Back To The Future With Bruce, McClaren and Warnock

Welcome to this week’s post, which I’ve been planning for two weeks and includes one of my rare forays into editorial opinion. First things first though: let’s have a big hand for Steve Bruce, Steve McClaren and Neil Warnock in particular.

This is both NSFW and a thing of profound beauty.

July 13th 2016, Aston Villa preview: ‘Questionable morale at the end of last season plus adjustments on and off the field mean that they’re more likely to be Fulham than Newcastle’

New boss: Steve Bruce. Immediate reaction: expect a very painful transitional period to a defence first mentality with lots of 1-0 wins.

July 21st 2016, Cardiff City preview: ‘but at for now the defence isn’t good enough and the Bluebirds failed to beat any of the teams in the top half of the Championship away from the City of Cardiff Stadium last season. Trollope – who hasn’t managed a team for almost six years – is untested at this level and could have something of a baptism of fire.’

New boss: Neil Warnock. Gut reaction: the Bluebirds will be a mid table team by the time I start writing about Championship teams in the FA Cup.

Same date, Derby County preview: ‘If Derby don’t go up this season, I’ll eat my hat. Although I probably ought to point out that my hat is a pork pie hat.’

New boss: Steve McClaren. Gut reaction: is that the best you could do?

It’s not even three months later and all three of the clubs mentioned above have now replaced the managers they began the season with. When I re-read those extracts the only one that really surprises me is Derby, but it’s easy being wise after the event: the other two are spot on. I’m just a modest blogger, albeit one that’s been posting on an almost weekly basis about the Championship for over six years – so if I could tell what was going to happen at Aston Villa and Cardiff this season, why couldn’t their multimillionaire Asian owners?

I think the answer may be partly because of the way the clubs perceive themselves. Of the 24 teams in the 2016/17 Championship, only ten haven’t played at least one season in the Premier League over the last decade. Of the fourteen clubs that have played in the top flight over that period, only three – Aston Villa, Newcastle and Wigan – have spent more than half of the last ten seasons in the top flight. That indicates to me that Villa are clearly out of their comfort zone – this season is only their eleventh outside the top flight since the end of World War II – and may have thought that all they need to do was turn up every week and they’d be promoted at a canter: the owner, the fans (who are probably the most deluded group in the Championship on social media), the former manager and the players have suddenly come to the uncomfortable realisation that the Championship doesn’t work like that. And yes, I am old enough (just) to remember when Villa were a third tier side in the early 1970s.

On the other hand, Cardiff have spent most of their time since the end of the Second World War in the second tier. That period also includes 18 seasons in the bottom half of the football league between 1985 and 2003, so the current performance may just be a natural regression to the mean. I started prepping this article before Neil Warnock was appointed manager and I think that’s a great short term decision although as you can see above it could work both ways.

At the other end of the scale, in the case of Brentford and Preston, The Beatles have come and gone since they were last in the top flight and you’d have to be at least 50 to remember when Huddersfield were a first division team – once again, I do. All three are currently doing better than Aston Villa.

Games of the Week:

Cardiff v Bristol City (this evening, SS1, 7:45pm)

A lot can change in a year: after 11 games last season, Cardiff were two points off the play offs and City were in the bottom four. Those positions are almost reversed for this game, largely due to changes of manager at both clubs but this match should give us some sort of indication of the impact Warnock has had in two weeks as Cardiff manager as well as Bristol City’s credentials as a possible playoff team.

The Robins haven’t won at Cardiff in a league game since December 2002 and have lost six of their last seven trips across the Severn Bridge, but this is Cardiff’s first home game this season against any of the current top six and City haven’t lost any of their games against teams currently in the bottom half of the table.

Norwich v Rotherham (Saturday 3pm, no TV coverage)

The Canaries should return to the top of the pile before Sunday’s Yorkshire derby between Huddersfield and Sheffield Wednesday (SS2, 2pm kick off). The Millers last won at Norwich three months before England won the 1966 World Cup although it’s only right for me to point out that four of the last six encounters in Norfolk have ended all square. It’s also right for me to point out that Norwich’s current run of four straight home wins is their best performance at this level for over a decade; if Rotherham lose their next four games, they’ll have equalled their own record for consecutive defeats, set in the mid 1950s.

That’s all for this week, I’ll be back at the start of next week with a look at the midweek games.

Malky Mackay Still Has Golden Touch

Having sacked Uwe Rosler following a disappointing 3-1 defeat at fellow strugglers Bolton Wanderers, Wigan Athletic knew that they had to make the right call if they were to avert the possibility of relegation from the Championship. Off-the-field, questions remain about whether or not appointing Malky Mackay, who courted controversy after allegedly sending sexist, racist and homophobic text messages, was the right decision. On the field, however, the Latics hard earned point at the weekend against Middlesbrougha team highly fancied for success by Blue Square – would suggest that the Scot could be the right call.

Golden Touch
Mackay has extensive experience at Championship level having taken Cardiff City up from the division in to the Premier League two seasons ago and his golden touch seemed still to be in evidence when Shaun Maloney opened the scoring with a free kick. Having opted to make several changes to the side most recently put out by Rosler, Wigan looked more comfortable going forward and the likes of midfielder Chris McCann, who returned to the side after injury, created chances that could have won the game for the home side. As it was, the home fans at the DW were forced to settle for a point when Patrick Bamford equalised.

Light at the End of the Tunnel
Still with only one league win since August, Wigan’s position remains precarious and they need to convert more of their chances, but there are real positive signs for their fans. Taking a point from Middlesbrough, who are now unbeaten in five and are up in third place in the table, will give Mackay’s men real confidence. Next up for the Latics are Sheffield Wednesday, whose mean defence will take some real breaking down but, now just three points off Leeds United in 16th place, Wigan will be able to see light at the end of the tunnel and know just how much a vital win would be worth.

Brian McDermott Leaves Leeds United

Not much of a surprise here: after just over a year in charge at Leeds United, Brian McDermott left the club ‘by mutual consent’ on Friday.

Leeds have been distinctly unimpressive since winning promotion from League One in 2010: despite narrowly missing the playoffs in their first season back in the second tier, three consecutive bottom half finishes combined with eye watering levels of debt have currently left them looking more likely to return to League One than the Premier League.

Three permanent managers – all of whom had experience at winning at this level – have come and gone in the last three seasons and although there’s apparently no obvious successor to McDermott, the bookies have made former Middlesbrough and Portsmouth defender Gianluca Festa the favourite for the job. That’s despite the fact that Festa hasn’t managed for over a year and his last job was with a third tier side in Italy.

2014/15 could be a very long season for Leeds.

With promotion, could Burnley stay in the Premier League?

Burnley’s one, and so far only foray into the Premier League came in the 2009-10 season but sadly for Clarets fans, the club were immediately relegated and haven’t returned since. In this current campaign, promotion looks assured but are Sean Dyche’s side better equipped to survive in the top flight this time around?

It’s been an impressive season in the Championship and with just seven games to go, Dyche’s men have built up a healthy, nine point lead over third placed QPR. But why have the side been so successful and what areas will Dyche need to address ahead of 2014-15’s likely Premiership campaign?

Defence

Brian ‘The Beast’ Jensen was something of a cult figure at Turf Moor but as Burnley’s keeper in 2009-10, opposition players targeted a perceived lack of mobility. That may be a controversial assessment but in 2014-15, former England Under-21 stopper Tom Heaton shouldn’t have similar problems.

Heaton sits behind the meanest defence in the Championship and it’s likely that the manager will keep him at the club as they return to the Premier League. If Dyche seeks an experienced alternative, it’s been reported that Vito Mannone may be on his way out of Sunderland in the summer.

The Clarets have fielded a settled back four in Ben Mee, Kieran Trippier, Michael Duff and the captain Jason Shackell. One of the issues is a lack of top flight experience and that may be one reason why Dyche has brought in the versatile Chris Baird on a short-term deal. If the former West Brom player impresses at Turf Moor, Baird could have a bigger role to play next season.

Midfield

24-year old Junior Stanislas does bring Premier League experience after spending three years at West Ham and his goal against Doncaster was his third of the campaign. Dean Marney had a brief spell at Spurs before being moved on to Hull and at 30, he will be desperate to prove he can compete in the top flight.

Scott Arfield has also been instrumental in Burnley’s rise up the Championship but unlike his midfield partners, the Scotland B international hasn’t been tested at the highest level. Along with the defence, this is another area where Dyche will feel he has to enter the transfer market.

Attack

In order to survive a campaign in the Premier League, Burnley must surely have to hold on to Danny Ings who has already been linked with a number of clubs. Fortunately for Dyche, Premier League managers seem reluctant to take a chance on players from the lower leagues after a number of notable failures including David Nugent and Connor Wickham, so it’s likely that the bigger sides will want to take a look at Ings in the top flight before deciding whether to make a move.

The 21-year old has scored 20 times in 34 league games for the Clarets while striking up a potent partnership with Welsh international Sam Vokes who has 20 in 39. Dyche will want to keep both players in the side but with a lack of experienced cover, a summer signing seems almost certain.

A proven Premiers League player coming to the end of his career may be the best option for Burnley, with West Ham’s Carlton Cole one suggestion.

The Verdict

Malky Mackay’s purchases for Cardiff in the summer of 2012 saw him receive criticism and the sack from club owner Vincent Tan but Sean Dyche is unlikely to want, or need, similar wholesale changes.

There is a good quality core to the side and the players most likely to feature for Burnley next season are Heaton, Shackell, Stanislas, Marney, Vokes and Ings. All that’s needed are a few additions with Premier League experience.

Burnley are as short as 1.06 with Betfair to be promoted but one wonders if the odds on the Clarets staying up next season would be equally slim. Yet there is genuine potential in the current squad and if they are joined by some shrewd acquisitions, the club looks far better equipped to survive in the top flight.

Nigel Clough Sacked By Derby County; Steve McLaren Is New Boss

II seem to remember that at one point last season I was unable to post about managerial casualties as they happened – and once again I was unable on Saturday night when Nigel Clough was dismissed from Pride Park. More tomorrow, but I don’t think it was just losing to local rivals Nottingham Forest that caused the Derby board to rethink their strategy. As I implied before the season began, the Rams have been a bit like the Grand Old Duke Of York over the past few seasons and so I’m putting the move in the ‘change of direction needed’ category. Tony Mowbray is now the longest serving manager in the Sky Bet Championship although you’ve got to wonder how long he’ll hold that accolate – Middlesbrough lost 2-0 at QPR yesterday.

Update: well that didn’t take long. Steve McLaren has just been appointed Head Coach at Derby. He’d been an assistant coach at QPR since getting sacked from Twente Enschede in February. Before that? Manager of Nottingham Forest. For ten games.