Its time for FantasySports.co.uk regular look at The Championship, highlighting five key points from the most recent round of games, as the race for the Premier League heats up before the crucial Christmas games arrive :
RAMPANT RAMS ON THE RAMPAGE
Few teams (just the top two over the last ten games) have been in better form than Derby County, who gained their 5th win in six with a resounding victory on Saturday over fellow promotion hopefuls Aston Villa; the 2-0 final scoreline flattering the Rams opponents hugely. Manager Gary Rowett seems to have finally found his preferred line up, with top scorer Matej Vydra heading an attacking midfield, with Tom Huddlestone and the resurgent Joe Ledley offering support to a steady defence, lead by Richard Keogh. With Scott Carson one of the Division’s top keepers, and a deep bench, Derby, a couple of home aberrations aside, have had too much for recent opponents and are pressuring the teams above them. Can they keep it up? This has been the problem over recent seasons, but it feels different this time around, and the Rams could finally be breaking back into the big time.
BLADES BLUNTED AS POOR RUN CONTINUES
One of the early season pacesetters and surprise packages Sheffield United seem to be finding the pace too hot to handle, as a 1-0 defeat at Preston signalled their third loss on the bounce and have only picked up one point in the last five games. To be in sixth place at this stage of the season is still a very positive position for the Division One champions from last season, but with a host of teams gathering behind them looking to break into the playoff positions themselves, the Blades will need to recapture their earlier form that saw them top the table for a time. Fixtures at Aston Villa and Derby are crucial, although these sandwich games against strugglers Sunderland and Bolton.
MID TABLE TEAMS NOT SO OBSCURE JUST YET
Such is the competitive nature of the Championship that teams hovering around mid table still harbour more than reasonable chances of making a run at the Playoffs. Teams who were amongst the pre season favourites to be challenging for promotion, such as Fulham, Sheffield Wednesday, Brentford and Middlesbrough are all within a couple of wins of the top six – but are all struggling to find the consistency currently to make a significant move. Factor in the likes of Nottingham Forest, Ipswich, Preston and Leeds, all looking up, and it really is still anyone’s guess as to who will make the playoffs come next May.
BOTTOM TEAMS SHOWING SIGNS OF LIFE
Birmingham City now occupy the foot of the table position, having lost four of their last 5 games, albeit all close games and scorelines. But the teams now directly above them have all picked up valuable recent points to keep hope alive. Burton grabbed a vital three points at fellow strugglers Bolton, who themselves had recently beaten Barnsley. Sunderland are almost at a nose bleed position of 21st place now after beating Fulham and picking up their 7th point of 12 possible. Barnsley and Hull are in real danger of being sucked into this relegation dogfight which looks to be every inch as exciting as the battle at the opposite end of the division.
CHRISTMAS SCHEDULE NOT SO HO HO HO
4 games in 8 days for Championship teams – not really much festive spirit shown or time to digest the Christmas Day turkey as players fitness, stamina and focus will be tested to the max. The fixtures come fast, frenetic and there is barely one game across the four scheduled dates (23rd, 26th, 30th and 1st) that doesn’t have some relevance to one end of the table or the other. The league table could look completely different by the time our first review of the New Year is released….great for the fans…..not so for the teams!