Southampton are now the Championship's form team as Leicester City stumble, Ipswich's run is defying all logic and the bottom four appear set to scrap for one survival spot. We assess the season so far in the Championship...
AUTOMATIC PROMOTION - INTRUDER ALERT
If these international breaks are good for anything then it's to take stock and figure out what's been learned in the most recent block of games, it's only been five matches since we did this last but there's plenty to conclude. The first thing is to give Southampton a pat on the back as they scored more points than anyone over the past quintet of games. The Saints were 10th as we exited the last international break and now look firmly part of a top four vying for the two automatic promotion spots.
Behind Southampton in terms of the largest points haul in the most recent Championship block are Leeds United, their form has been good for a while now and they also had a statement win over leaders Leicester two games ago. Speaking of leaders Leicester they're actually down in ninth in the five game form table since the last international break, they did win the first three of those games but that Leeds defeat and another against Middlesbrough has at least temporarily halted what was looking like a Foxes procession to an early title win.
The final team in that top four is Ipswich, who are the biggest surprise in this promotion race and perhaps holders of the keys to the final outcome. The fact that the other three members of the top four are newly relegated teams makes Ipswich's presence there all the more ridiculous than it otherwise would be. In any universe where a year one parachute team like Leicester, Leeds or Southampton are stable and competent they should have no issue shaking off a side just promoted up from League One.
The final table may well very boringly still conclude with the three sides relegated from the Premier League last season in the three top positions. That could turn out to be interesting if we get a close promotion race but currently it's Ipswich's eight point lead over third placed Leeds that is promising to provide interest. To be very clear, if Ipswich are anywhere near Leicester, Leeds and Southampton on May 4th it will have been an extraordinary effort after promotion last season. However, the longer that gap can exist the more we have the possibility of an intruder not only finding their way into the big boys playground, but actually getting a say in who inhabits the top two places.
PLAY-OFFS - A GRADUAL ASCENT
When we last hit pause on the EFL Championship, Preston and Sunderland were in third and fourth positions but the recent emergence of Leeds and Southampton has bumped them down into fifth and sixth. Both sides did register two victories in the recent five game run but if you accept the premise that the top four might be staying as it is in whatever order, then it's Preston and Sunderland who everyone else will be realistically aiming at if they want a play-off spot.
Birmingham and Norwich were looking like candidates in the October break but they've both dropped off badly with only one win between them, leaving Wayne Rooney and David Wagner as the two managers arguably under the most scrutiny from their own fanbase in the Championship right now. West Brom and Hull are now level on points with sixth placed Sunderland, they were only one and two points away respectively five games ago so are seemingly holding their own nicely in the slipstream with Cardiff also dropping just one place from eighth to ninth.
The sides that may be creating the most waves are Watford, Stoke and Middlesbrough. All three have not too distant memories of the Premier League and they all won three of their five games in between international breaks. Watford and Stoke were starting from a low base and their good run hasn't yet taken them into the top half of the Championship, if they can produce another 11 points from the next five Championship games one would imagine both sides will be far more within reaching distance of the top six.
Middlesbrough are perhaps the ones to watch, they reached the play-offs last season and after having to replace most of their key performers they're looking in good form following a poor start to the campaign. It's nine wins in eleven for Boro in all competitions so don't rule out a gradual ascent from a side who were in the bottom three at the tail end of September.
RELEGATION - ROLLING THE DICE
The dice have now been rolled at all of the current bottom four clubs in the Championship, perhaps those four will be the final bottom four in whatever order they eventually sort themselves.
Huddersfield went first as Darren Moore replaced Neil Warnock, although that was more wily old Warnock getting himself out rather than a roll of the dice. Sheffield Wednesday went next as the disastrous and brief run of Xisco Munoz was ended and Danny Rohl was given the reins at Hillsborough. Both Moore and Rohl have been in situ for the recent five game block this column has majored on, both have just a single win in that time frame though.
More recently QPR let go of Gareth Ainsworth and his position was filled by Marti Cifuentes, it's played two drawn two so far for the new QPR manager. As for Rotherham, at time of writing this article the manager's job there is open and up for grabs after Matt Taylor was given the heave ho at the start of the international break, that will likely be remedied soon.
If as I expect, these four clubs are significantly worse than those above them, then it could already be a discussion of three from four for relegation. Sheffield Wednesday's awful start gives them much more than the others to do but the Owls and the other two sides will almost be hoping for the scenario I've laid out as four teams coming adrift may mean a lower than normal points total will be required to get out of the bottom three. Huddersfield are currently the club above the line but have averaged less than a point or a goal per game under their new manager and if any of the other new faces can get their teams into semi respectable form then survival might well be there for the taking.
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