Sky Bet Championship Play Off Final Preview 2019

Aston Villa v Derby County

(Sky Sports Football/Main Event 2:oopm, kick off 3:00pm)

Well that flew by didn’t it: the most boring ‘richest’ game in the world is here once more, although let’s not get too excited.

The recent history of the final has been dominated by low scoring games, half of which had to go to extra time to be settled. The last time we saw more than two goals scored and both finalists actually scoring was in 2012: five of the last six matches finished 1-0 and on average we had to wait about an hour for a goal

However, the fact that a 5th v 6th final is such a rarity may mean that it’s a tendency breaker – but as you’re about to find out, that may not be a good thing for one of the teams involved.

And let’s not forget that one of these teams will become the first club since Crystal Palace in 2013 to be promoted to the Premier League having won fewer than 80 points.

Aston Villa

Beaten finalists 2018. Last ten regular season away games: 5-3-2 13-9 – almost exactly the same as last season.

Their current streak of seven games without an away defeat is Villa’s best form on the road this season, but all of those games were against sides with an average finishing position of 14th, including two wins against  teams that were relegated and ‘that’ equaliser at Leeds last month that was possibly a parting gift from Marcelo Bielsa. Then there’s this interesting stat: they had the second worst home defence last season (only Rotherham conceded more) but the fourth best away defence in the Championship – and that could be crucial, considering Derby finished with an away goal difference of -5.

Villa scored the sixth most away goals last season but that was still 18 fewer than they did at Villa Park. They also failed to beat any of the teams that finished above them on the road but won 3-0 at Derby in November:

Overall: don’t be fooled by the ‘big name’ nonsense – Villa weren’t actually as good as they were in 2017/18, but that was one of the reasons Steve Bruce was replaced in October and Dean Smith seems to have got the best out of the team. However, let’s not forget that they finished thirteen points behind runners up Sheffield United, which is more than twice the difference from 2017/18, when they finished six points behind Cardiff – who were relegated from the Premier League in April. Villa might be a big fish in a small pond in the Championship, but if they go up that situation will be reversed.

Derby County

Winners: 2007; Finalists: 1994, 2014; Semi Finalists: 1992, 2005, 2016, 2018.

Last ten away regular season games: 1-5-4, 9-16

Take a look at that record: over the last 25 years, The Rams have reached the playoffs seven times and have only been promoted once – and then were historically awful.

With the benefit of hindsight, Derby’s win at Leeds in the playoff semi final might actually just be an indication of how dramatic Leeds’ end of season implosion actually was rather than showcasing Derby’s promotion credentials. Before they won at Bristol City (with the help of card happy referee Darren Bond) they’d gone eight games without a win and hadn’t won an away game in 2018; those last ten games mentioned above were all against similar teams to those that Villa have done well against recently.

Derby did win their regular season games at WBA and Norwich but remarkably they also only picked up one point from nine available at those teams that will be playing in League One next season. The Rams also conceded in all but three of their away games last season and had the tenth best away defence in the Championship; they’ll have their hands full with Tammy Abraham but it’s also fair to say that they’ve been over reliant on Liverpool loanee Harry Wilson for goals.

Yet it’s not inconceivable that Derby will win promotion: they earned four more points that Blackpool did in 2009/10 and the same amount as Sheffield Wednesday earned when they reached the finals in 2015/16 but it was Blackpool who went up. In terms of Derby’s play-off history, this season’s team won three more points than the side that lost to Leicester in the 1994 final, but nine points fewer than the iteration that lost so dramatically in the 2014 final.

Head to head: Villa have won six of the last ten meetings and only lost twice – both of those defeats were at Derby.

Previous finals – last ten only:

Today’s game is only second time that a sixth placed team has actually reached the final over the last decade. The last sixth placed finisher to win the final was Blackpool in 2010.

It’s the first 5th v 6th final since West Ham v Preston in 2005 – West Ham won 1-0.

Higher placed teams have won exactly half of last ten finals.

The last six finals have all featured under three goals, the last time both teams scored was all the way back in 2012 (West Ham 2-1 Blackpool)

Verdict: history is against Derby here. They finished 3rd when they lost to QPR in the 2014 final and that team was a lot better than this season’s version but as you can see here, this year’s team seems to have more in common with the QPR side that beat them five years ago – which might be very significant.

On the other hand, history is also against Villa. The last team to return to a playoff final after losing it at the end of the previous season were West Ham in 2005, even though Crystal Palace (1997) and Leicester (1994) had both managed that feat before then. Villa fans can take some comfort that in both of the previous all-Midlands finals the higher placed finisher won both.

Now bearing in mind that I have a record of getting these wrong, I’m going to back Villa to win promotion – especially if they score first, as I’d also expect them to get another within ten minutes as Derby have to adapt tactically. It’s also worth remembering that Derby failed to score in both games against Villa this season and they were particularly vulnerable to Conor Hourihane.

Update: Derby and Charlton will be playing in the Championship next season.

 

GOTW: Reading v Hull

Something a bit different this week, but first a quick recap.

Last weekend’s game of the week ended in 1-0 victory for Bristol City over Sheffield United, but the most significant action came at Carrow Road:

That was Boro’s first defeat of the season and their first setback on the road since April. The damage wasn’t as bad as it could have been though as Leeds drew at Millwall and then both of the leading pair won their midweek games – which means Leeds are now a point ahead of Middlesbrough and are the only unbeaten team left in the Championship.

This week’s game of the week is between two clubs that are struggling at the moment. Rather than preview the game of the week, I’m going to take a wider look at the current situation at the bottom of the table, specifically where I think a managerial change might be imminent. There are five clubs that are seriously under performing so far this season:

Hull City

It’s been well over half a decade since Nigel Adkins had any sort of success as a manager: he’s been in charge at Hull for almost twice as many games as his predecessor (the hapless Leonid Slutsky) but is only fractionally more successful than the Russian was (0.23 of a point per game). As it stands, Adkins and his toothless tigers are lucky there are three teams worse than they are: if they survive this season, they may not get the same chance in 2019/20. Regarding tomorrow’s game, they’ve only lost three of their last ten aways in the Championship but only kept clean sheets in two of those matches – and as you’ll read in a minute, that’s cause for optimism at the Mad House.

Ipswich Town

Second favourites for relegation. Paul Hurst was only appointed at the end of May and hasn’t even been the boss at Portman Road for ten games, yet there were some dire predictions being made about Town’s fortunes this season before a ball was kicked in anger that I laughed off before the season but seem to be coming true. This time last season Ipswich were in the playoff places and were eleven points better off, but one win in their last ten games is cause for concern; the only other team without a league win so far are Birmingham, but they’ve only lost twice and seem to have turned something of a corner under Garry Monk.

Millwall

This is a ‘wait and see’ situation that is complicated by the presence of a club legend. The Lions didn’t exactly start last season particularly well either, but they improved a lot from December onwards. Don’t be surprised if that happens again in 2018/19 but also be aware that Neil  Harris has been in the job for three and a half years and since the start of the century only Kenny Jackett has been in the job longer. If their away form improves, they should climb up the table; if it doesn’t then Harris may be under pressure.

Preston North End

This is a surprise. After eight games in 2017/18 the Lillywhites were in fourth place and although they didn’t quite make the playoffs they were never out of the top ten after the end of January. I’m tempted to say that they’re in this position due to a particularly tough opening set of away games, but losing at home to Reading indicates a deeper malaise than I think anyone may have suspected. Alex Neil is doing a slightly better job with Preston than he did at Norwich, but that ultimately that wasn’t good enough to save his job in East Anglia and he may be heading the same way if the current poor run continues.

Reading

The Royals have been in the bottom seven of the Championship since last Boxing Day and are among the favourites for relegation. In a similar situation to Ipswich in as far as Paul Clement inherited a mess from the Jaap Stam era, but Clement has had 18 games to sort the situation out and doesn’t seem to have had any impact whatsoever. He didn’t last a full season at either Derby or Swansea and could make this an unwanted hat-trick if Reading don’t turn the corner soon. They’ve lost five in a row at home and haven’t beaten Hull at home for 13 years, despite having four attempts to do so.

Other games to watch out for this weekend: Leeds v Birmingham, Sheffield United v Preston and WBA v Millwall – all of those will have an impact on either end of the table.

Televised games: Wigan v Bristol City (this evening, 7:45pm kick off, Sky Sports Football/Main Event) and QPR v Norwich (Saturday evening, 5:30pm kick off, Sky Sports Football/Main Event). The former – between two sides in the top ten – looks more attractive than the latter, which looks as if it was chosen because it’s not far from Sky Sports’ studios rather than because it’s a decent looking game.

A couple of bits of housekeeping for you: there will be no posts on Friday 5th October (nephew’s birthday), Friday 12th October (international break) and Friday 26th October (family holiday/birthday in France).

But I will be back next weekend 🙂

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.

League 1 Showdown Goes To The Final Day

There’s been a lot of hype about the Premier League and the Champions League recently, but for fans of Championship clubs not involved in the playoffs there’s an exciting climax to League 1 to look keep an eye on before the Cup Final. After 45 games in the third tier, the two Sheffield clubs are only separated by one point and one of them will definitely be back in the Championship by this time tomorrow evening.

Charlton were promoted weeks ago and it looked like Sheffield United would be joining them only one season after the Blades had been relegated from the Championship. However, following a defeat at Milton Keynes Dons and a draw with Stevenage, it’s Sheffield Wednesday who are in the driving seat tomorrow. The Owls – who were relegated on the final day of the 2009/10 season – haven’t lost a league game since mid February and took full advantage of the misfortune suffered by their rivals by beating Carlisle and Brentford.

As luck would have it, both Sheffield clubs face teams that will be playing in League 2 in August. United have to make the long journey down the M5 to Exeter City, while Wednesday entertain Wycombe Wanderers at Hillsborough. I’d be surprised if they didn’t both win and with so much at stake I’d be very, very surprised if either of them lost.

Regardless of which club is promoted, the presence of Wolves, Charlton and either – or possibly even both – Sheffield clubs in the Championship next season is something to get excited about. Multiple Yorkshire and London derbies aside, average attendances for both Sheffield clubs and Charlton in League 1 this season were higher than half the averages in the Championship so there’s a distinct possibility that attendances will rise next season. If Wednesday are promoted, Milan Mandaric and Dave Jones will be back: if – as seems likely after last night – Cardiff are still in the Championship next season that should give an extra edge to those games.

It’s a shame that most of us have got to wait another three months for the next game isn’t it!

FA’s Verdict On Faurlin Case Ensures Bizarre End To The Season

Despite having an unassailable lead, champions elect QPR aren’t officially promoted, second place Norwich are definitely up, Sheffield United and Scunthorpe will be joining Preston in League One next season and as things stand on Thursday afternoon Leeds United can only qualify for the playoffs if a very bizarre set of circumstances occur.

Following a straightforward win on Saturday afternoon at Vicarage Lane, QPR’s promotion celebrations could best be described as muted. With the verdict on their conduct in the Alejandro Faurlin case yet to be delivered that’s really the only way the Hoops could celebrate their success: wild rumours about their punishment have been doing the rounds for weeks, although it’s fair to say that Loftus Road will not be receiving a surprise visit from US Navy Seals on Friday morning.

 With QPR having ‘won’ the nPower Championship on Saturday, the drama then shifted to a warm bank holiday afternoon in South Wales – but any sense of suspense didn’t last long. This season it was Middlesbrough’s turn to shatter Cardiff’s dreams of automatic promotion: the Bluebirds conceded three goals within 25 minutes and the 3-0 defeat meant that Norwich would ensure automatic promotion at Fratton Park if they beat Portsmouth: Simeon Jackson’s fifth goal in three games did the trick and the Canaries will return to the Premier League for the first time since 2004/05.

At the other end of the table, Scunthorpe and Sheffield United were finally sent packing on Saturday afternoon. Mickey Adams’ side led Barnsley 2-1 after the hour, but former Bristol City striker Danny Haynes’second goal of the afternoon for the Tykes meant that United were down. Scunthorpe were just outclassed against Nottingham Forest, but given then the records of both Sheffield United and Scunthorpe in the third tier, it might not be too long before they return to the Championship. United haven’t played at that level since 1988/89 (they were promoted after one season) and Scunthorpe have earned themselves a reputation as a a yo-yo club between the Championship and League 1 over the last decade.  

There have been simultaneous lunch time kickoffs for the last day of the regular season in the Championship for several seasons now, but this season is the first time for a while where all of the major issues have been settled. There are still things to play for: game of the week is QPR v Leeds (Sky Sports 2, kick off 12:45pm) but the circumstances at time of writing mean that Leeds can only qualify for the play offs if they win by at least seven goals and Nottingham Forest lose at Crystal Palace. Once we know what punishment will be given to QPR, those circumstances may be a lot different and we’ll bring you an update as soon as we have the decision.

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