Christmas Preview 2014

Last season’s post about Boxing Day suggested that Leyton Orient would go up, but for only the third time in the last ten seasons the leaders on December 26th failed to go up at the end of the season. It remains to be seen if being on top at Christmas 2014 is a blessing or a curse

Last weekend’s results seem to emphasise the concept of the top six forming two groups: a late goal from Luke Ayling gave Bristol City all three points against Crawley and the only team that can overtake City tomorrow are Swindon, who won convincingly at Notts County. However, there’s now a six point gap between Preston and Sheffield United: the Lillywhites had to come from behind once again to draw with MK Dons and the Blades blew an early lead at Fleetwood.

At the top, anything could happen before New Year’s Eve. Bristol City have two games against strugglers (starting with a trip to Crewe tomorrow) but none of the current top six will be playing each other over the festive season. MK Dons visit Notts County on Boxing Day in a game that could be a top six clash, but that depends entirely on what happens tomorrow.

This Christmas, it looks as if the fun and games will be at the bottom of the table. There’s only a six point gap between Crewe and Gillingham and with Crawley, Yeovil, Leyton Orient, Colchester and Crewe having at least two games over the next eight days against teams challenging for promotion or trying to escape relegation it wouldn’t surprise me if there are big changes amongst the strugglers. The Glovers have arguably the toughest schedule: they have to face Colchester, Bristol City and Leyton Orient before playing Manchester United in the FA Cup at the start of January.

Unfortunately none of the games over the festive period will be televised, so unless you’re actually going to a match your best bet to catch the highlights will either be the Football League show (varying times, but iPlayer is the most reliable option) or FL72/Goals On Sunday on Sky. I should be able to post some sort of update at some point, but the next scheduled post will be a preview of the 3rd Round of the FA Cup. The dates of the FA Cup games have been finalised. The majority of games are on Saturday January 3rd apart from the 2nd Round replay between MK Dons and Chesterfield and Cardiff v Colchester (BBC Wales, 7:45pm); the Sunday games are QPR v Sheffield United and Yeovil v Manchester United (BT Sport 1, 3:30pm).

So all that’s left for me to do is to wish you a Happy Christmas from Buzzin’ Media.

Capital One Cup Quarter Final Preview

Sheffield United v Southampton

Clearly not one of the glamorous games in the competition (Spurs v Newcastle tomorrow night isn’t being televised either) but just as intriguing as the other two ties that feature Premier League teams taking on sides outside the top tier.

The Blades have a reputation of being a ‘cup’ team although strictly speaking that’s more to do with their record in the FA Cup. They’ve not got past the second round of the League Cup in half of the last ten seasons and this is their best performance in the competition for over a decade.

Despite their healthy looking position in the table, their home league form isn’t as good as it might be. One victory at Bramall Lane in League One since the end of September isn’t exactly promotion form and United have only won two home League Cup ties in the last seven years. Before you start wondering if that’s due to the quality of their opposition over that period, the list of sides that beat them includes Port Vale and Burton Albion (twice) and they’ve reached this stage of the competition by beating Leyton Orient, MK Dons and Mansfield. Even the win at an understrength West Ham side in August was fortuitous as the Blades failed to score in open play and won a penalty shoot out.

It’s been a while since the two clubs met: the last meeting in Yorkshire was a goalless draw in the Championship in October 2008 but United have only lost twice in their last ten meetings with the Saints at Bramall Lane so if that record stands up then the hosts have a good chance of taking the tie to extra time at the very least. Southampton haven’t reached the semi finals of the competition since 1988 so also have an incentive this evening.

A couple of quickies before I go: Chesterfield have been ordered to play MK Dons again in the second round of the FA Cup after fielding an ineligible player a couple of weeks ago. At time of writing it wasn’t clear when the replay would be taking place. The Northern Section semi final of the JPT is also taking place tonight when Preston travel to Notts County.

I’ll update this post with the scores when the games finish: otherwise back on Friday.

Update: Sheffield United have done it again! A single second half goal from Marc McNulty was enough to see off the Saints; the Blades will face Spurs in the semi finals.

In the FA Cup, Yeovil will face Manchester United and Rochdale will entertain Nottingham Forest in the third round. Preston will play Walsall in the Northern area final of the JPT after winning 1-0 at Notts County.

Game Of The Week: Preston v MK Dons

Back to the bread and butter of the Football League this season and as I mentioned in last Friday’s post, a gap between the leaders and the chasing pack has emerged. That makes Preston v MK Dons a no-brainer for game of the week but before I continue let’s look at how Saturday could pan out.

The top four won’t change whatever happens and any of them could be top on Saturday evening but with four of the top seven playing each other it’s probably vital for MK Dons, Preston and Swindon to avoid defeat in order to improve their long term chances of promotion. On paper Bristol City probably have the ‘easiest’ game tomorrow whilst Swindon haven’t won at Notts County since January 2004 and have lost their last three at Meadow Lane.

Overall, I don’t think we’re going to see much change at the top of the table for the rest of the season. MK Dons, Bristol City and Swindon are the currently the most likely teams for automatic promotion but any of the sides currently in the top half of the table could still go up.

The bottom six won’t change much this weekend either. There’s a six point gap between Leyton Orient and Crewe with the latter club visiting Scunthorpe in the only game between the strugglers this weekend. Fabio Liverani became the fourth manager the O’s have had this season. He’s got no management experience in this country, precious little in Italy (six league games with one win at Genoa at the start of last season) but time will tell I suppose. Talking of managers, Gary Johnson’s Yeovil travel to Lee Johnson’s Oldham in a rare match where the protagonists are managed by a father and son; there’ll probably be a lot of media attention but I’ll be surprised if Johnson Sr. will be the happier of the two at Sunday lunch.

So to the main course…

Preston v MK Dons

After a 21 game home unbeaten streak that began on New Year’s Day was ended by Bradford City in the middle of last month, the Lillywhites have an opportunity to begin a new one tomorrow. Two consecutive away triumphs in the West Country without conceding a goal is impressive but despite have kept pace with the leaders they’ve been out of the automatic promotion places since the start of November and Simon Grayson’s side have only beaten one of the current top ten sides at Deepdale in four attempts this season.

The recipe for Preston’s recent successes at home is goalscoring: they’ve scored at least twice in five of their nine games this season, winning four. However, dig a little deeper and another pattern emerges: they’ve only been leading at half time in half of their last six outings at Deepdale and – not surprisingly – failed to score first in those matches. To me that indicates any team looking for a favourable result at Preston needs to attack the hosts from the start and not worry too much about Joe Garner. Garner has scored seven of his eleven goals at home this season, but six of those at Preston have been scored after an hour – including the second half hat-trick against Fleetwood. Additionally, Preston are only performing at a slightly better level than they were last season, which wasn’t good enough for promotion last season.

The Dons are currently on a streak of their own: it’s been nine games since they lost in the league and they’ve kept clean sheets in their last four road trips. Yet this is also a deceptive situation: three of those performances have been against teams that are in the bottom half of the table so it’s unclear if the recent win at Sheffield United was a statement of intent or not. Leading score Dele Alli is also the only ever present so far (Daniel Powell and Benik Afobe have featured in all the league games) but only three of his nine goals this season have been scored since the start of November and he’s not especially prolific away from home. With games coming up against Oldham and Notts County, I think we’re going to find out a lot about Karl Robinson’s team by the end of this month.

I know I use this a lot, but the top six mini league analysis is always illuminating. Of the 13 games so far, ten have finished with the home team earning at least a point. Two of the away wins have been at Bramall Lane, which indicates to me that MK Dons will have to pull out the stops at Deepdale; all three of the previous meetings between the two clubs in Lancashire have ended all square and I’d not be too surprised if this one doesn’t either.

Finally this week, the draw for the area finals of the JPT took place on Thursday morning. Gillingham will entertain Bristol City in the first leg of the Southern Final whilst Walsall will visit either Preston or Notts County in the first leg of the Northern Final.

I’ll be back on Tuesday, with an update and a preview of Sheffield United v Southampton in the quarter finals of the Capital One Cup.

FA Cup 3rd Round Draw

The draw for the Third Round was made last night and here are the ties featuring League One sides:

Against Premier League Opposition:

QPR v Sheffield United

Against Championship Opposition:

Cardiff v Colchester, Millwall v Bradford City

All League One:

Doncaster v Bristol City

Dependent On Replays:

Accrington or Yeovil v Man United, Barnsley or Chester v Middlesbrough, Scunthorpe or Worcester v Chesterfield*

The main discussion point for fans of League One teams is that having benefitted from the same situation a few years ago, Chesterfield are threatened with expulsion from the FA Cup after fielding an ineligible player (Wolves loanee Georg Margreitter) in their win over MK Dons at the weekend. If that’s the case, the Dons will play at either Scunthorpe or Worcester City and so there’s a possibility of two guaranteed places for League One clubs in the fourth round.

Yeovil have the incentive of knowing that Manchester United will be the visitors if the Glovers can beat Accrington Stanley at Huish Park next Tuesday. Off the top of my head I’d say that if you’re looking for upsets, Bradford City and Sheffield United’s trips to London to visit relegation threatened teams are probably the best chances, but I’d say that the road to Wembley will probably end for Barnsley and Colchester.

There’ll be a full preview at the start of January but all being well I’ll be back on Friday with a quick look at the weekend’s games.

FA Cup 2nd Round Preview

Before I go any further, one significant match was played on Tuesday night: MK Dons beat Sheffield United at Bramall Lane, which means there’s now a six point gap between fourth and fifth places. It’s possible that could mean nothing, but it might also signify that there’s a clear group of front runners who will be battling for the automatic promotion spots for the rest of the season. I’ll have more to write about that next week.

It’s back to the FA Cup this weekend and the reward for winning this weekend is the possibility of a lucrative home tie against a Premier League team. There are three guaranteed places in the third round for League One teams but it would take an unprecedented set of upsets for those three clubs to be the division’s only representatives. With nine teams playing sides below them in the pyramid it’s probably fair to say that the majority of clubs in the competition will make it through to the next round.

The one interesting thing about this weekend’s games are how rare some of them are. You’d expect that with some of the ties featuring sides outside the Football League – Yeovil, Bradford City and Scunthorpe have never met their opponents in any competition – but both Barnsley and Bristol City have played theirs in the FA Cup, albeit before Chester City and Telford United fell on hard times. City defeated the original Telford United in the second round in 1962/63 and two years later Barnsley (who would finish bottom of the old Third Division at the end of the season) were walloped 5-2 by the original Chester City (then in the Fourth Division) at Oakwell.

As you might have already guessed, two of the ties that feature protagonists from League One are the most common. Peterborough have visited Colchester on four occasions in the FA Cup and the hosts have never won once; neither side have shown much recent form (a combined record of no wins in their last ten games) so this might be the tie of the round for all the wrong reasons. Sadly, it’s the only game featuring League One outfits that’s being televised: BT Sport at 4:30pm on Sunday.

If you’re looking for an old fashioned cup tie, Oldham v Doncaster might be the game to follow. Both clubs have reasonably decent records in the early rounds of the FA Cup over the last five seasons, although obviously Donny have had the benefit of being in the Championship. Nonetheless, Oldham have reached the third round or better in each of the last three seasons and they’ve not lost a home FA Cup tie at Boundary Park since November 2009: in contrast, Rovers have lost four of their last six away FA Cup matches and haven’t won an away FA Cup tie game at opponents from the Football League since they beat Brentford almost five years ago.

The draw for the Third Round is on Monday evening at 7:00pm on BBC2; I’ll post it in full as soon as I can and if there are any big surprises I’ll update this post over the weekend. However, don’t forget (as I almost did) that one of the area semi finals of the Paint Pot is taking place on Saturday (Gillingham v Leyton Orient) with two others scheduled for next week.