Ian Maatsen has been a Christmas star at Burnley, Okay Yokuslu is proving his class with West Brom and Rob Edwards has suddenly transformed Luton into promotion contenders. All this and more from the Christmas and New Year round of the Championship...
TEAM OF THE POST CHRISTMAS PERIOD
The frantic post Christmas period saw Championship teams in action three times in a week. Four teams managed to pick up a perfect nine point haul so it's an honourable mention to Burnley, Middlesbrough and West Brom, as we focus on Luton Town. The Hatters are in a vital moment of transition with their talismanic boss Nathan Jones jumping to Southampton and Rob Edwards being named as the new boss during the World Cup break.
All managerial changes could be seen as pivotal, however there was something special about Jones and Luton that Edwards now has to emulate or replace. Luton have been on a long steady climb since their fairly recent days outside the EFL and their journey, along with smart recruitment, financial savvy and intriguing home stadium, make them a pretty unique Championship case study.
Timing can be everything in football and there can't be many other situations where a manager could take charge of Watford and Luton in the same season, but here we are. If Rob Edwards' timing in facing in-form Middlesbrough in his first game wasn't great, perhaps the frozen pitch that saw the Millwall game cancelled allowed some calm before the storm. The triple victory certainly saw Norwich arrive at Kenilworth Road at a low ebb, but nobody is explaining away a dominant victory at QPR and a win from behind at last season's play-off conquerors Huddersfield.
Luton are off and running under Edwards, I'll reserve judgement on any Edwards stylistic changes until there's a little more information but the quick climb to the edge of the play-off places means the high bar set by Nathan Jones last season is looking attainable for the new look Hatters.
PLAYER OF THE POST CHRISTMAS PERIOD
Okay Yokuslu returned to West Brom at the start of this season. The Turkish midfielder had been signed on loan by Sam Allardyce for the second half of West Brom's Premier League relegation season in 2021. Yokuslu clearly has pedigree, he's played right through the age groups for the Turkish international side and at the top level domestically in Turkey and Spain. With his deal at Celta Vigo running down he joined fellow free agents Jed Wallace and John Swift in what looked like a decent batch of summer recruitment by Steve Bruce.
With the benefit of hindsight we know that things didn't work out for Bruce at West Brom, but his replacement Carlos Corberan has the Albion moving in the right direction with Yokuslu standing out in central midfield. The three game winning streak post Christmas saw a midfield pair of Yokuslu and Jay Molomby offering protection to their central defence and circulating the ball to the creative players ahead of them. The defensive side of things can't really be questioned, West Brom didn't concede a single goal in each of the games, they didn't concede many chances either with a measly 0.68 the highest xG recorded by an opponent.
Anyone who saw Corberan's Huddersfield last season won't be surprised to know that West Brom didn't dominate possession of the ball in any of their games, but Yokuslu's pass accuracy suggests he looked after it well when he had it. The proverbial cherry on the cake came in the middle of the three games against Preston, with Yokuslu bagging both goals in a 2-0 win. I'll try to avoid any line about Turkey and Christmas and end things by suggesting Yokuslu could be an important player in another Corberan promotion push.
TALKING POINT OF THE CHRISTMAS PERIOD
That Sinking Feeling…
Down at the bottom of the Championship table things are starting to crystalize in terms of who might be most at risk of making the drop this season. The current points progress of the teams ranked as the worst in the Championship is actually higher than normal, on average over the past ten years a 45 point total would be enough to survive and only one team is projecting below this total. Looking at the league as a whole I would suggest that the slow progress of the teams in and around the play-off spots might speed up in the second half of the season and perhaps flatten out the trajectory of those right at the bottom.
It's often hard to speak about struggling teams with the same amount of certainty as winning teams, we simply don't see enough evidence of positive trends to build as clear a picture. In the bottom three Huddersfield have had a couple of wins, we'll see if that manifests into a viable run of form. Slightly higher up Stoke and Bristol City are wobbling but may just have a bit more quality than those below them in terms of keeping trouble at arms length. Blackpool and Cardiff are in the thick of it and not in great form, but there are two sides whose current trend down is far more severe.
Wigan and Rotherham fans are currently getting that sinking feeling. Both clubs have relatively new managers in situ, both started the season well using momentum from last season's promotion, and both are currently on a very slippery slope. If a point per game is the seasonal target then knowing that both Rotherham and Wigan are currently producing just 0.5 over 12 and 18 games respectively would suggest that, unless something pretty significant turns in the right direction soon the outcome is inevitable.
LOANEE OF THE CHRISTMAS PERIOD
We've had Ian Maatsen in this spot before, but with Burnley seemingly going from strength to strength his loan spell is looking all the more impressive. Maatsen has been at it right from the word go at Burnley and it was he who scored the opening goal of the Kompany reign at Huddersfield on the eve of the new season. If the footballing world was shocked at the transformation and style of the new look Clarets, anyone who knew about Maatsen wouldn't have been shocked at him fitting right in.
Maatsen is from the Chelsea stable that seems to rain good players down via loans into leagues around Europe. The Dutch left back has diligently worked his way up from a run at Charlton two seasons ago, into the middle of the Championship with Coventry last season and now right to the top of it with Burnley this season.
The attacking full-backs are a vital part of Burnley's side and his opposite number Connor Roberts took the plaudits in the first post Christmas victory over Birmingham. Next up another win and clean sheet at Stoke, but Maatsen's big finale came at Swansea to bring the new year in. A 12th minute free-kick was bent around the wall to open the scoring and then, with a little help from some poor goalkeeping, Maatsen smashed in a second on 22 minutes. I wondered at that moment whether we'd get a full-back scoring a hat-trick in the Championship? Alas no, but Burnley went on to win and theirs and Maatsen's apparently unstoppable push to Premier League football goes on.
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