2019/20 Championship Autumn Grades – Part 2
With over a third of the season gone, and teams about to tackle a busy festive fixture list, how is the Championship shaping up compared to pre-season expectations?
Here are our autumn 2019/20 Championship grades for each side’s season so far.
Part 2 looks at Luton Town through to Wigan Athletic…
EFL Championship Sides Ranked – Luton Town to Wigan Athletic
Current position: 21ST
Reasons to be cheerful: Goals. Unlike many of their immediate rivals, the Hatters know how to find the back of the net – it’s keeping them out at the other end that continues to be an issue. Graeme Jones is schooled in the art of attacking football after 11 years shadowing Robert Martinez. That firepower could be the differential as Luton continue to scrap their way towards survival.
Reasons to be fearful: It could be a long winter ahead with Luton currently on their worst run of the season after losing four games in a row. Losing can become a habit in the Championship – and Luton’s 3-0 reverse against Reading is a worrying sign that some of the fight and momentum from winning promotion has now started to fade. With three out of their next four games coming at home, this month could be crucial to Luton’s survival chances.
Current position: 22ND
Reasons to be cheerful: There’s not much to be cheerful about at the Riverside with Boro’s winless streak in danger of stretching to double figures. That’s heaped the pressure on rookie boss Jonathan Woodgate. However, he can take a crumb of comfort from the fact Boro remain resilient as a defensive unit, conceding the least goals of the current bottom seven. If he can fix the Teesiders’ powderpuff attack, he at least has a springboard to work from.
Reasons to be fearful: The justification for sacking Tony Pulis for a more ambitious playing style under Woodgate looks questionable given Boro have looked even less effective as an attacking force this campaign. With only 13 goals in 16 games, it’s hard to see where the goals are coming from to help fire Boro up the table. Steve Gibson is a notoriously patient chairman. Will he hold his nerve if Woodgate continues to struggle?
Current position: 15TH
Reasons to be cheerful: The decision to part ways with Neil Harris wasn’t an easy decision on all sides, but it looks like the Lions could reap the rewards after opting for a fresh start under Gary Rowett. The former Stoke and Derby man has arguably done his best work on limited budgets at Birmingham and Burton Albion, and if his start is anything to go by, both club and manager look the perfect fit.
Reasons to be fearful: Away form remains Millwall’s biggest Achilles heel with a record of P8 D4 L4. That puts a huge amount of pressure on their form at the Den, which continues to be the ultimate Championship fortress. Part of Rowett’s brief will surely be to make his side far more competitive on the road, starting with a trip to Swansea this weekend.
Current position: 5TH
Reasons to be cheerful: Forest finally look like they have a manager with a coherent gameplan to move them closer to Premier League football for the first time in over 20 years. Sabri Lamouchi’s appointment was received with plenty of cynicism last summer. However, the former Rennes man looks to have found the right blend at Forest, with the Reds capable of plucking out important wins both home and away. Their staying power will surely be tested, but the early signs are positive.
Reasons to be fearful: Forest have improved leaps and bounds but can still be guilty of occasionally being their own worst enemy. Lamouchi’s side suffered a small blip earlier this campaign in games that have looked their for the taking – a 1-2 home defeat to 10-man Hull and a wasteful 1-0 defeat away at struggling Wigan. If they can cut out those occasional displays, they could be serious contenders.
PRESTON NORTH END
Current position: 2ND
Reasons to be cheerful: Stability can often be the key to a sustained Championship promotion push, and Preston look like a team that know exactly what they need to do under the underrated Alex Neil. What they lack in household names, they more than make up for in terms of team ethic and technical guile. Comfortably the division’s top scorers, don’t expect this season’s surprise package to fade away any time soon.
Reasons to be fearful: Neil’s star continues to grow and with several high-profile Championship clubs casting admiring glances his way, he surely won’t be short of tempting offers should Preston’s upwardly mobile momentum continue. That said, he’s so far shown impressive loyalty to the Lilywhites’ cause. All Preston fans will be hoping that holds as they look to mount a first genuine push towards Premier League football since 2008/09.
Current position: 10TH
Reasons to be cheerful: Mark Warburton has lifted spirits in West London with QPR moving in the right direction after the largely forgettable Steve McClaren. The former Nottingham Forest boss arguably had a point to prove after disappointing ends to his tenures at both the City Ground and Rangers and looks to have found the ideal project at a club that have struggled to develop an identity in recent seasons. Warburton has also stumbled upon a potent Championship strike force with Nahki Wells and Jordan Hugill dab hands as poachers at this level.
Reasons to be fearful: This squad still looks thin in certain areas, which might temper any ambitions beyond consolidating at this level. Any injuries to Wells or Hugill would leave the Hoops looking very light up front. Warburton will also need to work hard to rebuff any approaches for breakthrough star Eberechi Eze in January, with the 21-year-old shining in midfield.
Current position: 17TH
Reasons to be cheerful: The backlash against sporting director Mark Bowen appointing Mark Bowen as first-team coach appears to have subsided. Despite the controversy surrounding his appointment, the Welshman has made a positive start with three wins from his first four games. The Royals’ attacking options still look versatile enough for Bowen to avoid a lengthy relegation fight, with Sam Baldock finally back in favour and George Pușcaș overdue a purple patch after tailing off following his flying start.
Reasons to be fearful: Midfield options look thin on the ground at the Madejski. John Swift and Ovie Ejaria add much-needed creativity and intelligence to the Royals midfield. Back-up support looks limited, however, if either two were to pick up an injury over the intense festive period with most likely replacement Charlie Adam rapidly approaching his 34th birthday.
Current position: 8TH
Reasons to be cheerful: He’s yet to get his hands on any silverware, but in Garry Monk, Wednesday have one of the Championship’s shrewdest operators. The former Leeds, Boro and Birmingham boss is well-drilled in the art of negotiating a challenging 46-game season, and should have no problem keeping this Owls side competitive all the way through to the finish.
Reasons to be fearful: Wednesday’s fortunes this season could ultimately be decided off the pitch, with the EFL charging the club with misconduct. That could leave them facing sanctions including a possible points deduction. Fortunately for the Owls, in Monk they have a manager more than used to working in difficult circumstances after he faced a similar scenario with Birmingham last year.
Current position: 23RD
Reasons to be cheerful: It’s been mostly gallows humour around the Britannia so far this season. However, in Michael O’Neill they now have a manager who has both personality and positivity in abundance – and Stoke are badly in need of some of Northern Ireland’s fighting spirit right now. He’s made an instant impact, winning a huge six-pointer against Barnsley in his first game in charge.
Reasons to be fearful: O’Neill needs to build on his beginner’s luck. Stoke need to start registering back-to-back wins to really pull away from danger. That’s a trick they haven’t pulled off since October 2018. Even during Nathan Jones’ ill-fated squad there were glimpses of a squad capable of kicking on. Now O’Neill needs to hit upon the consistency Jones never managed to unlock as he returns to club management for the first time since 2011.
Current position: 4TH
Reasons to be cheerful: Steve Cooper has picked up from where Graham Potter left off in turning a raw but exciting Swans squad into a force to be reckoned with. U20 World Cup winner Cooper isn’t quite as wedded to a fixed football philosophy as Potter, but arguably has the pragmatism needed to deliver a prolonged promotion push. Swansea have developed a good habit of grinding out important wins, helped by forgotten man Borja suddenly proving his worth in South Wales. With a year’s extra experience under their belts, the signs are encouraging for Swansea’s young squad.
Reasons to be fearful: Home form needs to be improved if the Swans are going to retain their place amongst the division’s big hitters. Cooper has adapted seamlessly to life managing at senior level, but their form at the Liberty has been indifferent, with the derby day win over Cardiff only their first in five attempts. That could put the brakes on any hopes of an automatic promotion challenge.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION
Current position: 1ST
Reasons to be cheerful: Slaven Bilić has got the Baggies bouncing. His risky decision to put his reputation on the line in the cut-throat world of Championship football looks to be paying dividends, with their games routinely delivering entertainment value. West Brom are showing no signs of missing Jay Rodriguez and Dwight Gayle despite concerns goals might be hard to come by this campaign – in fact, they’re the division’s second highest scorers. That firepower could be the difference between the top two and top six.
Reasons to be fearful: For all his experience in the game, Bilić still needs some silverware to show for his impressive CV. West Brom look to be in the small clutch of clubs towards the top of the table capable of pulling clear of the chasing pack. However, closing the deal is never easy at Championship level. Bilić will need to cut out some of the Baggies’ occasional sloppiness (2-2 draws with Barnsley and Charlton are a case in point), to keep them firmly in the hunt.
Current position: 20TH
Reasons to be cheerful: Paul Cook has his critics at Championship level, but the Latics boss tends to find a way to pull rabbits out of a hat just when the Latics look in danger of nose-diving. Wigan look like a side destined to be locked in a season-long battle against the drop but battling wins at the DW may just help them keep their heads above water yet again. Two recent home defeats to Swansea and Brentford will hardly calm nerves, but home form remains their best hope of once again keeping the trap door slammed shut.
Reasons to be fearful: While home form has started to wobble, it’s persistently poor away form that has raised concerns amongst fans over Cook’s suitability as a second tier manager. Wigan’s travel sickness has continued from last season, when the Latics only registered two wins on the road all campaign. This season, travelling fans are still being kept waiting. It could be a long winter.
Do you agree with our autumn Championship grades?
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Image sources: PA Images