One of my pet peeves is the insistence by the pundits on the Football League Show that Easter is more important than Christmas in the Championship Calendar, although I also heard Michael Appleton of Blackpool say the same thing on Sky Sports News this morning while he was eating his poached eggs on toast. By the time the rest of us have finished stuffing our faces with chocolate eggs instead of turkey, it’ll be obvious who’s within touching distance of the Premier League and which teams will be hoping for a decent run in the Johnston’s Paint Trophy: from Boxing Day onwards it’s more about confirming the impressions that have been made over the past four months.
So there’s every chance that you’ll be hearing the following facts over the next Christmas period unless – like me – you prefer to fast forward the waffle on the Football League Show on Sunday mornings:
* From 2007 onwards, every club that was on top of the table at the end of Boxing Day was promoted.
* Of the fifteen clubs that have been promoted since the end of the 2006/2007 season, only two were outside the top six at the end of Boxing Day (Hull in 2007/08 and Blackpool in 2009/10)
* However…clubs outside the top four on December 26th have a significantly lower chance of promotion. Apart from Hull and Blackpool, only Norwich and Reading have been promoted from outside the clubs that occupied the top four at close of play on Boxing Day.
* In four of the last five seasons, Cardiff have been in the top six at the end of Boxing Day and haven’t been promoted once.
All of the above mean that Cardiff v Crystal Palace on Boxing Day isn’t just the game of the day, but potentially the game of the season.
Of course, any number of scenarios could happen before then. Cardiff have a very difficult game at Leicester tomorrow, Middlesbrough might find that Leeds are suffering following their thrashing by Chelsea on Wednesday and Palace have won only once in their last five games. Conceivably any of the current top four could find themselves in pole position by the time Toy Story 2 appears on our screens and there are only toffee pennies left in the Quality Street tin.
At the bottom, the long term picture is just as clear. 13 of the 15 clubs relegated since 2007/08 had been in the bottom six at the end of Boxing Day, with eight of the teams that went on to be relegated already occupying the bottom two positions. In three of the last five seasons, the team that was bottom was relegated, but in the last four seasons the side that was 23rd was relegated.
The exceptions were Leicester in 2008 and Portsmouth last season – but to be fair to Pompey their problems were exacerbated by the points deduction. So once again it’s fair to say that half of the bottom six will almost inevitably provide League 1 teams with some different grounds to visit next season.
One surprising thing about the bottom six is that over the past five seasons some interesting names keep cropping up. Norwich are currently in the Premier League, but were in the bottom six in the Championship at Boxing Day 2008 and 2009. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Bristol City and Ipswich are struggling this season as they’ve both been in the bottom six in two of the last three seasons, but with two points separating the current sides in the bottom four it already looks incredibly close.
Anyway, here are the games over Christmas that could have a huge impact on the rest of the season:
Saturday 22nd December:
Leicester v Cardiff, Ipswich v Bristol City. The televised game on Saturday is Huddersfield at Crystal Palace (5:20pm, Sky Sports 2) – if Cardiff can only manage a point at Leicester, the Eagles can go top if they beat Huddersfield. The Football League Show is on BBC1 at 11:55pm; Sky Sports’ ‘Goals On Sunday’ will feature the goals from the Championship and a guest appearance from Malky Mackay and starts at 11:00am on Sunday morning.
Cardiff v Crystal Palace. Sky Sports 1 is showing the game between Nottingham Forest and Leeds (12:00pm) if anyone’s up that early.
Saturday 29th December:
Cardiff v Millwall, Bristol City v Peterborough. Brighton v Watford is on Sky Sports 1 at 5:20pm, The Football League Show is on at midnight.
I’m not going to be able to post in any depth over the Christmas holidays, but I intend to have something up next Thursday even if it’s only a couple of paragraphs. In the meantime, I’d like to wish you a Happy Christmas and I hope that whoever you support wins on Boxing Day.