As the season rolls to the halfway mark, we begin to get more of an idea who might be sitting near the top come the business end of the season. So who exactly are the pretenders and who are the actual contenders?
Only a penalty shootout denied them an immediate return to the Championship, as they lost to fellow Yorkshire side, Huddersfield in the playoff final. This season they remained unbeaten until the beginning of November eventually falling to a 1-0 defeat at MK Dons. Despite being unbeaten in the early part, they weren’t the most convincing side in the top six with Nick Blackman seeming the only player able to score regular goals. However, last week’s 4-1 win over Stevenage played well into showing how they can damage teams if given the freedom.
Mk have been knocking on the door of the second division for some time now, this season it does seem in place. A manager with high ambition and a high actuation for top quality football in Karl Robinson and a squad full of experience such as former Leeds forward, Alan Smith. Recent victories against fellow high flyers Sheffield United and Tranmere have gone a long way in making it seem they can gain an automatic spot.
Something that can’t be denied is Coventry have improved under Mark Robins, they seem the sort of side that when in full flow can damage any defence in the league. Their recent 5-0 at Hartlepool showed their attacking danger, with David McGoldrick one of the best loan signings of the season. For success, new players in January and a consistent run in the new year are a must for Coventry to mount a playoff challenge.
Eddie Howe’s exit from Burnley came in strange circumstances, but it is not in question that he hasn’t changed the fortunes of Bournemouth. Before Howe came in, Bournemouth were sluggish, struggling to beat teams they would easily dispatch in their current form. The building blocks for Bournemouth was of a quality side, now the missing piece has been filled in Eddie Howe. The Christmas period shall be where they have to show their bottle.
Swindon are a side that will always struggle to find consistency in League One and despite sitting in the top six, there’s always a risk it could go wrong. For me, Di Canio’s antics are probably something that will hinder Swindon, the Italian ‘know it all’ could potentially make it notoriously difficult if the going gets tough in a division they won’t wrap up as easily as League Two.
Stevenage have been beaten heavily on too many occasions to stay persistently in the top six and most certainly the automatic promotion spots. 4-1 defeats to Swindon, Preston and Sheffield United have shown their defensive weakness and their attacking prowess seems not fit to the task to really trouble in the second half of the campaign.
As much as I love to see their success and I know I won’t be popular at Prenton Park. There are signs that it could go wrong for Tranmere, since losing their unbeaten run in mid October they haven’t been quite as convincing as they once were. Jake Cassidy returning to Wolves in January could be a real kick in the back and will take a huge amount of their goals away. The loss of Jean Apka Akpro has also come as a hindrance to Tranmere, making it look like they might not hold on for automatic promotion.