All Change At The Top?

I could given this week’s post the same title as last week: Bristol City have now lost consecutive league games for the first time since January but it’s been 19 months since they’ve lost three league games in a row. Aston Villa loanee Callum Robinson scored what turned out to be the only goal and the winner for Preston and with Swindon winning at Peterborough for the first time in almost a decade, the top of the table could be about to see a dramatic change.

In the other games I mentioned last week, Leyton Orient picked up their first home win this season when they hammered Crewe 4-1 and Yeovil made things interesting at the bottom after recording a rare away win at Notts County: Jordan Clarke scored twice in the last six minutes as the Glovers picked up the three points against a County team that played most of the game with ten men following Gary Jones’ dismissal.

Last weekend of the month and things are tight at both ends: the gap between first and sixth is down to seven points and at the bottom there’s only a five point gap between Coventry and Crewe. As things stand at the moment I’m not going to be able to post anything similar this one before Christmas so as the FA Cup is next weekend, today I’ll take a look at what’s happened at the end of November over the last decade.

* In six of the last ten seasons, the club leading at the end of November have been promoted but only half of those teams went up as Champions. Neither Leyton Orient (leaders at the end of November last year) and Tranmere (November 2012) were promoted.

* After that the pattern is a negative one for the top six. A substantial majority (63%, compared to 56% in the Championship over the same period) of clubs that occupied the top six at the end of November weren’t promoted, including two seasons (2010/11 and 2012/13) where only one team in the top six at the end of November eventually won promotion.

* The best chance of winning automatic promotion seems to be by finishing the month in the top four, but as you might expect the lower down in that group you finish the worse the odds become. For example, over the last decade only one team that finished November in sixth place has been promoted (Peterborough in 2009).

So although there’s a long way to go yet, there’s enough time for a club from the chasing pack to make a run at promotion. At the bottom it’s somewhat clearer: over the past decade at least two of the teams in the bottom six at the end of November have been relegated. At this point I’d say Crewe and Colchester are most at risk.

Back to this weekend and although there’s a rare televised game this evening (Peterborough v Bristol City, coverage starts at 7:30pm on Sky Sports 1 HD), the first of the three games of interest this week also takes place this evening.

Sheffield United v Notts County

Blades haven’t won any of their three games against the current top six but have only lost twice at home this season with their last reverse coming against Barnsley at the start of the month. Unlike last season they’ve spent most of this campaign in the top ten but I’m still far more likely to take them seriously as promotion contenders if they had a regular goalscorer. Mark McNulty has bagged five goals since moving from Livingston in the summer, but that’s less than one third than Owen Doyle has score for Chesterfield. Notts haven’t lost away from Meadow Lane since April, but haven’t won at Bramall Lane for over 20 years; however the Magpies are one of only three teams in League One that have conceded less than one goal per game so far this season (the others are Fleetwood and Walsall) and this looks like a game that won’t feature many goals.

Finished 1-1

MK Dons v Colchester

MKD¬† have just the one home defeat this season (against Bradford in September) and have only dropped three points from 27 available against teams in the bottom half, so this looks like a fairly straightforward run out against the Us, who have never won at Milton Keynes. However, as I mention a few weeks ago, the Dons have to play four league games before Boxing Day as well as next Saturday’s cup tie against Chesterfield, so there’s a possibility that they may run out of steam by New Year’s Day.

I wasn’t far wrong with the ‘fairly straightforward run out’; MKD won 6-0.

Yeovil v Preston

As I mentioned above, Yeovil’s first win for two months was in somewhat fortunate circumstances but the fact remains that the Glovers haven’t won at Huish Park since September. However, that’s more than made up for their home record against Preston in the league: two games and two wins. The worrying aspect for Yeovil is that the Lillywhites have won all four of their away trips to the sides in the bottom seven without conceding a goal and stopped Bristol City from scoring at Ashton Gate for the first time this season.

Preston won 2-0.

I’ll update the results when I can this weekend, next weekend it’s an FA Cup special.

Bristol City Lose But Stay On Top

The record breaking start to the season by Bristol City ended in controversial circumstances at the County Ground last weekend. The visitors were down to ten men after three minutes following Wade Elliott’s dismissal for an altercation with Jack Stephens: the leaders held on for 75 minutes more before Michael Smith scored what turned out to be the winner for Swindon. The win propelled Swindon past Preston (who lost their third consecutive game) into second place, but once again Bristol City cannot be overtaken at the top this weekend regardless of what happens.

At the foot of the table, Yeovil were beaten at Huish Park by a late goal by Fleetwood‘s Jeff Hughes and the Glovers are now bottom after Crewe earned a point against Chesterfield. It’s not all good news for the Alex though: they’re level on points with Scunthorpe having played one more game than the Iron, but Crewe have the worst goal difference in the competition but as you’ll read in a moment, that statistic may be on the verge of improving

There are three games of interest this weekend:

Bristol City v Preston

I looked at City last week, so although this would have been a contender for game of the week it’s more of an excuse to take a look at Preston. After a seven game winning streak, the Lillywhites look as if they’ve lost the plot completely. Three straight defeats is bad news at any time, but on closer inspection it’s clear that the away form of Simon Grayson’s side depends on whereabouts their opponents are in the table – so possibly not a good time to be visiting the leaders. Two of those last three losses were at Swindon and Rochdale and their four away wins came at sides currently that are either currently in eighteenth place or worse. To sum it up, on the road Preston probably not showing the form of genuine promotion candidates. They’re also overdependent on striker Joe Garner: he’s scored almost 40% of their total goals this season but has only scored once in their last five aways in the league. He’ll be up against one of the six sides that have conceded less than a goal per game at home this season on Saturday and Preston haven’t won at Ashton Gate for almost 15 years.

Leyton Orient v Crewe

It’s hard to know where to start with Orient this season so here are some facts:

They’ve not won a home game since May, despite having nine attempts to do so. They’ve failed to score the first goal in any of their league games at Brisbane Road this season and lost to both Colchester and Rochdale despite both of those sides playing most of the game with ten men. All but three of their total points have been won away from home, which is all that’s keeping them from the bottom of the table and so far 25 different players have featured in league games. It looks as if this side fell to bits when rumours of Russell Slade’s departure started.

Nobody gave Crewe much of a chance of survival this time round but with only one defeat in their last half dozen games they’ve given themselves a timely fighting chance of escaping the bottom four before Christmas. Unlike Orient, it’s their away performances that have been dodgy: the only away success this season came at Walsall at the beginning of the month, which was only the second time the Alex had kept an away clean sheet since the end of 2013. If they can keep one at Orient then their escape act may genuinely be underway.

Notts County v Yeovil

Only the fifth meeting at Meadow Lane between these two: there’s never been a draw, each club has beaten the other twice and Notts will be looking for revenge after the Glovers knocked them out of the FA Cup. The Magpies are one of the most improved sides in League One this season; their home defeat against Walsall at the start of the month was only their third defeat in 2014/15 and broke a nine game unbeaten streak. Interestingly, Sean Derry has chopped and changed his side when he’s felt it to be necessary: only veteran ‘keeper Roy Carroll and promising goalscoring defender Haydn Hollis have been ever present so far and 16 of County’s 23 goals have been scored by midfielders, with experienced midfielder Garry Thompson leading the way with six.

Since November 1st 2013 Yeovil have won nine and lost 26 of their league games and before anyone starts pointing out that the Championship is a different kettle of fish entirely, there’s also a theory doing the rounds that Gary Johnson is either an unqualified success as a manager (Bristol City one game away from the Premier League, Yeovil winning the Conference and promotion to the Championship within a decade) or just plain awful with nothing in between. How long he’s given to turn the season around is up to the board of directors at Huish Park but if they let sentimentality get in the way of results the Glovers may find themselves back in the fourth tier for the first time for a decade.

Finally this week, the second round of the FA Cup has been finalised. The ties are as follows and although there are no televised games involving League One sides there’s a special edition of Match Of The Day on BBC2 at 6:00pm on Sunday evening.

Saturday 6th December (3:00pm)

Accrington Stanley v Yeovil, MK Dons v Chesterfield, Oldham v Doncaster, Preston v Shrewsbury, Sheffield United v Plymouth

Sunday 7th December (2:00pm unless stated)

Aldershot v Rochdale, Barnsley v Chester, Bradford City v Dartford, Bristol City v Telford, Colchester v Peterborough (4;30pm), Scunthorpe v Worcester.

The draw for the Third Round is on Monday 8th December at 7pm on BBC2 and the Third Round will be played over the weekend of 2nd/3rd/4th January 2015.

Game Of The Week: Swindon v Bristol City

It’s international weekend, which means the Milton Keynes Galacticos have the weekend off again. That means they’ve got to play eight games before New Years Eve and that doesn’t count the match they should have played with Scunthorpe tomorrow. Barnsley also have three players on international duty this weekend but they’re still playing Colchester United this evening so it makes me wonder if this is some sort of grand strategy by the powers that be in North Buckinghamshire.

However, one of the potentially most crucial games of the season is taking place this weekend. Bristol City have flown out of the blocks this season and are on target to equal Wolves’ title winning performance last season. Their unbeaten record won’t last forever but the next two games are almost as much about how seriously their challengers need to be taken. It’s Preston at Ashton Gate next weekend, but tomorrow the leaders travel to Swindon. I’m sure the talking heads on the Football League Show will be referring to this one as a ‘derby’, but as it’s pretty much the same distance between Bristol to Swindon as it is from Manchester to Leeds I can tell you from personal experience that the rivalry is nowhere near as intense as the Bristol derby or Swindon’s dislike of Oxford United.

Swindon are one of the most improved teams in 2014/15, but they haven’t won consecutive home league games since August and have only won two of five over the same period; it’s fair to say their away form has been what’s keeping them competitive. As with most successful teams, a strong spine is the reason for Town’s improvement. Goalkeeper Wes Foderingham, Southampton loanee Jordan Turnbull, Iraqi midfielder Yaser Kasim and leading scorer Andy Williams have all been ever present so far with another six players having featured in at least ten of Swindon’s 16 games so far.

If you think that’s impressive, eight Bristol City players have played in all 16 League One outings. That includes ‘keeper Frank Fielding and the entire back four: amongst them is former Swindon centre half Aden Flint, who has already scored more goals this season than he has in any other. City haven’t lost an away game since March (they’ve only lost twice on their travels since the end of January) but if you’re looking for a weakness consider this: they’ve kept one away clean sheet in their last ten outings. Even that stat isn’t all it appears as in seven of those games Bristol City took the lead and they went on to win four of those matches.

In head to head terms, Swindon have won four of the last ten league games at the County Ground but haven’t beaten Bristol City in consecutive meetings since the mid to late nineties. City’s last win in Wiltshire came in January 2002 and – as if to underline the stat I’ve just mentioned – the Bristolians have only kept two clean sheets in their last ten league matches at Swindon. Another trend worth investigating is the form between the current top six, which looks like this:

Played: eight, four of which have been home wins with two draws and two away wins. In six of those eight games both teams have scored – so once again, this looks like a match that won’t finish 0-0.

Elsewhere, there are a couple of games to keep an eye on: Notts County travel to Coventry for only the third time this century having had their five game winning streak broken by Walsall at the start of the month. Until last weekend’s disastrous FA Cup home defeat to non-league Worcester, the Sky Blues had improved somewhat but that setback might have raised some doubts about Steven Pressley’s future as Coventry manager. Last weekend Gillingham boss Peter Taylor questioned his own position and his side entertain Leyton Orient having gone eight games with a win. The Os haven’t won since Mauro Milanese replaced Russell Slade at the end of last month but still have a much better away record than their league position indicates.

Finally this week, the draw for the area semi finals of the Paint Pot takes place tomorrow on Soccer AM. With only one League 2 club left in the competition, it’s highly likely that this season’s final will be contested between two League One sides on Sunday March 22nd 2015.

Hopefully I’ll be back before then though, have a good weekend.

FA Cup 2nd Round Draw

The draw for the second round of the FA Cup took place last night and so here’s how it looks for the remaining League One sides:

Confirmed:

Barnsley v Chester, Bristol City v Basingstoke or Telford, Bradford City v Dartford, Colchester v Peterborough, MK Dons v Chesterfield and Scunthorpe v Worcester City

Subject to replays:

Rochdale (if they beat Northampton) at either Portsmouth or Aldershot, Crewe or Sheffield United at home to Plymouth, Preston v Walsall or Shrewsbury, Oldham v Weston-super-Mare or Doncaster and Notts County (if they beat Accrington Stanley) v Yeovil

Only seven clubs were eliminated at the weekend with Coventry being knocked by Worcester and Swindon being battered at Cheltenham. The Wiltshire Robins only made two changes from the team that beat Preston last Tuesday and were already a goal down to the Gloucestershire Robins when Nathan Thompson was dismissed after 21 minutes. Coventry also suffered a red card when ‘keeper Lee Burge was dismissed for serious foul play but that’s not really an excuse for losing at home to a side three divisions below you.

It’s the Regional Quarter Finals of the Paint Pot this week, although two of the Northern Section games won’t be taking place for another couple of weeks. If the history of the competition is anything to go by then there should be another League One winner this season: eleven of the sixteen teams left in the competition – including half of the current top ten – are from the third tier. Don’t be too surprised if Bristol City don’t put out their strongest squad against Wimbledon tonight: the Somerset Robins have a massive game at the weekend but we’ll come to that in Friday’s post.

FA Cup First Round Preview

Despite the shirtsleeve Hallowe’en that made me decide that there wasn’t going to be a post last weekend, the first signs of winter for football fans outside the Premier League and the Championship are that it’s dark when you leave a game on Saturday afternoon and the FA Cup gets underway.

It’s extremely unlikely that there’ll be another third tier semi finalist next Spring, but the good news is at least one third tier side has reached the fifth round in each of the last five seasons. Last season’s semi finalists Sheffield United (at Crewe) have reached the fourth round at least in three of the last four seasons since they were relegated from the Championship and after that, both Notts County (v Accrington Stanley) and Oldham (v Leyton Orient) have reasonably good records, both having reached the fourth round three times in the last decade. I’d take Coventry (v Worcester on Sunday) and Preston with a pinch of salt though: last season was the first time they’d both got past the third round since they were both relegated. Preston have an interesting game on Monday night at Havant & Waterlooville (BT Sport 1, Monday at 7:30pm).

At the other end of the scale, Bradford City (at FC Halifax on Sunday, live at 5:00pm on BT Sport 1) and Crewe didn’t improve their woeful cup records in 2013/14 but they’re joined by a trio of clubs who also haven’t reached the fourth round for ages. At least Fleetwood (at Cambridge) have the excuse of not having had automatic qualification for the first round because they’ve only been members of the Football League for three seasons, but Chesterfield (at Braintree on Sunday) and Gillingham (hosting Bristol City) don’t have those excuses. The Spirerites last reached the third round five years ago after Droylesden were thrown out of the competition for fielding an ineligible player in their second round replay, but nonetheless they’ve suffered seven first round exits in the last decade. Gillingham’s record isn’t as bad as that, but they’ve not progressed past the third round as a third tier side for almost fifteen years.

Taking everything into account though, the first two rounds (proper) of the FA Cup for League One sides are more about avoiding making complete fools of yourselves against ‘inferior’ opposition despite the weather, the basic facilities and the sloping pitches attempting to trip you up: the reward for success might be a home tie in the third round against a big club and one of the most memorable days in the history of your club. I hope some of you already know that feeling and that all of you one day will.

Have a good weekend.