Sky Bet Championship Preview 16th/17th August 2013

It was a fun couple of weeks being in the limelight, but unless you’re actually a fan of a Championship team or have a good reason to follow the competition, it’s time to accept that the Premier League is the greatest football competition in the world and that nothing can exist outside it (except possibly La Liga*). So for anyone who wants to leave, this is your opportunity…

OK, now we’ve got that out of the way we can concentrate on the rest of the season. After two games, the table has a strange sort of familiarity to it: other than Blackpool at the top and Charlton and Brighton at the bottom, this is more or less how the Championship could look at the end of the season. Of course it’s not possible for ten teams for remain unbeaten and you’d expect both Barnsley and Millwall to score at least one goal before the end of the month, just as it’s highly likely that Nottingham Forest will start conceding goals at some point fairly soon.

Last week’s game of the week finished in a 1-1 draw, which propelled Reading up the table and Bolton in the opposite direction despite the Trotters taking the lead thanks to Darren Pratley’s second goal of the season. He’s now scored as many goals as he did last season, but Nick Blackman’s penalty five minutes after the restart meant the spoils were shared.

Due to the demands of the Community Shield we’ve got games on Friday and Saturday this week. Doncaster‘s game against Blackburn has been bought forward to this evening as Donny are playing at Wigan next Tuesday – it’s worth reminding everyone that the Europa League will start eating into Wigan’s schedule in about a month’s time. The early kick off on Saturday is the Yorkshire derby between Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday at Elland Road (Sky Sports 1 12:15pm kick off), which is probably early enough to stop any of the nonsense that happened at Hillsborough last season.

I would have picked Reading’s game with Watford for game of the week, but having the same team in consecutive weeks is boring and because of the way the competition has developed since the start of the month, there’s actually a match between two of the bottom three this weekend.

I mentioned before the season began that I thought that Barnsley might find themselves struggling in 2013/14 but they’ve had about as bad a start as you can get. They’ve not scored in the Championship since Jason Scotland gave them the lead in the last game of the season at Huddersfield and their habit of losing heavily at home hasn’t been broken: in the last calendar year, Barnsley have conceded more than three goals at home on five occasions and lost all of those games.

Their opponents at Oakwell on Saturday – Charlton – are a bit of an enigma at the moment. After an eight game unbeaten run at the end of last season, the Addicks don’t seem to have got the memo that this campaign has actually begun yet. However, losing a couple of games on the trot isn’t exactly out of character for them – the problem Charlton have is that the Tykes will want revenge for the 6-0 mauling at South Yorkshire in April and that last time Charlton won two games in a row at Barnsley was in the mid 1930s.

Also worth keeping an eye on this weekend: Derby v Leicester (East Midlands rivalry, clubs only seperated on goal difference) and Bournemouth v Wigan (cue the old cliches about the how they were two divisions apart last season, but the hosts need to bounce back after being thrashed at Watford last week)

* Personally, I think the Championship has more in common with the Bundesliga (without Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund) than the Premier League.

Capital One Cup Round Up

The numbers first: 17 clubs through to the second round, five knocked out and both Reading and Wigan excused from the first round – a 72% qualification rate isn’t that bad.

However, as usual it’s the teams that lost that provide the main stories. Middlesbrough and Brighton both lost at home to League 2 sides, but having played most of the game with ten men and having to face extra time as well, the Seagulls arguably have an excuse for losing to Newport County. However, Boro took the lead against Accrington Stanley, but the League 2 club fought back and won by the odd goal in three. Middlesbrough have now lost both of their home games this season and look as if they’ve begun this season in the same way they ended 2012/2013…badly.

Those defeats were the only reverses in ties between Championship and League 2 sides, but four clubs lost to League 1 opposition. Blackburn lost on penalties at Carlisle United and both Ipswich and Blackpool failed to score against so-called ‘inferior’ opposition.

The draw for the second round takes place at lunchtime.

Sky Bet Championship Season Preview Part 4

Final part of this season’s club by club preview – all prices were taken from the Oddschecker website on Friday 9th July and will change according to performance.

QPR (@OfficialQPR) #qpr

Manager: Harry Redknapp (since November 2012)

Promotion: evens

Relegation: 40/1

Back after two terrible seasons in the promised land, having been mired in the bottom three places of the Premier League for almost the entire season in 2012/13. Harry Redknapp hasn’t managed at this level for over a decade and QPR have never been promoted immediately after being relegated at any level since they entered the Football League in 1920. Mid table finish with ‘Arry finally retiring from football management before the season ends (possibly after having lost in an FA Cup upset).

Reading (@ReadingFC) #readingfc

Manager: Nigel Adkins (since March 2013)

Promotion: 10/3

Relegation: 40/1

Champions two seasons ago, Reading’s stay in the Premier League was brief and uninspiring. Best (and worst) decision last season was to let Brian McDermott go and appoint Nigel Adkins, who knows his way around the Championship, but as I never tire of saying, relegated clubs are more likely to stay in the Championship for at least two seasons rather than bounce back straight away.

Sheffield Wednesday (@swfc) #swfc

Manager: Dave Jones (since March 2012)

Promotion: 14/1

Relegation: 6/1

It’s been six years since Sheffield Wednesday finished any higher than mid table in the second tier of English football and last season’s performance didn’t indicate that ‘record’ would be broken any time soon. Wednesday were one of four sides that lost more than nine games at home and a repeat of that form could be disastrous. A goalscorer who can hit double figures would help.

Watford (@watfordfcsays) #watfordfc

Manager: Gianfranco Zola (since July 2012)

Promotion: 9/2

Relegation: 25/1

Not for the first time, the favourites to win the playoff  final failed to show up and the Hornets – along with Brighton – may find it difficult to bounce back psychologically after the disappointment at Wembley. The best and worst case scenario: Watford could be the new Cardiff. Interpret that how you want, but foreign ownership and a liberal interpretation of the rules regarding loans haven’t exactly endeared them to everyone.

Wigan Athletic (@LaticsOfficial) #wafc

Manager: Owen Coyle (since June 2013)

Promotion: 9/2

Relegation: 33/1

It’s not that often that the reigning FA Cup holders are in the second tier (the last time that happened was when West Ham won the competition in 1980 and were promoted as Champions the following season) and despite the optimistic looking promotion odds, it’s worth remembering that the Latics will have eight extra league games as well as the distraction of playing in the Europa League and defending the FA Cup this season. Owen Coyle might want to ask Birmingham City fans how their European campaign panned out a couple of seasons ago.

Yeovil Town (@ytfcofficial) #ytfc

Manager: Gary Johnson (since January 2012)

Promotion: 66/1

Relegation: evens

Everyone’s favourites for instant relegation, despite the fact that in the last ten seasons only three clubs that have won the League One playoffs have been relegated immediately. Furthermore – and this is the first time I’m going to use the ‘broken record’ cliché this season – Gary Johnson has managerial experience at this level with Bristol City. The Glovers probably won’t do better than mid table, but momentum can be hard to resist – underestimate them at your peril.

nPower League One Play Off Final Preview

Only two places left in the Championship and tomorrow’s League One playoff final is between two sides that will be new to the Championship. Brentford last played in the second tier two decades ago (when it was the old Division One) while this season’s fourth placed finish is Yeovil’s best season in the Football League since they were promoted from the conference ten years ago.

Brentford are the favourites to win promotion, but I think this is going to be a very, very close game that could have a surprise ending. Here’s why:

This is the eight time in the last 20 seasons that the League One playoff final has been contested between the sides that finished third and fourth at the end of the season. However, five of those eight finals have been won by the lower placed team and the last time the third placed team beat the team that finished immediately below them was 13 years ago, when Gillingham beat Wigan.

Additionally, half of those eight finals needed extra time to separate the clubs – including last year’s showdown between Huddersfield and Sheffield United – and finals that go to extra time tend to come in bunches. Between 2007 and 2011, all the games were settled in 90 minutes, but six of the eight finals between 1999 and 2006 were undecided at full time.

BRENTFORD

League One Playoff Finalists 1997 (lost to Crewe), 2002 (lost to Stoke), losing semi finalists 1991, 1995, 2005 and 2006

Hardly an inspiring record is it? It’s not as if Brentford are going to Wembley with a lot of recent form either. You get the impression that they’re only favourites because they finished two points ahead of Yeovil.

The Bees have won only three of last ten games in League 1, their last win coming in a 3-2 victory against Portsmouth at Griffin Park in the middle of last month. Goals – from Bradley Wright-Phillips and Clayton Donaldson in the last five minutes gave Brentford a come from behind victory.

The West London side been in the playoff positions for half the season but were in with a chance of automatic promotion before the crazy ending to their game against Doncaster at the end of last month. To be honest, the Bees drew far too many games to really be considered auto promotion candidates – only four teams in League One featured in more stalemates this season.

YEOVIL

League One Playoff Finalists: 2007 (lost to Blackpool)

The Glovers were looking like a solid mid table team until they went on a run of eight wins between the end of December and the start of February, but since then they’ve manoeuvred themselves into the playoffs by being tough to beat.

This season’s final table is a little misleading: although Yeovil have one of the poorest defensive records of the top ten sides in League One, over the latter half of the season they were much tighter at the back.

Absolutely no problems up front though – only Swindon and Bournemouth scored more goals this season. Irish striker Paddy Madden is League One’s leading scorer and James Hayter scored the winning goal for Doncaster Rovers in the 2008 League One playoff final.

VERDICT: one of the overlooked aspects of this game is that whatever happens next season, Yeovil will be the best team in the West Country if they win promotion. Manager Gary Johnson, left back Jamie McAllister and midfielder Gavin Williams were all involved with Bristol City’s more successful seasons in the Championship.

Having won both league games against Brentford this season, I think Yeovil are underrated. The Bees have one of the worst records in the playoffs at any level and also seem to have acquired the habit of screwing up at the worst possible time this season. Defeat at home against Doncaster was bad enough, but they also let Swindon back into the game in injury time at the end the playoff semi final at Griffin Park and I think they may get found out tomorrow.

Update: congratulations to Yeovil Town, who were promoted to the Championship following their 2-1 win over Brentford yesterday.

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Wigan Athletic Relegated From The Premier League

After eight seasons in the top flight, FA Cup winners Wigan Athletic will be playing in the nPower Championship next season after a 4-1 defeat by Arsenal at The Emirates Stadium.

Although the usual statements about ‘bouncing straight back’ have already been issued, Wigan fans might want to take a look at what happened to Birmingham City a couple of seasons ago.  It wasn’t until the Blues had been knocked out of the Europa League that they started looking like serious candidates for promotion but they were knocked out of the playoffs in the semi finals and were no more than average this season.

As I’ve written on more than one occasion in the past, you probably need at least one season getting used to the Championship before you can win promotion from it. This season’s top six are a good example of that, but so is what happened to Wolves.

I’ll be back on Friday with a preview of the League One playoff final.

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