Swansea City Preview

Happy Friday one and all and welcome back to another weekend preview courtesy of yours truly. The boys travel across the bridge to Swansea City this weekend hoping to bounce back from a disappointing but ultimately deserved defeat at St Andrews in the week. Following the midweek defeat, for some reason certain sections of the support have been wishing of a return for Jaap Stam. Have we really sunk that low under Paul Clement that we are wishing of a return to brain-numbing, ineffective, tepid and obsessive possession based football? Well, admittedly – it can’t get much worse right now. However, we all said that after the hammering at West Brom. How did the team respond to that? With a victory over Millwall. We do appear to have a knack of performing when all hope appears to be lost amongst supporters. So, with that being said – how do I rate our chances this weekend?
We go up against a Swansea City team who have had a respectable return to the second tier and currently see themselves in the top half of the table, sitting in tenth just four points away from the play-off spaces. Things can change very quickly in this division and Swansea could well find themselves right in the mix at the top end of the table should they manage to pick up a few results on the spin. This may be where they struggle however, having failed to really find much consistency this season. 5 wins, 5 draws and 4 defeats is a very respectable record – however, it is clear that they will need to change some of these draws into victories should they want to be up there with a chance of replacing their biggest rivals when Cardiff get relegated next year. NB – that is if that happens, which lets be honest – it probably will.
Led by Graham Potter, the Swans haven’t got a squad to suggest they had been an established Premier League team for 7 seasons. Clearly not blessed with the financial pulling power of some of the other relegated teams, Potter has put together a side that are competing despite not huge levels of investment. Spearheaded by Mcburnie, the Swans have a very settled core, especially in defence with little rotation seen in the back-line. This has definitely paid off, as only Boro have a better defensive record than the Swans. However, with just 15 goals scored (we’ve managed 19, for example) it is pretty obvious where they’ll need to improve in and perhaps invest in over the course of the January window.
Sorry for a slightly more short and sweet preview this week, see it as a bitesize read for your enjoyment. As for predictions, I am going to resist the temptation to be optimistic this week because it seems to be my pessimism that normally results in a victory or at least a good result. I think it’ll be a low scoring affair, so much so that I’m going to go for a 1-0 victory for the hosts.
Matt Joy
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Birmingham City Preview

Good day one and all and welcome back to another preview. Tonight we head to Birmingham City on the back of a good showing on the weekend, picking up all three points against fellow strugglers Millwall. On Saturday we seemed to get something that we haven’t had much of this season, luck. A somewhat dubious penalty and an away team who’s strike force decided to do everything possible to avoid scoring despite having all of the chances in the world. We looked clinical and for the first time since the victory over Hull, we looked quite comfortable and like we were winning at a canter after Meite’s second goal. What are the chances of us picking up consecutive victories however?
Well, first and foremost – if you’re a betting man, a draw may well be the best one to go for in your accumulators. Having picked up a league high 8 draws from the opening 13 fixtures this season, Birmingham have only managed three wins – the same as us. I find Birmingham are the Championship equivalent of Southampton, or perhaps a Crystal Palace. They never really look in true danger of going down, but I can’t remember since their last relegation one season in which I thought the Blues could make any serious surge for the business end of the table. Despite this and the somewhat unconvincing League positioning, Birmingham are actually on the longest unbeaten run in the division, having gone nine games without tasting defeat (3 wins, 6 draws.) They have taken 11 points from the last possible 15, which is definitely a record I would take for Reading right now. It may seem therefore that I’ve made cases for Birmingham being both a good side and an unconvincing one in this paragraph. I apologise for that. My point is that I don’t think Birmingham have the quality or the staying power to really threaten up the top of the table and there are certainly numerous teams I’d be less optimistic ahead of playing. But I have to acknowledge their good run and the consistency Garry Monk has bought to the Blues under a rather limited budget. If they’re up at the top end of the table this season I’ll happily eat my words, but I can’t see this run of form lasting too much longer.
As for the players, this is really where my argument for Birmingham not reaching any real heights this year comes in to play. As I have said, Garry Monk has done a good job at making Birmingham tough to beat this season. I’m not disputing that. However, there is a reason behind the fact their only real impressive victory has been against Leeds United last month (thanks for busting my acca that day by the way guys.) The reason behind this is if you take a look at their squad, the word average is the first that comes to my head. Now, I feel like I have to keep giving this disclaimer for any Birmingham fans reading – please don’t get annoyed at me. You’re doing well with what you have. I’m also not saying we don’t have a very average squad because in reality we do. By average I mean that the high-flyers of the division probably wouldn’t rush to take these players off your hands. I have always though Maghoma is a good players and Jota on his day is also a very good players. With Jota however I feel like he is a player similar to John Swift. He’s a joy to watch when you’re 3-0 up but perhaps not the Manto dig you out of tight spots. However take a quick look at the following players: Jutkiewicz, David Davis, Omar Bogle, Harlee Dean, Michael Morrison. Do any of those for example really stand out as top-quality Championship players? I don’t think so.
Prediction time. Birmingham certainly have enjoyed more success than us so far this year (who hasn’t realistically) but as I’ve suggested I don’t think they’re anything more than a lower mid table club this season. Arguably then, much like us. I don’t see a huge difference in quality between the two sides and with Birmingham the divisions draw specialists and us coming of the back of a win, I think it’ll be a 1-1 draw tonight.

Matt Joy

WBA Preview

Guess who’s back, back again.. An incredibly pessimistic preview of the weekend is back. Tell a friend. The lads travel up to The Hawthorns this weekend and how things have changed since the last time I penned one of these. Ahead of the QPR game in the week I was actually full of enthusiasm that we had turned a corner and were looking like a team who were willing to work hard to get the right result. Again however against QPR we saw a bewildering team selection followed by a disjointed, flat and abject performance culminating in a defeat against one of our main rivals. Why on earth did Clement change a winning side? I have no idea. To be honest, I think our fans have summed up the mutual feelings on social media in the hours and days following the result of that performance, so anything I say would just be in agreement with most of you. What better time is there then to go to West Brom? I’m shuddering at the prospect.

West Brom currently find themselves sat in fourth place in the league. However, with just one point separating the top four, being in fourth isn’t really a true reflection of just how good they have been at the start of this season. As we have seen frequently in recent seasons with thew Championship getting stronger with more money invested across the league it is harder than ever for relegated sides to get straight back into the top tier. West Brom however seem to be a team equipped better than most to do just that. Darren Moore’s men have quality throughout the squad, none more so than Championship goalscoring specialist Dwight Gayle. Six goals in 10 games is a very impressive record for anyone and it’s clear to see with the other options they have going forward why West Brom have been so clinical this season so far. With Matt Phillips, one time England hopeful Jay Rodriguez and exciting youngsters Jonathan Leko, Oliver Burke and perhaps the most impressive of the three Harvey Barnes. I didn’t include a certain Hal Robson Kanu in that list because quite frankly I can’t bring myself to give him any form of credit with a straight face. Having scored six goals more than the second highest scoring team in the division, keeping a clean sheet this weekend would be a near miracle. It won’t be any easy task going forward either, even with the prolific 0 goals in 9 games Yakou Meite. Premiership quality exists throughout their back line, with Kieran Gibbs, Kyle Bartley, Ahmed Hegazi and Craig Dawson. Strength in depth exists in their midfield as well, but not wanting to simply list their squad, I’ll avoid highlighting the quality there. Put simply, I cannot see any real shortcomings at this level for the Baggies and I’d be amazed to see West Brom do anything but challenge incredibly strongly for the top spot this year

In Darren Moore, they took a risk with a manager who wasn’t just a safe pair of hands, as they have done previously. Regular readers (if there’s such a thing) of my previews will know I have a severe dislike for managers who never really do anything but get jobs based on their name and their “knowledge of the league.” The West Brom board took a brisk with Moore and have been rewarded with a team who score goals, play attractive football and know how to get the right result. Don’t be surprised to see the manager of the month Moore managing at the highest level in the near future, whether that is with West Brom next year or elsewhere.

Prediction time and I’ll keep it short and sweet this week. 3-0 WBA.

QPR Pre Match Preview

Hello all and welcome back to match day at the Madejski. Last weekend saw arguably one of the most respectable results we have had all season, albeit ultimately one of the most frustrating. A point away at Brentford should not be regarded as a bad result by any means and most of us certainly would have taken it at 2:50 on Saturday afternoon. For the first time in what has felt like an awfully long time, we appeared to want to get a result by any means necessary. We battled, we disrupted Brentford’s rhythm and we played dirty. This may not be of huge satisfaction to any supporters dreaming of a return to the brain-numbing possession obsession (try saying that after four pints) we saw under Stam. We showed a reluctance to roll over and admit defeat which especially in a game like Brentford away, we may have seen earlier this season following an early setback. I think it could really be a turning point.
Up next we host the lowest scoring team in the division QPR. They have struggled for much of this season, with no player scoring more than two goals this campaign. In fact, they have scored the same amount of goals all season that West Brom managed against them back in August. Much like us however they have ground out some good results, such as the victory against Millwall and Bolton home and away respectively. Who is their danger man however? For me, it’s Luke Freeman. A man who interested high flying Boro in the summer, Freeman’s industrious, hard working nature mixed in with real technical ability on the ball means he is a threat from the centre of the park. It’ll be important to quell the threat of Freeman should we wish to limit the amount of clear cut chances provided for the front men. Although they haven’t scored much this season, the acquisitions of two quality forwards in Tomer Hemed and Nahki Wells has always added to their available firepower and I’m sure as the season progresses not many fans would be surprised to see one or both of them at the top of the scoring charts for the West London side. Eze is another hungry forward full of pace and trickery that needs to be monitored closely by the back line tonight. QPR do seem to struggle most when they’re behind so I think it is of vital importance we take the game to them straight away and do not allow them to settle. Should we get an early goal, the prospect of a home win will certainly become a more likely one. As for the manager, we have Steve Mclaren. I’m not going to write a huge amount here because most football fans have a clear opinion on the former England manager. Joining the illustrious company of Mark Hughes, David Moyes, Sam Allardyce and Alan Pardew – I believe Mclaren is a man who is seen by many chairman’s as a ‘safe option’ who ‘knows the league’ despite failing in the majority of recent roles. All to often we see young exciting managers turned down in favour of these sorts of managers, who have the ‘experience’ to ‘do a job’ but regularly fail to make any real impact on their new roles. Don’t be surprised to see Mclaren follow suit and spend less than 18 months at QPR, before moving on to making no meaningful impression in his next role. Just a hunch though. But Steve, I’ve still not forgiven you for the Croatia defeat at Wembley.
Predictions time and although I didn’t manage to get one of these articles out on the weekend (mainly due to the fact I was 220 miles away from Berkshire) I did get my prediction right! So, let’s go for 2 out of 2. Although this will have no influence on the eventual result, it’s clear that the whatever I say goes (okay, it has once – go with it) so I’m going to call an optimistic 2-0 win, with Bod and Barrow on the scoresheet! 
Matt Joy