With roughly three-quarters of the Championship season behind us the table is giving a strong indicator of the likely contenders for promotion and those desperately trying to avoid the trap-door to League One.
By Anthony Crewdson
Norwich head the league, handsomely so, and have put clear water between themselves and Watford. Following the latest weekend of matches, only six points separate Watford in second from Reading in fifth position. Swansea and Brentford currently lie in fourth and fifth place respectively.
Three further sides look set to jostle for the remaining play-off place, in-form Barnsley lie in sixth place, with three points separating the Tykes from Cardiff in eighth. Bournemouth currently occupy seventh position, just a point behind the side from South Yorkshire.
Wycombe Wanderers inevitably prop up the table and Sheffield Wednesday look increasingly likely to follow them into the third tier with 23 and 28 points respectively. Rotherham currently occupy the remaining relegation position, lying in twenty-second place, just three points adrift of hapless Birmingham City.
Coventry, Derby and Huddersfield each have 38 points and will hope to at least maintain the six-point gap to Rotherham and a place in the bottom three.
As this season like no other enters its final stages, the Championship has been witness to a number of managerial changes at either end of the table, with some familiar faces, young and old, taking up the challenge afforded them.
Bournemouth headed the league on December 15th but a run of five defeats in eight games, winning just once, saw Jason Tindall depart his post after just six-months in the job. Tindall had taken up his post from Eddie Howe after the Cherries relegation from the Premier League but was given leave of his duties at the beginning of February with the team sitting thirteen points behind Norwich.
Jonathan Woodgate was initially brought in on a caretaker basis but was given the role of head coach until the end of the season after impressing chief executive Neill Blake.
It had initially been thought that either Thierry Henry or David Wagner would be given the top job at the Vitality Stadium but Woodgate’s renaissance, after a less than impressive spell as manager of his home-town club Middlebrough, has been one of the surprises of the season.
Woodgate has brought in ex-Boro teammate Gary O’Neil, who had been assistant manager to Liverpool’s Under-23 squad, to assist him with coaching duties, along with the vastly experienced Scot Joe Jordan. The play-offs remain a realistic target but crucial fixtures against in-form Barnsley and Swansea City await and will go a long way to determining Bournemouth’s promotion credentials.
Cardiff City sit just one place behind Bournemouth, buoyed by the arrival, in late January, of the vastly experienced Mick McCarthy. The former Republic of Ireland boss was brought in to replace Neil Harris after the Bluebirds had suffered five straight defeats in the league.
McCarthy was appointed with the Welsh side in 15th place but has turned their fortunes around and they remain viable contenders for a play-off place.
The veteran Yorkshireman recently took charge of his 1000th game and has twice won promotion to the Premier League with Sunderland and Wolves. McCarthy was recently handed a contract until 2023 and will be assisted by longtime ally Terry Connor. Cardiff are undefeated in eleven league games, winning seven, with a 2-1 away win at Bournemouth being a highlight.
Another managerial change saw Dean Holden relieved of his duties as Bristol City manager with Nigel Pearson taking on the role initially until the end of the season. The ex-Leicester City and Watford manager was appointed towards the end of February with the Robins lying 15th in the Championship after a dismal run in which they lost seven on the bounce.
Pearson’s presence was to have an immediate effect on his underachieving squad with the Robins recording back to back 3-1 wins away at Middlebrough and Swansea City. This excellent start has since been tempered by back to back losses at home to AFC Bournemouth and QPR respectively.
City currently sit comfortably in mid-table, a play-off place looking unlikely, and Pearson will no doubt hope to extend his stay at Ashton Gate beyond the end of the season with a view to mounting a promotion challenge next season.
At the other end of the table, second from bottom Sheffield Wednesday recently appointed Doncaster Rovers boss Darren Moore in the hope that the ex-WBA manager could lift them out of the bottom three.
The Owls have been without a manager since December 28th when Tony Pulis was sacked after just 10 games in charge. Pulis had earlier taken over from Gary Monk in what has been a disastrous season for the South Yorkshire club. The Owls began the 2020/21 campaign with a 12-point deduction for breaching spending rules, later reduced to six, and appear doomed after a run of six straight defeats.
Moore has presided over defeats to Reading and fellow relegation contenders Rotherham United since his appointment. Only Wycombe Wanderers have scored fewer goals in the division and a number of people have questioned Moore’s decision to give up a job in which he left near-neighbours Doncaster Rovers sitting in a play-off position in League One.
Norwich seem nailed on to make a swift return to the Premier League under Daniel Farke while Wycombe Wanderers appear destined to return to League One. The Chairboys only won promotion to the Championship back in July for the first time in their 133-year history.