2018 Playoff Final: The Aftermath

ICYMI…

Congratulations to Fulham – I told you they’d win promotion a year ago ūüôā

However, things have taken a turn for the worse for Villa. Yesterday CEO Keith Wyness was suspended from his position following suggestions that a winding up order had been issued by HMRC over an unpaid multi-million pound tax bill. This morning there have been reports that Dr Tony Xia might have problems selling the club: we’ll monitor the situation as it develops.

Next scheduled post is June 21st, when the fixtures are released. The pre-season previews will be appearing in the first week of July, but I’m not entirely sure what format they’ll be in this time round.

The Championship: The Story So Far

Even though it’s mathematically incorrect, this weekend’s games¬†mark the point at which all clubs have played at least a quarter of their games.

Regular readers will know that I think that it’s the period between now and Boxing Day that’s the most vital for those clubs either chasing promotion or trying to avoid relegation, so let’s take a look at how the rest of the season might progress.

The Contenders

At the moment any of the clubs currently in the top ten could theoretically win promotion even though only Cardiff City, Sheffield United and Wolves are currently earning an average of two points or more per game. I can’t see¬†any of them sustaining that pace over the winter but that’s not necessarily as bad as it sounds, simply because¬†only Wolves are on target to at least equal the points totals won by Brighton and Newcastle last season.

Unlike last season, the chasing pack looks much more competitive and that seems to be down to last season’s unsuccessful playoff finalists suffering a collective hangover – although Fulham (my pre-season pick for promotion) still have time to turn that round. Bristol City and Preston improved almost beyond reognition whilst Aston Villa, Ipswich and Norwich are better than they were in 2016/17. Leeds‘ recent run of poor form indicates that despite a bright start, they’re currently no better than they were last season which could mean another potential playoff disappointment.

In Danger

Bolton and Burton were predicted to struggle this season and so it won’t come as much of a surprise that the bookies have written The Trotters off completely – over the past few posts I’ve written more than once that Bolton are currently far worse than Rotherham were last season. Nigel Clough has apparently decided to borrow the keys to the bus from Jose Mourinho and although I try not to let my personal feelings show in these posts, Burton’s brand of anti-football deserves to fail.

The rest of the season seems to be about who is going to accompany Bolton down to League One. The surprise teams at the wrong end of the table this season are Reading and Sunderland: I didn’t think either of them would do particularly well this season, but I didn’t think they’d be this bad either. Last season’s bad defending has finally caught up with the Royals and – as we mentioned last week – the Black Cats seem to be in one of those tailspins following relegation from the Premier League that has happened to Norwich, Southampton and Wolves over the past decade.

Birmingham were another club that I felt would struggle before the campaign started and the recent appointment of Steve Cotterill as manager following the departure of Harry Redknapp seems like a gamble, although if the owners require a gaffer who can get them out of League One they’ve made a good choice. The other team that have struggled so far is Brentford, although the bookies still seem to think Barnsley will be in the mix for relegation even though the Tykes aren’t significantly worse than they were last season.

Back to the present now: there are three candidates for game of the week, I couldn’t pick one as they’ll all have an impact at either end of the table.

Bristol City v Leeds

The Robins have only lost one of their last ten games – a meaningless 1-0 defeat by Birmingham City in the last match of 2016/17 – and haven’t conceded more than one goal at Ashton Gate since April. Leeds have lost half of their last ten aways and haven’t won on the road since the end of August. Since the turn of the century Leeds have won three of their five trips to Ashton Gate in Championship games but their last win in Bristol was in September 2012.

Wolves v Preston

Wolves’ only home defeat this season was against Cardiff in mid-August: at this point last season they’d already lost twice at Molineux and were about to be beaten by Leeds, so it’s fair to say their home form has improved. Preston have only lost one away game so far and are unbeaten in their last four aways – but arguably should have won at Fulham on Saturday after taking a two goal lead at Craven Cottage after less than half an hour. The last six meetings between the sides in Wolverhampton have been evenly distributed, but Wolves have only lost four of the last ten encounters in the Black Country.

Sheffield United v Reading

An impressive start at Bramall Lane has seen four clean sheets in six games since promotion and it’s fair to say that the Blades like to have their home games wrapped up by half time. Reading’s win at Leeds last weekend was unexpected: the Royals still haven’t won at the Mad House since August and had lost three of their previous five road trips. There’s another possible upset here: Reading have won five of their last visits to Bramall Lane for League games although it’s been nine years since they last came away with all the points.

Televised games: Millwall v Birmingham City (tomorrow evening, 5:30pm kickoff, Sky Sports Football), Ipswich v Norwich (Sunday lunchtime, noon kick off, Sky Sports Football/Sky Sports Main Event). The former always reminds me of a vital game at St Andrews in the old Second Division towards the end of the 1971/72 which Birmingham won to ruin Millwall’s promotion chances: it was the first time I can remember a second tier game getting a lot of attention on BBC radio and could well be one of the reasons that I’m writing this post over 45 years later. The Old Farm Derby is always worth watching.

There¬†won’t be a post next Friday, but the next scheduled post after that will be on Friday 3rd November even though that’s just a week before the next round of international dates. Don’t forget that there are four Championship clubs in action in the League Cup next week – although none of those games will be televised.

Play Off Semi Finals Part Two

Both of the first legs ended in draws – which normally favours the hosts of the second legs. You never know though: Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday are both favourites to win promotion.

Reading v Fulham (this evening, Sky Sports 3, 7:45pm)

Although it might appear that Fulham blew their chances last Saturday, the fact that Reading are unbeaten in ten home league games at the Madejski Stadium is significant. That’s their best run in the Championship since the last time they were relegated from the Premier League, but it also indicates that the Royals will lose at home at some point in the near future: half of their eight wins in that run were against teams that finished in the bottom half of the final table and Reading’s last three home games were against the three teams that were relegated.

Since the start of February, Fulham have only lost at Birmingham and Derby, but they’ve also beaten Newcastle, Huddersfield and Sheffield Wednesday. This evening’s game would be the best time to replicate those performances but don’t be too surprised if The Cottagers concede at some point – they’ve only kept three away clean sheets in their last ten matches, although only Derby have scored more than two goals against Fulham in that period. To put it another way, only Newcastle had a better away record last season and no-one scored as many away goals as Fulham.

Head to head: Reading have only lost three of their last ten league games in Berkshire against Fulham, their last defeat was nine years ago in a Premier League game. The most recent encounter between the two teams ended in a 1-0 win for the hosts: Roy Beerens goal just after half time ensured all three points went to Reading. Fans of Championship nostalgia may enjoy this post from May 2011, the last time that Reading were involved in the playoffs.

Verdict: both of these teams have improved since bottom half finishes a year ago and I’ll put my hand up and say that I didn’t expect this from either of them. I’m still far from convinced by Reading, but having not lost at Craven Cottage last weekend I think their chances of reaching Wembley are very good, although they’ll have to be at their absolute best to beat Fulham, especially as they’re missing Paul McShane and possibly Jordan Obita¬†this evening. It could be a long night.

Reading 1, Fulham 0. Yann Kermogant’s penalty put the Royals through to the final even though Fulham had most of the possession and more than half as many shots on goal again than Reading.

Sheffield Wednesday v Huddersfield Town (tomorrow evening, Sky Sports 3, 7:45pm)

Saturday’s draw at Huddersfield was never really in doubt after the opening exchanges and it wouldn’t really be much of a surprise if a similar result occurred tomorrow evening. Wednesday haven’t lost consecutive home games in the Championship since April 2014 and although this is a one off where potentially anything could happen, the Owls have won six of their last ten at Hillsborough.

Huddersfield were very inconsistent away from home over the latter half of the season: they only won two of their last six road trips and managed to conceded six goals in consecutive games at Bristol City and Nottingham Forest as well as winning at Brentford. They’ve not scored more than two goals in a game since Valentine’s Day (when they pulled off a last minute win at Rotherham) and only Chelsea loanee Izzy Brown has scored more than one away goal since mid February.

Head to head: meetings in the Championship since both teams were promoted in 2012 have been pretty even. Wednesday have won two of the last three and drew the other match, but Huddersfield won the two previous encounters and have recorded four victories in their last ten trips to the John Smiths Stadium since 1983.

Verdict: Looking back at last season’s playoff preview, I wondered if 2016/17 represented a better chance of Sheffield Wednesday winning promotion and having written that, I’m going to stick with it. After having finished 19th last season Huddersfield have surprised a lot of people, but although that represents a huge step forward – similar to that of Sheffield Wednesday in 2015/16 – there were signs towards the end of the season that the Terriers’ wheels had fallen off.

Sheffield Wednesday 0, Huddersfield 0. Huddersfield will play Reading in the final after winning 4-3 on penalties after extra time failed to produce a goal.

Updates will follow both games and although I’ve got to write the preview yet, the League One playoff final between Bradford City and Millwall will be posted on Buzzin’ League One Football on Friday evening.

Newcastle Lose Twice; Jackett Leaves Rotherham

Having rather brashly predicted that neither Huddersfield nor Newcastle would lose last week, I failed to heed my own advice about the Championship fairly predictable in the long term but very unpredictable on a weekly basis.

What I was not expecting was Kenny Jackett to walk away from the Rotherham job so quickly. I think this may be one of those cases where he may not have realised exactly what the state of the club was when he was offered the job – the Sheffield Star provides further¬†insight here, the Yorkshire Post article is worth reading and you’ll find it¬†here.

Anyway, here’s Newcastle’s third home defeat of the season – and if I’d have written a decent preview last week, I could have told you that Newcastle had lost four of their previous five home games in the league against Rovers.

This week the top two and the bottom six can’t change, but with only four points separating Barnsley and Cardiff, it would be a good time for some of the clubs in danger of slipping into the relegation zone to earn some points…

Blackburn v Huddersfield

Six meetings at Ewood Park since the start of the century, but Huddersfield won the last game in Lancashire in April; Rovers have only lost one of their last six at home, but Town have now lost five of their last six on the road and have conceded three or more goals in the last three of those games.

Burton v Rotherham

Four meetings all time at the Pirelli Stadium, but Burton’s only victory over the Millers came in League 2 game almost four years ago and they’ve not met since. Having written that, Albion haven’t lost at home since mid September and haven’t conceded a goal at home for almost five hours, which is hardly encouraging for Rotherham, who have been so dire this season that if they’re bottom on Boxing Day I’m not going to bother writing about them again.

Cardiff v Brighton

Last season’s meeting ended in a surprise 4-1 victory for the hosts, but since then the Bluebirds have only won seven of their seventeen league games in the Welsh capital and last weekend’s victory against Huddersfield was only their third home win in 2016/17. After a so-so start, Brighton’s recent away form has been very good: four wins in their last five aways with four clean sheets. Combine that with the fact that they’ve only lost three of their last ten trips to Cardiff for league games and you get the distinct impression that the hosts will remain in the bottom three tomorrow evening.

I’ll be back on Monday with the draw for the Third Round of the FA Cup, then the December market reports on Friday.

Sky Bet Championship 2015/16 First Quarter Report

We’ve reached the second international ‘break’ (although it’s not ¬†a break for the players involved in it) and as far as I’m concerned the period between now and Christmas is the most important in the football season. It’s during this period that both the genuine promotion contenders and the also rans begin to separate themselves and we’ll also see who is going to be involved in the relegation battle for the rest of the season.

Important to remember that in a couple of the last five seasons we’ve had a team in the Europa League, so these stats are based at the point when the majority of teams had played ten games, but as a general guide the following stats are based on the first game of October. I also use my own system, in which not losing games is slightly more important than winning them, as well as the simple ‘average two points per game’ and ‘away goal difference’ methods.

At the top:

* It could be very competitive season at the top even though Brighton and Middlesbrough are the only teams currently playing like genuine title contenders. Reading, Birmingham, Derby, Cardiff and Leeds have all noticeably improved and Fulham are not far away from joining this list. However, I’d be surprised if either Fulham or Leeds make a run at promotion.

* In every one of the last five seasons, the team that’s at the top of the Championship at this point were promoted, but there was also at least one other team in the top six that also went up.

That’s very good news for Brighton and something to aim at for the other five sides in those positions. The Seagulls have the same number of points as both Southampton and Cardiff did at this stage in the seasons in October 2012 and October 2013 respectively and both were promoted automatically. However, after ten games in 2011/12, QPR had more points (26) and a bigger lead (six points) than Brighton have at the moment.

Despite that, it’s worth remembering that at this point in October 2012 Wolves were third, but were eventually relegated but that season included a sequence of three wins in twenty five games between 20th October and 1st March.

Verdict: the bookies have eased the promotion prices for the top six considerably since the start of July and Middlesbrough are favourites for promotion. However both Cardiff and Hull still have some value if you want to back one of the sides just outside the top six. However, look out for the teams in the top half that have been inconsistent so far but might suddenly put a run of form together.

At the bottom:

* The bottom of the table is very unsettled and there’s every sign that this will continue. Charlton and Rotherham are both performing poorer than they were last season, but despite their current position Bolton are actually slightly better than last season. History is not on Bolton’s side: in three of the last five seasons the club in 22nd place at this stage were relegated. Brentford are the other team who need to look over their shoulders.

Even though Bristol City were bottom after at this stage in both October 2010 and October 2011, they managed to survive at the end of the season. The Robins have more points than any of the clubs that have been bottom at this stage in the last five years and are only a point from escaping the bottom three, which is the lowest margin at this stage over the last half decade. Interestingly, the three promoted clubs are in the bottom six (Preston are bottom but one), which is more than at any point at this point over the last five seasons. The surprising thing about this year’s new intake from League One is that they’re all performing so badly: over the last five seasons, just Sheffield Wednesday and Yeovil were in the bottom six a at this point after having won promotion and the Glovers were the only team that were eventually relegated.

Verdict: a number of managers have already mentioned that Bristol City are better than their current position suggests but the although the table never lies, the bookies concur with this opinion. The Robins are fifth favourites to go down and if we’re only judging teams by their odds for relegation that points to Rotherham and two other clubs, one of which may be one of the teams that came up from League One. If that’s the case, I’d go for Preston (who have scored the fewest goals in the competition) but I’d say that if Bolton don’t improve on the road soon then they may be playing in the third tier next season for the first time since 1993.

On that note, I’ll see you next Friday and I’ll wish you a good weekend.