With some big Championship games coming up in midweek, Benjamin Bloom is here to talk you through all you need to know, with odds from Betfair throughout.
MATCH TO WATCH – Cardiff City v Peterborough
It’s easy to get drawn into over-hyping certain games, but the bottom-five clash between Cardiff and Peterborough could almost shrink the relegation battle from five teams down to four. As things stand, Peterborough occupy the final relegation spot on 20 points with Reading just one place and two points ahead having played a game more. The next position is where we find Cardiff; like Reading they’ve played a game more than Peterborough but they are a further seven points ahead.
In short, if Cardiff were to win this game they would go 12 points clear of safety with 17 games remaining. That would surely be an insurmountable gap for Peterborough to leap and on the basis of that theory would narrow potential Championship relegation down to three teams from the current bottom four. From a Peterborough point of view it doesn’t particularly matter whether it’s one or ten teams that could end up in the bottom three as long as there’s ultimately somebody for them to chase. With that being said, we’ve seen this movie before and often when one or more teams get cut adrift we see the mythical ‘capitulation index’ come into play and winning becomes that much more difficult.
If a Peterborough defeat allows Cardiff too much gap, then a rare away victory for the Posh would just about keep them in range. Such an outcome would see them moving to within six points of the Welsh side and if Reading were to lose at Bristol City, they would be out of the bottom three. Throw into the mix the fact that 23rd-placed Derby play 19th-placed Hull and it feels like we’ll know a lot more about who and how many teams are in relegation danger at the end of this midweek round.
TEAM TO WATCH – Bournemouth
The transfer window was dominated by Bournemouth’s deadline day shopping spree. In came Kieffer Moore, Nat Phillips, Freddie Woodman, Todd Cantwell and Siriki Dembele, as the team in red and black went all-in on promotion. The arrivals at Bournemouth were met with typically contrasting responses. Cherries fans were understandably excited – surely a team in third position adding such extra quality with 18 games to go can make up that one place needed to get over the line and back into the Premier League. Fans of Bournemouth’s rivals showed a mix of fear, outrage and envy, as the age-old conversation of financial imbalance in the Championship once again became front and centre.
Unfortunately these debates become partisan almost instantly and that tends to remove a lot of credibility. From personal experience, getting a fan of a side with parachute payments to reflect with balance on the potential advantage can be a very tough task. Those in the Bournemouth corner rightly pointed out that the Cherries have raised plenty of money from player sales since relegation, but as with all financial matters in football we won’t know the truth about the balance sheet until an age after the action takes place on the pitch. In situations like this we get little agreement and the truth is the issues are systemic rather than any Bournemouth evil or perceived virtue of any other club.
Hopefully it’s all eyes on the pitch now and certainly all eyes on Bournemouth as their new-look squad takes on Birmingham. Read into it what you will, but having strengthened so aggressively many will want to see Bournemouth slip up now and not get promoted. That doesn’t really solve anything though, Bournemouth aren’t the first and won’t be the last in this position and although they and all the other parachute teams may be a beneficiary, they’re certainly not solely responsible for the system they’re a part of.
MANAGER TO WATCH – Steve Bruce (West Brom)
Bournemouth’s spending wasn’t the only divisive issue this week as Steve Bruce made his return to the Championship in the hot seat at West Brom. The short-lived Valerien Ismael era ended in double-quick time with the Frenchman’s reputation now in need of some rehabilitation. Unless Ismael comes back and is successful in the Championship, his quick Barnsley rise and West Brom fall will have him labelled as a one-season wonder.
Someone who is most definitely not a one-season wonder is Ismael’s replacement Steve Bruce; he has been around as a manager for decades and has four Championship promotions on his CV. There is however something divisive about Steve Bruce and asking different sets of fans will give you very different and not unreasonable viewpoints. Talk to a Birmingham or a Hull fan and they’ll likely praise Bruce, talk to a Sheffield United or Aston Villa fan and they may have a different view.
I was always brought up to treat people as I find them, so I respect the differing views of all fans whose club has been managed by Bruce. Outside of the bubbles of individual clubs, the general perception of Steve Bruce has not been helped by all the hullabaloo in his last job at Newcastle. Clearly the absentee ownership style of Mike Ashley was the biggest issue for Magpies fans, but they weren’t too fond of Bruce either.
It looks like a simple equation for Bruce. West Brom are currently in sixth place, they are well resourced and widely considered to be underperforming. It would stand to reason that any improvement towards what we would reasonably expect would likely see them in the play-offs and three games away from promotion. For all the criticism of Bruce’s style at Newcastle, fans of the clubs he’s been successful at would contend things would be different with better resources. I guess we’re about to find out over the remainder of this season and the 18-month contract he has signed, whether Bruce is indeed fair or foul.
PLAYER TO WATCH – Josh Bowler (Blackpool)
I had got myself all excited about a chain reaction of right wingers all being bought and sold on deadline day. The theory all centred around Nottingham Forest’s Brennan Johnson, with Brentford interested in taking the youngster up to the Premier League and dropping a vast wad of cash into the Championship. If that didn’t happen they were going to try and get Hull’s Keane Lewis-Potter through the door instead, which would have similar consequences. If either of those players were to leave the players linked with a move to replace them were Millwall’s Jed Wallace and Blackpool’s Josh Bowler. Both men are hugely important to their sides but perhaps that Premier League money dropping down could have been persuasive.
Well, I sat there all day waiting for something to happen and nothing did. Much to the relief of fans of the clubs in question all of these wingers stayed put, although maybe some Millwall fans would’ve considered it time to cash in on Wallace with his contract expiring at the end of the season. Forest fans will be especially pleased as Brennan Johnson might have already added a bit more onto his transfer value after starring in their nationally televised demolition of Premier League side Leicester City in the FA Cup.
Further down the chain Blackpool’s Josh Bowler is also keeping up appearances. Bowler is in fine form and has now got four goal contributions in his last seven Championship games as Blackpool look to be returning to form again. Bowler has scored in his last two games sweeping home to help Pool claim a point at leaders Fulham and turning the Bristol City defence inside out in the weekend win at Bloomfield Road. If Bowler and his fellow winged wonders continue to impress in the remainder of the season then perhaps we’ll get to see some of the deadline day fireworks that didn’t come when the window reopens again in the summer.
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