EFL Championship January Review – Every Side Ranked

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Will Leeds get the job done this season?

We’re approaching the final third of the Championship season, with promotion and relegation matters at the top and bottom of the table still very much in play.

How is your side shaping up after their start to 2020? We’ve graded each side’s January…

 

EFL Championship Grades –
January 2020 
Snap Verdicts

 

Every Championship side as a chocolate bar >>>

LEEDS UTD

Current position: 1st
Reasons to be cheerful: Every Championship title charge has ‘the moment’ that becomes the springboard for promotion. Leeds’ gutsy 3-2 fightback win against Millwall could be the result that defines their season. Marcelo Bielsa’s just provided the perfect response to the ‘bottlers’ charge – now he needs to prove it wasn’t a one-off.
Reasons to be fearful: Leeds are still all too often their own worst enemies. The signing of Jean-Kevin Augustin should help them see off teams when on top in games, but a tendency not to capitalise on their dominance still gives cause for concern.

Monthly Grade: C-

 

WEST BROM

Current position: 2nd
Reasons to be cheerful: If you’re going to hit a rough patch, you might as well do it now rather than at Easter. Bilic still has time on his side to pick West Brom off the floor – but needs some fresh impetus from somewhere to reboot his flailing side.
Reasons to be fearful: The division’s top scorers have forgotten how to find the back of the net, scoring more than once in just one league game in January. Fail to fix that, and an occasionally lapse-prone Baggies defence will have to tighten up.

Monthly Grade: D

 

NOTTINGHAM FOREST

Current position: 3rd
Reasons to be cheerful: The momentum is on their side after an unbeaten start to 2020 in the league. They’ve also shown they can find different ways to win. That could prove invaluable in the run-in when tired legs come into play.
Reasons to be fearful: Closing the gap on the front-runners can bring its own pressure, with Forest no longer swimming under the radar and fans’ expectations now, not unjustifiably, raised. Can Sabri Lamouchi’s side keep calm and carry on with the Premier League very much in sight?

Monthly Grade: A+

 

FULHAM

Current position: 4th
Reasons to be cheerful: Scott Parker’s side still look unconvincing promotion contenders at times, but a respectable January return of seven points from four games has kept them tucked in the race for automatic promotion. They have the talent to kick on… but will they?

The form of Anthony Knockaert could be key to Fulham’s promotion hopes.

Reasons to be fearful: Fulham have a front line most Championship managers would die for, but Parker still needs to find a way to exploit his trump card. Both of the Cottagers’ wins in January came by 1-0 scorelines that were nervier than they needed to be.

Monthly Grade: B

 

BRENTFORD

Current position: 5th
Reasons to be cheerful: This is a club that knows its own identity – which should help them keep calm heads in the frantic rush to the finish in the Championship. The 3-1 win over QPR is the benchmark as to just how good Brentford can be – if in the right mood.
Reasons to be fearful: The Bees have a problem with sealing the deal at this level. At times a class above, the 1-0 reverse at home to Forest is a reminder of their occasionally toothless tendency.

Monthly Grade: B-

 

BRISTOL CITY

Current position: 6th
Reasons to be cheerful: Just when you write them off, Lee Johnson’s Jekyll and Hyde Robins come bouncing back. Three wins in January have seen them sneak to the front of the play-off chasing pack.
Reasons to be fearful: An inexplicable slump in form always seems to be just a game or two away for City, and the Robins arguably had the rub of the green in all three of their January wins. Johnson now needs to bottle that winning feeling ahead of the gruelling run-in.

Monthly Grade: B+

 

PRESTON NORTH END

Current position: 7th
Reasons to be cheerful: The Lilywhites recovered from a wobble at the turn of the year to end the month on a high with a clinical 3-0 win at Barnsley. A generous February fixture list also offers a chance to kick on.
Reasons to be fearful: Deadline day. Will Preston’s play-off chasing rivals – some with bigger budgets to play with – steal a march on the Lilywhites on 31st January? A few astute additions could help Preston finally get over the line and repay Neil’s decision to stick with his project in Lancashire.

Monthly Grade: B

 

SWANSEA CITY

Current position: 8th
Reasons to be cheerful: Inconsistency remains Steve Cooper’s Achilles heel in his first senior role, but his Swans side rarely get themselves stuck in a losing rut. In a Championship play-off chase that still looks wide open, Swansea look more than capable of boxing clever to sneak a top six spot.

Swansea City’s Connor Roberts is challenged by Cardiff City’s Josh Murphy.

Reasons to be fearful: A lack of firepower could ultimately see them fall short. The Swans are the lowest scorers in the top half of the table, and even 15th-placed Reading currently outweigh them in the attacking stakes. Can Cooper find a solution on the final day of the transfer window?

Monthly Grade: B-

 

MILLWALL

Current position: 9th
Reasons to be cheerful: Putting the disappointment of the late second-half collapse to Leeds to one side, there are plenty of reasons for positivity at the Den. Gary Rowett’s biggest successes came under the radar at Burton Albion and Birmingham and he looks to be repeating the trick in South London.
Reasons to be fearful: Rowett could be the victim of his own success after starting life at the Den at breakneck speed. The Lions have enough about them to be a thorn in the side of any top-end Championship side on their day, but may lack the strength in depth to maintain their current consistency.

Monthly Grade: A

 

BLACKBURN ROVERS

Current position: 10th
Reasons to be cheerful: A team moulded in the image of their manager, Blackburn continue to glide through a season that is uncharacteristically stress-free. The 5-0 hammering of Sheffield Wednesday – albeit with 11 vs 10 for much of the game – also suggests a sustained play-off charge shouldn’t necessarily be discounted.
Reasons to be fearful: Rovers have acquitted themselves admirably despite losing star man Bradley Dack at the end of last month, but Mowbray’s hard-working squad may have to settle in for another season of consolidation if the physio room gets any busier this spring.

Monthly Grade: B

 

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY

Current position: 11th
Reasons to be cheerful: The FA Cup provided some much-needed respite from league action for Wednesday, with away wins against Brighton and QPR handing the Owls a mouth-watering home clash against Man City in March. Monk now needs to translate cup form into league form with no distractions in the month ahead.

Garry Monk will be hoping to get a response from his team this February.

Reasons to be fearful: In Championship terms, 2020 is already looking a damp squib for the Owls. Garry Monk is suffering his first major sticky patch, with a 2-0 smash-and-grab win at Leeds the one bright spark of an otherwise forgettable month that has seen their play-off hopes fade.

Monthly Grade: C-

 

CARDIFF CITY

Current position: 12th
Reasons to be cheerful: The fundamentals remain sound at the Cardiff City Stadium. This squad has the experience and depth of talent to mount a late charge in the play-off race. And, as we’ve seen in previous seasons, there’s nearly always one underperforming side that finds some late momentum to reach the play-offs. Cardiff look as good candidates as any.
Reasons to be fearful: Inconsistency continues to dog the Bluebirds. This is a side that started the month with a 6-1 mauling at the hands of QPR before ending it with a morale-boosting win against promotion-chasing West Brom. Neil Harris now needs to find the right blend to make Cardiff a more consistent force heading into the final straight.

Monthly Grade: B-

 

HULL CITY

Current position: 13th
Reasons to be cheerful: Despite a recent downturn in results, a safe mid-table berth at this stage is about as good as fans could have asked for from Grant McCann in his first season as a Championship manager. Recent defeats have all been by the odd goal, which suggests it’s still a little too early to panic about a late-season slump.
Reasons to be fearful: Could the floodgates open at the KC before the start of February? The imminent departure of Kamil Grosicki to West Brom is a blow, while any exit stage left for star man Jarrod Bowen could see the TIgers nosedive towards an unwanted relegation scrap.

Monthly Grade: C-

 

QPR

Current position: 14th
Reasons to be cheerful: While it’s a season that ultimately looks like amounting to no more than mid-table consolidation, Mark Warburton looks to be slowly building something exciting down in South West London with Eberechi Eze and Bright Osayi-Samuel just two young stars attracting interest from on high.

Eberechi Eze – a future Premier League star in the making?

Reasons to be fearful: The ‘beach factor’. QPR already look like a team with too much traffic to wade through for a late play-off push, while still boasting the individual gamechangers required to end any lingering doubts over a relegation battle in the month ahead. Warburton will be hoping his Rs side don’t succumb to complacency too early.

Monthly Grade: B-

 

READING

Current position: 15th
Reasons to be cheerful: A relegation battle for the Royals still looks a distant prospect even if results have been somewhat underwhelming since a surprise 2-1 win at Fulham on opening day. A win is needed to calm nerves soon, however, with Mark Bowen’s side on a four-game lean spell.
Reasons to be fearful: Bowen still looks to be struggling to find the right attacking solutions to fire the Royals away from danger. Goals proved hard to come by in the league in January, with record signing George Pușcaș looking isolated.

Monthly Grade: C

 

DERBY COUNTY

Current position: 16th
Reasons to be cheerful: Wayne Rooney is finally off the mark and the England legend may have use all his experience to carry this dysfunctional Derby outfit to safety with problems on and off the field at Pride Park. Their stadium has been the subject of plenty of debate, but on the pitch at least, it remains a fortress.
Reasons to be fearful: The dreaded ‘D’ word. Could a points deduction plummet Derby deep into the relegation fight later this month? The Rams have little wriggle room even as things stand in their battle against the drop, but that task will get much harder if the EFL opt to take firm action.

Monthly Grade: C

 

MIDDLESBROUGH

Current position: 17th
Reasons to be cheerful: A middling month for Boro in terms of points, but in the battle to stay up, mid-table form is all they will need to start the slow march away from relegation. After a shaky six months, Jonathan Woodgate finally looks to be fixing some of his early mistakes with the Teesiders now far harder to beat.
Reasons to be fearful: This is still a team lacking in any real inspiration – and one you feel has to take the lead in any given game to snatch the points needed to tread water in this division. A lack of goals remains a running sore.

Monthly Grade: B

 

BIRMINGHAM CITY

Current position: 18th
Reasons to be cheerful: Brum’s form is currently dicey, but they always seem to keep themselves in a game – and that gives them a platform to improve on heading into the final third of the campaign. In Lukas Jutkiewicz they also have a proven Championship target man to lead from the front in a war of attrition at the bottom of the table, while Jude Bellingham looks a star in the making.

Lukas Jutkiewicz could be key to Birmingham’s survival chances.

Reasons to be fearful: The wins have dried up for Pep Clotet after his better-than-expected start at St Andrews, and doubts remain as to whether, despite an impressive coaching pedigree, the Spaniard can really cut it as a No. 1. A pincer movement is also forming beneath them, with at least a few clubs below them looking more likely to embark on a sustained winning streak.

Monthly Grade: C

 

HUDDERSFIELD TOWN

Current position: 19th
Reasons to be cheerful: The Terriers are still struggling for consistency, but the Cowleys have turned the Terriers into a side with enough about them to just keep their heads above water this year. Hudds took a point per game in January – a repeat of that for the rest of the season would take them close to the safe haven of the 50-point mark.
Reasons to be fearful: A big February lies ahead – and it’s one that could make or break their season. Huddersfield have four home games in the month ahead, but with the worst home record in the league, that might not necessarily play to their advantage.

Monthly Grade: B-

 

STOKE CITY

Current position: 20th
Reasons to be cheerful: After several misjudgements, in Michael O’Neill the powers-that-be at Stoke might finally have stumbled upon the right man to get the Potters back on track. 10 points in January has given the Potters some breathing space in the relegation battle. The Northern Irishman has brought the gritty ‘band of brothers’ that worked so well for him at international level to the club game.
Reasons to be fearful: That form will need to be maintained as February looks as if it could be a decisive month, with trips to Derby and Luton and a home tie against Charlton likely to be pivotal in shaping Stoke’s part to play in the relegation race.

Monthly Grade: A

 

CHARLTON ATHLETIC

Current position: 21st
Reasons to be cheerful: Lee Bowyer knew he had his work cut out to keep Charlton above the safety lines this season. That means despite plummeting towards trouble since late autumn, the equation for the Addicks this season hasn’t changed. Bad luck has also played its part – Bowyer’s side rarely lose by more than one goal.

Can Charlton turn things around?

Reasons to be fearful: Charlton need to start turning home draws into wins. Points against the likes of West Brom and Fulham at the Valley in January were credible, but the Addicks need to start putting their nearest rivals away more often on home soil.

Monthly Grade: D

 

WIGAN ATHLETIC

Current position: 22nd
Reasons to be cheerful: Two wins in January was a marked improvement on December for the Latics, who fell into a bad habit of drawing at the end of 2019. The impressive fightback against Sheffield Wednesday should also help give this side some renewed relief they have the character to escape the drop.
Reasons to be fearful: Away form reverted back to the mean for Paul Cook’s side against Swansea after the Latics finally broke their away duck in January with a precious 3-2 win at fellow away strugglers Birmingham. The Latics desperately need more wins away to take the pressure off results at the DW.

Monthly Grade: B

 

BARNSLEY

Current position: 23rd
Reasons to be cheerful: An away trip to Fulham aside, February’s fixtures have fallen kindly for Barnsley with home games against Sheffield Wednesday, Birmingham and Middlesbrough giving the Tykes an irresistible opportunity to close up the gap on the rest of the relegation pack.
Reasons to be fearful: Could the new manager bounce be over at Oakwell? Gerhard Struber hit the ground running at Oakwell, but heavy defeats at home to Preston and against Portsmouth in the FA Cup suggest the Austrian’s initial impact could be starting to wear off.

Monthly Grade: C

 

LUTON TOWN

Current position: 24th
Reasons to be cheerful: The rousing 3-2 win over Derby gives the Hatters some hope to cling onto with the gap to safety now at six points. That marked a first win since early December for Graeme Jones’ side, who now have four home games in six matches in February to build on a result that could shake them back into contention for survival.
Reasons to be fearful: A soft underbelly still threatens to send Luton back down to the third tier at the first time of asking – as when the Hatters lose, they tend to lose in style. 63 goals shipped in 29 games is a record that hardly looks promising for a successful survival bid. For context, next worst offenders Barnsley have conceded 54.

Monthly Grade: C-

Every Championship side as a chocolate bar >>>

 

Images: PA Images

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