It’s not even the end of January, but after the four cup replays this week only six nPower Championship clubs remain in the FA Cup: so take a bow Swansea, Watford, Coventry, Reading, Nottingham Forest and Burnley.
Burnley also made the news this week with the appointment of Eddie Howe as manager – the former Bournemouth boss has been ‘one to watch’ for a couple of seasons and seems to be following Sean O’Driscoll’s career – both played for and managed the Cherries before moving into management roles. Howe’s first game in charge will be at Scunthorpe (Sky Sports 2, 5:20pm): a win would re-ignite the Clarets hopes of a playoff spot and put the Iron in further trouble at the bottom of the table.
Looking at the rest of this week’s games, the top of the table is beginning to look tighter than it has done for some time. QPR’s lead is now down to three points and there are only four points between Watford and the automatic promotion spot.
Rangers’ third away goalless draw of season came at Turf Moor and their recent inability to score goals away from home must be worrying Neil Warnock – they’ve only scored two goals in their last five away games and that was against this weekend’s opponents. Although Rangers are at home to Coventry on Sunday (Sky Sports 1, 1pm), the Sky Blues have only lost once at Loftus Road in the last six meetings in the league. Even if Coventry win at Loftus Road, Swansea would have to win by 19 clear goals at Barnsley on Saturday to go top on goal difference.
As predicted, the Swans had a fairly straightforward 3-0 over Crystal Palace while Cardiff’s inability to win at Norwich was emphasised when Russell Martin cancelled out Jon Parkin’s debut goal for the Bluebirds with a last minute equaliser.
At the bottom, the situation is looking increasingly desperate for Preston, who are now six points away from safety. The Lillywhites were involved in a similar game to the one at Carrow Road – they salvaged a point at home against Leicester courtesy of an equaliser from Ian Hume. However, the bottom six clubs are only separated by nine points and it’s worth pointing out that Scunthorpe’s two games in hand could be crucial; Sheffield United still have to travel to Palace, Ipswich, Preston and Scunthorpe and aren’t exactly out of the woods yet.
There are two candidates for game of the week, each at different ends of the table. Middlesbrough’s 4-0 win at Ashton Gate was probably the biggest surprise last weekend and was something of a double whammy for Preston, who travel to the Riverside this weekend. North End haven’t won at Middlesbrough since November 1971 and have lost four of their six games against the current bottom six. On the other hand, Tony Mowbray’s side have only been beaten once by another club in the bottom six – and no-one would have predicted that Ipswich would have been struggling and both Gordon Strachan and Roy Keane would have been jobless after the Tractor Boys’ 3-1 win back in August.
At the top of the table only two points separate Cardiff from Watford and this game could be a cagey affair. Although the Hornets may have a psychological advantage after their 4-1 win over the Bluebirds at Vicarage Road just after Christmas, Watford haven’t drawn a league game in the Welsh capital since 1938 and have already beaten Norwich and QPR on their travels this season.
Quite a bit more activity in the transfer market this week: Adam Hammill (Wolves) and David Wheater (Bolton) moved up to the Premiership from Barnsley and Middlesbrough respectively. In what looks like a perfect move for all concerned Darren Purse joined Millwall from Sheffield Wednesday, but possibly the most significant move was a loan deal: after having already signed Jon Parkin from Preston, Cardiff borrowed Jay Emmanuel-Thomas from Arsenal – the clearest sign yet that Jay Bothroyd may be on his way to pastures new.