Again, it’s too early to really jump to any conclusions about anything, although there are a couple of possible stories I’m keeping an eye on.
We enter Week Three with nine unbeaten teams, eight sides without a win, two 100% records and three clubs without a point – including one team I thought would struggle and one I thought might be an outside shot at promotion.
Or putting it another way, only the bottom three teams are one win away from a playoff spot.
The game of the week was about as one sided as you can get:
Now on to the Carabao Cup Hall Of Shame. Of the eight clubs that fell at the first hurdle, three were beaten by other Championship teams (Bristol City lost on penalties at QPR after leading with half an hour left) but four lost to clubs from League Two. The big surprise was Middlesbrough, who had to come from two goals behind at home to Crewe before losing on penalties, although there was a lot of flak for Huddersfield boss Jan Siewert after the Terriers lost at home to Lincoln.
Game of the week:
Stoke v Derby
In the Championship Stoke haven’t won at home since the start of March and haven’t won anywhere since April: under Nathan Jones, City have drawn almost exactly half of their games, winning just four of 24 outings. Since the start of last season – their first since relegation from the Premier League – the Potters have won less than a quarter of their league outings and although Jones can’t take the blame for all of that, he certainly seems to have not contributed much since he took over and could be one of the early candidates for replacement over the next couple of weeks.
Frank Lampard’s replacement Phillip Cocu has won two of his three games in charge of the Rams – which is admittedly both a small and unrepresentative sample size but he will be tested by forthcoming games against Bristol City and especially WBA, who will be looking for revenge for their playoff defeat.
HTH: Since 2000, Stoke have won four of their six home league matches against the Rams but haven’t won consecutive home games against Derby for 15 years. There hasn’t been a draw between them in the Potteries since October 1995.
Televised games: Huddersfield v Fulham(Friday, 19:45 GMT, Sky Sports Football/Main Event) and Reading v Cardiff (Sunday, noon, Sky Sports Football only). So that’s basically three of the teams that were relegated from the Premier League last season and one club that might be relegated from the Championship this season. Scintillating stuff and yet another indication of how predictable the matches selected by Sky Sports are.
There may not be a post next week due to my brother in law’s 50th, so in case there isn’t, see you in a couple of weeks.
Just a quick one this week as we’re only one game in.
Only one game ended in a draw last weekend, which just happened to be the first match of the EFL season:
Going into this week, we’ve got thirteen unbeaten teams, but only Barnsley, Millwall and Birmingham kept clean sheets. Brentford, Fulham and Preston failed to score in their first matches – it may be significant that of the latter trio, only Brentford (at Middlesbrough) are away this weekend. Arguably the surprise result last week was Charlton winning at Blackburn; the Addicks scored all three goals in a 2-1 win.
League Cup: Birmingham are already out of this season’s competition having lost 3-0 at Portsmouth. The Blues will be able to concentrate on the league until January. Everyone else plays next week.
Preston v Wigan
Lancashire derbies will be few and far between this season – the next one won’t be until the end of October – and as this is the only match up fitting my traditional ‘top six v bottom six’ parameter, it’s a bit of no-brainer.
The Lillywhites lost at Millwall last weekend for the first time since 2011 (when they were relegated) but are tough to beat at Deepdale even if they find it hard to win at home – Preston have only lost two of their last ten outings there, even though they’ve only won twice in the same period.
Wigan’s away form last season was awful: they beat Leeds in April but hadn’t won on the road in nineteen previous attempts after a victory at Stoke almost a year ago.
HTH: Only the fifth meeting between the Lancashire rivals at preston since the turn of the century – Wigan have failed to win the last three and were battered 4-0 in the corresponding fixture last season having gone two goals behind before Darron Gibson was sent off.
Only one televised game this weekend and it will come as no surprise to long term readers that it’s Leeds v Nottingham Forest(Saturday, Sky Sports Main Event, kick off 12:30pm) which those imaginative b*stards at Sky Sports normally schedule for Boxing Day afternoon.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.