I knew it would be painful. But it had to be done.
I just checked back to the pundits’ and bookies’ pre-season view of this year’s Championship.
Favourites to win the division were … yes, Norwich City. “With not too many changes to the squad and Dean Smith in charge, Norwich are looking for a quick return to the Premier League – and are the bookies’ pick to do just that”.
The predictions are no less painful reading for fans of Watford, marginally behind City as second favourites. I’ll come back to them.
Third and fourth favourites were West Brom and – in the first instance of accuracy – Middlesbrough.
Fifth and sixth-ranked were Burnley and Sheffield United. I’m no great fan of the Blades and Paul Heckingbottom – but credit to him and, without reservation, to Vincent Kompany.
Also credit to Blackburn (ranked 10th before the season), Luton (11th), and Millwall (17th). They’ve exceeded the expectations of experts – and I suspect their own fans’ expectations too.
I remember years when City overachieved. It’s a great and uplifting feeling. Underachieving, which we’re going through for the second successive year, is frustrating and dismal.
It’s also wearing – illustrated by the manager’s statement on being appointed, then some weeks later:
On being appointed: “We have an opportunity to kick-start things. We have the experience and we certainly have the talent”
A few weeks later: “At times we’re really good, other times not good enough. That’s why I’m having the same results as previous managers have had”
Not quite David Wagner’s style – and actually not his words. They might also apply to us, but they’re the words of Chris Wilder at Watford.
So, to our game at Blackburn on Friday.
In theory, it’s an exciting opportunity for us. Win, and we’ll be just one point behind Blackburn – ie one point off a playoff place.
Yet the mood of City supporters is clearly downbeat. Some of that’s understandable: the verve and hunger we showed at Millwall has dried up since, and with it our ability to create chances. A run of ten points from four games has been followed by two points from the last four.
Under David Wagner, we’ve had scintillating days and depressing ones. We’re not sure which City will turn up for any given game.
Meanwhile, however, Blackburn fans will be saying the same. They started March by beating Sheffield United. But it’s been downhill from there: a narrow win over Reading sandwiched between losses to Stoke and, in their most recent game, Birmingham.
Form, then, isn’t much help in predicting Friday’s outcome.
What we can say with greatest probability, looking at the stats, is that it won’t be a draw. I’ve seen people saying Norwich don’t deserve to make the playoffs having lost 14 games this season. But Blackburn have lost 15. They’re above us by virtue of having drawn so few – by some way the fewest in the division.
(There’s a side story to this, for those who enjoy statistical quirks. Having set new records by going the first 27 games of the season without a draw, they promptly drew four in a row – and none since. Football, eh?)
Despite being above us, Blackburn have a significantly worse goal difference. They’ve scored 43 and conceded the same. While we’ve conceded a similar number (42), we’ve scored 52. Friday would be a good day to get that stat moving again.
Eagle-eyed readers may have spotted that the MFW preview team tends to do pairs of fixtures. I’ve done the two games against Watford and Hull, for instance, and now Blackburn.
It’s a sign of the Championship that Blackburn is unique for me, in that they haven’t changed manager between the two fixtures. It’s still Jon Dahl Tomasson, who’s done a fine overall job in his first season.
Similarly, the main threat on the pitch remains Ben Brereton Diaz, who’s now up to 12 league goals for the season. No one expects him to be at Blackburn next year.
From all of the above, you won’t be expecting me to make a prediction about Friday’s result.
Against City’s prospects, it has to be noted that Blackburn’s home record is one of the division’s best: won 13, drawn 1, lost 4. Only Burnley’s is better.
To get the win that would revive hopes, City will have to channel their Millwall performance again. It can be done – but will it?
My colleague Martin Penney put the question succinctly here earlier this week: “Do we believe City have a top six finish in them?” A repeat of the Millwall performance, and of course result, would go a long way to rekindling fans’ belief that the answer might be yes.
Living in Blackpool for 40 years after growing up in Gt Yarmouth and being a Greenacre School lad, it seems nothing changes, really.
Blackburn won the FA Cup out right (Rule anyone winning it 3 consecutive times retained tge Cup) and donated it back to the FA with the rule with drawn.
Blackburn have a checkered history and like close neighbours PNE were were founder members of the Football league.
After many years in the lower leag7e a scrap metal merchant invested heavily and enticed Kenny D to manage them he in turn signed Tim Sherwood, Chris Sutton and Alan Shearer and won their only premiership title by the narrowest of margin,
Any way Blackpool is a cosmopolitan town and walking the streets you will see just about every football kit in the UK being worn with very little aggro till the teams meet, I have been to most local clubs over the years and found most very welcoming.
Blackburn is a surprise package, and many supporters have expected the bubble to burst, wealthy owners from the sub continent of India but little investment and not well liked but what’s new how many do like their club owners ?
Anyway this could be a bore draw or a goal feast,
Commiserations to John Sainty family with the sad news of his passing.
We knew it would happen but hoped for another season and long live the memory of the legend Teemu Pukki now the decision has been made let’s hope you can go on a goal scoring run to end your city career
I also grew up in Gt Yarmouth (more precisely, Gorleston) – and still think of it as home, despite having lived away from Norfolk for 40 years. Vivid memories of Gt Yarmouth Grammar – and of course the fortnightly coach to Carrow Road.
Many good friends went to the Grammer School Brian Cumby, Trevor Thirlwall, and Derek Alexander sadly the first 2 are no longer with us.
My early visit to CR was with the Thirwall family all crammed into an Austin Cambridge.
Gary Field says
Do City have a top six finish in them? Absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t – it would be a significant failure not to do so. However, even if they do get there, they still feel a long way short of achieving a successful playoff outcome.
True – but the team that just makes the playoffs with a few late wins often has a psychological edge over teams who’ve been there for a while (especially if they had a chance of being in the top two).
martin penney says
Millwall [a] goes down as a pretty much uncontestable *best in class* winner for 2022-23.
Might we see a similar level of performance at Ewood Park tomorrow?
Personally I doubt it because the Pukki announcement, as predictable as it was, will hardly have done too much in terms of motivation for either playing staff or supporters.
All I am sure of is that the Chilean dialect of Spanish will be heard on the green stuff for the third and final time this season as Messrs Brereton and Nunez exchange pleasantries tomorrow – but the crazy thing is that you’re right in that, remarkably, it still CAN be done 🙂