Forget all this talk about the Premier League, this season the real league to watch is the NPower Championship. From day one, thrills and spills, crunching tackles and stunning goals light this wonderful league. But who will be promoted?
Southampton have led the league for sometime now but have seen their lead slip to just goal difference. Sure, Ricky Lambert has been in fine form for the Saints (currently 17 goals) but have they got the squad to deal with the long hard season? I am un-sure.
West Ham were many people’s pre-season favourites and I can understand why. Their squad on paper is the best in the league easily. Just take a look at their strikers. When fit and available they can take their pick from Freddie Piquionne, John Carew, Frank Nouble and Carlton Cole. But are they all too similar? Its obvious West Ham will be up there with all the other quality they have (ie- Green, Nolan, Noble, Bouba Diop, Tomkins) and if they can add Jordan Rhodes or Nicky Maynard (as recent reports would have you believe) then they will certainly be there or there abouts. Their away form has to improve though.
Cardiff are up there yet again. But they have been in this position so many times and failed to go up. Adding Kenny Miller to the ranks was a master stroke, but losing Chris Burke was a huge blow. However, they have enough to cope with the demands of the Championship and in Malky Mackay, they have a young, hungry manager.
Middlesbrough are probably the best footballing side in the league. However, they struggle for goals. Just 30 in 25 league games at present and Marvin Emnes’ early season goal flush seems to have ended. Scott McDonald has done his best to help, netting a few important goals, but ultimately, Tony Mowbray’s side need to find their scoring boots. Maybe add a striker or two in the transfer window?
Reading have been on form of late and have crept up the table. Jobi McAnuff pulls the strings and Simon Church has been their star up top. With Alex Pearce at the heart of the defence, they will always be a tough nut to crack.
Hull manager Nick Barmby has worked wonders since taking over from the departed Nigel Pearson. They are a hard working side who love to spray the ball around. Robert Koren gives them the flare where as Matty Fryatt gives them a scoring edge. They will be in or around the play off’s, but it may be a season too soon for them.
Outside the current top 6 is Blackpool, Leeds and Derby. The Seasiders are too inconsistent to mount a real automatic promotion spot, but could maybe push for the play off’s. Leeds manager Simon Grayson has handled the massive pressure he’s been under very well. Late goals have pulled them through. However, the 36 goals they have conceded has to come down.
Leicester are a team made up of players who were not good enough for the Premiership (Beckford, Nugent, Gallagher) but are very decent Championship players. I do expect more from the Foxes, but they may have left themselves with too much ground to make up.
Birmingham City, another of the relegated sides, still have the important cushion of two games in hand. However, manager Chris Hughton rightly said “whats the point in having the cushion if you dont out your head on it”. Chris Wood’s early season goal spurt has long gone, but Marlon King has improved greatly. The midfield area needs improving. Keith Fahey, Morgaro Gomis, Guirane N’Daw, Jordon Mutch and Wade Elliott are decent enough, but all too similar. Their home record at St Andrews is impeccable (winning 7, drawing 4, conceding just 5) but their away form needs to improve. They have to win games which they dominate, which has been their problem all season.
Here is what I think the top half could be… forgive me if I am wrong.
1. West Ham
If you enjoyed this article, why not follow the writer, @rob_j_wildey on Twitter?