Thursday, 6 September 2018

Championship Review: August - 2nd September (First 6 League Games)

The Championship is back and with it has come excitement, excellent football and that unpredictable factor the Championship is renowned for. New managers, new look teams and the anticipation for fans that it could be their side’s year. The first month of the season has brought the opening 6 games of the new season with Leeds and Middlesbrough flying high at the top while Reading prop up the table along with Ipswich and QPR.

Leeds have burst out the blocks under the charismatic Argentine Marcelo Bielsa. The Whites have taken 14 points from their opening 6 league games beating the likes of Stoke and Derby in their charge to the top. However, Leeds won’t be getting too excited having started well last season under Thomas Christensen only to fade down to mid-table. The form of Kemar Roofe, Pablo Hernandez and Samuel Saiz has been the highlight of Leeds’s enterprising start to the new season. Bielsa has them well drilled and will be confident their good league start can continue into September. Likewise, Middlesbrough have also made a strong start to the season. Boro have been brilliant defensively as we expect with any Tony Pulis side having 5 consecutive clean sheets since the opening draw at Millwall. Pulis has adopted a back 3 system which has seen the best of them defensively shutting out the likes of Leeds, Sheffield United and West Brom in their run of clean sheets. Middlesbrough have carried last seasons momentum into this and are becoming a force to be reckoned and once new signings George Saville and Danny Batth are fully integrated it will add something different to the options already available to Pulis. Like Leeds and Middlesbrough, both Sheffield United and Derby have made strong starts to the campaign. Sheffield United opened the season with consecutive defeats to Swansea and Middlesbrough however, 4 consecutive victories including thrashing Aston Villa have seen the Blades soar to 3rd place and looking strong. Derby have also started well under rookie Frank Lampard who has overseen 4 wins in their opening 6 games and the form of Mason Mount has caught the eye. Mount is becoming a player Lampard can rely on to creative chances and drive Derby forward and Lampard will be confident his form can continue going into September.  The two other sides making up the top 6 are Bristol City and Brentford. Bristol City for the last three seasons have made excellent starts and the fans will be hoping their form continues for a whole season rather than half a campaign. Many people’s favourite side to watch in the Championship is Brentford and Dean Smith yet again has made them an excellent side despite losing key members of their squad. The Bees like Bristol City have 11 points and are looking as slick as ever going forward.

What a magnificent start to the season it has been for Phil Parkinson and Bolton Wanderers. The trotters who are many people’s tip for relegation have started the season with 11 points from their opening 6 league games including an unbeaten record away from the home. Bolton have been excellent on the road this season beating West Brom on the opening day and winning at Reading and fighting back from 2-0 down to earn a point in the Lancashire derby with Preston. Parkinson has built a largely new team and they have gelled well and while other sides who gone down this route and made a disappointing start, the trotters have firmly announced themselves into the new season and they will be confident going into September their form can continue.

The relegated sides from the Premier League always take time to adapt to a new league and certainly Swansea, West Brom and Stoke have quickly realised how difficult the Championship truly is. Swansea have made the best start under new boss Graham Potter having collected 11 points in the opening month. Potter has revolutionised Swansea with a completely changed squad from the relegation season, but the nice, enterprising football remains. However, Potter has installed a desire to never give up highlighted in their brilliant win at Millwall where they played with 10 men for virtually the entire game. West Brom are point worse off and a couple places below Swansea in the table but Darren Moore will be relatively happy with his team’s start to the season. The baggies are banging in goals including 7 against QPR and they are looking a force at times. However, inconsistencies in form and poor defending at times is why the Baggies don’t have more points.  In contrast, it has been a much tougher start for big spending Stoke and Gary Rowett with the Potters only collecting 5 points from their opening 6 games. Stoke have struggled for victories at home and away in 2018 and Stoke must make the Bet 365 Stadium a fortress and certainly consecutive wins over Hull and Huddersfield in League and Cup will certainly have helped that cause. A slow start to the season was the last thing Gary Rowett would off wanted and Rowett will be expecting a strong September to get Stoke near the promotion picture.

The three promoted sides from League 1 are certainly making their presence known in the Championship. Wigan, Blackburn and Rotherham have all collected at least 2 wins in their opening 6 games. Wigan are the highest having collected 10 points from their opening 6 games and they are certainly winning fans for their attacking style and going for everything in each game and they are becoming an entertaining side to watch in the league. Blackburn have also started well collecting 9 points and the form of Bradley Dack has carried on into a new division for him. He has started superbly and has already caught the attention of other managers in the league and his is a huge asset for Blackburn and Mowbray will be confident his terrific form can continue throughout the season. Rotherham have collected 6 points from their opening 6 games and certainly the Rotherham fans and Paul Warne will be delighted as it is a vastly improved performance from their last Championship season. They will be hoping to continue their solid as the September fixtures beckon. Their home form will be vital to survival and certainly Ipswich and Millwall have found out how difficult a trip to the New York Stadium is having been beaten while Hull just about escaped with 3 points have almost squandered a 3-1 lead. Their away form is dreadful, and Rotherham must quickly pick up the odd points here and there if they are going to survive.

Another side excellent at home and does struggle away from home is Sheffield Wednesday. However, the Owls do have an away win which has come in a 3-match winning streak and despite only adding a couple of new players on the deadline of the loan window, Jos Luhaky will be pleased with his sides start to the season. The Owls have quality in their ranks with Barry Bannan and Lucas Joao in particular showing their talents in their 3-match winning streak and they will certainly carry this momentum going into September. However, a side desperate to put things right is Aston Villa. Steve Bruce’s side started excellently with back to back wins over Hull and Wigan. However, a run of 4 without a win has seen Villa dropped to 12th with 3 draws against sides they should be beating in Reading, Ipswich and Brentford. The month ended with a shocking defeat at Sheffield United and the pressure has mounted on Steve Bruce with the fans unhappy with their displays so far this season. Villa’s problems are defensively with only one recognised centre back at the club in James Chester while 3 of Villa’s back 4 are out of position with Axel Tuanzebe at right back, Alan Hutton left back, and Mile Jedinak alongside Chester and Villa can’t stop conceding and they are dropping points far too easily. Steve Bruce renowned for building promotions on a solid defence needs to quickly sort his defence. However, with Bruce ready to unleash Yannick Bolasie and Tammy Abraham, September must be a month where Villa go on a strong run and win some matches.  

In contrast, Villa’s city neighbours Birmingham have showed plenty of good signs but are winless in the opening 6 league games. 4 draws for Garry Monk’s side leaves them languishing dangerously above the bottom 3. Monk has stressed he is happy with their performances but one for reason or another the Blues can’t register that allusive first win of the season. The game at Nottingham Forest was the perfect chance but they squandered a 2-0 lead leaving them down on their luck and confidence and the longer the winless continues, the pressure will continue to grow on Monk and the players. Another side feeling the pinch of a winless start is rock bottom Reading. The royals have 2 points so far collected in draws at Blackburn and Aston Villa. The royals have lost all their home games and the Madejeski faithful are getting frustrated with the players and Paul Clement and the Royals must quickly find a win in September or it could be curtains for Clement with performances also severely lacking.  Another side on a winless run is Ipswich under new boss Paul Hurst who hasn’t the start he maybe wanted. The tractor boys have 3 draws and 3 defeats and Paul Hurst is still searching for any sort of win in charge. Paul Hurst has completely transformed the playing squad and while they have showed some signs of gelling as a team, they are struggling to collect a victory. Two other sides also struggling are QPR and Hull. Steve McClaren’s QPR lost their opening 4 league games conceding a lorry load of goals along the way however, a priceless win over Wigan and a draw with Birmingham has got their season up and running. QPR are a young side and Eberechi Eze is their prized asset and he has shown glimpses of quality in midfield however, McClaren’s decision to sign experienced heads in Tomer Hemed, Nahki Wells and Geoff Cameron could be exactly what this young Rangers side need and they will hope September sees them begin to clear from the relegation zone. Like QPR, Hull also have a young side and have struggled in the opening month. Adkins has so far stuck with an extremely new and young back 4 including centre backs Reece Burke and Jordy De Wijs. While both have shown they can compete at this level, the Tigers are struggling defensively and to be honest going forward they are no better with goals being hard to come by for Hull. Adkins will hope Tommy Elphick adds stability at the back and Chris Martin fires the goals to move Hull clear from trouble and September could prove to be a big month in their season and could give an indication as to where they end up in May.

The final 4 sides are all teams languishing in the bottom half. They are Nottingham Forest, Millwall, Norwich and Preston. Despite only losing once so far in the league, Forest have drawn 4 of their games and their form leaves them sitting in 14th. Karanka has stripped the entire squad and has brought in 15 new faces however, it is home grown, Forest fan Matty Cash who is sparking for Forest. He has been excellent in the opening month of the season scoring goals and making chances for his teammates. Karanka has full faith in him as he charges Forest forward. However, we have yet to see the quality of record signing Joao Carvalho who is so far struggling to find his way into the Forest side and Karanka must find a solution of getting the best out of him. Forest fans will be divided as to how happy they are with their sides start to the season with Forest have to rescue draws against Wigan and Birmingham while largely dominating at Bristol City and only drawing. A mixed start and Karanka will hope September see Forest click. Both Millwall and Preston were excellent last season, and both narrowly missed out on the play-offs and their starts to this season almost suggests a hangover from the previous season. Both Neil Harris and Alex Neil overachieved with the squads at their disposal and certainly because of that expectations amongst fans would have increased and both have accumulated 5 points from their opening 6 games. Both have shown glimpses from last seasons’ form while have struggled to secure victories as often as they did last season. Both Harris and Neil will hope September kickstarts their seasons. Norwich are also struggling to live up to expectation. Norwich were largely disappointing last season and they haven’t started this campaign very well and the pressure is on Daniel Farke with the club surely aiming for a play-off spot this season. The losses of James Maddison and Josh Murphy has hit them hard on the pitch with their replacements not having the best starts and filling the Norwich fans with optimism. However, Orel Hernandez has been the spark in a flat start to the season having scored goals that rescued at point at Birmingham. Farke and Norwich must improve in September or another disappointing campaign looms for the Canaries.

The Championship will no doubt entertain in September and the managerial merry-go-round could start to get into the swing with many managers under pressure for different reasons. Let’s hope the Championship brings more excitement, goals and unpredictability as September rolls in.

No comments:

Post a Comment