Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final Preview

I’m actually beginning to wonder if Wembley Stadium shouldn’t be  referred to as the ‘new’ Wembley anymore – Sunday’s JPT final (Sky Sports 3, 2:00pm) is the seventh to be held there.

Before I take a closer look at the game, here’s some facts from the last ten finals:

* Eight have been won by League One sides: six of those victories were over clubs from League Two. The only third tier side that have lost to a fourth tier side were Scunthorpe, who lost to Luton five seasons ago.

* Half of those finals have featured over 2.5 goals but both teams have scored in only four.

* Only three of the last ten have gone to extra time and the last time penalties were needed to decide the outcome was in 1997, when Carlisle beat Colchester on spot kicks. However, three of the seven games between third and four tier clubs needed an extra 30 minutes to find the winner.

* Only two of the last nine winners from the third tier went on to win promotion the following season: Doncaster Rovers and Southampton.

* Three winning clubs have since played at least one season in the Premier League since they triumphed: Blackpool, Swansea and Southampton. At the other end of the scale, Luton and Wrexham have both won the competition since 2004 but are now playing in the Conference. Only three of the last ten winners are currently playing in League One.

* The names of all three of the last winners began with the letter  ‘C’ – which I suppose is an omen for Chesterfield!

So basically, if everything follows the pattern above, Peterborough (who I suggested might win the competition in December) should beat Chesterfield by one or two goals to nil but any Posh fans dreaming of promotion next season might want to temper their optimism. It’s a bit early to speculate on this season’s playoffs but there may be grounds for concern about Posh’s chances of promotion this season – but I’ll come to that in a couple of weeks.

It’s been just over six years since Posh and the Spirerites met but the last few meetings don’t really give any clues to Sunday’s outcome other than it’ll be close. In the last ten games both sides have won four each and half of those ten matches were won by the away team: I trawl through a lot of football statistics every season and that’s not a pattern that occurs very often.

Posh have had quite a tough road to the final: they’ve had to beat two of the better sides in League One to get this far. Wins over Brentford and Swindon (on penalties) bookended straightforward looking victories over Newport County and Dagenham & Redbridge but the interesting aspect of their run is that they’ve benefitted from two own goals along the way, which makes Oggie their joint top scorer in the competition this season with Brett Assombalonga and Gavin McCann. On the other hand, Chesterfield – who I might be writing about regularly next season – have only played one League One side on their way to Wembley: they won a penalty shoot out at Oldham in the northern section semi final in December. Their dangerman is Gary Roberts, who has scored ten goals from midfield this season.

I’ll be back at some point on Sunday with the result, but the next scheduled post will probably be next Friday although I am taking an early Easter break with my wife so don’t be too surprised if there’s no post for the next couple of weeks. I quite like the idea of being fully rested for the insanity at the end of the season 😉

Update: congratulations to Peterborough, who won 3-1.

Sky Bet League One Preview 25th March 2014

The last full midweek programme in Sky Bet League One also looks as if it’s going to be the most exciting, with no less than four games between teams that are going in opposite directions at a rate of knots.

Last weekend saw Leyton Orient fall even further behind Wolves and Brentford: the Os could only draw at Walsall whilst the leaders both won. Rotherham and Preston could both theoretically secure playoff places tonight if they earn at least a point, but as we’ll see in a couple of paragraphs that may not be straightforward.

Notts County fans had a rare weekend of joy: the Magpies beat Carlisle 4-1 on the same day their near neighbours were taken apart and sacked their manager. The victory means Notts could potentially pull themselves out of the bottom four this weekend: Carlisle are now in the bottom four for the first time since the start of the season and are currently propping up the form table.

The four matches to monitor tonight are a combination of contests between the top six and the bottom six. At the top, Preston entertain Peterborough and Brentford visit Rotherham and I’m going to make no apologies for using the same stats as I’ve done over the past couple of weeks. The head to head record between teams in the current top six should make sobering reading for Preston and Rotherham fans: only six of the 24 games have ended in home wins and between them the Lillywhites and the Millers have managed only one of those victories in eight attempts – and that was when Leyton Orient lost at the New York Stadium in February.

Dig a little bit further and it becomes clear that Peterborough haven’t done that badly at Deepdale over the years. Posh have only lost three of their nine league games there since they first met in 1974 and although tonight’s game is the only the second time United have visited Preston since the turn of the century, the hosts inability to win games on their own patch has had an obvious impact on their promotion chances. As I mentioned above, a point would probably guarantee Simon Grayson’s side a playoff place, but Posh could do with a morale boosting win before the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final on Sunday (Sky Sports 3, 2:00pm).

Oddly enough, it’s a similar story for Brentford: they’ve only lost four times at Rotherham in ten meetings over the last two decades and with Millers still performing better on the road than at home then a positive result for the Bees cannot be completely ruled out.

The two games at the bottom of the table look like providing the drama this evening. The bottom five are separated by a mere six points and using the overall performance indicators from matches between the current bottom six indicates that Carlisle (against Shrewsbury) and Crewe (against Notts County) have a good chance of earning at least a point. The Cumbrians are unbeaten at home against their fellow strugglers this season and The Alex have only lost one of their four previous home games against relegation rivals. However, the Shrews haven’t lost any of their away games against the other candidates for relegation and have only lost one of their last five visits to Brunton Park so it’s highly likely those two could have changed positions by 10pm tonight.

I’ll be back on Friday with a quick look at the weekend’s league games but the JPT final will take precedence.

The End Of The Season Is Nigh…

By this time tomorrow all of the teams in League One will have ten games or less left to play, so it’s time to mention the phrases ‘run in’ and ‘Easter’ in the same sentence.

Before I go any further, the information in this post is based on the sides currently in the top and bottom six. I’ve no doubt it will change over the next few weeks but any changes are more likely to be from teams dropping into the bottom half dozen: apart from sorting out the final positions, I don’t expect the teams in the top six will change much – if at all.

Overall, it’s Wolves and Shrewsbury who seem to be the best indicators of how the rest of the season could pan out. Both clubs have to play six games against teams that are either challenging for promotion or trying to avoid the drop, with three of Wolves’ remaining fixtures being against teams in the top six. Five of Shrewsbury’s nine remaining games are against their fellow strugglers.

At the other end of the scale, Stevenage look as if they’ve got the easiest run in: they entertain Wolves on April Fool’s Day. That’s it.

There are a couple of games that fit the bill this weekend. Rotherham travel to Peterborough looking for their first win at London Road since Boxing Day 1999 when the Millers won 5-0; the Yorkshire side have lost once on the road since mid November but have only beaten one side in the current top ten on their travels this season. Posh were surprisingly beaten by an improving Bristol City side in their last home game but haven’t suffered back to back home defeats since November.

Notts County host Carlisle at Meadow Lane in a must win game for them and a musn’t lose game for the Cumbrians. Notts haven’t won at home since the start of last month and despite Shaun Derry’s recent exhortations, the Magpies look dead and buried to me: even if they picked up three points tomorrow, they’ll still be bottom of the table. Carlisle’s away form is nothing to write home about either: one away triumph since October and only two wins in their last ten visits to Meadow Lane in a period spanning just over 40 years.

So here’s the list of games to keep an eye on over the next few weeks – as luck would have it, there are four next week and so I’ll be back at some point on Tuesday.

Tuesday 25th March

Preston v Peterborough, Rotherham v Brentford, Carlisle v Shrewsbury, Crewe v Notts County

Saturday 29th March

Tranmere v Carlisle

Tuesday 1st April

Stevenage v Wolves

Saturday 5th April

Brentford v Notts County, Shrewsbury v Stevenage, Wolves v Peterborough

Saturday 12th April

Crewe v Wolves, Preston v Carlisle, Tranmere v Shrewsbury

Friday 18th April (Good Friday)

Wolves v Rotherham, Brentford v Preston, Shrewsbury v Crewe

Monday 21st April (Easter Monday)

Leyton Orient v Wolves (12:00pm, Sky Sports 1 – winner goes up?), Preston v Shrewsbury

Saturday 26th April

Leyton Orient v Tranmere, Shrewsbury v Peterborough

Saturday 3rd May (Last day of the regular season)

Crewe v Preston, Wolves v Carlisle, Brentford v Stevenage.

Monday Night Football: Preston v Sheffield United

Before I go any further this week, I think it’s fascinating how the result of the Leyton Orient/Brentford game fitted into the general pattern of the how the top three teams have performed against each other. None of the games between them have ended with a home win: Marcello Trotter’s goal before half time at Brisbane Road continued that trend and it remains to be seen if Orient can beat Wolves on Easter Monday. If you think that stat is odd, consider this: in the five games so far between the top three, the home team has scored precisely once: Ethan Ebanks-Landell’s fifth minute opener for Wolves against Orient in December.

Tonight the onus is on Preston to earn three points against the FA Cup semi finalists: North End can reduce the gap between themselves and Orient to three points with a win over Sheffield United. After a remarkable run of form, the Blades are 11 points off the playoff places with 12 games left to play as well as having reached the semi finals of the FA Cup.

The knock against Preston is still that they’ve drawn to many games: half of their last ten at Deepdale have ended all square and although they beat Walsall last time out, they’ve failed to win a home game against any of the teams in the current top six despite Joe Garner and Kevin Davies being in fine goalscoring form. They’ve only beaten the Blades four times in their last ten league meetings in Lancashire but that probably indicates how far Sheffield United have fallen since they reached the Championship playoffs five years ago.

Sheffield United’s current streak is very impressive, but their away form overall is still nothing to write home about, especially as they’ve scored the fewest away goals of any team in League One this season. Although United have recently cracked the top ten for the first time in 2013/14, three of their four away wins this season have been achieved since the middle of last month and all four have been by one goal against teams they would have probably been expected to beat at the start of the campaign. Tonight’s game is the third meeting at Deepdale since the Blades and Preston were relegated from the Championship at the end of 2010/11 – and United have won both of their encounters at Preston since then.

The last few games of the week have been draws and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this one turned out the same way. The match seems to depend on whether Sheffield United can score or not and I’d have to say that they might find that the lack of away goals might be a problem that dogs them until the end of the season. To put it another way, Preston won’t be happy with a point tonight as a draw could undermine their attempt to win automatic promotion.

I’ll be back on Friday with a first look at the remaining games that might be important at both ends of the table along with previews of a couple of this weekend’s games that will be worth following.

Game Of The Week: Leyton Orient v Brentford

Only one real contender for the award this week: Leyton Orient v Brentford, which is live on Sky Sports 1 at 12:15pm in the first of two televised League One games over the next four days.

Although beggars can’t be choosers, the decision to show this game has probably more to do with the fact that the automatic promotion places in the Championship look done and dusted. I’ll cover the Preston/Sheffield United game that’s being televised on Monday in a separate post at the start of next week.

It looks like the Os have recovered from their wobble last month: three straight wins at Brisbane Road (with Moses Odubajo scoring half of their six goals in that period) have seen them back into the automatic promotion spots. The defence is back on form too: even taking the recent defeats into account, they’ve kept four clean sheets in their last ten home games.

The problem Orient have at this point in the season is that they’ve played two more games than Wolves and have two fewer points. Of course, plenty can – and will – happen over the next few weeks but the bookies don’t fancy Orient’s chances of winning promotion at all. I’m not so sure: six of their last ten games are at home and although they’ve still got to host Wolves in East London on Easter Monday, four of their remaining matches are against teams in the bottom half of the table.

Brentford haven’t lost away from home since mid October – that’s a ten game streak, which is normally when the alarm bells should be going off as a defeat must be due soon. Six of the games in the current sequence were against teams currently in the bottom half of the table and they’ve recently blown leads at both Shrewsbury and Walsall. The Bees have also had good fortune with penalties on the road recently: three of Adam Forshaw’s four goals away from Griffin Park since October have been penalties and all three of those spot kicks were both the first goal of the game as well as being within the first half and hour of play. I’ll let you come to your own conclusions there.

The head to head record between them in East London is pretty one sided: Leyton Orient have won five out of the last six meetings, with Brentford having only won twice in their ten league visits to Orient. Furthermore, the Bees haven’t scored at Brisbane Road since October 2009. Looking at the records of the top three when they’ve played each other, there still haven’t been any home wins in the four games so far – and if the table stays the same, this is the penultimate game between them.

There are three other games to keep an eye on tomorrow afternoon: Notts County travel to Tranmere in the only game between clubs in the bottom four, but at the risk of repeating myself the situation at the bottom is really tight and the outcome of Carlisle‘s game against Stevenage could be just as important when the dust settles at 5:00pm tomorrow. Shrewsbury could find themselves dragged even deeper into the mire – even though they’ve never lost at Molineux, they’ve lost seven of their eight away games against teams currently in the top half of the table. On the other hand, Wolves have won five straight at home and only conceded one goal in that sequence.

I’ll be back on Monday with a quick look back at the weekend as well as a preview of Preston v Sheffield United…which may not be as competitive as it looks.

Midweek Preview 11/12th March 2014

After Sunday’s remarkable achievement by Sheffield United it’s almost an anti-climax to have to return to league action, but with two games in the next five days it’s no time for the faint hearted in League One.

The surprise result on Saturday came at Meadow Lane, where Leyton Orient failed to score in an away game for the first time this season. The goalless draw didn’t help either club: Notts County remain bottom of League One and with Wolves winning 3-0 at Walsall, The Os may have lost their chance of winning the title. Brentford and Preston also won, which means that potentially we could have another exciting end to the season.

At the bottom, Stevenage won again and are now only a point from safety but they have a tough looking game against Preston this evening. It might be worth keeping an eye on Oldham and Carlisle over the next couple of weeks: both of them were on my provisional relegation strugglers list in July and although neither of them have been out of the bottom half of the table this season, either of them could be the team that always manages to get caught in a trap at the end of the campaign.

A couple of games worth looking out for tonight: Tranmere are arguably due an away win and having won their last two meeting with Brentford at Griffin Park, Rovers might fancy their chances again. However…the Bees haven’t lost at home to a side outside the current playoff contenders this season.

Stevenage entertain Preston but it’s worth pointing out immediately that Boro haven’t won three consecutive home league games for almost two years whilst North End haven’t lost away from home since the start of October – and their only defeat in that period was at Wolves.

I’ll be back on Friday with a look at one game in particular: Leyton Orient v Brentford (Sky Sports 1, 12:15pm). Yes, you read that correctly: Orient v Brentford is going to be televised…

Blades Aim For FA Cup History (Updated)

Since 1920, only six third tier teams have reached the semi finals of the FA Cup, so if Sheffield United can beat Charlton on Sunday they’ll be the first side since Wycombe Wanderers in 2001 to have got that far. The Blades will also join Millwall, Port Vale, York City, Norwich and Crystal Palace in managing that feat and the remarkable part about United’s cup run this season is how similar it is to those that came before them. So far the Blades have beaten two top tier opponents to reach the quarter finals: only Palace and Wycombe didn’t have to do that.

The turnaround in Sheffield United’s fortunes has been remarkable and as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it’s pretty obvious that appointing Nigel Clough has made a huge difference. At the beginning of last month they were 23rd in the table, four points ahead of Stevenage: six wins – and six clean sheets – later, they’re eight points off the playoffs. Although mathematically they could still finish in the top six, I think their chances of promotion this season are slim, primarily because they’ve scored the fewest goals of the teams currently in the top half of the table.

To be honest I must admit hat I’m a bit annoyed that I didn’t have a couple of quid on Sheffield United to be the League One team that lasted longest the FA Cup though. Over the past decade they’ve reached the fourth round or better four times and although that’s largely because they were a Championship side for most of that time, it still indicates a rich FA Cup tradition. In fact, if you go back two decades you can add two unsuccessful semi final appearances, which is what makes their inability to get out of League One even more confusing than it already is.

Back to this weekend’s game: I’ve covered the Charlton Athletic side of the equation here, so now let’s take an in depth look at what to expect from the Blades on Sunday. The first thing you notice about them is that although they struggled for the first half of the season, it was their away form that was the problem – so it’s probably just as well that Sunday’s game is at Bramall Lane, where they’ve not lost since mid November.

Before I get too carried away with United’s home form, it’s worth pointing out that a home defeat is probably overdue. The question is whether Charlton – who haven’t won an away game since November – are capable of winning at Bramall Lane. The Addicks won their last meeting with United in Yorkshire, but have never won consecutive games at Sheffield United even though the 33 game series goes back to 1936.

Returning to the goals issue, it’s noticeable that since losing at home to Gillingham in November, United have scored almost twice as many goals in the second half of their home games than they have in the first half. Only four of their 19 goals over that period have come in the first half an hour, which indicates to me that although the Blades can be a bit slow to get going, Nigel Clough is very good at making half time adjustments. Charlton will need to keep an eye on Chris Porter at the end of each half – all five of his recent goals at Bramall Lane have come in the last fifteen minutes of each period, including the two late goals that dispatched Nottingham Forest in the last round.

One final thought on this game: if Sheffield United manage to reach the semi finals, consider backing whoever they draw in the next round to win the FA Cup. Of the six teams I mentioned at the start of the post, five were beaten in the semi finals by the eventual winners of the competition. And although Sheffield United might not win promotion this season, I wouldn’t advise betting against them in 2014/15.

Before singing off for this week, there are four games in League One to keep an eye on tomorrow: four of the bottom six are playing each other and the game at Greenhous Meadow between Shrewsbury and Bristol City could indicate which of them will be spending the rest of the season in a dogfight to avoid relegation. If Tranmere lose at Stevenage, they might find themselves in the bottom four and having conceded six goals at Rotherham last weekend, Notts County have to face Leyton Orient at Meadow Lane.

I’ll update this post at some point on Sunday and there’ll be a round up with a quick look at next Tuesday’s games on Monday.

Update: Sheffield United 2-0 Charlton Athletic. The Blades will play Hull City in the semi final at Wembley on the weekend of 12th/13th April.

Sky Bet League One Round Up

Wolves took over at the top on goal difference after beating Port Vale 3-0 at Molineux and their two games in hand are starting to look crucial. I’m not sure if Kenny Jackett mentioned that Leyton Orient were winning 1-0 at half time, but all three Wolves’ goals were scored in the second half with Bakary Sako notching two of them.

The Os left it late to wrap up all three points though: Moses Odubajo scored seven minutes from time after Marcus Bean had equalised for Colchester.

I thought Rotherham wouldn’t encounter any problems with Notts County and four goals in half an hour emphasised that point.

Stevenage moved off the bottom of the table for the first time since mid January as they came from behind to win at Bradford but still won’t be able to escape the bottom four even if they beat Tranmere on Saturday. Crewe earned a point against Swindon, but that wasn’t enough to stop them from dropping back into the bottom four as Bristol City beat Gillingham. The Robins travel to Shrewsbury at the weekend: the Shrews earned a point at Coventry yesterday but it wasn’t enough to move them out of the drop zone.

One game of interest tomorrow: Colchester entertain Rotherham in a game the Us need to win if they want to put some space between them and the rest of the strugglers. United have only won two of their five home games since Boxing Day and haven’t won at all since mid January, but over the last 40 years they only lost twice at home to the Millers in the league. On the other hand, Rotherham haven’t lost on the road at any of the teams in the bottom half of the current table.

Back on Friday with the FA Cup Quarter Final preview – Sheffield United v Charlton (12:00pm, BT Sport 1)