GOTW: Millwall v Sheffield United

The big news last weekend was that Leeds lost at home for the first time since March.

Two Che Adams goals in the first half an hour gave Birmingham their first away win since April and their third victory at Elland Road in the last five years.

And yes, I have tried to look for official highlights from either team but none seem to exist.

That result – combined with Middlesbrough’s goalless draw with Swansea – means that there’s now only a three point gap between Leeds and seventh placed Brentford.

At the bottom it was a fairly straightforward win for Reading:

The victories for Birmingham and Reading change the landscape at the bottom a little bit: nobody is in danger of being cast adrift this weekend but I’m beginning to wonder if Alex Neil will last the entire season at Preston.

There are two teams left in the League Cup: Derby (who beat Manchester United on penalties) and Nottingham Forest (who beat Stoke). For any casual Premier League fans reading this, Derby are slightly better than they were last season: Donald Trump could be their manager and they’d still finish in the top six without getting promoted.

We reach the ten game milestone this weekend – it’s hard to believe we’re already a third of the way through the season even though there’s another eight months left. After this weeks games we’ll have a far clearer picture of what’s going to happen although the next 15 or so games between now and Boxing Day will make it even clearer. If you’re going to win promotion or avoid relegation now’s the time to make a move: which is why this weekend’s game of the week is an important one for both teams.

Millwall v Sheffield United

The Lions aren’t that bad at home and I’d expect them to avoid relegation, but there are a couple of things Neil Harris needs to tweak. Only Ipswich and Rotherham have scored fewer goals so far and although Millwall have only lost two of their last ten games at the New Den, they’ve blown leads in three of their four outings in South London this season. Swansea beat them at the start of the month despite playing with ten men for most of the game after Courtney Baker-Richardson’s straight red card for an awful tackle on James Meredith.

The Blades recovered from their recent defeat at Bristol City by picking up four points from the next two matches. I know I’ve picked their matches for two of the last three games of the week but I think they’re a good measure of the comparative strength of the top six as I think there’s a possibility that they’re overrated at the moment. 80% of their points have been earned against teams currently in the bottom half of the table and they’ve got a habit of conceding late goals.

Millwall have won seven of the last ten games between the clubs in South London – the last time the game ended in a draw was in a Third Division game at the Den in March 1980, so it’s about time that outcome happened again.

There are two other games to look out for tomorrow, both of which are bottom six/top six matches: Hull v Middlesbrough and Preston v WBA.

This weekend’s televised games are as follows:

This evening: 7:45pm: Bristol City v Aston Villa (Sky Sports Red Button), Sheffield Wednesday v Leeds (Sky Sports Football/Main Event); on Saturday at 5:30pm it’s Rotherham v Stoke (Sky Sports Football/ Main Event), which is a rare one as they’ve not met since August 2004 and Stoke haven’t won at Rotherham since April 1993.

Finally another reminder that there will be no post from me for the next couple of weeks, although if anything dramatic happens I’ll post a quick recap.

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.

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.

Game of the Week: Brighton v Sheffield Wednesday

I’ve long been a believer that although the Championship is capable of producing some surprising results in individual games, overall the table doesn’t lie – and despite defeats for Brighton at Preston and Norwich at Rotherham, we go into this weekend with the situation at the top more or less as it was.

Seeing as though Brighton won’t lose that many games this season and Preston did so well against Arsenal in the FA Cup, here’s the highlights – with commentary for a change – from last weekend’s game at Deepdale:

Last week’s game of the week finished in a  2-0 win for Sheffield Wednesday, although the score was 1-0 when Huddersfield‘s Jack Payne was dismissed for a rash challenge on Sam Hutchinson with twenty minutes left…which brings me nicely round to the game of the week: remarkably, it’s being televised.

Brighton v Sheffield Wednesday (this evening, 7:45pm Sky Sports 1 HD)

Last week’s defeat at Preston was the first away reverse for Chris Houghton’s side since losing at Newcastle at the end of August, but the Seagulls haven’t lost at the Amex since September, have kept clean sheets in eight of their twelve games this season and – according to the bookies – are nailed on for automatic promotion. The only apparent weaknesses in their home form is that they need to score more goals in the first half of their games and seem to be vulnerable defensively in the first 30 minutes.

Wednesday are a little bit easier to analyse. Despite winning without conceding a goal at both Newcastle and Huddersfield this season, they’ve struggled defensively against other sides currently in the top half of the table and they’ve average just less than one goal per game on the road, having only scored twice in one of their games away from Hillsborough this season. To put that into perspective, four of the current bottom six have scored more away goals than Wednesday have, which is one of the reasons that although they’re one of the better teams in the Championship, they aren’t one of the best.

Wednesday’s last win at Brighton was in the first game of the 2014/15 season, when Albion were ‘managed’ by Sami Hyppia and only finished six points clear of the relegation zone. This season, exactly half of the sixteen games between the current top six have ended in home wins and although I’m not expecting lots of goals later on, I’d be surprised if Brighton lost at home – although they are due another reverse at the Amex soon.

Honourable mention:

Nottingham Forest v Bristol City

I am on record as saying that Forest looked like strugglers before the season began and so it’s no surprise to me that they’ve performed exactly as I thought they would, even down to appointing – and then sacking – Phillipe Montanier. Furthermore, the unsuccessful takeover of the club seems to have been the last straw with the fans, who were also less than delighted when news broke that Henri Lansbury will probably be leaving. His move to Aston Villa hadn’t been confirmed when I posted this, but I expect it will have been when you read this.

Bristol City have been in free fall since October, having lost twelve of their last fifteen games – which includes blowing leads in four of those matches. So far this season several other clubs in the Football League have sacked managers that haven’t done as badly as Lee Johnson recently, so there must be something about him that the City board sees that the rest of us don’t.

Head to head: Forest have only lost two of their last ten home games in the league against City, but those defeats have come in the last three meetings – and the visitors haven’t lost to a team below them this season.

Televised games: QPR v Fulham (Saturday, 12:30pm) which confirms my theory that Sky Sports are incredibly lazy: the production team will be in the pub by 3:00pm. However Barnsley v Leeds (Saturday 5:30pm) will be an absolute cracker.

Back to the FA Cup again next week, so I’ll see you then.

FA Cup Third Round Preview

Just a quick look this time round as I’ve had some technical issues as well as a hacking cough for most of the last two weeks.

As I’ve been fond of repeating for the last few seasons, we’re lucky if half of the clubs in the Championship qualify for the fourth round and having not had a second tier winner for almost 40 years, there’s no point expecting one in 2016/17.

Championship v Premier League 

Considering that six of the eight ties in this category involve the Championship teams travelling to clubs in the Promised Land, I can’t see much hope for an early upset. Sheffield Wednesday visit Middlesbrough in what could be a very competitive game and the Midlands derby between West Brom and…errr…Derby should be worth keeping an eye on, but does anyone genuinely fancy Burton, Reading or Preston causing upsets?

All Championship

With only four guaranteed places in the next round, there’s a chance that whoever takes their opportunities now may stand a chance of reaching the last sixteen. For that reason, Birmingham v Newcastle is potentially the tie of the round in this category: on the other hand, neither Wigan nor Nottingham Forest will want to hang around in the FA Cup if they’re serious about avoiding the drop.

Championship v League One

In one of those quirks of fate that happens when the draw is made, all four of the ties in this category have the Championship clubs at home. I can’t see Brighton or Huddersfield having much trouble with MK Dons and Port Vale respectively, but there’s a possibility that Bristol City and Rotherham might find Fleetwood or Oxford too much to handle.

There’s only one game where a Championship club takes on one from League 2: Barnsley travel to Blackpool. On paper, both of the ties between sides from the Championship and non-league teams ought to be straightforward for both Brentford and Ipswich, although neither Eastleigh or Lincoln are mugs.

Televised games: Manchester United v Reading (BT Sport 1, 12:30pm tomorrow), Preston v Arsenal (BT Sport 1, 5:30pm tomorrow) and Spurs v Aston Villa (BBC 1, 4:00pm Sunday). The draw for the fourth round will be on Monday, I’ll probably update as the weekend progresses and I’ll be back next week.

Update: Leeds, Fulham, Brentford, Brighton, Huddersfield, Blackburn, Wolves, Derby and Wigan all won at the first time of asking over the weekend. Birmingham, Newcastle, Barnsley, Bristol City, Ipswich (against Lincoln!) and Norwich all face replays, so there are currently ten guaranteed places for Championship clubs in the fourth round.

So far the only confirmed fourth round ties involving Championship teams are:

Fulham v Hull, Chelsea v Brentford, Rochdale v Huddersfield, Derby v Leicester and Manchester United v Wigan. If Ipswich win at Lincoln in the replay, they’ll host Brighton in the next round and if Barnsley beat Blackpool in their replay they’ll travel to Blackburn.

I’ll be back on Thursday, in time for the Reading/QPR clash that evening.