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Championship winners and losers – August 2011

Championship winners and losers - August 2011

Championship winners and losers - August 2011

Try predicting what will happen in the Championship at your peril. Five games into the new season and hardly any of the teams are where many people thought they would be before the season started. Here’s a look at which teams have exceeded expectations so far and which ones have underachieved.

Okay, there are limits to the conclusions we can draw from the first five games of a forty-six game season, especially when we are still in August and the season ends in May. Let’s not be too hasty when there is still cricket being played in England and we won’t need to wear jumpers and scarves to a game for at least a few more weeks. After all, the transfer window is still open until Wednesday night and a there’s a further month after that when Football League clubs can arrange loan deals.

There are already signs though, that some teams are in better or worse shape than we thought at the start of the month. The image at the top of the page is a quick guide to who I think has over-achieved and under-achieved so far. Of course, it’s way too early to draw any big conclusions. At the moment, nobody looks certain to go up and nobody looks certain to go down. Teams have been in the bottom six much later than this and have been able to claw their way into the play-offs by the end. Last season, Doncaster did the reverse, plummeting down from the play-off places to surviving on the last day.

Over-achievers

So who are the teams who have exceeded expectations so far?

Let’s start with two of the promoted teams. Absolutely nobody predicted that Brighton and Southampton would be the top two teams at any point in the season. Is there any reason to believe that either of them can stay there? Usually, you would question whether a promoted team has the depth to stay at the top of the league once the winter starts to bite and the inevitable injuries and suspensions mount up, but I’m not sure anyone really has a lot of strength in depth this year. West Ham will probably lose one or two players before the transfer window closes and managers like Forest’s Steve McLaren are complaining about needing new recruits.

Southampton have already brushed aside teams like Leeds and Ipswich, who they possibly weren’t expected to beat. Nobody has stopped them scoring yet either. We may know more about whether they can stay in the top six by the end of September. By that time they will have played Forest, Birmingham, Burnley and Cardiff.

Brighton keep possession as well as any team I’ve seen in the division this year. Their defenders can deal with opponents pressing them aggressively without resorting to launching long balls and Craig Mackail-Smith is going to give every defense problems. They look like genuine contenders so far. It will be interesting to see how they cope with games against Leeds and Leicester in September. If they are still unbeaten after that then we’ll know they are for real.

The other three teams who have done better than expected are Middlesbrough, who are unbeaten so far and have a couple of good away wins already, Derby County, who have only conceded three goals in their five games so far, and Crystal Palace, who have quietly put a few decent results together, although they still look like the most likely team out of this group to slip back down into mid-table in the near future.

Under-achievers

There are some big names among the teams who have underperformed so far.

In our Championship season preview, I questioned why Nottingham Forest and Leicester City were being bracketed with West Ham as automatic promotion contenders. Steve McLaren sounded uncannily like Billy Davies when he complained that Forest need to make further signings if they are going to push for promotion this season. That drubbing at West Ham was pretty ugly too.

I’ve put Leicester in with this group of underachievers mainly because they were viewed as almost certain top 2 material after the money they’ve spent. They don’t look convincing at all so far after losing twice at home already and getting a fortuitous win over Southampton last week. They’re not a certain top 6 team anymore on this form, although they’re still looking to bring in more players before the transfer window shuts.

Leeds United have improved since their surprise defeat to Southampton and they should quickly move up the table once they get a few players back from injury. Ross McCormack looks sharper than he has done since his first season at Cardiff.

Ipswich don’t look any more likely to challenge for a top 6 finish than they did last year after successive hammerings by Peterborough and Southampton. Michael Chopra is already showing his streaky scoring record. After getting two on the opening day of the season, he hasn’t scored since. Can Jimmy Bullard get them into the top half?

Other than that, Birmingham and Reading have both made disappointing starts. Birmingham are probably less of a surprise given the number of players they’ve lost since they were relegated, but Reading must be disappointed with only one win so far. Adam Le Fondre could be a good signing though.

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