After last weekend’s games, QPR have a six point lead over Cardiff, but significantly the gap between the leaders and the last play off spot is now ten points. Queens Park Rangers have only conceded three goals in ten games – two of them against Derby – and Crystal Palace thought they’d pinched a point at Selhurst Park but once again a late goal gave the visitors three points. Although late goals certainly seem to be playing a part in Rangers’ impressive start, it may be just a matter of time before their luck runs out – but more of that later.
Reading dropped out of the playoff places after a draw at Preston; despite failing to win at Millwall, Burnley took their place. The rest of the top five won; Bristol City’s home defeat to Norwich dropped the Robins to the bottom of the table. The end of the Paolo Sousa ‘era’ at the Walkers Stadium seemed to work wonders for Leicester who beat Scunthorpe 3-1 to record their first league win since mid September.
Portsmouth’s recent run of good form continued although they had to come from behind at Middlesbrough: Liam Lawrence’s penalty two minutes from full time earned Pompey a valuable point but also increased the pressure on Middlesbrough‘s Gordon Strachan.
With no games this weekend due to the international break, it’s time to sit back and take a broader look at this season’s competition. The first thing that stands out is that QPR’s current form may be unsustainable in the long run: not only are they on course to outperform Newcastle last season, but if they continue in the same vein in which they’ve begun the season, they will also have a better season than Reading did in 2005/06 when the Royals finished with a record 106 points.
Interestingly, although 58% of teams in the Championship this season have played in the Premiership within the last decade, both QPR and Cardiff are among the teams that have spent the longest outside the top tier. The approaches that the boards of these clubs have taken to change that situation have been similar, but have had different results.
In a manner reminiscent of another club from West London, for several seasons QPR’s board has been throwing money at the club – although the number of celebrities at Loftus Road went up, the results on the pitch have been mediocre. The decision to appoint Neil Warnock as manager may result in a big payday for QPR in May: despite – or maybe because – of his abrasive nature, he has maintained his inimitable managerial style and his recruitment policy seems to have turned QPR into something of a Championship All Star team.
Presumably the plan for Cardiff City was something similar. Although the Bluebirds are still suffering from the aftermath of catastrophic financial management over the last decade, the Welsh club seem to have become a model for success in the Championship.
Dave Jones is currently the longest serving manager in the division and – like Warnock – has experience at a higher level, the new stadium would not look out of place in the Premiership and although Cardiff have lost twice this season, their form has actually improved since last season. If QPR self destruct (which will inevitably be around the time Neil Warnock’s conspiracy theories reappear), Cardiff are in the ideal position to benefit.
Since the season began, the fortunes of other clubs have also emphasised importance of managerial stability in the Championship. Doncaster Rovers – along with Scunthorpe United – are the only sides in the Championship who have never played at the highest level in English football, yet Rovers’ rise from the Conference to an established Championship side has taken less than a decade and in many ways is similar to the situation at Cardiff.
After years of financial mismanagement, the club moved to a small but nonetheless impressive new ground; Sean O’Driscoll has been in charge since September 2006 and is currently the manager of arguably the best Doncaster Rovers side ever. It’s probably safe to say that ten years ago none of their fans thought that they would be supporting one of the best teams in Yorkshire; O’Driscoll will not be at the Keepmoat Stadium forever, but if he does leave this season he’ll be leaving the club in a better state than he found it.
Managerial stability – or the lack of it – can also explain what’s happening at the bottom of the table. In the last calendar year, both Bristol City and Leicester City have had three managers: although we’ll never know what Steve Coppell would have achieved at Ashton Gate, in view of the Robins current league position it’s entirely possible that he may have made a swift and accurate assessment of the playing staff before deciding to leave in a hurry.
Leicester’s problems seem to begin and end with Milan Mandaric – Paolo Sousa may talk a good game but was hardly impressive at either QPR or Swansea (both sides have improved without him) and it will be interesting to see if Sven-Goran Eriksson’s managerial talents are capable of surviving both a good old fashioned English relegation dogfight and continual interference from the Chairman.
To finish, here are a couple of facts to impress your mates in the pub:
There have been 2.69 goals per game in the Championship, the highest rate in the Football League and higher the Premiership.
If you want to watch a game with plenty of goals, it won’t come as a big surprise to learn that watching Leeds at home or Preston on their travels would be the best choices, although Norwich (at home) and Leicester (away) are good alternatives. Avoid Hull at the KC Stadium and any Sheffield United away game though.
QPR and Hull are the only teams not to have conceded a goal at home. Crystal Palace are the only team yet to score an away goal.
Of the nine players who have scored five goals or more this season, only two come from outside the British Isles – Davide Somma of Leeds (South Africa) and Heidar Helguson of QPR (Iceland).