Who emerged as promotion and relegation contenders in the Championship?
The Premier League may be where all the glitz, glamour and media attention is, but the Championship has grown in stature over the years to become, quite arguably, the best second-tier division in world football. It offers a competitive edge and level of quality like no other, with the ability for anyone to beat anyone creating many twists and turns that makes it so unpredictable to call what will happen next. The level of drama, tension and excitement often goes down to the wire, as even after a grueling 46-game season, the margins between who grabs the automatic promotions spots, secures a play-off spot or suffers the ignominy of relegation to League One can be a single points or even goal difference. Coral is the best place to go to receive the latest Championship odds and scores, and with over a quarter of the 2016/2017 season already played, there are a number of teams who have their eyes on the Premier League or are starting to look nervously over their shoulders.
Teams who finish first or second are often those who are not only able to put together consistent runs of form together, but also have the quality to get themselves over the line in games where they are not at their best. There is always the potential for a team who do not get off to the best of starts to put a superb run of results together and put themselves firmly in the promotion picture, but while that remains possible, there are one or two teams who have surprised everyone in the early months of the season. Huddersfield are certainly one of them, with David Wagner’s side shooting to the top of the table after a number of strong performances. They continue to improve under the former Borussia Dortmund coach who shares many tactical similarities with close friend Jurgen Klopp. Huddersfield have brought an attractive brand of football to the Championship, and although critics believe that they will not last the distance, the Terriers could prove to be the surprise package.
Bristol City are another who have made excellent progress in the last few months, with promising manager Lee Johnson building something special at Ashton Gate. A number of strong signings have seen them transform into perennial Champions strugglers into potential promotion contenders, with on-loan Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham making a real impact. The 19-year-old has scored eight goals in his first eleven appearances for the club, and with experienced duo Gary O’Neil and Lee Tomlin pulling the strings in midfield, there is no reason why Bristol City cannot continue their strong start to the campaign. A top six finish would represent a superb season, but there is enough ambition and belief at Bristol City to carry them towards an unexpected promotion to the top flight.
Teams who are relegated from the Premier League often find it very difficult to bounce back at the first attempt due to the competitive nature of the division, but while Aston Villa have really struggled to find their feet, Norwich and Newcastle have put themselves firmly in contention at the top. Both teams were considered strong favourites before a ball had even been kicked, and although there have been a few slip-ups already, particularly from Newcastle who lost their first two games against Fulham and Huddersfield, the odds on them coming back up with Coral have largely remained the same. Norwich have retained the core of their squad who secured promotion from the same division back in 2015, while Newcastle spent over £50 million in an effort to bring Premier League football back to St. James’ Park; it would be no surprise to many if these two teams battled it out for the title come the end of the season.
One win in their opening eleven games has provided new Rotherham manager Alan Stubbs with an early indication of just how tough the Championship is. The former Hibernian manager made a number of signings over the summer in an attempt to lift the club away from another relegation battle, but early indications would suggest that they are in for another difficult season. Their former manager, Neil Warnock, has recently taken charge at Cardiff who struggled to find any sort of form or consistency under Paul Trollope who lost his job. Warnock is renowned as a specialist in getting teams promoted from the Championship, but while the hugely experienced manager has added free agents Sol Bamba, Junior Hoilett and Marouane Chamakh to a squad that already has the likes of Rickie Lambert and Peter Whittingham, Cardiff need to pull themselves out of the relegation zone before they can start to think of looking further up the table.
Blackburn and Wigan also find themselves at the wrong end of the Championship table, which may come as little surprise given the situation at both clubs. The former have struggled to find any sort of stability under a manager who is able to bring the good times back to Ewood Park, while the latter have found life at a higher level difficult following promotion from League One. What is more surprising is to see Derby or Aston Villa hovering above the relegation zone after enduring very poor starts to their respective campaigns. Both clubs have recently changed managers in an effort to transform their fortunes, with Steve McClaren making a surprise return to the iPro Stadium and Steve Bruce taking over at Aston Villa; you would expect that both sides will lift themselves away from danger at some point, but as the Championship is an extremely unforgiving league, they will need to make an impact sooner rather than later.
Sources: bbc.co.uk / sports.coral.co.uk