All I wanted from Santa this Christmas was 3 points. Just 3. Is that too much to ask from Forest at home and a trip to Selhurst Park? I must have been a naughty boy this year. Football is a miserable bloody game. Anyway, follow me for a look at the Christmas fixtures. Who kept off the Christmas pudding and who played like a bunch of them.
Lets start at the top of the table shall we? As we enter the January transfer window, Wolves are looking to strengthen. They have had to return promising England defender Michael Mancienne to Chelsea and have made an offer for Rangers forward Alan Gow, who has been on loan at Blackpool this term. Over the Christmas period, Wolves gained just 2 points with draws at home to Sheffield United and away to Blackpool. Still, Mick McCarthy’s men are 7 clear at the top, have 58 points going into January and look good to run away with the league. They are showing no signs of a collapse, and have lost just once in their last 13 games. As long as they stick to their rhetoric and hang onto Ebanks-Blake and Michael Kightly in the next few weeks they should head to the Premiership in May.
Reading are sitting in second and have scored the second most goals in the league this term. Coppell’s men have smacked in 32 at home, conceding only 8 and have scored just one goal less that Wolves this season. However they failed to capitalize on Wolves 2 points over Christmas and Reading were involved in two draws of their own. On Boxing day they tied 1-1 at home to Cardiff and were held to the same result last Sunday at Southampton. Coppell will be disappointed with these results seeing that maximum points would have had his team just 3 points behind pace setters Wolves. Steve Coppell was manager of the month for December and Reading haven’t lost in their last 8 games.
Bongo FC also failed to recapture second spot over Christmas. They beat Ip..Ip..Ip them 1-0 at Portaloo Road but could only manage a 0-0 draw at home to the Swans. The week before they were beaten at home 3-1 by Reading and for me this result decided the second place in this league. Bongo has depth but Reading are on fire, in the goals and Coppell has the experience at this level to keep their run going. Alex McLeish is likely going to have to settle for the play-offs this year. I can see Bongo making the final, but I can also see them staying down.
Cardiff City bagged four points over Christmas to keep themselves in the playoff hunt but they will need to spend in January to stay there. Loanee Michael Chopra was recalled by Sunderland’s new boss Ricky Sbragia and the former bluebirds man was scoring goals for his former team of late. 5 in his 8 games on loan. They have also lost Wayne Routledge as the Villa loanee decided to join Q.P.R today. Both will be sorely missed. McCormack is back from injury but I can’t see Cardiff staying in the top 6. They just don’t have enough, but who knows.
Bloody Burnley were bloody useless over Christmas. They lost to Doncaster and Barnsley, both games by a score of 2-1. Still, Burnley have been pretty solid of late, winning at Bristol City and beating Sheffield United. They let in too many goals on the road but I think Burnley will be a surprise inclusion in the play-offs. They have a good squad and have been pretty consistent. I am sure the board will look at the league position and back Owen Coyle to strengthen his squad this month. For a team like Burnley, it’s now or never. Take advantage of the first half and have a good go at making the play-offs or try and ride the luck, avoiding injuries, spending very little. I think they will pony up for a couple of good signings and use the momentum they have built with their Carling Cup run to help them along.
Crystal Palace had a reasonable week over Christmas. They lost 1-0 last Sunday at Bristol City but beating Norwich 3-1 on Boxing day made sure they stayed 1 point from the top 6. They will need to improve a bit if they are to make the play-offs as all 3 of the Norwich goals were gifts that they won’t be given when they play better teams. That said, I can see them in the play-offs this year. Warnock is nothing if he’s not consistent and Palace are chugging along nicely.
The draw with the Wolves and a 3-1 win over lowly Charlton made it a nice Christmas for Sheffield United. They are looking improved of late and will also look to strengthen in January, possibly at Norwich City’s expense as they look to poach our winger Lee Croft on the cheap. Croft’s contract is up in May. Manager Kevin Blackwell has made it no secret that he is after a winger this January.
Q.P.R have drawn 3 of their last 4 games including their two over the Chrimbo period last week. Currently 3 points off a play-off spot they will be spending in January to improve. Today they have signed Villa reject Wayne Routledge, Garry Borrowdale from Coventry and made Heidar Helguson’s loan deal from Bolton permanent. The spree won’t stop there either. Expect Paulo Sousa to ring the changes and go for broke. The top six is within reach but I reckon they will fall short this year. They have a great squad but Sousa’s inexperience at this level could be the key. Look for them to have a run at the Premiership next season.
Swansea have had a great season considering they came up from League 1 in the summer. Their last eight games has yielded just 8 points but they were unbeaten in that period. That’s right, Swansea have drawn their last EIGHT games. 3 0-0′s ( 2 over Christmas), 3 1-1′s and a pair of 2-2′s. Swansea are currently 11th just 6 points off the play-offs. They won’t make up that ground but manager Roberto Martinez has them organized and tough to beat. A point at Bongo last Sunday proved that. A super first season in the Colaship so far for the Swans.
At the bottom Nottingham Forest lost to Doncaster 4-2 on boxing day and relieved Colin Calderwood of his duties. Two days later they beat Norwich 3-2 at home and climbed out of the bottom 3. I said it earlier in the year and in the half-time report, Forest will survive. They have some decent players and now that they have Billy Davies as manager, they should climb the table a bit.
Talking of beating Norwich. We stink. It’s a foul, rancid and putrid smell that wafts directly from the defence. We leaked 6 goals over Christmas, at Palace (3-1) and to Forest (3-2) and 5 of them were completely avoidable. We cannot defend set pieces and make-shift center back (and Fulham loanee) Elliot Omozusi keeps forgetting that he is not at his natural right-back position, leaving the space behind our midfield with more holes than a teabag. His current partner is not much better either. Gary Doherty has all of the pace of Ruben Studdard and the wrestling ability of The Rock. He needs to have his hands tied behind his back if he is going to start games. Decent in the air, Doherty fails at the simplest of tasks, like showing a striker out wide and not turning your back on a player when he is 8 yards from goal. However, He IS very good at pulling his opponent to the floor after getting beaten for pace. It’s been shambolic at the back for Norwich since Kennedy (on and off) and Stefanovic both became injured and two new defenders will be a priority this month. However, Glenn Roeder loves Doherty and I can see him keeping his spot in the side. Norwich have played 7 different CB partnerships this season. Leroy Lita has returned to Reading. Norwich have made an offer to pay a ‘loan fee’ to keep Lita for the season but this is not an attractive proposition to Reading as they would not be allowed to recall him after 28 days, as they could if they loaned him to another team. I see where Reading are coming from, Lita scored 7 goals for Norwich and is on form. Should Reading get an injury they would want to bring him into the side to help their promotion push. Signing Lita permanently is not an option and that’s Lita’s call. He is a free-agent in the summer and wants to survey the landscape before signing another long term deal. Litas’ departure leaves Norwich with an un-fit Carl Cort, Antoine Sibierski (who has been a bit of a flop while on loan from Wigan), and Arturo Lupoli as the only fit forwards. Lupoli is currently pissed at not being picked and he has told Roeder he wants away if he isn’t going to play. Roeder has also ruled out a return for the ‘loaned-out’ Jamie Cureton (Barnsley), who Roeder appears to have no liking for. It’s a bit of a mess really. I can see 4-5 signings in January. Norwich are currently 2 points above the drop zone but need to improve fast if they are to avoid the April relegation hell that they found themselves embroiled in last term. How long Roeder remains in charge is also up for debate. ‘Roeder out’ and ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’ chants were sung by many at home to Forest and once they start, its a matter of time.
Like Forest, Doncaster Rovers are showing some signs of life and bagged 6 vital points last Friday and Sunday with wins over Forest and Burnley. Can they survive? Or did Burnley just over do it with the Christmas booze?
Southampton have failed to win in their last 6 and took just 1 point from their festive fixtures. A point from Reading no less (1-1). Southampton seem to be Reading’s bogey team as the Saints have taken 4 points from the second placed team this season. Southampton lost on boxing day to Plymouth and are currently 23rd.
The Colaship is taking a break this weekend for the third round of the FA Cup.