Friday, 30 November 2018

Championship: November Review


The Championship never fails to entertain, and November brought us plenty of excitement, excellent football and a new leader at the top with the Canaries of Norwich soaring to the top. Leeds are hunting them down in 2nd place. While the new manager bounce hasn’t taken affect at Ipswich with the Tractor Boys bottom of the table and they are joined by Bolton and Hull in the relegation places.

It has been a wonderful month for Norwich with the Canaries winning 3 of their 4 matches during November their only blemish being a goalless draw at Hull. Prior to that, the Canaries had won 6 on the spin to send them top. Daniel Farke’s side are full of confidence, belief and more importantly goals. The likes of Teemu Pukki, Eni Buendia and Moritz Leitner are shining, and Norwich really do have momentum behind them. Leeds are hunting them down in 2nd place after another solid month for Marcelo Bielsa’s side. 3 wins from their 4 games during November keeps them in the promotion race with their only defeat coming at West Brom. Bielsa is getting his players back including Kemar Roofe after injury and slowly Leeds are getting back into their early season groove and they will hope to take top spot back during the festive period which looms. Middlesbrough themselves remain in the race with 3rd place Boro only two points off the top. Another unbeaten month for Tony Pulis’ team which saw 2 wins and 2 draws but goals seem hard to come by for Boro with Pulis bemoaning the lack of goals from his strikers. Despite their lack of perceived goals, Boro win games and are an extremely tough nut to crack. They are firmly in the promotion race as are West Brom and Sheffield United. The Baggies and The Blades are in 4th and 5th locked on 34 points just three off the top. West Brom are back in the groove following a poor October and have won their last 3 games to put themselves back in the promotion race. Jay Rodriguez continues to deliver while Harvey Barnes continues to impress on his loan from Leicester. Sheff Utd meanwhile endured a difficult November collecting just one win that coming in their most recent game against Brentford. Derby draws to Sheff Wed and Rotherham and a defeat to Nottingham Forest have seen the Blades drop off a little but remain in the hunt. Chris Wilder knows the Blades haven’t been at their best in recent matches, but he will hope the Brentford victory will allow the momentum to build once again during December and the hectic festive period. The play-off places are made up by Nottingham Forest with Aitor Karanka’s side charging up the table. Forest have lost just twice this season but have only won 7 of their games. 10 draws for Forest but slowly they are beginning to turn those draws into wins with Forest winning 3 of their last 6 while drawing the other three games. Lewis Grabban and Joe Lolley are the two stars of this Forest side both enjoying rich runs of goalscoring and assists. Matty Cash is excelling in the midfield while record signing Joao Carvalho is firmly finding his feet as his performances continue to improve. They sit in the top 6 on goal difference ahead of bitter rivals Derby and while they remain difficult to beat, Forest must continue to find wins to really charge towards the automatic places.

Sides enjoying excellent Novembers included Aston Villa, Preston and QPR. Dean Smith has firmly got Aston Villa going after a very slow start to the season. The Villains have collected 10 points from their 4 matches during November and goals are firmly flowing with 2 against Bolton, 3 against Derby, 4 against Birmingham in the second city derby and bizarrely 5 against Nottingham Forest in that thrilling 5-5 draw at Villa Park. Tammy Abraham is on a terrific goalscoring run notching 10 goals this season including 7 in his last 4 games. The striker is enjoying his football and is full of confidence with Smith having full faith in him. Smith has installed belief and confidence back into the players and it looks like the players are buying to his philosophies and Villa are playing some excellent football right now. They have clawed themselves back into the promotion race and lie just 3 points off the top 6. However, a big December looms for Villa with games against West Brom, Middlesbrough and Leeds to come and these games could defy if Villa are promotion contenders once again this season. Meanwhile, at the other end of the table, Preston have been storming up the table away from the bottom 3. The Lilywhites are unbeaten in their last 9 matches winning 4 of those games. Alex Neil has truly turn things around after a miserable start to the season which saw them lose 7 of their first 10 games. They lie 16th in the table and have built up plenty of momentum as Alex Neil finally gets his side going. Alan Browne has been impressing as has Callum Robinson but his three month lay off due to injury is a blow for them but Alex Neil will be confident in the ability of his squad to cope without Robinson. Another side who have turned their season around is QPR. Steve McClaren has done an excellent job turning around the R’s fortunes after losing their first 4. Since then the R’s have lost just 3 matches. They find themselves in 9th place just 3 points off the top 6. Despite winning just once in November, the R’s are unbeaten in their last three games collecting draws at Stoke and Rotherham. The experienced signings of Angel Rangel, Geoff Cameron and Nahki Wells have been terrific additions from Steve McClaren while Eberechi Eze is the beating heart of the team with his creative flare being vital to the team.

Meanwhile, the bottom three continue to struggle. Ipswich are struggling and find themselves 6 points off safety with Paul Lambert yet to win any of his games so far. 4 winless matches have left them further adrift at the bottom and this young side must improve and fast. Despite their struggles, Freddie Sears have found some form scoring 4 goals since Lambert took over and he will be vital to their chances off getting out of trouble. Poor defending and lack of team cohesion is allowing the opposition to score comfortably. Draws against Preston and Reading offered plenty of optimism however, back to back home defeats to West Brom and Bristol City have highlighted a sinking feeling at Portman Road. December will be crucial for Ipswich because they must find a win and fast to really ignite their season. Bolton are severely struggling and after a brilliant opening month, things have declined severely, and the Trotters have sunk down the table after 1 win in their last 15 games. The fans are unhappy, and the pressure is mounting on Phil Parkinson and despite the dreaded vote of confidence from chairman Ken Anderson, things haven’t improved for Bolton. 3 defeats in 4 games during November hasn’t improved the mood of the fans and goals are severely dry for Bolton right now scoring just 12 league goals this season. As well as not scoring, they are conceding goals because of their inability to score themselves. The managerial axe could fall on Phil Parkinson if things don’t improve and things are extremely tough right now for the club but finding a win could really get their season going once again. Despite losing just once in November, Hull continue to struggle for wins and goals. Nigel Adkins’ side have lost just 1 of their last 7 games but they’ve won just twice in that period. With a takeover progressing off the pitch, on the pitch, things are slowly improving but Hull are struggling to score goals and despite Frazier Campbell and Jarrod Bowen chipping in, the rest of the team are struggling to find the net. Hull’s young side are making mistakes in matches which is ultimately costing them. Both centre halves made crucial mistakes which saw them lose 2-0 to Nottingham Forest and consequently lost them a chance of getting something.

Other sides enduring disappointing Novembers included Brentford, Bristol City and Swansea. Thomas Frank has struggled so far in the Brentford hot seat since replacing Dean Smith. The likeable Dane has collected just 3 points so far in his 7 games in charge. 6 defeats in 7 has seen Brentford’s season decline massively and now they find themselves just 4 points clear of the relegation zone. Overall, Brentford have won just 1 of their last 12 games and the likes of Neal Maupay, Romaine Sawyers and Sergi Canos are struggling to recapture their early season form. Thomas Frank is liked by the players and does have the support of the board, but things must improve during December to rescue their declining season. Another side in a bit of a rut is Bristol City. Lee Johnson’s side endured a difficult November but did end the month with a much-needed win at Ipswich. Prior to that, the Robins had lost 4 in a row which saw them drop into the bottom half of the table. While they find themselves in 14th, Johnson will hope they are looking up rather than down. Graham Potter certainly endured his most difficult month so far in charge of Swansea with the Swans winning 1 of their 4 games and losing the rest. Home defeats to Norwich and West Brom and an away defeat to Rotherham has seen Swansea drop down the table and off the pace in the promotion battle. Norwich ripped them apart with excellent football while set pieces destroyed them against West Brom and silly challenges in the area cost them against Rotherham. It is individual errors and overall defending costing Potter’s side at the moment despite them playing some excellent football at times.

The festive period is upon us and this is one of the most crucial parts of the season with games coming thick and fast. Plenty of mouth-watering games to come including Sheff Utd vs Leeds, Middlesbrough vs Aston Villa, Bolton vs Wigan, West Brom vs Aston Villa, Sheff Utd vs West Brom, QPR vs Middlesbrough, Bristol City vs Norwich, Derby vs Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa vs Leeds, Sheff Utd vs Derby, Birmingham vs Stoke, Millwall vs Reading, Norwich vs Nottingham Forest, Leeds vs Hull and Norwich vs Derby. Plenty of football to be played throughout December and no doubt there will be plenty of excellent football and excitement and teams will be hoping they to really ignite their seasons as the half way stage approaches.

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