I think we should just assume that every weekend until the end of the season is a big one. Tomorrow we’ve got four of the bottom six playing each other and the game of the week could have massive repercussions in the race for automatic promotion.
Before I start the preview, the other story that broke this week was Neil Warnock’s departure from Leeds United. Warnock made it clear a few weeks ago that he wouldn’t be back at Elland Road next season unless the club was promoted – which to be honest didn’t look likely – and presumably left on his own terms. Some interesting names have been linked with the job, but more of that when someone’s appointed.
At the bottom, we’ll begin alphabetically. Peterborough and Huddersfield appear to have lost form at the worst time of the season – reintroducing the idea that there always seems to be one club that ends up being relegated due to a spectacularly bad run of form late in the season.
Huddersfield have been very inconsistent this season – like most promoted teams, they began well – but this is the first time they’ve been in the bottom three since August. It’s obvious what the problem at the Galpharm Stadium has been recently, as the Terriers have failed to score in four of their last five home games and haven’t won as many home games as they ought to have done. Daniel Ward’s last minute winner against Middlesbrough just over a month ago was the last time they scored at home.
Peterborough haven’t been any higher than 21st in the table this season, but a five game unbeaten run on the road shows how well they’ve done to turn their disastrous early season form around. However, it’s exactly this type of game that should give us an indication of if it’s possible for Fergie junior’s team to pull of one of the classic escapes in Championship history. The Posh have a relatively good record at Huddersfield overall, but they’ve only won once in their last five trips to West Yorkshire.
30 miles to the south, tomorrow’s meeting between Sheffield Wednesday and Blackburn is the first league meeting at Hillsborough since August 2000, but the visitors last won there in November 1994. In fact, since 1961, Rovers have only managed two other victories at the same venue – which is almost as poor as Wednesday’s record at their own ground this season.
Dave Jones’ side haven’t been out of the bottom half of the table since last Autumn and Wednesday’s form against the other strugglers has been patchy. Last week’s draw at Bristol City was three points lost rather than a point gained as the hosts forced a controversial injury time equaliser. On the other hand, Blackburn have performed reasonably well against the strugglers, but having not won in nine games, over the last few weeks they’ve plummeted down the table and into the bottom six.
In the only game between sides in the top six and bottom six, Crystal Palace have an earlier opportunity to put last week’s 4-0 home defeat by Birmingham behind them when they entertain Barnsley. A home defeat had to happen at some point – the Eagles hadn’t lost in the league at Selhurst Park since August – and although Palace also failed to score at home for the first time since mid January, they’ve done well against the strugglers this season.
Barnsley have only lost twice in their last six road trips but haven’t picked up maximum points away from Oakwell since winning at the Riverside early February and haven’t kept an away clean sheet since last October when a goal from Tomasz Cywka earned three points at the Valley. They’ve already lost at Hull, Watford and Brighton this season and have still got to travel to Cardiff and Nottingham Forest, which is a very tough run in for the Tykes.
The game of the day is live on Sky Sports 2 at 5:15pm. Whatever happens at Vicarage Road will have an impact on the final weeks of the season: if Cardiff win in Hertfordshire for the first time since 2009 then they’ll preserve their seven point lead over Hull even if the Tigers beat Middlesbrough. If both Watford and Hull win, Cardiff’s lead will be cut to four points.
Half of the last 10 games between these two at Vicarage Road have ended in draws, but the worrying aspect of this game for the Bluebirds is that since October 1970 they’ve only won game in the last twelve meetings. Cardiff have lost two of their last three road trips, but tend to bounce back after defeats – they haven’t lost consecutive games since October – and have yet to lose an away game against another top six side.
Watford have only lost one home game in their last six outings, but have struggled against the other promotion contenders at Vicarage Road this season – they beat Forest before Christmas, but lost to both Hull and Brighton earlier in 2012/13. Tuesday’s win at Hull was a big step in the right direction if the Hornets are to return to the Premier League for the first time since 2006, but beating Cardiff would be even more impressive and create an even more exciting end to the season than the one we’re expecting.
I’ll post an update as soon as I’m able, otherwise I’ll be back next week.
Watford and Cardiff finished goalless – the Bluebirds have a five point lead with six to play, but host Barnsley on Tuesday night in an important game for both teams. Crystal Palace’s failure to win means they’re now six points behind Watford: the current top three have now earned enough points to reach the playoffs.