News, views and gossip from the magnificent 72
With over a quarter of the Championship season has gone, Christopher Cox provides the low-down on the second tier the action so far…
Newly promoted Southampton lead the way at this early stage, and before their 1–1 draw at Reading on Saturday evening they were five points clear. Even the most optimistic Saints fan wouldn’t have seen this one coming - just don’t ask Nigel Adkins about it. He’ll talk forever about how it’s not about individuals, yada yada yada. Have they peaked too soon? Is better to peak early than not peak at all?
Despite the Saints’ impressive start, Crystal Palace are perhaps the biggest surprise packages of the Championship season so far. There has been quite some turnaround at Selhurst Park. It wasn’t that long ago they were needing to win their final few games to stay up (Hull away last season, Sheffield Wednesday away before that), so Dougie Freedman’s young team are really defying expectations by surging up as high as third place
Peterborough United have obviously learnt their lessons from two seasons ago – when they dropped straight back down to League One, and they’ve coped admirably with the departure of Craig Mackail-Smith. Hull City are also looking good, which is perhaps surprising given their lack of goals.
You’d expect West Ham to be involved in the promotion shake-up come the end of the season, though it’s probably tougher than some people might imagine being the big fish in what is a medium-sized pond, at best. They’ve got almost a completely new team, a new manager and a new philosophy to adopt. That bedding in period can’t last forever though, and they do now look to be clicking into gear.
Middlesbrough finished last season strongly and to go twelve games unbeaten is a fine achievement, though the number of games they’ve drawn at home may be a concern. Their defeat at Nottingham Forest could be attributed to ‘new manager syndrome’, and given that has been their only loss to date, you can’t argue that it’s been pretty damn good so far.
Leeds, Derby and Cardiff are up at the right end of the table. The Yorkshiremen came through a sticky patch at the very start of the season, Derby have been pretty solid, and Malky Mackay’s Bluebirds have gone about their business well, if not making too many headlines.
Brighton and Ipswich are probably where they deserve to be too. The Seagulls are currently searching for the form that made them early-season pace-setters, while Ipswich seem to be improving with each game.
Must do better
Blackpool fans are probably a bit disappointed with things so far given how close they were to avoiding being in this division at all last season. Yet Ian Holloway is in the middle of a rebuilding job, especially after losing key players such as Charlie Adam, David Vaughan and DJ Campbell, so it would be harsh to condemn him too strongly.
Leicester and Birmingham fans will definitely be disappointed with their starts. It was only a matter of time for Sven, having spent so much money with little sign of reward. That said, the Foxes are only five points off the automatic promotion spots, but big spending owners will nearly always expect immediate success. At St Andrews, meanwhile, Chris Hughton has a massive job on his hands given the weight of expectation and the worsening financial situation of the Blues. Both have strong squads, so really should be climbing the table.
Burnley and Millwall have both disappointed despite little being expected of them, which takes some doing…
A category those teams who leave us thinking ‘what on earth is going on there?’. Reading look as if they’ve suffered some sort of hangover after last season’s play-off final. They may have lost Shane Long and Matt Mills, but it’s still a bit of a mystery as to why they have started so poorly. Things are getting better though, so they might not be in the bottom half for much longer.
Portsmouth seemed to have put their troubles behind them and even started spending the cash. Steve Cotterill is apparently not all that missed at Fratton Park after some negative tactical decisions (such as playing 4-5-1 even at home), but with players like Dave Kitson, Luke Varney, David Norris and Greg Halford, you wonder what’s wrong (this time) in the blue part of Hampshire.
Nottingham Forest have made the headlines for all the wrong reasons, but it is genuinely baffling that a squad so strong hasn’t led them to a higher position in the league. It’s not fair to place the blame solely at the feet of Steve McClaren, with the goings on behind the scenes clearly causing problems for the former England boss. And it’s not as if the aforementioned Steve Cotterill is any better a manager, though they now have two wins from their last two games, so maybe things are about to change.
It could go either way with these two. Bristol City may have appointed a new manager, but it still doesn’t look all that good. Has the damage been done already? Derek McInnes comes with the backing of managers such as Bolton’s Owen Coyle, but not all managers from Scotland can bridge the gap between Scottish and English football (Maurice Malpas springs to mind).
Barnsley appointed Keith Hill, a man with big ideas and a record of success in the lower leagues, and they’re not doing too badly so far. Jacob Butterfield is their standout player and he’s been rewarded by Premier League interes. Fans at Oakwell however will surely be looking over their shoulders…
For these teams, it’s brown trousers time already. Coventry were widely touted to struggle this season, and they’ve done little to prove the doubters wrong. A lot rests on the shoulders of Lukas Jutkiewicz, their powerful striker who was linked with a move away in the summer.
It’s a similar story at Watford. Manager Sean Dyche is a likable figure and you have to feel sympathy for him given the situation he’s walked into. Marvin Sordell isn’t having quite the season he did last time around, with pundits theorising that speculation of a move in the summer has affected him. Whatever the reason, Watford are in trouble.
It was a shame to see Doncaster dismiss Sean O’Driscoll so swiftly, but few were complaining when replacement Dean Saunders lead Rovers to their first win of the season in his first match in charge. Successive defeats in their last two matches mean the honeymoon is already over, though, and it’s going to be a long and quite possibly painful season for Donny.
This is the joy of the Championship and what makes it significantly more exciting than the Premier League. It is becoming increasingly difficult to predict the top two, and even more so the play-off contenders, accurately due to the competitiveness of the division with clubs adopting different strategies in order to gain success.
I would argue that Derby County are doing about right; to be top-6 despite a run of 1 win in 6 is a much greater achievement than I, or many other Rams fans would have anticipated. In this division things can change so quickly, as we are testament to last season with our freefall from 4th to 19th within a couple of months.
Massive credit though has to be afforded to each of the three promoted sides, but most notably Southampton and Peterbrough Utd. It is becoming more common that sides with a winning mentality are able to carry this on despite playing in a higher division.
What a load of drivel!!! Southampton will have absolutely expected to be challenging. They're one of only 2-3 teams that can even dream about bidding £5m (Maynard) on a player - (others being Leicester & West Ham). Their wages too are also huge, hence the reason you've got Burnley selling their star left back (Danny Fox) who has decided to join the Saints - where do you expect to see them, mid-table?? I think not.
Must do better - Birmingham!!??!! If you see the detail of the table instead of seeing their position you'll notice they're in a great position if they just win theur games in hand. Their defensive display this season is unrivalled and will definitely be up there in a matter of 14 days trust me!
Must do Better - Millwall!!!??! Along with Doncaster, Coventry, Millwall are very much expected to be down there this season. A weak squad has been weakened with the sale of their start striker and havn't really replaced him. Where do you seriously expect them to finish??!! DRIVEL!
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