Sky Bet Championship Play Off Final Preview 2019

Aston Villa v Derby County

(Sky Sports Football/Main Event 2:oopm, kick off 3:00pm)

Well that flew by didn’t it: the most boring ‘richest’ game in the world is here once more, although let’s not get too excited.

The recent history of the final has been dominated by low scoring games, half of which had to go to extra time to be settled. The last time we saw more than two goals scored and both finalists actually scoring was in 2012: five of the last six matches finished 1-0 and on average we had to wait about an hour for a goal

However, the fact that a 5th v 6th final is such a rarity may mean that it’s a tendency breaker – but as you’re about to find out, that may not be a good thing for one of the teams involved.

And let’s not forget that one of these teams will become the first club since Crystal Palace in 2013 to be promoted to the Premier League having won fewer than 80 points.

Aston Villa

Beaten finalists 2018. Last ten regular season away games: 5-3-2 13-9 – almost exactly the same as last season.

Their current streak of seven games without an away defeat is Villa’s best form on the road this season, but all of those games were against sides with an average finishing position of 14th, including two wins against  teams that were relegated and ‘that’ equaliser at Leeds last month that was possibly a parting gift from Marcelo Bielsa. Then there’s this interesting stat: they had the second worst home defence last season (only Rotherham conceded more) but the fourth best away defence in the Championship – and that could be crucial, considering Derby finished with an away goal difference of -5.

Villa scored the sixth most away goals last season but that was still 18 fewer than they did at Villa Park. They also failed to beat any of the teams that finished above them on the road but won 3-0 at Derby in November:

Overall: don’t be fooled by the ‘big name’ nonsense – Villa weren’t actually as good as they were in 2017/18, but that was one of the reasons Steve Bruce was replaced in October and Dean Smith seems to have got the best out of the team. However, let’s not forget that they finished thirteen points behind runners up Sheffield United, which is more than twice the difference from 2017/18, when they finished six points behind Cardiff – who were relegated from the Premier League in April. Villa might be a big fish in a small pond in the Championship, but if they go up that situation will be reversed.

Derby County

Winners: 2007; Finalists: 1994, 2014; Semi Finalists: 1992, 2005, 2016, 2018.

Last ten away regular season games: 1-5-4, 9-16

Take a look at that record: over the last 25 years, The Rams have reached the playoffs seven times and have only been promoted once – and then were historically awful.

With the benefit of hindsight, Derby’s win at Leeds in the playoff semi final might actually just be an indication of how dramatic Leeds’ end of season implosion actually was rather than showcasing Derby’s promotion credentials. Before they won at Bristol City (with the help of card happy referee Darren Bond) they’d gone eight games without a win and hadn’t won an away game in 2018; those last ten games mentioned above were all against similar teams to those that Villa have done well against recently.

Derby did win their regular season games at WBA and Norwich but remarkably they also only picked up one point from nine available at those teams that will be playing in League One next season. The Rams also conceded in all but three of their away games last season and had the tenth best away defence in the Championship; they’ll have their hands full with Tammy Abraham but it’s also fair to say that they’ve been over reliant on Liverpool loanee Harry Wilson for goals.

Yet it’s not inconceivable that Derby will win promotion: they earned four more points that Blackpool did in 2009/10 and the same amount as Sheffield Wednesday earned when they reached the finals in 2015/16 but it was Blackpool who went up. In terms of Derby’s play-off history, this season’s team won three more points than the side that lost to Leicester in the 1994 final, but nine points fewer than the iteration that lost so dramatically in the 2014 final.

Head to head: Villa have won six of the last ten meetings and only lost twice – both of those defeats were at Derby.

Previous finals – last ten only:

Today’s game is only second time that a sixth placed team has actually reached the final over the last decade. The last sixth placed finisher to win the final was Blackpool in 2010.

It’s the first 5th v 6th final since West Ham v Preston in 2005 – West Ham won 1-0.

Higher placed teams have won exactly half of last ten finals.

The last six finals have all featured under three goals, the last time both teams scored was all the way back in 2012 (West Ham 2-1 Blackpool)

Verdict: history is against Derby here. They finished 3rd when they lost to QPR in the 2014 final and that team was a lot better than this season’s version but as you can see here, this year’s team seems to have more in common with the QPR side that beat them five years ago – which might be very significant.

On the other hand, history is also against Villa. The last team to return to a playoff final after losing it at the end of the previous season were West Ham in 2005, even though Crystal Palace (1997) and Leicester (1994) had both managed that feat before then. Villa fans can take some comfort that in both of the previous all-Midlands finals the higher placed finisher won both.

Now bearing in mind that I have a record of getting these wrong, I’m going to back Villa to win promotion – especially if they score first, as I’d also expect them to get another within ten minutes as Derby have to adapt tactically. It’s also worth remembering that Derby failed to score in both games against Villa this season and they were particularly vulnerable to Conor Hourihane.

Update: Derby and Charlton will be playing in the Championship next season.

 

2018/19 Championship Playoff Preview

Here we are again!

Four teams that weren’t quite good enough to win automatic promotion competing for a position in the bottom half of the Premier League and there’s a good chance that at least one of them will back here next season.

Aston Villa and WBA have played in the Premier League within the last five years, but neither Derby nor Leeds have played in the top tier for over a decade.

The odd thing about this season’s playoffs is that although Leeds were one of the most improved teams this season, both Villa and Derby weren’t as good as they were in 2017/18. That’s also emphasised by looking at the head to head record between the four teams: Leeds only lost once in their six games against other teams in the playoffs, whereas the other three sides lost at least twice – Derby lost four of their six games against playoff teams and actually had a goal difference of -7. The other thing to note is how few draws their have been in these games: just the one, when Leeds drew with Villa a couple of weeks ago.

Villa and Leeds are the favourites, but it’s been a while since losing playoff finalists returned to the final and won it – the last occasion was when West Ham won in 2005 after losing to Crystal Palace in 2004.

Finally, does anyone remember the Curse of Fourth? It’s been joined by the Curse of Sixth: only three teams in the last decade that have finished in either fourth or sixth place have been promoted via the playoffs. Bad news for Derby and WBA in that case.

Therefore statistically speaking, it looks like Leeds should go up. It’s never that simple though.

Aston Villa v WBA (Sky Sports Football/Main Event 12:15pm)

A local derby in the playoffs so that’ll be fun for the neutrals. Until last weekend Villa had won five consecutive home games but the defeat against Norwich was the first time VIlla had lost at home since mid-February. This season they’ve been beaten at Villa Park three teams but have drawn twice in their next home outing. A draw wouldn’t be the end of the world for either team today, but would definitely give the Baggies an advantage next week.

The head to head record at Villa Park is interesting: WBA have won two of the last three matches there but those victories were the first since 2011. Villa have only won two of the last six.

Verdict: this is going to be a tight one.

Derby v Leeds (Sky Sports Football/Main Event 5:15pm)

Just three home defeats all season indicate that Derby are a force to be reckoned with, but two of those reverses were heavy defeats against Villa and Leeds and they only won three of their nine games at Pride Park against teams that finished in the top ten. The other side of the argument is that Leeds need to stop Derby scoring this afternoon, something that has only happened five times this season – and the Rams have only lost twice when they’ve failed to hit the net.

Leeds are on a four game streak without a win and haven’t won on the road since before Easter, but as I mentioned earlier, their away record against the top six – and indeed the top ten – is much better than Derby’s. The other problem Leeds have in this game is that they’ve got a poor record at Derby: although United won convincingly at Pride Park in August, before then they’d only won one of their last ten league games there.

Verdict: anything could happen here, but overall it’s going to be down to which manager prepares his team better. I don’t actually think Frank Lampard’s made much of a difference to Derby, but after what happened a couple of weeks ago against Aston Villa, my opinion of Marcelo Bielsa has gone up – even if my opinion of Pontus Jansson hasn’t.

I’ll update this post ASAP after today’s games and there’ll be a short post once we know who’s going to reach the final.

Aston Villa 2-1 WBA

Derby 0-1 Leeds

Update: Aston Villa will face Derby in the final. Villa won on penalties and Derby won at Elland Road in a very dramatic game.

 

GOTW: Leeds v Aston Villa

Apologies for the lack of posts recently, it’s entirely due to work commitments.

I couldn’t really go another week without an update though, so although this is a quick one it contains a lot of information!

WBA v Rotherham (3pm Saturday)

This is more about Rotherham than WBA. The Millers could still save themselves from an immediate return to League One with a win, but given that WBA are on a five game unbeaten streak at the Hawthorns and Rotherham have won only once on the road this season, then it looks unlikely – indeed, the Yorkshire need to at least match Millwall‘s result at home to Stoke to stand any chance of that and they won’t know the score from the New Den until about half way through the first half due to the early kickoff in South London.

Leeds v Aston Villa (noon Sunday, Sky Sports Main Event/Football)

Every season there seems to be a very late season encounter between clubs that either ends up being a playoff final or semi final and lo and behold here we are again.

Leeds have lost four of their last ten at home – including last week’s defeat against Wigan, in which the Latics played with ten men for all but 14 minutes of the game and came from behind to win – whilst Villa have won five straight on the road. That being said, it’s worth remembering that Leeds haven’t lost at home to Aston Villa since Christmas 2000 but three of the last five encounters at Elland Road have been drawn.

At the bottom of the league it’s down to avoiding the last relegation place, with Bolton and Ipswich having already been relegated. The EFL took the unprecedented decision to postpone Bolton’s game against Brentford this afternoon after the Bolton players went on strike over unpaid wages.

That’s it for this week, I’m going to try my best to cover the end of the season even if the posts are briefer than usual.

GOTW: Bolton v Ipswich

Norwich beat Middlesbrough in last weekend’s game of the week:

That wasn’t the end of Middlesbrough’s misery either. On Tuesday evening they also lost at home to Bristol City, a result that leaves Tony Pulis’ side in eighth place.

Overall there wasn’t much change at the top last weekend: I think the top four have probably sewn the automatic promotion places up although there are still 21 points to play for and arguably any of the top seven sides could still reach El Dorado without negotiating the playoffs.

I’ll come to the bottom of the table when I get to the game of the week preview, but that situation hasn’t changed at all.

However, we know a little bit about how 2019/20 will look:

Steve McClaren was sacked by QPR earlier this week with former Watford and Derby midfielder John Eustace taking over as caretaker manager for their game against Norwich tomorrow lunchtime (Sky Sports Football/Main Event 12:30).

McClaren had been in charge at Loftus Road for almost a year but had recorded his lowest win percentage in club management since his stint at Newcastle a few years ago.

Surprisingly, we also know the identities of two of the clubs that have been relegated from the Premier League: Fulham and Huddersfield will be back after one and two seasons respectively in the Promised Land. This is the earliest that two clubs have been relegated from the top tier since Ipswich and Leicester at the end of the 1994/95 season.

Bolton v Ipswich

An important game at the bottom of the table but one that is unlikely to be the start of a miracle escape from relegation.

The tumult continues in Lancashire: the players took strike action in support of backroom staff on Monday, on Wednesday the club was given until May to pay off the remaining debt on the tax bill and although administration appears to have been avoided, this is hardly the sort of preparation the players need before such a big game.

On the field, the story for Bolton is dire. Two home wins since the start of October with just even goals in fourteen games over that period tell the story of how bad things are on the playing side.

Ipswich’s record on the road is just as bad, but there are signs that Paul Lambert has made them into a team that’s difficult to beat away from Portman Road. They’ve not lost an away game since mid-February but although they’ve not won on their travels since October, they’ve drawn their last three matches and were really unlucky not to win at Wigan at the end of February. That might stand the Tractor Boys in good stead next season, but has come too late to save them now.

Head to head: the last four encounters at Bolton have finished all square. The last time Wanderers beat Ipswich was in a Premier League game just over 17 years ago.

The other games worth tracking this weekend are matches where playoff contenders play teams that could find themselves relegated if the next few weeks don’t see an upturn in their fortunes. It surprised me to find out exactly how bad WBA‘s record at Millwall has been: admittedly the Baggies haven’t exactly been visitors to Bermondsey in recent years, but they’ve never won at the New Den and you’ve got to go back to April 1987 for their last win at the old Den.

Tomorrow will be Wigan’s fifth game at Ashton Gate since the start of the century but the Latics have only beaten Bristol City once, sixteen years ago. Three of those last five encounters have ended all square and with the hosts not having won at home since mid-February there’s a slight chance that might happen again….although Wigan haven’t won on the road since August and have lost five of their last six away matches.

All being well, I’ll be back next Friday. Enjoy the weekend.

Are Leeds Going To Blow It?

Welcome to this week’s episode of ‘typical anti-Leeds drivel’, if you’re a Leeds fan of a certain disposition you might not want to continue reading.

Here’s what happened at Elland Road last weekend in the clash between the top two:

Leeds have now lost four of their last six games after a seven game winning streak that ended at the end of December. It’s unclear if this is a blip or not – after this weekend’s game they don’t face another top six club until next month – but there’s suddenly a defensive frailty about them. If any Leeds fans want to take a look at what happened to Marseille in the 2014/15 season, they might see something that should worry them.

As we go into this weekend’s games, only ten points separate the top seven, which could mean the last third of the season is more unpredictable than we might have imagined even a month ago. Currently no-one looks like a side that could win automatic promotion, but to put that into context the only team that has more or less no chance of mathematically reaching the playoffs is Ipswich.

Nonetheless, Middlesbrough v Leeds (tomorrow 1pm, no TV coverage) is our game of the week this week even though neither team is currently on fire. Boro were dumped out of the FA Cup earlier this week by Newport, which probably shouldn’t have been that much of a shock considering their record at the Riverside since mid-September – where Tony Pulis’ side has won just twice in ten games. That being said, their away form has sustained their league position and Boro haven’t lost at home to any of the teams currently above them in 2018/19.

Leeds’ recent come from behind win at Rotherham was their first away success since before Christmas but although they’ve got a reasonably straightforward looking run in, this game will be their last chance until the start of next month to win any away points due to QPR‘s continued involvement in the FA Cup.

Leeds have only won one of their last five visits to the Riverside – an early Alex Mowatt goal earned all three points in February 2014 – and the last time both of these teams scored in a game at Middlesbrough was just under eight and a half years ago. Given that Boro have the best defence in the division, I wonder how likely it is to happen again?

The only other game that will have an impact on the table is at Millmoor, where Wigan are the visitors. Reading would have to win at Sheffield Wednesday to overtake Rotherham, but considering Wigan haven’t won a game away from home since August (thirteen in a row), the Latics might be due a rare success. The Millers have only won twice at home since October but actually have a decent home record against the other strugglers.

TV games: Aston Villa v Sheffield United (this evening, 7:45pm), Stoke v WBA (Saturday 5:30pm) and Norwich v Ipswich (Sunday, noon) all look as if they were chosen well in advance. The Old Farm derby is usually televised but might well be one to avoid given the respective positions of the protagonists in the table: Norwich have beaten Ipswich twice by three clear goals in the last 25 years and I’d not be surprised if that happened again in what might be the last league derby between the teams for a while.

I’ll get back to the FA Cup next weekend, but with six teams left in the competition, I’m beginning to wonder if something rather rare might happen. With all due respect to Newport, imagine the possibilities if Manchester City were drawn against the winners of Chelsea/Manchester United in the quarter finals…