2019/20 Championship Autumn Grades – Part 1
With over a third of the 2019/20 Championship season gone, how is the league shaping up compared to pre-season expectations?
Here are our autumn Championship grades as teams head towards a hectic festive schedule.
Part 1 looks at Barnsley through to Leeds…
EFL Championship Sides Ranked – Barnsley to Leeds Utd
Current position: 24TH
Reasons to be cheerful: The situation looks bleak, but there’s still time – just – to turn this season around at Oakwell. After taking over a month to assess their options, Barnsley surely now need an expert firefighter to help salvage a miserable return so far to the second tier. Wolfsberger AC manager Gerhard Struber looks to be the man charged with that task after success in his native Austria. He looks to be taking on a thankless task so will need to hit the ground running to give the Tykes a shot at survival.
Reasons to be fearful: If the appointment has taken this long, it may be a sign of potential managers already spotting the writing on the wall for a campaign that has so far mustered just one win in 16 attempts. Barnsley’s high-risk squad turnover in the summer also looks to have backfired badly with many of their promotion-winning squad members moving on to pastures new.
Current position: 13TH
Reasons to be cheerful: After another summer of instability at St Andrews, and question marks over Pep Clotet’s suitability as a manager, it’s been a surprisingly drama-free start to the season for Birmingham. That’s as probably as good as they could have hoped for after Garry Monk’s surprise pre-season departure, and Clotet has stamped his own style on the side despite still officially remaining in caretaker charge.
Reasons to be fearful: The lack of clarity on Clotet’s position could backfire if Birmingham’s form starts to tail off over the busy festive period. The Spaniard has had to turn to several promising young players this season who have mostly impressed so far – but that lack of experience could prove costly over a 46-game season.
Current position: 18TH
Reasons to be cheerful: Rovers have been underwhelming so far, but the vastly-experienced Tony Mowbray is one of the Championship’s most honest operators. He’s openly acknowledged the fact his side are failing to scale the heights of last season where they never seriously looked in danger. The 55-year-old read his side the riot act after their defeat to Birmingham last month – and they responded with a battling turnaround win over Sheffield Wednesday which suggests they are, for now, still listening.
Reasons to be fearful: In a league as bunched up as the 2019/20 Championship, fine margins could prove decisive this year. That counts against a Blackburn side that looks less able than most to string a consistent run of results together. Away form has also tailed off badly. Mowbray will need to arrest that slide before the busiest part of the season.
Current position: 9TH
Reasons to be cheerful: Slow starts and strong finishes are just what Brentford do. That means a unremarkable opening third of the season won’t be overly concerning Thomas Frank and a Bees side you suspect are still capable of kicking on in the second half of the season. Only four points off the play-offs, Brentford have topped the form table over the last five games. If that run continues, it could see them bang in contention come Christmas.
Reasons to be fearful: Bees fans would love nothing more than to sign off in style with promotion to the Premier League at the end of the season after over 115 years at Griffin Park as they move to a state-of-the-art new home next year. Sadly, their spiritual home seems to be hampering their chances of a fairy-tale finish so far. Brentford’s patchy home form (two wins, three draws, two defeats) seems to be their biggest barrier to a successful play-off push after several near misses.
Current position: 6TH
Reasons to be cheerful: With 25 goals, City are up there with the Championship’s highest scorers – despite leading marksman Andreas Weimann chipping in with only six of those. This is a City squad that likes to spread the goals around – and that’s a handy commodity to have in the Championship. 11 players have found their goalscoring touch in league action so far, and that versatility could prove vital heading into a testing run of games.
Reasons to be fearful: The Robins don’t believe in the concept of ‘the formbook’. Lee Johnson’s tenure at City has been marked by purple patches and barren runs, and that streaky habit means their play-off chances could all rest on good timing come spring. First, they’ll need to start converting draws into wins.
Current position: 14TH
Reasons to be cheerful: After a stellar three-year spell in South Wales, there were mounting signs Neil Warnock’s methods were no longer having the desired effect before his surprise departure last week. After arguably punching above their weight last season in taking top-flight survival to the penultimate game, the Bluebirds have struggled to carve out a post-Premier League identity. New man at the helm Neil Harris may not be the big-name appointment many fans were hoping for. At 42, however, he has both the experience and ambition to make a name for himself at a club with a far more competitive budget than Millwall.
Reasons to be fearful: One niggling concern for Bluebirds fans is whether their new manager can succeed outside of his comfort zone. A club legend in South London, Harris enjoyed a short loan spell with Cardiff in 2004, but this will be his first assignment away from the Den in half a decade. Can he transfer his skills to unfamiliar surroundings? Harris’ first task will be to unlock more from a clutch of summer signings who flattered to deceive for Warnock.
Current position: 11TH
Reasons to be cheerful: Written off pre-season as a club nailed on for an instant return to League One, a siege mentality has taken hold in south London with Charlton looking every inch a competitive Championship club. While their flying start to the season has tailed off, bad luck has played its part in recent results. Provided Lee Bowyer keeps calm and carries on, fans still have no need to panic just yet about a potential late-season slump.
Reasons to be fearful: Bowyer continues to be a man in demand. So far, reports linking him away from the club have failed to come to fruition – but that might not necessarily hold if any clubs get trigger happy over the Christmas period. Bowyer has performed wonders on a shoestring budget in south London but could be forgiven for wondering how much further he can take the Addicks from their current upper mid-table berth. A win from somewhere soon would also be reassuring having gone four without one.
Current position: 16TH
Reasons to be cheerful: The international break probably came at the right time for the Rams after a frustrating derby-day defeat and a first third of the season dogged by off-pitch controversy. Phillip Cocu can take comfort from the fact the Rams’ home form is up there with the best in the league – which gives him a platform to build upon if he can start to replicate that on the road. Wayne Rooney’s imminent arrival is also one of this season’s wildcards – could it help galvanise Derby after a difficult season to date?
Reasons to be fearful: Travel sickness looks to be the Rams’ biggest stumbling block if they want to avoid treading water in the lower reaches of the Championship table. Derby have won just one game all season on the road. That 2-1 win at newly-relegated Huddersfield in Cocu’s first game in charge seems a lifetime ago now. Without improvement on that front, it’s that dreaded ‘season of transition’ at Pride Park.
Current position: 7TH
Reasons to be cheerful: The Cottagers have looked far from convincing on their return to this level – and yet find themselves only five points off the top two. Fulham can count their blessings that, for the time being at least, there are no outstanding candidates running away with this league. Now Scott Parker needs to bank that bit of good fortune and find the consistent performance levels needed to start putting inferior opponents away on a more regular basis.
Reasons to be fearful: Fulham’s firepower alone should make them unstoppable at this level. Beyond the potent Aleksandar Mitrović, there’s a sense Scott Parker still isn’t getting enough from his wealth of attacking options. In a league that looks wide open, the rookie boss still deserves more time to hit upon a winning formula, but the natives could get restless if automatic promotion looks a non-starter come the New Year.
Current position: 19TH
Reasons to be cheerful: The Terriers’ prospects look far brighter than they did two months ago where they looked in danger of repeating Sunderland’s party trick of moving from the bright lights of the Premier League to the depths of League One in the space of 12 months. That immediate threat looks to have dissipated after Danny Cowley’s arrival at the club, with the former Lincoln man instantly lifting both morale and results in West Yorkshire.
Reasons to be fearful: Cowley must be on his guard to avoid any complacency creeping in. Four wins in seven games have helped Huddersfield put clear blue water between themselves and the relegation zone. However, the new Terriers boss is wily enough to know his job is not even half done. For now, Huddersfield remain in an almighty relegation scrap with only five points separating 17th and 22nd. Even a small drop-off in form could put them back in serious trouble.
Current position: 12TH
Reasons to be cheerful: Despite working on limited resources, Grant McCann has taken to Championship management with the minimum of fuss despite reservations about his appointment following solid if unspectacular spells with Peterborough and Doncaster in League One. The Northern Irishman has pulled out some eye-catching results including two slick 3-0 away wins at Fulham and Luton and a 10-man 2-1 away win at play-off chasers Nottingham Forest. A relegation scrap looks on hold for this season at least.
Reasons to be fearful: Hull’s staying power could be improved with a tendency to switch off in the second half of games. The Tigers’ first-half performances this season would see them mixing it with the promotion chasers with only Leeds topping them after 45 minutes played. Sloppier second-half showings make them much more likely to be settling for mid-table mediocrity come May, however.
Current position: 3RD
Reasons to be cheerful: Even another self-inflicted stumble might not be enough to stop Leeds finally getting over the line this season in a Championship that looks notably weaker than previous incarnations. Leeds and Bielsa can rightly feel aggrieved not to have more points on the board for their efforts this season after a few misfires at Elland Road at the start of this campaign. They’ve recently put that right with four home wins on the bounce, while picking up comfortably more than a point per game on their travels – the sort of form that wins you promotion. With the Championship’s meanest defence (9 goals conceded) to fall back on, Leeds look ready to assert their authority on the league this autumn.
Reasons to be fearful: All the stats suggest Bielsa’ side are a class apart so far this season – but that will be of little comfort to Leeds fans accustomed to their club somehow snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. A tendency for his side to be wasteful in front of goal continues to be Bielsa’s biggest headache heading into a grueling winter fixture list. If he can fix that, expect Leeds to finally convert encouraging stats into a sustained promotion charge.
Do you agree with our autumn Championship grades?
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Image sources: PA Images