Here we go again – Championship Football

Domestic football returned on Friday night with the two games in the Championship. Relegated Sunderland kicked off at home to promotion hopefuls Derby. The result was a 1-1 draw which Sunderland fans would have been more happier about on the opening weekend. The other game saw Nottingham Forest host newly promoted Millwall. It was joy for the home side as they sneaked home with a 1-0 a few minutes before half time. It was Nottingham Forest’s fifth win in six opening round fixtures. The Lions were left to rue missed chances. Despite the lack of possession, they had a total of 23 shots but could get only six of those on target. If they are to stay in the Championship, they will surely need to make more of their opportunities as tougher games ahead.

The other two relegated clubs had mixed results.Hull City who were relegated could only manage a 1-1 draw against Aston Villa, now managed by former Tigers boss Steve Bruce. The second half goal from the visitors not only denied their hosts an opening win, but also denied an opening clean sheet for John Terry making his debut with the club. Middlesbrough though were not so lucky and went down to Wolves after Leo Bonatini scored the only goal of the game.

It was mixed results for the other two teams promoted to the Championship. Bristol City had the honour of being top of the table with a 3-1 win over visitors Barnsley. The Robins record signing Famara Diedhiou netted on his debut with Bobby Reid netting the other two. For the Barnsley it is the opening day curse striking again. They have not won on the opening day for the last five seasons. Surely it can’t continue? Sheffield United were victorious but Bolton Wanderers went down 3-2 at home to Leeds United.

QPR got off to a good start as they beat ten man Reading. Conor Washington’s two goals was enough to see the West London club beat last seasons play off finalists, who found themselves with another defeat on their opening away day game. They have managed only one win in the last thirteen away games. On the other hand it was an extended record for Ian Holloway. He has yet to lose an opening game of the season with QPR, how some would love for an unbeaten start to the season.

Promotion hopefuls Fulham and Norwich saw their game finish one  a piece whilst Ipswich put their final day blues behind them to beat Harry Redknapp’s Birmingham City.


Two into one – Chase for the Champions League

With both Arsenal and Manchester City both winning their games in hand, the chase for the final two Champions League spots looks like going from three into two to two into one. As it currently stands, Manchester City have all but  sealed their Champions League in third with on 78 points and a goal difference of plus 36, fourth place sees Liverpool on 73 and plus 33 together with Arsenal on 72 points and plus 31 goal difference.

After a roller coaster season for the three sides, City look odds on to finish third. Only Liverpool can overtake the Manchester club should City lose to away to Watford. Say a 1-0 defeat for Man City and a Liverpool win of 3-0 and its City drop down into fourth. It wouldn’t matter on the Arsenal result unless the Gunners give the home fans some joy and spank the toffees 4-0, which would then Arsenal would go into the Champions League and Man City finish fifth. How interesting would that be to see.

Realistically Manchester City should finish the game Sunday knowing that they can put their feet up with regards to Champions League football. The only thing they need to worry about is if they say for example 4-4 and Liverpool win 4-1. In these set of circumstances you would see a playoff match at a neutral ground.  The likelihood of that though is very slim. I imagine though should that happen, come Sunday evening there would be a large number of nervous Liverpool and City fans.

For Liverpool, it is Champions League playoff if they win. Should they draw or lose to Middlesbrough, not only will it be typical of the season, but all eyes will be on the Emirates hoping that their neighbours Everton can do them a favour. Should Liverpool lose and Arsenal draw, then that is when it becomes interesting. Should Liverpool lose 2-1 and Arsenal win 2-1 then both teams would have a record of 76-44 and plus 32. Under the Premier League rules, this would require a play off to distinguish who would finish in 4th and 5th place. Im sure neither team would want to go through a play off given their post season activities. As a Liverpool fan like others, I doubt there will be much hunger for 90 minutes at a neutral ground. I guess the same for Arsenal fans.

Not since 1989 when Arsenal won at Anfield to take the title, have either Liverpool or Arsenal gone to the wire in deciding league placings. Personally I dont want to relive that moment any time soon.

Championship review -Boro’s title?

The Championship takes another step closer to the end of season and it appears that Middlesbrough have a good chance of taking the Championship after taking all three points with an injury time winner. The league leaders had travelled to Bolton Wanderers and it would have looked like an easy win for the visitors. The already relegated Bolton had taken a surprise lead around the hour but the lead would just over twelve minutes when Jordan Rhodes levelled with the first of two. The league leaders seemed to not be able to find away through as they failed to convert many of their chances, but in added on time Rhodes headed home the winner to keep a little space between them and Burnley, who had beaten Birmingham to claim second spot ahead of Brighton.

The Clarets had found it hard work against the home side as they looked to keep their title chances alive. Having taken the lead in the first half Burnley looked like they could get a narrow 1-0 win but Birmingham levelled when Heaton could only parry a shot which enabled Maghoma to put the ball in the back of the net. There was relieve for the visitors when Andre Gray scored his sixth in nine games.

Brighton who had scored a 5-0 win on the Friday night against Fulham, saw their brief gap of one point increased to four following Boro’s win. The hammering they gave to Fulham, boosted their goal difference to plus 24. This though still not enough with Middlesbrough and Burnley having plus 32. The victory though gives them opportunity to close the gap depending on midweek results.

Midweek sees Burnley and Middlesbrough face off at Turf Moor. Middlesbrough won the previous tie 1-0 and a repeat of that will ultimately see Boro in the driving seat and a points gap. Should Burnley win then they will have a point advantage with a chance to increase it should they later beat Preston. Brighton will host QPR hoping to avoid a repeat of the the 2-2 draw where Seagulls had lost a 2-0 lead. A defeat could certainly hinder their chances but then so could a draw depending on the result between the top two. On Saturday though Brighton travel to Charlton. With the southeast London club all but relegated a victory should be Brighton’s, but seeing that Charlton scored a 2-0 win at home to Middlesbrough the visitors will certainly not take anything for granted.

Notably if we fastfoward to the final game of the season, Charlton, depending on previous results, could once again have a say on the promotion and title direction. They host Burnley. They will be only be playing for pride and to give the fans a good send off, but even a 1-0 victory for them could see Burnley’s title hopes or automatic promotion chances blown away. Unfortunately for the hosts, those chances of causing an upset may very well be nil. The result at Turf Moor saw the Clarets post a 4-0 win.

Middlesbrough host Brighton in what could be a tasty match. Brighton will hope to avenge their 3-0 defeat in the previous tie, they know that it could mean the difference between automatic promotion or playoff. It will certainly be an interesting end to the season. Two automatically go up so someone will be disappointed.

Chasing the Championship – Road to the Premier League

As close as the chase for the Premier League title is, the chase for the Championship and promotion to the top flight is also very close. With four points separating the top four and seven between second placed Middlesbrough and sixth place, things are looking very interesting. Out of the top six, only third placed Brighton have yet to take their chance of Premier League football. Their closest opportunity to Premier League participation has been two play off place defeats. Will the play off runs put them in good stead for a Wembley visit or can they nail the automatic promotion that has eluded them for some time. Here’s how the weekend (26-28 Feb)

Hull opened the Championship’s latest round of fixtures against Sheffield Wednesday, who were looking to further secure their play off spot and brief hopes of automatic promotion. It ended goalless despite the possession and number of shots on goal. Naturally of course the stats count for nothing if you cant convert and so Hull’s chance to increase the gap between them and second place was missed.

Whilst Hull were blowing their opportunity, Burnley doing hard to overcome theirs. After 45 minutes the game was goalless but three second half goals in the space of 16 minutes saw Bolton’s hopes of victory dashed. Having gone 1-0 up in the 69th minute, the lead wasnt to last.  Two goals from Andre Gray (74,85) helped  see his tally rise to 18 and the visitors to the top of the table. The Clarets though will need to make sure they that they keep matters in their own hands having played additional games compared to rivals Hull and Middlesbrough.

Middlesbrough kept the pressure on as they increased their unbeaten run to 4 games with a win over struggling Fulham. An early goal from the promotion chasers together with a second first half goal secured the points and moved Boro level on points with Hull. With two games in hand to all but one of the other promotion chasers around them, it is surely advantage to the North Eastern club if they can take maximum points from those respective games.

As if that wasnt enough for Hull, south coast side Brighton are hanging on in the title race.As they go into their Monday night game against Leeds Utd, the Seagulls have a chance to close the gap on Burnley to 2 points as they hope to make their first visit to the Premier League and the return to the top flight for the first time since 1983.

With ten games to go the chase for the championship looks certain to be another close on.

Race for the Premier League – Down to the wire

So the penultimate week saw make and break time for those looking to reach the Premier League. Watford in the early kick off did their bit with a 2-0 win on the south coast at Brighton. Middlesbrough had to travel to struggling Fulham. In theory it should have been three points to the northerners but it seemed they were doing their best to throw it away. Fulham went 2-0 up before Boro pulled one back. Joy was short lived as the promotion chasers promptly found themselved down to ten men. This led to a penalty and the home side 3-1 up. It looked all over. Two goals in the last twenty minutes brought them level. At 3-3, a point for Middlesbrough looked enough to deny Bournemouth the chance to seal promotion. With little time remaining the visitors goalkeeper went up for a corner and a gamble that completely failed. Fulham cleared the ball and netted a win. Middlesbrough fans must have been pulling their hair out at the clubs inability to stay in the game. It confirmed though Watford’s automatic promotion to the Premier League.

On the Monday night Bournemouth had the task of hosting Bolton. The visitors had nothing really to play for, they were safe from relegation and it was mostly pride. The first half looked like heading to a goalless conclusion. Two goals in six minutes just before half time turned the game. Goals from Pugh and Ritchie sent the home fans into jubilation. They had one hand on Premier League promotion. When the third goal went in, the home fans were in raptures. With the Cherries far superior goal difference, it would mean Charlton having to win 19-0…..That is certainly not going to happen.

The title race wasnt the only thing that was still all to play for. There was the small matter of the Play off spot chase. With Middlesbrough and Norwich securing two of the play off spots, it was down to four teams battling out for the remaining two spots. Ipswich Town, Derby County, Brentford and Wolves all hoping to get the chance of a Wembley win and the third promotion spot. Ipswich Town were home to Nottingham Forest, Derby travelled to relegation threatened Millwall, Brentford travelled to Reading and Wolves also were away to a relegation threatened side in the form of Wigan.

Ipswich scored a 2-1 win with a goal in the last ten minutes to edge closer to play off security. Derby County found themselves facing a battle against relegation threatened Millwall. The Londoners playing for their Championship place found themselves pushing themselves to a 2-0 lead. Derby County reduced the deficit to 2-1 at half time, but not long into the second half, the lead was extended. Millwall fans seemed hopeful of Championship survival. Derby were in trouble it would seem a 70th minute penalty pulled it back to 3-2 but it was still looking bleak. It was game on again for Derby as they levelled with 5 minutes to go.

Brentford scored a 2-0 victory to keep the hopes of a play off place alive into the final game. A goal in each half was enough to give the London club a slim chance of a shot at Wembley. Wolves looking to make a return to the Premier League had what could have been a banana skin trip to Wigan. It took a single goal but it was enough to keep them in touch.

Notable observation is goal difference. Derby County hold the sway with a plus 32 goal difference which could equate to an extra point. In theory County only require a point at home to Reading, but the fans and the club will want to finish off the season at home with all three points. Ipswich travel to Blackburn knowing they too only require a point to take a playoff place. They will need to aim for three points as their goal difference is only three more than Brentford and seven more than Wolves. Brentford will be hoping to avoid a repeat of the game at Brentford which was a goalless draw. This would end their playoff hopes.

Whatever happens it’s going to be an interesting finish to the Championship.

Battle to the Premier League – Championship run in

With Premier League trophy looking likely to head to London in May, less can be said about where the Championship trophy will end up. Bournemouth, Watford, Norwich City and Middlesbrough separated by just two points and with the top four all guaranteed at least a playoff place, it is just the matter of who will finish where. Extraordinarily though the final run in only sees two of the top four battle it out. Friday 17th April sees Norwich City host Middlesbrough in a game where the winner will find themselves top of the league albeit only till Saturday tea time.

Whilst Norwich who recently lost to Wigan in what seems to be a rare defeat, the same could not be said for Middlesbrough whose early season pasting of the Canaries, seems to be a long way a way. They will hope to avoid another defeat to their rivals having already lost to Bournemouth and Watford in the last ten games. Middlesbrough though despite having conceded ten in the last eleven games, still have the tightest defence in the top four but it is the scoring of goals that is the north east club’s problem. They have only bagged 64 goals compared to the likes of Watford, Norwich and Bournemouth, who are 80 plus in the scoring column.

Whilst there are few games that involve the relegation battlers, the other clubs that the top four face will still all be playing for pride, so it is going to be a tricky one to call. I believe though that one of the automatic promotion places will go to Bournemouth with their first visit to the top flight. It will certainly be a turnaround for the club who narrowly avoided relegation from the football league in 2009.

With two play off spots already guaranteed, another mini battle takes place. Derby County, Ipswich, Wolves and Brentford separated by four points, face a battle for two play off spots. Derby and Ipswich are currently in the driving seat with three games to go. In reality Derby County should have really been challenging for automatic promotion and even the title, but a run of seven games without a win including four defeats has consigned them to the playoff route hope.

Ipswich Town face a trip to playoff rivals Wolves. For the Suffolk side they are in the position that means a win or draw keeps their playoff hopes in their control. A draw might also consign Wolves to another season of Championship football. A win for Wolves and its very much game on as Wolves will move level with Ipswich.

Brentford face  a somewhat easier run in as they will play Blackburn Bolton and Wigan, but of course in football there are no easy games, especially when you have something to play for, but whilst fans of clubs involved will be twitchy, for the neutrals it will be an interesting run in and possibly one of the closest for a few seasons.