The international break is upon us again.
Nations across the globe will continue their World Cup qualifying campaigns, hoping to secure their places at Russia 2018.
These hotly contested fixtures bring with them their own pressing questions: Will Wales be able to succeed without the messianic Bale? Can Northern Ireland shock Germany? Will Joe Hart pull of his own shock and actually keep a clean sheet?
The break is not only a time to settle these arguments, but also to reflect on the season thus far. With that in mind, here are 5 things we’ve learned in the EFL Championship:
1. Bristol City are serious promotion contenders
Lee Johnson’s men continued their nine-match unbeaten run with an impressive 3-1 win away at Portman Road on Saturday.
The Robins have taken eleven points from their last five games and are sitting pretty in 4th in the Championship table.
The performances of Bobby Reid and Jamie Paterson have been particular highlights. Reid has grabbed eight goals in all competitions, while Paterson has five assists to accompany his own three-goal tally.
With matches to come against struggling opposition in October—Burton Albion at home and Sunderland away—there is certainly reason for optimism down at Ashton Gate.
2. Wolves look threatening
For the first time since Mick McCarthy led them to Championship glory in 2009, the Wolves seem to have some bite.
After their record-breaking year in League One in 2014, many tipped Wolves to answer back-to-back relegations (in 2012 and 2013) with back-to-back promotions. This wasn’t to be and up until this season, they’ve been the Championship’s forgotten men.
But Chinese investment, the appointment of Nuno Espírito Santo, and a host of marquee signings have helped the Wolves rocket to the top again.
A 4-0 drubbing of Burton Albion at the weekend meant that it was three wins in five for the Wanderers and, Ivan Cavaleiro’s questionable dab aside, it proved that Santo’s glamorous summer spending is finally beginning to pay off at Molineux.
With the likes of Brazilian Léo Bonatini and ex-Porto wonderkid Rúben Neves in the team, we can expect this kind of performance to become a regularity in Wolverhampton.
3. Steve Cotterill has got his work cut out for him
Steve Cotterill takes over as Birmingham manager on the back of a 6-1 thrashing at the hands of Hull City on Saturday.
The result at the KCOM Stadium immediately quashed any optimism Birmingham fans may have harbored after their mid-week victory over Sheffield Wednesday at St Andrew’s.
Caretaker manager Lee Carsley took responsibility for his side’s embarrassing defeat, citing fatigue as the main reason for Blues’ lack-luster performance.
Carsley named an unchanged team from the one that had beaten Sheffield Wednesday on Wednesday and blamed the quick turn-around between fixtures as the main reason his side were not at the races.
He told the Birmingham Mail: “By picking the same team, I probably underestimated the Championship a little bit—physically.” He added, “I think it was plain to see after 10-15 minutes that physically, and mentally, four or five weren’t quite at it today.”
Incoming manager Steve Cotterill will have to work hard to point Birmingham in the right direction and will have to get the most out of underperforming players such as Cheikh N’Doye, whose performances as a monolithic midfield powerhouse helped Angers SCO to Ligue 1 last season.
The return from injury of Che Adams and the talismanic Jota will certainly help Cotterill’s efforts.
4. VAR can’t come soon enough
Sunday’s Yorkshire derby saw Kieran Lee’s goal for Sheffield Wednesday wrongly ruled out for offside.
Though the decision did not end up greatly affecting the match—Wednesday went on to win 3-0 against a dejected Leeds—it was a blatant mistake by the assistant referee.
Lee was markedly onside, as the replays unequivocally showed.
A Video Assistant Referee would have proved the goal legitimate, and Lee’s strike would have rightly stood. Though unimportant in the grand scheme of this particular game, these situations are endemic in football. One need only cast their mind back to last season’s EFL Cup final, in which Manolo Gabbiadini had his eleventh-minute conversion wrongly disallowed for offside.
Indeed, it would be hard to find a football fan in the land who cannot recall a moment in which his side has been unfairly treated by the Assistant Referee’s flag.
VARs are to be trialed from the third round of the FA Cup this season and are already being used in foreign leagues, such as Germany’s Bundesliga. Their inclusion in the EFL Championship would certainly save fans having to bemoan moments such as this.
5. Grayson may be next for the chop
Simon Grayson may be facing the ax if he cannot turn Sunderland’s form around. The Black Cats haven’t won in their last five games, and have only managed victory once this season.
Sunderland currently reside in 23rd in the Championship table, two points behind Burton Albion in 21st. Fans at The Stadium of Light had been expecting a promotion challenge this season, but with Sunderland thirteen points off the pace, those hopes seem to have been all but dashed.
The Tyneside club are now staring back-to-back relegations right in the face.
Testing fixtures away at Brentford and at home to Bristol City are sandwiched between six-pointers against Queens Park Rangers F.C. and Bolton Wanderers for Sunderland in October. Grayson may have to win the majority of these matches if he wants to remain manager at The Stadium of Light come November.
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