We are fast approaching Christmas and the Sky Bet Championship is really taking shape. Like every other season, the Championship has already thrown up some real surprises. Here are the five things that have made it an eye-opening first half of the season.
1. Burnley leading the way
Very few people would have predicted Burnley to be in the automatic promotion places as we head into the middle of December. Indeed, before the season kicked off, the Clarets were tipped at 50/1 to go up as Champions and were 16/1 to be promoted to the Premier League. A low mid-table season flirting with relegation trouble was expected, especially after losing 20-goal-a-season man Charlie Austin to QPR.
Step up Danny Ings and Sam Vokes. Without doubt the most lethal partnership in the league so far this season, the pair have already scored 21 goals between them and have proved too much for most Championship defenses to handle. Combine this firepower with a solid back five who have only shipped 13 goals in 19 games and you have the recipe for a successful campaign. Will Burnley be able to keep this up after Christmas? There is no evidence to suggest they won’t be able to but they will have to strengthen the squad in January to account for the inevitable injuries and suspensions.
2. Blackburn haven’t sacked a manager yet
It has been four months since the season started and Blackburn still haven’t sacked a manager. Madness. Last season was an absolute shambles for the Rovers – a poor 17th place finish barely tells the story. Blackburn had five different managers in charge of the club throughout the season including the sackings of Steve Kean, Henning Berg and Michael Appleton. Kean was ironically sacked when he was achieving the most success of his ill-fated tenure. Berg was an unmitigated disaster and Appleton was given 67 days, including an FA Cup win at Arsenal, before being given the boot by a man he had never met.
Although it is disappointing for the rest of us to no longer be able to laugh at Blackburn’s expense, they finally seem to be achieving some form of stability. Gary Bowyer isn’t the most charismatic manager but he has done a good job so far. Blackburn have been solid if not spectacular this season and sit comfortably in mid-table. No one can second guess the Venky’s and their global adviser Shebby Singh but avoiding a repeat of the chaos experienced last season must surely be regarded as a success for Rovers fans.
3. Ross McCormack being prolific
Ross McCormack already notching up 15 goals this season has been a surprise. Yes, he’s a good Championship striker, but he has only scored 20 goals or more once in his career – and that was six seasons ago! It would appear that the Scotsman is flourishing under Brian McDermott’s stewardship and is helping Leeds mount a serious playoff push.
McCormack was recently named Sky Bet Championship Player of the Month – a month which included him scoring all four goals in a 4-2 win away at Charlton. If he keeps his scoring boots on there is a good chance Leeds will find themselves in the promotion mix-up in April/May.
4. Yeovil being competitive
Gary Johnson performed a minor miracle last season getting the Glovers promoted to the second tier for the first time in their history – and he’s at it again. Yeovil have the smallest budget in the league by quite some distance and are still heavily relying on the squad that achieved promotion through the League One playoffs last May.
Whilst their current tally of 16 points off 19 games is undoubtedly relegation form, Yeovil are only third bottom and are in touching distance of a number of clubs around them. A few weeks ago the situation was looking far bleaker, but back-to-back wins against Watford and Blackpool have given the Glovers a new impetus of life. The loan signings of Ishmael Miller, John Lundstram and Adam Morgan have already paid dividends as we approach the busy Christmas period. There is still an awful lot of work to do but Yeovil are surprising a few this season.
5. Steve McClaren’s transformation of Derby
The sacking of Nigel Clough at the end of September was considered harsh by the majority of supporters – especially after he was replaced with Steve McClaren who had endured a disastrous spell in charge of arch rivals Nottingham Forest.
A few months on and it is looking like an inspired decision. Derby have gone from strength to strength under the former England manager. After thrashing Blackpool 5-1 at the weekend, the Rams have moved up into fourth and only five points off the leaders. Under Clough the reality is that Derby would have finished mid-table again this season. Under McClaren they now have a genuine shot at promotion.
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