If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It (Part 75)

This week saw the first of the managerial changes of the season: the end of September isn’t actually that bad, considering that Mark Robbins resigned from Huddersfield immediately after the first game of the 2014/15 season.

I can understand why Steve Davis is no longer manager of Rotherham, even though the timing of the decision – after back to back wins – was odd, although there are some interesting rumours doing the rounds on ‘social media’ that involve the Rotherham board preventing Davis from leaving to join Peterborough (where he lives) a couple of weeks ago. The Millers are still everyone’s favourites to go down after a poor start: consecutive promotions may have been a step too far and I can understand the need for a change.

As for Brentford

Over the past five years I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve written posts where I’ve criticised teams for appointing either:

(a) A manager with no experience of managing at this level

(b) A manager with no experience of managing in Great Britain

(c) Having a chairman or a board of directors who are daft enough to think that one good season in the Championship means promotion to the Premier League is inevitable

(d) A combination of the above.

There are exceptions of course. Guy Luzon at Charlton seems to be doing OK at the moment and it wouldn’t surprise me if Aitor Karanka (Middlesbrough) goes on to bigger and better things even if that’s not with Boro or even in England. However, since the start of last season, the following non-British managers have all come and gone without making a positive impression at the clubs that appointed them: Bob Peeters, Felix Magath, Darko Milanic, Sami Hyypia,  Jose Riga (at two different clubs!), Uwe Rosler, Giuseppe Sannino and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer.

In Rosler’s case, he’s gone and come back again, having left Brentford to move to Wigan, where he did very little to prevent their eventual relegation. It’s not really much of a surprise he’s the Leeds boss now; but this brings us nicely back to Brentford. This post from February is what I thought about Mark Warburton’s decision to move on at the end of last season and the appointment of the hitherto obscure Marinus Dijkhuizen in June was the icing on the cake. Warburton has gone on to very promising things with Glasgow Rangers and it’s now abundantly clear that Matthew Benham got the decision to go in a different direction wrong.

Anyway, we move on. Brighton and Middlesbrough cannot be overtaken this weekend and one of them will be top going into the international break. The Seagulls retained the lead by one point after drawing at Bolton, even though they blew a two goal lead. Boro swept Leeds aside on Sunday but with only three points separating QPR and Reading the outcomes of this weekend’s games indicate whether we’re likely to see the leaders pull away from the chasing pack. At the bottom Rotherham dragged themselves out of the bottom three with an unexpected win at Birmingham, whilst Bristol City sank to the bottom of the table despite earning a point at Ipswich.

The three matches that made it on to the ‘Game Of The Week’ shortlist are as follows, but I decided against picking one of them as they’re all vital in different ways.

Brighton v Cardiff

Four of the last five league games between these two in Sussex have ended in draws and Brighton haven’t beaten Cardiff at home for 13 years. The Seagulls have won all of their home games in the Sky Bet Championship this season but Cardiff haven’t lost consecutive away games since January and will be looking to bounce back from their surprise defeat at Rotherham two weeks ago.

Bristol City v MK Dons

In the nine previous meetings between the clubs, MK Dons have never beaten Bristol City in any competition. It’s probably too early to call this one a relegation six pointer, but if either side wins then the other could be in big trouble.

Reading v Middlesbrough

Since 1988 Boro have a lousy league record at Reading: two wins in the last ten, the most recent victory coming six years ago. This looks like a good test for both teams, although Middlesbrough arguably have to more to prove as they’ve only played one game against any of the sides in the current top ten.

There are also three televised games this weekend: Rotherham v Burnley (tonight, Sky Sports 2, 7:45pm kick off), Wolves v Huddersfield (Saturday, Sky Sports 1, kick off 12:30) and Charlton v Fulham (Sunday, Sky Sports 2, noon kick off). None of them look particularly interesting unless you follow those clubs, although Huddersfield have a far better record at Molineux than you’d think.

It’s another ‘international break’ next week, but I’ll be back with a statistics driven look at how the season has begun. Once again, thanks for reading and have a good weekend.

Sky Bet Championship Game Of The Week: Burnley v Reading

It was a case of ‘as you were’ last weekend as Brighton retained their lead after a goalless draw at Wolves, but only Middlesbrough can overtake the Seagulls this weekend. Boro won at Nottingham Forest on Saturday, which meant that a win for Burnley at Derby on Monday night would have given the Clarets the chance of taking the lead this weekend. However, the founder members of the Football League played out a goalless draw, which ended a four game winning streak for a Burnley and meant that the Rams have only won once in their last ten games in the Championship at the iPro Stadium.

Bristol City and Preston both dropped into the relegation zone: the reason that City aren’t bottom is that Rotherham begins with the letter ‘R’. Despite taking the lead at Brentford, Preston conceded two goals in three minutes and lost the fourth of their six away games so far. It’s still relatively competitive at the bottom though: the bottom nine sides are only separated by three points and as we’ll see in a minute there should be a lot of movement this weekend.

I’ve tried to avoid the Capital One Cup so far this season and after the midweek results it’s apparent that most of the clubs in the Championship have as well. Hull and Middlesbrough and Sheffield Wednesday are the only sides left in the competition and it’s not even the end of September. A few seasons ago Wednesday beating Newcastle in a cup competition would have been seen as a shock, but that’s not the case any more.

Back to this weekend and the outstanding contender for the game of the day is Burnley v Reading. Sean Dyche’s side are unbeaten at Turf Moor so far and last lost at home to Leicester in the Premier League last April. However, they’ve not beaten any of the clubs currently in the top half of the table yet and so Saturday’s game is arguably their first real challenge of 2014/15. Record signing Andre Gray was injured during Monday’s game and there are rumours circulating that his injury may have been worse than originally thought; if that’s the case there’s no obvious replacement.

I saw Reading win comfortably at Bristol City last weekend but I’d have to say the jury is still out even though Nick Blackman and Orlando Sa are near the top of the goalscoring charts having scored 75% of the club’s goals this season. Their only triumphs away from home this season have come against clubs that are below them, which is the opposite of what happened last season, when all five of the Royals’ victorious away days came at the expense of clubs that finished in the top ten.

Burnley won their last league game at Turf Moor against Reading but have never won two in a row against the Royals in any competition. There might be a few goals in this one: the last ten league games between them in Lancashire have produced an average of 2.7 per match.

The other games of interest should have an impact at both ends of the table.

Bolton v Brighton: the Trotters are unbeaten at home this season but have only won two of the seven meetings between the sides in Lancashire since they first met at the old Burnden Park ground in December 1971. The Seagulls haven’t lost an away game in the Championship since April, when they went down 2-1 at Wigan.

Hull v Blackburn: the hosts don’t have a particularly good record at home to Rovers (three wins in the last ten) but are unbeaten at the KC Stadium in 2015/16. Blackburn haven’t won away this season.

Ipswich v Bristol City: it’s been ten games and 37 years since the Robins won at Portman Road in a league game, which may be all you need to know about Saturday’s match in Suffolk. It’ll either be really one sided or there’ll be an upset.

There are three televised games this weekend: Fulham v QPR (tonight, Sky Sports 1, kick off 7:45pm), MK Dons v Derby (Saturday, Sky Sports 1, kick off 12:30pm) and Middlesbrough v Leeds (Sunday, Sky Sports 1, kick off 1:15pm).

Looking ahead, in two weeks time we’ll have another international break and I’ll be taking a look at which teams have improved or regressed from last season. On that note I’ll wish you a good weekend and see you next week.

Sky Bet Championship Game Of The Week: Brentford v Preston

Brighton extended their lead at the top of the Sky Bet Championship following a 2-1 win over Rotherham on Tuesday night, but with only two of the other eleven games played this week ending in home wins it’s fair to say that the Seagulls have a five point lead because they’ve been consistent and other sides haven’t. Based on past seasons, that could still be the main story of 2015/16.

There were a couple of surprises during the week. Huddersfield won for the first time this season when goals from Harry Bunn and Emyr Hughes earned three points at Charlton. The victory means that Town are out of the bottom three. On Wednesday evening Blackburn Rovers took the lead twice at QPR but the eventual point Rovers earned wasn’t enough for them to escape the relegation zone, it means QPR have earned just one point from their last two games.

With nobody being able to overtake Brighton this weekend, I’m going to focus on the bottom of the table. Rotherham could move off the bottom if they beat sixth placed Cardiff at the New York Stadium but they’ve only won once in their last five home games against Saturday’s opponents and have lost half of their last ten home matches in the Championship. This week Millers’ manager Steve Evans ruled himself out of the Peterborough job, but if Rotherham continue their season in the same way they’ve started it, then Evans may not being charge much longer anyway.

Blackburn and Bristol City both have home games (against Charlton and Reading respectively) and could do themselves favours by winning, but it’s never that straightforward. Rovers have only won three of their last ten at Ewood Park but have only lost three of the last contests when Charlton have been the visitors. I think it’s fair to say that Bristol City’s defence had an easy ride last season: they’ve conceded almost half as many goals at home this season as they did during last season’s successful campaign in League One. Their recent record at home against Reading isn’t that good either: four wins and four defeats in the last ten. If City can take comfort from anything, it may be the fact that the Royals haven’t won consecutive away games in the Sky Bet Championship since February.

Game of the week is between two clubs that last met in League One in April 2014 and have had similar fortunes since. Both have been promoted to the Championship in the last couple of seasons and at the end of the last campaign both clubs reached the playoffs – albeit in different divisions. Although Preston won promotion from League One at a canter after destroying Swindon 4-0, Brentford were eliminated at the first hurdle by Middlesbrough.

I mentioned before the start of the season that I didn’t expect Brentford to do as well as last season and so far their only victory under Marinus Dijkhuizen was a 4-2 win at Bristol City where the hosts played with ten men for the last hour of the game. Previous manager Mark Warburton moved to Rangers, who have a 100% record and a five point lead in the Scottish Championship. Looks like this post from last February may be particularly prophetic.

Preston haven’t scored an away goal in the 2015/16 Sky Bet Championship for almost four hours: Paul Gallagher’s winner at MK Dons a month ago was the last time the Lillywhites found the net on their travels. Only Bolton have scored fewer goals – none – on their travels this season. Preston victories at Griffin Park are few and far between: just two in their last ten clashes in Middlesex and only four in 23 league games since their first meeting on Christmas Day 1933.

Televised games this weekend: Ipswich v Birmingham (7:45pm this evening, Sky Sports 5), Nottingham Forest v Middlesbrough (noon Saturday, Sky Sports 1) and Derby v Burnley (7:45pm Monday Sky Sports 5). It’s also worth making a note that Huddersfield v Nottingham Forest is live next Thursday evening (7:45pm, Sky Sports 1). As that game is unlikely to have any impact at either end of the current table, I’ll be back on Friday.

2015/16 Sky Bet Championship Preview Part 3

Here’s the penultimate part of the preview of the 2015/16 season in the Sky Bet Championship. The prices were the best on offer at Oddschecker.com on 1st July and are unlikely to be still available. If some of them are, it’s usually an indication that there’s been little or no money wagered on the specific outcomes mentioned below.

Hull City

Manager: Steve Bruce

Relegated from the Premier League

Last ten games: 2-2-6

Promotion: 10/3 (second favourites)

Relegation: 40/1

If the Tigers’ recent history is anything to go by, they’ll have a fairly poor first half of the season in the Championship because any new signings will take a while to settle and judging by past performance Hull won’t be promoted again until May 2018. I’d say middle third with an outside shot at the playoffs but that’s what I thought about Fulham last season: however Steve Bruce has a lot of experience as a manager at this level , so I’d expect quite a few 1-0 wins at the KC Stadium.

Ipswich Town

Manager: Mick McCarthy

12th consecutive season in the Championship

Last ten games: 5-2-3 (doesn’t include last season’s playoff semi finals)

Promotion: 8/1

Relegation: 12/1

Reaching the playoffs was a massive step in the right direction and the Tractor Boys were doing well until Christophe Berra was dismissed in the second leg of the playoff semi final, but it’s hard to assess how Town will do this season. At best I’d expect a challenge for automatic promotion and although I can’t see them finishing any lower than tenth, they’ll need just as many goals from Darryl Murphy to be serious contenders. However, expecting a striker coming to the end of his career to reach 20 goals might be unrealistic, which is presumably why Brett Pittman was acquired from Bournemouth. Teenage Arsenal loanee Ainsley Maitland-Niles might also be worth keeping an eye on.

Leeds United

Manager: Uwe Rosler

Last ten games: 2-3-5

Sixth season in the Championship

Promotion: 11/1

Relegation: 6/1

The farce at Elland Road continued until Neil Redfearn stepped in once again and started grinding out results at roughly the same time that Massimo Cellino was banned from being a director. At that point Leeds seemed to be back to their mid 1950s incarnation of a mid table second tier team that’s hard to beat, but Uwe Rosler’s appointment should set all sorts of alarms off. It’s now abundantly clear that Mark Warburton was the brains behind Brentford’s dramatic improvement over the last couple of seasons and Rosler’s spell at Wigan was thoroughly unimpressive. I’m not expecting anything other than the bottom half of the table yet again for United, but there’s also a real chance that Leeds could be caught up in a relegation firefight.

Middlesbrough

Manager: Aitor Karanka

Last ten games: 6-1-3 (doesn’t include last season’s playoffs)

Seventh consecutive season in the Championship

Promotion: 7/2 (third favourites)

Relegation: 28/1

Uh oh. Playoff final defeats tend to result in rather large hangovers and Aitor Karanka will have to motivate his team after a disappointing loss so soon after automatic promotion looked like a real possibility. 2014/15 was the best season for the Teesiders for some time though and should be there or there abouts again this season but it remains to be seen how well Kike and Grant Ledbitter perform now that Patrick Bamford has moved on. Generally speaking though, Boro are on the up: it was only three seasons ago they finished five points ahead of Peterborough, who were relegated.

MK Dons

Manager: Karl Robinson

Last ten games: 9-1-0

Promoted as League One runners up.

Promotion: 14/1

Relegation: 5/1

First ever season at this level so it’s hard to gauge what might happen, but I’ll be astonished of they’re able to dominate their opponents at home in the same way as they did in League One last season, especially as Dele Alli, Will Grigg and Benik Afobe have all left and don’t seem to have  been adequately replaced. I wouldn’t be too surprised if they get off to a reasonable start but that may be due to none of their early opponents presenting much of a challenge rather than the Dons being better than expected. We should know more about them by the end of September but my gut feeling is that we’re looking at a side who will perform similarly to Peterborough’s recent championship campaigns.

Nottingham Forest

Manager: Dougie Freedman

Last ten games: 1-3-6

Eighth season in the Championship

Promotion: 7/1

Relegation: 14/1

The bookies must love Forest. Every summer they’re priced up among the favourites to attract punters who haven’t done their homework and see Forest as a ‘big’ team in the competition because of their fabled successes almost four decades ago. By Christmas they’re usually struggling to stay in the playoffs before dropping into the top half of the table and sacking the manager. I can’t see that being any different in 2015/16 – they were terrible at the end of last season – but I can see new signing Matt Mills scoring at least one own goal.