The Championship is never a straightforward league and it is never normal to see the three favourites actually gain promotion at the end of any given season. If you look at the recent history with the amount sides who have been tipped to struggle or even go down, there are a number of teams that have surprised everyone and have finished the season in either the playoffs or automatic promotion places.
In this piece, I am going to be looking at some of the favourites for promotion and a few dark horses for the playoffs this season. Looking at the Premier League currently, there are quite a few sides that are not established, with the likes of Huddersfield Town, Brighton and Hove Albion and Cardiff City to name just three. Perhaps being an established club is not an instant way to success in the Championship or Premier League.
The side currently sat at the top of the league, just as they have been at the end of September the last couple of seasons, is Leeds United. However, they always seem to start the season strong, but usually, they fail to keep up that form throughout a 46-game season. Whether it is injuries, managers or owners, there has always been something dragging Leeds down the table by the end of the season come May. Although, the football they are playing this season has looked superb and they have played teams of the park this on a number of occasions. With impressive performances against Derby County at the IPro Stadium and a 3-1 home victory against Stoke City – a side who were playing Premier League football last season and have England’s number two goalkeeper between the sticks. It is still yet to be seen whether Leeds can hold onto this form for the entirety of the campaign, but things are certainly looking up at Elland Road. It will be interesting to see how they react to their first defeat of the season at home to Birmingham City – a side who previously hadn’t won a league game.
Tony Pulis has always been known for his ability to keep sides in the Premier League and avoid relegation, but this season we will find out how good he is at getting them into the division. Middlesbrough currently sit second in the league and have built themselves up to be a very “Tony Pulis-like” team, who are difficult to beat and have only conceded three goals so far this season. The one thing in the Championship that is important above all else, is to beat the teams below you and avoid defeat to those around you. Boro have picked up a draw at Leeds and in their last game drew 0-0 with Swansea City, which proves just how solid they are at the back. Those are the kind of games that get you promoted, even when you may not be in top gear.
West Bromwich Albion
West Bromwich Albion’s home record so far this season has been nothing short of outstanding, in complete contrast to what the locals witnessed last season, with the Baggies scoring goals for fun at the Hawthorns. Albion has scored 16 goals in just five fixtures this season, with the bulk of those coming in the 7-1 demolition of Queens Park Rangers. In Dwight Gayle, they have a man who just loves the Championship. It really is the strikers’ division; he never quite made it in the Premier League at Crystal Palace or at Newcastle United. Palace and Newcastle’s loss though is Albion’s gain, as they have a man who has scored goals for fun throughout his career. To top things off for West Brom they are not reliant on Gayle for his goals, as they also have the likes of Jay Rodriguez, Matt Phillips, and the impressive youngster loaned from Leicester City, Harvey Barnes.
The second side hoping for an immediate return to the top division is Swansea City. I watched them play away at Birmingham City a few weeks ago and was very disappointed with how the side played, they did improve when Leroy Fer was introduced but they were a long way off where I and their fans think they should be. They were very fortunate to come of out the game with a point. If they had played someone with a bit more firepower up front, the Swans would have been put to the sword. This is something they are going to have to improve upon if they are going to go straight back up. In Graham Potter, they have a manager who is looking very promising and could become very hot property if he can mastermind promotion with the Welsh side. But with a good point at Middlesbrough and having no Carabao Cup to worry about, Swansea could do with putting some decent results together. But having watched them this season, their main worry will be staying consistent.
Ones to Watch:
Brentford have really surprised me with their start to the season. Neal Maupay has been scoring goals for fun, with eight already in the league. If they can keep Maupay fit, they are set for a playoff push – but the one thing I worry about is that they could become over-reliant on his goals. Therefore, the Bees are going to have to hope that the likes of Ollie Watkins can also provide goals as well as chances for Maupay. With the new stadium coming to Brentford, they will want to be playing at the highest level when it arrives. However, they were very well beaten at Derby, despite a bright start to the game after taking the lead early. This is why I don’t believe Brentford have enough for automatic promotion as they great against sides around them in the table. I still think, with how they have been going forward, that they can mount a playoff challenge.
Steve Bruce has been under a lot of pressure at Aston Villa. It looked like when they failed to achieve promotion to the Premier League via the playoffs, that it would have been the final straw for Bruce’s tenure at the club. A deal to bring in Thierry Henry seemed as though it had been agreed and that the Frenchman would take over, but yet Bruce remains. I feel like Villa are a few tactical tweaks away from being a force in the Championship this season. If they were to play with Bolasie, Abraham and Kodja or Adomah, they would create a whole host of chances against almost anyone. This would allow Grealish to have a lot more freedom in behind the front three. However, if Bruce continues to stick with 4-4-2, Villa will not get the best out of their very talented squad.
Forest have a squad and a manager who has been there and done it at this level and above. When it comes to chasing promotion, having characters like this can be crucial especially when it comes towards the end of the season. They are another side who have strikers who know where the back of the net is in the Championship. Daryl Murphy guided Ipswich to an Old Farm Derby play-off semi-final against Norwich City, and he is a former winner of the Championship player of the season award. Murphy loves the second division of English football and with Lewis Grabban, he has another man who knows how to get goals in the Championship. With the likes of Matty Cash and Adlene Guedioura, they also have talented playmakers that can really make this Forest side tick. But with tough fixtures coming up, we will see how consistent they can be. They face Stoke City next, with trips to Blackburn Rovers and Middlesbrough in the next five matches.
There are still a lot of games to play this season and a lot of other factors can have an effect in how the Championship shapes up, but as it stands, these are the teams that I believe you should watch out for.