View From The Bottom Part 2

I’m going to start this week with a bit of a moan. For the first time in several seasons there are no Championship clubs involved in the quarter finals of the FA Cup: considering that Millwall (who may be back in the Championship next season) and Lincoln City are both involved, you’ve really got to question the commitment of some of the clubs in this division. I’m not having a go at the clubs who were unlucky with the draw, but there are a few teams at the top of the table who clearly couldn’t have given a toss about the competition.

As the top six is beginning to look as if there may not be many changes before the end of the season, the only fluid situation concerns those teams attempting to avoid relegation. The bookies are no longer taking bets on Rotherham, but after that it looks like any two from Blackburn, Bristol City, Burton and Wigan, with the Latics currently odds on to return to League One after just one season. With only four points separating Burton Albion and Wigan Athletic at the moment, to me it looks as if we’re going right down to the wire but there’s still plenty of time for things to change.

Wigan Athletic v Bristol City

Fourth meeting since the turn of the century but the first time the clubs have met in Lancashire since August 2002. The Latics haven’t lost at home to any of the other teams in the current bottom six, but they’ve not won at the DW Stadium since January – their only home victory in their last ten attempts.

City’s away form is just as terrible – they haven’t won on the road since September (thirteen games ago) – although they’ve only failed to score four times during that streak and will be welcoming Tammy Abraham back.

Wolves v Rotherham

I must admit that I’d forgotten that Paul Lambert had been appointed Wolves manager in November. Sacking Kenny Jackett before the season began was an idiotic move by their Chinese owners, although it clearly inspired the ridiculous decision by the new Birmingham City owners to replace Gary Rowett with Gianfranco Zola. A goalless draw at Ipswich on Tuesday evening ended a five game losing streak, but four defeats in the last six at Molineux indicates the task that faces Paul Lambert before the season finishes.

As for Rotherham, they’ve never won at Wolves. The Millers have lost their last ten away games and haven’t scored in seven of those matches. Ordinarily you’d expect a Wolves win, but this is the Championship and strange things often happen.

I’ll be back next Friday, but there are couple of catch up games in West London on Tuesday that may be worth following. Wolves travel to Brentford whilst Fulham host Blackburn Rovers – both matches could see changes in the landscape at the bottom of the table.

Update: literally just as I posted this, Norwich City announced they’d sacked Alex Neil. Alan Irvine takes charge for today’s game against Blackburn.

Midweek Preview 7th March 2017

A quick recap of last weekend:

Newcastle’s 3-1 victory at Huddersfield actually did Brighton – who lost at Nottingham Forest – a favour: the Magpies are now five points ahead of the Seagulls, but the Terriers are now five points behind Brighton. With all teams having just ten or more games left after this evening’s matches, the five point gap between Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday in sixth and seventh places may be significant: at this stage last season, only goal difference separated Sheffield Wednesday and Cardiff for the last playoff place.

At the bottom, Bristol City slipped into the bottom three for the first time this season despite a goalless draw at home against Burton Albion. If you’ve not seen Lloyd Dyer’s miss yet, I’d recommend looking up on YouTube. Blackburn beat Wigan thanks to a Marvin Emnes goal just before the hour.

Only a couple of games worth monitoring this evening – the fact that it’s the penultimate midweek programme of the season is arguably more important that the actual games themselves:

Sheffield Wednesday v Burton (7:45pm)

Saturday’s romp over Norwich was the first time Wednesday have scored more than four goals at home in the Championship since January 2014. They’ve only failed to score twice at Hillsborough in the League since August, this is their last home game against any of the teams that are currently in the bottom six and they’ve won four of the previous five against the sides currently in that category.

Surprisingly, Burton haven’t conceded an away goal in their last two games but they were lucky that Bristol City both had a goal disallowed and missed a penalty at the weekend. If they can keep a third consecutive clean sheet on their travels, the Brewers can take a huge step in conserving their status in the Championship. It’s a very big if though…

Reading v Newcastle (8:00pm)

I’ve mentioned how impressive the Royals have been at home more than once recently, but if they’re serious about the playoffs they need to win this game. Reading are unbeaten at home against the other clubs in the top six, but Newcastle are unbeaten away at the same teams. Something’s got to give – this is only the fifth meeting in the league between the clubs in Berkshire but Reading have only lost one of the previous four. That may be worth remembering at 10pm.

Usual drill, back on Friday. No FA Cup previews though as all the Championship teams are out.

View From The Bottom

In case you missed it, here’s how the top of the table clash played out earlier this week:

Huddersfield v Newcastle (Saturday, Sky Sports 1, 5:15pm) would normally be the choice of game of the week, but I think I’ve been concentrating on the top of the table too much recently – and the bottom of the table is just as fascinating at the moment.

Only four points separate Wolves, Bristol City, Blackburn and Wigan. The Lancashire duo are the bookie’s favourites to join Rotherham in League One next season, but as we’ve seen over the past seasons there are usually a few twists and turns along the way and it’s not as if the four clubs are new to the wrong end of the table.

The big game in the battle to avoid relegation looks as if it may between Blackburn Rovers and Bristol City on Easter Monday, but rather frustratingly I won’t be around to cover it as I’m away for the previous week.

There are three games that look crucial this weekend:

Blackburn Rovers v Wigan Athletic

Rovers have suffered just two defeats in their last six at Ewood Park and have won without conceding in both of their most recent outings in front of their own fans including a win over Derby on Tuesday courtesy of a goal from Craig Conway. A new manager bounce was inevitable, but the last seven years have not exactly made Tony Mowbray a household name when it comes to football management.

Wigan have only lost half of their last six aways, but they’ve only won twice since the start of December. The Latics still have to visit Newcastle and Brighton before the end of the season as well as hosting Bristol City and Rotherham, so they look as if they still have their destiny in their own hands. It’d be a shame if they only lasted one season before returning to League One, but considering the last two winners of that division are also struggling, I wonder if that’s a sign that the gulf between the Championship and League One is beginning to be as wide as that between the Premier League and the Championship.

Wigan have only won one league game at Ewood Park in nine attempts since 2006: a 1-0 win in the Premier League in May 2012, which meant Rovers were relegated to the Championship. Almost five years later, a similar result could contribute to Blackburn being relegated to the third tier for the first time since 1979.

Reading v Wolves

Despite losing at both Brighton and Huddersfield in quick succession, Reading are still pretty formidable at home, having only been beaten once since the end of November. Considering the Royals still have to host Blackburn and Wigan, they could still have a considerable impact at both ends of the table.

Wolves have only lost half of their last six aways but the damage is being done at Molineux, where they’ve lost four of their last five games and failed to beat Birmingham a couple of weeks ago despite the Blues playing most of the second half with ten men after Paul Robinson was dismissed.

Reading have only lost twice to Wolves in their last ten league games in Berkshire, but the last time the visitors won was in April 2005. Since then, three of the four games have ended in draws.

Bristol City v Burton Albion

The continuing mystery of why Lee Johnson is still in charge at Ashton Gate continues: one theory is that having been offered and signed a long term contract before it was adequately proven that he was the right man for the job, it’s too expensive for the club to get rid of him. For the record, City have won twice at home since November, during which time they’ve also blown leads at home against Reading and Cardiff.

Just like Wigan and Wolves, Burton have only lost half of their last six away games but they’re currently unbeaten in three and are currently in their highest league position this season. Something to look out for tomorrow: Bristol City’s home defence is about average for the Championship, but this season Burton haven’t lost an away game when they’ve opened the scoring.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that this is the first meeting between the two sides at Ashton Gate. The last time City entertained a team from Burton in a league game was when Burton United lost 4-0 just before Christmas 1905. Bristol City won the Second Division title that season, finishing four points ahead of Manchester United.

I’ll be back next Tuesday for a quick look at the midweek games.

 

Sky Bet Championship: What To Expect in 2016/17

At the top:

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Newcastle had already won the Sky Bet Championship.

However, only three of the last ten clubs that have won the Championship over the last decade had been teams that were relegated from the Premier League at the end of the previous season. Last season Burnley became the first club that had been relegated to win the Championship since Newcastle United in 2010, which makes you wonder if any of the relegate clubs will win the title this season. Indeed, only ten of the 30 teams promoted from the Championship over the last decade were those that had been relegated at the end of the previous season.

So if we’re assuming that it’s an established Championship team that will win the title, who are the favourites? It’s fair to say that any of the clubs that finished in the top seven last season are in with a shout as only two of the last ten champions finished outside that position and went on to win the title.

In that case, if Brighton, Derby and Sheffield Wednesday can put potential playoff hangovers behind them, they should be amongst the front runners. A word of caution about Wednesday here: they were one of the most improved sides last season, but were a surprise nonetheless. It’s a slightly different tale with Brighton, who had clearly returned to being the side they were a couple of seasons ago.

Automatic promotion is a similar story. The last time a club relegated from the Premier League finished in second place was WBA in 2010. Four of the last five runners up have played at least one season in the Championship before promotion and any of the teams that finished in the top half of the competition should have a fair shout.

The playoffs have been the most reliable route for relegated teams to return to the Premier League, but as always there’s a catch. Four of the last five finals have been won by teams that had been relegated from the Premier League, but it’s the teams that have earned at least 31 points before demotion that have been successful. Aston Villa‘s awful campaign in 2015/16 implies that they won’t be at Wembley in May. Here’s the fun part for anyone who follows a team that finished in the bottom half of the table though: six of the last ten playoff winners had finished in thirteenth place or lower.

Market movers: as you’d expect,  there’s been a lot of money for Newcastle, who have been clear favourites to win promotion. However, the change of both ownership and management at Wolves has seen them cut to 6/1 to go up. I think that’s a ‘wait and see’ decision, purely because we have no idea what sort of impact Walter Zenga will have. It’s also worth remembering what happened when Kenny Jackett left Millwall a few seasons ago.

At the bottom:

Over the last decade it’s normally been the clubs that have finished lower than 15th or have been promoted from League One that have usually been relegated, although it’s fair to point out that in half of the last ten seasons all of the newcomers from the third tier have avoided relegation.

Having written that, I find it difficult to argue with the bookies about the favourites for the drop. By and large, League 1 was wide open last season and I’ve already argued that elsewhere that Wigan won the title because so many other teams managed to blow their chances at crucial points. I don’t expect the Latics to struggle, but Barnsley and Burton will. The Tykes put together a run of form at exactly the right time, but in the eight seasons before they were relegated from the Championship they finished no better than 17th: they also had a worse record last season than Yeovil did when they were promoted.

Burton have to be admired for their record since joining the Football League, but the Championship is both unforgiving and a huge step up in class. The big advantage Burton have is that Nigel Clough knows the territory whereas Paul Heckingbottom doesn’t.

That being said, there are a number of teams that have declined over the past few seasons to the point where they’re prime candidates for relegation. Blackburn, Fulham and Nottingham Forest all fit that description and the Cottagers look particularly vulnerable following Ross McCormack’s departure for Aston Villa earlier this week. Blackburn and Forest were two thirds of the trio that averaged one goal per game or less last season but weren’t relegated. It’s interesting to note that Preston‘s odds for relegation have shortened since the start of last month: the Lillywhites complete the goal shy trio, even though they conceded the same amount of goals as Sheffield Wednesday did in 2015/16.

Talking of which, the average number of goals per game in the Championship last season was 2.42, the first time that the average had dropped below 2.5 since the 2008/09.

Predictions:

  • Derby to win promotion. Rather like the Cardiff sides of few years ago, The Rams have been agonisingly close to a return to the Premier League. Nigel Pearson may have had a rather inglorious end to his career at Leicester, but he did almost all of the groundwork there and will want to remind his doubters of that.
  • Barnsley to be relegated. Once again, the similarities between last season’s Tykes and the Yeovil team that won the League One playoffs in 2013 are remarkable: both clubs were in the bottom third of the table in September – Barnsley were bottom of League One at the end of November 2015 – before putting together remarkable runs of form to win promotion. However, Yeovil were in the bottom three of the Championship by mid-September and eventually finished seven points from safety.
  • At least one semi finalist from the Championship in both the League Cup and the FA Cup this season, although it’s about time a second tier team won the FA Cup again.

Finally this week, here are the televised games this weekend, starting tonight. The times in the brackets are the actual kick off times: there’s usually half an hour of waffle before the game starts and – as usual – they’ve missed the game of the week, which is Derby v Brighton.

Friday 5th August: Fulham v Newcastle (7:45pm, Sky Sports 1)

Sunday 7th August: QPR v Leeds (noon, Sky Sports 1), Sheffield Wednesday v Aston Villa (4:30pm, Sky Sports 1)

I’ll be back next weekend.

Newcastle, Norwich relegated from the Premier League

Following Sunderland’s 3-0 win over Everton this evening, both Newcastle United and Norwich City will be playing in the Sky Bet Championship next season.

Norwich lasted one season in the Premier League after beating Middlesbrough in last season’s play off final, whilst Newcastle won the Championship by eleven points in 2009/10.

For the record, Newcastle and Burton Albion have never met in any competition…