Paul Newman: Reading's revival is no surprise in such a tight league

The Football League Column: Swansea's surge to third is an example of the division's unpredictability

It is always hard to separate the bottom from the top in the Championship and, as the season passes its quarter-way mark, the table tells its usual story. While Watford and Coventry City, among the pre-season favourites for relegation, fill play-off places, the bottom six positions feature four clubs – Bristol City, Middlesbrough, Leicester City and Hull City – who might all have been expected to figure in the promotion picture.

Middlesbrough's struggles have been the most remarkable and Gordon Strachan's failure to deliver the promise generated by his summer spending spree cost him his job as manager last week. Saturday's defeat at Norwich was Boro's sixth successive loss on the road – they have picked up only one point away from the Riverside Stadium all season -– and plunged them into the relegation zone.

At least Boro are two places above Bristol City, whose season began with such optimism following the appointment of Steve Coppell as manager and the signing of David James. The Ashton Gate bubble quickly burst as Coppell resigned after a 3-0 opening-day defeat at home to Millwall in front of a sell-out crowd and a Carling Cup exit at the hands of Southend United.

After 11 matches City had just six points, though the ship has been steadied under Keith Millen. Four points from home matches last week against Reading and Queen's Park Rangers should signal an upturn in the club's fortunes.

Leicester are hoping Sven Goran Eriksson can do the same. The former England manager replaced Paolo Sousa, sacked after one win in nine matches left the Foxes bottom. Sousa succeeded Nigel Pearson, who left in the summer after leading the club to the League One title and last season's Championship play-offs.

Pearson's move to Hull has failed to halt the Tigers' own slide. As many others have discovered before them, Hull have found the Championship a tough place to regroup following relegation from the Premier League. On paper they still have a strong squad, but home defeats last week against Sheffield United and Portsmouth left Pearson admitting that his job was "a little bit bigger than first anticipated".

Crystal Palace are the only club in the bottom four who have kept their manager since the start of the season. A win at Norwich last week indicated George Burley's mixture of loan signings and academy graduates was starting to bear fruit, though Saturday's defeat at Preston underlined Palace's continuing problems in defence.

There can be no doubt about the success story of the season so far. Queen's Park Rangers set a club record with their draw at Bristol City on Friday, a 13-match unbeaten run giving the club their best ever start.

If it was their attacking flair that caught the eye at first it is the defence that has been their strength of late. Neil Warnock's team have conceded just four goals in their 13 matches so far.

Nevertheless, Warnock will be hoping that a recent slowing-down of the QPR express train is only temporary. Having won seven of their first eight matches, scoring 22 goals in the process, Rangers have taken full points from only one of their last five, finding the net only three times.

Cardiff's emergence as Rangers' closest rivals is no surprise given their run to last season's play-off final, but Swansea's surge into third place is an example of the division's unpredictability.

Following the summer departures of Sousa and Leon Britton, the Swans might have been expected to struggle, but Brendan Rodgers' men are unbeaten in their last five matches and have not conceded a goal for more than six hours. Aidy Boothroyd, another close-season managerial appointment, has made a promising start at Coventry, Norwich have maintained the momentum generated by a League One title and Watford have progressed under Malky Mackay.

Nevertheless, everyone will know how rapidly fortunes can change. On Saturday Burnley, who had scored 11 goals in their previous four matches and were unbeaten at home, entertained Reading, who had one goal and one point to show from their previous three games. The result? A 4-0 win for Reading. It is that kind of division – and long may it continue that way.

exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Antoine Griezmann has started two of France’s four games so far
Life and Style
techYahoo Japan launches service to delete your files and email your relatives when you die
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Arts and Entertainment
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
Caption competition
Caption competition

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor