After the last midweek programme until the end of next month we’ve learned the following:
* Middlesbrough are going to take some stopping, although I’m going to keep banging on about the fact that losing playoff finalists don’t have a good record when it comes to automatic promotion at the end of the following season. Hull are a better team now than they were in 2012/13, when they were promoted to the Premier League.
* Sheffield Wednesday could be automatic promotion contenders next season if they continue to improve at the rate they have done in 2015/16: although Brighton are still better than they were last season, this weekend could see these two clubs switch positions. The Seagulls have now lost four of their five games.
* Of the newly promoted teams, I clearly underestimated Preston as much as I overestimated Bristol City.
However, the most baffling story of the week was the reappointment of Jose Riga as manager of Charlton on Wednesday. Riga last appeared on this blog in October 2014 when he was sacked by Blackpool: he replaced Chris Powell at Charlton in March 2014 but was binned at the end of the season. Since leaving Blackpool, Riga has managed two teams (Standard Liege and Metz) for a total of 38 games: he hasn’t managed a full season at a team for three seasons. I know the Charlton owner is idiosyncratic (to put it mildly) but this situation reminds me of the musical chairs that went on amongst the top banks at the time of the financial crisis.
The other story that will happen over the next few days will be if Bolton will go into administration on Monday or not. There’s been a fire sale of sorts at the Macron to keep the wolves (not ‘the’ Wolves) from the door, it remains to be seen if that’s too little too late. If Bolton go into administration, there’s a good chance they’ll become the first club to relegated from the Championship having suffered a points deduction since Portsmouth in 2012.
This weekend there are a couple of games where the strugglers face the leaders and both look spectacularly one sided.
Bristol City v Middlesbrough
Bizarrely, the Steve Cotterill era at Ashton Gate ended three years to the day after Sean O’Driscoll was appointed. Nobody expected the Robins to perform as well as they did in League One last season, but not many people would have thought last season’s League One title winners would have been this bad either – at almost exactly the same level as the team that finished dead last in 2012/13. Two home wins this season – the last at the start of November – a porous defence and a habit of conceding late goals is why City are in the bottom three and Cotterill is out of a job. With seven of their remaining ten home games coming against clubs in the current top ten, the chances of them remaining in the Championship are bleak.
On the other hand, Middlesbrough arrive at Ashton Gate with an astonishing record: nine consecutive clean sheets in the Championship and no away defeats since the start of November. With seven of their last eleven away games against teams currently in the bottom half of the table, Aitor Karanka’s side are almost a mirror image of Bristol City. Boro have only won three of their last trips to Ashton Gate in the league, but all of those wins have come in five games from September 1994 onwards, so I think it’s fair to say that City have their work cut out for them.
Hull v Charlton
The Tigers are on a roll at the moment: one home defeat this season (against Derby) which was the only time they’ve let in more than one goal at the KC Stadium in all competitions in 2015/16. It’s far too early to start this type of analysis, but based on their remaining home fixtures it looks like Hull could have an easy run in as well as having a disproportionate influence on promotion and relegation issues.
In contrast, Charlton have only won on the road once this season, have been shut out in just over half of their away games and have only scored more than once in one game – which they lost by the odd goal in five at Brighton at the start of December. Talking of fives, the straw that broke the camel’s back and signalled the departure of Karel Fraeye (no, me neither) was a 5-0 defeat at Huddersfield on Tuesday, the first time the Addicks have conceded that many on the road since January, when Watford battered them by the same score at Vicarage Road.
Update: MK Dons, Bolton and Reading all won their FA Cup replays; Bristol City, Huddersfield and Ipswich are out.