Game Of The Week: Birmingham v Huddersfield

First of all this week, I’d like to congratulate Brighton and Newcastle for winning promotion to the Premier League. Their last games will determine which club wins the title – Newcastle visit Cardiff this evening (Sky Sports 1, 7:45pm kick off) whilst Brighton entertain Bristol City tomorrow (Sky Sports 1, 5:30pm kick off) knowing that a win would make their lead unassailable.

Otherwise, there are all kinds of permutations at both ends of the table on the penultimate weekend of the season, which will no doubt get even more complicated after tomorrow’s games. The one outstanding match tomorrow is:

Birmingham v Huddersfield

Here are a couple of things to think about.

  • On the evening of Saturday 26th November 2016, both of these clubs were in the playoff positions.
  • Huddersfield haven’t lost a league game at St Andrew’s since November 2000 – the Terrier have won three of the last four encounters in the league in Birmingham.

The Harry Redknapp ‘era’ (interlude may be more appropriate in the long term) started badly with a derby defeat at Aston Villa last Sunday but with the Blues having both lost five of their last games at St. Andrew’s and facing a playoff team, the short term prospects for survival are looking dicey.

Huddersfield are in the playoffs after a win at Wolves earlier this week, but they cannot afford to rest on their laurels. Home advantage in the first leg – regardless of their opponents – should be their priority.

QPR v Nottingham Forest

Both clubs could still be overtaken if Blackburn win their last two games so this is a game that neither can afford to lose.

QPR are in danger of dropping back into the third tier for the first time since 2003/04 because they’ve lost six straight. At the start of last month they looked as if they were comfortable in mid-table and they’ve not got a bad record at Loftus Road against teams below them – but any more defeats could be disastrous. I’ll probably revisit this idea in the summer, but regardless of which division they’re in come August, Ian Holloway is living on borrowed time.

Despite having won precisely one more point than Rangers this season, Forest haven’t won an away game since the end of November and have lost nine of their last twelve road trips, failing to score in seven of those matches. They’re probably in luck that their last game of the season is against Ipswich: Forest have only won two of their last ten league games against Rangers in the last two decades.

Reading v Wigan

The Royals could still miss out on a playoff berth due to their extremely dodgy defensive record in away games: Wigan are all but down but will no doubt try their best to postpone the almost inevitable for another week.

Before anyone gets carried away though, Reading haven’t beaten Wigan in Berkshire since a 3-2 victory in the Premier League in September 2007 and their current nine game unbeaten streak at the Mad House will have to end at some point. Are Wigan the team to do that or will we need to wait for the playoffs?

You may have to wait until Sunday for the update – for some reason I’ve become very popular this Bank Holiday weekend and I’m out both this evening and tomorrow.

Update: Sunderland have been relegated from the Premier League; Wigan have been relegated from the Championship to League One. The playoffs will be between Fulham, Huddersfield, Reading and Sheffield Wednesday.

Newcastle Win Promotion

Promotion was always on the cards after Newcastle cemented their position in the top two in mid-October and their return to the Premier League was confirmed with a 4-1 win over Preston yesterday evening.

However, their chances of winning the title depend almost entirely on what happens in the game between Brighton and Bristol City on Saturday evening, even if Newcastle win at Cardiff on Friday – which is when I’ll be back.

Post Easter Update

Yesterday Brighton were promoted to the Premier League after beating Wigan and Huddersfield failed to beat Derby. The Latics are in big trouble after losing at Brighton – they’re five points from safety with nine to play for.

Gianfranco Zola resigned as Birmingham City manager following a disastrous spell at the club: the Blues won two games from the 24 during his tenure. He was replaced almost immediately by Harry Redknapp, with former Bristol City boss Steve Cotterill as his assistant.

Sheffield United won League 1 and will return to the Championship for the first time since they were relegated in 2010/11.

There *may* be a post on Friday, but we had another addition to the family yesterday and any post might be a bit basic as we’ve got to travel half way across the country to visit the new baby.

Easter: 2016/17 Edition

Here we are again: a week before Easter, I’m off to France on Monday an so here’s the annual post about how the rest of the season is going to pan out. But before we go any further, here’s the frankly ridiculous refereeing brain fart by Keith Stroud during the Newcastle/Burton game on Wednesday:

Newcastle won regardless of Stroud’s mistake and with Brighton beating Birmingham the top two are as good as up with the only remaining issue being who wins the title. As usual the playoffs are a little bit more complicated – it’s still mathematically possible that Preston could still reach the post season.

It’s a little clearer at the bottom: Rotherham are already down and with Wigan seven points adrift of Blackburn, it still looks likely that the last relegation spot will be between Blackburn, Bristol City and Nottingham Forest.

TOMORROW

Nottingham Forest v Huddersfield Town

Forest haven’t been any lower than 20th this season, but their recent form has been awful and they could drop into the bottom three if they lose this one and results elsewhere go against them. That being said, they’re far better at the City Ground – two defeats in the last six – than on their travels and they’ve only lost once at home against any of the other clubs in the top six. Fun fact: the last drawn league game between these two in Nottingham was in October 1972.

Wigan Athletic v Rotherham United

An absolute must win for the hosts, but even a victory might not save them from the drop.

Sheffield Wednesday v Newcastle United (Sky Sports 1, 5:30)

Newcastle haven’t lost at any of the top six teams this season, but Sheffield Wednesday’s victory against Huddersfield in January is the only time the hosts have beaten any of their immediate rivals for promotion at Hillsborough. On paper this is more important for Wednesday than Newcastle, but I’m sure Rafa Benitez has exhorted his team to finish as Champions and to some extent the pressure is off Newcastle.

GOOD FRIDAY

Nottingham Forest v Blackburn Rovers

As I mentioned above, Forest are much better at home than they are on the road and with Rovers having not won an away game since the end of November, a defeat for either side at the City Ground could leave them with a mountain to climb before Easter Monday’s matches. However…Blackburn have only lost two league games in ten at the City Ground since 1994.

Newcastle United v Leeds United (Sky Sports 1, kick off 7:45pm)

First meeting between the sides at St. James’ Park since January 2004, which seems almost inconceivable to me. They’ve met in the League Cup since then, but Leeds do not have a good record on Tyneside. Good choice for a televised game though.

EASTER MONDAY

Blackburn Rovers v Bristol City

This looks like the game that could settle the last relegation spot. Rovers have been halfway decent at Ewood Park against teams in the bottom half of the table and haven’t lost at home to City since December 1990. The Robins have only recorded three away wins all season and may have to rely on their home performances to give themselves a fighting chance of staying up.

Brighton v Wigan Athletic

Reading v Rotherham United

From this point onwards I’ll be providing the usual service, but as it stands these are the games that will matter at both ends of the table:

Saturday 22nd April

Burton Albion v Leeds

Huddersfield Town v Fulham

Nottingham Forest v Reading

Saturday 29th April

Reading v Wigan

Brighton v Bristol City (Sky Sports 1, kick off 5:30pm)

Looks as if it was deliberately chosen to showcase Brighton’s promotion and/or City’s relegation: if that’s the case, it should be compelling viewing, especially if both issues can be decided simultaneously.

Sunday 7th May – last day of the season, all games kick off at noon.

Burton Albion v Reading

Sheffield Wednesday v Fulham

Wigan Athletic v Leeds United

There’s a chance that we could see a familiar name return to the Championship from League One tomorrow, so I’ll update this post sometime tomorrow evening.

Last Midweek Preview Of The Season

Last weekend’s game of the week was settled by a first half goal from Yann Kermogant…

….however, the real drama came at Huddersfield, when Jackson Irvine’s winner for Burton came deep into stoppage time, some of which was due to the furore over Dean Whitehead’s second yellow card after 88 minutes.

Huddersfield’s recent poor form couldn’t have come at a worse time and they’ve now got a battle to preserve home advantage in the first leg of the playoffs on their hands rather than chasing automatic promotion. Fulham moved into the last playoff place after winning at Rotherham, who were relegated.

There’ll be a more detailed look at the bottom of the table on Friday, but realistically the situation is who is going to join Rotherham next season. Wigan look doomed, but there are currently three likely contenders: Blackburn, Bristol City and Nottingham Forest, but the results of a couple of games over the couple of days might add some clarity to the situation:

THIS EVENING

Reading v Blackburn Rovers (this evening, 8pm)

The Royals have suffered one defeat in the last ten at the Mad House and have a very easy run in at home. As I’ve written over the last few weeks, it’s their away form that will probably let them down in the playoffs. Blackburn’s narrow defeat at Brighton last weekend was their first defeat in the league since Valentine’s Day, but Rovers haven’t actually won on the road since November. They have a decent record at Reading though: only one defeat in their last five visits.

Sheffield Wednesday v Rotherham is live on Sky Sports 1 (7:45pm kickoff) – Wednesday can move back into the playoff positions if they win and Fulham fail to win at Derby, but I have a hunch that now that Rotherham have succumbed the inevitable, they could be a match for their Yorkshire neighbours.

TOMORROW

Newcastle v Burton Albion (tomorrow, 7:45pm)

Fun fact: Newcastle don’t have any more 3:00pm kick offs at St. James’ Park this season, but that probably doesn’t matter. After picking up their first home win since February and establishing a ten point lead over Huddersfield with seven games to play, it’s fair to say that Newcastle’s return to the top flight is almost inevitable.

That’s not to say that Burton will be pushovers. One defeat in their last six has left the Brewers in charge of their own destiny (as our American friends like to say) and although this will be their toughest away game before the end of the season, if they can reproduce their recent form against Leeds and Reading at the Pirelli Stadium they’ll be featuring in our pre-season preview over the summer.

Huddersfield v Norwich is live on Sky Sports 1 at 7:45pm – which might have made more sense in November, which is the last time both teams were in the top six.

Back on Friday with the Run In Special.