The Championship – The story so far

With the international break finally allowing us time for reflection in what has been a breathless first quarter of the season in English football’s most manic league, we take stock of the situation so far.

Given the turmoil and upheaval that has gone on at QPR it is perhaps of some surprise that they have warmed to their task so impressively – after all many were predicting that they might crash and burn, whilst Harry Redknapp would have long jumped overboard on what was believed to be a sinking ship. Contrary to that the R’s find themselves still unbeaten and sitting in the top two, despite as yet not finding their best football – they have scored just 12 goals in 10 games. If goalscoring has been a problem, shutting them out at the other end has been the exact opposite, with Redknapp’s rock solid backline conceding only twice and currently enjoying a run of eight consecutive shut outs.

Whilst question marks were raised over QPR’s credentials in pre-season, Wigan and Reading were tipped to shine yet both have endured a mixed start. The former are still clearly bedding in several new faces and adapting to the methods of a new manager, whilst the Europa League is an undoubted distraction – a win over Blackburn last time out at least suggests things are beginning to click. Reading are also starting to find their feet, although three successive wins have been followed up by a disappointing draw with lowly Barnsley and defeat at high flying Burnley.

Burnley’s rise to the top has been quite incredible, given their midtable showing last term and the sale of chief marksmen Charlie Austin. That sale of Austin though has led to the unearthing of Danny Ings, who has out of nowhere fired 11 goals in all competitions – together with strike partner Sam Vokes who is finally starting to utilise his potential, Burnley have the leagues most feared front line. Under Sean Dyche, a man harshly sawn off by Watford a year or two back, the Turf Moor outfit look to have a united side, one with deceptive levels of quality that could be the real surprise package. Questions of course remain over their stickability and how they will react when things get rocky but the early signs are good.

Leicester, Nottingham Forest and Watford all currently occupy playoff spots, unsurprisingly given that all finished in the top seven last season. In typical Billy Davies fashion, Forest look tough to beat with just one loss thus far, Watford have rebounded solidly to their playoff disappointing and to the fact that they again have a much changed squad. As for Leicester just like last year they have started brightly, the hope will be that they learn from last season’s mistakes and do not fold as we get near the final third of the campaign.

There have been other shock successes besides Burnley, most notably Blackpool, who currently lie sixth, although they are currently without a win in five and are set to be without manager Paul Ince for five games – which will surely test whether they are genuine playoff contenders. Bournemouth have made light of the step up, although if they are to maintain a playoff push they must improve on rocky away form. Problems on the road have also dampened Ipswich’s push to get amongst the front runners, with no wins away from Portman Road for Mick McCarthy’s men – even failing to convert from 4-1 up at Derby.

The Rams tipped by many to be dark horses, took the eye raising decision to part company with Nigel Clough following a defeat at Nottinghamshire – a result that firmly left them rooted to mid-table, a position apparently no longer acceptable to the clubs American owners. Steve McClaren has been given what will likely to be his finally chance at a decent sized club, his reign started well with a win over Leeds and he has happy memories with the club but only time will tell if he can finally guide Derby to a promotion push.

Considering the upheaval of last year, Eddie Bowyer is probably doing a good job to still be in the Blackburn hot seat, sticking by him might be paying off for Rovers with the club recovering from the poor start to ninth place and well set to make a move for the upper reaches – with Jordan Rhodes as lethal as ever they can’t be ruled out. Brian McDermott’s Leeds had hoped to be in amongst those at the top but the former Reading man has undergone a slow start, which has gradually got worse, with Leeds now having lost four in five – indicating it might not be time for a new dawn just yet.

At the bottom Yeovil have found the step up incredibly tough with no victories since the opening day, whilst they are joined at the bottom of the table by a Barnsley side who have failed to build on their stunning end to last season. Sheffield Wednesday bizarrely, despite being winless are not propping up the rest, with the fact that they have only lost four games responsible for that – they will know that they will need to start winning sooner rather than later if they are to avoid a season of woe. Two sides fancied to have good seasons; Bolton and Charlton sit just outside the bottom three, with the Trotters only claiming their first win of the campaign last Saturday.

Last season was more congested than ever before, whilst this new campaign still looks competitive, there does at least appear to be more of a balance between those at the top and the bottom – but then the same was apparent for the first half of last season, before those at the bottom suddenly started to pick up points on a regular basis.