Boxing Day Round Up

So now we can take the guess work out of which team might be promoted at the end of the season: despite losing at home to Crawley and then snatching three points with a last minute winner at Gillingham, Leyton Orient were top – on goal difference from Wolves – on Boxing Day evening.

Crewe dropped to the bottom of the table after losing at Wolves and although the Alex are in last place on goal difference, they’ve scored the fewest goals and conceded the most this season – never a good position to be in, regardless of the circumstances.

There are three big games today: at the bottom Tranmere travel to Sheffield United whilst Bristol City entertain Stevenage. Rovers have won half of their last six games but haven’t managed consecutive away wins since last November and have only won once in eleven visits to Bramall Lane. The Blades are currently on a six game unbeaten run but haven’t scored more than one goal at home since the end of October.

Bristol City and Stevenage have never met in any competition. The Wiltshire Robins picked up a rare home win on Boxing Day but haven’t won consecutive home games since February. Stevenage have struggled to keep clean sheets in away games and were shut out at Colchester last week – the second time they’ve failed to score in as many games.

Game of the week/month and possibly the season is at Molineux, where Leyton Orient are the visitors. This is yet another rare game: the last time they met in the Black Country was just over 25 years ago when Wolves won 2-0. The Os haven’t won at Wolves since December 1924 but they’ve only lost once in League One on their travels this season (at Coventry in October)

This afternoon’s game will be a test of host’s defence as much as the scoring ability of their opponents. Wolves have kept five clean sheets in their last six home league games whilst Orient have scored in all their away games this season: Dave Mooney and Kevin Lisbie have both reached double figures for the Os and will be a much tougher prospect for the Wolves defence.

Significantly, only four of the fourteen games between the current top six have ended in home wins and having won at both Brentford and Peterborough this season, Orient may fancy their chances at Molineux later. This is a game that neither side will want to lose – and if Brentford beat Milton Keynes at Griffin Park and this one finishes as a draw, the Bees will go top.

Boxing Day: Clues For Promotion And Relegation

Having contributed to our companion site over the past three years, it’s become increasingly obvious to me that in terms of how the final table might look, Christmas is actually more important than Easter in the Sky Bet Championship. As this is the first time I’ve written about the Christmas period in Sky Bet League One, I thought it might be interesting to see if there are any similarities.

The conclusion: although not as remarkable as the one in the Championship over the past nine seasons, there’s a definite correlation between league positions on Boxing Day and the end of the season in League One.

In seven of last nine seasons – basically since the ‘third tier’ was renamed League One – the team that’s been top of the table at the end of Boxing Day has been promoted, with five of those sides going on to win the title. Last season Sheffield United became the first team since Nottingham Forest (2006) to lead the table after the Boxing Day games but not win promotion.

After that, it gets a little more unpredictable. Although seven of the eventual runners up were in the top six on December 26th, both Bournemouth (last season) and Southampton (2010) were outside that group – although only the Saints were outside the top ten.

As for the playoffs…well, as long as you’re outside the top three but in the top half you’ve got a chance. If you’re looking for patterns, arguably the safest bet is not to back the team in third place on Boxing Day: since 2004 only one team in that position (Norwich in 2009) went on to win automatic promotion.

The bottom of the table is slightly more straightforward. In eight of the last nine season the 24th placed team at the end of Boxing Day has eventually been relegated: the only one that wasn’t – Yeovil in 2010 – were promoted as playoff winners last season. Five of the nine clubs that occupied 23rd place accompanied the bottom side into League Two, but since Christmas 2004 there have only been three occasions where all four relegated clubs were already in the bottom six. A combination of either points deductions or bad form in the second half of the season normally means that at least one team outside of the bottom six will find themselves in trouble in May: my guess is that Coventry will be safe so it might be worth looking back at my pre-season overview to see if any suitable candidate emerges.

Looking at the fixture list over the next ten days, one thing is for certain: there are a lot of very important games for teams that are either hoping they won’t be in League One this time next season and those hoping they still will be. No matter what happens on Saturday, the top six cannot change as Rotherham are four points ahead of seventh placed Bradford and Brentford would have to win by a big margin at Preston to overtake Wolves, who would also need to lose at Rotherham. If Wolves win at Rotherham and Leyton Orient lose at home to Crawley, then Wolves would be top of the table at the start of Boxing Day and so on…

However, I won’t get too far ahead of myself though because there are four games this Saturday that could make Boxing Day afternoon into an exciting one. With four of the top six playing each other, the games at Deepdale and the New York Stadium are those to keep an eye on if you’re passing any large electrical retailers whilst doing some last minute Christmas shopping. Remarkably, the last time Preston and Rotherham both lost at home was on the same day in October but whilst Brentford have only won twice in their last ten visits to Preston, Rotherham’s only home league victory against Wolves happened 48 years ago.

At the bottom the game of the day is Notts County v Bristol City. The Magpies’ victory against Gillingham a couple of weeks ago was their first home win since the end of October but they’ve only been able to win consecutive home games once this season and that was before Sean Derry took over from Chris Kiwomya. It’s fair to say that Bristol City are bottom of the table due to their extremely poor home form, but although the Somerset Robins aren’t terrible on the road this season, they have struggled at Meadow Lane over the years – one win in the last 20 years is proof of that.

The other match that could have an impact on the bottom of the table is at the Lamex Stadium, where Sheffield United are the visitors. Having blown a lead at Port Vale last weekend, hosts Stevenage dropped back into the relegation zone after a run of one win in six and they’ve not picked up maximum points in front of their own fans since the end of October. Sheffield United seem to have turned the corner recently – the Blades have only lost two of their last nine and are currently on a four game unbeaten run – but have never beaten their opponents in Hertfordshire so it’ll be interesting to see how that pans out.

At this point in time the only Boxing Day game that might affect either end of the table is the rather one sided looking match at Molineux between Wolves and Crewe so all being well the next post should be next Friday – and will feature one of the potential highlights of the entire season. So on behalf of Buzzin’ Media and myself I’d like to thank you for reading and wish you a Merry Christmas.

Sky Bet League One Game Of The Week: Bristol City v Rotherham

League One involvement in the JPT is now limited exclusively to the Southern Area final after Peterborough and Swindon beat Newport and Stevenage respectively. In the Northern Section Rotherham and Oldham both crashed out to League Two teams: given the recent history of the competition, it’s highly likely that either Posh or the Wiltshire Robins will be the winners.

Uwe Roesler left Brentford this week to take over at Wigan after Owen Coyles’ dismissal at the end of last month. The former East German international striker had been the gaffer at Griffin Park since June 2011 and definitely leaves the Bees in a better position than he found them: two top ten finishes in the last two seasons and literally only seconds away from automatic promotion in May. Roesler will be a hard act to follow but I have a suspicion that he made the right move at the right time.

It seems ages ago since I last wrote about the situation in the league – Steve Cotterill and John Gregory have now taken over at Bristol City and Crawley respectively and both of them take charge of their new clubs for the first time in the league since their appointments. Crawley entertain Preston and as Bristol City v Rotherham is the game of the week you’ll have to scroll down for my thoughts on that.

Wolves and Leyton Orient are six points clear at the top – but there’s a massive twelve point gap between the leading pair and Rotherham, who are in the last playoff place.

At the bottom only three points separate the bottom five clubs – Notts County beat Gillingham 3-1 at Meadow Lane in the only league game lasrt Saturday to close the gap, but the Magpies have now played one more game than the rest of the strugglers.

Unusually, there’s only one game that features contenders versus strugglers this weekend so I’m going to focus on that.

May 5th 2007. Bristol City have just been promoted to the Championship after beating Rotherham – who have already been relegated – 3-1 at Ashton Gate. Almost a year later, the Somerset Robins find themselves one game away from the Premier League whilst Rotherham – having overcome an ten point penalty for going into administration – almost finish in the same position in League 2 as they would have if the penalty hadn’t been issued. The last game of the season – a win over Barnet – is the Millers’ last ever game at Millmoor before they relocate to the Don Valley Stadium.

Five years later and we’re looking at almost a complete reversal of fortunes. As I mentioned earlier in the season, Rotherham moved into the New York Stadium at the start of last season whilst Bristol City’s attempt to move from Ashton Gate has been subject to the worst kind of provincial NIMBYism you can imagine although the club has now been given permission to redevelop their existing facilities. The Millers are currently in the playoff places and looking to return to the second tier for the first time in a decade, whilst the Robins have only won twice in the league this season and face the prospect of playing in the fourth tier for the first time since the early 1980s.

Bristol City have a slight advantage over the last ten meetings at Ashton Gate – they’ve only lost four of those games – but have only picked up two points from a possible fifteen in their games against teams in the top half of the table. Rotherham have lost at Leyton Orient and MK Dons this season, but showed their promotion credentials with a single goal victory at Brentford at the start of October. If you look even closer, things get more confusing: City have scored more goals than any other team currently in the bottom half of the table – Jay Emmanuel-Thomas has scored ten of their 26 this season – but their defensive woes seem to have carried over from last season despite a brand new back four and a couple of new goalkeepers. On the other hand, Rotherham are one of only four teams to have conceded less than ten goals away from home this season and are currently performing better in away games than they are at home: for example, Lee Frecklington hasn’t scored at home all season despite having found the net three times on the road.

Back next Friday with the Christmas preview.

FA Cup 3rd Round Draw

The third round draw was made yesterday after Sheffield United and Bristol City had both convincingly won tricky looking games at Conference opposition: the Blades were rewarded with a trip to Villa Park whilst the Robins will entertain Watford at Ashton Gate. Elsewhere, if Oldham beat Mansfield in their replay, they’ll be playing Liverpool in the competition in consecutive seasons, but at Anfield rather than Boundary Park.

The ties will be played over the first weekend of January:

League 1 v Premier League

Aston Villa v Sheffield United, Sunderland v Carlisle United

League 1 v Championship

Bristol City v Watford, Doncaster Rovers v Stevenage, Ipswich v Preston, Yeovil v Leyton Orient, Wigan (holders) v Milton Keynes Dons

League 1 v League 2

Port Vale v Plymouth

League 1 v Conference

Peterborough v Kidderminster

League 1 v TBD

Barnsley v Hartlepool or Coventry, Birmingham v Bristol Rovers or Crawley Town, Liverpool v Oldham or Mansfield

Off the top of my head, I can maybe see five League One clubs in the next round in a ‘best case’ scenario but I’ll come back to that nearer the time. Back on Friday with the preview.

FA Cup 2nd Round Preview

The second round of the FA Cup is where it gets interesting – the prize is a chance of playing against a Premier League team.

Interestingly, of the fourteen League One teams still in the competition who played in the third tier in 2012/13, only Stevenage and Walsall didn’t reach this stage last season. The former club – along with MK Dons – have arguably the ‘easiest’ ties against non-league opposition: Stevenage play Dover Athletic (mid table, Conference South) and the Dons entertain Stourbridge (6th place, Southern Premier) respectively. Port Vale disposed of Shortwood United comfortably in the last round and are favourites to beat Salisbury City (8th place in the Conference). League One strugglers Bristol City travel to Conference strugglers Tamworth on Sunday (ITV 1, 2:00pm) but it’s probably fair to say that neither club is in great league form this season and the one thing new City manager Steve Cotterill will be desperate to avoid in his first game in charge is a giant killing.

The trickiest of games between a League One side and a club from outside the top four divisions is between Sheffield United and Cambridge United (2:18pm, BT Sport 1). The Blades haven’t had the best of starts to the season but there are signs of an improvement under Nigel Clough, although it’s far too early to tell if this is a long term trend rather than just the short term improvement that follows a new appointment. It’s hard to believe it’s almost a decade since Cambridge United last played in the Football League but with a four point lead over Luton Town at the top of the Conference it might not be too long before the Us return – after having beaten Bury earlier this week they’ll be confident that they can cause another upset. It certainly came as a surprise to me to find out that this is only the third time the teams have played each other.

Moving up the league. only two of the five ties between League One and League Two clubs see the team from the higher ranked competition playing at home. Oldham had a memorable cup run last season, but this is almost uncharted waters for Rotherham who reached the third round last season for the first time since 2005. The Latics entertain Mansfield Town and Rotherham take on Rochdale at the New York Stadium.

If Steve Cotterill and Nigel Clough will be hoping to avoid making the headlines for the wrong reasons, then the same can be said for John Gregory, who is the new Crawley Town boss. His first game in charge is at Bristol Rovers and – like the Sheffield United/Cambridge United clash – this is only the third time the clubs have met.

Coventry’s trip to Hartlepool may not be as one sided as the last time they met in the FA Cup: the Sky Blues won 4-0 at the Victoria Ground almost sixty nine years ago to the day but were knocked out in the next round by Birmingham City.

Three guaranteed places in the third round are up for grabs. Tranmere will want revenge for the 5-0 drubbing they suffered at London Road in August when they play Peterborough. Considering their recent history in the Championship, Posh have failed to reach the fourth round in every single one of the last five seasons and Tranmere’s recent FA Cup record is no better, so with the greatest of respect I’d be surprised if either team is playing in this competition at the end of next month. It’s a similar story with Carlisle and Brentford, who meet at Brunton Park in the FA Cup for the first time in over a century: although the Bees reached the fourth round last season, I wrote about Carlisle’s dire FA Cup record in this post.

That means there’s one game left, which is the tie of the round from a League One perspective. Leyton Orient are top of the table again – albeit on goal difference – but with Wolves already out of the FA Cup if the Os beat Walsall at Brisbane Road there’s a strong possibility that the East London outfit could find themselves with a crucial game in hand. I’ve spent enough time writing about Orient recently, so let’s take a quick look at The Saddlers.

One win in the last six isn’t exactly the best time to be playing the league leaders – even more so when you’ve only won their once in the last 25 years despite meeting fairly regularly – but this isn’t a league game. Although it was a while ago, the last time Walsall played at Orient in the FA Cup they won, leaving Orient to concentrate on the old Third Division…which they won. Is a repeat of both outcomes on the cards? After all Walsall have won at Wolves and Brenford this season and were the first team to take points from Orient when they drew in East London at the end of September.

I’ll probably be back on Monday with news of the Third Round draw (straight after the televised game on ITV), but I have a family birthday celebration to attend at the weekend that could get a bit messy…