Talking Brighton’s problems, betting, and fantasy league

Brighton in Disarray: why?

Brighton appear to have lost it. The amount of chances they waste each game is staggering, and they don’t seem to be able to piece together a result. My take on it is that they have picked a manager who, although he has had a winning start in Israel, can’t speak English. He has yet to do an interview and although he is learning, clearly there is a language barrier between him and the majority of his squad. Additionally, you have to say that their off-field issues are hurting them. In my opinion, Gus Poyet should never have been sacked, he did a brilliant job and now he’s one of the hottest free agent managers on the market. Now he’s taking legal action, and this doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon for Brighton. A resolution is needed, and fast.


This week, the games have been so hard to predict, because they all seem like even games. I’ve picked these games in hope over expectation, so if you want to pick these, have the belief to match.

  1. Birmingham (home vs Brighton, 17/10)
  2. Wigan (away vs Bournemouth, 23/20)
  3. Burnley (home vs Yeovil, 8/11)
  4. Derby (home vs Leicester, 6/4)
  5. Middlesborough (home vs Blackpool, 11/10)
  6. Huddersfield (away vs Millwall, 9/4)

Fantasy League

The league is set up, so get yourself signed up and make a team!

PIN – 1086261

Accumulator talk, Fantasy League incoming

WIth Wigan and Doncaster not playing their fixture today, predicting this weekend’s fixtures has been somewhat more difficult than last week. The games look much more even sided and any of them can swing either way. Here is what I have gone for this week:

  1. QPR (away vs Huddersfield, 6/5)
  2. Ipswich (home vs Millwall, 11/10)
  3. Charlton (home vs Middlesborough, 6/5)
  4. Watford (home vs Bournemouth, 4/6)
  5. Birmingham (away vs Yeovil, 7/4)
  6. Nottingham Forest (away vs Blackburn, 13/8)

Payout: £122.29

Game to watch: Blackburn vs Nottingham Forest

Both Blackburn and Forest have got the same odds for this one, and both teams I feel need to prove themselves as promotion contenders. Last week, Forest scraped a win at home to Huddersfield and Blackburn snatched a point at Derby. I can see this one easily being a draw as Forest are defensively stronger with the arrival of Kelvin Wilson, but I get the feeling that if Forest want to mount a challenge they will see this as a game they can win and come away with the points.

Game to take a chance on: Derby (away vs Brighton, 3/1)

You get the feeling that this season, Derby will not be so, well, terrible away from Pride Park, and now is as good a time as it ever will be to play Brighton. They are reeling after successive losses to Leeds via a 90th minute goal, and Newport via two extra time goals. Brighton look to be unsettled somewhat, and Oscar Garcia has his work cut out to make things right. I have my reservations about this one, purely based on it being Derby away from home (any other team, I’d take a chance), but if you’re a gambling man, add this one to your accumulator.

Fantasy League incoming

I will be setting up an open Championship Fantasy League so I expect everyone to get down to that one. I’ll give you a few days to scout out your team and I will post the league pin on here in the week.

(all odds taken from

UPDATE: I won an accumulator

Basically I decided this morning to put a cheeky quid on a few Championship games. I had home wins for QPR, Nottingham Forest and Bournemouth, with away wins for Wigan, Blackpool and Watford. Having got all of those correct, I won £101.77 on only my second accumulator. So I figured I will do one each Championship gameweek, keeping the bet at £1 (adventurous) and sharing with you my picks. Hell, maybe if I’m right again, you could take a few of my tips. I’ll also outline one game a week which you should take a chance on. Until then, I’m off to the pub.

The Championship 2013-14: A Preview

It’s been a while since I last posted for SmokedSammon, and that is not without reason. I have been keeping a very close eye on transfer proceedings as well as managerial changes and current squads in order to compile a complete prediction of the Championship standings. Obviously, it seems far too early to make a valid prediction with a month of transfer window still looming, but I do not want any predictions I make to be warped by the games that take place in August. So, without further ado, here it is.

  1. Wigan Athletic
  2. Nottingham Forest
  3. Reading
  4. Ipswich
  5. Bolton Wanderers
  6. Leicester City
  7. QPR
  8. Leeds United
  9. Brighton and Hove Albion
  10. Burnley
  11. Watford
  12. Derby County
  13. Middlesborough
  14. Bournemouth
  15. Blackburn Rovers
  16. Barnsley
  17. Blackpool
  18. Charlton Athletic
  19. Birmingham City
  20. Doncaster Rovers
  21. Yeovil Town
  22. Huddersfield Town
  23. Sheffield Wednesday
  24. Millwall

Barnsley – 16th

Barnsley finished last season very strongly, and I have a feeling that Flitcroft and co will survive again. Even with the signing of Dale Jennings however, their squad still lacks the quality to push any higher than a mid table finish. They will likely flirt with relegation without being under too much threat of succumbing to the drop.

Birmingham City – 19th

Birmingham haven’t had the best of times this summer. Obviously they have been running on a strict budget, which has led to the sales of Curtis Davies and Nathan Redmond and the bringing in of a number of relatively unproven loanees. Kyle Bartley, Scott Allan and Shane Ferguson will never be able to replace Davies and particularly Redmond, but they all have points to prove to their parent clubs. Their midfield seems to be their strongest area, while signings must be made in defense and particularly attack (Zigic is past his best and Marlon King is never going to stay out of the way of the law; Lee Novak is not good enough to replace either of them). If these things don’t happen, relegation is a possibility but they should have enough to stay up. Some stability upstairs wouldn’t go amiss either.

Blackburn Rovers – 15th

Blackburn Rovers have emerged as the team to take the Football League’s unneeded mantle of the “Newcastle of the Championship”. They went through managers quicker than Taylor Swift goes through boyfriends last season. And it wasn’t cheap – one big payout to Henning Berg and severance handed out to Steve Kean and Michael Appleton, and now the relative unknown Gary Bowyer, who has been constant throughout the revolving door that is management at Blackburn, takes the reigns. Jordan Rhodes will get the goals, we know that, but clearly something is missing from this side elsewhere on the pitch, otherwise they’d be pushing higher. More goals from midfield and some defensive discipline should be what the doctor would prescribe alongside a complete reshuffle of the directing staff and some new owners (not too much to ask for). Problem is, the signings of Alex Marrow, Alan Judge and Matt Kilgallon aren’t exactly inspiring, so more investment needed here.

Blackpool -17th

Paul Ince has done his number 1 job this summer: retain Tom Ince and Matt Phillips. He’s signed Michael Chopra, a relatively reliable source of goals. He has a long way to go yet though, and I see 17th place as an accurate place for them to finish. They may well have a blinding start to the season but their lack of numbers, particularly at the back, will catch up to them, and they may rely far too heavily on their wingers for goals, assists and, well, everything.

Bolton Wanderers – 5th

I had pencilled in Bolton to finish second and gain automatic promotion. What changed, you ask? That second place was dependent on one player staying away from the physio: Stuart Holden. A player who is much better than the Championship has suffered another knee injury that will likely keep him out for must of the season. It’s a shame really, as Holden really is a gifted player. Dougie has moved to replace him with former Palace signing Andre Moritz, but he just doesn’t have the fitness of Holden. Beckford will provide increased firepower in the absence of Kevin Davies, but the play-offs may be the best bet without Holden.

Bournemouth – 14th

I think Bournemouth will surprise a few people this season. Bankrolled by a Russian and managed by Eddie Howe, I see them consolidating themselves in the division before pushing on next season. Howe and Bournemouth seem to be an unbeatable combination, and with Matt Ritchie and Danny Pugh setting up old favourite Brett Pitman, it’s only up from here for Bournemouth.

Brighton and Hove Albion – 9th

Still suffering the consequences of a failed play-off hangover, Gus Poyet has finally, and rather unceremoniously, been stripped of his position as manager of Brighton. I find it hard to believe that they will recover from the events of their off-season to fight for promotion. Retaining Liam Bridcutt has thus far been a success, and Craig Mackail-Smith returns having missed the end of last season. Other than that, not a lot has changed aside from the manager, and that will be their downfall this season.

Burnley – 10th

Sean Dyche has been quietly building a decent squad at Burnley. In my opinion, Tom Heaton is one of the better signings this season, in the Championship and beyond. The recent sale of Charlie Austin means that Danny Ings will get his chance to prove himself as the next promising striker in the division, and if he does, it could be a very profitable season.

Charlton Athletic – 18th

Charlton ended last season as the Championship’s in form side, to many people’s surprise. The form of Yann Kermorgant has been pivotal in this, and Charlton will need more of the same from him. Chris Powell has instilled a winning mentality in the squad, in much the same way that Brian McDermott did at Reading. However, I feel their squad is lacking in quality, and recent signings Simon Church and Marvin Sordell do not address that, simply because they don’t score enough. The release of Scott Wagstaff, in my opinion, is one of the biggest mistakes of the window, and they will have a fight on their hands to keep hold of Chris Solly. Expect a season which tails off come Boxing Day.

Derby County – 12th

Fantastic at home. Terrible away. No one can quite put their finger on the form problems that plague Derby County. Rams fans will be praying that forward Johnny Russell is the answer to their homesickness. In fact, they have made great business this summer. John Eustace and Craig Forsyth add strength to the squad, while Adam Smith arrives on loan to attempt to fill the gaping hole left by best player John Brayford. They will struggle without him season. On the whole though, I don’t expect their away day pain to go away with any amount of painkillers. It’s been a problem throughout Clough’s reign, so why would it suddenly change now?

Doncaster Rovers – 20th

They have just signed a guy from One Direction. I had hope for Doncaster with investment pending, but what hope I had has since evaporated. A club more interested in publicity stunts than squad investment has got it all wrong. As such, with the investment incoming, which means players, I expect them to be down there all season unless they start taking themselves more seriously.

Huddersfield Town – 22nd

They struggled big time for goals without Jordan Rhodes leading the line, and now they have lost Lee Novak without replacement. Their midfield is very strong though, especially with the signing of Johnathan Hogg, so maybe a formation with 5 in midfield would suit them. Their defense lacks depth though, and if they want to survive at least 2 more defenders are needed. Mark Robins is a steady hand, but at this stage the only way is down.

Ipswich – 4th

They had already made their best signing in Mick McCarthy last season. He knows what it takes to get them out of the division, which should be the aim for Ipswich with the squad and funds at their disposal. He’s brought in old Wolves player Christophe Berra and Cole Skuse to hold in midfield. Last seasons signings will have had time to settle as well, and I reckon, given the board’s willingness to give their managers time to develop a squad, and maybe another striker, they will be a force this season. The rise of Josh Carson won’t hurt, either.

Leeds United – 8th

Everyone’s least favourite team appears to be on the rise unfortunately. Luke Murphy is possibly the signing of the season, and this coupled with the rise of Dominic Poleon to first team prominence should catapult Leeds to play-off contention. However, I do feel like they lack a good pair of wingers. Ross McCormack should be played centrally, and Paul Green and Luke Varney aren’t exactly assist machines with great wingplay. As a result, I’m putting them down to miss out, just.

Leicester City – 6th

They’ve been there or thereabouts for a few seasons now, but they’ve not made it to the finals of the play-offs. And that’s something that’s quite hard to diagnose. Three years ago, they had Yann Kermorgant’s ridiculous Panenka effort to thank for that, but last season was different. They had one foot there and gave Troy Deeney an opening after a grueling 97 minutes of football. I think they will make the play-offs again regardless, but one has to start thinking how far Nigel Pearson can take them now. The tools are all there, time to deliver.

Middlesborough – 13th

Never have I seen a team tail off so badly after Christmas like Middlesborough did. Fighting for automatic early on, they were fearing relegation after a record of 3 wins, 3 draws, and FIFTEEN losses in 2013. Maybe it was a combination of nerves and inexperience – after all, the team is largely comprised of youth. Dean Whitehead brings buckets of experience though, but not much quality. Other than him, it’s been a slow off-season for Boro. They need to start doing some business, particularly the signing of some defensive cover. I would also suggest more prominently featuring Marvin Emnes, because he is much better than the bench he warms weekly. I don’t see this happening though, so mid-table again for Mowbray’s men.

Millwall – 24th

There just isn’t enough to this side. Super Millwall from The Den are a team that relies heavily on grinding results out through resilience and hard-work. My concern is that Steve Lomas won’t continue this philosophy ingrained by Kenny Jackett. The quality just isn’t there to do anything else. Without Jackett I think Millwall will struggle to finish 22nd, let alone 21st. They lack fire power and midfield creativity. Henry and Trotter are solid wingers, and everything seems fine at the back, but scoring goals could be a real issue. Expects lots of 1-0 losses.

Nottingham Forest – 2nd

Surprised? I can’t think why you would be. Billy Davies knows how to get this club up the table. If it wasn’t for the sheer quality of Newcastle and West Brom a few years back, they’d have been promoted very easily. It’s been all change since he left though; now bankrolled by Al-Hasawi, he has the cash at his disposal to sign great players at this level. He has Sean O’Driscoll’s old signings like Simon Cox and Simon Gillett fully settled, and he himself has signed Jamie Mackie (which is a quality signing), Djamel Abdoun, Gonzalo Jara, Eric Lichaj, Jack Hobbs, and record clean sheet holder at Swansea Dorus de Vries. Business has been the strongest of any side, they’ve cured their defensive cover issues, and I expect that to translate into a very very strong season that will see them sneak into 2nd spot and a shot at the Premier League.

QPR – 7th

Clearly the strongest squad in the division. Probably the best manager as well. Still no play-offs? Stats on paper are just stats on paper. These players are still the same bunch of overpaid slouches that got the team relegated last season under the same manager. Yes, Redknapp now has a pre-season under his belt. This doesn’t change their wages does it? Hopefully most of them will leave so ‘Arry can rebuild, pronto. Maybe buying Mackie back will help too. Currently though, they have the ability to dazzle and disappoint too, perhaps one too many times.

Reading – 3rd

Reading have relied on team spirit in the past to get them wins. I don’t expect this to change under Adkins, who is also one of those managers who knows how to instill positive squad mentality. Amazingly, they’ve also managed to hang on to their best players thus far as well, whilst also acquiring Royston Drenthe to provide assists and a major attacking threat. I fully expect all championship defenses to be trembling in the wake of Pogrebnyak and ALF, and whilst I don’t think they are good enough at the back to get automatic promotion (remember Southampton’s defense last season?), promotion through the play-offs looks very likely.

Sheffield Wednesday – 23rd

Like Millwall, I’m not convinced that Wednesday have a good enough first team to stay afloat this season. The signings they have made are unproven, and in the case of Atdhe Nuhiu, not even prolific. They relied very heavily on high-profile loanees for success last season: it brought them nothing. They’re going to go down, or at least be scrapping at the bottom all season. I’d also place money on Dave Jones being the first manager sacked, because even with a squad full of big names last season, he achieved literally nothing with them.

Watford – 11th

Watford suffered in the play-off final last season because they lacked a certain Matej Vydra upfront. They seemed toothless without him, and while Troy Deeney has been in fine form, will it continue? And can Forestieri step up to the plate? Aside from that, they’ve brought in the same Pozzo bunch that played last season for good this time, and additionally Lewis McGugan. While not a regular last season, he’s still a goal threat. However, essentially these are the same players that every team is now more accustomed to playing against minus top scoring Vydra, and as a result they will push for the playoffs but fall short.

Wigan Athletic – 1st

Shock, Wigan to finish top. Anyone who bets against this is an idiot. Best squad on the PITCH, not paper necessarily, but on the pitch, where it matters. They’ve managed to keep hold of coveted midfield trio Shaun Maloney, Callum McManaman and James McCarthy for now, whilst replacing Arouna Kone with cult hero Grant Holt and signing James Perch, Thomas Rogne, Leon Barnett, Stephen Crainey and Juan Carlos Garcia to add some serious depth to what was a terrible defense last season. Chris McCann enters the midfield and Marc Antoine Fortune adds to the frontline. If anything, they’ve left the Premier League with a better squad, and should really have no problems obliterating all other teams in the division, unless Owen Coyle’s rumoured lack of tactical savvy prevents this.

Yeovil Town 21st

Let’s face it, neutrals will be supporting one team and one team only: Gary Johnson’s Yeovil Town. The ultimate away day. The underdogs. the surprise package. And I think they’ll surprise everyone by staying up – JUST. Let’s face it, even with some good signings like Alan Tate, they lack quality all over the pitch barring the strikeforce of Paddy Madden and James Hayter, who will both keep Yeovil up this year. They will have to rely on Gary’s famed opposition scouting, team and fan spirit, and a little bit of luck, but I can see them surviving.

Tactics talk: Derby County

I cannot profess to have the knowledge of a Jonathan Wilson when it comes to football formations, but having watched Derby County for many years, I think I can contribute to the tactical discourse.


Since his appointment in January 2009, it’s fair to say that Nigel Clough has, generally, been a 4-4-2 man, although he isn’t as rigid or stubborn with his formations as people think. At the start of the 09/10 season (his first full season as Derby boss), he started the season encouraging passing and width in a 4-5-1 formation, with energetic midfielders Paul Green and Stephen Pearson (don’t laugh) pushing on whilst Robbie Savage sat back in the centre of midfield, with Gary Teale and Lee Croft filling the wide areas. Furthermore, influenced by backroom coach Johnny Metgod’s native Netherlands team at the 2010 World Cup, the 10/11 season began with a 4-2-3-1 fluid passing system. Nevertheless, ‘started’ and ‘began’ should be highlighted here; when results have gone awry, Clough inevitably shifts back to a 4-4-2 approach. This formation reversal has had mixed results; results generally picked up when Kris Commons played off Rob Hulse in the 09/10 season, but despite successive defeats mid-season 10/11, a return to 4-4-2 didn’t really reignite the season.


I admit bias here, as I’m not a fan of 4-4-2. We’ve seen at international level the weakness of it; ask England at the 2010 World Cup against Germany. None of the top teams, at club or international level, play it anymore, and 4-4-2 proponents will often find their teams simply outnumbered and overrun in midfield. I don’t wish to appear too harsh on Nigel Clough; he has a positive footballing philosophy, and wants his teams to play attractive, attacking football. However, this approach is often sacrificed for ‘solidity’ in Clough’s case, so his creeds aren’t always borne out for people to see; it is very common for central midfielders to be shifted to the wing (think Paul Green, Stephen Pearson, Ben Davies and Paul Coutts, to name a few).


Turning to the present, Clough has the (happy) dilemma of accommodating three quality central midfielders in Craig Bryson, Jeff Hendrick and the rising star of Will Hughes. In the 12/13 season, Clough was not averse to playing all three, but too often Bryson was placed uncomfortably on the left wing, somehow trying to tuck into a 4-4-2. Coutts, who started the season brilliantly, faded, and played out of position. With Michael Jacobs arguably the only natural winger in the team, the starting XI often looked lopsided. However, 4-3-3 looks to be the likely scenario for next year, with this team the likely outcome (with current players as of 01/07/13):








In this formation, Russell and Ward could provide the width, whilst providing licence to drift in and capitalise on their flair abilities. The hard-working nature of the pair should take care of tracking back, and John Brayford’s over-lapping prowess is plain for all to see (with Craig Forsyth hopefully doing the same job on the left). Hughes could sit deep and use his burgeoning abilities to retain possession and start counter attacks, with Hendrick and Bryson pushing on and doing the box-to-box work. As a Plan-B (or even Plan-A), Hughes could push further forward into more of a 4-2-3-1 shape, playing in the trequartista role and threading through killer balls in the final third. Whilst dividing fans at the best of times, Sammon’s pressing and hard running could create space for Russell and Ward (and maybe even Hughes). Michael Jacobs is more than capable of filling in for the Russell or Ward role in the front three, with Paul Coutts and Ben Davies other candidates in a more solid approach. Should injury inevitably hit the first choice midfield three, I’d like to see Coutts and Davies coming in to their more natural roles; they’re not at the standard of Hendrick or Bryson, but they typify the hard-working approach which Clough demands. Injury to Will Hughes would be more problematic, but I’d like to see Jacobs coming into the side and play off the striker in a 4-2-3-1 shape in that scenario; he excelled in the role around January time in 2013 in a 4-4-1-1 preference.


I think the XI listed above could provide attractive and attacking football for the 13/14 season, promising football which we saw in parts last year. I’d like Clough to stick to his guns with a 4-3-3 outlook, but when results haven’t gone well he has often been under pressure to “stick another striker on” and “be more positive”. However, “one up front” doesn’t have to be negative; it’s the approach that counts. When on the front foot, as many as 4 or 5 players can be attacking in a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1, whilst there’s nothing positive about playing 4-4-2 against the likes of Brighton when you’ll lose the possession as well as the numeric battle. Nevertheless, when the inevitable “4-4-2 chants” emerge, it won’t be difficult for Ward or Russell to partner Sammon up front, with the other switching to the left wing and Jacobs (ideally), Davies or Coutts coming on to fill the right-wing slot.


For a 4-2-3-1 to work next year, a bit of flair is needed for the trequartista role. If Hughes isn’t playing there, then additional signings are required. Chris Martin could play there, as could Johnny Russell and Jamie Ward, but in these instances it’d be hard not to see a cloaked 4-4-2. I’ll put my tin hat on and say that yet another free transfer from Nottingham Forest could work in the shape of Lewis McGugan, but it is unlikely to happen for financial and tribal reasons. I’d dearly love another season-long loan for Alberto Bueno or even Arturo Lupoli, but again I cannot see these signings happening. Chris Burke would have been a great signing to solve the dearth of wingers in the side, but he recently extended his contract at Birmingham City, although they may still be tempted to sell in their financial state. However, having signed Lee Grant, Chris Martin, Johnny Russell and Craig Forsyth (for an outlay of just under £1 million), Clough’s stance seems to be that only a centre back will be added now to the ranks, with an optimistic punt for Richard Dunne mooted. However, an addition of flair in the mould of an Alberto Bueno would greatly complement the hard-working philosophy which is firmly instilled, but money is tight without selling Will Hughes or John Brayford (and I hope they won’t sell them).

Whatever the formation that Clough chooses, there’s a buzz of optimism around Pride Park for the upcoming season. Whatever my personal preferences, Clough can shut me up and keep me contented by grabbing three points on a regular basis.

Royston Drenthe is a real coup for Reading – if they can manage him

6 years ago, a young Dutchman with heaps of potential and ability secured a dream move from hometown club Feyenoord to Real Madrid. Such was his talent, he commanded a £12m fee. I say he secured fairly confidently; Feyenoord didn’t want to let him go, and Drenthe threatened legal action if the door to Spain was shut in his face.

That string of words safely summarises Drenthe as a player and a person: he can play, but he has a temper with a fuse not too long.

To put it bluntly, Drenthe has the ability to tear the Championship apart. I mean that. We’ve seen it from his time spent on loan at Everton, his ability to create as well as score is undoubted, where he scored 4 and assisted 8. Had he not reported late for training in March 2012 and had his season cut short, he would have been one of Everton’s best and most consistent performers. But that’s the issue: he reported late for training. Under David Moyes. It something you just simply do not do. He didn’t play another game all season. And that isn’t the only time he’s had run-ins with management. When he was on loan at Herucles, he more or less put himself out of squad contention after claiming the management wasn’t up to scratch. Sometimes, as a player, especially one who is very very expendable like Drenthe was, it’s best just to play your game, know your role, and shut your mouth. And yet he couldn’t. While at Real Madrid, he suffered from anxiety issues caused by criticism from the crowd, and he reacted very poorly, requesting the next few games off. Hardly the most professional response.

Drenthe’s strong yet strangely fragile personality is an obstacle Nigel Adkins must overcome if he is to get the best out of him. We all know he has the ability, and is a missing link most Championship clubs can only dream of having in their midfield. Reading, while gutsy and spirited, lack quality, especially at centre back and creatively in midfield: Drenthe addressed the creativity problem. Adkins and co must be careful with him though or risk setting him off. Look at a player like Mario Balotelli; he couldn’t keep his name out of the papers at City, now he’s a much more subdued character at Milan.

It’s going to be very interesting from a fan’s perspective to see how Drenthe’s stay at Reading pans out. Will he slide right into the squad and settle? Will he be the sharp blade that provides Reading’s cutting edge? Or will he polarise opinion, spout criticism of his colleagues, and unsettle the dressing room that Reading have spent so long bringing together? Only time will tell.

Previewing fixture list day; reviewing transfer activity

Tomorrow, the fixtures for the forthcoming Championship season will be announced, and many fans will be keeping a close eye on where the difficult run-ins and must-win games will fall. Promoted teams Doncaster, Bournemouth, and Yeovil will be hoping for a home fixture on the opening day to gather momentum, while the likes of Bolton, Wigan, Reading and Forest will be wishing for a good opening run of games to crank pressure on their fellow promotion rivals. I am now going to outline a few things to watch out for over the coming day, and discuss how these will effect the season.

1) Opening/final day derbies

In a perfect world, the average football fan would love to see Derby vs Forest, a combination of Bolton, Burnley, Blackpool, Wigan and Blackburn, and Leeds vs any Yorkshire club all happen on either the first day or the final day of the season. I say this, because a win for a team in a derby on the first day of the season provides a huge moral boost which could see the team on the losing end embark on a losing run, while on the last day, more than just local pride could be at stake, whether it be relegation or the play-offs. Not to mention, every neutral loves a feisty derby game. As part of the 125th anniversary of the football league, 6 fixtures were announced today, one of which being Burnley vs Bolton, so we already have one opening day derby to savour.

2) Candidate vs Candidate on the final day of the season

Much like this season just gone, I will be particularly interested to see whether any of the favourites for promotion play each other on the final day, and the same goes for the favourites for relegation. Take for example Yeovil and Doncaster, if they play each other on the final day with the loser going down to League 1, or Forest vs Ipswich with the winner clinching 6th place. It just makes things more interesting if the stakes are at their highest. Additionally, a relegation vs promotion fixture would entail joy and despair no matter which way the result were to go, a la Palace vs Peterborough.

3) Strings of matches against the teams you have to beat

Managers will probably have an idea of who they think be battling against, and would ideally like to see those fixtures fall together mid-season. This would allow managers to identify when they need momentum and to drill into the players heads that a string of games is must-win when the time is right.

Transfer round-up

– Leeds have signed ex-Oldham striker Matt Smith on a two-year deal. Not so sure why though, perhaps they need strength in depth to go on that cup run they’ve been threatening to do for a few seasons now; and Matt Smith would seem ideal, scoring 4 of his 6 goals for Oldham in the FA cup, in the process earning somewhat of a name for himself as a cup specialist.

– Ipswich have secured the free transfers of Daryl Murphy and Jay Tabb on two-year deals. Solid if unspectacular signings who could prove valuable to a possible promotion push, Jay Tabb having recently played at that level.

– Barnsley have signed Dale Jennings from Bayern Munich for a reported £250,000 on a three year contract. He made a name for himself at Tranmere before moving to the German giants two years ago, playing 36 times for their fourth-tier B-side. This could prove to be a fantastic signing if he lives up to his potential, which appears limitless.

– Derby have finally signed Johnny Russell for a fee of £750,000. He scored 13 league goals for Dundee last season and could be the missing link upfront for a Derby side seemingly lacking in firepower away from Pride Park.

– Alex Cisak has signed for Burnley from Oldham. He will be contending for the number 1 jersey with other new signing Tom Heaton, though it’s unlikely he’ll attain that barring any sort of injury.

5 players Crystal Palace should sign to ensure Premier League survival

As a Crystal Palace fan, I was, to put it mildly, delighted when Kevin Phillips thrashed home a typically unerring penalty to secure promotion to the promised lands of the Premier League. While disappointed slightly to leave behind the Championship, I will enjoy the coming season and will remain an avid Championship follower.

For now, I want to discuss 5 signings which I think Palace should try and make to boost their squad. I doubt, financially and realistically, they’d be able to get them all if any, I’m just trying to show the level of ambition needed in the transfer window to stay above the dotted line.

1) Adam Le Fondre

I don’t really need to say a lot here. He’s proven. He’s lethal. He’s a possible future Kevin Phillips if a club takes a chance on him. And why not? He scores goals wherever he goes and Reading might well have got more points than they did if he played every game. In the absence of Glenn Murray, Palace need proven firepower, and a move for ALF would benefit everyone: Palace would have a void upfront filled and ALF would get the Premier League game time he craves and deserves. He should be one of the first players Ian Holloway signs.

2) Ben Davies

Palace’s problem position this season has been at full-back. Joel Ward has proven himself to be solid after returning from an injury lay-off, and when he has not played, either an off-form Jazz Richards or an out-of-position Kagisho Dikgacoi has deputised. On the opposite flank, Johnny Parr has been epic with his electrifying pace and brilliant early crossing, but defensively he has been shambolic, leaving him often on the bench while the safer option Dean Moxey has played. If Swansea were willing to negotiate for Ben Davies, it would be a coup. He has been excellent all season but may find himself out in the cold, what with Neil Taylor returning to fitness and Diego Tiendalli penning a fresh deal. Signing Davies would also allow Palace to develop Parr into a fully fledged winger to replace Wilfried Zaha, or at least cover for his absence.

3) Charlie Adam

Charlie Adam hasn’t had the greatest season at Stoke, but he will have been largely bypassed by their hoofball tactics. With QPR legend Mark Hughes incoming, I’m expecting a giant, ineffective shake-up, with many big, overrated names coming in and the old guard that served Tony Pulis moving on. Charlie Adam, for one, would be very wise to jump ship to play under Ian Holloway. They worked together at Blackpool, where Adam played some of his best football, and a renewed link-up may well be what he needs to relight that spark he once had. If that were to happen then Palace would have a very, very capable player on their books. The only issue would be the transfer fee and wages.

4) Shaun Maloney

Recently relegated Wigan are going to struggle to hold on to their more prized assets, and the most coveted of these will be Shaun Maloney. Him and Callum McManaman were the two shining lights in the season that finally saw them succumb to the drop, and out of the two Maloney is probably the one that Palace would require the most. Since Owen Garvan has returned to the team, he has lost some of that creativity that provided Palace with many of their goals at the start of the season, and they would be looking to reinstate that creativity by either working closely with Garvan to improve his ability on the ball and his range of passing, or by signing a player with genuine quality who would come at a relatively cheap price. The problem they would have is fending off other suitors for his signature.

5) Aiden McGeady

This is the one player I think Steve Parish should go all out to sign. A fast, tricky winger with two fantastic feet, McGeady is the ideal replacement for Zaha, and also (currently) a better player, so it would also be an improvement. Look at some of the things he does in the clip, and you’ll see that he’s pretty much a Zaha with an end product. He is currently plying his trade at Spartak Moscow, where hasn’t been playing a lot of football this season, so he could seek a Premier League move to play more regular football. Not to mention, it is Russia he plays in, a country that’s more famous for it’s controversy at football games than the actual games themselves. The only issue here is that he may want to move to a more established Premier League side as opposed to one recently promoted, as his ability would demand.

Of course, there are a slew of other options, such as Maynor Figueroa, Matt Kilgallon, Albert Adomah, Tom Ince, Matt Phillips and possible loans such as Nick Powell, Nathaniel Chalobah, Nathan Ake, and the possible re-return of Zaha, but I genuinely feel that these five players should be at the top of Holloway’s radar.

What do you think? Is there a player who you would expect, or would like to see, pulling on the red and blue jersey next season?

5 reasons why the Championship is better than the Premier League

1) Anyone has a chance of winning or losing

This one is fairly self explanatory: in the Premier League, one of Manchester United, Manchester City, and Chelsea is going to win the league and they’ll also probably accommodate the top three places too, like in the last three seasons. The relegation battle has also been a little tepid recently, as we haven’t seen a proper scrap for two seasons now. In the Championship, anything can happen to anyone; with 3 games to go, half of the league were threatened by relegation, and only a few teams had nothing to play for. The only thing that wasn’t decided on the last day was the winners of the league. This season, Wolves were relegated, a team that was playing Premier League football just one season prior, while Crystal Palace nearly went out of business three years ago and are now vying for promotion with Watford. And for those saying that this sort of stuff happens in the Premier League: look at Portsmouth. Look at Bradford. Leeds. Southampton. Teams that had to spend more than they had to achieve were in peril and didn’t have a hope of staying in the league. Portsmouth are now in League 2, Bradford are just beginning to recover, Leeds are stuck in the Championship scrap and Southampton have this next point to thank for their re-ascent up the mountain. New Premier League teams are either trapped in mid-table insecurity, or plummet all the way down the leagues.

2) Best youth systems have to be in the Championship

The best youth systems are in the Championship. I’m not so much talking about right now, but young players in the youth systems have always been allowed to shine in the Championship. I’m going to use Crystal Palace as a current example, and Southampton as a previous example. Crystal Palace have created so many good players over the years from their lowly Championship status. Think an Andy Johnson in his prime. Ben Watson, winner of the FA Cup for Wigan. Nathaniel Clyne, who must have England caps in his future. Wilfried Zaha, about to embark on a journey at Manchester United. Johnny Williams is making a name for himself in the first team. One name that hasn’t been mentioned is John Bostock, once a player with limitless potential who is now wasting away in the Spurs reserves because he jumped to the Premier League far too soon: he needed at least one Championship season. Compare this to teams such as Chelsea, Manchester City, Spurs and QPR who have little youth in their starting lineups. Southampton, back in their Championship days, have produced some of the Premier Leagues better players. Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale both came through the ranks at Southampton and made their debuts in the Championship – Bale is now widely considered to be one of the best players in the world. Look now at the Premier League. Aside from perhaps Manchester United and West Ham, they buy their youth from abroad and the lower leagues. Raheem Stirling was bought from a pre-shit QPR, Zaha from Palace, Conor Wickham from Ipswich, Leighton Baines was a Wigan youth player. In summary, a lot of players that have come through to be some of the best in the Premier League have had been blooded in the Championship first.

3) Careers are made and destroyed

One thing I have noticed is the amount of players who weren’t getting enough playing time in the Premier League looking to rebuild their careers in the Championship. Some have succeeded with aplomb, some have failed. Men are separated from boys here. Those who can adapt to the physicality and competitive nature of the division survive, those who can’t get lost. Two prime examples are two players who have re-found what made them England internationals at Brighton: Wayne Bridge and Matthew Upson. Wayne Bridge has wasted a lot of his career as second fiddle to the likes of Ashley Cole, Aleksandar Kolarov, and Gael Clichy. A loan spell at Sunderland did nothing to help his form. Now, he has found the form that he once showed at Southampton, and he has adapted to what Gus Poyet demanded and what the Championship demanded. Same goes for Upson, who found himself as fourth choice centre back at Stoke having left West Ham as their first choice centre back. He also as adapted well to the Championship, and is part of the reason why Brighton have the best defensive record. You can even look at all the Manchester United youth players in Hull and Leicester’s squads, and how much they’ve done for their careers by dropping down a division. Compare these two to the likes of David Bentley, who had been in wretched form for West Ham in 2011-12 and Blackburn this season, and the Premier League remnants of the Wolves team, who have completely disgraced themselves and the managers they have seen off. The same can be said for a lot of the Blackburn players; favourites to go up, they spend a lot of the seasons endowed with controversy and managerial changes, but the players didn’t perform amongst all that.

4) It’s not about money and big name signings

If I hate anything about football, it’s money, and what it does to the arrogant primadonnas people call Premier League footballers. QPR will unfortunately grace the Championship next season; when I say unfortunately, I don’t mean it’s unfortunate that they’ve been relegated, I mean that it’s unfortunate that fans of other Championship clubs have to watch their team play them twice, because honestly they have to be the biggest team of overrated, overpaid, passionless scumbags to ever grace a football pitch. It’s says a hell of a lot that not even Harry Redknapp could get them to perform as a team. Most of them are sitting on a contract worth over 50K a week: Rob Green, Jose Bosingwa, Chris Samba, Bobby Zamora, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Esteban Granero, Park Ji-Sung, Junior Hoilett are all deserving of about £10 a week based on their shameful performances this season. Only Loic Remy and Julio Cesar have performed even slightly to the standards that their wages suggest. On the day of their relegation, Bosingwa, who has been the biggest disgrace of the disgracers this season, was actually laughing. Does he not care about how his fans must feel? Their season tickets cost £550, why not repay that money by actually trying. Don’t even get me started on the likes of Luis Suarez and Samir Nasri; as brilliant as Suarez is, you would never hear about an incident of biting in the Championship. Samir Nasri has been god awful this season, amost acting as a placeholder in the starting XI. In the Championship, it’s about the squad, it’s about how well they play together. Hull shouldn’t have gone up based on their squad, but Steve Bruce has worked some serious magic, and you could see that the understanding between the players was very strong. A lot of other teams have carried their League 1 players into the division too, such as Brighton, and we’ve already discussed Palace’s youth system. All in all, the Championship isn’t about spending money on awful players like Bosingwa just because he’s a big name. It’s about winning and nothing else. And if you want a serious counter argument, £8m and £4m for Jordan Rhodes and Leon Best, and Blackburn finished where?

5) There’s a surprise result every weekend

How often to do see a shock in the Premier League? Maybe once a month? In the Championship there’s shocks everywhere. Relegated Peterborough did the double over Cardiff. Barnsley went to St. Andrews and won 5-0. Ipswich suffered two 6-0 losses. A 5-4 win for Charlton over Cardiff. Leeds coming away from Watford with a 2-1 win. The fact that Crystal Palace won as many games as they did is surprising. I could go on, but I won’t. I can name 6 shocking results over an entire season of Premier League football: Spurs winning 3-2 at Old Trafford, Norwich beating Man U 1-0, Norwich winning 3-2 at Manchester City, QPR winning 1-0 at Chelsea, Villa beating Sunderland 6-1, and West Brom coming from 3 goals down twice to draw 5-5 with Man U. Most other results were pretty predictable in some way. The Championship will always throw up a surprise because there’s no predicting what will happen. All bets are off. And let’s face it, with the money invested in the club, it’d be a shock of QPR lost a game next season, so there’s more twists and turns to come from the division.

East Midlands Battle: The 2013/14 race for promotion

Throughout the course of the 2012/13 season, it’s reasonable to suggest that the three East Midlands teams were all at one stage within the promotion mix. Nottingham Forest missed out on the play-offs by 1 point, Leicester City succumbed to a brutal counter-attack deep into injury time in their play-off second leg, whilst Derby County were a case in point of just how tight the Championship is, finishing 10th with 7 points from both relegation and 6th place. In this blog piece, I’ll evaluate each team and their chances of promotion in what is fast becoming one of the best leagues in the world (no hyperbole intended).

Derby County

In some ways progression, in other ways more of the same. 10th spot is manager Nigel Clough’s highest league finish as Derby manager, and the general consensus amongst the coaching staff and Rams fans is that performances have improved since the 11/12 season’s 12th place finish. However, it is once again an extremely poor showing away from home which has cost Derby a concerted promotion challenge. Whilst winning 12 games at home (their best home record since the 06/07 promotion season), just 4 wins away equated to the third worst away record in the whole division; as Derby manager Clough has never won more than 7 games away from home in a season.

Derby fans still clamour for a Billy Sharp-style 20 goal a season striker, yet only Crystal Palace and Leicester City have scored more league goals at home this season. The statistics speak for themselves with regard to where Derby need to improve next season; 22 goals scored and 40 conceded on the road. Investment has been tight under Clough’s reign, with the now longest-serving manager in the Championship forced to sell Jason Shackell last season in order to finance moves for Player of the Year Richard Keogh and Michael Jacobs, but quality signings at centre-back, right wing and up front, along with the retention of key players such as John Brayford and Will Hughes, should make Derby strong contenders for the play-offs.

12/13 Player of the Year: Richard Keogh

12/13 Top goalscorer: Jamie Ward (12)

My 13/14 prediction: 11th. Significant investment of around £2-3 million could make a world of difference, but consistently poor away form in a fiercely competitive league has cost Derby moving up the table in the past, and if it is not addressed it is unlikely that next season will be much different.

One to watch: Will Hughes. The 17 year old chalked up a run of 37 consecutive appearances before injury in February halted his progress. Hughes was lauded not just for his mature displays but his flair, technique and skill, leading to rumours that Barcelona were preparing a dossier on him. Recently linked with a £10 million move to Manchester City, Hughes will be crucial both to Derby’s style of play and their promotion chances next season

Nottingham Forest

Until Blackburn Rovers quickly took their mantle, Nottingham Forest were widely understood to be adhering to the Roman Abramovich model of managerial relations. After an impressive 4-2 Boxing Day win over Leeds United and just 1 point shy of the play-offs, Forest dispensed with Sean O’Driscoll’s services, curiously appointing Alex McLeish as his replacement. One month later, and McLeish quit after the Forest board had vetoed the transfer of Peterborough midfielder George Boyd after the play had apparently “failed an eye test”. Briefly a laughing stock, the appointment of former manager Billy Davies lead to an immediate upturn in fortunes, with Forest winning 6 games on the bounce and undefeated in 10 matches before a 3-0 defeat to Cardiff.

A last minute 3-2 defeat to play-off rivals Leicester City on the final game of the season (coupled with results elsewhere) meant that Forest finished 8th and 1 point outside of the play-offs. With the 11/12 season’s terrible showing aside, the Reds have been chasing promotion since 2009, finishing in the play-off spots in the 09/10 and 10/11 seasons. Significant investment is likely in the summer (with large portions of the squad on loan), although Forest’s wealthy owners may well be conscious of incoming Financial Fair Play regulations. Davies has developed somewhat of a habit of taking teams into the play-offs (with varying sizes of resources), doing the feat twice each with Preston and Forest, along with gaining promotion with Derby; it would be foolish to bet against them contending next season. Formidable home form in conjunction with ‘solid’ if unspectacular away form has always been a prominent feature of Davies’ track record, but will his abrasive personality and relations with board members (which lead in part to his sacking in 2011: end in tears once again?

12/13 Player of the Year: Chris Cohen

12/13 Top goalscorer: Billy Sharp (11)

My 13/14 prediction: 6th. Despite often suffering from a poor start and a limping end to the season, Davies has developed a winning habit at most of the teams he has managed, regularly chalking up impressive strings of victories on the bounce. A talented squad with more investment to come should see Forest challenging once again.

One to watch: Adlene Guedioura. Known for his play-making abilities and an eye for spectacular goals, Guedioura is popular amongst the Forest faithful. With Premier League pedigree for Wolverhampton Wanderers, his performances within a talented Forest midfield will be crucial to any promotion push next season.



Leicester City

Leicester City’s season epitomised the topsy-turvy nature of the Championship. Second place in the league in late January, they recorded just 1 win in 12 before  clinching 6th spot on goal difference after a dramatic late 3-2 victory away at Nottingham Forest on the last day of the season. With Nigel Pearson back as manager, Leicester have at times this season been renowned for their solidity as well as impressive attacking displays. Like Forest, they have aimed for the Premier League since 2009 where they finished an impressive 5th in their first season after promotion from League 1. In between significant investment, play-off disappointment and high profile management (think Sven-Goran Eriksson), they have somewhat found their way again.

Leading 1-0 going into the second leg of their play-off match against Watford, their traumatic defeat has been well documented: Yet more managerial upheaval will not help, with Nigel Pearson’s second tenure in charge rumoured to be under threat. The King Power Stadium remains a fortress (13 home wins this season and 46 goals), but with 6 wins away Leicester won 1 fewer on the road than relegated Peterborough and Wolves, highlighting room for improvement. Leicester also need to avoid the dreadful end to this season, which arguably sapped them of the kind of momentum which has benefitted the likes of Blackpool in recent years going into play-off campaigns.

12/13 Player of the Year: Wes Morgan

12/13 Top goalscorer: Nugent (16)

My 13/14 prediction: 8th. With strong teams coming down from the Premier League and up from League 1, Leicester’s promotion credentials are by no means assured. Sacking Pearson could lead to instability, and they will need to hope that Wood and Nugent can fire on a regular basis again. Expect them to challenge, but fall just short again in a competitive league.

One to watch: Chris Wood. Something of a footballing nomad despite aged just 21, Wood notched an impressive 11 goals in 19 Championship games on loan for Millwall before a permanent switch to the Foxes, where he scored 6 goals in his first 3 games before finishing the season on 11 goals. With a misfiring forward line to the end of the season, a return to the kind of form which lead to Wood’s signature for Leicester will be key next season.