Leicester City: A Second Tier Club.

My wife and I went to France for a short holiday over half term: I bought a copy of the excellent Football League Paper to read on the plane and thought that I was up to date with what’d been happening in the Championship. A couple of days later and suddenly Sven-Goran Eriksson was no longer manager of Leicester City.

I scribbled a few thoughts into my notebook but a couple seemed fairly pertinent: since Nigel Pearson left Leicester in summer 2010, it’s best to describe both Sven and his predecessor (Paolo Sousa) as ‘vanity’ appointments. Despite having a reputation that appears to be built on sand, Sousa hasn’t been at any club long enough to make any kind of a positive impression as a manager and Eriksson hasn’t won anything with a club since the double with Lazio in 1999/2000.

Perhaps they both interviewed well, but my second thought was that Leicester City have a great deal in common with  a lot of other teams in the Championship. The Foxes have spent more seasons in the second tier of English football than they have at any other level and haven’t played in the Premier League for eight seasons. Leicester were this season’s ‘trendy’ pick to win the Championship and are thought of as a ‘big’ club in the Championship, even though these days that largely means having foreign owners, a flexible policy over stadium naming rights and being one of the clubs that Eriksson used to manage. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but Manchester City are currently top of the Premier League not half way down the Championship.

I’ve got nothing against ambition, but it has to be tempered with a dose of reality now and again. It’s all very well having superb facilities and no immediate local rivals to compete against, but a quick glance at Leicester’s honours list indicates that they’re very much a second tier club that has historically performed better with managers from the UK and Ireland.

Upon returning from France there was no time write a post last weekend, so it’s double helpings this week.

Unusually for a Tuesday night, there are three games that will have a direct impact on both ends of the table so we’ll start with Hull’s trip to Barnsley: the Tykes – who lost at home to Bristol City last weekend – have a dreadful record against the Tigers at Oakwell (only two wins in the last ten meetings) while Nigel Pearson’s side have only lost two of their last 20 away games and are are one of the best away teams in the Championship despite their lack of goals on the road. Having picked up three single goal wins away from the KC Stadium this season, another one wouldn’t come as a massive surprise.

Despite their away record being as good as Hull’s, Middlesbrough have fallen off the pace a little recently – one win in the last month is hardly promotion form – but they face a Doncaster side that have only won three home league games in the last calendar year. There hasn’t been a draw between these two clubs in South Yorkshire since the first time they ever met in the league, a goalless draw almost a century ago

Despite having picked up a vital win in South Yorkshire at the weekend, bottom of the table Bristol City will be underdogs when they travel to West Ham for a league game for the first time since January 1993, but although the Hammers home record isn’t bad they’ve not won three consecutive games in the league for almost three years. The Robins last won back to back away games in the Championship last season but have only won one of their last five games in the capital and have only ever won once at Upton Park.

I’ll be back on Friday, possibly with news about an appointment at Fratton Park but with a review of the midweek action and a preview of the weekend’s games.

nPower Championship Review Part 2

The second part of our review of last season’s Championship campaign focuses on the clubs that finished in the top half of the table but failed to reach the playoffs: clubs that finished between 7th and 12th have gone on to win five of the last 20 titles and produced seven automatic promotion winners in the same time frame.

7. Leeds United

Manager: Simon Grayson (appointed December 2008)

Current odds to win the Championship: 18/1

Although Leeds only spent one week in the automatic promotion places, they looked a decent prospect for a playoff spot after a come from behind victory over Crystal Palace in early December. However four games without a win during April scuppered their chances of returning to the Premier League. Defensive stability could pay off handsomely: teams with seventh place finishes in the Championship have a habit of doing well the following season.

8. Burnley

Manager: Eddie Howe (appointed January 2011)

Current odds to win the Championship: 20/1

A case of after the Lord Mayor’s show for the Clarets, who made a reasonable start to the season after being relegated from the Premier League but who never really troubled the top six after a 3-2 home defeat by Leeds United in December. Two weeks later Burnley lost at home to Scunthorpe and Brian Laws was sacked: it’ll be interesting to see how Eddie Howe does in a full season in charge, but slightly better than mid table may be as good as it gets in 2011/12.

9. Millwall

Manager: Kenny Jackett (appointed November 2007)

Current odds to win the Championship: 40/1

Achieved the highest position by League 1 playoff winners since Manchester City were promoted in 1998/99. After an excellent start – one defeat in six games – the Lions spent most of the season in the top half of the table, thanks to one of the more impressive defensive records in the division: only Swansea and QPR kept more clean sheets. Losing Steve Morison to Norwich could have an adverse impact but Millwall could be a genuine dark horse this season.

10. Leicester City

Manager: Sven-Göran Eriksson (appointed October 2010)

Current odds to win the Championship: 4/1

A season of two halves: rock bottom after losing at Norwich at the end of September, Eriksson’s appointment had an immediate effect on the Foxes, who made a steady progress up the table without ever troubling the top six. Particularly prolific goalscorers at the Walkers, their away form was poor throughout the season and needs to improve if they’re to be genuine promotion contenders in 2011/12.

11. Hull City

Manager: Nigel Pearson (appointed June 2010)

Current odds to win the Championship: 25/1

Spent most of the latter half of the season in the top half of the table but never really looked like genuine playoff contenders. Their final position looks deceptive: despite having a stingy defence, the Tigers scored fewer goals than Preston and won the fewest home games other than the teams that were relegated. If the back line deteriorates, they could be in trouble: signing veteran striker Dele Adebola looks like a short term solution to a long term problem.

12. Middlesbrough

Manager: Tony Mowbray (appointed October 2010)

Current odds to win the Championship: 14/1

Pre-season favourites last season, but had an abysmal start (six defeats in their first eleven games) that cost Gordon Strachan his job in October. Former fan favourite Tony Mowbray replaced Strachan and by the end of the season it appeared that he’d turned the club around: a run of twelve undefeated games was Boro’s best form of the season. In a move that won’t come as a huge surprise to those of us who saw him wandering aimlessly round the pitch for Middlesbrough, the underwhelming Kris Boyd was released after a loan spell at Forest and will be playing in Turkey next season.



Who will gain automatic promotion to the Premier League?

The forthcoming nPower Championship season looks likely to be as exciting as previous seasons with several clubs in contention for the two automatic places.

Reading, Leicester, Millwall and Ipswich all finished strongly last season, while Leeds United and Nottm Forest will both be targeting a return to their former glories with a return to the top flight, next year.  Also in the mix will be Blackpool, West Ham and the League Cup winners Birmingham after they all faced relegation from the Premier League.

The fortune of the three relegated teams will no doubt rely substantially on retaining their best players and adapting to life in the Championship.  Blackpool are the only one of three to keep their manager, but it looks likely that Ian Holloway is going to lose his captain and star asset, Charlie Adam to either Spurs or Liverpool.  I think Blackpool will suffer from having such a great season in the Premiership that began so well but by January had lost its wheels.

After losing Alex McLeish to Black Country rivals Aston Villa, Birmingham have in my opinion made a fantastic appointment in Chris Hughton who was unceremoniously sacked by Newcastle after he steered them to promotion as champions in the 2009/10 season.

Hughton has said that he is knows he will lose some of his best players and he expects to revamp the squad before the new season.  Defenders Scott Dann, Roger Johnson and goalkeeper Ben Foster are among the players linked with transfer rumours.

The West Ham owners sacked Avram Grant less than one hour after they were relegated in May and in Big Sam Allardyce have appointed a manager with plenty of man-management experience and getting the most out of his squad on a shoe-string budget, but less experience of the Championship than both Holloway and Hughton.  West Ham is destined to lose some of their top players as long as other teams agree to match the big wages West Ham is currently offering the likes of England internationals Scott Parker, Robert Green and Matthew Upson.  But he has already made the signing of the summer with the acquisition of Newcastle’s Kevin Nolan who has chosen to drop down a division to link up once more with Big Sam.

Furthermore, Steve McLaren’s appointment at Nottm Forest is an interesting one.  McLaren is known for his coaching abilities and youth policy which is a great fit with what Forest wants to achieve by re-focusing on their youth academy.  That said they have allegedly made an approach for out-of-favour Sunderland midfield playmaker and former City Ground favourite Andy Reid.  McLaren is also keen to keep out-of-contract duo Rob Earnshaw and Guy Moussi.

Before the transfer merry-go-round has really started, it’s a bit premature to be betting on the teams who will be promoted just yet.  That said, I believe with Big Sam Allardyce and Sven Goran Erikson, given backing from their respective owners, will be able to entice good players to West Ham and Leicester respectively to block any holes left by outgoing players and in doing so look likely to be among the favourites to achieve automatic promotion in what promises to be another thrilling Championship season

This post is brought to you by Livecasino.org: the authority on  live baccarat and other live online games.



Hornets Sting Rangers: Blades Cut Ties With Gary Speed

Two big stories in the nPower Championship this week: QPR lost for the first time on Friday and Gary Speed left Sheffield United.

As I wrote last week, it was a case of when rather than if QPR suffered their first defeat and they were comprehensively outplayed by Watford, who were 3-0 up before the hour thanks to goals from Danny Graham (2) and on loan Birmingham City midfielder Jordon Mutch.

Despite Watford’s unexpected win, the situation at the top of the table remained pretty much the same on Saturday evening. Once again Cardiff and Swansea failed to take advantage of the leaders dropping points. Swansea were lucky to earn a point at home against Millwall and the Bluebirds lost at Middlesbrough: Jonathan Howson’s winner at Burnley showed that Leeds have now adapted to life in the Championship – the Yorkshire side had to come from behind at Turf Moor and became only the second team to win there this season.

There wasn’t a great deal of change in the relegation zone either, but with Preston picking up their first win in eight games, there are now only four points separating the bottom six clubs. Scunthorpe made their first – but probably not their last – appearance in the bottom three and Boro’s victory propelled them to the heady heights of 21st place.

Although there haven’t been any postponements yet, the winter weather is supposed to be returning this weekend and so it’s worth checking to see if your team will be in action. This week’s programme begins on Friday with Doncaster v Middlesbrough – the visitors have won the last three league meetings in Yorkshire but share the worst away record in the Championship with Crystal Palace; despite being in 16th place Donny are one of the most improved sides at home this season and have only lost once at the Keepmoat stadium this season.

There are three candidates for game of the week on Saturday. Norwich travel to Coventry for a game between two clubs who are looking to maintain or improve their current positions, but it’s Aidy Boothroyd’s side that appear to have the advantages. The Sky Blues have become a force to be reckoned with at the Ricoh Arena and have also improved defensively, keeping clean sheets in their last four games. The Canaries have one of the best away records in the Championship, but only one of their four away wins has come against a team that’s in the top six and they have only won twice in the last twenty league games at Coventry.

Sheffield United v Swansea is the only game between sides in the top and bottom six this weekend and it’ll be interesting to see how the Blades get on without Gary Speed. The ‘will he/won’t he’ saga of Speed’s courtship by the Welsh FA was finally resolved this week and it has to be said that the Blades probably made the right decision to release Speed from his contract. He lost half his games in charge of United; with a couple of obvious candidates for the job now available (Sam Allardyce and Chris Houghton), a manager with experience in the Championship that is capable of getting United out of their current situation is required.

Whoever takes over at Bramall Lane will have to shore up Sheffield United’s home record. They’ve lost five times at Bramall Lane already (they only lost three home games last season) and have failed to score in four of their nine home games so far. Not the best time to be facing one of the six clubs in the Championship with a positive away goal difference that hasn’t lost an away game since the end of September.

Saturday afternoon’s big game is Leeds v QPR, but it would be premature to write off the visitors after losing for the first time last week. The key to this game is whether Leeds can break down QPR’s stingy defence – two of the five goals Queens Park Rangers have conceded on their travels came at Derby at the end of August – without compromising their own. Despite their league position, Leeds have the worst home defensive record in the Championship and opponents have scored more than once in half of the games at Elland Road this season. Yet another away draw for QPR is on the cards.

The last game of the weekend takes place at Portman Road – yes, Ipswich are on telly again (5:00pm Sky Sports 2), presumably because it’s Roy Keane v Sven-Goran Eriksson, but there are a couple of points worth making here. Firstly, none of the last ten Championship games shown on Sky have featured teams from the top ten playing each other but three of those ten have been between teams currently in the bottom six. Secondly, anyone that tunes in might be watching one of the last games featuring Roy Keane as Ipswich manager.

There are four teams that have suffered a serious decline in both home and away form compared to last season: two of them (Leicester and Middlesbrough) have new managers, Nottingham Forest remain an enigma and that leaves Ipswich. The cold hard facts for Ipswich fans are as follows: six games without a win in the Championship, only one win in the last five home games and only Preston and Scunthorpe have lost more home games.

The good news for Ipswich is that Leicester’s away form this season is nothing to write home about and the Foxes have lost seven of their last ten trips to Portman Road, but having won at both Barnsley and Leeds this season, Leicester’s 5-1 demolition of Doncaster Rovers last weekend might be an indication that things might have to get worse for Ipswich before they get better.

30 Years Of Hurt: Can A Championship Team Win The FA Cup?

One game left in the Championship programme this weekend: Barcelona v Real Madrid will be overshadowed by the East Midlands’ version of El Clasico when Nottingham Forest travel to Leicester (Sky Sports 2, 7:45pm). Both clubs got off to sluggish starts following the trauma of failing in the playoffs last season, but they are more or less performing at similar levels as they were last season and this could be an entertaining – if low scoring – game.  A Forest win would put them back in the play off positions but the Foxes are unbeaten in their last five home games in the Championship and have the upper hand in recent league meetings in Leicestershire – they’ve only lost one of the last five games.

The slim chance of a club from outside the top tier of English football winning the FA Cup for the first time since 1980 were reduced even further following the draw for the 3rd Round on Sunday evening. Twelve Championship sides were drawn against Premiership opposition; two ties are between Championship sides, leaving only seven clubs with games against opposition from the lower divisions.

Arguably the best chance of a third round upset from a Championship point of view is QPR’s trip to Blackburn – if Rangers can maintain their Championship form then at the very least they should be able to force a replay, although presumably Neil Warnock’s priority will be promotion rather than cup glory. West Ham may not be looking forward to a visit from Barnsley: the Tykes don’t have a particularly good away record in the league but knocked Chelsea out of the competition a couple of seasons ago. At the other end of the scale, although there’ll be plenty of media attention at the Walker’s Stadium for Leicester’s game against Manchester City, Sven-Goran Eriksson will probably realise that his new side may have to concentrate on the league rather than look forward to the fourth round. Although Scunthorpe will enjoy a big crowd when Everton visit, the Iron’s home form in the Championship has been very poor so far.

The all Championship games could provide a distraction for two of the current bottom three. Crystal Palace have a good record at Coventry and have already beaten the Sky Blues this season: despite being three points adrift at the bottom of the table after this weekend’s games, Preston host Nottingham Forest at Deepdale.

On paper Swansea, Watford, Burnley and Norwich look as if they may have the best chances of progressing to the fourth round: Colchester United are currently just outside the playoff positions in League 1 but at time of writing have only lost once away from home and might fancy their chances at the Liberty Stadium. The Hornets will have to wait for a replay between Hartlepool and Yeovil before knowing their opponents but Burnley will need to be at their best when Port Vale come to Turf Moor – the Valiants are currently top of League 2 and have a very impressive away record. Norwich also need to wait for a replay, but should be able to get past either Droylsden or Leyton Orient.

If you’re looking for a possible shock involving a Championship team, Middlesbrough’s trip to Burton Albion might be the tie worth looking at, but if Brighton beat FC United of Manchester, they would ensure a tasty looking South Coast Derby with Portsmouth that – given Brighton’s position in League 1 – could be a Championship game next season.

Ipswich – away at Chelsea – probably won’t be able to repeat their performance in the Carling Cup. Wednesday night’s quarter final against West Bromwich Albion is the first time the Tractor Boys have played top tier opposition in this season’s competition – and having lost 4-1 at Norwich the day after the Baggies won 4-1 at Everton, it looks as if the semi finalists will all come from the Premiership.