Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Championship: September Review (Matchday 7 to 10)

The Championship is becoming the most unpredictable league with quite literally anyone beating anybody. September offered yet again why we love the Championship. West Brom have taken top spot from Bielsa’s Leeds United with the Yorkshire club dropping to 2nd place. Middlesbrough are 3rd with Sheff Utd, Norwich and Brentford making up the top 6. While at the wrong end of the table, the bottom 3 is made up of Preston, Millwall and Ipswich with the latter still yet to register a league win.

West Brom have stormed up the table after an excellent September notching 3 straight league wins and a draw with neighbours Birmingham. The Baggies are firmly in the form team with goals spread across the whole side. However, clean sheets are proving allusive to Darren Moore’s side and this could come back to haunt them once a bad patch of form comes because that is part and parcel of the Championship. Not quite a perfect September for Leeds with their first defeat coming against Birmingham and they are on a run of 2 games without a win but Bielsa will be satisfied with their opening to the season. Middlesbrough are also going well with the Teesiders sitting in 3rd place and proving a tough nut to crack for teams this season. Pulis has built a solid defence and goals are flowing from the attacking areas. Boro are playing with a confidence and Pulis will want that to continue going into October’s round of matches.

It is a very good time to support a club in Sheffield with both United and Wednesday in very good form. United are flying sitting 4th in the table just 1 point off the top. David McGoldrick and Billy Sharp are forming a lethal partnership as emphasised in their excellent win at Millwall. United are storming and momentum is very much with them. Wednesday are also pulling up trees after an excellent couple of results against Aston Villa and Leeds. Wednesday comfortably saw off a tepid Villa side while they battled hard to draw with Yorkshire rivals Leeds. Wednesday are in a very good place as are Norwich. The Canaries are flying high and are on a 4-match winning streak and are oozing plenty of confidence. The form of Finnish striker Teemu Pukki has caught the eye with him notching 5 goals so far. Norwich are showing signs of mounting a sustained promotion charge this season, but they now need to beat their rivals starting with Derby.

In contrast, it has been a miserable start to the season for Preston, Stoke and Millwall. Preston are rooted to the bottom of the table having not won since the opening day of the season. A 9-match winless run has Preston concede a lorry load of goals and Alex Neil feeling the heat. Last season’s narrow miss on the play-offs has seen expectations increase at Deepdale but so far, the players are failing to bring last season’s form into this. Preston are short on confidence and desperately need something to kick start their season. Like Preston, Millwall are also short on confidence and struggling to recapture last seasons form. Neil Harris’ side are finding results hard to come by and their latest defeat against Sheffield United would off further increased their worries. They came back to lead only to surrender their advantage and no doubt moral is severely low at the club. Harris will hope October could their month to ignite their season and climb out of the bottom 3. Stoke are also struggling in the opening months of the season. Gary Rowett is yet to really get Stoke going. Yes, they have showed some signs of improvement in September, but results are not coming and with every game without a win, the pressure only intensifies on Rowett and his very expensive squad. Stoke need to click and fast otherwise they can kiss an instant return to the Premier League goodbye.

It has also been a very disappointing start to the season for Aston Villa and Steve Bruce. The Villains find themselves 15th after the opening 2 months of the season. They have registered just 3 wins in their opening 10 league games and the fans are far from happy. Key players such as Jonathan Kodjia, Jack Grealish and James Chester are struggling to recapture last seasons form while new signings such as Orjan Nyland, Anwar El Ghazi, Yannick Bolasie and Tammy Abraham are yet to really showcase their talents. Aston Villa also look extremely weak at the back with only James Chester being the recognised centre back at the whole club. Mile Jedinak has been drafted into centre half but the fans are not happy with their performances at the heart of the defence. Aston Villa look dysfunctional and do not play like a team and a good team is built on the defence however, 3 of the back 4 are playing out of position and this is a major concern for fans with sloppy goals and individual errors costing them as each game comes. Steve Bruce’s reluctance to change and realise the problems is further increasing the anger with the fans. Bruce’s tactics have criticised throughout the season with the manager very reluctant to change a formula which has brought him regular promotions. However, football has moved on and we see different styles win promotion as Wolves dominated last season with a slick style while a robust, tough to beat Cardiff took 2nd place. The fans want entertainment and while Bruce may have the best win ratio of any Aston Villa manager, but the fans are far from pleased with the style of play and Bruce’s reluctance to change his style of play. Steve Bruce’s days at Villa Park look severely numbered with fans unhappy and big concerns from Villa’s new hierarchy. Bruce seems to have ready made excuses every week as to why Aston Villa are not picking up results and excuses can only carry so far. 35,000 fans watched Villa play so abjectly and passionless against Sheffield Wednesday at Villa Park and they will not stand for any poorer displays and readymade excuses. With reports Steve Bruce has two games to save his job, Villa need to pull out performances and results fast with games against Preston and Millwall to come before the international break. New chief executive Christian Purslow is the man making the decisions and no doubt he will be watching their next two games to see if Bruce is the man to lead Villa’s promotion charge this season. The first axe to fall could come in West Midlands with players and fans looking unhappy at Villa Park and something needs to give and fast.

Another side struggling is Ipswich with the tractor boys being the only club in the Championship without a win. 6 draws and 4 defeats so far this season has left Ipswich languishing in the bottom 3. Ipswich’ season so far was summed up in their recent draw against Birmingham with Paul Hurst’s side leading 2-0 at half time only to throw it away in the second half leaving still searching for a win. Paul Hurst needs a win sooner rather than later with the patience of the fans starting to wear thin. Ipswich’s new team is struggling to gel, and a win is proving very allusive and the pressure will only increase with each winless game that goes by. Could the axe fall on Paul Hurst in October? Only results and time will tell.

September brought us entertainment and unpredictability and no doubt October will be the same with plenty of tasty games to come affecting both ends of the table. Mouth watering games include Hull vs Leeds, Derby vs Norwich, Bolton vs Blackburn, Leeds vs Brentford, Sheffield Wed vs Middlesbrough, Aston Villa vs Swansea, Stoke vs Birmingham, Derby vs Sheffield Utd, West Brom vs Derby, Middlesbrough vs Derby and Leeds vs Nottingham Forest. There are plenty more of intriguing games in October as the world’s most unpredictable league brings to try and take shape.

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