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.

 

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.

GOTW: Middlesbrough v Norwich

First post for a while and there’s a load to get through.

The big news over the last couple of weeks was Birmingham’s nine point deduction for final irregularities last Friday, although the correct technical term is ‘a breach of profitability and sustainability’ rules.

As has been pointed out on twitter over the last week, it’s funny how clubs that have been managed by A Certain Manager have found themselves on the wrong end of these penalties. Know what I mean Harry?

It’s a shame for Birmingham City though. They were one of the most improved teams this season yet over the last few weeks they’ve had a lot of negative publicity after the assault on Jack Grealish and now the points deduction – which leaves them on the verge of a relegation scrap that looked unlikely for most of the season.

Then there’s Bolton. They have until April 3rd to sort their unpaid tax bill out or else they’ll be the first EFL club to go into administration since Aldershot almost six years ago. A potential points deduction would confirm relegation for the Trotters –  who are likely to be returning to League One anyway – and would basically reduce the situation at the bottom of the table to just one relegation spot.

On the field, at this moment only Norwich look like they might be heading back to the Premier League; having said that, Sheffield United have an easier run in and are probably a more balanced team, but Leeds still cannot be discounted as contenders for automatic promotion.

I think I’ve mentioned this scenario before, but the playoff positions look as if they’re going down to the wire. It may be significant that WBA still haven’t appointed a successor to Darren Moore, which makes me wonder if they’re preparing to for automatic promotion next season rather than in 2018/19.

At the bottom, it’s probably any one from Millwall, Reading and Rotherham that’ll be accompanying Bolton and Ipswich on the journey to League One next season, although neither Wigan nor QPR aren’t exactly safe as it stands right now.

Middlesbrough v Norwich (5:30pm, Sky Sports Football/Main Event)

Three – yes, three – home wins in fourteen games since mid-September is hardly promotion form even if two of those victories came against Sheffield United and WBA. Boro’s problem has been the same for the entire season: at home only Sheffield United have conceded fewer goals but only Ipswich and Bolton have scored fewer. Boro haven’t found the back of the net more than twice at Riverside since August and their leading goalscorer at home – Jordan Hugill – hasn’t notched since the middle of January and has only scored four goals.

As it stands this will be Norwich’s penultimate away game of the season against a team in the top half of the table: as I mentioned above, the Canaries have a straightforward looking run in and having lost only once on the road since the start of September this game doesn’t look to troublesome for them.

The fun part is the head to head. Norwich have only won twice in their last ten league games at either the Riverside or Ayresome Park and although their last win was in September 2017, the previous occasion was in 1988. Boro have won half of those last ten encounters, including three of the last five. The most important game between the two was the 2015 play off final:

In all likelihood I’ll be back next week…

 

 

GOTW: Leeds v WBA

To start this week’s post, an announcement.

Due to a major change in my professional life, for the next few weeks I’ll be posting on an ‘as and when’ basis due to being a lot busier than normal. I’m going to aim to post something at least once a fortnight, so please bear with me.

GOTW: Leeds v WBA (this evening, 7:45pm, Football/Main Event)

Only four points separate these two going into this evening;s game – Leeds have only lost twice at Elland Road since October but they’ve only won one game on the road this year and that’s the reason they’ve dropped out of the automatic promotion places. The Baggies have won four straight away games but haven’t won five in a row away from the Hawthorns at this level for ten years.

Baggies wins at Elland Road are few and far between: the last time they met in the league was 12 years ago and although West Brom won that encounter, they hadn’t won in Yorkshire before then since October 1978.

Other matches with implications at both ends of the table: Ipswich v Reading, Millwall v Norwich and Wigan v Middlesbrough

Neither Ipswich nor Bolton can escape the gravitational pull of League One this weekend but Reading have been thrown a lifeline by Rotherham‘s inability to win any of their last six games. Millwall and Wigan both have some breathing space but if they lose at home to their top six opponents they’ll be dragged right back into the relegation scrap.

The only other televised game this weekend is the Steel City Derby at Hillsborough on Monday (Sky Sports Football/Main Event, 7:45pm): it would take an improbable set of events for Sheffield United to leap into pole position, but it is possible – so I’d say if it looks likely, it’s probably a must watch.

I’ll be back soon, if anything dramatic happens I’ll post ASAP.