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Championship review: Birmingham gamble on Rooney; Sigurdsson class above at Blackburn; Middlesbrough back on track

Birmingham City's owners oust John Eustace for a big name hopeful, Arnor Sigurdsson adds to reputation at Blackburn Rovers and Josh Key catches the eye at Swansea City. All this and more from the latest round of the Championship...



Middlesbrough fans will hope their poor start is completely behind them now and they can focus on climbing the Championship table. The fact that Boro didn't win a single one of their first seven games can't be forgotten just yet, but this weekend saw a fourth successive win as well as being one of only three sides to hit a perfect nine points across this past week.

You'd forgive even the most optimistic Boro fan for not forecasting the complete binary change in fortunes they've had and perhaps all it needed was a bit of time to reshape a side that lost so many key players after last year's play-off charge.

Win number four in a row came convincingly at Sunderland in the early kick-off on Saturday. Whilst it's totally reasonable to be full of praise for Boro's winning streak we should acknowledge the large impact made by the red card shown to Sunderland's Dan Neil in stoppage time at the end of a very evenly matched first half.

The second half was anything but even with Middlesbrough cashing in on their man advantage to cruise to an emphatic 4-0 win. The next block of five Championship fixtures ends with Boro hosting current leaders Leicester, right now the gap between the two sides is fifteen places but one does wonder whether it will be smaller going into that game.


Josh Key (Swansea City)

Sometimes it seems you're just better off being able to do one thing very well as a footballer. It strikes me that the more versatile and reliable a player is, the more likely they are to become a problem solver who gets moved around into various positions as and when required.

Take Swansea's perfectly named Josh Key for example, he's only been at Swansea for 11 games but has already played on the right, on the left, as a full-back and as a wingback. It was the same for Key at Exeter last season, although you can add in centre back and right winger to the mix too.

Key was deployed at right full-back at the weekend as Swansea secured a fourth successive Championship win away at Plymouth. A lot of what we've just said about Middlesbrough can be applied to the Swans who also failed to win any of their first seven before embarking on a purple patch.

The big difference however is that unlike Michael Carrick, Swans boss Mike Duff was not in situ last season and was a new arrival in South Wales during the summer. The same could be said for Key who rounded off the latest Swansea victory with a glorious counter attack goal in the 90th minute at Home Park. There was something of the Forest Gump about Key who saw the counter attack developing and ran for his life before he was expertly found by Jamie Paterson and steadied himself to finish beautifully right footed.

Jack of all trades and master none is the worst case scenario for a player as versatile as Josh Key, problem solver extraordinaire might be more appropriate.


Eustace Out

I know football doesn't follow the nine to five schedule but if it did then we were less than two hours into the working week when Birmingham City announced they had parted company with manager John Eustace. These decisions are often delivered with little in the way of detail, so as much as it's a bit brutal we should probably appreciate the statement put out by the club.

The statement mentioned 'the importance of implementing a winning mentality and a culture of ambition' and that the new boss would create a 'clear no fear playing style'. However you decipher that particular terminology, what is abundantly clear is that the Birmingham higher ups think they can get a better manager than John Eustace.

The thing Blues fans will probably take issue with is that Eustace was doing alright. September was poor, but either side of that five wins have been amassed and Birmingham are up in sixth place. We have to accept that we'll never know whether John Eustace would've turned Birmingham being sixth at the eleven game mark into a play-off finish or better still a promotion.

We may however find out whether Wayne Rooney is able to convert Eustace's start into a viable promotion push with the Manchester United legend the rumoured favourite to be coming in at St Andrews. Whether this is a good call or a bad call I can't tell you right now, it could easily turn out to be either depending on what goes down over the next eight months.


Arnor Sigurdsson (Blackburn Rovers on loan from CSKA Moscow)

Blackburn fans must be wondering what might happen if they can actually get Arnor Sigurdsson on the pitch for any length of time. The Icelandic attacker came on loan from CSKA Moscow in the summer but a groin injury meant he didn't make his EFL debut until late September. Sigurdsson started on the left hand side of the attack and scored at Ipswich but was taken out of the action at half time.

He started again against leaders Leicester and lasted an hour before making a cameo for the last 20 mins in the defeat against Coventry. At the weekend into month three of the season Sigurdsson got his third Blackburn start at QPR and he only needed an hour to stick in two goals in a resounding 4-0 win at QPR.

In short Arnor Sigurdson has made three Championship starts with two of them coming against the run away top two in the division. In his total of 189 minutes of Championship football he's managed to score three times, my basic maths tells me that's a goal every 63 minutes. I say this in the knowledge that Blackburn are an open team that scores very highly for xG and chances created, but what might we see if Sigurdsson gets fit enough for a run of games? Rovers are revealingly top for 'Big Chances Missed' by a fair distance this season, it feels like the Icelander getting more minutes would be good news for all concerned frankly.

Follow Benjamin Bloom on Twitter @BenjaminBloom

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