News, views and gossip from the magnificent 72
So, 10 games into the new Championship campaign and already those nasty folk at FIFA have stolen a weekend to play among themselves.
But how have things shaped up so far? “It’s a marathon, not a sprint!” you mid-tablers cry, but just for giggles we evaluate the state of affairs in the second tier so far.
Already we have a winner – although it’s not exactly for the prize gong. The coveted Championship sack race was scooped by Blackburn’s Steve Kean, who was finally put out of his misery last month. But rather than dispose of the Scot over the summer, Venky’s did the deed after seven matches with Rovers in third. Odd, you may think, but fans of the Lancashire outfit were voting with their feet – just 13,405 turned up to see Kean’s final match in charge.
Ante-post favourites Bolton, meanwhile, sacked Owen Coyle with the Trotters languishing in 18th. A poor run of just one win in five cost the former Burnley manager his job – and the new man will have to adapt quickly. Chris Eagles, with five goals in 10 games, has been a rare shining light.
At the top it’s perennial play-off victims Cardiff who lead the way, with Nigel Pearson’s Leicester snapping at their heels. The former have enjoyed a consistent if not spectacular start to the campaign, with Peter Whittingham once again the driving force from midfield.
The Foxes have shaken off a poor start to finally affirm themselves as serious contenders for the first time in four seasons. France Under-21 international Anthony Knockaert, an inconspicuous summer signing from Guingamp, already looks destined for bigger things after catching the eye with a sensational brace against Huddersfield.
Wolves have recovered strongly after the losses of Steven Fletcher, Matt Jarvis and Michael Kightly to the Premier League. Stale Solbakken’s troops have kept it tight at the back, while the capture of winger Bakary Sako is quickly proving one of the division’s most astute signings.
Springing out of lower-table obscurity have been a Crystal Palace side with four wins on the spin and a place in the top four. Dougie Freedman has worked wonders on a tight budget in south London – but how long can they sustain it? And how long can they keep hold of livewire forward Wilfried Zaha?
The Eagles’ arch-rivals Brighton have lived up to their early billing as play-off contenders; having shipped only six goals, Gus Poyet’s side are officially the league’s meanest side. And, after a disappointing 2011/12 campaign, striker Craig Mackail-Smith is finally producing the goods with six goals in seven games.
Completing the pretty play-off picture are new boys Huddersfield, while fellow Yorkshiremen Leeds are behind only on goal difference. Joel Lynch, Oliver Norwood and James Vaughan have all played their parts for the former, who also snapped up Leicester striker Jermaine Beckford on loan.
Neil Warnock’s Elland Road outfit have rattled in the goals not least thanks to the contributions of household favourite El-Hadji Diouf. Argentine Luciano Becchio, meanwhile, has plundered eight goals.
Also bothering the score-keepers are Blackpool, although recent form has been patchy. Tom Ince has grabbed the early headlines from the wing and the Premier League vultures are circling. One can already imagine a flustered Ian Holloway prodding away the likes of Manchester United with his broom come January.
Promotion hopefuls Hull endured a recent three-game losing streak and were dealt a further blow after learning Matty Fryatt’s season is all but over through an Achilles injury. Jay Simpson has stepped up admirably, however, while centre back Abdoulaye Faye has notched three times.
Middlesbrough have conceded more than they have netted so far but Tony Mowbray’s side remain in good standing to mount a solid play-off charge. Consistency is now the name of the game, with the likes of Lukas Jutkiewicz and Josh McEachran looking to continue their good form.
Nottingham Forest pip East Midlands rivals Derby by a point in the early standings, despite the Rams’ slender derby victory at the City Ground. A barren five-game run through September yielded just three points, but manager Sean O’Driscoll recruited strongly over the summer and Forest will expect to challenge come May. Former midfielder Jermaine Jenas has also arrived on a short-term loan.
A quick hop down the road, Nigel Clough’s Rams are yet to find their rhythm. Derby may expect to find themselves in mid-table at the end of the season, having done little to suggest otherwise with back-to-back wins elusive. However, bright prospect Will Hughes, just 17, has announced himself as one to watch in midfield.
Down in little Italy, meanwhile, Watford’s continental experiment is still in its early stages. No fewer than 12 youngsters were drafted in from Udinese and Granada, the Pozzo family’s other interests, on loan – but few have made their mark. Success has varied, with Czech Matej Vydra the pick of the bunch so far. Promising Chelsea loanee Nathaniel Chalobah has also impressed, but it remains difficult to see Gianfranco Zola doing anything other than steadying the ship with this squad.
Survival is the name of the game for Chris Powell’s Charlton this season, a feat they appear equipped to achieve. The Addicks have recruited experienced strike duo Ricardo Fuller and Rob Hulse to ensure the goals continue flowing, while defensively the south-east Londoners have impressed.
The most entertaining side of the division are not our promotion candidates, but happy-go-lucky Burnley. Their gung-ho attitude may have fired them to the top of the scoring charts but they also have the division’s leakiest backline. Striker Charlie Austin leads the way with a quickfire 11 goals – but at the back the Clarets have proved more forgiving than Pope John Paul II. Eddie Howe has returned to former club Bournemouth, however, leaving Lancashire with three vacant Championship posts. Is it the scenery?
Bristol City look braced for another relegation battle, although at the sharp end there is plenty to be optimistic about. Their 18-goal tally is beaten by only three other sides thanks to the contributions of Sam Baldock, Albert Adomah and Martyn Woolford.
Sandwiched in between the Robins and Bolton are a Barnsley side who pulled off the result of the season against Birmingham at St. Andrew’s, trashing the Blues 5-0 courtesy of Craig Davies’ four-goal haul. It’s the highlight of an otherwise unremarkable season for Keith Hill’s side, for whom survival will be an achievement once more.
But for Lee Clark’s wretched West Midlands outfit, fortunes look bleak. UTFLWG read with a sigh of yet more entries on Ravel Morrison’s rap sheet – but he’s just one problem on a growing list. Goals are the biggest worry with just 10 scored, although a permeable backline has also done them few favours.
Though Kenny Jackett’s previous feats are often overlooked with a tiny budget at his disposal, Millwall are struggling to keep their head above water once more. Darius Henderson has led the line strongly but he’ll need plenty more help to avoid a nervy campaign near the drop zone.
In the relegation zone, after a bright start newly-promoted Sheffield Wednesday have lost seven of their last eight games – although Milan Mandaric (who, of course, has always enjoyed a blissful working relationship with his managers) insists Dave Jones’ job is safe. Their most prolific player has scored three times in four appearances – defender Reda Johnson. The Owls have been dreadful at the back and must shape up if they are to stick around at this level.
Taking their rightful place in the list of hideous defences come Ipswich. Oh, Ipswich. Like the lippy brat at school that just won’t listen, last season’s most generous back four are at it again. Paul Jewell’s job has plunged into further uncertainty after a dreadful run of nine winless games and the league’s worst goal difference. Eight goals scored and 19 conceded tells its own tale. A betting man might tip Jewell as the next man for the chop. Eh, Michael Chopra?
Propping up the rest are a Peterborough side not unaccustomed to shipping a few of their own. That has been the case once again this season, but Darren Ferguson’s strugglers have scarcely mustered the goals to continue their “we’ll score one more than you” legacy. With eight defeats in 10 games there looks to be a long road ahead for Posh, although excellent back-to-back wins at Hull and Barnsley have proved that this side have plenty of fight in them.
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