GOTW: Stoke v Derby

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.

Sky Bet Championship Preview 2019-20

The hard facts are as follows:

If you want to win the Championship you need to earn at least 90 points and to go up without a detour via Wembley you’ll need at least 89 in the bag.

Those amounts have changed a bit over the last couple of seasons, but something else has to0 – even though at the moment it may only be possible to draw provisional conclusions.

Consider this – odds quoted below are for promotion, regardless of how it’s achieved:

Of the twelve teams that won Automatic Promotion over the last six seasons only two had been relegated from the Premier League at the end of the previous season – indicating that despite receiving parachute payments not only were those clubs not good enough to stay in the top tier but that they also weren’t good enough to finish in the top two at the end of the following season. If you look at the same stats over the last decade, only four of the new arrivals from the Premier League were promoted.

However, for me the main change is where the teams that eventually won automatic promotion had finished at the end of the previous season in the Championship.

Seven of those 12 – including two of the last six winners – had finished between tenth and fifteenth at the end of the previous season. I was going to to consider the teams that finished in those positions last season, until Hull and Sheffield Wednesday changed managers but at time of writing – a day before the season starts – Wednesday still haven’t replaced Steve Bruce and although Grant McCann is a good choice for Hull, I can’t see the Tigers making waves in 2019/20.

That being said, Preston (14th – 10/1), Brentford (11th – 9/2) and Swansea (10th, 10/1) are worth considering. Brentford in particular had a strong finish to last season, Preston recovered well after a poor start and Swansea now have a full season in the Championship under their belts.

The obvious contenders are Leeds (7/4F) and WBA (4/1), but there’s as much chance of both of them having playoff hangovers as there is of them finishing in the top two.

Leeds were the second lowest scoring side in the top six last season, whilst only ten teams conceded fewer goals than the Baggies; three of them were relegated. Slaven Bilic might be a step in the right direction, but his recent body of work is unconvincing and although he’s managed West Ham in the Premier League, he has no experience in the Championship. Leeds’ fans should also be aware of the fact that only two of the favourites to win automatic promotion over the last decade actually achieved a top two place.

Moving on to the playoffs, a couple of seasons ago I would have said that 70 points was enough for a top six finished, but that’s also changed: now the magic number is 72.

The post season is where the teams relegated from the Prem tend to have their best chance of an immediate return but it’s been three seasons that a club that had been relegated won at Wembley: the last two winners were teams that had reached the semi finals at the end of the previous season (so Leeds and WBA again!)

I’d still expect teams that finished in the top half to be competing for playoff spots but probably only Cardiff (7/2) from the teams that weren’t good enough to stay in the Premier League to challenge for the post season and that’s almost entirely down to Neil Warnock’s knowledge of how to win promotion.

Again, when I started writing this preview I’d included Birmingham (18/1) and Nottingham Forest (13/2) in the ‘possibles’ list but I’m going to discount them as I’ve got no idea what’s going on with either of them. Forest are overrated at the start of every season and you’ll be reading about the Blues in a moment.

The one team that should at least be making a serious attempt at a top six finish is Bristol City (15/2). The Robins have come close to the playoffs over the last couple of seasons and a combination of managerial stability and impressive recruitment over the summer might push them into promotion contention – although like so many other clubs, they need a proven striker.

I can’t see either Derby (13/2) or Middlesbrough (11/2) doing much this season. Frank Lampard’s move to Chelsea belies the fact that he did next to nothing with the Rams and Jonathan Woodgate is going to need at least one season to change the legacy of Tony Pulis’ defence first style at the Riverside.

Moving swiftly downwards…the odds quoted below are for relegation.

As a general rule over the last half dozen seasons, anything less than a 1.1 points per game and you’re in trouble as is any team finishing below sixteenth place at the end of the previous season.

Using that criteria, Reading (3/1) and Millwall (4/1) are the obvious contenders for the drop this season. As for other possible strugglers, in four of the last six seasons at least one of the promoted teams have struggled and I think this is where Luton (9/2) could be candidates. The last team to win successive promotions from League 2 was Rotherham a few seasons ago and the Millers never finished higher than 21st before being relegated at the end of 2016/17.

Both Charlton (9/4F) and Barnsley (5/2, 2F) have relatively recent experience at this level but that’s doesn’t mean either can be complacent. At one point over the summer it looked as if Lee Bowyer wouldn’t be with the Addicks for much longer whilst The Tykes have something of a reputation as a yo-yo club and haven’t finished in the top half of the second tier since it was renamed the Championship.

If you’re looking for outsiders, even though I’m a fan of Mark Warburton I think QPR (7/2) might continue to struggle and after a couple of seasons where Birmingham (9/2) had apparently turned the corner, I’m expecting the Blues to regress back to the team that struggled especially as the appointment of Pep Clotet is baffling, considering he did nothing at all at Oxford and didn’t last a full season at Malaga either.

It’s also highly unlikely that any of the new arrivals from the PL will be relegated to League One: Sunderland remain the only team since 2013/14 to have completed that particularly unenviable double.

TV Games: one a day from Friday to Monday – all Sky Sports football, kick off times in brackets.

This evening: Luton v Middlesbrough (7:45pm), Saturday: Forest v WBA (5:30pm), Sunday: Bristol City v Leeds (4:30pm), Monday: Huddersfield v Derby (7:45pm)

I’ll back next Thursday with a brief preview, but from now on it’s uninterrupted coverage until the first international weekend of the campaign…in a month.

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 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.

Are Leeds Going To Blow It?

Welcome to this week’s episode of ‘typical anti-Leeds drivel’, if you’re a Leeds fan of a certain disposition you might not want to continue reading.

Here’s what happened at Elland Road last weekend in the clash between the top two:

Leeds have now lost four of their last six games after a seven game winning streak that ended at the end of December. It’s unclear if this is a blip or not – after this weekend’s game they don’t face another top six club until next month – but there’s suddenly a defensive frailty about them. If any Leeds fans want to take a look at what happened to Marseille in the 2014/15 season, they might see something that should worry them.

As we go into this weekend’s games, only ten points separate the top seven, which could mean the last third of the season is more unpredictable than we might have imagined even a month ago. Currently no-one looks like a side that could win automatic promotion, but to put that into context the only team that has more or less no chance of mathematically reaching the playoffs is Ipswich.

Nonetheless, Middlesbrough v Leeds (tomorrow 1pm, no TV coverage) is our game of the week this week even though neither team is currently on fire. Boro were dumped out of the FA Cup earlier this week by Newport, which probably shouldn’t have been that much of a shock considering their record at the Riverside since mid-September – where Tony Pulis’ side has won just twice in ten games. That being said, their away form has sustained their league position and Boro haven’t lost at home to any of the teams currently above them in 2018/19.

Leeds’ recent come from behind win at Rotherham was their first away success since before Christmas but although they’ve got a reasonably straightforward looking run in, this game will be their last chance until the start of next month to win any away points due to QPR‘s continued involvement in the FA Cup.

Leeds have only won one of their last five visits to the Riverside – an early Alex Mowatt goal earned all three points in February 2014 – and the last time both of these teams scored in a game at Middlesbrough was just under eight and a half years ago. Given that Boro have the best defence in the division, I wonder how likely it is to happen again?

The only other game that will have an impact on the table is at Millmoor, where Wigan are the visitors. Reading would have to win at Sheffield Wednesday to overtake Rotherham, but considering Wigan haven’t won a game away from home since August (thirteen in a row), the Latics might be due a rare success. The Millers have only won twice at home since October but actually have a decent home record against the other strugglers.

TV games: Aston Villa v Sheffield United (this evening, 7:45pm), Stoke v WBA (Saturday 5:30pm) and Norwich v Ipswich (Sunday, noon) all look as if they were chosen well in advance. The Old Farm derby is usually televised but might well be one to avoid given the respective positions of the protagonists in the table: Norwich have beaten Ipswich twice by three clear goals in the last 25 years and I’d not be surprised if that happened again in what might be the last league derby between the teams for a while.

I’ll get back to the FA Cup next weekend, but with six teams left in the competition, I’m beginning to wonder if something rather rare might happen. With all due respect to Newport, imagine the possibilities if Manchester City were drawn against the winners of Chelsea/Manchester United in the quarter finals…