Championship mid-season review – the play-off pretenders

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.

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