With 9 games played apiece and with nearly 300 goals scored in just over 7 weeks of action, it seems a fitting time to have a look back at the opening few weeks of the Championship… and where else to start than the West Londoners running away with the league already?
Whilst you might be thinking ‘Chelsea are in the Premier League aren‘t they?!’ … we are actually referring to their neighbours Queens Park Rangers, who after seasons of instability seem to have finally found a winning formula to reward the money invested by Briatore, Ecclestone and co. The appointment of a competent manager has helped, and in Neil Warnock they have a man whose sideline antics and memorable interviews perhaps detract (in Ian Holloway style) from a hugely successful managerial career. QPR last graced the top-flight in 1996 (where they were relegated under the management of Chelsea’s current assistant manager, Ray Wilkins) and should their spectacular start to the season continue 2011 will be the year that Premier League football returns to Loftus Road. In amongst an experienced squad, skilful youngsters Hogan Ephraim and Moroccan international Adel Taarabt have taken their opportunities to impress and have helped provide the league’s leading scorer Jamie Mackie with an abundance of chances. Having signed from Plymouth Argyle for what looks like an absolute steal at £150,000, the 8-goal English-born striker has seen his performances awarded with a call up to the Scotland international squad thanks to a Kilmarnock-born grandfather. The R’s continued their unbeaten start to the season with a goalless draw in a London derby with Millwall this week which was overshadowed by reported disorder between supporters, leading to several arrests.
Other teams who have made impressive starts to the season include Watford, Cardiff City and the East Anglian duo of Ipswich Town and Norwich City. The Canaries in particular have used the momentum gained from their promotion from League One to begin their campaign in style with Irish midfielder Wes Hoolahan and Grant Holt particularly impressing. Holt has spent the majority of his career bouncing around the lower reaches of the footballing pyramid and his goalscoring exploits on Norwich’s return to the Championship are testament to a man who I once saw described as “nothing more than a useless clogger.” 9th place Coventry City haven’t particularly pulled up any up any trees with their performances thus far under Aidy Boothroyd, however they have made one of more controversial signings of the season. Whilst there are obvious ethical considerations and points to be discussed about the signing of the recently freed Marlon King, the player himself must be thanking his lucky stars that he has able to find himself a new club so soon and at a decent level in an attempt to resurrect his career. Having spent time at her majesty’s pleasure for an assault on a woman in a central London nightclub, King’s footballing pedigree at this level should help spearhead an improvement in the Sky Blues’ fortunes.
Arguably the game and perhaps result of the season so far came with Preston North End’s 6-4 defeat of Leeds United on Tuesday evening. Trailing 4-1 to a Davide Somma-inspired Leeds as the first half drew to a close, the monstrous frame of Jon Parkin scored a hat-trick to help the travelling Lancashire side to secure a famous victory. Despite a traumatic few years, Elland Road remains one of the tougher away trips in the Football League and Darren Ferguson would have been delighted with his teams fight back, especially considering their previous debacle at local rivals Burnley, where they let slip a late two goal advantage and were eventually defeated 4-3 at Turf Moor.
Middlesbrough, or “McMiddlesbrough” as they have been mockingly labelled by some, had unsurprisingly been the bookies’ clear favourites for silverware at the start of the season. Boro supremo Gordon Strachan spent the summer wrapping up big money deals for the likes of Kris Boyd, Stephen McManus and Kevin Thomson from Scotland’s famous Old Firm, all of whom would been had been expected to make immediate impressions in England’s second tier. However, the arrival of the Glasgow contingent and subsequent performances have perhaps become a greater indicator of the quality (or lack of) being played out north of the border in recent times. Tuesday’s 3-1 defeat at Derby County became the club’s fifth straight league defeat on the road, with the Rams Kris Commons helping himself to a brace against the hapless Teesside outfit.
Despite the unpredictable nature of the Championship, most onlookers would agree that the bottom three continues to have an unexpected and unfamiliar look to it. Despite the arrival of England international goalkeeper David James and a host of others who would signed expecting to play a role in a promotion push, Bristol City have started far slower than most pundits had predicted. Steve Coppell’s abrupt departure came as an early shock to the system and even under the stewardship of Ashton Gate favourite Keith Millen, the Robins have failed to recover as of yet. A succession of poor results have seen a slide down the table cumulating in the recent 3-1 reverse at fellow strugglers Portsmouth. The 2008 FA Cup winners have had a horrific year or two with their relegation from the Premier League and continuing financial strife. Having failed to win any of their first seven games back at this level, the timely arrivals of Liam Lawrence and Dave Kitson from Stoke City have brought with it two victories in a row giving the suffering Pompey fans some long awaited hope. The 6-1 demolition of Leicester City in particular was the club’s biggest win in nearly seven years and couldn’t have come sooner for newly-appointed manager Steve Cotterill. One impeccably dressed individual who won’t have enjoyed the result as much would have been the ex-Juventus and Borussia Dortmund midfielder and current Leicester manager Paolo Sousa, who sees his Foxes propping up the table as we enter October. With rumours abound that he has one game to save his job, Saturday’s visit from Scunthorpe United has greater importance than ever before as chairman Milan Mandaric’ continues to sharpen his axe in wait…**
With the campaign shaping up to be as competitive as ever, watch this space for further updates as the season continues.
** This was written before this mornings’ news that Paolo Sousa has parted company with Leicester City. Rumours are Sven Goran-Eriksson is the new man for the job… good god…