nPower Championship – mid season review

The Championship is sometimes overlooked in England because the Premier League takes centre stage each weekend, but the second division of English football is one of the most interesting in Europe. The standard of football is obviously not as good as in the top division, but is still good to watch and the unpredictability of the league makes it an interesting one to follow.

The stand out team this season has been Cardiff City. The Welsh side have only lost 1 game at home all season, but have lost 5 away from home, as well as only picking up 14 points on their travels, Their automatic promotion rivals Crystal Palace have got 18 points on the road this season, but have a worse home record. Only two points separate the two teams, but Cardiff have finished in the play-off places in the last 3 seasons and tend to have a poor patch of form near the end of the season. Last season they were consistent until the last few games, including the play-off semis, where they failed to score a goal. Middlesbrough and Hull City are only a point behind Crystal Palace this season and it could prove to be one of the closest promotion races in the Championship in recent years, with Leicester and Millwall in pursuit of the automatic places as well.

Millwall have been the surprise package this season. They were promoted from League 1 in 2009-10 and have languished in the middle of the Championship in the previous two seasons. Goals from on loan West Brom striker Chris Wood and fan favourite Darius Henderson have proved vital to Millwall’s promotion challenge, but they concede too many and have a goal difference of 5.

The three relegated teams from the Premier League last season have been very disappointing.

Blackburn Rovers are in 15th place, but only 7 points behind 6th placed Millwall. They were in turmoil off the pitch during the off season as well as at the start of the season. Ex-Blackburn player Henning Berg was appointed manager when Steve Kean resigned in late September, but has only managed in Norway – without much success. Blackburn had the biggest clear-out of the three relegated teams, with big names such as Yakubu, Junior Hoillet and Steven N’Zonzi leaving the club with a reported £8 million being spent on Jordan Rhodes and as well as 6 Portuguese players coming in.

Bolton kept Owen Coyle as manager for this season and he kept the majority of his Bolton squad from last season together, but were poor at the start of the season and the Scotsman was sacked. In my opinion he should have been sacked or resigned at the end of last season. Sacking the manager worked for West Ham at the end of the 2010-11 season and Sam Allardyce was brought in soon after, he kept a lot of the squad together and it paid off.

Wolves chose to sack Mick McCarthy during last season and promoted Terry Connor to manager but he didn’t win a game. Connor wasn’t retained as manager for this season and Stale Solbakken was brought in, his appointment came as a surprise to some as he led Cologne to Bundesliga relegation last season. He sold Steven Fletcher and Matt Jarvis for a combined £25 million as well as offloading Michael Kightly and Adlène Guedioura. The Norwegian manager only brought in a few players, the majority of which are relatively unknown to English fans including Razak Boukari and Tongo Doumbia – both from Stade Rennes. Fellow new signing Bakary Sako and long term Wolves player Sylvain Ebanks-Blake have been the main goalscorers for Wolves, but their defence has been too leaky and conceded 29 goals – the same amount that they have scored. Promotion isn’t off the cards just yet as they are 8 points away from the play-offs, but relegation shouldn’t be a concern as they are 10 points clear of 22nd place.

The battle to fight the drop to League 1 is hotting up, with only 2 points separating 4 teams. Ex-Premier League teams Birmingham and Ipswich aren’t clear of the relegation places, but realistically it looks to be between the 4 teams at the bottom of the league.

Barnsley haven’t won a league game in 10 attempts and lost a recent home game to relegation rivals Sheffield Wednesday. The Tykes currently look most likely to go down.

Peterborough had a great win against top of the league Cardiff City recently and will look to push on and move up the table. The Posh have always been good at scoring goals in the Championship and that is no different this season but as usual they have a poor defensive record and that could prove to be their downfall this season.

Sheffield Wednesday have been the worst out of the 3 teams promoted from League 1 but that win over Barnsley will be a huge confidence boost for them as they go into a home game against fellow promoted team Charlton.

Bristol City sit one place above the relegation zone but only on goal difference. A lack of goals hasn’t been an issue but like Peterborough, conceding too many is their problem.

The Championship always throws up a surprise and I’m sure it will do so this season. The four teams at the top of the table will be hard pressed to beat the excitement of last season’s automatic promotion race. For many fans, the race for the play-off places is more interesting than the race for automatic promotion, 7 or 8 teams will be contesting the 4 places available and as we’ve seen before, if one of those teams can string a run of wins together, they might be able to force their way into the play-off places or even challenge for automatic promotion.

Thomas Baxter