We’re getting into the business end of the Championship season now and Benjamin Bloom is here to talk you through it all, with odds from Betfair throughout.
Match to watch – Luton Town v Blackburn Rovers
I’m struggling whether to refer to this as the Mike Newell derby or the Roy Wegerle derby. I mean, Newell was pivotal in Blackburn’s rise under Kenny Dalglish in the 1990s and played and managed at Luton. Roy Wegerle was quality though wasn’t he? A trailblazer for US footballers playing in England and scorer of the goal of the season for a crazy mazy dribble at Leeds many moons ago. In fact, if it hadn’t been for that pesky Alan Shearer, these two would have been a tasty strike partnership at Blackburn.
Anyway, I digress. Call it what you like, this should be a Championship cracker this weekend with both sides coming off good wins in the past days. Luton are in good form and their victory over Bristol City in midweek was another game in hand ticked off which moved the Hatters up into the top ten. In their recent home games Luton have now drawn against runaway leaders Fulham and beaten a then-second placed Bournemouth. They will be well up for the visit of the new second-placed side Blackburn.
Blackburn moved three points clear of Bournemouth in second place with a win over Middlesbrough on Monday night. It may not have been the most spectacular victory but elements of it will please manager Tony Mowbray far more than other triumphs this season. The pressure was on, Rovers played last on Monday night and the Sky cameras were in attendance. They were without key players Ben Brereton-Diaz and Joe Rothwell and came out on top in a one-goal proper blood and thunder Championship affair. The Rovers’ automatic promotion push all of a sudden seems as viable as it’s ever been.
Team to watch – Hull City
It’s less of a team to watch and more of a club to watch this week as we enter a new era at Hull. The long-awaited takeover led by Acun Ilicali went through last week and the unpopular Allam era is over. Ilicali wasted no time in making his first big operational decision as manager Grant McCann was given the boot on Tuesday.
Ilicali said. “I understand the timing may look odd, after two good wins, but I wouldn’t be fair or honest if I merely waited for a defeat to change manager. That benefits nobody. I will continue to be transparent with you, our fans.” In the highly emotional sphere of football discussion there were obviously many who jumped to a position of reflexive sympathy for McCann and criticised the decision. That’s an understandable and very human response, however we all know and should respect that anybody investing in an organisation in this manner has the right to create their own management structure.
A day later Hull announced the repayment of a loan back to the EFL meaning the attached transfer embargo has been lifted. The Tigers have wasted no time in going into the transfer market and as I’ve been writing this column, they have announced the signing of midfielder Regan Slater from Sheffield United. Slater was on loan at Hull and played the majority of games as they were promoted up from League One to the Championship.
All we’re waiting for now is the announcement of a new manager. The statement on McCann’s firing told us a new head coach will be announced “very shortly”, with Shota Arveladze the prolific former Rangers and Ajax striker expected to be installed. There’s little point speculating on how this new ownership will play out. Yes it’s new and it’s different but only time will tell if it’s better than the previous regime at Hull.
Manager to watch – Valerien Ismael (West Brom)
We all get judged by different standards in life, sometimes it feels a bit unfair but unless humankind takes some sort of Orwellian turn it will always be so. Take Valerien Ismael for example, he finished in fifth in the Championship with Barnsley last season and is currently in fifth place with West Brom just over half way through this season. Same manager, same league position, but very different circumstances. Last season Ismael was a hero, but right now he’s under a great deal of pressure to keep his job.
Obviously comparing Barnsley and West Brom is a complete apples and oranges job. At Barnsley the two seasons prior to Ismael being in charge saw a last-minute escape from Championship relegation with the other season spent as a League 1 club. At West Brom the previous two seasons were spent getting automatically promoted from the Championship and up in the rarified air of the Premier League.
Ismael’s West Brom lost 0-2 at home to Preston this midweek and the natives are restless for a number of reasons. Stylistically Big Val plays a direct and intense ‘up and at em’ style that some would say suits an underdog like Barnsley rather than a parachute team like West Brom. The Baggies have had more shots than any team in the Championship this season but struggle with conversion and will now be without big January signing Daryl Dike for the next eight weeks. Most pertinently they are seven points off the automatic promotion positions. The last Baggies manager sacked in the Championship was Darren Moore and he was nine points off.
Player to watch – Danny Ward (Huddersfield)
One of the best stats to come out of last weekend’s Championship games concerned Huddersfield and hat-tricks. In their bonkers 4-3 win at Reading, striker Danny Ward got himself a hat-trick. There was a poacher’s spin and finish, anticipation to punish a goalkeeping error and then a lovely long ranger to finish the job in the second half. But what’s so special about a player scoring a hat-trick? Aleksandar Mitrovic has got three this season and John Swift already got one at the SCL stadium in Reading in September.
Well, Ward was responsible for the first hat-trick scored by Huddersfield since May 2014. According to my maths, that’s almost eight years ago, although the ‘HTAFC Statto’ twitter account presents it as a wholly more impressive 2822 days ago. So Huddersfield players very rarely score hat-tricks and they finally scored one, is that it? No, it gets better. I think you all know where this is going, but the identity of the Huddersfield player who scored their last hat-trick back in 2014 was none other than Danny Ward.
The Ward hat-trick came at Watford on the final day of the 2013/14 season in a 4-1 win for the Terriers. It should be noted that the hat-trick came exclusively in the second half, Ward was a substitute that day, and the game marked a full debut for Joe Lolley before he became a sought-after Championship player. All statistical nerdery aside, Ward’s current form and the ability of boss Carlos Corberan to get such a tune out of him is yet another indicator of a job being well done at Huddersfield.
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