GOTW: Millwall v Sheffield United

The big news last weekend was that Leeds lost at home for the first time since March.

Two Che Adams goals in the first half an hour gave Birmingham their first away win since April and their third victory at Elland Road in the last five years.

And yes, I have tried to look for official highlights from either team but none seem to exist.

That result – combined with Middlesbrough’s goalless draw with Swansea – means that there’s now only a three point gap between Leeds and seventh placed Brentford.

At the bottom it was a fairly straightforward win for Reading:

The victories for Birmingham and Reading change the landscape at the bottom a little bit: nobody is in danger of being cast adrift this weekend but I’m beginning to wonder if Alex Neil will last the entire season at Preston.

There are two teams left in the League Cup: Derby (who beat Manchester United on penalties) and Nottingham Forest (who beat Stoke). For any casual Premier League fans reading this, Derby are slightly better than they were last season: Donald Trump could be their manager and they’d still finish in the top six without getting promoted.

We reach the ten game milestone this weekend – it’s hard to believe we’re already a third of the way through the season even though there’s another eight months left. After this weeks games we’ll have a far clearer picture of what’s going to happen although the next 15 or so games between now and Boxing Day will make it even clearer. If you’re going to win promotion or avoid relegation now’s the time to make a move: which is why this weekend’s game of the week is an important one for both teams.

Millwall v Sheffield United

The Lions aren’t that bad at home and I’d expect them to avoid relegation, but there are a couple of things Neil Harris needs to tweak. Only Ipswich and Rotherham have scored fewer goals so far and although Millwall have only lost two of their last ten games at the New Den, they’ve blown leads in three of their four outings in South London this season. Swansea beat them at the start of the month despite playing with ten men for most of the game after Courtney Baker-Richardson’s straight red card for an awful tackle on James Meredith.

The Blades recovered from their recent defeat at Bristol City by picking up four points from the next two matches. I know I’ve picked their matches for two of the last three games of the week but I think they’re a good measure of the comparative strength of the top six as I think there’s a possibility that they’re overrated at the moment. 80% of their points have been earned against teams currently in the bottom half of the table and they’ve got a habit of conceding late goals.

Millwall have won seven of the last ten games between the clubs in South London – the last time the game ended in a draw was in a Third Division game at the Den in March 1980, so it’s about time that outcome happened again.

There are two other games to look out for tomorrow, both of which are bottom six/top six matches: Hull v Middlesbrough and Preston v WBA.

This weekend’s televised games are as follows:

This evening: 7:45pm: Bristol City v Aston Villa (Sky Sports Red Button), Sheffield Wednesday v Leeds (Sky Sports Football/Main Event); on Saturday at 5:30pm it’s Rotherham v Stoke (Sky Sports Football/ Main Event), which is a rare one as they’ve not met since August 2004 and Stoke haven’t won at Rotherham since April 1993.

Finally another reminder that there will be no post from me for the next couple of weeks, although if anything dramatic happens I’ll post a quick recap.

GOTW: Leeds v Middlesbrough

The World Cup Final was less than seven weeks ago but this is the last post before we have the first of this season’s international breaks.

I still think it’s ridiculous having international football this early in the season but at least there’s a televised game of the week to tide us over for a fortnight.

Back to last weekend and QPR finally won – a goal from Tomer Hemed was enough to see off Wigan – but Nottingham Forest had to come from behind to draw at home against Birmingham in a game that I described last weekend as having draw written all over it.

Leeds v Middlesbrough

(This evening, 7:45 om Sky Sports Football/Main Event)

If there’s a winner in this one they’ll have a significant psychological advantage: if the hosts earn all three points then I’d be more willing to take them seriously as promotion candidates but if Boro win at Elland Road for the first time in seven years that would strengthen the case that they’ll likely return to the Premier League in May.

After five games last season, Leeds were in third place having earned two fewer points. They’re currently on a run of seven matches without losing a Championship game at Elland Road but arguably the toughest home game until they face Brentford at the start of October – which is about the time it all started going wrong last season. One of the reasons they finished in the bottom half of the table last season was their appalling record against teams in the top half of the table (17 points from 72 available, the only team from the top half that failed to beat them was Bristol City) and that has to change.

This time last season Boro had already lost twice: they didn’t really look like promotion contenders until Tony Pulis took over on Boxing Day but even so their record against the top half of the table last season was similar to Leeds. Middlesbrough won more points than the Whites but failed to beat any of the sides that finished above them, even though all of those games were close. Again, that’s something that needs to change in order for Premier League football to return to the Riverside again, as does their defensive record on the road: including the draw at Aston Villa in the playoffs last season, Boro have only kept three clean sheets in their last ten aways.

Stats corner: Leeds have won half of the last ten at home against Middlesbrough, but four of those wins were in the last five meetings and Boro haven’t won at Leeds since August 2011.

Verdict: it’s a statement of the bleedin’ obvious, but if you want to do well in a league competition it’s a good idea to minimise your home defeats. A draw wouldn’t be the worst result for either side but based on the results between the top six at the end of last season and the recent history of this fixture, that’s the least likely outcome.

It’s a bit of a cop out, but I genuinely don’t know what’s going to happen in this one but I’ll repeat what I wrote earlier: if either side wins, take them seriously. Leeds have started well, but three of their five games so far have been against clubs in the bottom half of the table: three of Boro’s five games have been against clubs in the top half.

Elsewhere, it’s the games at Birmingham, Hull and Preston that are worth noting. The Blues and the Tigers entertain QPR and Derby respectively – in one of those odd situations that comes up every now and again, it’ll Derby’s second trip to Hull this week and they’ll be hoping for the same result as Tuesday night’s 4-0 victory in the League Cup. Preston host Bolton in the first Lancashire derby of the season: the Trotters could close the gap at the top if the game of the week ends in a draw and they win at Deepdale for the first time since New Year’s Day 2001.

The other televised games this weekend are Millwall v Swansea (tomorrow, 5:30 kick off, Sky Sports Football), The Old Farm Derby (Sunday, noon, Sky Sports Football – Red Button)  and Bristol City v Blackburn (Sunday, 1:30, Sky Sports Football – Red Button) and  so I’ll see you in a couple of weeks time – unless something dramatic happens.

GOTW: Ipswich v Aston Villa

It’s mid August and everyone’s played at least twice.

Eleven clubs without a win, there are ten sides that are unbeaten and unlike League One, everyone’s scored or conceded at least one goal.

Last weekend’s game of the week was the first time Derby had been beaten at home by Leeds by more than one goal since March 1998, when the Rams were stuffed 5-0 in a Premier League game:

It’s hard to know how to interpret that result at the moment. We’re two games in and Leeds are either destined for the Premier League or it’s a repeat of last season’s fast start – United were top of the table until late September before dropping out of the top six altogether a month later. Derby scraped a late victory at Reading on the opening weekend before their heaviest home defeat since the end of March – against Sunderland, who were relegated.

Arguably the simplest interpretation is that Marcelo Bielsa is a better manager than Frank Lampard. Let’s see where we are at Valentine’s Day: I’ve added a reminder to my online calendar.

The game of the week is at Portman Road, where Ipswich entertain Aston Villa in a bottom six/top six match. The hosts have only won one of their last ten home games in the competition and haven’t beaten Villa in a league game since September 1984. Without counting the playoff win at Middlesbrough at the end of last season, Steve Bruce’s side have won half of their last ten aways: I find myself wondering if it’s Villa’s turn to score a few goals this weekend…

In the League Cup, only seven teams were eliminated at the first hurdle including last season’s semi finalists Bristol City. Four clubs needed penalties to win their ties including Middlesbrough and Nottingham Forest, who beat a pair of League Two sides (Notts County and Bury respectively) on spot kicks after being behind on three occasions (Boro) and for 88 minutes plus playing for most of the game with ten men (Forest).

This weekend’s televised games are Birmingham v Swansea (Friday, Sky Sports Football/Main Event, 7:45pm kick off) and Preston v Stoke (Saturday, Sky Sports Football/Main Event, 5:30pm). The first was clearly chosen for the Garry Monk angle and is the first time the clubs have met in a League game at St Andrew’s (I refuse to call it the new name) since December 2008; the first competitive meeting between Preston and Stoke was in the inaugural season of the Football League – on 6th October 1889 the Lillywhites thrashed Stoke 7-0 and went on to win the first ever league title by eleven points, the equivalent of 17 points these days.

There’s a full midweek programme next week, which means that next week I’ll be able to bring you some very early performance analysis. Not sure when that’ll be though, due to a Bank Holiday commitment…

GOTW: Derby v Leeds

Just a quick post this week.

There were a couple of unexpected results last weekend.

Bolton have already won as many away games in 2018/19 as they did last season, having beating WBA 2-1 at the Hawthorns.

Both Leeds and Stoke were fancied for promotion before a ball was kicked in anger but Marcelo Bielsa’s first game in charge at Elland Road ended in a convincing 3-1 victory for the hosts.

The only televised game this weekend is Derby v Leeds (Saturday evening, 5:30pm – Sky Sports Football/Main Event at 5:15pm): the Rams have only won ten of their last home games but have beaten Leeds in eight of the last ten games where they’ve had home advantage. The visitors haven’t won an away game in the Championship since last Boxing Day and only won a point from 18 in away games against the top six last season – against Pride Park in February.

One 3pm kick off to keep an eye on though: QPR v Sheffield United. It’s early days yet but this is a bottom six clash: the Blades have lost both of their games this season and haven’t won at Loftus Road since August 2004.

Stats corner: 12 of the 14 games so far have seen both teams score, with eleven featuring over 2.5 goals. I’d say that there’s a good chance that both teams will score at Hillsborough on Saturday afternoon.

The League Cup starts next week and there’ll be a recap of any notable results – good or bad – in next Friday’s post.

FA Cup 4th Round Preview

Some sad news to begin this post with.

Former Barnsley owner Patrick Cryne died earlier this week aged 66. Mr Cryne had been suffering cancer since the end of 2016 and had admitted in an article in the programme for the game against Derby late last year that he was living on borrowed time.

In other news from the last week, Bristol City‘s run in the League Cup came to an end on Tuesday, when they lost 2-3 in an entertaining second leg at Ashton Gate to Manchester City.

Before I get into the individual game previews, I’d be amazed if you’ve not read the saga of the new Leeds United badge

On to the fourth round of the FA Cup and I’ve picked three ties that might not be getting the attention they deserve. I’m covering Millwall v Rochdale on Buzzin’ League One football – so in chronological order, starting with a pair of ‘traditional’ 3pm kick offs tomorrow afternoon:

Hull City v Nottingham Forest

Apologies to both Sheffield clubs, Reading and Preston, but this is the most competitive of the all Championship ties. It’s the third time the clubs have played each other in the competition, but the last meeting was almost 52 years ago.

Since November Hull have become tougher to beat at the KCom, but they’ve failed to win any of their last seven league games under Nigel Adkins (which is about par for the course for him) and I’m going to assume that avoiding relegation is more important than a cup run. Forest appointed Aitor Karanka as manager at the start of the month and their win at Wolves last weekend arguably shouldn’t have raised as many eyebrows as it did: Karanka has enough experience at the level to understand how idiosyncratic things are in the Championship. It’s probably too late for Forest to reach the playoffs, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the go on a cup run if they win this – and that kind of confidence boost could result in a promotion campaign next season.

Middlesbrough v Brighton

Only other meeting in the FA Cup was almost 112 years ago: Boro won the second replay at Bramall Lane courtesy of a hat-trick from Alf Common, who was the most expensive footballer in the world at that point in time. Boro have been relatively regular appearances: six times in the last decade, Brighton are about the same but haven’t progressed past the fourth round since 2014.

Middlesbrough haven’t won at home in the league since Boxing Day – when Tony Pulis was named as successor to Garry Monk – and they’ve had problems when Premier League teams have visited the Riverside in the FA Cup in recent seasons. However, Brighton are really struggling in the Prem at the moment – they’re one point above the relegation zone – and have lost six straight away games in the top tier without scoring a goal. It would not be a surprise if the hosts progressed to the next round.

Cardiff City v Manchester City (Sunday, 4pm, BBC1)

10th meeting in the FA Cup, first in Cardiff since January 1994 – Manchester City have only won twice in the Welsh capital in 17 attempts since the end of World War II. Bluebirds have only reached the fifth round twice in the last decade, largely in part to their atrocious home form in the competition: since 2010, they’ve only won one tie in seven at The New Gaffe: a 3-1 win over Colchester United.

Back next weekend, but there are lot of games next Tuesday…