Before the season started, I posted a four part preview of the season (you can find Part 1 here) and I thought it might be a good idea to produce a half term report before Christmas. The rankings are based on my personal system: without going into a lot of detail, it compares season on season improvement, which is why it doesn’t correspond to the current league table. I’ve also had to separate the ‘new’ clubs, but that’s actually quite helpful because the league table is a good indicator of how they’re doing this season.
Crystal Palace: I got this completely wrong – the transformation seems to have begun under Dougie Freedman and the decision to replace him with Ian Holloway looks like a stroke of genius. Still, we’re only half way through the season and it’ll be interesting to see what happens when they suffer a dip in form: best case scenario: automatic promotion following the last game of the season but if Glen Murray leaves…
Nottingham Forest: it would’ve been hard for them to have been worse than they were last season, but in some ways they’ve had to be content with becoming a team that’s hard to beat without being one that’s convincing as a playoff candidate. Best case scenario: playoffs – although it’s a shame that there’s no trophy awarded to draw specialists – on the back of Adlene Guedioura becoming at one with universe.
Millwall: I might have been a bit pessimistic about the Lions before the season started: they have recovered to the extent that they look like the same team which did so well following promotion a couple of seasons ago. Not to be underestimated and could pull of a huge surprise if any of the teams above them falter. Best case scenario: playoffs, with a second leg at The New Den.
Leicester: are performing a little bit better than they did last season, which seems to indicate that 2013/14 might be a better bet for promotion. The expection for some kind of great leap forward this season was a little naïve: the Foxes have improved incrementally since winning promotion, but they’ve had a soft schedule at home so far. Nigel Pearson’s version of catenaccio hasn’t really worked elsewhere and they’re also over reliant on David Nugent for goals. Best case scenario: automatic promotion, but at this stage in the season that’s far from certain.
Hull: are scoring more goals than they did last season under Steve Bruce, but still aren’t consistent enough to produce a genuine promotion challenge. Best case scenario: playoffs, but they may have to settle for another top ten finish.
Cardiff: wait and see. Away defensive record isn’t that of potential automatic promotion teams and there’s always a chance of the traditional late season collapse before the damp squib ending to the season – at this point it’s worth remembering that Palace, Forest and Brighton have all lost fewer games. Best case scenario: automatic promotion is within their capabilities, but I’d wait until after Christmas if you fancy a punt.
Middlesbrough: see Hull.
Brighton: a seven game winless streak indicates that Albion are still more or less the same team they were last season – could be a playoff team, but that’s about as good as it might get. It may or may not be significant that they’re the only team in the Championship averaging less than 2.5 goals per game, despite the presence of Craig Mackail-Smith. Best case scenario: playoffs if they don’t have another extended losing streak, otherwise top ten – but that depends on whether they can win the type of games they’ve drawn so far.
Watford: I didn’t think the managerial transition combined with the influx of a lot of new players would work immediately – and it didn’t. But recent results indicate that Zola and the Udinese exiles could be a surprise playoff contender at the end of the season. Best case scenario: the new management don’t get bored after one season and Daniel Pudil stops getting into trouble.
Derby: the Rams continue in the same groove as they did last season. Best case scenario: mid table with a run in the FA Cup.
Leeds: the change of ownership is about the only thing that’s different from the August. Need better, more disciplined defenders than they have at the moment and unless they collapse completely they’ll be in the Championship next season, even if that depends almost entirely on Luciano Becchio scoring most of their goals. Best case scenario: Capital One Cup semi finals
Burnley: I wondered out loud if Eddie Howe might be under pressure if the Clarets weren’t in the promotion mix by Christmas so I was more surprised by the timing of his exit rather than the actual departure. New manager Sean Dyche needs to protect his most valuable asset (Charlie Austin) from having his head turned by offers from above over the next few weeks. Best case scenario: top ten finish.
Barnsley: started reasonably well (for them), but have recently turned into the pushovers they were last season. Not many teams will by winning at Leicester, concede a last minute equaliser and drop into the bottom three in the same afternoon but that’s what the Tykes are capable of. Best case scenario: last day salvation from the drop but they need a regular goalscorer to achieve that.
Ipswich: there are only two ways out of the Championship and it became very obvious early on in the season that if Paul Jewell remained at Portman Road then Ipswich would be leaving by the trap door. Home form has improved under Mick McCarthy, but away form is terrible and can provide an instant morale boost for opposing strikers – which accounts for the worst goal difference in the competition. Best case scenario: they turn into Nottingham Forest next season.
Blackpool: the managerial change was a surprise when it was announced, but stories that emerged afterwards indicate that both the club and Ian Holloway needed a change of direction. Michael Appleton comes across as a safe pair of hands rather than an iconoclastic bumpkin, but Blackpool are another side that are drawing too many games right now. Best case scenario: top half finish, although there’s always one side that does extremely well after Christmas and it could be the Tangerines.
Bristol City: started well, but despite having apparently solved the goal scoring problems the Robins defence has been missing in action for almost the entire season (which has made them the darlings of the ‘goals galore’ coupons) and they’re currently worse this season than they were in 2011/12, which is saying something. On their day they’re capable of beating the best in the division, but equally capable of being a bad League 1 team. Best case scenario: the end of season pitch invasion at Ashton Gate doesn’t need riot police to disperse it.
Birmingham: not sure how much of the current situation can be laid at Lee Clark’s door, but things really aren’t going well at the moment and the boss looks a bit out of his depth so far. Possibly lucky that there are five teams that are currently worse than them. Best case scenario: not having to hear the words ‘still mathematically possible’ at the end of April.
Peterborough: The most accurate prediction of the lot. Best case scenario: promotion back to the Championship in 2014.
THE NEW INTAKE
Blackburn: started well under Steve Kean, so Venky’s got rid of him and for some reason appointed Henning Berg. One win in eight and far too many draws overall doesn’t indicate that they’ll be returning to the land of milk and honey this season, regardless of how many goals Jordan Rhodes scores. Best case scenario: they eventually turn into Hull or Blackpool rather than Burnley but it looks like the glory years are over.
Bolton: very similar story to Blackburn, only substitute Owen Coyle, Phil Gartside and Dougie Freedman for Steve Kean, Venky’s and Henning Berg. At least Freedman has managerial experience in the Championship. Best case scenario: there’s always next season.
Charlton: an interesting reversal of what’s happened to promoted teams in the last couple of seasons. Looked less than convincing at the start of the season but are unbeaten in seven games and may find that momentum carries them into a playoff position. Best case scenario: top ten finish.
Huddersfield: looked as if they could have been this season’s Norwich or Southampton, but have run out of steam recently and may have to be content with a mid table finish: spending the money from the Jordan Rhodes sale might be a good idea, although replacing him might be difficult. Best case scenario: mid table finish with consolidation next season.
Sheffield Wednesday: looks increasingly as if the Owls weren’t ready to compete at this level despite Dave Jones’ experience in the Championship, which tends to support my theory that Sheffield United lost promotion rather than Wednesday won it. I’d be surprised if Jones lasts until May. Best case scenario: safe at the end of Easter, but that means a phenomenal improvement and looks unlikely.
Wolves: started as if they were the most likely of the relegated teams to make an instant return, but then decided to demonstrate exactly how to get relegated from the Premier League to their opponents when they went nine games without a win. Best case scenario: anything could happen but I’ve got a feeling I’ll be writing about them again next season.
Casting the net a little wider…we might be seeing some old friends in 2013/14. Reading and QPR are struggling in the Premier League, while Doncaster and Sheffield United are doing well in League 1.
I’ll be back next week with The Official Christmas Preview, which could make interesting reading for Cardiff City fans.