Sky Bet Championship Preview 1st March 2014

After the lineup for next weekend’s FA Cup ties were confirmed, there’s a good chance that at least one of the remaining Championship sides could reach the semi finals of the FA Cup: but Charlton will have to beat the other Sheffield team and Wigan will have to beat Manchester City again.

Assuming that Charlton have the best chance of progress, it’s worth remembering that although the South Londoners have reached the sixth round on four occasions in the last two decades, they’ve not reached the semi finals since 1947. Other than last season, Wigan haven’t even qualified for the sixth round since 1987.

To be honest Brighton’s best chance of reaching the next round was when they took the lead at the Amex a fortnight ago: having lead for almost an hour in the original game, the Seagulls were two goals down at half time on Monday night and that was that.

Last weekend it was more or less a case of as you were, although my pre-season analysis about QPRs chances of an immediate return to the Premier League is going the way I thought it might. Rangers lost at Charlton and are now seven points adrift of second place: not only that, they were overtaken by Derby who took the lead against Bournemouth courtesy of a Chris Martin goal with five minutes left. When Johnnie Jackson scored the Addicks winner in injury time, the Rams overtook Rangers and are now in third place.

Barnsley and Yeovil both picked up valuable home wins: the Tykes hung on for 86 minutes after James O’Brien scored what turned out to be the winner against Millwall whilst the Glovers kept their visitors scoreless for the second home game in a row. In Somerset, a James Hayter penalty was enough to condemn Doncaster to their seventh away defeat in the last ten games.

As it’s the end of the month, it’s time to have a look at the historical trends that come up at the close of February. The good news for the current leaders – now eight points ahead of the pack after a straightforward win over Ipswich – is that in the last half decade all five of the clubs that were top of the Championship at the end of February were promoted. The only club that lead at the end of February and failed win the title: Southampton two years ago.

Additionally, all five runners up and three of the last five playoff winners were in the top four. The other two playoff winners – Blackpool and Burnley – were no lower than ninth at this stage: that fits nicely with my current spreadsheet, which at this point indicates that L*******r and Burnley will go up and any four of the current top seven teams could reach the playoffs. Although I’ve writing about the curse of finishing fourth before, it’s the teams that are in fifth and sixth position at the end of this month who should be worried right now – none of the last ten teams in those positions at the end of February went on to win promotion.

The bottom of the table is also pretty clear cut. Although there were some positional changes, in the last five seasons every team that was in the bottom three at the end of February was relegated. Before Charlton fans turn on me again (especially the one who wanted to argue via twitter in August) and start bringing up the three games in hand, at the end of February 2011 Scunthorpe had two games in hand and the last team to be relegated that wasn’t in the bottom three at the end of February were the current leaders in 2008. I’m not saying Charlton will go down; I’m saying relegation is a strong possibility.

This weekend there are three games that might shake things up at either end of the table. The two matches between clubs in the top six and the bottom three ought to reflect the league table: Reading entertain Yeovil at the Mad House for the first time in the league but the Royals have been inconsistent at home recently. Four defeats in their last seven games, but thrashings of both Bolton and Blackpool since the start of the year indicate that the visitors – who have only picked up three away points from the 15 available in 2014 – could well be on the end of a thumping when they travel back down the M4.

The current leaders welcome Charlton to the King Power Stadium, but the Addicks have only lost three of their last ten trips to either Filbert Street or the current stadium. That being said, it’s worth pointing out that so far this season Charlton have only won twice on the road and have failed to score in their three away games against the current top six. I’d expect Nigel Pearson’s side will be celebrating another three points at teatime tomorrow.

Burnley v Derby is the game of the week without any doubt, but I’m getting to the point where I’m beginning to get fed up with constantly writing about the Clarets. Despite starting the year with two defeats, the Rams are unbeaten in their last seven league games and haven’t been out of the top six since the end of November. Former Forest and MK Dons striker Patrick Bamford has scored five of their twelve goals in the Championship in 2014 but the most interesting stat about Derby is that since Nigel Clough was dismissed in September, the Rams have only lost three times: which is as many defeats they suffered in the last five games of Clough’s tenure at Pride Park.

I’ll be back next week with an FA Cup special, but until then enjoy the weekend and I hope your team wins.

Sky Bet Championship Preview 22nd February 2014

Somewhat overshadowed by the Champions League, the game at the City Gound on Wednesday saw Nottingham Forest come from behind to go into a half time lead against the current leaders. When Paul Konchesky was dismissed after an hour for clattering Jamie Mackie it looked like Forest had won it, but French striker Riyad Mahrez equalised from a tap in after Kevin Phillips’ penalty was saved by Karl Darlow.

The result doesn’t make much difference to the top of the table, but does set us up with another game between the current top six tomorrow. This time Forest travel to Burnley – where they haven’t won for over a decade. As I’ve convered Forest qute a bit recently, let’s have a look at what’s been happening with The Clarets.

Although they’ve not lost an away game since Boxing Day, Burnley have only been defeated twice in the league at Turf Moor in th last twelve months – which is pretty impressive – and they’ve only had to come from behind twice at home in fifteen games this season. Danny Ings has scored 13 of his 18 goals this season at home but it’s Burnley’s defensive prowess this season that has underpinned their success – it’s almost the end of February and they’ve only conceded nine goals at Turf Moor.

Having lost first place in the Championship at Christmas, Burnley’s best chance of promotion is probably as runners up as they probably need to earn another ten points to secure a playoff place. All but one of their next seven home games are against teams that are currently in the top half of the table and they host both Derby and Leicester next month: we should have a much better idea of Burnley’s promotion credentials over the next few weeks.

My guess is that Forest will be feeling the affects of three games in less than a week. Combined with their poor recent record at Turf Moor and Burnley’s excellent defending, I think the best the visitors can hope for is a point, but I’ll be surprised if they get it. Although Forest have only lost twice on the road in the Championship this season, they lost at Burnley in the Capital One Cup in September.

At the bottom of the table, any of the teams from Blackpool downwards could still end up in League One next season but this weekend none of the bottom three will able to escape the red zone. I’d have to agree with the bookies that Barnsley and Yeovil will go down: the Glovers haven’t been out of the bottom three since the end of September and with the Tykes marooned in the danger zone since the start of November. However, with both of them at home this weekend (to Doncaster and Millwall respectively) there’s no time like the present to start winning.

The good news for Yeovil and Barnsley is that there have only been three away wins in the 19 games between the current bottom six and between them Donny and Millwall account for only one of those victories  (Lions at Charlton in September). That’s a stat that that indicates how poor some of these teams are: at the end of last season, the bottom six finished with 13 home wins in 30 games against each other. I know that it’s still highly likely that the figures will change, but when you consider how well Wolves and Peterborough are doing in League One this season, you begin to suspect that there’s one team in particular that has outstayed their welcome in the Championship in the last few seaons.

The last time Doncaster Rovers won in Somerset was almost a decade ago when both teams were in what we now call League Two: Yeovil have won the last four meetings on their own patch and with the hosts having only lost four of their last ten home games, they’re gaining experience for what looks like an increasingly inevitable return to League One next season. Worryingly for Gary Johnson, his side has failed to score more than one goal at home since the start of December. Doncaster haven’t won away from home since the end of September: in six of their eleven aways since then, they’ve failed to score. So although this one doesn’t look like a goalfest to me, it’s the Championship so potentially anything might happen.

Although Barnsley haven’t lost at home in the Championship this year, but their inability to hold on to a lead at Oakwell in 2014 has been very noticeable. They’ve blown leads against Blackburn and Ipswich and if they’d won one of those games the landscape at the bottom of the table might have looked very different. Millwall’s away form has been horrible – three draws and eight defeats since the start of October – and they’ve only won two of their last seven games at Oakwell over the last decade.

The only other game that might have an impact at either end of the table this weekend is at the Valley. Charlton could have one eye on Monday night’s rearranged FA Cup fifth round tie with Sheffield Wednesday when they entertain QPR. Rangers have a had a particularly poor month so far but they’ve only lost once in their half a dozen away games against the bottom half of the current table; Charlton have only lost two of their six home games against the current top ten and have beaten both the current leaders and Brighton at the Valley this season.

Not sure if I’ll be able to produce a preview in time for Monday night’s FA Cup ties, if not then I’ll be back on Tuesday with a round up. Enjoy the weekend!

FA Cup 5th Round Preview

Five Championship teams still are still involved but with the big guns in the Premier League playing each other none of the games are being televised live by either BT Sport or ITV, which isn’t quite what BT Sport promise in their ads.

There’s only one guaranteed place in the next round: Sheffield Wednesday v Charlton is the only all Championship tie. History is on the side of the Addicks who have won all three previous meetings between the clubs in the competition, but with only one away win in the league since the end of October and just two victories in six games at Hillsborough since the turn of the century you’d have to think that Charlton’s chances of progressing are limited. Wednesday’s 3-0 home defeat by Wigan on Tuesday ended their four game winning streak in front of their own fans but they don’t often lose consecutive home games and their have been definite signs of improvement since Dave Jones was sacked.

Holders Wigan and 1984 finalists Brighton play Premier League teams in a pair of interesting looking games. Wigan have never played Cardiff in the FA Cup but haven’t lost in the Welsh capital since March 1996. Brighton have won both their previous meetings against Hull in the competition and Saturday’s visitors to the Amex haven”t won in Sussex since August 1965!

The most interesting tie of the round is Nottingham Forest at Sheffield United. This is the fourteenth time they’ve met in the Cup but Forest have only won three games with their only win in the competition at Bramall Road coming back in January 1955. In the league Forest have only won one of the last five against United but the Championship playoff contenders are currently on a nine game streak without an away defeat in all competitions. For more on the Sheffield United angle, please visit our companion site at Buzzin’ League 1 Football

There are three important league games this weekend, two of which will have an impact at the bottom of the table. Doncaster entertain Barnsley whilst Bolton travel to Millwall: with only eight points separating the bottom six, both of these could be vital to the Championship survival of all four of these clubs. Away wins in the head to heads between the current bottom six have been rare this season (three in seventeen games so far) so Barnsley – who haven’t won away since early December and could escape the bottom three if they win at The Keepmoat – and Bolton (last away win: at Barnsley on Boxing Day) look as if they’re up against it from that angle. The hosts in both games are having somewhat differing fortunes at the moment: Doncaster have only lost one of their last five league games at home but the Lions have only won two of the last six league games at the New Den.

Almost by default, the game of the week is QPR v Reading (Sky Sports 1, 3:30pm Sunday): if Burnley lose at Bournemouth tomorrow, Rangers would have to win by eight clear goals to regain second place – which is extremely unlikely. Half of the last ten league meetings between them at Loftus Road have ended in draws – which won’t really be much use to the Royals, who could drop out of the playoff places if Ipswich beat Blackpool. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, QPR haven’t kept a home clean sheet for two months but despite scoring three at Millwall a fortnight ago, Reading have failed to score in four of their last six road trips which doesn’t exactly bode well for their chances in West London.

As usual, if anything weird and/or wonderful happens in the FA Cup I’ll update this post, but unusually the next scheduled post will be on Wednesday afternoon – the L team play at Nottingham Forest in the evening.

Sky Bet Championship Game Of The Week: QPR v Burnley

Some tasty looking games this weekend: Millwall entertain Reading in South London, Sheffield Wednesday play Barnsley at Hillsborough and Yeovil travel to Nottingham Forest on Sunday.

In the midweek games I mentioned, Yeovil took a two goal lead at Derby but still lost, Doncaster broke a 78 year old record when they beat Charlton and – almost inevitably- Millwall drew with Sheffield Wednesday.

I’m going to make a deliberate decision not to mention Leicester by name again until or unless one of the chasing pack is within three points of them at any stage until May or something remarkable happens to them. The title looks like a one horse race right now and although I’ve posted some negative stuff about the club before, they seem to have got it right this time and I wish Leicester City and their fans well.

So if we assume that there’s one automatic promotion place left, the game at Loftus Road tomorrow could well be vital to indicating who it will be. It’s been a while since I posted a single game preview, so let’s take a look at QPR v Burnley (12:15pm, Sky Sports 1)

Rangers have only won half of the last ten league meetings between the clubs in West London and their last victory came in February 2007. Despite having only lost once at home this season (guess who beat them), Harry Redknapp’s side have only managed to score more than two goals in home games once and they’re over reliant on Charlie Austin, who has scored exactly half of their total of 20 goals at home in 2013/14. However Austin will miss tomorrow’s game due to a serious shoulder injury in the win over Bolton during the week. Rangers kept five consecutive clean sheets at home between mid August but they’ve only done that twice in the last six games: seven of their 11 home wins this season have been by one goal but you’ve got to wonder if that trend will continue if Austin misses substantial playing time.

Bunrley’s win at Yeovil three weeks ago was their first away trumph since mid October: although they only lost twice in that sequence, they’ve developed an unwelcome habit of drawing too many games and that could cause them to miss out on automatic promotion. The Clarets have also been finding goals hard to come by on their travels: having been shut out at Middlesbrough and Wigan since Christmas, a two goal lead at Huish Park was something of a luxury. However, they are still unbeaten away against the current top six and have four players that have scored at least once away from home this season – if you count opposition own goals as a player that is. Sam Vokes and Danny Ings are the main goalscoring threats away from Turf Moor.

I can’t see there being many goals in this game – with Austin missing, it looks like QPR will have to depend on their defensive prowess to stop Burnley from winning, but that doesn’t mean they’ll win either. However, if Burnley lose then Steve McLaren will know that if Derby win at Birmingham they can overtake the Clarets and move into the top three for the first time this season.

The last thing to mention this week is another dramatic collapse by Watford in almost identical circumstances to heir FA Cup defeat at Manchester City last weekend. Two goal lead then and then four goals conceded in the last 30 minutes: I had a conversation about the appointment of Giuseppi Sannino with an acquaintance on twitter and neither of us were convinced that he was the best candidate for the job. At the moment, he’s not doing himself any favours.

Update: Leeds sacked Brian McDermott on Friday evening. More to follow, but let’s say for now that the fans – or sponsors – weren’t happy.

FA Cup 4th Round Preview

The cliche that the Championship is unpredictable is overused but last weekend saw some interesting results to say the least. The bottom three all won without conceding a goal while Bolton conceded seven goals in a league game for the first time this century.

But were those results as surprising as they appeared?

* Barnsley hadn’t won at home since mid-October and hadn’t kept a clean sheet at Oakwell since the start of November: Blackpool have lost eight of their last nine matches, which was why Paul Ince was sacked on Tuesday. I wasn’t convinced that was a match made in heaven at the time he was appointed.

* Birmingham City haven’t won at home since October 1st; Yeovil aren’t exactly world beaters but haven’t lost more than four games in a row this season.

* Doncaster have beaten QPR and Leicester at home this season and look like the type of team that raises their game against good sides whilst underperforming against everyone else. Wigan have been very boom or bust on the road this season.

* At this point in time, only three teams have conceded more goals than Bolton who have kept two clean sheets in their last ten games and have let in five goals at Leicester and four at Blackburn this season. Only Bournemouth and Millwall have conceded more away from home.

Talking of Leicester, five consecutive wins have given them a five point cushion at the top although it took a very late goal from David Nugent to earn the win at Leeds; the Foxes can extend their lead even further if they beat Middlesbrough tomorrow in one of four league games taking place this weekend. QPR and Burnley swapped places but remain at least one win clear of Derby.

So on to the fourth round of the FA Cup (with Budweiser) and I think it’s fair to say that if a simple majority of the Championship clubs left in the competition are in the draw for the fifth round on Sunday then the situation can be considered a success. The bookies think that Wigan arguably have the best chance of progressing against Premier League opponents but that seems to be based on home advantage and whether Crystal Palace might decide to field a weakened team.

Bolton’s tie with Cardiff is an interesting one. The Trotters’ opponents haven’t won at either the Reebok or Burnden Park since 1970 and the only time that Cardiff have won at Bolton in the competition was in the season they went on to beat Arsenal in the 1927 final. It’s a similar story with Swansea’s record at Birmingham City: the Blues have only lost twice in seventeen games against Swansea at St. Andrews and beat their opponents 3-1 in the Capital One Cup this season.

If there’s a surprise result in the games between Championship sides and Premier League opponents, it might come at Dean Court. Bournemouth have played Liverpool twice in the FA Cup in front of their own fans and drew both games – despite the Cherries being a third tier on both occasions. The home draw was as good as it got though – Liverpool won both replays 4-1 at Anfield.

If you’re wondering what I think about Southampton v Yeovil and Manchester City v Watford, I think the only surprise element might be if the Championship clubs manage to keep the margin of victory against far superior opposition below two goals.

The one guaranteed place in the next round will go to either Huddersfield or Charlton: the Addicks finally managed to beat Oxford on Tuesday but they’ve not got past this stage since 2005 and although they won at Huddersfield in March, they’ve not been anywhere near as good as they were last season. The only other FA Cup game between them in Yorkshire was in January 1958 and ended in a draw: Huddersfield won the replay four days later.

Both games against League One teams are covered in this post on Buzzin’ League One football, which leaves Sheffield Wednesday’s trip to Rochdale as the remaining game. Wednesday have never won at Spotland – both of the meetings between the clubs in Lancashire have been in the last three years, with Dale winning 2-1 in February 2011 followed by a goalless draw in March 2012. The hosts haven’t reached the fifth round for just over a decade so this is another big day out for them and if they can beat Leeds then they won’t be scared of a Wednesday team that needed a replay to beat Macclesfield in the last round.

I’ll be back early next week with a recap of the FA Cup action and a look forward to the midweek games.