Sunday, 2 March 2014

The Championship: What We Learnt This Weekend

We’ve had an eye-catching weekend of Championship football, with six thrashings handed out. Here, we will look at the possibility of Nottingham Forest dropping out of the play-off places, Doncaster’s survival prospects, and the factors behind Burnley’s increasingly strong position in the promotion race.

Forest could fall out of the play-off places

Jack Hobbs
Nottingham Forest have a squad filled with quality, they are still a few points clear of seventh, so surely losing 4-1 to Wigan was just a one-off, right? Wrong. In the last week, Forest’s injury-stricken season has continued with injuries to two more key players - centre-back Jack Hobbs and influential playmaker Andy Reid. Without these players, they will struggle to rebuild any momentum.

Due to long-term injuries to defenders Kelvin Wilson and Danny Collins this season, the highly-rated Hobbs has formed a good defensive partnership with Jamaal Lascalles. However, the former will now be out for the remainder of the season. Right-back Greg Halford could move to his less natural position in central defence, or Danny Collins could come in, yet he has struggled since returning from injury. This may create problems in defence, and twelve goals conceded in Forest’s last five, suggests this is the last thing they need.

Andy Reid has contributed to 37% of Forest’s overall goal tally (54), with his goals (9) and assists (11). He is ruled out for six weeks, and fellow midfielders Henri Lansbury and David Vaughan remain sidelined. Billy Davies has been forced to play 35-year-old Jonathan Greening, a coach of the reserve team who has only featured twice this season. At the start of the season, the quality of Forest’s midfield was the one thing you could highlight about their squad, yet now a series of injuries has seen their central options decimated. Not long ago it looked like Forest could push for the top two, yet now they will struggle to maintain a play-off spot.

Donny are in trouble

James Husband
Doncaster might have pipped Bournemouth to the League One title on the final day of last season, but the Cherries have certainly got their revenge. They completed a sweet double over the boys from South Yorkshire with a 5-0 victory on Saturday. Bournemouth look set for a midtable finish in their first season back in the second tier, but the same cannot be said for Doncaster, who are undoubtedly in relegation trouble.

Only Charlton have scored fewer goals (24) than Rovers (28), who failed to score four times in their last five games. Even top scorer Chris Brown has only scored six goals, and their second top scorer, Theo Robinson, has a knee injury. Since joining on loan from Aston Villa, forward Jordan Bowery has far from hit the ground running, having failed to score so far. Where are the goals going to come from?

It looks as though conceding goals could be a problem too. Left-back James Husband has looked particularly vulnerable defensively in recent weeks, and most of Bournemouth’s goals came down their right side. Paul Dickov extended the loan of Enda Stevens in January, to provide cover, and Doncaster may benefit from him filling in at left-back. Doncaster have been very reliant on their home form this season, and their next two games are at the Keepmoat against midtable sides, Huddersfield and Watford. Doncaster need to bounce back, and quickly.

Promotion is Burnley’s to lose

‘Six-pointer’ is an overused word, yet the recent plight of QPR and Nottingham Forest meant the match between Burnley and Derby would be just that, and arguably, the biggest game of the season so far. A Derby win, and they would leapfrog Burnley to go second. A win for the Clarets, and they would go five points clear in the promotion race. The latter happened.

Many pundits have made the mistake of underestimating Burnley. The common perception was that they would fall away towards the end of the season, perhaps due to a lack of squad depth, and top level experience. But their impressive 3-1 win over Nottingham Forest, the previous week, fired warning signs that this was a team to be taken very seriously. All of a sudden, they now have a five-point cushion over Derby, to whom they have just dealt a psychological blow, putting themselves in a most commanding position.

It is difficult to see Sean Dyche, dubbed the “ginger Mourinho”, letting his side get carried away. Many have criticized Burnley for an over-reliance on Sam Vokes and Danny Ings, but attacking right-back Kieran Trippier has been fantastic this season, and he tops the Championship assists table (13). Apart from those key players, it is arguable that their squad lacks intrinsic quality, yet this Burnley team is naturally hardworking throughout.

David Jones and Dean Marney protect the defence very well. If you want a demonstration of this, look no further than the fact that Burnley’s opponents this season have only had an average of four shots on target per game. The whole team continues to graft, when they don’t have the ball, to deny teams space going forward.  You cannot go a year unbeaten at home and not be a very well-organised side, capable of scoring goals at any moment. Premier League football beckons at Turf Moor.

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