Coventry City are surging up the table, Millwall have found their own flying Dutchman and Amad Diallo is fulfilling his potential at Sunderland. All this and more from the latest round of the Championship...
TEAM OF THE WEEK
The Nottingham Forest story last season taught us that nothing catches the imagination of fans more than a comeback story. I'm sure the fans of Championship teams who hit the magical 100 points mark had a lovely time watching their teams dominate, but that sense of climbing the mountain and triumphing over adversity probably dissipated around Christmas as they strode boldly forth towards the title. Forest fans on the other hand were taken on a journey from a terrible start, to a long winning run, via a change of manager, defeat in the automatic promotion head to head and eventually play-off glory.
Now I'm making absolutely no prognostications about their story finishing in the same way as Forest's, but Coventry have already acted out the first part in a pretty similar manner. Saturday's 2-0 win over QPR means the current Coventry run is 26 points in 12 games with nine clean sheets in the process, they had a similarly terrible start to Forest with three points from their first seven games. Ok, we have no managerial change or batch of influential loan signings, but we do have the pitch and stadium issues and the gradual powering up of star players Hamer, Gyokeres and the recently returned O'Hare.
Coventry currently sit two points off the play-offs with two games in hand on all bar one of the teams above them. The dream scenario says they can maintain the stunning 2.16 points per game they've achieved over the past 12 games, which my quick maths projects 87.5 points and very probably automatic promotion. Obviously the dream scenario isn't often the one that plays out and what Forest found out is that such a poor start allows basically no room for a blip of any kind in terms of the top end of the table. What Forest also found out is that teams who boast automatic promotion form for such a long time tend to do alright in the play-offs.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Football fans can get really hung up a good player leaving their club. I call it 'they never replaced Viera' syndrome, after Arsenal fans complained for years about missing their French force majeure in central midfield. I can see where the Arsenal fans were coming from but sometimes we have to move on, Patrick Viera was an amazing player but the idea a club should find a like for like replacement to do the exact same thing is a little far fetched. Things move quickly in football, new solutions and ideas are key and what worked once is not guaranteed to work again.
What worked for Millwall under Gary Rowett this past few seasons was having a solid defensive structure and allowing star player Jed Wallace to work the oracle with his goals and assists. Wallace was a lethal weapon for the Lions with a fine combination of good crossing, long range shooting and dead ball prowess. It would be very easy for Millwall fans to go into 'they never replaced Viera' syndrome when it comes to Wallace, honestly they'd probably have more of a point than Arsenal fans given their boss Rowett's style isn't likely to massively change.
Zian Flemming would appear to be the Wallace replacement and he seems to be stepping up to the mark with his hat-trick at Preston at the weekend taking him up to eight goals. The Dutchman has some similarities to Wallace, especially in his explosive shooting ability, but I don't want to undermine my main point which is he's a different player and we should all move on and look at the world as it is now. The key for Millwall has never been Flemming being as good as Wallace, it's all about sharing the responsibility around the attack and not relying on one particular player. Flemming is doing the business, Millwall are up in the play-off spots, now can others in the support roles join the rest of the dots?
Timing is everything…
Over the course of a normal football season the campaign is punctuated with international breaks that see clubs out of Championship action for two weeks at a time. Over recent years the disruptions due to Covid took us away from the regular routine and this season we get the mother of all international breaks as the Championship shuts down for four weeks while the World Cup takes place in Qatar.
With standard international breaks there's often the idea that they're coming at a good or bad time depending on the state of play and context at each club. I wouldn't claim this is a precise binary, but there's certainly some truth to the fact that certain teams would benefit from carrying on and others will appreciate stopping. The most obvious examples are clubs who have changed manager, yes I know that's quite a few in the Championship and there's certainly a chicken an egg situation regarding the World Cup and certain decisions.
Reading up from the bottom of the table, Huddersfield, West Brom, Hull and Cardiff all have recently installed managers who will benefit from the time the World Cup gives to implement their ideas. At Wigan and Luton new managers need to be hired, of course acknowledging that anticipation of the break may have caused the vacancies in the first instance. On the other end of the spectrum are the teams ticking along very nicely who would happily continue their current trajectory, Burnley at the top would fall into that category, as would Coventry flying up into the top half.
Yes, it's the same for everybody and all Championship clubs will have figured the break into their plans, but often in football timing is everything and when we look back in May there will be a variety of different feelings about how the World Cup break affected the seasons.
LOANEE OF THE WEEK
Our coverage of Sunderland recently has revolved around their problems up front. Ross Stewart started the season in fantastic form providing eight goal contributions in seven games, unfortunately he hasn't played since August due to injury. Stewart's strike partner Ellis Simms also stepped out injured in the middle of September and only recently made his return to the starting lineup for the Black Cats on 5th November.
We can talk about bad luck in terms of injuries, we can talk about lack of depth in the attacking roster, but the good news is that things are looking up for Sunderland now in an attacking sense. Simms' return is obviously a big boost and Stewart is expected back following the World Cup break, whilst Friday night's win at Birmingham saw the emergence of Amad Diallo as a potential Championship match winner too. Granted, Diallo is not the striking focal point Stewart or Simms are, but he put in a highly eye-catching display away at Blues from an inside right position.
Diallo slipped in Simms for Sunderland's opener and then hit a brilliant second, carrying the ball down the right and cutting in and curling a lovely left footed strike into the far corner. The Ivorian is on loan from Manchester United and given the position he plays will find it tough to break into the first team picture at Old Trafford. Whether his long term future lies in the Championship or not, in the short term he can certainly be instrumental in helping with those goalscoring issues up at the Stadium Of Light.
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