Chase for The Championship – Down to the wire?

With Brighton winning away in London on the Friday and Newcastle United losing on the Saturday, it saw the two teams swap places as they aim for glory. It was the seagulls third win in six days and looks enough to keep them in the automatic promotion spots, but as we have seen, nothing is quite guaranteed. For Friday’s game it looked like it could fizzle out in to a draw that would have quite suited their rivals Newcastle.

Glenn Murray had bagged his 21st of the season and his goals going on in the final few games will prove crucial to the South Coast outfit’s promotion chances. Chances were few and far between either of the clubs (eight out of twenty eight combined) but sometimes you just need to convert the ones you take and two out of three for Brighton was enough.

For Newcastle United, their day was the opposite. They were up against it playing Sheffield Wednesday who themselves aiming for a play off spot. It didn’t get any better after 29 minutes when they lost their star striker Dwight Gayle. Despite having the more shots and possession, Rafa Benitez’s men showed that stats don’t count for nothing. Like the game at Loftus Road, it was one of second half showing. A goal on hour and one ten minutes later had most certainly secured the points for the Owls, even though Jonjo Shelvey had netted for Newcastle close to the end.

Huddersfield who are currently third, may have a game in hand but they have a ten point deficit and it could very well be the Easter weekend fixtures that seal the automatic promotion or see oportunities still open. Huddersfield host Preston on Friday and travel to Derby County on the Monday. Two top ten teams battling for position more than anything as they seem too far back in hoping for a playoff spot but for Huddersfield automatic promotion is the feint hope they have whilst they look to cement their playoff spot. Seven points separate Huddersfield and Derby County so points will be crucial come this weekend.

Brighton face Wolves on Good Friday and host Wigan on Easter Monday whilst Newcastle host another promotion chaser in the form of Leeds United and struggling Ipswich. Brighton should be the happier of the two clubs come Tuesday morning as they should take six points, whilst Newcastle United may find themselves only picking up four, especially if they are without their top scorer Dwight Gayle.

Reading, who are a point behind Huddersfield will be hoping to reclaim third spot, which for a number of weeks was their home. Their last game was one to forget as they went crashing to a 7-1 defeat away to Norwich City. Their run in though gives them hope for securing a playoff spot, Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest break up the two games against relegation favourites Wigan and doomed Rotherham. Whilst Nottingham Forest find themselves at the wrong end of the table, they should be safe from the drop.

Having had a bad start to the season, Leeds United are doing their bit to make sure they have a playoff hope and a return to the top flight once more. They though have a marginally easier run in. Apart from the trip to Newcastle on Good Friday and a home game against promotion rivals Norwich City at the end of April, it’s a case of the strugglers. Of course though never understimate the strugglers. They will have all to play for and will no doubt not have a care in the world with regards to who is challenging for the title or chasing a play off place.

Fulham who lie just outside the playoff spots by two points will be hoping that their recent good form will keep them moving higher and into the playoff spots although for the West London club, it will be a little more trickier journey. Fulham travel to Norwich on Good Friday whilst hosting Villa on the Monday. Fellow promotion chasers Huddersfield, who will have their own place to secure host Fulham in the penultimate game whilst a game against midtable Brentford brings their season to a close.

It’s going to be quite close and exciting for fans of the top six seven although for Brighton given their position, they will be the more happier. A top two spot for them is definitely going to happen, it’s just down to whether they or Newcastle have the bottle to go the stay the course. Newcastle with the experience and leadership of Rafa Benitez should guide them to another championship trophy and return to the Premier League.

Playoffs? well that’s where the fun starts and although the current spot takers are Huddersfield, Reading Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday, I think one of the later could find themselves losing out to Fulham.

Magpies fly,Canaries perched – Championship review

Rafa Benitez is a man who is always up for a challenge and when appointed as Newcastle manager, he was certainly going to be taking one on. Having taking on the Toon in March 2015, the Spaniard had come close to keeping the North East club up. Unforunately they were a just a win away from survival, one that could have been against Man City had Aguero’s goal not stood. Even worse for United would be seeing their northeast rivals Sunderland retaining their place in the Premier League.

Fastforward to October 2016 and all seems different. The opening two defeats seem a long way away. Having nailed Preston 6-1 in the midweek League Cup tie, I imagine Preston fans were fearing more of the same. For Preston it was alas another defeat to the Magpies but a far less defeat. In fact the goals from Newcastle came in the second half.

Hot on the tails of Newcastle are Brighton & Hove Albion. The South coast club are looking to make promotion to the Premier League having been the nearly men for the last few seasons. The Seagulls were flying high as they hosted Norwich City. The Canaries found themselves on the receiving end of  5-0 tanking, that included a Glen Murray hattrick. It was a blow for Norwich as a victory for them would have seen them go second. They have also taken a single point from nine as they look to return to the Premier League.

It was a blow for Huddersfield Town as they were beaten 5-0 at struggling Fulham. The visitors could have gone level on points with Brighton had they won, but strangely it wasnt to happen. With teams above dropping points enabled Reading to close the gap. They beat Nottingham Forest 2-0. Forest despite hitting just over 20 shots, could only get five on target but none in the back of the net.

At the other end of the table, Rotherham fans saw a second win of the season robbed from them as Ipswich scored a ninety fifth minute equaliser. A draw for Blackburn denied them a chance to pull out of the bottom three. The only teams to be happy near the bottom were Wigan who beat Cardiff to close the gap to a point and Derby County who beat Sheffield Wednesday.

The Championship may only be fifteen games in but the battles for promotion are very much taking shape.

Judging after 11 – Dan Raywood blog

Steve McLaren started his tenure as Newcastle United manager with a declaration to the toon fans to “judge me after ten games”. Now more than ten games into this season, we have one of the most open and scintilating seasons upon us in years.

Let’s face the truth – I’m a pretty smug Spurs fan with our place in fifth after 11 games and only one defeat (on the opening day, away at Manchester United, courtesy of an own goal) and signs of a pretty good first third of the season attributed to us. The ambition of Pochettino to play a high-line pressing game has paid off so far and with laptop touching wood, this has not seen the team caught out too many times – the Mahrez goal for Leicester the main exception.

The danger with playing a fast-paced pressing game is stamina, and while our team is relatively young there is not a huge amount of strength in depth and Spurs are an injury to Jan Vertonghen, Dele Alli or Christian Eriksen away from a major problem.

The change in management at Liverpool has seen new German boss Jurgen Klopp try a similar tactic and arguably, Liverpool have not adapted to this and this could cause changes to be made at Anfield in the January transfer window. At Spurs, the lack of strength in depth is evident in the centre of defence and in attack, and I would expect to see the end of Federico Fazio’s tenure with Spurs and a new face in attack to aid Harry Kane.

Another reason to love Spurs this season has been in the development and use of young players. Following the addition of Nabil Bentaleb, Ryan Mason, Eric Dier and Kane to the starting 11, along with opportunities for Joshua Onomah, Harry Winks and Tom Carroll, this is something to be excited about. However these mostly fill the already-crowded midfield and many Spurs fans are excited about the introduction of defender Cameron Carter-Vickers in the coming seasons.

For now, this (and a new striker, although I expect the addition of Saido Berahino to be completed in January) remains the biggest concern. Not being at the wrong end of the table, not a bad run of form and not a looming visit to Arsenal. No, the biggest concerns are four days at the end of month, containing a trip to Azerbaijan to play Qarabag in the Europa League, and a game against out of form Chelsea. Let’s hope everyone plays safe.

Owners, referees, Ballon D’or

Leeds United fans must wonder when everything will be alright again. If its not the coming and going of managers, this time it’s the owner. Italian Massimo Cellino has been disqualified from owning the club due to failing the League’s fit and proper ownership test. Paper work that had been acquired by the League had shown the Italian to be guilty of tax evasion. He had received a heavy fine from the Italian court back in March. This had lead to the Football League blocking his takeover. This was over ruled by an independent QC. Some might now be saying ‘we told you so’. Of course it doesnt end there as the Italian, it is likely that he will appeal this decision. Should he lose, he will be back in March when the punishment will have been served. That of course will help neither the club or the fans who just want to see football being the centre of the club news and not ownership battles or manager sackings. It is a sad time for Leeds United who found themselves relegated from the Premier League in 2007 and plunged into administration. This is a club of course that had seen a few glory days under the management of Don Revie in the 1960’s and 70’s.

Man City were robbed of an early penalty opportunity after Sergio Aguero was brought down in the area. The referee though was having none of it and opted to show the Argentinian a yellow card for simulation. It would seem that maybe past history was on the mind of the official when he made that decision. Sadly though it should be the moment in the match that the referee makes his decision on. It would of course have been no different to that of one Luis Suarez who often found himself missing out on legitimate free kicks and penalties all because of his diving intent.

It’s the start of December and in football that means its Ballon D’or time or more commonly known as the Messi & Ronaldo club. Cristiano Ronaldo is the current holder as we wait to hear the announcement. Last year Franck Ribery came third ending the Spain & Barcelona dominance for the previous three years. The third place for the 2014 award is likely to go to Manuel Neur of Bayern Munich and Germany. It will be the first time since 2002 that a German has finished in the top three, back when it was the World Footballer of The Year. That year was also a German goalkeeper in the form of Oliver Kahn, who also played for Bayern Munich. With Messi still only 27 and Ronaldo 29, it would appear only an injury to either player would prevent them battling for the top honour.

Newcastle United find themselves without keeper Tim Krul for six weeks. The Dutchman suffered ankle ligament damage in pre match training. The Toon’s good start has seen them rise to ninth despite the regular discontent from the fans. The injury to Krul is also one of the last things that Pardew requires as he already has several key players out with injury. Interesting times lay ahead for Magpies.