Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The race for sixth place

Seven clubs are left scrambling for the (realistically) single remaining play-off place as The Championship draws to another thrilling conclusion. Unbelievably, with no team seeming able to string a few wins together, Forest are amongst them.

People have suggested that the quality of league is down - because many teams are unable to find consistent form. Personally I would argue the opposite; that so many teams are making great strides that just about everyone has the players capable of winning a game, it is a more even league rather than a poorer one.

What is undeniable is that it's exciting, with twelfth-place Watford in with almost as good a chance at promotion as sixth-place Brighton. But who has the upper hand? Who has the easier fixtures, the better squad available - who will prevail?

Brighton
 
The Seagulls are clearly a side on the up but may be about to experience another dramatic choke. They arguably don’t score enough goals, relying heavily on Leonardo Ulloa, and have won only twice in their last nine games.
 
I don’t fancy them for either of their remaining games; they travel to Forest on the last day of the season in a game where anything could happen but The Garibaldi will be slight favourites, but Yeovil could shock them before that – The Glovers will be fighting for their lives and we’ve seen at first hand how awkward they are – I also think their physical style could give Brighton problems.
Boffin's Brighton Verdict: 11th Both their games will be close and could go either way. A win against Yeovil will put them in the mix on goal-difference, but I can see a surprise here.
 
Forest

It is no coincidence that The Reds have pulled off two victories since the return of David Vaughan, and it’s possible other players will return, boosting them further. With Gary Brazil finally teasing that bit more enthusiasm and organisation out of Forest, they look likely to finish strongly – two wins will do it!

They face what are effectively two play-off eliminators, both of which will be tight games. I can see a draw against Bournemouth, who are strong at home and in good form, but one advantage is that they have to win, while Forest possibly don’t.

We could do with the injured players being back for the Bournemouth game – with even Henri Lansbury in there instead of Peltier I would predict The Reds booking a play-off date against Derby.
 
Boffin's Forest Verdict: 7th Denied on goal difference again? A tale of what should have been.
 
Ipswich

I predicted in August that Mick McCarthy would have Ipswich up in the play-offs this season – he’s not quite managed that yet but The Tractor Boys have done well to be in there, especially having lost some key players.
 
David McGoldrick was knocking in goals for fun, Ipswich looked set to drop away after both his injury and the loss of Ryan Tunnicliffe to Wigan, but McCarthy toggled their system slightly and has eked out the best from his squad.

To stand a chance of the play-offs though, they must travel to Burnley and avoid losing – but Sean Dyche’s men are strong at home, well suited to dealing with Ipswich’s direct style, and will be having a promotion party.

Boffin's Ipswich Verdict: 9th  A great effort by the best manager in the division, but in reality they probably need two wins.

Reading

The Royals are having a strange season and probably epitomise the unpredictable nature of The Championship. They only have three wins in the last twelve games, but their squad is littered with excellent players for this level. However, key man Danny Guthrie could miss the rest of the season, and they have been over twice as likely to lose in his absence (being defeated on 46.7% of occasions where he has not played 45 minutes, compared with a 21.4% loss-rate with him).

But it is all in Reading’s hands, and they will most likely only have to collect five more points from three games – two of which are at home against teams with nothing left to play for.

Boffin's Reading Verdict: 6th They will probably scrape through on goal difference - but if they slip up, Forest can pounce.

Blackburn

It perhaps shows the volatile nature of The Championship that Rovers are still in with a shout; they are probably the poorest side for quality, their promotion bid being sustained by good organisation and work-rate.

They have been keeping things simple, relying on their two very effective strikers, Rudy Gestede and Jordan Rhodes, and as unlikely as it sounds they probably have the best chance of all to grab sixth place – travelling to an awful Charlton side before facing Wigan in a local derby, where anything could happen.

You would think Blackburn would beat Charlton – they are good away, Charlton have the worst home record in the league. It may all rest upon how badly Wigan, who have nothing to play for themselves, want to wreck the hopes of their rivals.

Boffin's Blackburn Verdict: 8th. Close this one – Don’t be surprised to see Blackburn coast into 6th, but I can’t see them winning both games. If Blackburn get into sixth in front of Forest, some serious questions need to be asked, as The Reds are a far superior side - even with the injuries.

Bournemouth

The Cherries looked to be the form team and, with all around them losing their heads, set to gatecrash the promotion party. But when finally in the mix they too seem to have crumbled slightly under the pressure, having not won in three games.

They welcome Forest in a hugely important game – but as they are that bit further behind Bournemouth probably need to win. This, coupled with their attacking nature, could leave them vulnerable when coming forward against a Forest side who appear to have mastered getting in behind teams with pace on the break.

They also travel to Millwall, who will be fighting for their lives. Eddie Howe's side are capable of winning, or losing, both games.

Boffin's Cherries Verdict: 12th. A great effort by Eddie Howe will probably fizzle out into respectable mid-table.

Watford

The Hornets could provide a late sting in the promotion hunt, but will probably have to win all three games. However, they have a lot of quality in their side, and this is another team who I wouldn’t be surprised to see finish 6th.

It may all rest on their game away at Derby; The Rams have nothing to play for, but are excellent at home. If Watford win this game, they are my favourites to finish 6th, because of their superior goal difference.

It may be a simple matter after the Derby game, since they travel to Charlton – who are terrible (and worse than terrible at home), and play Huddersfield at Vicarage Road. Watford have some big-game players and will be hot favourites for both these fixtures.

Boffin's Watford Verdict: 10th. This is going to be close though.

Conclusions

This last play-off position could go to any of the seven teams – games will be won on very tight margins and it could all come down to a single error, piece of skill or refereeing decision.

I can see a scenario where up to four teams are tied on 69 points – or I can see another scenario with probably the worst side, Blackburn, sneaking in; they have two very winnable games and can end on 70 points.

I think the two teams with a game in hand will both win them, and this could prove decisive – especially for Reading as this will put them in the driving seat, but this will go down to whether any of the seven rivals can get through to the end of the (scheduled) season without dropping any points – I don’t think any will, but if they do they will probably be alone in doing so, and will finish 6th.

As for Forest - I think personally that their available first 11s' - even the one stated above, without the injection of returning 'stars' like Lansbury, Reid and Wilson, is as good as any of the other likely teams mentioned. I also think that they have an advantage in that they play two of their rivals, and have the opportunity to effectively eliminate them.

Am I wrong to discount Brighton? They are in 6th place currently after all - however I think they are up against it - even if they beat Yeovil (I've a serious doubt they will), I still think that, in the chaos of the last day, Forest could beat them heavily if it is necessary; don't forget each goal would count double as far as goal difference between the two sides is concerned. A three goal difference would probably be enough, assuming Forest don't lose to Bournemouth.

Thanks for reading; although a stab in the dark. my final verdict is that Reading, Forest, Blackburn and Watford are the most likely play-off candidates - I can't see the winner of this race coming from either Bournemouth, Brighton, or Ipswich - but what do you think? Let me know below, enjoy the climax of the season, and COYR!

6 comments:

  1. I wouldn't discount Wigan losing all their remaining games. Two against relegation scrappers and one against play-off rivals.

    Personally I'll go with forest and blackburn for 5th and 6th. I think you're right that Brighton and Reading will choke. Though it depends a lot on which Burnley team shows up at Ipswich. Which probably depends on what happens at Bolton tonight, Certainly it will be clearer after tonight's games...

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    1. Hmm interesting to bring Wigan into it; personally I can't see them losing all three - but even if they did I don't think any of these teams are very likely to reach their points total, but it's feasible.

      There is so many variants that we don't know - chiefly may be how teams with nothing to play for will react. Added into an already chaotic division and anything can happen. As you suggest, we could do with Bolton beating Leicester tonight to spur Burnley into a dash for first place.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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  2. Great article-interesting and researched.
    Really interested in your view on what went wrong this season. Obviously we have had injuries to important players and if you read the press then Billy seemed to lose the dressing room. Is it as simple as this? Should the covering "squad players have done better (I would have thought so)? I know we are still playing for a play off position. But I am interested in what you think as happened!! Aussie Simon

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    1. Cheers again Aussie Simon!

      It was injuries - I'm convinced. Will be doing a more detailed evaluation in the coming weeks, but it's my contention that with even half of the missing players, we would have pushed on from those excellent performances against Blackburn and QPR, and be pushing for automatic promotion. We've all seen the difference a half fit Vaughan has made in the last two games; stick Lansbury and Reid in there, and even Hobbs or Wilson, or a better full-back in Cohen or Lichaj, and we would be a totally different proposition.

      From listening to what players have been saying, I don't think it's likely that Billy had lost the dressing room at all. I think the press have been very naughty personally since he's been gone, both in this suggestion, and that the Charlton and Millwall horror-show were just a "continuation of what's gone wrong" (Colin Fray, but they were all suggesting it) - totally not true and pulling the wool over people's eyes to continue their own bias, the games performances after Billy's departure were several levels worse than the Derby thrashing. The players looked distraught playing against Charlton - they clearly were knocked for six by the sacking. But I digress.

      It's interesting to wonder what would have happened if Davies were not sacked - I'm convinced he would have already secured play-off football, BUT we might do that anyway, so if we look at this as a target, the sacking has not hurt us. Would Billy have got us up? It's a lottery; I think we'd have had a slightly better chance, but in all probability he wouldn't. I was a fan of Davies' football but strangely it may all have been worth getting rid.

      Sorry I went off route pal - the "lost the dressing room" was a carrot I could not resist, as he so clearly had not. As I suggest above, the players looked devoid of confidence shortly post-sacking, their body language was shocking. And even against The Sheep they were trying to play his brand of football.

      Sorry; what went wrong. Injuries, strikers missing one-on-ones and the manager stupidly allowing himself to be drawn into a schoolyard rumble he couldn't possibly win.

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  3. Good stuff, as ever, Boffin!

    My punditry is famously poor within my family, but I had predicted that we would slip out of the promotion positions after BD's dismissal, to return by stealth as our best players regained their fitness.
    My prognosis now is the rather useful: "anything could happen" which, I think, guarantees that I can claim to have been proved right at the end of the season.
    It would be great if we can retain a realistic interest in the play-off positions for the game against Brighton!

    Finally, I enjoyed joining in with gusto as we sang "Psycho's coming home ..." at Leeds, but I do feel a certain amount of relief to read that I am not the only one in the crowd who believes that the removal of BD was the only option available at the time. I am genuinely puzzled by the some of the more extreme (negative) assertions about BD on the NEP forum.

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    1. Thanks for reading pal, and for your kind words.

      As for my own powers of prediction; I spend hours and hours watching as much football as my girlfriend lets me get away with, and researching, assessing, theorising, gathering data... and in the end I may as well have tossed a coin because I'm possibly wrong more than right! But I think we both got this one roughly correct.

      I think we're close on our opinions of the managerial situation too. I've promised myself to only look forward from now on - I'm excited to see my favourite ever player back as manager - I worry that it will mean even more to me though with Psycho at the helm.

      Thanks again.

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