Currently, with half the season gone, there are four teams cut off from the rest of the division. These four teams will be analysed to see how they are expected to perform over the upcoming weeks and their hopes for the rest of the season. The teams hovering above the relegation zone will also be reviewed, to see how likely it is that they get pulled into a relegation fight. The bottom half of the table, as it stands, is shown below.
Stoke have been covered in the weekly blogs as a team that is expected to be hitting good form, and pulling away from the relegation zone. They have spent considerably more money than the teams around them and were favoured to be challenging for promotion before the season started.
Nathan Jones was appointed as manager in January 2019, joining Stoke from Luton Town, with Stoke in 13th place. He did not cause a turnaround during last season or push for the play-offs, as he only won a further 3 matches and they finished 16th. Following an uninspiring start to the 2019-20 season, he was sacked on 1 November, with Stoke in 23rd having accumulated 8 points from their 14 games.
Jones was replaced by Michael O’Neill, who joined the Potters on 8 November from the Northern Ireland national team. He made a good start, winning his first two matches at relegation-threatened Barnsley and against Wigan. Following a run of one win and one draw from the next 6 games, Stoke recorded a late but deserved win against Sheffield Wednesday, before losing at Fulham and winning at Huddersfield on New Year’s Day. Overall, their form since the appointment of O’Neill is 5 wins, 1 draw and 5 defeats. This is good enough to put them 11th in the form table since he took charge, as shown below.
If Stoke can maintain a rate of 1.5 points per game, as they have acquired so far under O’Neill, then they would forecast finishing with around 53 points. While this points total wouldn’t guarantee safety, given the teams around them at the bottom, it would likely be sufficient to secure their Championship status for the following season. The main caveat surrounding Stoke is the quality of the teams they have faced under O’Neill. The results under O’Neill are analysed in the table below.
|Opponent||Home / Away||Result||Points||Current position|
|Average||1.8 – 1.4||1.5||15.1|
|Pre O’Neill||0.9 – 1.8||0.5||9.7|
This shows that although Stoke has a positive goal difference and a solid points return, they have encountered a considerably below average schedule of teams. They have faced the three teams which are cut off from the rest of the division and beaten all 3. Against the rest of the division, they have won 2 and drew 1 from 8 matches, losing the remainder.
Stoke’s upcoming league fixtures are tricky and will show whether their excellent performances against Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield are likely to continue. Each of their 4 upcoming fixtures are against teams in the top half of the form table, or against teams sitting high in the league. West Bromwich Albion currently sits 18th in the form table over the last 6 matches, winning 1 and drawing 4.
However, Stoke have quality in their squad that their relegation rivals will not be able to match, and likely have funds to strengthen in January. Although it is not a certainty, it would be a significant surprise if Stoke were playing League One football next season.
Wigan have endured a strange season, split into 2 distinctive halves. Consider the league table as of 21 October below.
While Wigan was only sat in 18th position on 21 October, they had accumulated 14 points from 12 games. Over a full season, at that rate, Wigan would be expected to finish with 54 points, which would likely be more than enough for them to stop up.
However, as the second table below shows, they followed that with a 13 match winless run. Although they ended that streak by beating Birmingham on New Year’s Day, there are only 2 teams who have collected fewer points over that period. As a result, they sit in 22nd place overall, in the relegation zone.
One significant issue Wigan has during the winless run, is conceding late goals. They have scored 2 goals in the final 15 minutes, and conceded 14. This has led to them squandering a significant number of points, which would have left them a fair way from the relegation zone. In the last two months alone, they have dropped 2 points at home to Derby, 3 points at Luton, 1 point at Stoke, 1 point against Swansea and 2 points at Bristol City, all to goals conceded in the final 5 minutes and injury time.
While the mindset of the players and fans is a concern during a streak like this, it appears to be a random swing of bad luck that would not be expected to continue. Overall, Wigan have the 15th best defence (out of 24) in terms of goals conceded in the Championship, despite the 14 goals conceded in the last 15 minutes. They do appear to have a defence capable of securing a place in the Championship. Crucially, they do not have the symptoms of a team that is going to lose touch with the remainder of the division.
Wigan does have a tough run of fixtures over the next month, with their upcoming 5 matches all against teams in the top 11. However, of these 5 matches, 3 of them are against teams that fall into the bottom half of the form table. There is an opportunity for Wigan to close the gap with the chasing pack throughout January.
Barnsley made a dream start to life back in the Championship on opening day, recording a win over promotion favourites Fulham. That was the high mark for the season, as it was nearly 4 months before they won again in the Championship, under a new manager.
Gerhard Struber replaced Daniel Stendel on 20 November, with the Tykes at the foot of the table with 9 points from 14 games. Although Struber lost his first 2 games in charge, he has overseen a revival since then, as evidenced in the table below. There has not been any drop off in the quality of opponents faced under Struber; the schedule over the last 10 matches has been trickier than when Stendel was manager.
|Opponent||Home / Away||Result||Points||Current position|
|Average||1.7 – 1.6||1.2||11.0|
|Pre Struber (16 games)||1.0 – 2.1||0.6||11.9|
If Barnsley can continue accruing points at the same rate for the rest of the season as they have so far under Struber, they would finish with an estimated 45 points. This is not likely to be enough to secure their Championship status for 2020-21, so they are going to have to find more improvement than they have unearthed so far under Struber.
One other issue for Barnsley is improving their squad in January. There are questions in terms of outgoings, with Barnsley selling a number of their top performers in the summer. A similar exercise in January would make finding the improvement needed for survival, even harder to find.
Barnsley face a crucial run of fixtures. The fixtures are split between out of form clubs, and teams towards the foot of the table. Given their strong form, they must take advantage of these fixtures to pull themselves closer to the main group of teams in the bottom half of the Championship. Although survival is possible for Barnsley, it is more plausible that they will be back in League One for the 2020/21 season.
Luton were amongst the favourites to head straight back down to League One, following two successive promotions. Through 26 games of the season, those predictions appear to be accurate, as they currently sit at the foot of the table. Although Luton started the season solidly, their form over the last 14 games has been alarming, as shown in the table below.
The biggest problem Luton have faced is conceding goals. For the season, they have conceded 56 goals, the worst total in the league. Over the last 14 games, they have conceded 36 goals, 8 more than any other team. Although Luton’s attack has not been relegation quality, as 5 teams have scored less than them, it can not compensate for the number of goals they have conceded.
Linked to this is Luton’s away form. Luton have been competitive at Kenilworth Road, especially as they have played either 1 or 2 games less than teams around them, as shown in the table below left. But as per the table below right, their away form is concerning.
Away from home, Luton have won twice but lost 12, which is 3 more than any other team. They are averaging conceding 3 goals per game away from home. They have lost their last 9 away games, scoring 5 and conceding 28. To be in with a chance of staying up, Luton must improve their away form significantly, as their home form can not sustain a survival bid.
Luton does have opportunities to pick points up over the next month. Although the two away games are tricky, the 3 home matches are all against clubs that are in the bottom 10 of away teams in the Championship. Luton will need to pick up wins in this run of fixtures to ensure they don’t get cut off at the foot of the Championship.
Although the 4 teams analysed above currently are cut off from the rest of the division, there is sufficient time in the season for another club to get pulled in to the relegation fight. There is a mini tier of 3 teams, in 18th – 20th place, who are 5-6 points off the relegation zone.
Charlton Athletic currently sit in 19th place, 5 points clear of the relegation zone. Their season has been significantly split, as they shocked everyone by sitting 2nd on 9 September, with 14 points from their first 6 matches. However, since then, they have been the joint-worst team in the league, as shown in the tables below.
If Charlton can not turn their form around, they will be pulled into the relegation fight. They have accrued 0.7 points on average per game over the last 20 games. Continuing at the same rate of the previous 20 games would see them finish on 42 points, which would almost certainly see them relegated.
Charlton have a tricky 3 game run ahead, before colossal back to back games against Barnsley and Stoke. Those 2 games will likely go a long way towards determining whether they stay in the Championship, or fall back to League One.
Birmingham City looked on course for a mid-table slot, until a weak December dropped them down the table, and they are now hovering above the relegation zone. Their recent bad run was partly explainable by games against tough opponents. However, they were unlucky to lose to both Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion. The match that particularly hurts is the defeat to Wigan Athletic on New Year’s Day.
Although Birmingham is precariously placed in the table, it is unlikely they will get pulled in. They have proved they have quality in their team and have picked up more wins than any team in the relegation battle. It will be a major surprise if they end up as a significant relegation contender.
Finally, Huddersfield sit on 28 points. Despite a poor result against Stoke on New Year’s Day, their form has picked up considerably since they tempted Danny Cowley to leave Lincoln City. With Cowley in charge, they have recorded 27 points from their 20 games. A similar return from their final 20 games would see them finish on 55 points, which would be more than enough to secure safety. If they end up as a relegation contender, it would be a bigger surprise than Birmingham, and they are very likely to be playing Championship football next season.
Based on the analysis, it would be a surprise to see Huddersfield and Birmingham in a relegation battle at the end of the season. Stoke should be safe if they continue their good form under Michael O’Neill.
On the flip side, it would take a significant improvement in form for Luton and Barnsley to avoid the drop. Wigan appear a stronger side than Charlton, but Charlton have a 5 point advantage and a significantly better goal difference than Wigan. Those two teams are expected to fight it out for the final relegation spot.
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