Bad Week For Warnock

Cardiff’s season has taken a remarkable turn for the worse over the last seven days. First this:

And then a 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa earlier this week, all of which means that the Bluebirds have been overtaken by Fulham in the race for automatic promotion.

Wolves – with an eleven point lead after beating Derby – are as good as promoted and arguably all that remains to be decided at the top is who finishes sixth. At the moment, that’s Millwall: the Lions have been unbeaten since New Year’s Day but have a very tough looking run in.

It’s more or less as you were at the bottom, although Bolton have now lost four straight and could easily find themselves switching places with Sunderland in the bottom three if that form continues. Back to the Trotters in a couple of paragraphs.

Four games to keep a look out for this weekend: four of the bottom six play each other and depending on how other results go, Wolves could win promotion this weekend.

In no particular order, Burton v Derby, Reading v Sunderland and Wolves v Birmingham (Sunday, noon, Sky Sports Football) are the highlights this weekend, but Bolton’s trip to Barnsley seems to have the most at stake for the participants. Until last week’s win over Sheffield United, the Tykes hadn’t won at Oakwell since the start of November, but they’ve not won consecutive home games since August and haven’t won consecutive games at any venue since Halloween. Bolton’s away record is just as bad: one win all season and it’s been over three years since they scored more than two goals and won in an away game in the Championship.

Head to head: since 2000 the clubs have met four times in the league at Oakwell and Barnsley have yet to win a game. Their last win at home against Bolton was in their only season in the Premier League, way back in August 1997.

Finally this week – and it wasn’t a great surprise – Mick McCarthy walked away from the Ipswich job earlier this week. He was expected to remain until the end of the season, but the fans reaction to a substitution during the win over Barnsley earlier this week was the last straw.

Update: Wolves have won promotion to the Premier League. More next week.

 

GOTW: Cardiff v Wolves

Not sure if doing very little whilst eating chocolate and drinking Banyuls is the best preparation for the run in, but nonetheless I’m back with another post after an agreeable week in France.

The first item of business is that Mick McCarthy will leave Ipswich at the end of the season. Back in August I wondered if that might have happened earlier this season and to be honest this isn’t really much of a surprise.

Easter didn’t really clarify anything at either end of the table although there were a few eye catching results – I don’t think anyone was expecting Sunderland to win so convincingly at Pride Park!

There’s only one choice for the game of the week: Cardiff v Wolves (7:45pm this evening, Sky Sports Football) is arguably a contender for the game of the season.

A seven game winning streak at home is always impressive, but five of those victories have come in games against teams that have been struggling all season and the Bluebirds haven’t kept a home clean sheet since the end of February. That being said, Cardiff have a very good record against their immediate rivals – one defeat in seven games against the other clubs currently in the top six – but this evening’s game is their thirteenth without losing: you know what that usually means.

Wolves have only won half of their last six aways but finish the season at Bolton and Sunderland – useful games when you’ve got a six point lead and one of those clubs looks done and dusted this season. The problem is that Wolves have lost by at least two goals at both Aston Villa and Fulham since Valentine’s Day and although another defeat wouldn’t have that much impact on their chances of automatic promotion, realistically this is the last game they could afford to lose.

Head to head: Wolves have only won three of their last ten trips to Cardiff for league games, but that’s also three wins in their last six visits – the most recent victory was just over three years ago when Bakary Sako scored the winner and Peter Whittingham was sent off. There hasn’t been a draw between the teams in the Welsh capital since August 2005, but both teams have scored in seven of their last ten encounters in Cardiff.

Also worth noting: Birmingham v Burton, Derby v Bolton and Millwall v Bristol City, all of which have implications at both ends of the table. The Blues have really responded to Garry Monk’s appointment, Bolton are arguably (if not mathematically) safe and the game at the New Den could go some way to deciding the club that secures the final playoff place.

Don’t forget there’s a midweek programme next week – if there’s time, I might be back on Tuesday for a quick look, but otherwise the next post will be here next Friday.

Update: ‘…this evening’s game is their thirteenth without losing: you know what that usually means.’

You’ll see the highlights in next Friday’s post, but Cardiff somehow contrived to miss two injury time penalties after Ruben Neves gave Wolves the lead with a sublime free kick. Neil Warnock swore a lot too 🙂

Easter Preview 2018

Before anything else, it won’t have been a surprise to many that Jaap Stam was sacked by Reading earlier this week.

The Royals have taken a huge step backwards this season and although I don’t think they’ll be relegated, a change was absolutely necessary.

Now on to the predictions, such as they are. Having had a quick look at the last five Championship tables after the last games in March, I think it’s pretty safe to say there are only a couple of issues remaining:

Wolves and Cardiff are as good as promoted. The only time in the last five seasons where the top two clubs at the end of March haven’t been promoted was in 2015/16, when Brighton’s terrible form enabled Middlesbrough to overtake them.

As for the playoffs, NO team outside the top four at the end of March has gone on to be promoted after winning at Wembley. Even though any of the eight remaining teams in the top ten could still qualify for the playoffs, Aston Villa and Fulham are six points ahead of Derby and I can’t see any  reason to change my pre-season prediction that Fulham would go up. Villa seem to have a serious case of the wobbles.

At the bottom, in three of the last five seasons all three teams that occupied the red zone at the end of March were relegated. In the remaining two campaigns, two of the three clubs in the bottom three went down: at the end of March 2013, three of the bottom four sides went on to drop out of the Championship. Based on those figures, Sunderland are probably already down and it’s more than likely that whoever is in 22nd place at close of play on the last day of the month will join them. I’d not be surprised if that’s either Birmingham or Burton.

The question is this: are there any games over the Easter period that will make any difference to the scenario I’ve just outlined?

Friday 31st March

Cardiff v Burton (3pm), Middlesbrough v Wolves (5:30pm) and Derby v Sunderland (7:45pm). The latter pair are televised: Middlesbrough v Wolves is the one to watch.

Boro’s resurgence is based on a six game unbeaten streak but they’ve yet to beat any of the teams above them and have scored just four goals in eight games against those opponents. Wolves have only won two of their last six away from Molineux but they’ve been comprehensively beaten at both Aston Villa and Fulham recently and haven’t won at Middlesbrough for over 60 years!

Monday 2nd April

Burton v Middlesbrough (3:00pm)

Tuesday 3rd April

Aston Villa v Reading (7:45pm), Bolton v Birmingham (8pm). Neither of these are televised: Bolton v Birmingham is the one to watch out for.

Next scheduled post will be here on Friday April 6th, I’m off to France for a week.

GOTW: Derby v Cardiff

As Jimmy Greaves used to say ‘football’s a funny old game.’

On Saturday evening, Villa did this:

On Tuesday, Steve Bruce’s side lost 3-1 at home to QPR. That was Rangers’ third away win in the Championship since this time last year and may have irreperably damaged the Villans chance of automatic promotion.

In a theme I’ll return to next week, time is running out for those clubs other than the current top four who want to win promotion automatically. Millwall have been in superb form recently, but have they left it too late to pull off a major surprise?

The bottom of the table is far less clearer. Despite being five points from safety with nine games left, Sunderland could still finish in mid table but they’d have to win all of their remaining matches. Any of the five clubs immediately above the Black Cats could still find themselves in League One next August.

As the game of the week is the last before the international break, I’ll come to that after mentioning a couple of Saturday’s games that will have an impact at both ends of the table. Wolves entertain Burton at 3pm and Aston Villa travel to Bolton (5:30pm, Sky Sports Football and Main Event): I can’t see Wolves having any problems with Burton, but be advised that Bolton have only lost two games at home since mid October.

Derby v Cardiff

(Noon on Sunday, Sky Sports Football/Main Event)

This is the Rams’ last home game against any of the teams currently above them and it’s one they need to win. That’s easier said than done: one win in their last six home games since Christmas tells me that Derby are more likely to slip out of playoff contention completely than win promotion. Looking back to my pre-season preview, the Rams are about where I’d expected them to be: one of the better sides in the competition, but not one of the best and although they’ve improved, it’s been incremental rather than spectacular as it has been with Cardiff.

The Bluebirds haven’t lost away from home since New Year’s Day and have lost only one of their seven games against the other teams currently in the top six. They’ve got to face Wolves and Villa in a four day period next month, but those games may be as relevant then as they appear now. I can’t remember if I’ve done this yet, so I’m going to put my hands up and say that I genuinely did not believe that the Bluebirds would be doing this well in 2017/18.

Head to head in the league at Derby: the hosts have won four of the last ten meetings, with their last win was in November 2015 which is about the same time David Wagner was appointed Huddersfield manager and the Football League was rebranded as the EFL. The remaining six matches have been split between draws and Cardiff wins but the Bluebirds have only lost one of the six encounters – worth remembering on Sunday morning.

Verdict: I can’t see Cardiff losing this one. They’re unbeaten in eleven – which means they’re due a defeat soon – but I don’t think Derby are the team to end that run. The Rams have only kept two clean sheets in their six home games since Christmas and have blown leads against Sheffield United and Norwich in that period.

Update: the game was called off due to the unseasonable snow. Needless to say, Neil Warnock wasn’t happy – he can’t control the weather.

Back next week with the Easter Preview, which will have to tide you over until the first weekend of April…

GOTW: Aston Villa v Wolves

I’ll start with another managerial casualty.

To no-one’s great surprise, Steve Cotterill was sacked last weekend and replaced almost immediately as Birmingham City boss by Garry Monk.

The only meaningful change in the table after the midweek programme was that Middlesbrough moved into the playoff spots after winning at St Andrew’s in Monk’s first game in charge of the Blues. Boro are now only three points behind Derby: the Rams’ wretched run of form continued last weekend, when they lost at home to Fulham

Aston Villa v Wolves

(tomorrow, 5:30pm, Sky Sports Main Event/Sky Sports Football)

This game is a massive red flag for both teams – as you’ll read in a minute, it’s an incredibly well matched contest.

Going back to last season, Villa put together consecutive nine game undefeated streaks at home but this is the tenth home game since they lost at home to Sheffield Wednesday at the start of November. Steve Bruce’s side also haven’t been that impressive when it comes to games against the other sides in the top six: they drew with Middlesbrough in mid October and beat Fulham a few weeks later and – with all due respect to Preston – I’d go as far as to say that Wolves will provide their first real challenge at Villa Park since the start of the year.

It’s a surprisingly similar story to Wolves’ away form against the other clubs in the top six. With trips to Middlesbrough and Cardiff yet to come, their only success on the road against another top six side was at Derby on the opening weekend of the season. Although their recent nine game undefeated run away from Molineux ended at Fulham last month, four of their six wins during that streak were against teams that are currently in the bottom half of the table and one was courtesy of an injury time winner at Bristol City.

Head to head: Villa haven’t beaten Wolves at home in a league game since December 2003. Three of the last four games have been drawn and it’s been almost seven years since Wolves beat Villa on their own patch.

Verdict: strangely enough, due to the late kick off time both sides will know pretty much what they need to do based on the result of Cardiff’s game against Birmingham. If – as expected – the Bluebirds drive another nail into the coffin containing the Blues’ chances of staying up, then Wolves need to avoid defeat to maintain a four point cushion at the top. If Cardiff somehow manage to lose and Villa win, then Wolves would still be six points ahead at the top but Villa would be just one point behind Cardiff City.

The bottom line is that Wolves don’t need to win this game but Aston Villa probably do. I’ll go as far as saying that Wolves probably won’t lose, but this is as good a chance as any for Villa to prove that they’re genuine candidates for automatic promotion.

Other games of interest: I’ve already mentioned Cardiff v Birmingham, but Barnsley‘s trip to Middlesbrough has implications at both ends of the table. The only other televised game is Nottingham Forest v Derby (Sunday 2:30pm, Sky Sports Football): it’s been just over five years since the Rams won at the City Ground.

There are some midweek catch up games next week, but I’ll be back on Friday for the last round of games before the next international ‘break’. Looking a little further ahead, there will be a post before Easter, but not over the Easter weekend.