QPR, Leeds, Millwall, Preston and Reading... Big five games ahead as Town approach milestone moment
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After two weeks off, there will be just five more games until the next international break – a stage in the campaign where owners often assess their options. Stuart Watson looks at Town’s upcoming clashes.
Did Town want two weeks off after finally securing their first win of the campaign at Swansea last weekend? Possibly not. However, it might just allow the troops to regroup, physically and mentally, for what looks a crucial set of fixtures.
There are just five more games before the third international break of the season – a traditional milestone moment. That’s when owners of clubs at the wrong end of the table – particularly in the Championship – tend to start assessing their options.
Going on the last decade, clubs in the bottom three after 12 games have a 43% chance of getting relegated. But if they remain in the drop zone after 17 games then the odds rise to more than 50%.
The Blues have beaten those odds twice in the not so distant past – both in 2012/13 and 2009/10. And owner Marcus Evans will surely want to give Paul Hurst as much time as possible to get this new project off the ground.
Given that four of Town’s next five games are against teams also currently in the bottom seven, there’s a fantastic opportunity to build some momentum and shoot up the table.
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You only need look up the road at Norwich City and see how stringing a few results together can completely change the mood. The next few weeks do look crucial to shaping the narrative. Let’s hope it’s lift-off.
Where: Portman Road
When: Saturday, October 20
Current position: 18th (W4 D2 L6 F9 A19)
Got off to a dreadful start under new boss Steve McLaren, losing their opening four league games. Some of the defending in the 7-1 thrashing at West Brom and 3-0 home defeat to Bristol City was shambolic.
The West Londoners went out and signed strikers Nahki Wells and Tomer Hemed then duly won four of their next five in all competitions, beating Wigan (1-0 at home), Bolton (2-1 away) and Millwall (2-0 at home) in the league. It’s yet more proof of how quick things can turn.
Defeats to Norwich (1-0 at home) and Swansea (3-0 away) followed, but they come into this match off the back of a hard-fought 1-0 win at Reading and entertaining 1-1 home draw with Derby.
With just nine goals to their name they have the joint-worst attacking record in the division alongside Rotherham. This has to be seen as a very winnable game for Town and may well set the tone for what follows.
Where: Elland Road
When: Wednesday, October 24
Current position: 3rd (W6 D5 L1 F22 A9)
There has been a lot of hype surrounding Leeds’ swashbuckling football under experienced Argentine boss Marcelo Bielsa.
They set off like a train, beating Stoke, Derby, Rotherham and Norwich convincingly before the end of August, but have slipped to third after claiming just two wins (against struggling Preston and Hull) since then.
There have been draws against Swansea, Middlesbrough, Millwall, Sheffield Wednesday and Brentford, as well as a shock 2-1 home loss to the previously winless Birmingham City. That aforementioned result has to give Town some hope as they head to Yorkshire.
No two ways about it though, this could be the biggest challenge yet for Hurst’s men.
Where: The Den
When: Saturday, October 27
Current position: 20th (W2 D4 L6 F13 A19)
Neil Harris made minimal changes to his squad following last season’s eighth place finish and they have found it hard to replicate that form this time around.
True, two of their losses have come against the teams currently at the top of the table in Sheffield United and West Brom. But there were damaging defeats to Rotherham and QPR too.
The wounded Lions actually lost six out of seven in the league between the end of August and end of September, but showed spirit to stop the rot and go into this international break feeling a lot better about themselves.
First they fought back from two goals down to draw at Nottingham Forest and then they secured a 2-1 comeback home win against Aston Villa.
Perhaps worryingly for Town, they do look strong at set-pieces. Expect a battle.
PRESTON NORTH END
Where: Portman Road
When: Saturday, November 3
Current position: 22nd (W2 D3 L7 F18 L24)
Under the guidance of former Norwich City boss Alex Neil, the Lilywhites finished just two points outside the play-off places last season.
Like Millwall, they struggled to carry that underdog success into the new campaign. And also like Millwall they went into the international break with a couple of confidence-boosting results – a 3-3 draw at Aston Villa and 4-0 home win against 10-man Wigan.
Prior to that their only other victory had come on the opening day of the season (1-0 v QPR at home). The Lancashire side have not travelled well, with defeats at Swansea, Norwich, Derby, Leeds and Sheffield United.
In 10 of their 15 matches they have scored at least two but also conceded at least two. This could be a cracker if both decide attack is the best form of defence.
Where: Madejski Stadium
When: Saturday, November 10
Current position: 21st (Ww D3 L7 F15 A20)
It seems a long time ago that the Royals were passing opposition off the park and in the Play-Off Final under Jaap Stam.
The Berkshire side finished just three points above the drop zone last season and have started this campaign poorly too.
Their two league wins so far have come against fellow strugglers Preston and Hull. They’ve lost five of their six games on home soil. Altogether they’ve won just five Championship games in the last 38.
Boss Paul Clement insisted his side played as well as they have done all season in the first half of their recent 4-1 defeat at high-flying West Brom.