Friday, 2 November 2018

Championship: October Review

The Championship is the league that just keeps on giving. Arguably the tightest league in Europe with the top constantly changing. Sheffield United lead the way ahead of Yorkshire rivals Leeds while the play offs are made up of Middlesbrough, West Brom, Derby and Norwich. While struggling Ipswich, Hull and Reading make up the bottom 3. We also saw the managerial axe fall twice with Aston Villa and Ipswich making the change of manager during October and no doubt November will continue to see the axe begin to fall further.

One man who is firmly untouchable is Chris Wilder who continues to do a sensational job at Sheff Utd with the Blades sitting top 2 points clear of their nearest rivals. 3 wins and a draw from their 5 games during October has seen the Blades nick top spot. Billy Sharp is in top form as always for Sheff Utd notching a hattrick in United’s most recent game against Wigan. Sheff Utd work as unit and are proving a difficult side to play against this season. Leeds have lost top spot during a mixed October. Despite losing just once, Leeds struggled to 2 wins and 2 draws with performances dropping from the opening 2 months of the season. While Bielsa will be encouraged with their league position, he will not be too satisfied with their performances. Injuries have hit them somewhat with top scorer Kemar Roofe only recently returning from injury while they’ve lost Luke Ayling for the next 2 months after an injury sustained in the draw with Nottingham Forest. Bielsa will want more assured performances during November to keep Leeds’ momentum going. The rest of the top 6 is made up of Middlesbrough, West Brom, Norwich and Derby. Like Leeds, Middlesbrough suffered their first dip in performances during October with Boro winning twice but suffered a poor home defeat to Nottingham Forest. Pulis’ sit 3rd after an excellent start overall but they are winless in their last 2 games and Pulis will demand improvement going into November starting at his former club Stoke. Another side enduring a dip in displays is West Brom despite sitting in 4th spot. The Baggies won just once in October smashing Reading at the Hawthorns. 2 draws and 2 defeats have seen West Brom drop off the pace somewhat and no doubt Darren Moore will demand more during November. In contrast, one side full of momentum is Norwich with Daniel Farke’s winning 3 on the spin seeing off Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa and Brentford and overall the Canaries have won 7 of their last 10 games and are looking imperious at the moment. Derby make up the top 6 after a string of excellent results against Sheff Utd, West Brom and Middlesbrough. The rams remained unbeaten during October and Frank Lampard will be delighted with the football they are playing right now. Big summer signing Jack Marriott has also found his feet with the striker 3 goals during October as well as an excellent goal in the recent cup defeat to Chelsea. Derby have good momentum and no doubt Lampard will want to build on that as November draws near.

Other sides enjoying their October include Birmingham, QPR and Preston. Both Birmingham and QPR won 4 of their 5 games in October and remained unbeaten in the process. The Blues are flying under Garry Monk after winning 4 on the spin and are unbeaten in 11 matches. Monk has found a winning formula and a run of consecutive draws for much of August and September. Monk has also unlocked Lukas Jutkiewicz with the striker arguably enjoying his best scoring run in a Blues shirt including scoring his first senior hattrick against Rotherham. The big striker has 8 league goals overall and he will want to keep his rich run going in November starting against Derby. The Hoops are also enjoying their best run of the season under Steve McClaren. QPR have certainly turned a corner and are enjoying their season finally after a dreadful start to the season. The Hoops won 4 of 5 games in October and have lost just 2 of their last 10 overall so very much improved. McClaren has made them much harder to beat with the Hoops drastically improved at the back highlighted in their recent success over Aston Villa. Despite hovering above the bottom 3, Preston enjoyed their best run of the season remaining unbeaten throughout October winning 2 and drawing the other 3. The season kickstarted with a comeback draw at Aston Villa and a thunderous derby win over Wigan. Preston are scoring goals and are slowly improving defensively, and Alex Neil will be delighted with his sides recent performances but knows there is still room for improvement.

October saw the managerial axe fall with Steve Bruce at Aston Villa being the first to go after 1 win in 9 matches. The final straw for Bruce came after Villa threw away a 2-0 lead to then bottom of the table Preston. Defensive frailties, fan unrest and poor decision-making cost Bruce and the entire coaching staff their jobs. Villa spent large parts of the international break getting Bruce’s replacement in and have a new manager in Dean Smith who they have pinched from Brentford. Smith a lifelong Villa fan no doubt is fully aware of the task ahead. Smith has won 1 and lost the other 2 games he has had so far after 3 games in 6 days hasn’t allowed much time for Smith and his two assistants Richard O’Kelly and John Terry to drill their ideas into the players. Smith will desperately want November to be the month where Villa’s season really takes off starting at home to Bolton. Smith has been encouraged so far but knows results must start to arrive to save Villa’s failing season. So, with Smith departing it meant Brentford needed a new boss and have appointed Smith’s assistant Thomas Frank as their new manager. The Dane initially arrived at Griffin Park as Smith’s assistant in 2016 having managed in his native Denmark at Brondby as well various levels in the Danish FA. However, Frank has had a very tough start losing all 3 of his games so far. Prior to his takeover at the club, The Bees were winless in 5 so Brentford in a sticky patch. Narrow defeats to Bristol City, Preston and Norwich for Frank so far and like Smith at Villa, he will hope November can be the month to kick start Brentford once again starting with a tasty London derby against Millwall. The second axe to fall was on Paul Hurst with Ipswich winning just one of their opening 15 games. Defeat to Leeds cost Hurst his job with former Norwich boss Paul Lambert given the task of saving Ipswich from relegation. A shoe-string budget and a host of new signings have seen Ipswich suffer. Hurst completely changed the squad and his experiment ultimately failed and the Tractor Boys have collected just 9 points from their opening 15 games. Lambert has excellent Championship experience having managed Norwich, Blackburn and Wolves at this level and has Premier League experience with both Aston Villa and Stoke. Lambert knows this division well and knows he must start well to win over the Ipswich faithful due to his Norwich connections.

Other sides in poor form and managers feeling the heat include Hull, Reading and Bolton. Times are tough in East Yorkshire right now with Hull desperately struggling for form and confidence. Despite winning their most recent game against Bolton at the end of the month, The Tigers form overall is dreadful winning just 2 of their last 11 matches. However, with a takeover of the club at very advanced stages, Adkins knows he must get the team going to have a chance of keeping his job at the club. Like Adkins and Hull, Paul Clement and Reading are also on a very poor run with Reading losing 4 of their 5 games in October and the pressure is increasing on Clement who only took over in March this year. Reading are struggling for an identity, confidence and form and are slowly sinking down the Championship table. While speculation has linked the likes of Steve Bruce to the Reading job, Clement remains in charge for now but Reading must improve starting against Bristol City otherwise the managerial axe could well for a 3rd time this season. While the axe might not fall on Phil Parkinson, Bolton are desperately struggling after winning 3 of their first 4, the Trotters have won just 1 of their last 11 games. They are struggling for goals and creating chances is also proving a problem for Parkinson’s side. 4 defeats in 5 during October has left Bolton down in 18th place. Bolton must improve and fast otherwise another relegation battle looms.

October brought us brilliant goals and excellent football and no doubt November will do the same with some mouth-watering and crucial games to come including Stoke vs Middlesbrough, Ipswich vs Preston, The first steel city derby of the season between Sheff Utd and Sheff Wed, QPR vs Brentford, Derby vs Aston Villa, Reading vs Ipswich, Nottingham Forest vs Stoke, West Brom vs Leeds, Swansea vs Norwich, The first second city derby of the season between Aston Villa and Birmingham, Swansea vs WBA, Aston Villa vs Nottingham Forest and Stoke vs Derby. November can be the month where the league really starts to take shape and the pressure on managers increase further. The most unpredictable league in the world will no doubt continue to deliver in November.

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