Three strong teams are pulling clear of the chasing pack as a gripping Championship season hurtles into the crucial winter period. At the other end of the table, a couple of struggling teams look in danger of being cast adrift. We are now around a third of the way through the campaign, which provides the perfect opportunity to analyse who is thriving and who is diving in the Championship season.
The Cherries extended their unbeaten start to the season to 14 games when they beat Huddersfield 3-0 on Saturday. Manager Scott Parker deserves a great deal of credit for the work he has done at the club since taking the reins in the summer. Bournemouth are sitting top of the table, with 10 wins and four draws from 14 games thus far. They have the best defensive record in the league, and the second-best attacking record.
We are finally seeing Dominic Solanke live up to his potential under Parker’s tutelage, as the former Liverpool striker has banged in 10 goals already this term. Bournemouth are already five points clear of their closest rivals, and they are the clear favourites in the fixed odds betting to be promoted at the end of the season.
Some Fulham fans may have feared the worst after Parker left the club following their relegation from the Premier League last season. However, the Cottagers may have pulled off a masterstroke in luring former Everton and Watford manager Marco Silva to west London.
The Portuguese coach turned down an offer from Fenerbahçe to take the Fulham job, and he has guided the team to an impressive start to the campaign. Fulham consolidated their grip on second place in the standings by thumping Nottingham Forest 4-0 at the weekend.
It was their third win on the bounce, and they are surging with momentum at the perfect time of year. Aleksandr Mitrovic looks far too good for the Championship yet again, with 15 goals in 14 games so far, and if he stays fit, Fulham should enjoy a strong season.
West Brom are bidding to cement their status as the ultimate yo-yo club by bouncing straight back up to the top flight this season. They equalled Norwich’s record for the most Premier League relegations last term, but the Baggies have once again kept the nucleus of the squad together, and they look perfectly capable of mounting a sustained promotion push.
They won eight and drew two of their first 10 games of the season, suggesting that they would be the pace setters in the Championship. They have since lost two of their last four matches, which has seen them fall a point behind Fulham, but they eased to victory against Bristol City on Saturday, and they remain unbeaten at home.
Coventry currently occupy fourth place, but they appear to be running out of steam, while Stoke are tumbling down the table and Sheffield United have been very disappointing, so the top three look like surging clear.
Barnsley surprised everyone by finishing fifth in the Championship last season. However, talented manager Valérien Ismaël left for West Brom in the wake of their playoff defeat to Swansea, and the team has regressed considerably since then.
There were no major changes to the playing staff in the summer, but new manager Markus Schopp has struggled to get the best out of his squad. The Tykes have the worst record in the Championship so far this season, with just one win, five draws and nine defeats from 14 games. They have the joint worst attacking record, and they are leaking goals. Their defeat to Sheffield United at the weekend was their sixth in a row, and they are winless since October 14.
Barnsley are not actually bottom of the league, as Derby were docked 12 points for slipping into administration, but the Rams have a much better record than them.
Hull have made a dismal return to the second tier. They were crowned League One champions last season, but they have looked out of their depth in the Championship.
The Tigers are marooned in the relegation zone, with just one more point than Barnsley, and they are on a three-game losing streak. Blackpool and Peterborough, the teams that came up with them, are 11th and 20th respectively. Peterborough have won their last two games, but Hull have failed to maintain the momentum they built up in League One.
Cardiff finished eighth last season after enjoying a long unbeaten run at the end of the campaign. Fans would have expected a battle for a playoff place this time around, but instead the Bluebirds are scrapping it out at the wrong end of the table.
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They are two points ahead of Hull, and they would be in the relegation zone if Derby had not been deducted those points. Cardiff have lost nine out of 14 games this season, and they are on an eight-game losing streak right now – the worst run in the club’s history. They have only scored once in that time and conceded 19.
Manager Mick McCarthy fell on his sword at the weekend after the 2-0 home defeat to Middlesbrough, and whoever replaces him will be faced with an almighty task.