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.



Preston Relegated, QPR Almost Promoted

As soon the final whistle blew at Loftus Road on Monday, hundreds of QPR fans invaded the pitch hoping that their would be no more goals at Carrow Road and that their team had clinched promotion to the Premier League. However, in the sixth minute of injury time Simeon Jackson scored completed his hat trick to give Norwich all three points against Derby, ensuring that the penultimate weekend of the regular season will be another nailbiter.

The first issue to be settled this season was not a huge surprise: Prestonwere relegated on Monday. Having been promoted in 1999/2000, the Lillywhites reached the playoffs four times and had six top ten finishes during their stay in the Championship, but only spent one week outside the bottom five places this season and had been in the relegation zone since mid November. Their recent mini revival (one defeat in seven games) was ended abruptly when they were hammered at Millwall and a home defeat by Cardiff confirmed their fate.

Five clubs won both games over the Easter holiday: Nottingham Forest, Millwall and Norwich all collected six points, but Sheffield United’s two wins – the first time they’ve won back to back games since November -probably came too late to save them. Middlesbrough finally seem to have found the type of form that had them installed as pre-season favourites: they’ve only lost one of their last ten games and perhaps 2011/12 might be the time to back them for promotion.

At the other end of the success scale, three teams other than Preston lost both their games. Ipswich and Bristol City haven’t exactly set the competition alight this season and although Derby were beaten by Burnley and Norwich, they are more or less safe.

Before we look at this weekend’s matches, it’s worth recapping what’s at stake. Norwich can still overtake QPR but Cardiff can only equal their points total – but for either of those scenarios to happen, the leaders would have to lose both their remaining games. The last play off place looks like a four way competition between Forest, Millwall, Burnley and Leeds, but anything could – and probably will – happen over the next couple of weeks.

The situation at the bottom is a lot clearer. If Doncaster beat Leicester on Saturday afternoon, Sheffield United and Scunthorpe are both down. If Doncaster don’t beat Leicester, the Blades and the Iron must win both of their remaining games to stand any chance of avoiding the drop, but as both of them have one game against teams that are chasing promotion this looks unlikely. Doncaster and Crystal Palace could still be relegated but there would have to be a couple of ridiculous scorelines to overturn the advantage they have in terms of both points and goal difference.

The weekend’s games kick off at 12:45pm (Sky Sports 2) on Saturday when Burnley travel to Leeds – neither team are out of contention for the playoffs but on current form the Clarets look the more likely to be battling for a place in the Premier League next month.

The games of the week are at the City Ground and the New Den, where all four sides need to win for different reasons. In another one of those surprising stats that have cropped up this season, Scunthorpe have won two of their their last three league visits to Nottingham Forest and won the game at Glanford Park in February so Forest need to be at their best.

Swansea haven’t won at Millwall since March 1930 and have lost nine of the twelve games there since since, so it’s probably just as well that the Swans have a guaranteed playoff place. The Lions have probably outperformed expectations this season and although they’ve been outside the top six since the autumn, there always seems to be one surprise team in contention for promotion at the end of the season and Millwall certainly fit the bill.

This week’s games finish on Monday, when Cardiff host Middlesbrough and Norwich travel to Portsmouth in another double header on Sky Sports 1 (5:00pm onwards). They may be playing for the automatic promotion place by then.



An Easter Feast Of Football This Weekend

Suddenly it’s Easter  – and when we’ve finished stuffing our faces with chocolate, we’ll be two games closer to finding out which clubs are going to be rich beyond their wildest dreams and those that may have to play Carlisle on a Tuesday night.

There were no big changes following last week’s games although Reading broke the 70 point barrier and the race for the last playoff spot is even more wide open after Swansea, Leeds and Nottingham Forest all dropped points after taking the lead. Swansea and Forest both lost and Leeds were lucky to escape with a point at home to Watford at Elland Road when the Hornets’ Troy Deeney scored a late own goal.

Leeds were also the subjects of one of the more intriguing off-field stories of the week: following questions asked by MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport committee that’s currently carrying out an enquiry on how football is being run, the FA was forced to admit that they did not know who actually owned the club – which could have some very serious implications, especially if United are promoted this season.

At the foot of the table, Sheffield United will have to win all of their remaining games to stand any chance of staying up, but with two of their last four games at Reading and Swansea that looks like a tall order. The last two spots could come down to a classic end of season relegation scrap. Since he took over at Preston, Phil Brown’s side have hit form at exactly the right time to escape the bottom three – the Lillywhites have only lost once in the last six games and don’t have a particularly difficult looking run in. On the other hand, Doncaster Roverscould be in real trouble if they don’t start winning soon – one victory in the last fifteen games and no wins at the Keepmoat Stadium since the beginning of February.

The Easter programme starts with the East Anglia derby this evening, but Good Friday sees the first of the games that are important in a wider context. In the afternoon Crystal Palace travel to Doncaster in an absolutely vital game for both teams: the Eagles’ away form has been just as bad as Doncaster’s has been at home. Palace have lost all of their away games against the current bottom six and although Donny have beaten Scunthorpe and Sheffield United this season, those wins seem a long time ago now.

 As soon as that game is over, there’s a Championship double header on Sky Sports 1. Nottingham Forest v Leicester (5:15pm) features two sides that could still qualify for the playoffs, but the outstanding game on Friday is Leeds v Reading (7:45pm). The Royals have never won at Elland Road but if Forest beat Leicester, Leeds will be out of the playoff places and will need to win this game to regain a top six spot.

On Saturday lunchtime it’s the biggest game of the season so far: QPR travel to Cardiff. There is an awful lot riding on this game: the Bluebirds could still overtake QPR but they need to win this game to stand any chance of both winning the title and ensuring automatic promotion. Unfortunately, the leaders have won five of the last ten league meetings in the Welsh capital but the last time these clubs met in such an important game, a single goal at the Millennium Stadium meant that Cardiff won the 2002/03 League 1 play off final.

The Championship team of the year was announced earlier this week and it wasn’t that much of a surprise, with eight of the 11 players coming from teams in the current top ten positions. More surprising was the absence of any players from Cardiff or Leeds and the inclusion of Grant Holt, especially as Reading’s Shane Long has scored more goals for his club this season – it’s plausible that Holt was included as he’s been on TV more often this season.



Brighton Win Promotion To The Championship

All clubs were involved in two games this week with exciting games and unexpected results: significantly both Welsh sides broke the 70 point barrier and – for the time being – the Championship consists of 25 clubs after Brighton were promoted from League 1 in midweek.

The Seagulls haven’t played in the second tier since finishing bottom in 2005/06 and will start next season at the brand new Amex Stadium in Falmer. With all three of last season’s promoted clubs currently in the top eight in the Championship, the Sussex club could have an impact next season, although ‘new stadium syndrome’ in a higher level of competition might be a factor that works against them.

Losing 4-1 at Scunthorpe isn’t a good thing to have on your CV if you’re a potential Premier League team, but QPR fans shouldn’t worry too much. After putting four past Bristol City last Saturday, Barnsley had almost the entire game to score an equaliser after Adel Taarabt’s early goal but failed to do so.

Two wins in Yorkshire and help from their major rivals took Cardiff past the 70 point mark and into second place: the Bluebirds bid to play in the top tier of English football for the first time since 1962 was aided by Swansea’s 3-0 win over Norwich on Saturday, which featured a superb free kick from Chelsea loanee Fabio Borini.

The races for second place and the last playoff spot will probably go down to the last game of the season, but the current top five looks settled and sixth place should be between Leeds and Nottingham Forest. Even so, trying to ensure a play off place isn’t really the best time for your form to go into a nose dive: Forest looked as if they were going to earn a point against Reading when Lewis McGugan converted an 88th minute penalty kick but Luke Chambers scored an own goal in injury time. Having gone 36 regular season games without a defeat at home, Forest have now lost two of the last four games at the City Ground: Leeds have won once in their last five games and lost both of their games last week.

This weekend’s games start this evening when Forest travel to Norwich (Sky Sports 2, 7:45pm) in an important game for both teams. The Canaries haven’t lost at home in the league this year, despite three straight away wins at the beginning of January, Forest haven’t won away from home in the last seven and have only won two of the last ten league meetings at Carrow Road.

The bottom four play each other on Saturday but with Crystal Palace having a six point advantage over Scunthorpe and as good a home record as Leeds this could be the weekend where the trapdoor begins to creak open for Sheffield United, who travel to Preston – where they’ve only won once in the last ten games. Tomorrow’s meeting is only the third time Scunthorpe have visited Selhurst Park for a league game but although Palace are undefeated at home against the bottom six, the Iron have won at Preston and Sheffield United this season and seem determined to go out with a bang.

This week’s games finish on Monday night when Queen’s Park Rangers meet Derby (Sky Sports 1, 7:45pm kick off): a ten point lead with fifteen points left to play for is an enviable position to be in, but as QPR still have to face Cardiff (who can still overtake them) and Leeds (who can’t) before the end of the season, then beating the Rams is necessary to pretty much ensure promotion before the end of the season. In an eye catching statistical anomaly, QPR haven’t beaten Derby at home since September 1982 despite having played them nine times since then and as we’re entering the part of the season where anything could happen this game should be worth keeping an eye on.



Date Set For QPR Hearing

As they have been for most of the season, QPR are this week’s main story: the date of the FA disciplinary hearing concerning the signing of Alejandro Faurlin has been set and the timing is ‘interesting’ to say the least. The process starts on Tuesday 3rd May with a decision expected on Friday 7th May – the day before the regular season finishes.

So what sort of punishment can QPR face if they’re found guilty? If – as widely expected – they win the Championship before the end of the season, the possible sanctions include points deductions and/or fines, but whether the FA consider the alleged offenses serious enough to prevent the club from being promoted to the Premier League is another matter. It’s more likely that QPR face a points deduction that could have a serious impact next season – regardless of which division they’re playing in.

On the field, having beaten Scunthorpe 6-0 last Saturday Norwich became the second club to reach the 70 point barrier and pretty much guarantee a play off spot. The Canaries have a four point lead over Cardiff (who beat Derby) and Swansea (who lost at Preston); after having been in the top six since the end of January, Nottingham Forest dropped out of the play off positions following their 4-1 thrashing at Leeds and were replaced by Reading.

At the bottom of the table, a 2-0 win over Watford ended a spell of seven games without a win for Coventry and should be enough ensure Championship football at the Ricoh Arena next season. Like Derby, Doncaster also lost but barring some sensation results before the end of the month they should also be safe.

The first of the games of the week is Reading’s trip to Nottingham Forest which is vital for any promotion hopes that Forest might have: they’ve only picked up one point from the last fifteen available and cannot really afford to drop any more with both Burnley and Millwall just behind them. Most Championship sides would have been happy with Reading’s season (a solid mid table team with a decent cup run), but the Royals haven’t lost since February and have won their last five games.

There are two games between teams in the top six and bottom six this weekend: Doncaster’s home record against Cardiff is dreadful, with Rovers having won just two of their fourteen league games in Yorkshire against the Bluebirds since 1947/48. Scunthorpe’s home record against QPR is just as bad – Saturday’s game will be the sixth time that they’ve met in the league in Lincolnshire and the Iron have only won once.

The second game of the week should be a cracker – Swansea and Norwich (Sky Sports 1, 5:20pm) could be a play off semi final in a few weeks time but if that’s going to happen the hosts need to win. The Swans have beaten Leeds and Reading at home this season but failed to win the other two games at the Liberty Stadium against the other sides in the current top six: Norwich have drawn at Leeds, QPR and Reading and a low scoring draw isn’t out of the realm of possibilities.