QPR Finally Promoted as Champions of the Championship

Neil Warnock was all smiles just today as QPR were officially crowned nPower Championship champions this morning when the FA finally announced they had come to the decision that QPR had breached two technical issues but would not be docked any points.

Whether you agree with the outcome, no one can disagree that once again the FA have proved how incompetent an organisation they are by leaving this importance decision to the very last day of the Championship season.

The result not only affected Queen’s Park Rangers promotion to the Premiership but also the play-off matches.

So QPR are promoted as champions even though they were beaten today by Leeds United; and following today’s other results, Swansea will play Nottm Forest and Cardiff will play Reading with the possibility of an all-Welsh final if Swansea and Cardiff.  That would be a great game for the neutral and a nightmare to police. But whoever gets through to the Play-off final it will no doubt be a fitting finale to yet another exciting Championship season.



Don’t Write Reading Off!

Congratulations to Reading, who reached the quarter finals of the FA Cup following a surprise 1-0 win at Everton on Tuesday night. Having beaten West Brom and Stevenage in the earlier rounds, the Royals will travel to Eastlands on Sunday March 13th to play Manchester City.

It would be extremely foolish to write Brian McDermott’s side off – they’ve drawn all three of their cup games at City over the years and with the hosts having drawn with both Leicester and Notts County in earlier in the competition, a Manchester City win isn’t as straightforward as it first appears.

Returning to the Championship, having only been out of top spot twice since the season began, QPR’s apparently inevitable path to the Premier League continued after a 2-0 win over Ipswich Town. However, with almost three quarters of the season gone, it might be worth looking at what might happen between now and the end of the season.

Not surprisingly, QPR are the odds on favourites to win the Championship; although it’s still possible that Rangers can be overtaken, there have been countless opportunities for their rivals to catch them and it looks unlikely that any of them will be able to mount a serious challenge.

Much like last season, the scramble for second place and the playoff spots should be exciting for neutrals and excruciating for fans of the clubs involved. The bookies seem to think Cardiff, Swansea and Nottingham Forest have an advantage here, which makes sense until you remember that until Swansea beat Leeds last weekend they’d only won one other game against a side in current top six. From that point of view, Forest’s trip to Swansea in a couple of weeks has already been pencilled in as a potential game of the week.

It would also be unwise to rule out last season’s other beaten semi finalists – Sven Goran Eriksson’s appointment as Leicester manager might have been the shrewdest signing of the season.

It probably escaped most people’s notice during the week, but Burnley’s win at Preston last weekend means that The Lillywhites cannot win the Championship. That’s the last of Phil Brown’s worries: the bookies have completely written off the bottom three, but I’ve got a feeling that Scunthorpe’s trip to Crystal Palace in April might be crucial for both teams.

Although Forest and Leicester are doing well this season, the East Midlands also provided the biggest shock in the FA Cup for years. Derby County were in the play off places at the end of November but the Rams have since lost eleven of their sixteen league games and were knocked out of the FA Cup by Crawley. The situation has degenerated to the point where Nigel Clough is favourite to be the next manager in the Championship to lose his job, although I’m not sure if getting rid of Clough is a good idea – they’re clearly better than the teams below them, although the recent home defeat by Sheffield United indicates how bad they are right now. Derby also have a couple of tricky looking games coming up – at Middlesbrough on Tuesday and at Crystal Palace on March 19th – and if Clough can survive March then he should still be at Pride Park in August.

With no changes at either the top or the bottom of the table possible this weekend, interest this weekend moves to the battle for the last play off place between Leeds and Leicester.

Leeds may have the easier task when they host Doncaster, although Rovers’ win at Derby on Tuesday was their first away success since mid November and the last time they made the short trip to Elland Road for a league game they came away with all three points. Leicester won at Loftus Road last season, but QPR have won six of the last ten league games between these two in West London and won 2-0 at the Walker’s Stadium in September.

The only televised game this weekend is Cardiff v Ipswich (Sky Sports 2, 5:20); a win could move the Bluebirds into second place if Swansea fail to win at Scunthorpe earlier in the afternoon. There’s also a full programme on Tuesday night.



QPR still top of the Championship as Nottm Forest & Cardiff slip up again

When the nPower Championship is over this season, anyone looking back at how the 2010/11 season unfolded will be struck by a recurring theme: the inability of QPR’s nearest rivals to catch them despite the multiple opportunities Neil Warnock’s side seem to have given them.

This situation happened again last weekend. The game of the week at Loftus Road finished 1-1, despite Nottingham Forest having to play with ten men for almost seventy minutes after Polish midfielder Radoslaw Majewski was deservedly sent off for a bad tackle on Adel Taraabt.

If Nottm Forest were pleased by the point at Loftus Road, they certainly looked fed up after referee Keith Stroud signalled the end of their unexpected midweek defeat at Scunthorpe on Wednesday. The Iron’s second home victory of the season – the other was a 3-0 win over Crystal Palace that could be significant at the end of the season – means that the Lincolnshire side are now only two points behind Sheffield United and poised to break out of the bottom three.

Cardiff remain second and might have been pleased with taking four points from two consecutive home games, but the Bluebirds could have pulled away from the playoff spots if they’d beaten Burnley on Tuesday. Steve Thompson’s equaliser with seven minutes to play ensured Queens Park Rangers go into the weekend programme knowing they’ll remain in pole position even if they lose at Preston North End.

The bottom of the table is pretty much as you were, although a remarkable game at the Riverside saw Middlesbrough throw away a 3-1 half time lead against Swansea with Craig Beattie scoring the winner in the fourth minute of injury time. Preston also collapsed after taking a two goal lead at Vicarage Road on Tuesday night: having taken an early lead with a Sean St. Ledger goal, the half time introduction of substitutes Matt Wichelow and Adam Thompson paid off spectacularly for the Hornets as both of them scored to earn a point for the Hertfordshire side.

The weekend’s games kick off on Friday evening when Bristol City visit Leicester in a game that was moved from Saturday in order to stop traffic in Leicester city centre from coming to a total standstill – the local rugby union club have a Saturday evening kick off. Surprisingly, Leicester have only won one of the last six meetings between these two in the Midlands and with The Robins’ away form being much better than their recent record at Ashton Gate it’ll be interesting to see how this encounter develops.

Four games on Saturday afternoon catch the eye. At the top of the table, Cardiff travel to Nottingham Forest and the last time the hosts beat the Bluebirds in the league at the City Ground was before the Brian Clough era started!

Forest are undefeated at home against the other sides in the top six, but have only beaten Swansea: the visitors have an impressive away record against the other sides in the promotion race, having only lost to QPR.

Clough’s reign at Forest was considerably more successful than his brief but well documented spell at Leeds United, who entertain Norwich at Elland Road. The Canaries have lost three of their last four league visits to Yorkshire but the sides are pretty evenly matched and this could easily be a rehearsal for a playoff semi final.

At the bottom of the table, Sheffield United have a nasty looking run end to the season as they still have five games to play against teams in the bottom six, including two away trips in the space of a week. The Blades take on Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park in a vital game for both teams: if Palace win they’ll be five points clear the relegation zone.

The numbers seem to suggest the visitors will struggle – Palace have taken seven points from a possible nine without conceding a goal against their fellow strugglers at Selhurst Park this season. Although Mickey Adams wasn’t managing the Blades when they lost to Middlesbrough and Bristol City earlier this season, he’ll be aware that if he wants to avoid a Sheffield derby in League 1 next season these are the types of games his side need to take points from.

The last two nPower Championship teams left in the FA Cup will have to wait until next week to play their fifth round games: Burnley travel to West Ham on Monday night (ESPN, 8:00pm) but the Clarets haven’t won at Upton Park for almost 50 years and might have to wait until visiting the Olympic Stadium for their first win. At least Eddie Howe’s team know who they’re playing: Reading have got to wait until Saturday before making travel arrangements for their tie at either Everton or Chelsea next Tuesday.



Can Nottingham Forest Upset QPR?

After last weekend’s games, there weren’t many changes. Despite playing for just over half the game with ten men after Hogan Ephraim was sent off for a late tackle on Jimmy Kebe , QPR won at Reading with a goal from Newcastle loanee Wayne Routledge ten minutes from time and now lead the nPower Championship by seven points.

Nottingham Forest took over second place and their games in hand could prove crucial: Marcus Tudgay’s early strike against Watford proved to beat the only goal of the game and Forest also benefitted from Craig Bellamy’s late winner for Cardiff at the Liberty Stadium on Sunday.

There are still more than a dozen games to play and anything could happen, but although the gap between the leaders and the last playoff place has increased to nine points, it may be more significant that even if Leeds lose at Bristol City on Saturday, seventh placed Millwall can’t overtake them.

There’s a similar situation at the bottom of the table – four points separate Sheffield United from safety and the only change was that Middlesbrough dropped back into the bottom six after losing to a lucky James Vaughan goal at Crystal Palace.

On Saturday there are two games between teams in the top and bottom six. Middlesbrough have a decent record at home against the teams in the promotion and play off spots – they’ve only lost to Leeds at the Riverside so far – and Swansea haven’t beaten Boro since February 1962. It’s probably too early to start talking about ‘must win’ games at this stage in the season, but both sides could do with the points for different reasons, especially as QPR and Nottingham Forest are the next visitors to the Riverside.

Scunthorpe’s home form has been awful this season and was cruelly exposed by Hull last weekend, so it’s hardly an ideal time to be travelling to Cardiff. The good news for the Iron is that although they haven’t won a league game at Cardiff since 1995, they’ve only lost two of their seven trips to South Wales since. The bad news: Scunthorpe have failed to score at QPR, Swansea and Leeds and no matter how many ways you look at it, Cardiff seem to have the advantage.

There’s no doubt about the game of the week. After a sluggish start following their play off disappointment at the end of last season, Nottingham Forest travel to QPR on Sunday (Sky Sports 1, 1:15pm) having won their last six league games: they’ve not lost since the end of November and haven’t been beaten at the City Ground in a regular season league game since September. However, the leaders have only lost once at Loftus Road this season and have already beaten Cardiff and Swansea – Forest haven’t won in West London since January 1998, so this looks like a chance to assess Billy Davies’ side for the rest of the season, even if it looks as if this will be another tight, low scoring game between the contenders for automatic promotion.



All Change At The Bottom of the nPower Championship League?

After last weekend’s FA Cup ties, only two clubs from the nPower Championship are left in the competition. Burnley and Reading succeeded where Middlesbrough and Newcastle failed when they defeated Burton and Stevenage respectively: Coventry and Nottingham Forest put up decent performances against Premier League opposition, but Swansea and Watford both lost to League 1 sides – Swans captain Alan Tait scoring an own goal with two minutes left.

Only two goals were scored in the three league games over the weekend and both of them came at Millwall, where the Lions beat Barnsley 2-0. Scunthorpe’s game against Preston was postponed for the second time this season and both the other games finished goalless.

Tuesday night’s programme was far more eventful. QPR and Norwich both won, but Cardiff had to come from behind twice to earn a point against Reading – with yet another ‘dramatic late equaliser’, this time from Craig Bellamy. At the bottom of the table, Middlesbrough climbed out of the bottom six with a win over Scunthorpe: Bristol City and Portsmouth dropped back into danger after they both lost 2-0 to promotion contenders. Crystal Palace escaped the bottom three after drawing at Watford and were replaced by Sheffield United – who lost at home to Leicester.

The weekend starts when QPR visit the Madjewski Stadium on Friday (Sky Sports 1, 7:45) but it’s probably safe to say that if you’re looking forward to an action packed game then it might be worth watching the start of the Six Nations tournament elsewhere. The Royals have only lost once against the current top six at home but have drawn other four games; QPR haven’t scored in four of the last games in Berkshire but won 3-1 at Loftus Road in November.

Saturday afternoon’s game of the week is one that could have a big impact at the bottom of the table, is between two sides that are currently struggling and may not be of much interest to anyone outside Central Lancashire or South Bristol. Having only earned two points from a possible fifteen available in 2011, Preston cannot afford any more defeats this season – they’re currently on target to reach 35 points, which is only a point more than Peterborough managed last season – but Bristol City have only scored twice this year and have lost three of their last five trips to Deepdale since December 1996.

The weekend’s games conclude on Sunday lunchtime when Cardiff make the trip along the M4 to the Liberty Stadium for the second leg of the South Wales Derby. Swansea’s record in Cardiff isn’t bad, but the same can’t be said when the Bluebirds travel to their biggest rivals – Dave Jones’ side has never won at the Liberty Stadium and Cardiff’s last win at the Vetch Field was in March 1997.

The transfer window closed without the widely predicted departure of Jay Bothroyd to the Premiership and a lot of loan moves both from the Premier League and to Leagues 1 and 2. One of the more interesting deals involved former teenage prodigy Ryan Burge, who turned down a contract with Forest Green Rovers so he could join The Glenn Hoddle Academy in Spain a couple of years ago. Burge – a midfielder – joined Doncaster Rovers from Jerez Industrial on deadline day and it’ll be interesting to see if he justifies Hoddle’s somewhat revolutionary methods.