nPower Championship: Teams to watch out for
One can argue that Championship football is nothing short of dramatic, and better yet for all football fans, offers plenty of goals. To prove this statement, we will have to wind the clock back to Boxing Day, and a 4-3 home victory for Manchester United over Newcastle United, which prompted Sir Alex Ferguson to mention that the match “was like a Championship match”. One could argue that the statement could have meant the performance of a final. However, Gabriele Marcotti, Sportscenter analyst, chooses to believe that Ferguson meant that these are the performances put up by nPower Championship sides.
Despite the quite impressive performances the teams notched up in the 2011-12 season in the Championship, we expected a few surprises. Although winning the Championship by a point, Reading have played catch-up all season in the Premier League. Southampton, on the other hand, were impressive in the Championship all through the season, but choked towards the end, which proved costly, since even the 4-0 victory over Coventry wouldn’t assure them of the title. West Ham United made their comeback to the Premier League, after beating the odds with a 2-1 win against Blackpool.
Having seen these performances, only West Ham were able to respond with the quality required, and are assured of another season in the top flight. It can be agreed that Southampton arrived late to the party. However, Reading and Queens Park Rangers seem to be the ones who have confirmed their ticket into the nPower Championship, unless there is an absolutely dramatic ending to the season.
After witnessing what has transpired over the past season, it is clear that not all teams can acclimatize themselves with the pace of the Premier League without firing a single manager, despite the exception of a few clubs.
With just a few games left to play this season, Cardiff City seem to have confirmed their place in their Premier League in the forthcoming season. As much we would love to see Cardiff in the Premier League the next season, there are a few interesting stats regarding the Welsh club. When we look at an nPower Championship side, what is noticed is that there is only one well defined top scorer (eg. Rickie Lambert, Adam LeFonde), who has netted the bulk of the goals. Fortunately, for Cardiff, there are three well defined scores, with Queens Park Rangers discard, Heidar Helguson scoring 8 goals, and Aaron Gunnarsson and Peter Whittingham with 7 goals a piece. Moreover, manager Malky Mackay will be pleased with the performance of winter signing Fraizer Campbell, and will definitely need his Premier League experience when they make their entry into the top flight. Helguson and Bellamy are arguably the players making the most impact, and are well into their thirties, and there will be a large cloud over their fitness, which is probably the only issue the club has at the moment.
With Cardiff City seven points ahead, the pole position is well and truly out of reach for the rest of the clubs. Hull City, Crystal Palace and Watford have a realistic chance for second place, while Nottingham Forest has an outside chance of making second place should there be any drama in the final few games left.
Crystal Palace, who were at the pole in November, have slipped to fourth place, the main reason being the transfer of Wilfried Zaha. Ever since the England international has been sold and loaned back from Manchester United, he has been booed by the club supporters, in turn affecting not only his performance, but his side’s performance in a bid to return to the Premier league. Hull City are two points ahead of Watford at the moment. Hull City seem to have confirmed their place in the Premier league for the following season, and also seem the most likely to stay there, as they have the experience in the form of Steve Bruce, and a few former top flight players. However, Bruce has resorted to the same old tactical measures, sign the Manchester United discards to form a team, which kept him afloat at Sunderland a few years back, before losing his job. Under Gianfranco Zola and their new Malaysian owners, Watford look set to make a comeback to England’s top flight. Sitting in third place, two points behind Hull City at the moment, where a play off place is almost certain.
As for the playoffs, Nottingham Forest, Leicester City and Brighton and Hove Albion have almost cemented their respective places, with of course either Watford, Crystal Palace and Hull City. Bolton Wanderers have an outside chance to make it to the play-offs, being five points behind Leicester City.
Queens Park Rangers and Reading are favorites to be relegated to the nPower Championship. Middlesbrough, Brighton and Leeds are certainly clubs to watch out for, should they ever make the cut to Premier League in the next two seasons. Not to forget, the former Premier League clubs like Blackpool, Bolton Wanderers, Birmingham City and Blackburn Rovers will always pose a danger, despite not being at their best at the moment.
Please let me know who you think will qualify from the Championship for the next Premier league season in the comments section below.