Burnley's promotion is confirmed in record time, Neil Warnock is working his magic at Huddersfield and Tom Cannon is proving a genuine prospect at Deepdale. All this and more from the Easter round of the Championship...
TEAM OF THE EASTER WEEKEND
When Neil Warnock took the Huddersfield job I heard him say very early on in his reign that keeping Huddersfield up would be his greatest achievement in management. Knowing what a shrewd psychologist and master talker Warnock is, I quickly disregarded his words as a soundbite that would ultimately prove meaningless as he wasn't going to keep them up anyway. It was impossible wasn't it? A mess of a season with two poor managerial appointments and the guts of last year's play-off final side completely ripped out. Well, here we are with five games remaining and Huddersfield are sensationally already above the relegation line up in 19th.
The incredible Huddersfield resurgence continued over the Easter weekend after the Terriers had drawn with Norwich, and then hit brilliant back to back wins against promotion chasing Millwall and Middlesbrough. On Good Friday it was a third straight win, coming from behind to take down beleaguered Watford 3-2 and on Easter Monday another point was added via a 2-2 draw with Blackburn. The fixtures looked hideous but the results have been magnificent and it could've been even better with Blackburn fighting back from 2-0 down to earn their point at the John Smiths.
How does he do it? I have no idea! In their past three games Huddersfield's possession stats read 24%, 25% and 19%, but that's simultaneously been enough to score nine times and not enough for any of their opponents to defeat them. They aren't out of the woods yet and that devilish fixture list now throws up three away games in a row. But I'm saying nothing, Warnock seems capable of winning all three of them right now and none of us would be surprised!
PLAYER + LOANEE OF THE EASTER WEEKEND
In unprecedented scenes here in the Championship column I'm going to merge the player and loanee of the week as, despite sitting here for ten minutes trying to make it otherwise, they are clearly the same human being. That player is Preston North End's Tom Cannon who is not only the hot hand currently in the Championship goal scoring stakes, he's also on loan from Premier League strugglers Everton.
I'll try not to be a 'pun for hire' but this Cannon is absolutely firing Preston up the table and into an unlikely play-off push. Cannon's goals have helped Preston win five out of their last six and North End are seemingly the only in-form side anywhere involved in the play-off race. Let's do platitudes not puns then; Cannon has scored in all of Preston's last six wins, he has seven goals and an assist in his last nine games and, over the Easter weekend his three goals helped Preston take a maximum six points to move level on points with fifth placed Millwall.
If momentum is going to be the deciding factor as to who gets into and ultimately wins the play-offs this season, then right now it's most definitely Preston who are top of the class for the chasing pack. Not wishing to rain on anyone's strawberries but the Preston winning run has so far been conducted against sides towards the bottom of the table and the final five looks a more tricky proposition. First up is a trip to Millwall, there's a local derby against Blackburn and a trip to Sheffield United where the Blades could be playing to secure promotion.
As the play-offs come into view you'll hear the cliche of the team 'coming from nowhere' to win promotion, that happens far less often than the storytellers would have you believe. Preston have been treating their opponents like 'Cannon fodder' lately, can they keep it up? Sorry, couldn't resist one more pun!
TALKING POINT OF THE EASTER WEEKEND
Burnley Victory Lap
I have a general rule of thumb that a team who records an eight game winning streak is probably going to get promoted. After all, loading 24 points onto your total in one go gives a fairly favourable margin of error for the other 38 games. With that being said, Burnley's promotion has seemed pretty much inevitable since they smashed out a ten game winning streak either side of the World Cup. Looking at either side of that ten game streak gives us more incredible numbers, Burnley are still unbeaten following the end of the winning streak, a run which now stretches back 20 games and five months. Before the winning streak the Clarets had won six out of eight games, add it all together and since October 8th Burnley have scored 71 points in 28 games, an absurd run which looks like it'll secure a play-off position over 46 games.
It was fairly fitting that Burnley secured promotion over Easter as they faced two of the top sides in the division and beat both of them. Middlesbrough were yet to lose at home under Michael Carrick, enter Burnley and promotion was sealed on Good Friday. Fast forward to Easter Monday and Burnley beat second place Sheffield United, with an early red card for the Blades adding a vast sense of inevitability to proceedings.
So, what next for the earliest promoted side in Championship history? Well, with six to play Burnley already have 90 points on the board, meaning a fairly conservative estimate of three wins, a draw and two defeats would bring up the magic one hundred. Burnley have only lost twice all season so the idea they'll now lose two of their last six does seem to point toward some kind of unlikely loss of intensity. There is of course Reading's 106 points record, which the Clarets could beat were they to win all of their six remaining games.
Frighteningly four of those games are against bottom seven sides with a trip to local rivals Blackburn the toughest looking assignment. Burnley are definitely leaving the Championship on May 8th, will they leave it with the most points in history on the board?
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