Ipswich in the top half and ahead of Norwich City... who’d have thought it?
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
So, we’re all happy at Norwich City’s change in fortunes, but what of the rest of the Championship? Chris Lakey takes a look...
You will need to go a long way and work your way through a minefield of fibbers to find someone who has got anywhere near correctly guessing who sits where in the Championship table midway through (yet another) international break.
The art of predicting football matches and, ergo, tables, is a difficult one, nigh on impossible. It chops and changes – Norwich, for example, were relegation fodder before September and Daniel Farke was being packed off on the first flight back to Germany. But a new mindset kicked in. Now they’re dragons breathing down the necks of the early front-runners. Including, amazingly, Ipswich (let’s face it... who really, truthfully thought Town would be in the top half of the table? No, didn’t think so).
It’s time to look at who’s done well, who’s done better than expected, and who’s, well, where you thought they might be.
At the top are Cardiff City. No great surprise that Neil Warnock is getting a tune out of them, but the lyrics are more rebellion stuff than anything revolutionary: Warnock’s been around the block long enough to talk the talk – after the weekend win over Derby, which completed a year/46 games (a season’s worth) in charge, Warnock said: “You look at their team sheet and it’s probably the best in the league on paper.” Good sensible disguised ambition there.
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No surprise Wolves are up there: money doesn’t always buy success, but it doesn’t half help. If they don’t go up, someone will pay - and that’s going to be the manager. John Ruddy is enjoying his new job between the Wolves sticks, starting all 11 league games... Ryan Bennett’s tally is one, which you can put down to injury.
Sheffield United. Where do we start? Chris Wilder has done a superb job with the promoted Blades, but his ridiculous post-match comments after losing at home to the Canaries last month won him no friends in these parts and would have made him the subject of ridicule in many others. The return at Carrow Road will be feisty. Nonetheless, ignoring the inflammatory stuff, they have done well. Not that any honest person would really have expected that... surely?
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Bristol City are another side exceeding expectations. Frankly, Lee Johnson was a nailed on certainty to be the first manager sacked, but he has produced a quality side; no big time Charlies, just talented, hard-working players.
It’s tailing off a little at Leeds after a terrific start under new manager Thomas Christiansen when they went nine unbeaten in all competitions – followed by three league defeats in a row. Crowds are coming back but Christiansen will now have to prove he is made of strong stuff, because those fans have had enough rubbish in recent years.
Preston: an Alex Neil team winning games – through solid defending rather than crazy attacking. Unbeaten in their last eight.
In the aforementioned Pink Un mag I suggested Aston Villa’s old guard would be their problem. Micah Richards and Chris Samba have started one game between them, John Terry all 11. There’s still time for the winter aches and pains...
Ipswich: will they sustain this? Maybe not. Have I watched them much? Nope. Ought I? Nope... I am basing this on past experience. Interesting fact: yet to draw a game this season.
And Norwich? Tough one this: it’s looking good, but this break hasn’t done City any favours. And at the back of the mind it is hard not to notice Millwall and Villa away and wonder, what if ...? However, should be added that the mental fortitude has been beefed up.
Fulham were last season’s footballing wizards and many people’s tips for this season. But it isn’t quite clicking, the goals aren’t coming and they are drawing too many games (five out of 11).
And the rest? Middlesbrough? Believing their own hype. Sheffield Wednesday… talk about inconsistent: lose at home to Sheffield United and at Birmingham, who are awful, and then thump Leeds 3-0. Forest are no better – they lose three and then beat Sheffield United. Millwall are making a fist of it with some decent results: beating City and Leeds, getting a draw at Preston and Bristol City, and a place above Derby who just can’t get going. Then we’re into the fully expected territory: the bottom eight of QPR, Hull, Barnsley, Brentford, Reading, Burton, Birmingham, Sunderland and Bolton.
Frankly, that little lot doesn’t surprise me: I’ll reserve that for Ipswich and Bristol City, with the eyebrow raised at Cardiff, Sheffield United and Preston.