League opposition. I’ve suggested elsewhere that Championship teams should enter at the Second Round stage in order to stop wasting everyone else’s time and to give clubs from League One and League Two a chance of a decent pay day and a potential upset and on this season’s evidence I think that’s a good idea.

There are three possible games of the week: having given it some thought, I’ll write a separate preview for Burnley v Derby as it’s televised (Monday, Sky Sports 1, 7:45pm kickoff), which leaves us with the following pair:

Fulham v Hull

One win in 13 games is the reason why Fulham have dropped into the bottom six; they’ve only won twice at Craven Cottage in the league since the end of September and have kept one home clean sheet this season. Any sudden run of form by the teams around them and the Cottagers could be in big trouble if they don’t improve soon – which could be difficult, considering they also host the Derby and Middlesbrough over the next few weeks. Another factor to consider when assessing Fulham is that Slavisa Jokanovic was attempting to win promotion to the Premier League with Watford so his managerial ability to deal with the wrong end of the table will be under scrutiny over the next few months.

Hull haven’t been half as good on the road as they’ve been at home in 2015/16, but they snapped a four game away streak without a win when they won at QPR on New Years Day and the Tigers have also won at Brentford this season so won’t necessarily be put off by a trip to West London. However, if Hull have a weak spot, it’s in precisely these types of games: defeats at Charlton and Rotherham shouldn’t be ignored.

Bolton v MK Dons

First ever meeting in Lancashire: Dons won by a single goal in August in the only other game they’ve played but the key factor here might be fatigue. Both teams played in the FA Cup earlier this week and although the Dons cruised past Northampton Town, Bolton were given a game by Eastleigh and only beat the National League side by the odd goal in five. Wanderers have actually only lost three times in the Championship at the Macron Stadium, they’ve thrown away leads in three of their last seven home games and that could prove fatal in the long run. Additionally they’ve also failed to beat any of the half teams immediately above them.

The Dons have been awful away from home, but there despite starting the season with a 4-1 win at Rotherham, there appear to be some mitigating circumstances. A lack of goals on the road – they’ve been shut out seven times in twelve matches – has been the main issue but overall their record against the other strugglers hasn’t been that bad, with victories over Blackburn, Charlton and Bolton plus draws with Fulham and Bristol City. A point would be better for the Dons than the Trotters: given that exactly half of the games this season between the sides currently in the bottom six have ended all square, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the outcome tomorrow.

I’ll be back on Monday with the game of the week preview.