Sky Bet Championship Weekend Preview 5th December 2015

Well so much for wondering if there’d be new leaders last weekend: Brighton now have a two point lead after beating Birmingham and Hull lost at home to Derby and are the only team in the top five playing at home tomorrow. At the risk of repeating myself, any ¬†of the top four could be leaders but it’s the six point gap between Burnley in fifth and Birmingham in sixth that’s the real interesting bit as we head towards Christmas. I’ve discussed the correlation between the leaders at Christmas and the clubs that are eventually promoted more than once before now, but I’m currently working on the assumption that if this pace continues the top five now could very well be the top five in April.

The situation at the bottom remains more or less the same, but the rumours that have surround Bolton Wanderers this week are worrying and there seems to be a consensus forming around the idea that the Trotters may face a points deduction for financial irregularities at some point in the near future. Bolton won’t be able to escape the bottom three regardless of the result in their game against Cardiff tomorrow but some of the tweets I’ve seen this week have been almost desperate attempts to muster the fans to attend the Macron Stadium.

Two games of interest this weekend, both of which feature the top six against the bottom three.

Brighton v Charlton

The Seagulls will lose at some point, but probably not tomorrow as Charlton have only won three of their last ten league games at Brighton. The hosts haven’t lost at home since April but things tend to go awry after ten games without defeat and the forthcoming visit by Middlesbrough (which for some reason is a Saturday lunchtime kickoff even though the distance between Amsterdam and Hamburg is shorter) could be tricky. After six consecutive away defeats Charlton finally won on the road (at Birmingham last month) but were woeful when losing 3-0 at home to Ipswich last weekend: however, the Addicks don’t have a bad record when it comes to playing the top six – one defeat in four games. Karel Fraeye remains interim coach but no-one seems to have any idea how much longer that will be the case, probably because no-one in their right mind wants the job.

Birmingham v Huddersfield

Despite losing four of their last six, Birmingham are doggedly holding on to sixth place and could improve their position with a win over a Huddersfield side that hasn’t won an away game since September and has lost five of their last six matches. The Blues’ big problem is a lack of goals: just two in six games at St Andrews since mid September (and both of those came in the win over QPR), which means they’ve gone almost five hours without scoring at home. Huddersfield’s inability to keep an away clean sheet – just the one so far – should be music to the ears of Clayton Donaldson, but Town’s horrible record against the top half of the table might be deceptive, as they seem to enjoy playing at St. Andrews: they haven’t lost there since November 2000.

The Capital One Cup came to the almost inevitable conclusion this week, when Hull, Middlesbrough and Sheffield Wednesday were all beaten by Premier League opposition. All teams can concentrate on the league for a few weeks, although the draw for the Third Round of the FA Cup will be taking place on Monday evening. I’ll be back then, by which time Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink will be QPR manager and Reading will have replaced Steve Clarke, who was sacked after the Royals lost 1-0 at home to Hasselbaink’s new club…and I’ll also be able to welcome Dean Smith to Brentford.

Sky Bet Championship Preview 31st October 2015

Brighton remain four points clear, although the chasing pack has been condensed: only nine points separating Hull and Sheffield Wednesday, both of whom qualified for the next round of the Capital One Cup during the week. The big story in that competition was Middlesbrough overcoming Manchester United on penalties at Old Trafford but a note of caution might be advisable for the Teeside club. Cup runs and promotion do not go hand in hand.

The only other significant move at the top is that Reading blew a two goal lead at Fulham last Saturday and dropped out of the top six for the first time since mid September.

The bottom of the table is still as tight as it was although the managerial change at Charlton which made the headlines. The Addicks haven’t won since August and had lost six of their last nine games before Saturday’s 3-0 home defeat against Brentford, which signalled the end of Guy Luzon’s 36 game stint as boss and once again proved my theory about managers. Luzon has been replaced by another Belgian coach no-one’s ever heard of on an ‘interim basis’ and I’ll bet Uwe Rosler is on the shortlist.

With Brighton’s lead being unchallengable this weekend, there are four games to keep an eye on:

Derby v Rotherham

The Rams are currently on an eight game unbeaten streak that has propelled them from just outside the relegation zone to the playoff places but in one of those odd stats that I like, so far in 2015/16 they’ve been unable to win either of their games against two of the three teams in the current bottom three. Rotherham have lost three of their last four and haven’t won at Derby since September 1965. Derby’s Chris Martin is currently second in the goalscoring charts and might fancy his chances against the worst defence in the competition.

Middlesbrough v Charlton

The recent 3-1 win at Wolves was Boro’s first victory for almost a month but the inconsistency of the other teams around them means that Aitor Karanka’s side aren’t too far off the pace at the top. I’ve already mentioned Charlton, but it’s worth noting that the Addicks last won at Middlesbrough in August 2005, when both were in the Premier League and so far this season only Bolton and Preston have scored fewer goals.

MK Dons v Hull

Only the third meeting between the teams and the Dons have failed to win either of the others. The Dons have had success at home when they’ve kept clean sheets but Hull have only failed to score in one game in the Championship on their travels this season, they’ve not lost on the road since mid-September and – as we’ve come to expect from Steve Bruce’s teams over the years – have conceded the fewest goals in the Championship so far. MK have picked up one point from 18 against teams currently in the top half of the table and have lost eight of their 13 games in the league this season.

Preston v Bolton (6:oopm, Saturday Sky Sports 1)

Almost but not quite game of the week, this is the first meeting between the Lancashire rivals in the League since New Years Day 2001. Preston have only lost one of their last five games but they’ve not won a league game at Deepdale since April and have failed to score more than once in front of their fans in any competition this season. That being said, they’ve not lost to any of the teams currently below them and even if the Lillywhites score once that might be enough to see off a Bolton side that has failed to score in four of their six away matches so far and hasn’t won an away game in the Championship since a 3-0 win at Cardiff in April.

As there’s a full midweek programme I’ll be back on Tuesday, so enjoy the weekend!

Sky Bet Championship Game Of The Week: Burnley v Reading

It was a case of ‘as you were’ last weekend as Brighton retained their lead after a goalless draw at Wolves, but only Middlesbrough can overtake the Seagulls this weekend. Boro won at Nottingham Forest on Saturday, which meant that a win for Burnley at Derby on Monday night would have given the Clarets the chance of taking the lead this weekend. However, the founder members of the Football League played out a goalless draw, which ended a four game winning streak for a Burnley and meant that the Rams have only won once in their last ten games in the Championship at the iPro Stadium.

Bristol City and Preston both dropped into the relegation zone: the reason that City aren’t bottom is that Rotherham begins with the letter ‘R’. Despite taking the lead at Brentford, Preston conceded two goals in three minutes and lost the fourth of their six away games so far. It’s still relatively competitive at the bottom though: the bottom nine sides are only separated by three points and as we’ll see in a minute there should be a lot of movement this weekend.

I’ve tried to avoid the Capital One Cup so far this season and after the midweek results it’s apparent that most of the clubs in the Championship have as well. Hull and Middlesbrough and Sheffield Wednesday are the only sides left in the competition and it’s not even the end of September. A few seasons ago Wednesday beating Newcastle in a cup competition would have been seen as a shock, but that’s not the case any more.

Back to this weekend and the outstanding contender for the game of the day is Burnley v Reading. Sean Dyche’s side are unbeaten at Turf Moor so far and last lost at home to Leicester in the Premier League last April. However, they’ve not beaten any of the clubs currently in the top half of the table yet and so Saturday’s game is arguably their first real challenge of 2014/15. Record signing Andre Gray was injured during Monday’s game and there are rumours circulating that his injury may have been worse than originally thought; if that’s the case there’s no obvious replacement.

I saw Reading win comfortably at Bristol City last weekend but I’d have to say the jury is still out even though Nick Blackman and Orlando Sa are near the top of the goalscoring charts having scored 75% of the club’s goals this season. Their only triumphs away from home this season have come against clubs that are below them, which is the opposite of what happened last season, when all five of the Royals’ victorious away days came at the expense of clubs that finished in the top ten.

Burnley won their last league game at Turf Moor against Reading but have never won two in a row against the Royals in any competition. There might be a few goals in this one: the last ten league games between them in Lancashire have produced an average of 2.7 per match.

The other games of interest should have an impact at both ends of the table.

Bolton v Brighton: the Trotters are unbeaten at home this season but have only won two of the seven meetings between the sides in Lancashire since they first met at the old Burnden Park ground in December 1971. The Seagulls haven’t lost an away game in the Championship since April, when they went down 2-1 at Wigan.

Hull v Blackburn: the hosts don’t have a particularly good record at home to Rovers (three wins in the last ten) but are unbeaten at the KC Stadium in 2015/16. Blackburn haven’t won away this season.

Ipswich v Bristol City: it’s been ten games and 37 years since the Robins won at Portman Road in a league game, which may be all you need to know about Saturday’s match in Suffolk. It’ll either be really one sided or there’ll be an upset.

There are three televised games this weekend: Fulham v QPR (tonight, Sky Sports 1, kick off 7:45pm), MK Dons v Derby (Saturday, Sky Sports 1, kick off 12:30pm) and Middlesbrough v Leeds (Sunday, Sky Sports 1, kick off 1:15pm).

Looking ahead, in two weeks time we’ll have another international break and I’ll be taking a look at which teams have improved or regressed from last season. On that note I’ll wish you a good weekend and see you next week.

First Day Games Announced

The first weekend of the 2015/16 season will start on Saturday 8th August 2015 with the following games:

Birmingham City v Reading

Blackburn Rovers v Wolves

Bolton v Derby

Brentford v Ipswich

Brighton v Nottingham Forest

Cardiff v Fulham

Charlton v QPR

Hull v Huddersfield

Leeds v Burnley

Preston v Middlesbrough

Rotherham v MK Dons

Sheffield Wednesday v Bristol City

The match at Griffin Park between the two losing playoff semi finalists looks like a contender for game of the weekend, but I wouldn’t expect all of these games to kick off at 3:00pm on Saturday afternoon. The first round of the Capital One cup was drawn on Monday, but as I’m in summer holiday mode right now I’ll let you look those games up yourselves. See you in about a month, when the season preview will appear.

Capital One Cup Quarter Final Preview

Only two Championship sides left in the competition and remarkably both games were FA Cup ties last season. Unfortunately, neither Derby or Bournemouth have particularly good records against their respective opponents but the Cherries may never have a better opportunity to beat Liverpool.

Derby v Chelsea (7:45pm, Sky Sports 1)

If the Rams progress to the semi finals for the first time since 2008/09 it would be a major surprise. The clubs have met four previous occasions in the competition, although none of those meetings have taken place since October 1972: the away team failed to win any of those games, but it’s fair to say that back in the early seventies Derby and Chelsea were moving in opposite directions. The most recent meeting in the Midlands was in the Third Round of last season’s FA Cup (Chelsea won 2-0) and the Rams have only won two of their last eleven meetings at home against Chelsea in all competitions: their last victory came in the Premier League in October 1999.

Oh and Chelsea have only lost once in the Premier League this season and haven’t lost an away League Cup tie over 90 minutes for over a decade

Bournemouth v Liverpool (7:45pm tomorrow, Sky Sports 1)

Like so many other aspects to their season, this is a trip into the unknown for Bournemouth: their previous best performance in the League Cup was in 1963/64, when they reached the fourth round before being knocked out by Stoke.

The Cherries lost 2-0 at home to Liverpool in January in the FA Cup, but their previous encounters in that competition on the South Coast both ended in draws. Bournemouth went back to the top of the pile last weekend after an eight goal thriller against Cardiff which was only settled by Callum Wilson’s late winner and are currently on an eleven game unbeaten run in the league that goes back to the end of September…when they lost at Derby.

Liverpool have only won two of their last ten games in all competitions; they’ve not won an away match in the League Cup since winning at West Brom in 2012 and they didn’t exactly have it their own way when they played Cardiff in the final almost three years ago.

I’ll update the results as they come in, but I’ll be back for the final post of 2014 on Friday. The usual Christmas preview will appear, but with three clubs failing the FFP rules and yet another sacking (Nigel Adkins at Reading), I think I might return to one of the major subjects I’ve been banging on about for the last four years…

Update: Derby lost 3-1 at home to Chelsea. Craig Bryson made the score 2-1 after 70 minutes but the game was more or less over when Jake Buxton was dismissed; four minutes later Chelsea extended their lead and that was that.