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.