After the midweek games we’re back for some championship action this weekend and Benjamin Bloom is here to walk you through everything you need to know, with Betfair odds throughout.
MATCH TO WATCH: Bournemouth v Coventry
Saturday gives us a top-six clash at Vitality between Bournemouth and Coventry. When we look at the big picture, I suspect both clubs have exceeded preseason expectations, but in the short term neither will want a slight downtrend to manifest into something more lasting. and tangible.
Bournemouth’s pre-season saw the arrival of Scott Parker as manager and the departure of star man Arnaut Danjuma after a sixth place finish resulting in a loss to Brentford in the play-off semi-final. While a club with a side like Bournemouth would expect to be tough, the swift and meteoric transition under Parker from a slightly unconvincing last season to their explosive start this time around must be enjoyable for everyone at the club.
Bournemouth have moved from the play-offs to automatic positions, but Coventry’s rise from last season has been much steeper. A solid finish for the Sky Blues in 20/21 kept them away from the threat of relegation and to a comfortable 16th. So far this season, Coventry has managed to avoid the transition to mid-table altogether, and on the back of a formidable home record, he’s been tough in the play-off positions.
So everyone’s happy, but I should just touch on their slides. In the last four games, Bournemouth has won just one, and their points per game have gone from an appallingly good 2.46 ppg to a much less impressive 1 ppg. It may only be a short regression, but sometimes small acorns grow mighty oaks. Coventry, supported by a brilliant six-game winning streak at home, have won seven of their first ten games but since the international break their points per game have dropped from 2 to 1.25 ppg. I might be nit-picking, and it’s safe to say the two point drops were due to probably unsustainable starts, but a win in this one will help silence the critics.
Both teams to score – 4/5 (Betfair)
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TEAM TO FOLLOW: QPR
When it comes to football, there are loads of fans out there who want to make the conversation binary, when the truth is that football and its swirling narratives and models are constantly changing almost every hour. Following the narrative closely and taking into account all available information means that your opinion on one side will inevitably change as the season progresses; what you thought in August may be diametrically opposed to how you feel about the same in May.
I say this as I get ready to talk about QPR, which I am currently on my third campaign review. By the end of the season, I had a lot of support for the âblack horsesâ tag for the Rangers; this idea was based on a lot of points scored in the second half of the previous season, an in situ manager for a decent period and a few years of good recruiting. As the season began, a 12-point streak in the first six games seemed to put QPR in the category I expected, but my opinion changed slightly over the next streak. We then started to see leaky defense, late conceded goals and lost leads, with my revised take that such a fragile nature could cost the Rs a potential play-off spot.
It looks like I’m going to have to change my mind again on the evidence from the last handful of matches. QPR has further developed their excellent form at home with a streak of six wins in eight, they’ve kept four clean goals in their last seven and conceded just one goal in their last four – from the penalty spot. The fact that four of the last five QPR wins have been by a goal is starting to hint at a growing resilience that might make me come back to that ‘dark horse’ for a promotion tip.
QPR to beat Derby – 11/8 (Betfair)
MANAGER TO WATCH: Paul Heckingbottom (Sheffield United)
I’m glad I waited until things turned around at Sheffield United before submitting this column for publication. It’s frustrating and inaccurate science trying to align with the championship news cycle, but I thought when rumors circulated this morning we might have an interesting talking point. These rumors told us that Blades boss Slavisa Jokanovic is over, talks have taken place and after just 19 games on the job, the two-time championship promotion winner is football’s last jobless manager.
My mind immediately returned when Chris Wilder left, when rumors came of a Sheffield United leaking long before he left. How long would we wait this time? As it turned out, just a few hours, and just before 1:30 p.m., Sheffield United announced that Paul Heckingbottom was due to be the Blades’ new manager. My reaction was confusion: Heckingbottom was the interim manager after Wilder left the Premier League, so the Blades could have saved themselves eight months and which is probably a substantial amount of money just by employing him at this time -the.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I suspect most observers will be somewhere in between positions on Jokanovic’s run as Blades boss. On the one hand, he did not succeed by having a talented squad in 16th position, but on the other hand, he was given very little time and money to implement his own plans. This debate has almost been made obsolete as Heckingbottom was announced on a long contract expiring in 2026, so now the discussion is on whether he is the right fit for the Blades. Honestly, I have no idea, but I can’t help but feel a little preoccupied with all the movement these days in Bramall Lane. Some stability is absolutely needed now and if Heckingbottom is nearing the end of this extremely long contract then he has probably done a good job of delivering it.
Sheffield United def. Bristol City – 11/20 (Betfair)
PLAYER TO WATCH: Matt Grimes (Swansea)
Late last week, the Swansea City website posted a photo of manager Russ Martin and sporting director Mark Allen looking like the proverbial pig in dung. If you can’t read the subtext of my attempts to use plain language in the previous sentence, both of them looked very happy and satisfied. Why? Between them in this photo stood Swans captain Matt Grimes holding a pen and about to sign a new contract with the club until 2025. OK, to break the illusion, the contract will have already been signed; what’s on the table is probably the printer ink test page, and there was probably just an instruction from the photographer similar to “Pretend you’re about to sign your name and smile, Matt “.
Grimes holding the pen is obviously a symbolic gesture, but in an art setting reflecting life, this signature seems emblematic of change at Swansea. The Swans have been through a big summer of transition – frankly, they must have done it after missing a promotion in the playoff finals and with the end of their three years of parachute payouts. Manager Steve Cooper has stepped out, and for various reasons the names of the previous season’s stars in Andre Ayew, Marc Guehi, Freddie Woodman and Connor Roberts were all gone before the window closed. A name strongly linked to a move at the time was Captain Grimes, who was entering the final year of his contract and rumored that the newly relegated Fulham wanted to take him to Craven Cottage.
Swansea brought in Martin as boss, kept Grimes this summer, paired him with Flynn Downes in the center midfielder and added forward Joel Piroe in front of him. With talks presumably underway, new additions to Swansea have started to take shape, and Grimes’ commitment to stay until 2025 comes with the Swans on a five-game winning streak in the last eight. The signing of Grimes signifies an important element of continuity and a quality player at the center of where the new Swansea can go under Martin.
Swansea def. Reading – 3/4 (Betfair)
Correct odds at time of posting. 18+ Please play responsibly. Visit begambleaware.org