Unless your team was unfortunate enough to be struck by bad weather (particularly Barnsley), you may realise we are now at the halfway point of the Championship season. 23 games gone and all of sudden ambitions become a bit clearer for clubs. The championship can be one of the most exciting leagues in the world and this season has been no exception – providing plenty of thrills along the way. Amidst the alcohol (and hangovers) of the festive period, why don’t we take a look back at some of the main talking points of the season so far and I will give my opinion on a few categories I feel have been worthy of being labelled the best so far this season.
The Toon Army Answer Their Critics:
Many people predicted Newcastle would struggle this season and few predicted the level of success they have achieved so far. A team that fell out of the Premiership with no fight what so ever has unified this season and sent the famous black and white stripes back to the top of the league. Many considered Newcastle to face even more pressure due to the stature of the club and were labelled ‘one of the big scalps’. But the players have responded well and despite the fact the off field troubles still continue, they find themselves sitting comfortably at the top of the table. The Geordies should be warned however that the work is far from done yet and as the Championship is one of the most open leagues in the world today.
Peter Whittingham Fires His Way To The Top:
In a league where usually a great goal poacher can gain you success, three of the top five goal scorers are midfielders. Cardiff’s Peter Whittingham finds himself at the top on 12 goals for the season, the former Aston Villa youngster has been in great form this season and one of the reasons why Cardiff find themselves in a serious bid for promotion. He is joined up there by fellow team mate Michael Chopra and both have helped make Cardiff a free scoring entertaining team. The two will be expected to keep up their efforts and Cardiff fans will be hopeful that Whittingham will continue to be allowed his freer role.
The Tractor Boys Going Backwards:
Roy Keane spent a considerable amount of money compared to his managerial peers in this league and so far Ipswich have struggled dearly. Instead of a promotion bid the club will probably have to focus their attention on a relegation battle as the club struggles in a number of areas this season particularly when it comes to a reliable goal scorer. The last few games have shown a bit of hope for the club and I still believe they will be safe, Keane is still finding the right formula and it is great to see how much confidence the board have put in him – something rare in this day and age.
Swansea Flying High – But How?
Not saying they’re not playing well but its rare to see a team with a goals for and against record like theirs. Swansea currently have the second worst goal scoring record in the league yet have found themselves in the playoff contention for much of the season. Paulo Souasa has made Swansea’s defence stern and hard to break down something, which isn’t often mentioned, but brilliant in it’s own right. The multinational side will be hoping to continue to churn out results for the club and promotion is very realistic target for the Welsh side.
Fortress Aston Gate Breached:
Bristol City almost managed to go a whole year without losing a single home league game until Sheffield United scored a last minute winner after Bristol City thought they’d held on to their record only seconds earlier when they equalised. Take nothing away from Gary Johnson however, the manager of City has been superb and I for one think it would be great to see a team from Bristol in the top flight once again. The club are sitting in 12th place as things stand so their season could really go either way. Fans of the club would be happy if their home form in 2010 mirrored that of the previous year.
The Madjeski Ruins Crumble:
On an alternative note, Reading’s home form has been woeful and something of a phenomenon. I couldn’t even tell you how many games it is since they last won at home, but it is definitely a confidence issue with the players, as the club has relied on it’s home form to pick up the points this season. The club should be optimistic that 2010 can bring a fresh start at their home ground – all it will take is one win for players to get their confidence back.
Rival Supporters Green With Envy At Forrest:
Nottingham Forrest are rolling back the years and are currently 15 games unbeaten. Billy Davies is once again proving he is a manager with confidence in this league and that certainly reflects on his players. The club is certainly stating its ambition and recently loaned in former England international Nicky Shorey, showing that the club is serious about bringing in players to help their promotion push. It’s quite funny really; a manager gains success with local rivals Derby County, has a disagreement with their board, leaves and then goes on to become successful with Forrest. Where have I heard that before?
My Awards So Far:
Best Goal Of The Season So Far: Nicky Maynard – QPR V Bristol City
Yes its fresh in the memory (from this weekend) but don’t let that take anything away from Maynard’s goal. City may have ended up losing this game, but Maynard’s strike was a superb individual effort – controlling the ball with two fabulous touches before volleying the shot past a helpless Cerny in the QPR goal. If you haven’t already seen it I suggest you do, it’s as good a goal I think you will ever see!
Best Decision Of The Season So Far: Barnsley Hiring Mark Robins
I remember hearing a few Barnsley fans who were unhappy at the club hiring Robins’ from Rotherham, but he is one fantastic manager. When he took over the club was at the foot of the Championship, yet Robins’ has helped the club up the league and gained the respect of the Yorkshire outfit’s fans. Fantastic wins against West Brom, Blackpool and Cardiff have steered the club into more control and Robins’ must take plenty of the credit for that. As a Newcastle fan I went to our game against them at Oakwell and it is clear to see how confident he has got his team playing and every player gives 110%.
Worst Decision Of The Season So Far: Plymouth V Barnsley Replay
This was a tough decision and Barnsley are involved once again. If you are a regular reader you may have read my post slamming Peterborough’s decision to part ways with Darren Ferguson but the Plymouth V Barnsley game at home park was a whole different story which raises all sorts of questions regarding common sense in football. Barnsley were 4-1 up in the 2nd half but weather conditions got so bad (in the referee’s opinion) that the game was called off after 58 minutes. Barnsley were understandably upset at the decision, particularly when football league rules state that the game must be replayed from the start at a later date. The conditions did look bad, but do you really need to restart the game from 0-0 when Barnsley were dominating? If anything the game should restart from 58 minutes at 4-1 – Plymouth is not exactly the easiest place to get to. Barnsley fans were promised that their tickets for the replay would be free, but travel costs alone are quite expensive on that particular journey – I’m sure the tykes would gladfully of taken the three points!
Best Signing Of The Season So Far: Doncaster Rover’s Loan Of Billy Sharp
Many football fans have a keen fondness for Sharp, particularly because he has fired their own team to victory numerous times on their football manager game. The young front man struggled in his time at Sheffield United, but a loan move to local Doncaster has seen the player rekindle the form he showed at Scunthope United and he seems to be enjoying his football more than ever. Who knows, maybe he felt too much pressure at United but Doncaster has put him back on the map. Donny will be hoping that the Blades don’t decide to recall the striker earlier to cash in on his good form as he has been their key player this season.
Worst Signing Of The Season So Far: Ipswich Town’s Signing Of Tamas Priskin For £1.7m
In this league £1.7m is a lot of money. It seems even more when its a striker who has got you one goal all season. Priskin may be the stem of all Keane’s problems as his price tag would suggest that the Irishman was intending to base a team around Priskin and he has been less than impressive so far. Priskin is probably lacking a lot of confidence at the moment and Keane should keep the faith with him, Brendan Rodgers proved at Watford that the big Czech hitman can get you the goals if you implement him in the correct way.
Best Game Of The Season So Far: Nottingham Forrest 3-2 Derby County
It’s a big derby that hasn’t got the recognition it really deserves considering both sides have fallen from grace slightly. Last Season Derby beat Forrest 3-2 in this fixture, so Forrest were obviously keen to prove a point and took a commanding 3-0 lead at half time. Nigel Clough obviously got his players fired up at the break and a fortuitous own goal followed by a Jake Livermore strike meant that there was everything to play for in this thrilling local encounter. Forrest held out and took home the bragging rights. I bet Derby will be determined to get one over on their rivals when the sides meet at Pride Park in 2010.
Best Manager Of The Season So Far: Billy Davies – Nottingham Forrest
As mentioned above, Forrest are having a great season and much of that can be credited to their fantastic manager Davies. It could have been easy (especially as a born and bred Geordie) to give this award to Chris Hughton at Newcastle United, but Davies has guided his team up the table without the resources Hughton possesses. 15 games unbeaten is a fantastic achievement for any club and Forrest can only go from strength to strength. Davies never really got a chance with Derby in the Premiership; he will be hoping he can get this opportunity with Forrest.
The One To Look Out For: Tom Cleverly – Watford
He may be on loan from Manchester United, but this lad can strike fear into any defence. Many clubs have their eyes on the young red devil – his performances for Watford have not gone unnoticed and the 20 year old has been a star for the Hornets. A clever player on the ball who shows bags of confidence, he is a player who improves with every game he plays and any young Englishman that puts the effort in on the pitch is bound to be coveted by a number of league sides.
Best Player Of The Season So Far: Kevin Nolan - Newcastle United
A player that never really did anything for the Toon in the premiership has exploded into life this season and has been one of the driving forces behind Newcastle’s surge to the top of the table. The former Bolton captain has put a number of defences to the sword and Newcastle will be confident that if they can keep their star midfield man in the transfer window then they will bounce back to the Premier league at the first time of asking.
So there you have it. But remember, that’s only my opinion. Do you agree? If not why don’t you leave a comment and let us know here at Championship talk! Hope you all had a great Christmas and heres to hoping that you and your football team has a great new year!