Unpredictable results in the nPower Championship leave QPR on top

Tuesday night’s games showed how unpredictable the nPower Championship can be. Ipswich hadn’t lost to QPR at Portman Road since February 2005 but two first half goals from John Mackie and a Heidar Helguson penalty 20 minutes from time mean that Queens Park Rangers take a three point lead into Saturday’s game…which just happens to be at Leicester City, who ended Cardiff City’s unbeaten record with a 2-1 win at the Walkers Stadium. The Bluebirds had led at half time, but an Andy King brace ensured both a much needed home win and a measure of revenge for last season’s play off defeat; the win also ended Cardiff’s record of four consecutive wins and three consecutive clean sheets.

In the battle of the rookie managers, last week’s prediction that beating Preston North End might be the sign of better things for Sheffield United was exposed for what it was as Gary Speed’s outfit were hammered 4-0 at home by Scunthorpe; former Notts County, QPR and Scunthorpe defender Ian Baraclough made his managerial debut following Nigel Adkins’ departure to Southampton. Not that far away, almost 7000 travelling Leeds fans must have been delighted that their team scored after three minutes at Oakwell – Leeds also scored the last goal of the game but in between five different Barnsley players to give the hosts their biggest win over their Yorkshire rivals for almost a quarter of a century.

Many of those Leeds United fans will be making the slightly longer journey to Doncaster Rovers on Friday night for the first game of the weekend which is live on Sky Sports 3 at 7:45pm. Not many of them will remember the last time their team lost to Doncaster in a league game (August 1951!) but they’ll be aware that Doncaster are one of the ten teams who haven’t lost at home yet.

Millwall also haven’t lost at home this season and they have an intriguing game at home to Watford on Saturday afternoon. The Lions earned a useful point in a goalless draw at Reading and currently occupy third place on goal difference; the Hornets are one of a number of clubs who are performing better on their travels than at home and a 2-0 win at Bristol City during the week showed that the Hertfordshire club should not be underestimated.

There are a number of contenders for game of the week – Swansea v Scunthorpe, Derby’s trip to Barnsley and the contest between former Premiership sides Middlesbrough and Reading at the Riverside should all be worth keeping an eye on, but Ipswich v Cardiff looks like the pick of the crop this week, although it could be a close game without many goals. Having both lost on Tuesday night it will be interesting to see how these clubs react to defeats: Ipswich have only lost once at home to Cardiff in the last ten meetings but they haven’t won consecutive home games in the Championship since last March.

The weekend programme finishes with another televised game when Hull City travel to Nottingham Forest (Sky Sports 2, ko 5:15) for the first time since the 1976/77 season, which is remarkable considering both clubs have experienced so many ups and downs over the past decade.

Looking forward to the resumption of next round of the Carling Cup next week, Championship sides are guaranteed two places in the last sixteen. Leicester City have to make the trip to Fratton Park twice in a week – next Tuesday in the cup and next Saturday in the league – to face a Portsmouth team that has yet to win a game over 90 minutes; Ipswich visit Millwall and Swansea have a tricky looking tie at Peterborough United. Finally Burnley entertain Bolton Wanderers in another Lancashire derby – if it’s half as entertaining as their dramatic come from behind win over Preston that featured a Chris Iwelumo hat-trick, then fans of the Clarets will be very happy indeed!

Carling Cup, Steve Coppell & Championship League round up

The rather indifferent form of nPower Championship league teams in the first round of the Carling Cup this week – eight teams knocked out and four teams needing extra time to conquer opposition from lower divisions – was overshadowed on Thursday with the news of the first managerial casualty of the season. Steve Coppell resigned from Bristol City in particular and from football management in general, with the club website quoting Coppell as saying that he ‘could not become passionate about the role and give the commitment the position it demands’.

If an opening day defeat and being beaten by lower league opposition in the Carling Cup represents some sort of benchmark then Mark Robbins (Barnsley) and Billy Davies (Nottingham Forest) should take note.

Bristol City immediately appointed Steve Coppell’s assistant Keith Millen as their new manager: the former Brentford and Watford defender finished his career at Bristol City and was caretaker manager at the club after Gary Johnson left with nine games to go last season.

The first weekend of the new season resulted in five away wins – including a 3-1 Ipswich Town win at Middlesbrough – and only one draw. QPR thumped Barnsley 4-0 and Crystal Palace were 3-0 up at half time at home to Leicester but had to hold on for the last six minutes after the visitors twice in the second half. Hull and Burnley both won – as did three of the four clubs I picked to struggle!

Nottingham Forest, QPR and Sheffield United were the biggest casualties in the first round of the Carling Cup and the draw for the second round features three all Championship games – which means that only nine sides from the division will feature in the third round. It’s been nine seasons since a team from outside the Premiership reached the final of the competition and at this stage it looks unlikely that any of the Championship sides will end that streak.

Looking forward to this weekend, there are three games between teams that started their seasons with wins. Watford take on Coventry City at Vicarage Road, Hull City travel to Millwall and arguably the game of the day on Saturday is Ipswich v Burnley – although eight of the last ten meetings between these two at Portman Road have finished in draws and Burnley haven’t won at Ipswich since January 1970. Sunday’s televised game is between Leeds and Nottingham Forest (ko 1:15pm on Sky Sports 1) could also be a cracker.

There could also be some very early clues about which teams could face an uphill struggle. Having lost at home to Watford, Norwich City travel to Glanford Park to play Scunthorpe United, who won at Reading last weekend and defeated Oldham in the Carling Cup during the week. To add to their woes, Bristol City will be without striker Nicky Maynard until November at the earliest and will not relish the journey to Doncaster Rovers – South Yorkshire has not been a happy hunting ground for the Robins in the past.

Championship round up

200px-football_league_championshipBarnsley sprung the surprise of the last night’s Championship games by beating West Bromwich Albion 3-1 and denying Roberto di Matteo’s team the chance to go back to the top of the table.

It is the second defeat on the trot in the Championship and third in a week including the Carling Cup loss at Arsenal for the Baggies and has put a temporary dent in their attempt at marching straight back to the Premiership.

Barnsley, who are at the other end of the Championship table, were much the better team and deserved the win with a performance that belies their position in the league.

Michael Chopra scored four in Cardiff’s mauling of Derby County as the Welsh team found their early season form and thrashed Nigel Clough’s side 6-1.

Promotion hopefuls Middlesbrough and Preston were both beaten, the latter by lowly strugglers Reading who won away 1-2 and lifted themselves up the table but will need to build on this result to avoid a relegation battle later in the season.

Gareth Southgate was booed by the home crowd following the 0-1 defeat by Leicester who are now just one point behind Middlesbrough after an indifferent start to the campaign.

Roy Keane’s Ipswich were robbed yet again as Sheffield United scored an equalising goal in injury time to make the score 3-3. Ipswich had led 3-1 and will be disappointed at letting the game slip away, although one point is better than none.

Ipswich Town’s Simon Clegg was quick to dispel any rumours that Keane’s time at the club was coming to an end by issuing a statement to say there is no pressure on the Irishman.

Coventry staged a late comeback to take all the points from their visit to Watford, trailing 2-1 the Sky Blues scored twice in the last ten minutes or so to seal the win 2-3.

Bristol City beat Blackpool 2-0 who are now both on 16 points just outside the play off places which is becoming very congested with five teams on the same points.

Crystal Palace were held to a 0-0 against visitors Sheffield Wednesday, the same result as at Doncaster who entertained Swansea. The bottom of the table clash between Darren Ferguson’s Peterborough and Plymouth was won by the south west team 1-2, their first win of the season.

Newcastle have the chance to stretch their lead to five points at the top of the league when they take on QPR tonight, while Nottingham Forest will host Scunthorpe in the other game.