The fixtures for the new season were released this morning, here are the opening weekend’s games:
Friday August 2nd
Luton v Middlesbrough (7:45 – Sky Sports Football)
Saturday August 3rd
Barnsley v Fulham, Blackburn v Charlton, Brentford v Birmingham, Millwall v Preston, Reading v Sheffield Wednesday, Stoke v QPR, Swansea v Hull, Wigan v Cardiff, Nottingham Forest v WBA (5:30 – Sky Sports Football)
Sunday August 4th
Bristol City v Leeds (4:30 – Sky Sports Football)
Monday August 5th
Huddersfield v Derby (7:45 – Sky Sports Football)
We already have a number of new managers: Birmingham and Hull have yet to name replacements for Garry Monk and Nigel Adkins respectively, but Luton, QPR, WBA. Middlesbrough and Swansea all have new managers.
The League Cup fixtures are out later on today but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Right, guess who’s off to start putting a preview together…
First of all this week, I’d like to congratulate Brighton and Newcastle for winning promotion to the Premier League. Their last games will determine which club wins the title – Newcastle visit Cardiff this evening (Sky Sports 1, 7:45pm kick off) whilst Brighton entertain Bristol City tomorrow (Sky Sports 1, 5:30pm kick off) knowing that a win would make their lead unassailable.
Otherwise, there are all kinds of permutations at both ends of the table on the penultimate weekend of the season, which will no doubt get even more complicated after tomorrow’s games. The one outstanding match tomorrow is:
Birmingham v Huddersfield
Here are a couple of things to think about.
On the evening of Saturday 26th November 2016, both of these clubs were in the playoff positions.
Huddersfield haven’t lost a league game at St Andrew’s since November 2000 – the Terrier have won three of the last four encounters in the league in Birmingham.
The Harry Redknapp ‘era’ (interlude may be more appropriate in the long term) started badly with a derby defeat at Aston Villa last Sunday but with the Blues having both lost five of their last games at St. Andrew’s and facing a playoff team, the short term prospects for survival are looking dicey.
Huddersfield are in the playoffs after a win at Wolves earlier this week, but they cannot afford to rest on their laurels. Home advantage in the first leg – regardless of their opponents – should be their priority.
QPR v Nottingham Forest
Both clubs could still be overtaken if Blackburn win their last two games so this is a game that neither can afford to lose.
QPR are in danger of dropping back into the third tier for the first time since 2003/04 because they’ve lost six straight. At the start of last month they looked as if they were comfortable in mid-table and they’ve not got a bad record at Loftus Road against teams below them – but any more defeats could be disastrous. I’ll probably revisit this idea in the summer, but regardless of which division they’re in come August, Ian Holloway is living on borrowed time.
Despite having won precisely one more point than Rangers this season, Forest haven’t won an away game since the end of November and have lost nine of their last twelve road trips, failing to score in seven of those matches. They’re probably in luck that their last game of the season is against Ipswich: Forest have only won two of their last ten league games against Rangers in the last two decades.
Reading v Wigan
The Royals could still miss out on a playoff berth due to their extremely dodgy defensive record in away games: Wigan are all but down but will no doubt try their best to postpone the almost inevitable for another week.
Before anyone gets carried away though, Reading haven’t beaten Wigan in Berkshire since a 3-2 victory in the Premier League in September 2007 and their current nine game unbeaten streak at the Mad House will have to end at some point. Are Wigan the team to do that or will we need to wait for the playoffs?
You may have to wait until Sunday for the update – for some reason I’ve become very popular this Bank Holiday weekend and I’m out both this evening and tomorrow.
Update: Sunderland have been relegated from the Premier League; Wigan have been relegated from the Championship to League One. The playoffs will be between Fulham, Huddersfield, Reading and Sheffield Wednesday.
Promotion was always on the cards after Newcastle cemented their position in the top two in mid-October and their return to the Premier League was confirmed with a 4-1 win over Preston yesterday evening.
However, their chances of winning the title depend almost entirely on what happens in the game between Brighton and Bristol City on Saturday evening, even if Newcastle win at Cardiff on Friday – which is when I’ll be back.
Newcastle’s 3-1 victory at Huddersfield actually did Brighton – who lost at Nottingham Forest – a favour: the Magpies are now five points ahead of the Seagulls, but the Terriers are now five points behind Brighton. With all teams having just ten or more games left after this evening’s matches, the five point gap between Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday in sixth and seventh places may be significant: at this stage last season, only goal difference separated Sheffield Wednesday and Cardiff for the last playoff place.
At the bottom, Bristol City slipped into the bottom three for the first time this season despite a goalless draw at home against Burton Albion. If you’ve not seen Lloyd Dyer’s miss yet, I’d recommend looking up on YouTube. Blackburn beat Wigan thanks to a Marvin Emnes goal just before the hour.
Only a couple of games worth monitoring this evening – the fact that it’s the penultimate midweek programme of the season is arguably more important that the actual games themselves:
Sheffield Wednesday v Burton (7:45pm)
Saturday’s romp over Norwich was the first time Wednesday have scored more than four goals at home in the Championship since January 2014. They’ve only failed to score twice at Hillsborough in the League since August, this is their last home game against any of the teams that are currently in the bottom six and they’ve won four of the previous five against the sides currently in that category.
Surprisingly, Burton haven’t conceded an away goal in their last two games but they were lucky that Bristol City both had a goal disallowed and missed a penalty at the weekend. If they can keep a third consecutive clean sheet on their travels, the Brewers can take a huge step in conserving their status in the Championship. It’s a very big if though…
Reading v Newcastle (8:00pm)
I’ve mentioned how impressive the Royals have been at home more than once recently, but if they’re serious about the playoffs they need to win this game. Reading are unbeaten at home against the other clubs in the top six, but Newcastle are unbeaten away at the same teams. Something’s got to give – this is only the fifth meeting in the league between the clubs in Berkshire but Reading have only lost one of the previous four. That may be worth remembering at 10pm.
Usual drill, back on Friday. No FA Cup previews though as all the Championship teams are out.
Welcome to what is apparently my 400th post for Buzzin’ Championship Football. As a bonus, here’s Sol Bamba ‘losing his head’ last weekend, which seems to be part two of an occasional series titled ‘Championship Players Losing It And Attacking Their Comrades’.
The top three won’t change whatever the outcome of tonight’s games, although on paper Brighton have a chance of overtaking Newcastle at the summit. Although Rotherham won on Saturday for the first time since August, they’re still eight points behind Wigan although any of the clubs from QPR downwards could find themselves in the bottom three after this evening’s games have finished.
Game of the evening: Leeds United v Reading
OK, I didn’t see this coming. Both sides have done far better than I expected before the season began, so credit where it’s due to both Garry Monk and Jaap Staam.
Leeds’ only home defeat since mid-September was against Newcastle so there’s no shame there, but they’ve only won one of the last six games at Elland Road against this evening’s opponents. On the other hand, United have a very poor record in games against the other five teams in the top six, having lost all four of their matches without scoring: that’s an indication that they may be due for a change in fortunes fairly soon.
From Reading’s point of view, it depends which team turns up: they’ve won half of their last six aways, but suffered heavy defeats at both Brentford and Fulham in the same time span. At least this evening’s game isn’t being played in West London, but Reading were also tonked 4-1 at Newcastle earlier in the season, so if they concede an early goal things might not go their way.
Blackburn Rovers v Brighton
Rovers aren’t doing too badly at home against teams in the bottom half of the table and having won at both Newcastle and Derby this season, they look like one of those teams that are capable of raising their game against good opponents. Brighton are enjoying a 14 game unbeaten streak that will have to end soon, but since the turn of the century they’ve not been beaten by Blackburn in any competition.
Burton Albion v Huddersfield Town
I’ll return to the subject on Friday, but Burton’s season may be defined by how they do over the Christmas period. Their home form is fine, but this game is arguably the first real test they’ve had at the Pirelli Stadium since they beat on out of sorts Derby in September. The Terriers got back to winning ways on Saturday when they beat Bristol City last weekend, but Huddersfield have lost four of their last six road trips and have already lost twice against teams in the bottom six.
Cardiff City v Wolverhampton Wanderers
Neil Warnock’s recipe for avoiding relegation is to rely almost entirely on home form and to some extent it’s working at Cardiff (one defeat in the last six in the Welsh capital) so it’ll be interesting to see how the Bluebirds approach this one. Wolves have only lost twice in their last six away games and although I don’t think the visitors can win, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this ended all square.
Tomorrow: Wigan Athletic v Newcastle United
Newcastle returned to winning ways with an emphatic 4-0 win over Birmingham at the weekend and I can’t see them tripping up at the DW Stadium this evening. Will Grigg’s 88th minute winner against Wolves on September 27th remains the last time a Wigan player scored a goal in a home game in the Championship, although I have to point out that Wigan have won six of the previous seven meetings in the league in Lancashire. If the Latics win tomorrow night, it’s a contender for surprise result of the season.
Back on Friday for the Christmas Special, which usually writes itself.