League One Preview 28th January 2014

Well, the FA Cup went more or less as expected: Sheffield United took the lead against Fulham but probably blew their chances of reaching the next round after Michael Doyle was given a straight red card for an off the ball incident with Chris David. Preston drew at Nottingham Forest and will face Sheffield United or Fulham if they win the replay at Deepdale.

If you fancied some goals last weekend then Boundary Park and Meadow Lane were the stadiums to visit. Oldham were 3-0 down at home to Peterborough at half time but won 5-4 courtesy of two very late goald from Gary Harkins and Genserix Kisunga. Notts County keeper Bartosz Bialkowski had to pick the ball out of his net five times in less than an hour after Walsall went on the rampage: Febian Brandy scored a hat trick against one of  his old clubs to earn the Saddlers a 5-1 win, their biggest away win in the league for well over a decade.

With a full programme spread over the next two days, the permutations are almost endless. If Orient beat Coventry and Brentford don’t earn at least a point against Bristol City, the Os will be top of the table this weekend. Wolves could go second if Orient lose…well you get the picture.

The bottom of the table is also currently a bit of a mess. Sheffield United, Stevenage and Bristol City all have three games in hand over Notts County and based on my very simple projection system I’d say all of the current bottom nine clubs could be relegated with Crewe, Notts County, Shrewsbury and Bristol City currently on course for a dramatic goal difference tie breaker on the last day of the season.

It’s the strugglers that I’m focussing on today: Stevenage entertain Crewe whilst Bristol City travel to Brentford. The Alex have never beaten Stevenage in any of their five league meetings since September 2010 and have only earned three away points from their last ten games with their last win coming at Colchester just after Christmas. Stevenage’s recent mini improvement at Broadhall Way seems to have come to an end: failing to score against Premier League opposition is one thing, but losing to fellow strugglers Notts County is another and they’ve not beaten any of the clubs immediately above them at home this season.

Brentford are currently on a nine game home winning streak with Marcello Trotta scoring nine of their 23 goals over that period. Yet although they’ve won five of their seven home league games against Bristol City since the turn of the century, the Bees have only won two of the last five encounters. City have lost four of their last ten away games but haven’t lost consecutive away games this season so although the hosts look like clear favourites, there’s some potential for a surprise result at Griffin Park later on. Don’t be too surprised if the visitors score: Bristol City have opened the scoring in four of their last ten aways and have only been shut out twice in the same period so there could be a few goals in this one.

I’ll be back on Friday with a look at the weekend games.

FA Cup 4th Round Previews

Please forgive me if I’m a little indulgent this week: there’s a very good chance that although it’s not even the end of January, this may be one of the last posts about the FA Cup this season. The good thing about this round is that three of the games are televised; the bad thing may be that one of the League One teams gets thrashed very badly.

Arsenal v Coventry (BT Sport 1, 7:45pm tonight)

Coventry haven’t won at Arsenal for over 20 years and have been beaten in their last six trips to North London – including 6-1 pasting in the League Cup in September 2012. Having written that, the Sky Blues have only lost one of their last ten ‘away’ games in all competitions and will probably have a larger following at the Emirates than they have had all season at Sixfields: at the very least, Coventry should score.

Nottingham Forest v Preston

Last time these two met in the FA Cup (January 1964), Preston reached the final after beating Forest at Deepdale after a draw at the City Ground. The Lillywhites haven’t won there since October 2003; although they lost at Wolves a fortnight ago, Simon Grayson’s side had been on a nine game unbeaten away streak before then and should give Forest a far more competitive game than West Ham reserves did in the last round.

Port Vale v Brighton

First ever meeting between these two was in the FA Cup at the Goldstone Ground in January 1932 (Vale won 2-1) but they’ve not met in the competition since then. The Valiants have only lost three of the last ten meetings between the clubs at Vale Park and haven’t lost at home since the end of November. It’s worth remembering that 50 years ago next week Port Vale won at Cardiff (who were then in the First Division) in the FA Cup on their way to the semi finals; Brighton’s away form hasn’t been great recently.

Stevenage v Everton (BT Sport, 5:30pm Saturday)

Only other meeting was at Goodison Park in the Capital One Cup in August when Stevenage lost by the odd goal in three after extra time after a goal from Luke Freeman had given them the lead. Stevenage haven’t lost a home FA Cup tie for three years and they’ve beaten Newcastle and drawn with Spurs in the same but an upset this time looks beyond them.

Sheffield United v Fulham (BT Sport, 1:30pm Sunday)

Here’s the possible upset: the Blades have a perfect record against Fulham at Bramall Lane in the FA Cup. Three wins in three games, although I have to point out immediately that both teams were in the same division and United finished above their opponents in all three seasons. However, Nigel Clough has done well since taking over and having only lost two of their last ten home games there’s no reason to think that beating Fulham is an impossible task.

There are seven league games this weekend: Brentford can go back to the top of the table with a win against Gillingham tonight and with Rotherham (against Crawley) and Peterborough (at Oldham) in action tomorrow, the playoff places might be shaken up a bit. That also applies to the game at Molineux, where Bristol City are the visitors: Wolves have only lost twice at home in League One this season and City haven’t won there since 1931…

I’ll be back before Tuesday’s games – if anything noteworthy happens in the FA Cup, there’ll be an update immediately below!

Sky Bet League One Preview 18th January 2014

I wonder if it’s possible for this season’s three horse race for automatic promotion to be as exciting as the finish to 2012/13 was? With 20 games left the top three are separated by just three points: a year ago today Tranmere and Doncaster were four points clear of Brentford – and only one of them is currently playing in the Championship.

Brentford, Leyton Orient and Wolves all won without conceding a goal last weekend, with the latter club’s 2-0 win over promotion rivals Preston arguably the most important result at the top. The Lillywhites are currently in a strange sort of limbo: six points in front of Rotherham and six points behind Wolves.

Only two of the current top six are at home this weekend: Coventry travel to Preston whilst the game of the day at the top of the table is at the Banks’s Stadium where Walsall entertain Brentford. Although The Saddlers haven’t lost at home since the end of November, current leaders Brentford haven’t lost on the road since mid October and had kept four consecutive away clean sheets until Jack Payne scored for Peterborough on New Year’s Day. A quick glance at the head to head records between the current top six reveals something interesting: only three home wins in sixteen games with Walsall having failed to record any of those victories so although Brentford have won three of their last ten visits to the Walsall this game could easily be a stalemate.

If that’s the case, wins for either Leyton Orient or Wolves could see them take over at the top. The Os have only lost one of their last five league games at Crewe whilst Wolves make their first ever trip to Crawley in any competition.

The bottom of the table is just as fluid with only six points between Oldham in 16th place and bottom club Notts County, but the situations at both ends of the table are complicated by several clubs having games in hand. Due to a combination of the FA Cup and bad weather (or both), Bristol City, Crawley and MK Dons all have two games to rearrange. The Dons – who travel to Ashton Gate tomorrow – could leap into the playoff places if they win both of their games in hand, while City need to pick up points in order to avoid being mired in the bottom four. The only game this weekend between the bottom six is at Stevenage, who host Notts County: although they haven’t lost at home since the end of November, six defeats in their last ten games have seen Boro drop into the relegation zone. Notts have only picked up five points from a possible 39 away from home and even though their home form has improved recently it’s hard to see them coming away with a win.

Finally this week, congratulations to the four clubs that survived the third round of the FA Cup. Port Vale were rewarded for their replay success over Plymouth with a home tie against Brighton: the other three clubs were drawn against Premier League teams. Can Vale repeat their cup heroics of sixty years ago? I’ll take a closer look next week.

Half Term Reports

Before I go any further, a quick look at the FA Cup and congratulations to Sheffield United, who won at Villa Park last weekend. It’s been a difficult season for the Blades and their fans so the victory was definitely a highlight to savour. United are one three clubs definitely through and all of them will be playing Premier League opposition in the 4th Round.

Still In: Coventry (at Arsenal), Stevenage (v Everton), Sheffield United (v Norwich City or Fulham)

Replays: Bristol City, Peterborough, MK Dons, Preston, Port Vale. City, the Dons and Preston all came from behind against Championship opposition: Vale blew a two goal lead against Plymouth.

Out: Leyton Orient, Carlisle, Oldham. Last week I wrote that Orient’s trip to Yeovil might be an upset. It was…but I wasn’t expecting the Os to lose 4-0. They can (ahem) ‘concentrate on the league’ from now on, so let’s hope that they don’t pick up any more injuries and suspensions and that the floodlights are repaired quickly etc.

A few games worth looking at this weekend: Rotherham v Crewe, Wolves v Preston and Oldham v Stevenage but I’ll be back to week by week coverage next Friday. So without further ado, here are the season’s half term reports:

A+

Preston, Brentford, Leyton Orient

As playoff runners up, Brentford haven’t suffered any sort of hangover (the current thirteen game unbeaten streak is evidence of that) but Orient – who I suggested might do well before the season started – and Preston really have upped their game. Both of them have only lost three times in the league this season and Orient have a goal difference of +27, which is huge at this point of the season.

A-

Rotherham

Are still performing better away from home than at the New York Stadium but have been the best of the promoted teams so far.

B

Coventry, Wolves, Port Vale

The  Sky Blues overcame the points deduction in fine style but have been inconsistent recently: if they can recapture their early season form they might even reach the playoffs and even if they don’t they could become the answer to a superb football trivia question* . If Port Vale improve defensively they might become the next Peterborough but they’re a bit too ‘boom or bust’ at the moment. The next couple of weeks might be make or break time for Wolves: three wins in the last ten games isn’t automatic promotion form and although they have the best defence in the competition, that might not be good enough.

B-

Colchester

Have defnitely improved, but the next step is turning draws into wins.

C+

Peterborough, Bradford

Posh began the season well, but then the goals – and subsequently the wins – dried up and at the moment they’re borderline playoff material. Like Colchester, Bradford need to learn how to turn draws into wins before being considered one of the better teams in League One.

C

Swindon, Walsall, MK Dons, Gillingham

The first three have been affected by the improvement by the A+ clubs above as well as the surprisingly strong showing from Port Vale and Rotherham: only Walsall are performing at roughly the same level as they were last season but even that wasn’t good enough for the playoffs. I’m still convinced that the decision to sack Martin Allen from Gillingham was only made because Peter Taylor was available, but the move seems to have worked.

C-

Sheffield United, Bristol City, Crawley, Carlisle

Nothing much was expected from Crawley and Carlisle, but regardless of your point of view the other pair were supposed to be doing much better than this. If the Blades and the Somerset Robins survive, I’d expect them to be challenging next season: although Bristol City have improved of late (half of their total wins in the league this season have come in the last four games) they’re still in the mix for relegation. I wasn’t convinced by Sheffield United before the season started: here’s the proof.

D+

Tranmere, Oldham, Stevenage

Any – or all – of these teams could be playing in League Two next season: Stevenage in particular have goalscoring issues and Tranmere are playing at a level that is far below where they were this time last year. Oldham are slightly worse: that’s not a good thing.

D

Shrewsbury

I don’t mention them much from week to week: they’ve only been in the bottom six twice so far this season, but the Shrews are slightly worse than they were in 2012/13 and don’t seem to be able to score. Could be the team that suddenly drops into relegation trouble in the last few weeks of the season.

D-

Crewe and Notts County

I think there’s a far chance that neither of them will be playing in League One next season. Compared to last season, Notts have been awful: I actually wrote that if they turned some of the draws last season into wins they might be playoff material, but insted they’ve turned those draws into defeats and could come adrift quite spectacularly over the next couple of months. I’ll be the first one to admit that my prognosis for Crewe was wrong.Crewe’s inability to score isn’t helping them but their defending is dire and they’re in danger of shipping a ton if they aren’t careful.

* Which team scored 100 goals in a league season without scoring any of them at home?

FA Cup 3rd Round Preview

With half of League One left in the FA Cup and no league games this weekend it’s time to forget the league for a week, even though I’m expecting very few teams left in the draw for the 4th Round as well as a couple of old fashioned batterings. Liverpool won’t want to be reminded about how they lost at Oldham last season and if Sunderland can beat Chelsea in the Capital One Cup they shouldn’t have many problems with Carlisle.

Crawley still don’t know who they’ll be playing – their replay against Bristol Rovers should have taken place today with a potential 3rd Round tie at Birmingham City pencilled in for next week, but the recent deluges in the eastern half of the country meant another postponement.

Port Vale and Peterborough arguably have the best chances of progressing: Vale have never played Plymouth in the FA Cup and Argyle have only won three of their last ten visits to Vale Park. The only time Posh have played Kidderminster was in the first round of the FA Cup 49 years ago and Peterbrough won by the odd goal in three at London Road.

To be honest, the only likely looking upsets might be at Oakwell and Huish Park, where the visitors from League One face struggling Championship teams. Barnsley entertain Coventry and although the Tykes have won the last two league meetings, they’ve failed to win the other five games between them since the turn of the century. With Barnsley currently at the bottom of the Championship and having not won at home since mid-October the chances look good for the Sky Blues to reach the fourth round for the first time since 2011.

I’ve covered Leyton Orient’s game at Yeovil on Buzzin’ Championship football’s post this week, which is where I’ve also mentioned another upset – even though I think that’s a longshot.

Unfortunately the are no televised games featuring League One clubs this weekend, but highlights will be available on ITV over the weekend. I’ll be back next week with the half term reports.