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.

Championship Xmas Post 2018

Welcome to the annual renewal of the Post of Christmas Past.

This week – as is usually the case in this post – you’ll be learning who will probably win promotion and who will probably be relegated at the end of the season.

However, this year there’s something different about Christmas in the Championship…but naturally you’ll have to read the entire post to find out what it is.

Despite thinking that the Sheffield United had a decent chance of beating WBA last weekend, the actual result didn’t disprove my theory that Chris Wilder’s team aren’t automatic promotion candidates even if they are one of the better teams in the division.

On to the sprouts and turkey. Over the past half decade, a team is more likely to be promoted if they’re in the top three on Boxing Day evening. Only once in the last half decade has a team been promoted after being outside the top six on 26/12 and that was Norwich in 2014/15, but last season Bristol City became the fourth club in the last five seasons to be in the top six at close of play on Boxing Day not to win promotion.

Here’s where the plot thickens and where I’m also likely to risk drawing the wrath of Leeds fans once again – but I’d recommend reading the rest of these next couple of paragraphs. I wouldn’t be too surprised if either Derby or Leeds are in the top six at the end of Boxing Day and end up blowing promotion – both clubs have been in exactly that position at least three times over the last five years and haven’t managed to cross the line. Derby in particular seem to have issues: they were third in 2014 and top a year later but blew it; that’s why it’s actually really difficult to gauge Frank Lampard’s ability as a manager: the Rams could have a cardboard cut out of Brian Clough in charge and still be ‘there or thereabouts’ every season. If we go back a few years, the same was true of Cardiff, who are now two points outside the Premier League relegation zone and preparing to face Manchester United tomorrow.

If – as looks likely – Leeds are in the top two, that’ll be their highest position after the Boxing Day programme since they were promoted back to the Championship in 2010. This season they’re arguably the most balanced team in the division and finally look like the real deal, but because I’m a neutral it would be wrong of me not to have a nagging doubt about their promotion chances. We’ll see but I’ll be pleased if I’m proven wrong.

At the wrong end of the table, the teams in the bottom five after the Boxing Day games are far more likely to be relegated – in fact, over the last five seasons all of the relegated teams were in the bottom five on the evening of December 26th. The bottom two are usually – but not always – doomed and I think it’s probably time to stick a fork in Ipswich and Bolton. The Tractor Boys have to beat both Sheffield United and QPR in their next two games to stand any chance of escaping the bottom three and Bolton have been in this predicament in three of the last four seasons.

As for who might accompany them, it also shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that both Millwall and Rotherham are struggling either but if Sheffield Wednesday‘s defence gets much worse they’ll have a fight for survival on their hands – and as I was writing this, they sacked Jos Luhukay. I’d also keep an eye on Brentford, the wheels seem to have come off since Dean Smith left for Aston Villa, with new boss Thomas Frank losing eight of his first ten games. Reading – who have a tough looking three game schedule coming up – aren’t out of the woods either.

I normally take the mickey out of the scheduling of live games over the festive period, but this is where the big difference is this season. There is ONE Championship game over Christmas and that’s Sheffield United v Derby (Boxing Day 3pm); Sky Sports seem to have finally realised that showing multiple games over the holidays is a waste of time. The new contract with the EFL has not gone down well at all with the clubs (especially the so-called ‘bigger’ ones or as I like to call them, the moaners who think they should be in the Premier League) and I suspect the midweek red button service may not have gone down as well as Sky Sports may have thought it might have done.

Saturday December 22nd

An interesting one as three of the top six are away at teams in the bottom six: Middlesbrough‘s trip to Reading features two sides that have combined for one win in their last twelve outings. I can’t see Sheffield United having any problems with Ipswich or Rotherham troubling WBA. As I wrote that, I suddenly had the feeling that at least one of those games will provide the weekly upset that the Championship is well known for.

Sunday December 23rd

Aston Villa v Leeds (Sky Sports Football/Main Event, 1:30pm kick off)

Wednesday December 26th

I’ve already mentioned Derby v Sheffield United, but the games at Norwich, Bolton and Millwall all look like they’re worth following – especially as Rotherham are the guests at Bolton and Reading make the journey to South London. It could be one of those key afternoons at the bottom of the table.

Saturday December 29th

Norwich host Derby and Ipswich travel to Middlesbrough.

Right, that’s me done for another year. Back for the FA Cup Third Round, have a Happy Christmas and thanks for reading.

GOTW: Sheffield United v Leeds

Televised game of the week alert!

I’ll get to that in a moment, but first here’s a quick overview.

The current top seven are still on course for a trip to the playoffs at the very least – it’s going to be tight but I also still think Leeds, Middlesbrough and WBA are the best bets for promotion. We’ve got a few weeks until the annual Christmas Prediction Fest so let’s see what happens before then.

I’ve not bothered covering the midweek games for a while but the encounter at Villa Park on Wednesday was somewhat eventful:

At the bottom it looks increasingly as if it’s a case of select two from five to accompany Ipswich into League One at the end of the season. Over the last five seasons the only team that was in last place at the end of November and wasn’t relegated was Bolton last season; Ipswich are slightly better than Rotherham and Blackpool were when those clubs spent the entire season adrift at the bottom of the table, but that’s about the only positive spin you can put on this situation.

As for the other contenders for the drop, over the last half decade the bottom six at the end of November has provided us with at least two of the teams that were relegated and between 2014 and 2016 all three of the teams that were demoted at the end of the campaign were in nineteenth place or worse.

Sheffield United v Leeds (today, 12:30 kick off, Sky Sports Football/Main Event)

The Blades are currently on an eight game unbeaten streak at Bramall Lane but that’s going to be tested this month as they host Derby, Leeds and WBA. Leeds’ recent away form is patchy: although they’ve only lost twice in their last six road trips, they’ve only won at Hull and Wigan.

Hang on, that looks a bit like a sentence that you’d find in a rugby league blog.

Head to head: unbelievably, Leeds haven’t won at Bramall Lane since they clinched the old Football League Championship in April 1992! United have won six of the last eight meetings in all competitions since then. Additionally, seven of the thirteen Yorkshire derbies this season have ended in draws.

A couple of extra categories for this one as it’s such a big game – in the top six mini league, the away side has won four of the 13 games between the current top six this season, but all four of those matches involved either Nottingham Forest or Norwich. As I mentioned above, this is the start of a nasty looking run of home games for Sheffield United: Leeds have already won at Norwich but were well beaten at WBA a few weeks ago.

This is the eighth game of the week this season but only two of those matches have finished with a home win. It’s less than six weeks since I last chose a game of the week and to illustrate how much things can change in the Championship, at that point Sheffield Wednesday were sixth. The Owls then lost five of their next six games and are now only three points outside of the bottom six.

Verdict: Leeds won’t win – their previous record at Sheffield United is poor and with three key defenders (Ayling, Berardi and Jansson) all missing, I can see the wait for an elusive win at Bramall Lane continuing. That’s not to say The Blades will win though…

The other televised games this weekend are Middlesbrough v Villa (5:30) and WBA v Brentford (Monday 8pm) – the former looks as if it should be a good one, but I can’t see anything but a home win in the latter.

Finally this week the draw for the Third Round of the FA Cup Draw will be shown on BBC1 on Monday evening at 7:30pm. Tempus fugit as the Romans used to say.

Leeds Reverse Means The Worst For Hurst

The last seven days have proved that the Championship is anything but predictable.

Now we’re at the end of what our German friends call an ‘English Week’, the form book has been turned on its’ head and another manager has lost his job.

Middlesbrough got off to a good start last Friday evening in last week’s game of the week…

However, I don’t think anyone would have predicted that Rotherham would have travelled to the Riverside on Tuesday evening and earned a point after  a goalless draw. Sheffield Wednesday also lost at QPR and have gone from the top six to the bottom half of the table in a week; after some impressive recent performances, WBA were spanked 4-1 at home by Derby on Wednesday evening.

There were originally three matches that I’d considered for Game of the Week, but I ruled out Middlesbrough v Derby for being too obvious and neither Millwall v Ipswich nor Preston v Rotherham looked like headline grabbers – even though they’re both important games at the bottom  of the table.

As it’s the end of  October I thought I’d take a quick look at the teams who have either noticeably improved or deteriorated from last season.

The most improved teams so far this season are Birmingham, Leeds and Nottingham Forest.  I thought Garry Monk should have been in the conversation for the September manager of the month award and he should be the obvious choice for the October award – the Blues are undefeated in ten games and have won for of their last six games and so far this season they’ve only lost once in seven games against the teams that are currently above them in the table.

The clubs that have taken at least one step back since last season are Aston Villa, Millwall, Preston, Ipswich and Hull. We all know about Dean Smith replacing Steve Bruce at Villa, but until yesterday afternoon my money would have been on Hull’s Nigel Adkins being the next manager to receive his marching orders.

That’s when Ipswich Town decided that – having dropped to bottom of the table after losing at Leeds – the Paul Hurst era was over after just fifteen games. The Tractor Boys haven’t won at home since April, have lost seven of their last ten away games and wouldn’t have escaped the bottom three this weekend even if they’d won. It’s a similar situation with Adkins: the Tigers have gone seven games without a win and conceded late goals in their last two games that effectively cost them four points.

I think it’s fair to say that there are some signs that Millwall and Preston may have just taken a while to get going rather than showing any damaging long term signs of regression, but now’s the time for Neil Harris and Alex Neil to make their moves.

This weekend’s televised games are as follows – shown on either on Sky Sports Football and/or Main Event unless stated: QPR v Aston Villa (this evening, 7:45pm), Middlesbrough v Derby (tomorrow, 12:30pm) and Leeds v Nottingham Forest (tomorrow, 5:30pm). The Saturday games looks most tempting and it won’t come as a huge surprise that QPR have been chosen again, whilst Leeds/Forest is always televised – although this season it’s actually relevant for a change.

I’ll back in a fortnight as I’m off to France for half term.

GOTW: Bristol City v Sheffield United

And we’re back…

I’m still not sure how the international ‘break’ is anything of the sort, considering  how all it means is that there’s a full midweek programme next week. It’s never going to go away though, so I’m going to stop moaning about it from now on.

Having proclaimed a fortnight ago that the least likely result of the top of the table clash between Leeds and Middlesbrough was a draw, that’s precisely what happened at Elland Road. I would have posted the highlights, only the neutral consensus was that there weren’t any and I couldn’t find any on either of the official YouTube accounts.

However, that result means that Leeds and Boro are the only unbeaten teams left in the Championship. Aston Villa, Blackburn and Nottingham Forest all lost their most recent games: I’ll return to the former pair in a moment, but Forest haven’t won a game since the middle of last month and are beginning to look like one of those teams that are difficult to beat rather than being genuine contenders for promotion.

Bristol City v Sheffield United

If Forest were overrated before the season began, then arguably these two clubs were slightly underrated. Generally speaking, teams that finished in the top ten but missed out on the playoffs at the end of the previous season are those that might take a big step forward during the following campaign.

Let’s also not forget that last time out both City and United both beat unbeaten sides by 4-1 scorelines although I’ve got to say that Sheffield United’s victory was more of an eye catcher than Bristol City’s win. Here are the highlights from Bramall Lane:

Bristol City lost three of their key players during the summer, with only Aden Flint staying at this level following his move to Middlesbrough. Given how City have a habit of going on long runs of either fantastic or terrible form it’s probably too early in the season to assess exactly how good or bad they are at the moment, but the signs are encouraging. As I mentioned above, they battered Blackburn a couple of weeks ago for their first home win of the season (and first at Ashton Gate since March) and they’ve only lost three of their last ten home games in the division – including by the odd goal in five against tomorrow’s opponents at the start of May.

The Blades had an inconsistent end to 2017/18 that meant any chances of reaching the playoffs gradually faded away, but they’ve started brightly this season and have won four consecutive games – their best run of form for year – and their opening day defeat at Middlesbrough has been their only reverse so far. Interestingly, although City lost three key players in the summer, only six of the Blades team that won at Ashton Gate started against Villa two weeks ago: both Ryan Leonard and Lee Evans are on loan at Millwall and Wigan Athletic respectively

Head to head: Bristol City last beat Sheffield United in November 2010 – current Robins’ manager Lee Johnson was a second half substitute – and The Blades were relegated at the end of that season. However, since then United have won three straight at Ashton Gate (sorry, couldn’t resist that)

Verdict: you can’t ignore Sheffield United’s record at Ashton Gate over the last decade, so the big question surrounding this game is whether or not that run is going to come to an end tomorrow. There’s only been one draw between them in Bristol (almost a decade ago) and so it wouldn’t surprise me if it ends all square.

However, I also have a compelling reason to think that Sheffield United could return to South Yorkshire with all three points and if that turns out to be the case I’ll tell you what it is next weekend…

At the bottom of the table there are two games worth following: Hull v Ipswich and Preston v Reading. This week your televised offerings are Birmingham v WBA (this evening, Sky Sports Main Event/Football 7:45pm) and Blackburn v Aston Villa (tomorrow, Sky Sports Main Event/Football 5:30pm) – once again, Sky’s criteria for game selection appears to be teams that used to be in the Premier League but with a bonus point for local derbies.

I’ll be back next weekend unless someone gets sacked…which gives me an idea for next week’s post.