Derby v Brighton: 2nd Leg Preview

A quick post today as I can’t guarantee I’ll be around tomorrow. The game is on Sky Sports 1, kick off 5:15pm.

How the second leg pans out depends on the approaches that Steve McClaren and Oscar Garcia want to take under the circumstances. As it stands, Brighton need to win 2-0 to qualify for the final without extra time and need a 1-0 win to force extra time.

Derby have won eight of their last ten home games by an average of 3.5 goals (which is a better strike rate than for the rest of the season -see below) and have only lost once at home (Millwall) since NewYear’s Day. Although they beat Brighton and QPR at the iPro Stadium this season, they lost all three home games against Leicester, Burnley and Wigan without scoring; I know it sounds obvious, but if you can stop Derby scoring you can get a positive result.

Brighton have won four of their last ten aways and only lost twice in that sequence. On paper a 4-1 win at Leicester was their best result of the season, but that was after the Champions had won promotion and I’m not sure that result is a reliable indicator of how good the Seagulls actually are. If there’s one thing Oscar should be worried about, the defence has only kept one away clean sheet in the last five and they need to do that tomorrow.

Head to head: Derby have only lost two of their last ten home games against Brighton in the league and kept clean sheets in half of those games.


Brighton need to score and to stop Derby scoring to stand any chance of reaching the playoff final. The problem for the Seagulls is that Derby and Leicester both averaged exactly two goals per home game in 2013/14; fourteen teams – including Yeovil and Birmingham – scored more away goals than Brighton did this season. If the Rams score first, this semi final is over.

Will Hughes opened the scoring for Derby and the Rams won 4-1.

Wigan v QPR: First Leg Preview

The lower placed side has qualified for the final in six of the last ten seasons – including four of the last five – but only Crystal Palace and Burnley have been promoted in the same period. As I never tire of pointing out, the fourth placed team hasn’t been promoted via the Championship playoffs since 1999)

Wigan more or less secured a playoff place in mid March with a win over Ipswich but since then their form has nosedived with only four wins in their last dozen games. The most damning statistic about their performance at home this season is that although they only lost four games, they failed to beat any of the other top six sides and only landed all three points once against any of the teams in the bottom six. That doesn’t look like a team that enjoys playing teams with something to play for.

The Latics were one of only five teams to concede less than 50 goals this season, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering three of their four regulars were defenders with Premier League experience. Although it’s nice to have a goalscoring defender like Leon Barnett in your team, when he’s third top scorer with four goals despite not having found the back of the net since mid March you’ve got a problem. When midfielders Nick Powell and Jordi Gomez are your joint top scorers with seven goals each, it’s an indication that you need at least one striker capable of reaching double figures. I’d expect Uwe Roesler to be in the market for a striker regardless of which division Wigan find themselves in at the start of 2014/15.

Despite an impressive start and being in the top six all season, QPR never looked liked automatic promotion candidates following an awful February when they earned one point from the four games they played. Additionally, they were terrible away from home: only two wins against teams in the top half, none at all against the other playoff teams and relegated Yeovil scored more goals on the road than Rangers did. Part of that problem was the absence of leading scorer Charlie Austin, who missed twelve games through injury between January and April: despite missing that many games, he’s still scored almost three times as many goals as the next highest goalscorer…West Ham loanee Ravel Morrison.

Head to head: four of the six games between the clubs in Lancashire have ended in draws; QPR have only won once at Wigan (September 2001)


One of these teams will reach Wembley, but it’s far from clear which one and to be honest I don’t think either of them will go up this season. Neither side have ever been promoted immediately after suffering relegation at the end of the previous season and as I’ve mentioned countless times before, only two clubs in the last 20 years have been relegated and won promotion via the playoffs at the end of the next season. If – and it’s a big if – QPR get at least a draw tonight, I’d expect them to qualify for the final.

I’ll update this post with the score ASAP but I’m at a birthday party this evening.

Update: 0-0

Anti-Climaxes In Prospect On Last Day Of Term

Just two issues to be settled on the last day of the regular season: the last playoff team and who will join Yeovil and Barnsley in League One next season.

At the top there are three games that will determine the last playoff team. Despite what you might have read elsewhere, it’s still mathematically possible for Blackburn to reach the playoffs but it would take some very surprising results for that to happen. Long term readers will remember that it’s this type of team that could have a big impact in the following season: Leicester scraped into the playoffs last season but have won the title at a canter in 2013/14.

Blackburn v Wigan

Rovers have gone about their business quietly this season and it’s a tribute to those involved that they’re still in the hunt for a playoff spot with one game left. Unfortunately, they’ve not been higher than eighth this season and although they’ve not lost at home since mid March, they’ve not done well enough against the top six to be serious candidates for promotion this season. Next season might be another matter altogether.

Nottingham Forest v Brighton (12:15pm, Sky Sports 2)

Brighton are unbeaten in their last seven games but they’ve only won once in their last five road trips and that was against a Leicester side that had already been promoted. Although they probably won’t lose at the City Ground, Albion haven’t beaten Forest there for almost ten years.

Reading v Burnley (12:15pm, Sky Sports 1 – probably the one I’m going to watch)

A point against the Clarets might be good enough to see Nigel Adkins’ side into the post season, but a win against a team that’s already reached the Promised Land would finish the job off nicely. The problem for the hosts is that they’ve not beaten any of the other teams in the top six at home this season and the recent 2-0 victory over Middlesbrough was their first home victory since the end of January. The Royals have won five of the last six league encounters with tomorrow’s opponents in Berkshire.

I still think that the last place is Reading’s to lose, although if they were that good they should have had this spot tied up weeks ago and if they go on to win promotion back to the Premier League it might be a disaster. Brighton haven’t improved enough to merit serious consideration as promotion candidates and as I mentioned above, it’s probably a season too early for Blackburn even though the signs at Ewood Park are encouraging.

At the bottom, it’s even more congested with four clubs attempting to avoid the last relegation spot. All of them have things in common: terrible home records and an inability to score.

Blackpool v Charlton Athletic

The Tangerines need to be extremely careful here. If they lose to the Addicks at home, their appalling goal difference – only Millwall, Doncaster and Barnsley are worse – could be the end of them. Blackpool haven’t won at home since beating Huddersfield in March: that was only their second home win in the Championship since before Christmas.

Bolton Wanderers v Birmingham City

A recent mini revival in their away form with wins at Doncaster and Millwall combined with the fact that they’ve not lost three consecutive away games since last autumn might give even the most pessimistic Blues fan something to cling on to, but otherwise the diagnosis is bleak. Other games need to go Birmingham’s way and they’ve only won once in their last ten visits to Bolton.

Leicester City v Doncaster Rovers

Doncaster’s away record against teams in the top half of the table: played eleven, drawn two, lost nine. Goals scored: six, goals conceded 26. Doncaster’s away league record at Leicester: played 15, won one (in December 1902), drawn one, lost 13. Goals scored: 11. Goals conceded: 45.

If Birmingham lose tomorrow, Doncaster will be playing in the Championship next season.

Millwall v Bournemouth

Since he took over at The New Den, Ian Holloway has presided over five wins but three of those have happened in the current seven game unbeaten streak and the Lions need to win in order to stay in the Championship. The problem is that they’ve not won in South London for nine games and Bournemouth have only lost once in their last six road trips, but since the turn of the century Millwall have only lost once at home to the Cherries. I don’t normally pay much attention to manager of the month awards, but I was surprised to see that Holloway was on the short list for April’s award: the nomination seems to have been based solely on away form.

Anything could happen. Birmingham and Doncaster are the bookies favourites for the drop but although neither Blackpool or Millwall are entirely safe, the Tangerines in particular are capable of playing far better than their position suggests and I’m 100% certain that Ian Holloway will be able to inspire Millwall to get the result they need. I’ll go for Doncaster being annihilated by Leicester and Birmingham surrendering meekly at Bolton.

Updates as soon as the games finish including the playoff schedule.

Thursday: Brighton v Derby (Sky Sports 1, 7:30pm)

Friday: Wigan v QPR (Sky Sports 1, 7:30pm)

Doncaster are down.

Leicester Win The Title, But Almost Everything Else Is Up For Grabs

Leicester won the Championship on Tuesday night thanks to a win at Bolton. With two games still to play, the Foxes have already won more points than eight of the last ten winners and although they can’t overtake the 106 points Reading earned in 2005/06, they could still equal the 102 point haul Newcastle managed in 2009/10. While I’m on the subject, with 89 points Burnley would have won the title in half of the last ten seasons – and in the last 20 years only the 2002/03 Leicester side won more points whilst finishing as runners up.

So the remaining issues are: the last playoff place, which may very well go to the last game of the season and for only the second time in the last ten seasons it’s looking increasingly likely that there will be a playoff team that didn’t reach 70pts: Leicester achieved that last season, which – once again – indicates that next season’s promotion candidates are more than likely competing at the top of the table. More of that before next season, but my guess is that Reading will nick the last playoff spot on goals scored, but I wouldn’t recommend a trip to the bookies armed with that information.

Relegation: if Yeovil lose at Brighton this evening (Sky Sports 1, 7:45pm), they’re done for. Who will probably join them is still up in the air, but when all is said and done this season it’s noticeable that Barnsley, Charlton, Birmingham and Blackpool have all been far worse this season than in 2012/13 and all of those clubs have managed to score one less goal per game in this campaign. Of course, they can’t all be relegated but the survivors from that group will be amongst the favourites for the drop at the start of next season. I don’t want to sound too pessimistic about newly promoted Brentford surviving next season, but the Bees haven’t managed consecutive seasons in the second tier since the early 1950s.

There are three ‘top v bottom’ clashes worth keeping an eye on this weekend:

QPR v Millwall

If anyone needs to avoid the Curse of Fourth then it’s Rangers: the easiest way to do that would be for them to lose their remaining matches but that would be a ridiculous scenario. Although Millwall haven’t won at Loftus Road since February 1989, QPR have only won on the last seven league meetings on their own patch. That being said, Harry Redknapp’s side have taken 31 of the 33 points available from home games against teams currently in the bottom half of the table and Millwall have only lost two of their five away games against the current top six. Expect the unexpected: the Lions have been performing far better on their travels than at the New Den recently and actually have something to play for.

Wigan v Blackpool

If there’s a chink in Wigan’s armour, it’s their less than convincing performances at home against teams that have struggled: one win, three draws and a defeat to the current bottom six at the DW is part of the reason why the Latics haven’t quite confirmed their participation in the playoffs yet. Blackpool have conceded five at Reading and Derby and three at Leicester this season and although the Tangerines have won two of their last three league games at Wigan, a fifteen game streak without an away win looks ominous to me. This could be the last meeting between these clubs for a while.

Doncaster v Reading

Rovers are still up to their necks in it: five games without a win and three straight home defeats after not losing any of the previous eight matches at the Keepmoat is not a comfortable position to be in, especially as only Blackpool and Charlton have scored fewer goals this season. Donny have beaten Leicester, QPR and Wigan at home this season and so the Royals might be in for a tough afternoon: the problem for the hosts is that they’ve not actually beaten Reading at home since a remarkable 7-5 win in September 1982 despite seven attempts to do so. Additionally, Reading have only lost three of their eleven away games against the sides in the bottom half: the last of those was at Middlesbrough in December.

I’ll hopefully be back before next Friday, although the last of this season’s catch up games take place on Tuesday night and could have a big impact on both ends of the table. Wigan travel to Birmingham in a match that could be vital for both teams if results on Saturday don’t go their way.

Update: to no-one’s great surprise, both Barnsley and Yeovil were relegated. Birmingham v Wigan is going to be a massive game on Tuesday night: the Blues lost at home to Leeds yesterday and are now in the bottom three.

Burnley Up, Yeovil Almost Down

First of all, apologies for not posting yesterday – I got back far later than I’d anticipated.

After a dramatic afternoon in the Championship, it’s congratulations to Burnley, who won promotion to the Premier League after four seasons in the second tier. First half goals from Ashley Barnes and Michael Kightly ensured a win over Wigan.

At the bottom of the table, Yeovil conceded a last minute goal to Huddersfield at Huish Park and now have to rely on other teams slipping up to preserve their status as a Championship team. Blackpool dropped into the bottom three for the first time this season despite coming behind to earn a point at Brighton and look as if they’re in deep trouble.

I’ll definitely be back on Friday 🙂