A busy week for most of the clubs in the Championship – there’ll be at least one game featuring teams from the competition until next Thursday – but for those of you dreaming of life in the Premier League next season or worried about the prospect of League One, be careful what you wish for.
A quick look back at the Championship table from a year ago shows that although QPR were top with the same amount of points as Brighton have this season, only one club from from the current top six were in the playoff positions last September: Cardiff City, who were eliminated in the playoff semi finals.
It’s a similar story at the bottom of the table – a year ago only one of the clubs that were eventually relegated featured in the bottom six (Preston) and only Bristol City find themselves in a similar position to the one they were in last season: the Robins eventually finished 15th.
Another indication that we’re still too early to make any sense of what’s happening is that there are six teams that are unbeaten away but have lost at least once at home. That group includes four teams in the top ten, including West Ham and -yes, you’ve guessed it – Cardiff City.
There were some significant results last weekend. Despite – or possibly because of – a fan protest against the current owners Coventry picked up their first win of the season when they beat Derby 2-0 having only won six of their last 20 games at the Ricoh Arena: Watford’s victory by the same score at the Madejski Stadium was a rarity as Reading hadn’t lost consecutive home games for almost two years.
This weekend, five of the top six and four of the bottom six are away from home and there are a couple of local derbies, although that’s probably the most understated way of describing them.
The action starts at 12:30 on Saturday lunchtime when Millwall travel ten miles or so across London to West Ham for a league game for the first time in six and a half years; the Lions have never won at the Boleyn Ground but even though the Hammers picked up their first home win of the season against Portsmouth last weekend, there was yet another late goal. Greg Halford’s 97th minute strike for Pompey didn’t make any difference to the outcome, but once again West Ham have shown that they have a tendency to switch off at the end of games if they think the job is done.
Half an hour later the game between Derby and Nottingham Forest kicks off at the City Ground and it’s almost a ‘must win’ for Steve McClaren as if results go against the Tricky Trees they could find themselves in the bottom three of the Championship for the first time since they narrowly avoided relegation in 2008/09. History appears to be on their side though: the Rams have only won once in their last ten trips along the A52 and although Forest are notoriously slow starters they generally perform well at the City Ground.
It’s hardly ‘game of the week’ material, but probably the most important match this weekend is when the bottom two clubs meet at the Madejski. Although Doncaster’s poor start was expected, the curse of the playoffs seems to have really affected Reading as they’ve only won one of their last five home games in the Championship.
Having said that, the last time Rovers won at Reading ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’ was about to replace ‘Careless Whisper’ at Number 1 and the Yorkshire side have failed to score in half of their last ten visits to Berkshire. Once again, it’s far too early to tell but Doncaster might be in for the type of season Sheffield United in 2010/12.
Birmingham’s trip to Southampton and Ipswich v Coventry (Monday night, Sky Sports 1 at 7:45pm) complete the league programme for this weekend, but then we’re straight into the third round of the Carling Cup. With only one guaranteed place in the fourth round and five clubs facing Premier League opposition, it’s fair to say that the chances of a Championship club winning the trophy are slim at best. However with Leeds (Manchester United), Brighton (Liverpool) and Cardiff v Leicester all being showcased on Sky next week there’s a good chance to show the standard of Championship football to an audience that may not normally be interested.