Down and Out in Blackpool and Wigan

Well, it’s three weeks since the last post and the only thing that’s been settled is that Blackpool have been relegated. No suprise there; the Tangerines were 6/4 for the drop at the time I wrote their season preview in August. all that remains at the bottom is who will be joining them in League One next august. This might be where the remaining surprises are: even though Millwall and Wigan look doomed, none of the clubs from Reading onwards can’t afford to take their eyes off the ball over the next month.

As a matter of housekeeping, Gary Caldwell is Wigan’s new manager after Malky Mackay was sacked on Monday. In keeping with the policy of promoting former players with no managerial experience, Neil Harris is in temporary charge of Millwall, but I’ll be returning to the Lions later.

At the top, nothing appears to have changed but that’s not exactly true if you dig deeper. Any of the top eight could still go up, but the curse of losing the playoff final seems to have struck again. Derby had been top as February drew to a close but seven games without win seems to have condemned the Rams to the playoffs once again. For what it’s worth, I’ve got Bournemouth winning the title by a point and Norwich edging out Watford on goal difference for automatic promotion; the Hornets are the most improved team of those sides in the competition last season, but it’s worth emphasising how well both Brentford and Wolves have performed since promotion from League One last May.

So what’s on the menu this weekend? There are two games tonight: Bournemouth may be able to temporarily improve their lead at the top if they can win at Brighton (Sky Sports 1, 7:30pm for idle studio chatter, 7:45pm for the game) and having won their other five away games against the dirty half dozen at the bottom, Eddie Howe’s men are favourites to take all three points. A defeat for the Seagulls combined with a Wigan win at Fulham would make the bottom of the table even more interesting, but as usual there’s a catch. Brighton haven’t lost at home to the Cherries since September 1988 and Wigan haven’t won at Fulham since October 2006 – when both sides were in the Premier League.

Tomorrow there are two games that will have an impact on both ends of the table. Rotherham travel to Middlesbrough with a seven point cushion between them and Millwall but one away win since Christmas is nothing to write home about, as are the seven defeats in ten away games that the Merry Millers have suffered against the teams in the top half of the table. Conversely, Boro’s two home defeats have been to sides that probably should have done better this season, so they can be caught off guard under the right circumstances: Rotherham’s best chance of coming away with something is a draw as they’ve not won on Teeside since March 1965, when they won 5-3!

Game of the day is at the New Den, where Watford are the visitors. Millwall’s 2-1 win over Charlton last Friday was their first home win since October (!) but they’ve not won consecutive home matches in the same season since September 2013 and have won three points from 24 in home games against the current top ten, so their chances of staying up depend almost entirely on winning tomorrow. The main problem facing Neil Harris is that Watford have been pretty merciless against the strugglers this season, winning nine of their ten games against the current bottom six and losing only lost two of their ten visits to Bermondsey since February 1998; it’s all very well talking about belief, but it’s been clear for a few seasons that both talent and ability have been missing from Millwall and to some extent their current position has been inevitable for a while. If they are relegated, it may be a few seasons before Millwall are back in the Championship.

I’ll be back early next week for a look at the last midweek programme of the season.

Update: Bournemouth, Middlesbrough and Watford all won. Wigan and Millwall are still seven points adrift of Rotherham.

Author: Mike Roberts

A football fan since the 1970s, I take my inspiration from the standard of writing that made Shoot! magazine streets ahead of anything else back in the day. I'm also a complete and utter stathead, which I blame on being exposed to American sports at the end of my teens.