Two big stories in the nPower Championship this week: QPR lost for the first time on Friday and Gary Speed left Sheffield United.
As I wrote last week, it was a case of when rather than if QPR suffered their first defeat and they were comprehensively outplayed by Watford, who were 3-0 up before the hour thanks to goals from Danny Graham (2) and on loan Birmingham City midfielder Jordon Mutch.
Despite Watford’s unexpected win, the situation at the top of the table remained pretty much the same on Saturday evening. Once again Cardiff and Swansea failed to take advantage of the leaders dropping points. Swansea were lucky to earn a point at home against Millwall and the Bluebirds lost at Middlesbrough: Jonathan Howson’s winner at Burnley showed that Leeds have now adapted to life in the Championship – the Yorkshire side had to come from behind at Turf Moor and became only the second team to win there this season.
There wasn’t a great deal of change in the relegation zone either, but with Preston picking up their first win in eight games, there are now only four points separating the bottom six clubs. Scunthorpe made their first – but probably not their last – appearance in the bottom three and Boro’s victory propelled them to the heady heights of 21st place.
Although there haven’t been any postponements yet, the winter weather is supposed to be returning this weekend and so it’s worth checking to see if your team will be in action. This week’s programme begins on Friday with Doncaster v Middlesbrough – the visitors have won the last three league meetings in Yorkshire but share the worst away record in the Championship with Crystal Palace; despite being in 16th place Donny are one of the most improved sides at home this season and have only lost once at the Keepmoat stadium this season.
There are three candidates for game of the week on Saturday. Norwich travel to Coventry for a game between two clubs who are looking to maintain or improve their current positions, but it’s Aidy Boothroyd’s side that appear to have the advantages. The Sky Blues have become a force to be reckoned with at the Ricoh Arena and have also improved defensively, keeping clean sheets in their last four games. The Canaries have one of the best away records in the Championship, but only one of their four away wins has come against a team that’s in the top six and they have only won twice in the last twenty league games at Coventry.
Sheffield United v Swansea is the only game between sides in the top and bottom six this weekend and it’ll be interesting to see how the Blades get on without Gary Speed. The ‘will he/won’t he’ saga of Speed’s courtship by the Welsh FA was finally resolved this week and it has to be said that the Blades probably made the right decision to release Speed from his contract. He lost half his games in charge of United; with a couple of obvious candidates for the job now available (Sam Allardyce and Chris Houghton), a manager with experience in the Championship that is capable of getting United out of their current situation is required.
Whoever takes over at Bramall Lane will have to shore up Sheffield United’s home record. They’ve lost five times at Bramall Lane already (they only lost three home games last season) and have failed to score in four of their nine home games so far. Not the best time to be facing one of the six clubs in the Championship with a positive away goal difference that hasn’t lost an away game since the end of September.
Saturday afternoon’s big game is Leeds v QPR, but it would be premature to write off the visitors after losing for the first time last week. The key to this game is whether Leeds can break down QPR’s stingy defence – two of the five goals Queens Park Rangers have conceded on their travels came at Derby at the end of August – without compromising their own. Despite their league position, Leeds have the worst home defensive record in the Championship and opponents have scored more than once in half of the games at Elland Road this season. Yet another away draw for QPR is on the cards.
The last game of the weekend takes place at Portman Road – yes, Ipswich are on telly again (5:00pm Sky Sports 2), presumably because it’s Roy Keane v Sven-Goran Eriksson, but there are a couple of points worth making here. Firstly, none of the last ten Championship games shown on Sky have featured teams from the top ten playing each other but three of those ten have been between teams currently in the bottom six. Secondly, anyone that tunes in might be watching one of the last games featuring Roy Keane as Ipswich manager.
There are four teams that have suffered a serious decline in both home and away form compared to last season: two of them (Leicester and Middlesbrough) have new managers, Nottingham Forest remain an enigma and that leaves Ipswich. The cold hard facts for Ipswich fans are as follows: six games without a win in the Championship, only one win in the last five home games and only Preston and Scunthorpe have lost more home games.
The good news for Ipswich is that Leicester’s away form this season is nothing to write home about and the Foxes have lost seven of their last ten trips to Portman Road, but having won at both Barnsley and Leeds this season, Leicester’s 5-1 demolition of Doncaster Rovers last weekend might be an indication that things might have to get worse for Ipswich before they get better.