Sky Bet League One Preview 1st March 2014

When I predicted a draw at Deepdale on Tuesday, I thought it might be 1-1 if we were lucky: with Rotherham taking a two goal lead after less than a quarter of an hour, I was wondering if I’d got my verdict very wrong. However, Preston were level after an hour and were ahead five minutes later: it was only right at the end of the game when Lee Frecklington (who’d opened the scoring) took advantage of chaos in the Preston goalmouth and earned the Millers a point.

I think it’s the first time I’ve written the next sentence this year, but the top six will not change after this weekend’s games. It would take a highly improbable sequence of events for Brentford to go back to the top and although Rotherham and Preston could overtake each other, those are the only possible changes.

Although Stevenage won in midweek, they’re the only team who can’t escape the bottom four this weekend. It’s that close that any of the teams below Carlisle and above Bristol City could be sucked into the relegation zone this weekend if results don’t go their way: Colchester‘s recent form makes them look vulnerable in this respect – and that’s without taking into account that they’re playing at Leyton Orient tomorrow.

The only ‘top against bottom’ game tomorrow is at the New York Stadium where Notts County are the visitors. Despite having reached the giddy heights of 16th a month ago, the Magpies have lost four of their last five games and haven’t won at Rotherham since February 1990 despite seven chances to do so since. Although Rotherham’s away form is still better than their performances in front of their own fans, they’ve only lost one of their last ten homes and I think it would be a big surprise if Notts came away with all three points.

I’ll be back on Monday with a round up, but next Friday’s post will be an FA Cup special: I mentioned back in November that it was about time a third tier club reached the semi finals again and with all due respect to Charlton Athletic, it’s the best chance Sheffield United will have to reach the last four for a while.

Enjoy the weekend!

Sky Bet League One Roundup

After Saturday’s results the battle for the title and the automatic promotion places  couldn’t get any tighter: Wolves 3-0 win at Brentford was the Bees first home defeat since early October and the first time the Middlesex side had conceded three goals in a regular season game at Griffin Park since August 2012.

However, the win wasn’t enough to propel Wolves back to top spot for the first time since the end of November as two Lloyd James penalties earned Leyton Orient maximum points against Swindon. However, the Os are only top because they’ve scored more goals than their Black Country rivals: additionally, Wolves have two games in hand.

One interesting stat to look out for: in the four games so far between the front runners, there have been no home wins. The only games left in the series are Orient’s games against Brentford (15th March) and Wolves (Easter Monday) – the former is going to be televised and I wouldn’t be surprised if the latter is, especially as it could be a ‘winner takes all’ game.

There are some catch up games tomorrow – the pick is Preston v Rotherham but I’ll come to that in a moment, so as it’s the end of the month it’s time to look back at how closely the table at the end of February reflects what happened at the end of the season.

It’s still good news for Leyton Orient: all of the teams that lead League One at the end of February were promoted as Champions. However,  it becomes very murky for the rest of the top six after that. Four of the last five runners up were in the top six at the end of the shortest month (Bournemouth were seventh this time last year), but only one of the teams in second place at the end of February (Leeds, 2010) went on to win automatic promotion.

If that scenario pans out again, the following is possible: Orient win League One but Wolves have to make do with the playoffs and may lose out but at the moment any of the current top seven could find themselves playing in the Championship in August. The odds may be against both Rotherham and Peterborough whilst Walsall could be the side to watch if you’re looking for an outsider.

At the bottom, it’s bad news for the current bottom two. Notts County and Stevenage both lost at home at the weekend and since February 2009 all ten of those clubs occupying those positions were relegated. In the last three campaigns, the 22nd placed club at the end of February has also been relegated, so Shrewsbury – who won at Notts at the weekend – need to start digging deep. Oddly enough, despite losing 3-0 at Sheffield United on Saturday, Bristol City should escape consecutive relegations as the club that’s finished 21st at the end of February hasn’t been relegated in the last five seasons but generally speaking though, it’s a case of picking four from the bottom six for relegation.

Tomorrow night half of the bottom six are in action: Crawley travel to Swindon with the knowledge of having only lost one of their five away games against teams in the top half of the table. However, Crawley face a brutal run in due to the poor weather: they’ve got to place twice a week for pretty much the rest of the season. Swindon would have been a playoff contender if their away form hadn’t been so bad: they could still achieve that if they win tomorrow.

Stevenage entertain Crewe knowing that even if they win they’ll be bottom: they’ve only won twice at home against teams in the bottom half of the table and they’ve lost half of their last ten games in League One at Broadhall Way. Crewe won at Port Vale on Saturday, but the Alex haven’t won consecutive away games at this level since February 2009 and this is the first of four road trips against their fellow strugglers before the end of the season.

Preston v Rotherham would have been game of the week under other circumstances: a win for either side would put some additional pressure on the top three but after Saturday’s result at Brentford meaning that only six of the 21 games between the current top six have resulted in home wins, it’s Preston who need to step up. They had to come from behind again to earn a point against Leyton Orient in their last game at Deepdale: Rotherham have won seven of their last ten aways but have lost four of their last six trips to Preston in all competitions and a draw looks likely.

Congratulations To Sheffield United and Peterborough!

Congratulations are in order to both Sheffield United and Peterborough United: two late goals ensured that the Blades knocked Nottingham Forest out of the FA Cup on Sunday and last Posh beat Swindon Town at the County Ground on penalties to reach the final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy for the first time. I mentioned back in November that it’s about time that another third tier side reached the semi finals of the FA Cup and with a home quarter final against either Sheffield Wednesday(!) or Charlton next, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Blades manage to reach the last four since 1998.

Peterborough came from behind at Swindon but although the match finished 1-1, drawn JPT ties go straight to extra time and Posh scored four of their five penalties. They’ll face either Chesterfield or Fleetwood at Wembley at the end of March.

One game worth noting this evening: Stevenage travel to Leyton Orient. The visitors are three points adrift at the bottom of the table but have a number of games in hand. Although Orient ended their recent poor form with a point at Preston on Saturday, a win by two clear goals this evening would mean that they overtake Wolves and would go into Saturday’s clash with Swindon in second place. I’ll be back on Friday – Brentford v Wolves is the game of the week!

Update: Orient beat Stevenage 2-0 this evening, so Saturday’s game at Griffin Park will be between the leaders and the third placed team…

Another update: unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control I’ll only be able to provide a round up of Saturday’s action. My apologies.

Sky Bet League One Game Of The Week: Preston v Leyton Orient

After some extremely surprising results recently, chosing Leyton Orient‘s game at Preston this week is a comparative no-brainer. The hosts are now only five points behind Orient with a game in hand – to put that into perspective, at the end of last month there was an 11 point gap between them. Yet after three straight defeats – the first time since October 2012 – The Os have dropped out of the top two places for the first time this season.

However, although it’s arguably the best time to play Orient, I’m still not convinced that Preston can beat them. Although Preston haven’t been outside the top five since mid September, since the end of that month Simon Grayson’s side have only won four of their ten league games at Deepdale – which fits nicely with the six home wins that have happened in the 19 games this season between the current top six – and only Bradford and Bristol City have drawn more games this season. The key to the Lillywhites success this season has been their away form: they’ve won more games and conceded fewer goals away from Deepdale in 2013/14 with only Wolves and Walsall having stinigier away defences. This season’s current top goalscorer Joe Garner is probably the man the Orient defence need to keep an eye on, but Garner and veteran striker Kevin Davies have been the only players to score more than once in the last ten home games.

Despite Orient’s recent poor form, it’s worth remembering that the recent defeat at Rotherham was their first since they lost to Coventry at Sixfields way back in October. Furthermore, they’re still only three points behind Brentford and they’ve scored in every single away league game this season. Unlike Preston, they aren’t reliant on one goalscorer: Kevin Lisbie, Dave Mooney and Dean Cox have all scored more than five league goals on the road this season but it may be significant that neither Mooney and Cox have scored in away games since the 2-2 draw at Bristol City at the end of November. Yet again though, there’s a downside if you look for it hard enough: the Os haven’t beaten another side in the current top ten since their win at Swindon earlier in November.

Looking back at the past meetings between the clubs, it’s noticeable that Preston have only won three of the seven matches since February 1990 when they’ve had home advantage: their last win over Leyton Orient at Deepdale was in November 1995 when they won 4-0 but that was the season in which Preston won the old League Two title and Orient finished in their lowest position since World War II. The Os still finished two points ahead of Cardiff City…not sure what happened to them.

Verdict: this is a real test for Preston’s promotion credentials, but Orient could easily come away with all three points. Let’s put it this way: I’d be slightly surprised if Preston won.

Sadly, Sunday afternoon’s FA Cup tie at Bramall Lane isn’t being televised which is a shame as Sheffield United have had some memorable games with Nottingham Forest in the competition. The Blades have won four of the games when they’ve hosted Forest, the last win coming in January 2002: they’ve not lost to Forest in the cup since 1955! Looking back over United’s home record this season, it’s really been a tale of two halves: until the end of October they’d only won three games in ten and had a six game streak without a win. Since Nigel Clough took over they’ve only lost one in nine but they’re still mired in the relegation zone because they are such a soft touch away…which makes their cup run even more surprising considering four of their five games in the cup so far have been on the road.

However, it probably shouldn’t have come as a shock that I’d still be writing about United and the FA Cup in February: in seven of the last ten seasons they’ve reached the fourth round even though it’s been a decade since they’ve got any further than the fifth round. Even so, any third tier club deserves praise for getting this far in the competition.

Talking of cups, the second leg of the Southern Semi Final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy takes place on Monday evening – the winners will probably be facing Chesterfield in the final. I’ll update this post on Sunday evening and Tuesday morning, but otherwise have a happy Valentine’s Day and I’ll be back next Friday.

Sadly, I’ve got to update the blog with the news of the death of Preston legend Sir Tom Finney, who died yesterday at the age of 91.

Blades Claim Another Premier League Scalp

Just a quick post this week as I’ve got a family birthday over the weekend with an early start tomorrow.

First of all, congratulations to Sheffield United for reaching the fifth round of the FA Cup. Thanks to an extremely late injury time goal from Shaun Miller, the Blades won a dramatic replay at Craven Cottage at Tuesday night to earn a home tie in the sixth round against Nottingham Forest. Forest won at Deepdale to knock out Preston, who were the only other surviving League One side.

It was a dramatic first leg of the Southern Final of Johnstone’s Paint Trophy on Wednesday: despite being two goals down after less than a quarter of an hour at London Road, Swindon scored twice before the interval to earn a draw at Peterborough. Or should that be Swindon scored three times before the interval – the opening goal was an OG from their Brazilian defender Raphael Branco and the equaliser in first half stoppage time was also an own goal – Posh defender Shaun Brisley was to blame for that one. Remarkably, the Wiltshire Robins played for an hour with ten men after James McEveley was dismissed with score at 2-1.

The situation at the top of the table was blown open last weekend as Leyton Orient lost at Rotherham and dropped out of the top three for the first time this season, Brentford blew a lead at Shrewsbury and Wolves had to be patient to overcome Bradford. Notts County slipped back into the bottom four after losing at Preston, but it still looks ridiculously tight at the wrong end of League One.

A couple of games to keep an eye on this weekend: Wolves travel to Stevenage for the first time in any competition having only lost twice away from Molineux in the league this season. Despite beating Gillingham on Tuesday night, the hosts remain bottom and haven’t won back to back home games since October.

Although a run in the cup is always fun, avoiding relegation remains Sheffield United’s priority. Shrewsbury visit Bramall Lane on Saturday for a game between the bottom two: United won the corresponding game last season but that was their first home league win over the Shrews since they first met in October 1983. The visitors have only lost two of their last six aways so this might not be as one sided as you might think.

There are a couple of catch up games next week and if any of them look interesting I’ll be back on Tuesday. Otherwise enjoy the weekend and I hope your team wins unless they’re playing mine 🙂

Sky Bet League One Preview 1st February 2014

A quick midweek recap first: Brentford established a slim lead at the top with the 3-1 win over Bristol City – I wondered aloud if City might score first (they did – an Aiden Flint own goal) and Marcello Trotta scored once more but with both Leyton Orient and Wolves also both winning on Tuesday, they’re now within four points of the Bees.

However, having drawn at Bradford, Preston are now even further adrift in fourth place and only have a game in hand: there’s only five points between them at Peterborough, who occupy seventh place. Both the Lillywhites and Posh are doing well in the FA Cup and JPT this season, but I suspect they’d rather be in the hunt for promotion.

Stevenage v Crewe was postponed, which leaves Stevenage two points adrift at the bottom but as I pointed out earlier in the week they’re only five points behind Notts County and have three games in hand over the Magpies

There are four games of interest this weekend: one at the bottom, one at the top and two that involve clubs from both ends of the table.

Crewe haven’t been too awful at Gresty Road recently and have only lost once at home to the other clubs in the current bottom six (0-3 v Stevenage in October), while Sheffield United have only won once away from home this season (at Bristol City in November) in their four away games against the other strugglers. However, the hosts have only won two of the last six league encounters with the Blades in Cheshire, but that includes the single goal victory in April that more or less ended United’s dreams of automatic promotion.

Two of the original members of the Football League meet for the 42nd time at Deepdale but there’s no sugar coating the fact that the Notts County have a horrible record at Preston: two wins in the last ten league games – with the last in coming in March 1990. The Lillywhites have picked up six points from nine against clubs in the bottom six, with the exception being the surprising loss to Crewe in October. Notts have only earned two points from eight games against teams in the top half of the table so there doesn’t seem to be much doubt where the points might be headed tomorrow.

There have still only been three home wins in the 17 games so far between the current top six so the game between Rotherham and Leyton Orient should be an interesting one. The Millers’ games against Wolves and Preston at the New York Stadium finished all square – only Gillingham have drawn more home games this season- whilst Os are undefeated away from home against the other promotion contenders and haven’t lost on the road since October. Yet this is another game where the visitors have an historically poor record: in the last 25 years, Orient have only one victory at Rotherham.

I’ve already mentioned Brentford this week, but until recently Shrewsbury had been under my radar. I think it’s fair to say that none but the most optimistic fans could have predicted a stellar season for the Shrews and before the season began I thought they were possible relegation candidates. They were doing reasonably well until the away win at Stevenage, but with seven defeats in their last nine games and not having scored in front of their own fans since Gozie Ugwu opened the scoring against Oldham in November, it wasn’t that much of a surprise that Graham Turner was given his marching orders ten days ago. Although caretaker manager Mike Jackson will remain in charge for the month of February, he has his work cut out for him tomorrow: Shrewsbury have lost all their home games against the current top six without scoring and haven’t beaten Brentford at home since November 1990.