A lot to get through this week.
The Third Round of the FA Cup was the usual mixed bag: only seven clubs definitely through, half eliminated (including Leeds, who lost to Newport) and Cardiff, Reading and Sheffield Wednesday facing replays against League Two clubs next week.
Kudos to Nottingham Forest though: this doesn’t happen every day.
On Tuesday evening Bristol City were unlucky to lose at Manchester City in the first leg of the League Cup semi final – a late injury time goal from Sergio Aguero was enough to beat the Robins, who had taken a first half lead thanks to a penalty from Bobby Reid.
Back to the league this week and a round up is required.
The table at the close of Boxing Day indicated the following potential outcomes for the rest of the campaign:
- Wolves will probably win the Championship and may be the first club to crack the 100 points barrier since Leicester in 2013/14.
- Bristol City were second, but the six point gap between second and sixth indicates to me that the automatic place could go down to the wire. Any of the current top ten could still go up.
- Bolton and Birmingham were the bottom two sides, but before this weekend’s games there’s only a four point gap between Sunderland and Barnsley
The managerial Changes in brief: Carlos Carvalhal had been on the cards for a while – here’s the link to my pre-season preview – but Middlesbrough and Nottingham Forest getting rid of Garry Monk and Mark Warburton respectively deserves further investigation. It’s going to be difficult for anyone to overhaul Wolves at the top of the table, but Boro can’t be ruled out of the playoffs. Forest seem to be moving in the right direction but clearly haven’t improved enough for the new owner’s liking.
The common factor in the changes at the Riverside and the City Ground won’t come as much of a surprise. Steve Gibson’s claim that Boro were going to ‘smash’ the Championship this season sounded silly at the time and made absolutely no sense in the wider context of the type of teams that win promotion. As for Forest, the regime may be different, but the perception that they should be a Premier League team remains and will no doubt have become stronger after being Arsenal in the cup.
As for new appointments, Boro recruited Tony Pulis for some reason best known to themselves (he’s not managed at this level for a decade), Sheffield Wednesday have appointed Jos Lukuhay (an excellent choice if you think a Dutchman with a mediocre record in the Bundesliga and no experience in the UK will help you win promotion) and Forest have resumed their eternal quest for the next Brian Clough.
There’s no particular choice for game of the week, but there are three games that will have an impact on both ends of the table.
Cardiff City v Sunderland (Saturday 12:30pm, Sky Sports Football/Main Event)
Four straight defeats and a home draw in the cup against Mansfield and suddenly the Bluebirds are 14 points behind Wolves and in danger of dropping out of the top six altogether. Since taking over at the Stadium of Light, Chris Coleman has lost half of the ten games the Black Cats have been involved in: it’s now fair to say that now he’s got a relegation battle on his hands. Additionally, Sunderland have only won two of their last ten games in the Welsh capital.
Barnsley v Wolves
The hosts have gone five games without a win at Oakwell, although Ethan Pinnock’s equaliser against Reading was the Tykes’ first goal at home for seven and a half hours. Wolves haven’t lost on the road since October, but were held at Millwall and scraped past Bristol City at Ashton Gate with a very late winner after both sides had been reduced to ten men. Since the turn of the century, Barnsley have won five of the seven games between them in South Yorkshire, but it would be a big shock if that record became six in eight this weekend.
Birmingham City v Derby County
The Blues haven’t scored more than once at St Andrews since August but consecutive wins without conceding indicate that there are still signs life in B9. Derby are on a nine game away streak without defeat, but are the Blues good enough to stop them? They’ve not beaten Derby at home for four games, so the answer at time of writing is probably not, especially as Gary Rowett won’t want to pass up an opportunity of putting one over the side that sacked him under the most ridiculous of circumstances.
Televised games: the second part of the Steel City Derby is live from Bramall Lane on Friday evening (Sky Sports Football/Main Event 7:45pm) and Nottingham Forest v Aston Villa (Sky Sports Football/Main Event 5:30pm) is the Saturday tea time match. The first involves two teams that have combined for two wins in their last ten games and it’ll be no surprise that Villa are on telly again.