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.

Sport
footballHe started just four months ago
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Travel
Streets ahead: Venice
travelWhat's trending on your wishlist?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect