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
Monday 25 October 2010
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.
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