Championship Review 4-8 April

The past week has seen the top two further cement their position in the automatic promotion spots, and they will hope tonguarantee promotion over the busy Easter Weekend fixtures.

The forthcoming weekend will undoubtedly have a huge impact at both the top and the bottom, with many issues expected to be answered over the next two matches. Firstly, let’s look at who had a good week, and who had a bad week.

Who were the winners this week?

Well I think the winners of the week are pretty clear. Starting the week in second place, Brighton & Hove Albion now find themselves top of the pile, after another two wins taking their total number of victories to 26 from 41 matches. Few would begrudge Albion promotion this season, given their nearly misses in 3 of the past 4 seasons. Chris Hughton will most likely have a third shot at the Premier League, after relatively unsuccessful spells at Newcastle and Norwich. The Englishman is now proven at this level, having almost secured his second promotion in a relatively short managerial career to date. There is no denying that Brighton’s squad oozes class, helped by large crowds and a hefty budget. Winger Anthony Knockaert has been excellent this year, which is shown by the Championship player of the year award he win earlier this week. In addition, players such as Glenn Murray, have added goals to a team who in the past have been solid at the back, but lacking up front at times. The big forward has scored an impressive 21 league goals this term, with his latest effort coming in the 2-1 win against QPR on Friday night.
It would take a huge collapse to deny Brighton promotion now, and they can safely turn their attention to winning the title from Newcastle, which would feel good for their boss, given his harsh sacking by Newcastle a few years ago.

A season is a long time in football, as Derby County gaffer Gary Rowett will tell you. Having started the season at Birmingham City, he was disgracefully sacked in December with the team 7th on goal difference. Brum currently find themselves just six points above the drop zone, after a run of only 2 wins in 22 under his successor Zola. Meanwhile, Rowett’s new club are more than happy with their man. Having guided Derby to an impressive 4-2 win over high- flying Fulham midweek and a satisfying 2-1 win over his former employers on Saturday, Derby are back within sight of the playoffs.

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Realistically, next season will provide a better opportunity for Rowett’s men, but 10 points from his first 4 games will turn heads in the Championship. To many fans of the league, it will not come as a surprise that Derby’s fortunes have been turned on their head. An expensive squad boasting the likes of Will Hughes and Bradley Johnson, coupled with their manager’s excellent record at this level bodes well for 17/18 for the Rams. Given the right backing in summer, few would bet against Derby County from finally returning to the Premier League for the first time since their 11 point disaster last decade.

My final selection this week is a club who will only be playing in the Championship next year. That side is Sheffield United, who secured their promotion back to the second tier with a 2-1 victory at Sixfields over Northampton Town on Saturday. Despite a slow start in August, the Blades have enjoyed an excellent season, which also results in manager Chris Wilder’s second promotion in two years. It is ironic that the promotion was secured in Northampton, as the Midlanders were Wilder’s club this time last year when he guided them into League 1 as Champions. Champions will be the word of Blades’ fans mouths again, as they currently sit 9 points clear of 2nd place Bolton Wanderers with 4 games left, and they know that 4 more points will ensure them of the title of League 1 Champions. Undoubtedly Billy Sharp, in his second spell at the club, has been the key man. However, they’re well prepared for a shot at the Championship with quality all over the park.

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With two or three experienced signings, the Yorkshire side can expect a comfortable midtable finish next year. Congratulations to the Sheffield United manager, player and fans. We will see you next year!

Who had a bad week?

As ever in this league, many teams had mixed weeks with a host of sides winning one and losing one this week. Teams including Fulham, Wigan, Ipswich, Reading and others all realised this fate. However, there is one team who undoubtedly had a poor week…

A few weeks ago Blackburn Rovers were showing signs that they would finally get out of trouble after spending much of the season in the bottom 3. However, back-to-back defeats at Reading and at home to Barnsley have left Rovers 4 points adrift of safety with 5 games still to play. One could forgive Rovers for losing at the Madjeski Stadium against Reading, but a 2-0 home defeat by midtable and off form Barnsley would have hurt Tony Mowbray and fans alike. There would have been much expectation going into that game, with fans justifiably expecting three points and the chance to climb out if the bottom three again. However, an abysmal first half display , coupled with Bristol City’s 3-1 home win over Wolves now leaves them with a mountain to climb ahead of their next game against Nottingham Forest.

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Mowbray has undoubtedly made the Ewood side harder to beat, but ultimately it could prove to be too little too late, with a lack of goals and quality hindering them all season. Rovers fans have had no shortage of disappointment since the takeover of Venkys, who promised them European football every year. Instead, they could well find themselves plying their trade in the third tier after a number of years of struggle.

You might remember that I mentioned Birmingham earlier in the article. Anyway, I will mention them again, and once again I’m talking about the St. Andrews club as losers. I’m sure the fans will agree with me that 2017 has been an unmitigated disaster for the Blues. The abysmal run of 2 wins from 22 would probably have resulted in relegation had it not been for the expertise of Gary Rowett. While relegation still remains a possibility, the 6 point cushion means that they will probably only need 2 or 3 more points to ensure survival for another year, but whether that would be enough to ensure Zola another season remains to be seen. If the Blues’ owners see it as reasonable to sack a manager who guided his side to 7th, they will most definitely see is as desirable to remove a manager who has led his team to such a barren run. Defeats by Brighton and Derby will do little to cheer fans up in what has been a truly shambolic second half of the season.

Hoops fans might consider it harsh to include QPR on this list, given that Ian Holloway had guided QPR to an excellent run before this week , but defeats by Villa and Brighton mean that I have to give them an unwanted mention. However, the previous form has been taken into account which is why they are only my third pick for the week’s losers. All in all, Holloway has turned fortunes round, but I still think they’re a long way from being where they want to be, or where Tony Fernandes would expect them to be, given his huge personal expense to the club. They still have enough quality to remain in the Championship moving forward, but another promotion to the Premier League remains a million miles away given their lack of a proven goalscorer.

This coming week sees two more sets of fixtures in the Championship, starting with Wigan’s must win clash against Barnsley on Thursday night. Latics know that they need to bag three points to have any chance of survival ahead of Monday’s trip to the Amex. The biggest game of Easter weekend is at St James’ Park where the two giants of the league meet in a huge clash. Perhaps the day when Newcastle can move a huge step towards promotion, Leeds will also need two more wins to safeguard a deserved place in the playoffs. The gap has been closing over recent weeks and the Whites are far from certain of their place in the end of season lottery. Newcastle can still be confident that they will go up given the gap between themselves and the chasing pack.

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