EFL Championship – Early Season Verdict – Part 1
We’re nine games into the Championship season and the league table is starting to take shape, but how is each team faring compared to pre-season expectations?
Here are our snap verdicts on each Championship team after the first two months of the season…
Current position: 13th
Verdict: The vultures are already circling around Steve Bruce at Villa Park after a patchy start to the season. This is surely a make-or-break campaign for Villa after three years marooned at this level, but the new investors are so far showing patience with Bruce as he looks to fix the defensive issues that have contributed to their indifferent start.
Villa has a squad that should harbour realistic ambitions of chasing an automatic spot, but any more drift over the next month could leave them facing another unwanted play-off campaign – or missing out completely.
Current position: 17th
Verdict: A strange season so far for Garry Monk’s side – and one that has yet again been dominated by off-field issues. The Blues have been nothing if not consistent this season – drawing six of their nine games – but may lack the necessary squad depth to avoid anything but a long season of struggle. Monk certainly has the organisational skills to keep this squad clear of relegation danger, but things could get tight if key players like Jota and Jutkiewicz get injured.
Current position: 12th
Verdict: Tony Mowbray looks to have steadied the ship at Ewood Park after a traumatic couple of years for the club, and has squeezed the most out of the momentum that often comes with winning promotion back to the Championship. A play-off charge might be beyond them, but they look far better than the relegation candidates many predicted they would be.
Current position: 15th
Verdict: A flying start to the season had many Trotters fans revising their pre-season predictions, but recent events off the field have now tempered expectations. Phil Parkinson continues to keep calm and carry on at the University of Bolton Stadium, and another season of survival at this level would only underline the quietly impressive job he has done in Lancashire since joining the club in 2016.
Current position: 7th
Verdict: Dean Smith’s side can look the class act of the division in the right frame of mind, and after a few near misses, a genuine tilt at promotion finally looks achievable for the West London club.
However, at times they can be their own worst enemy in stumbling against supposedly weaker opponents. If Smith can fix that, a season in the Premier League could be the fitting sign-off that their famous Griffin Park ground deserves.
Current position: 8th
Verdict: Encouragingly for City fans, Lee Johnson’s side look like they could fulfil the role of ‘dangerous wildcards’ in the Championship this season, previously filled by the likes of Huddersfield and Blackpool, capable of beating any side and going on a hot streak while still bubbling under the radar. Inconsistency remains a problem, but it wouldn’t be at all surprising if City sneak one of the play-off spots from nowhere come May.
Current position: 6th
Verdict: A play-off berth after nine games is a respectable return for rookie boss Frank Lampard, who has so far shown he can bounce back from the odd defeat during his fledgling managerial reign at Pride Park. The big worry with Derby will be – as ever – whether their much-touted collapse comes into play as the pressure mounts after Christmas. Can Lampard be the manager who finally rewrites that script?
Current position: 21st
Verdict: Nigel Adkins is operating under a tight budget at the KC Stadium and it looks like another season of struggle for a team more accustomed to challenging at the top end of the table in recent years.
They have shown flashes of promise against Rotherham and Ipswich, and it’ll be those key six-pointers against the likely clubs around them that could just keep their heads above water.
Current position: 23rd
Verdict: The Suffolk club deserve credit for sticking with Paul Hurst despite his winless start to life in East Anglia, but how long will it be until patience wears thin? Many Town fans were more than happy to see the back of Mick McCarthy, but it could be a case of be careful what you wish for. Ipswich need a win from somewhere – and fast – or it could finally be the season we say goodbye to the longest-serving team in the division.
Current position: 1st
Verdict: The Bielsa Effect has had instant results at Elland Road, but question marks remain if they can sustain that level of performance throughout the season to end their long absence from the top tier. Leeds ideally need a win against Sheffield Wednesday this week to regain momentum after the blip of losing at home to early-season strugglers Birmingham.
Current position: 2nd
Verdict: Tony Pulis is a classy operator at this level, and any club that manages to finish higher than Boro will surely be enjoying days out at the Emirates, Old Trafford and Etihad next season. The meanest defence in the division should help keep them in the hunt for automatic promotion all season. Major title contenders.
Current position: 22nd
Verdict: After a fantastic season which almost culminated in an unlikely play-off campaign in 2017/18, Neil Harris’ side have reverted back to the mean this year and look set for the relegation scrap expected last season. With a smaller budget than many in this division, anything above 22nd still remains a perfectly acceptable return for the South London club.