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Monthly Archives: December 2012

So, it’s Christmas and we’re halfway through this season’s Championship, the league is as competitive as ever. Unusually, both the relegated and promoted sides have struggled in the second tier so far, making those crucial top-6 spots even more up-for-grabs than usual. How have the next six teams gotten on and how will they fare?

chris wood

Millwall

Millwall have got Wood. Chris Wood that is, and the West Brom loanee has been in superb form during his spell at the New Den, netting eleven times in nineteen games. Their upturn in form coincided with his arrival, after which Kenny Jackett’s men went on an impressive thirteen match unbeaten run. January may be frustrating for the Lions – with Wood’s loan set to expire, several Championship teams are reported to be courting the New Zealander who has been so crucial for them.

Rating:            A

Prediction:     Could fall out of the running after January.

Leeds United

Neil Warnock and Leeds, surely they were always destined to be united. With a takeover by Dubai-based GFH Capital now completed, the prickly Yorkshireman is expected to have funds to strengthen his squad in January. He wasn’t given a significant sum to spend in the summer, but still added to his squad shrewdly, El Hadji Diouf in particular proving that he’s still worthwhile. Luciano Becchio has been an ever-reliable goal threat, but their defence just hasn’t been solid enough – they’re the only team in the top half with a negative goal difference. All eyes are on Warnock’s manoeuvres in January, if he does well they’ll mount a good challenge.

Rating:            C

Prediction:     Favourites for this season’s late charge up the table?

Will Buckley

Brighton & Hove Albion

The Championship’s second stingiest side started well, managing five consecutive victories in September. Though tight at the back, they’ve drawn far too many matches since then, a trait which has seen them slide just out of the reckoning. Will Buckley has been in good form for the Seagulls, scoring five and providing as many for his teammates. With Southampton Boss Nigel Adkins reportedly after the wide-man, it could be a long January for the Brighton faithful. Still, if a sale is made and Gus Poyet reinvests wisely, they have a good chance of making the play-offs with a solid defence to build on.

Rating:            C

Prediction:     Upper mid-table. Could easily push into the play-offs.

Derby County

Since their relegation in 2008, Derby have mostly flirted with the lower reaches of the Championship table. Boss Nigel Clough has been shackled financially, so a top half finish would be a good achievement. They’re yet to have a stretch of really good form, only managing consecutive victories twice, but if they keep hold of their young talent, especially the mercurial Will Hughes, this season could be an important foundation for the Rams to build on next year.

Rating:            B

Prediction:     Sneaking into upper mid-table.

Billy Sharp

Nottingham Forest

Considering the quality in their squad, it’s fairly safe to say that Forest are under-performing in the league so far. Though their new Kuwaiti owners have appreciated that it may be a transitional season for Forest, the team are expected to make the play-offs. Like Brighton, they’re guilty of drawing too many matches but also they’ve struggled to find the net at home. Forest need to improve their first half performances and keep more clean sheets, if they can then Billy Sharp and Simon Cox will be scoring winners rather than equalisers.

Rating:           D

Prediction:    Just missing out on the play-offs.

Blackpool

Since leading the table back in August, Blackpool have been a team on the slide. After three consecutive wins to open the season the Seasiders have not managed back to back victories, a record which has contributed to their steady tumble down the table. The decline has only been halted by some good results in December, but any hope for an improvement may be dashed by Liverpool’s interest in buying back Tom Ince. The tricky forward has scored or set up more than half of their goals, so replacing him may be an impossible task for Michael Appleton.

Rating:           D-

Prediction:   Will have done well to arrest the slide and finish higher than twelfth.

So, it’s Christmas and we’re halfway through this season’s Championship, the league is as competitive as ever. Unusually, both the relegated and promoted sides have struggled in the second tier so far, making automatic promotion even more up-for-grabs than usual. How are the top six shaping up? Check back later for the rest of the division…

bellamy leicester

Cardiff City

The rebranded Bluebirds have taken the Christmas #1 spot this year after extensive strengthening in the summer. Their position so far is down to imperious home form (bar a stunning upset by Peterborough), while in recent weeks they have turned their abysmal away record around with a scintillating display at Blackburn and a resilient smash and grab at Leicester. Cardiff are perhaps lacking a dependable goal-scorer – the loss of Nicky Maynard may prompt Malky Mackay to add more forward options in January. They may be joint top scorers, but they’ve shared the goals around – no-one has hit double figures yet. Also, a tendency to leak goals away from home must be fixed if Cardiff are to finally banish their promotion hoodoo. Nevertheless, with captain Mark Hudson in ‘brick wall mode’ at the back and Craig Bellamy lauding his teammates as “the most honest and hard-working group I’ve ever worked with,” things are looking good for the Bluebirds.

Rating:           B+

Prediction:    Automatic promotion. Surely they can’t mess it up this time?

Hull City

Hull have just crept into the top two off the back of an impressive run of four consecutive wins, three of which have come away from home. And it is their form away from the KC stadium that has provided a foundation for the team to climb high in the table, for the Tigers boast the best away record in the division with an impressive seven wins. Stephen Quinn and Sone Aluko have been two great additions by Steve Bruce and they’ve slotted in nicely with Robert Koren to provide a cutting edge that Hull were lacking last season. To really cement one of the auto spots they may have to improve their record at the KC, but that won’t be a necessity if they can keep up their healthy points haul away from home.

Rating:           A

Prediction:    A good chance of an auto spot. Home record might drop them into the play-offs.

zaha

Crystal Palace

Definitely the surprise package of the division so far, Palace have defied the off-season doubters to be just off the top at the half-way point.  After a stuttering start with a trio of league defeats, the south Londoners burst into life and even a mid-term managerial change couldn’t disrupt their unexpectedly superb form. Excellent at coming from behind to win, they’ve picked up the most points from losing positions in the division, but perhaps need to fix a habit of conceding late equalisers, as they have in their last three fixtures. They bagged some excellent summer bargains, including Yannick Bolasie and Damien Delaney, but all the plaudits have gone to homegrown wonderkid Wilfried Zaha. Though Ian Holloway is adamant that his star man is going nowhere in January, there are sure to be plenty of top-level suitors willing to stretch the Eagles’ resolve. The big question about Palace is whether they have the strength in depth necessary for automatic promotion. January will be crucial for their prospects.

Rating:           A+

Prediction:    Maybe limping into the play-offs. Lacking the squad depth to push for autos.

Middlesbrough

Tony Mowbray has steadily shaped his squad since taking the reins at the Riverside, this year proving to be no exception. Andre Bike and George Friend have strengthened the ‘Boro defence alongside the return of the experienced Jonathan Woodgate. At the other end, Scott McDonald has bagged nine goals so far but Mowbray will want his other strikers to start weighing in with a few more goals. They’ve only been second to Palace in picking up points from a losing position but they also have a tendency to switch off at the back, conceding a few too many goals at the end of each half. Though their record against teams in the bottom half of the table is the best in the league, they really need to start taking points off the teams around them to mount a serious challenge for the top.

Rating:            B

Prediction:     Play-offs.

knockaert

Leicester

Leicester’s buy of the summer was Anthony Knockaert – the mazy winger is a thrill to watch. Their problem so far though has been an inability to take the points from games they’ve dominated, this trait clearly on display during their 0-1 defeat to Cardiff, the Foxes peppered the Cardiff goal but failed to find the net for the first time at home this season. They’ve been resolute in defence, conceding less than a goal a game so far – the best record in the division. It’s worth noting that they’re always in with a chance as they’re yet to lose by more than a single goal. This trait will stand them in good stead if they can improve on their performances at the other end of the pitch, either intensive finishing practise or, even better, a January addition will do wonders for them.

Rating:            B

Prediction:     If they can be a bit more clinical, they will be a threat to the top two. Autos/play-offs.

Watford

Following a takeover by the Pozzo family in the summer, Gianfranco Zola was swiftly installed at Vicarage road where he was joined by no less than fourteen loan players, mostly from the owners’ other clubs, Udinese and Granada. Surprisingly though, after such a tumultuous off-season, the Hornets have gone about their business relatively under the radar, recently creeping into the play-off spots. They’ve undoubtedly improved recently following a pretty mediocre start, but perhaps that was to be expected with so many new, temporary faces having to gel. If the owners can drop in some more quality in January they could be a threat to the play-off places, but Zola has got his work cut out to keep so many loan players happy and on form.

Rating:            B-

Prediction:     Play-offs a step too far? Depends on whether they can build on their recent form.