Championship Manager(s) – What’s best?

The news the Welsh FA wish to appoint Sheffield United’s rookie manager Gary Speed after just 18 games as a manger is interesting.

But it throws open a debate over whether it is best to have an experienced leader or a young tyro.

The Championship throws up four types of manager:

The Old Heads

These guys are generally going well.

Neil Warnock has over 1000 games in management, and love him or loathe him, he is an envious record, having secured promotion with Scarborough, Notts County, Huddersfield and Sheffield United.

The controversial Yorkshireman has provided some stability at QPR, and despite suffering their first defeat of the season against Watford on Friday night, the R’s remain favourites to win the title.

Although Cardiff have gone off the boil recently, Dave Jones has 15 years and nearly 750 games managerial experience.

Jones gained promotion with Stockport and Wolves, and the Bluebirds look capable of making it a hat-trick if they overcome their dodgy current form.

Dave Jones & Terry Burton
Dave Jones: Experienced and looking set for a Premiership return?

Having been around the world, and managed England, Mexico and Ivory Coast at international level, and Roma, Lazio and Manchester City on the club scene, Sven-Goran Eriksson’s current role at Leicester is slightly bizarre.

But the Swedish lothario has improved results for the Foxes. Some rate him an excellent manager, others argue he never truly succeeded with England and was well supported in the transfer market at club level.

Whether he can guide Leicester into the top flight remains to be seen, but current signs look promising.

Sven-Goran Eriksson
Sven-Goran Eriksson has improved Leicester’s form

Doncaster’s Sean O’Driscoll has only managed Bournemouth and his current club, yet has racked up over 500 games.

He shone at The Cherries and has established Donny in The Championship on something of a shoestring budget.

Whether he gets the chance to manage a big-name club (and whether he wants to) is debateable, but he is a fine manger.

The likes of Brian Laws, George Burley, Steve Cotterill and Kenny Jackett could also be classed in this bracket.

Decent Experience, but tried, tested and failed?

Four managers are excellent Championship manager’s who had a crack at the top flight and failed.

Billy Davies chance in the top flight with Derby was sadly brief, so he may yet come again as a Premiership manager.

He has fashioned an excellent young Nottingham Forest side but may have to rely on getting promotion with them in order to have another shot at the top table.

At Middlesbrough, Tony Mowbray has the perfect opportunity to revive his reputation following his time at the boing-boing Baggies.

His commitment to attacking and passing football is well documented and with a talented but under-performing squad he will be looking to return the Teesside club to the top flight.

Tony Mowbray
Tony Mowbray: Can he revive Middlesbrough?

Nobody would have picked Coventry to be in a play-off place at the start of the season, but, as he did at Watford, Aidy Boothroyd has forged a strong team ethic which has produced excellent results.

Lastly, Roy Keane has racked up nearly 200 games during his time with Sunderland and Ipswich.

He made a magnificent start by getting the Northeast club into the Premiership but things turned sour and his job is under serious threat with the Tractor Boys.

If he does get the bullet, it is likely he will get another shot on name value, but whether he would deserve it is questionable.

Experienced, and worthy of a shot at the big time

It is amazing to think Nigel Clough has racked up over 800 games as a manager.

But having paid his dues during 10 years at Burton Albion, he has led Derby into a solid league position and is doing his famous father proud.

Nigel Clough has done well at Derby

Simon Grayson had a tremendously successful spell at Blackpool before making the decision to try and reinvigorate Leeds United.

He has done all that could have been asked of him, having led the Yorkshire side back into The Championship and now up to fourth place.

Having managed Motherwell and Colchester, Paul Lambert has done an excellent job with Norwich.

Ironically given the Canaries job after his then Colchester side beat them 7-1 on the opening day of last season, he secured the League One title and they now look real play-off contenders.

Barnsley manager Mark Robins continues to impress with The Tykes. Oakwell is a fortress and their away form has improved.

They sit in 10th place and if 22-year-old Adam Hamill continues his superb form, a return to the top flight for the first time in 14 years is not impossible.

That would be an incredible achievement for Robins and the club.

Preston boss Darren Ferguson would also join this group despite his current problems, while Nigel Pearson is trying to revive Hull City.

The Rookies

Aside from Speed, there are five managers in The Championship with less than 100 games experience.

Keith Millen has made a great start at Bristol City, while Ian Baraclough’s short time at Scunthorpe has shown some promise.

Malky Mackay and Brian McDermott have pushed Watford and Reading respectively into the play-off picture, but it is Brendan Rodgers who is blazing the way for this group.

His Swansea side sit in third place and it will be fascinating to see whether he can lead the Welsh side into the Premiership, and if so, how he, and they, could do?

So, what type of manager is best? And who would you have at your club?

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Championship Team of the Season (so far)

As The Championship reaches the crucial Christmas period, it seems the perfect time to suggest a ‘Team of the Season’ for the first 20 games (19 for some clubs after last weekend’s freeze).

Six clubs supply players to the side, with leaders QPR providing three and third-placed Swansea four, largely on the back of the two sides outstanding defensive records in what has generally been a high-scoring division.

Do you agree with this selection? Or are their players who could push for a claim to join the elite?

The side then:

Goalkeeper: Dorus de Vries (Swansea)

Since joining from Scottish side Dunfermline back in 2007, de Vries has proved himself an outstanding ‘keeper for the promotion-chasing Swans.

After setting a new club record for clean sheets last season (25), he has continued where he left off this time around (nine already). Commanding of his area and capable of making world-class saves, he looks sure to be playing Premiership football next season either for the Welsh club or a top-tier side looking for a reliable stopper.

Angel Rangel (Swansea)

Although he has not been an ever-present this season, Rangel has impressed and the Swans are very keen to tie him down to a new contract to ward off interest from a number of top-flight clubs.

Superb in the South Wales derby victory against Cardiff, he also snatched a dramatic stoppage-time equaliser against Doncaster two weeks ago to keep momentum going.

Angel Rangel, Neath v Swansea City (20.07.09)
Angel Rangel: Premiership Quality

Clint Hill (QPR)

Since signing from Crystal Palace in the summer, Hill has been a rock at the back for an R’s side which has remarkably conceded just 9 goals in 19 games and kept 11 clean sheets already this season.

Able to play across the back four, Hill’s versatility and reliability have been a feature of the Loftus Road’s side superb performance.

Ashley Williams (Swansea)

The Welsh international has proved a revelation since being plucked from League Two Stockport County back in 2008.

Broke the club record for number of consecutive games played on October 30 against Crystal Palace, appropriately in an impressive 3-0 win.

A real leader at the back, he and club captain Garry Monk have formed a formidable central defensive pair who have proved pivotal in Swansea’s season.

Kaspars Gorkss (QPR)

Latvian international Gorkss has been in inspired form at both ends of the pitch for QPR this season.

Rangers supreme record at the back has already been documented, but the 6’3 centre half has also chipped in with some vital goals at the other end of the pitch – none more so than the one he scored against title rivals Cardiff in the recent 2-1 win.

Lewis McGugan (Nottingham Forest)

The 22-year-old central midfielder has enjoyed a stunning season so far, and could very easily already have a portfolio of goals that would be suitable for a nationwide ‘Goal of the Season’.

The 35-yard screamer of a free kick against Ipswich is probably the pick so far, but his strikes against Cardiff, Watford and Middlesbrough were also breath-taking.

Adel Taarabt (QPR)

The Moroccan star and club captain has been outstanding so far this season, and as mentioned previously on this blog, could, and really should, be playing at a higher level.

Of the nine goals he has notched this season, none were more important than his most recent against Cardiff. If he keeps to his current level of form, it would take a very brave man against QPR winning the division.

QPR v Scunthorpe United
Adel Taarabt: 9-goal central midfielder

Kris Commons (Derby)

Scottish international Commons has been the Rams ‘X Factor’ star in helping the side to seventh place.

Unfancied for success at the start of the season, Nigel Clough’s decision to give Commons something of a free role has allowed him to bag 11 goals already.

Scott Sinclair (Swansea)

Scott Sinclair had always flattered to deceive at this level during his previous spells with Plymouth, QPR, Charlton and Crystal Palace amongst others. An obvious talent, but perhaps one unfulfilled.

This season has seen the talent flourish in Wales. Although the winger has only scored 1 in his last 6 games, he has 8 for the season, and a possible England call-up (he has played at every international level so far) may not be a completely distant dream.

Jay Bothroyd (Cardiff)

England international (who would have predicted that at the start of the season!) Bothroyd is the league’s top scorer and perhaps the key man at the Welsh Capital club, even more so than loanee Craig Bellamy.

His absence was noticeable in the defeat to Swansea, and his ability to hold the ball up well, as well as hitting the target has proved critical in moving his side into a top-two position.

If the Bluebirds fail to gain promotion, he will almost certainly leave, so the second half of the season will be fascinating to watch.

Bothroyd Celebrates
Jay Bothroyd: England man

Lucciano Becchio (Leeds)

Argentine Becchio has made a late push for inclusion after a red-hot patch has seen him bag 5 goals in his last 4 games, taking his tally for the season to 11.

The Elland Road side have performed admirably since returning to the second tier of English football, and Becchio has filled the void left by Jermaine Beckford brilliantly.

There were many others in contention – Frank Fielding has been superb in goal at Derby while Paul Robinson and Alan Dunne have gone well at the back for mid-table Millwall, and the other QPR and Swansea defenders have generally been outstanding. Andy King has been prominent in Leicester’s recent good run, while Peter Whittingham and Seyi Olofinjana have excelled in Cardiff’s central midfield.

Up front, Jamie Mackie was sensational for QPR at the start of the season but has cooled off, and Chris Iwelumo has scored 9 at Burnley.

So many good players in this most unpredictable of seasons, so where have I gone wrong in this selection?

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Three Massive Matches

QPR-Cardiff. Norwich-Ipswich. Leicester-Forest. WOW.

Matchday 19 sees the Championship’s top two collide, Old Farm hostilities renewed after a 19-month absence and a mouth-watering East Midlands derby rounding off the weekend.

Loftus Road plays host to arguably the biggest game of the season so far as the division’s two trailblazers come head-to-head.

Neil Warnock has done an outstanding job so far and there at last appears to be something resembling stability at the London club after the absurd number of managers the Briatore era initially heralded.

Based on a rock-solid defence, The R’s remain unbeaten at home and will start as favourites, especially given Cardiff’s dismal recent form.

Jamie Mackie has gone slightly off the boil since his incredible early-season goal-scoring form but Adel Taarabt has recently taken up the baton.

The Moroccan international scored twice in last Saturday’s 3-1 win over Preston and when on song he is a player far too good for this league.

Adel Taarabt
Adel Taarabt is a match-winner on his day

While QPR have overcome the sticky spell which saw them draw five on the spin, Cardiff’s recent form has been questionable.

Although they claimed an impressive 4-2 win at Scunthorpe, home defeats to Swansea and Nottingham Forest have seen them relinquish top spot.

But there is no doubt of the quality available to Dave Jones.

Craig Bellamy needs no discussion, and likewise Jay Bothroyd’s recent England call-up shows his ability.

But the midfield trio of Jason Koumas, Seyi Olofinjana and Peter Whittingham are all Premiership quality and while there are question marks over the defence, the Bluebirds will generally score goals.

Prediction: 2-1. QPR should just edge an intriguing game.

One of the most passionate derbies in British football will be renewed on Sunday lunchtime as Ipswich travel to Carrow Road to face their bitter rivals.

After suffering relegation two seasons ago, Paul Lambert marshalled the Canaries troops superbly to ensure a quick return to the second tier.

And his side have continued to excel in the Championship, currently sitting in eighth place.

Andrew Surman is a central midfielder with the ability to go on to greater things, and, although he has yet to score regularly this season, Grant Holt is a real handful.

The striker enjoyed a prolific 2009-10 as he banged in 24 league goals – arguably the reason his side claimed the League One title.

Grant Holt Shares a Joke with Fans
Grant Holt is a danger man for Norwich

If he fires on Sunday, Ipswich will be in trouble.

The Tractor Boys began the season well but injuries and a lack of firepower have seen them slump into the bottom half of the table.

Whether the loan signing of Rory Fallon – 19 goals in 142 games for Plymouth – will help is highly doubtful.

But form often goes out the window in derby games and Ipswich do have players who can hurt their hosts.

Jason Scotland has scored goals at this level, and the trio of midfield loanees – Andros Townsend, Jake Livermore and Jack Colback – have the ability to eventually play at the highest level.

Gianni Zuiverloon should prove to be a good addition to the defence, but his arrival may have come to late for Sunday.

Prediction: 3-1. Grant Holt is due a goal and could hit a derby-day hat-trick.

The weekend rounds off with a fascinating game between two of the division’s in-form teams as Sven’s Foxes host Nottingham Forest in the East Midlands derby.

The arrival of Chris Kirkland could prove inspired (if he stays fit) for Leicester who’s play-off credentials I inspected earlier in the week.

Likewise Forest are on an outstanding run, with nine-goal Lewis McGugan constantly bettering himself with a whole host of long-range strikes.

The sad injury to Dexter Blackstock deprives the visitors of one dangerous striker, but Robert Earnshaw is a threat at this level and the loan signing of Aaron Ramsey from Arsenal is a shrewd bit of business.

Prediction: 1-1. Both sides are playing well and may cancel each other out.

Chris Kirkland, Wigan Athletic v Real Zaragoza, 4 August 2010
England international Chris Kirkland could be an inspired signing for Leicester

Am I right? Or will results go the other way?

Let me know your thoughts?

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Coming from the pack – Championship play-off outsiders?

Another hard-fought weekend in the Championship saw QPR return to the top of the table after a convincing 3-1 won over Reading.

Previous leaders Cardiff suffered a second successive home defeat to continue their miserable November, this time at the hands of Nottingham Forest.

Forest now fill the last of the play-off places alongside Swansea, Derby and Leeds.

But as I said in my last post, the league remains incredibly open.

Here I have a look at four teams in the bottom half who won’t win the league, but have the potential to reach the play-offs.

Although Middlesbrough are still in the relegation zone and lost at home to Millwall on Saturday, the old saying goes that ‘form is temporary, class permanent’.

The pre-season favourites have suffered a nightmare start to the season, costing Gordon Strachan his job. Yet with 2/3’s of the season remaining, they are just 10 points off sixth place.

And Tony Mowbray has promotion credentials having led West Brom to the Premiership just two seasons ago.

The spine of the team is also one of the strongest in the division.
David Wheater is an England international centre back, Barry Robson and Gary O’neill are fine central midfielders and in Leroy Lita and Kris Boyd, ‘Boro have a front pair capable of scoring bags of goals at this level.

When it clicks, expect the team to rocket up the table.

The Riverside Stadium
There is work to be done at the Riverside

Leicester are a changed side since Sven arrived, having taken 17 points from nine games since the Swede returned to England.

There poor start means the title is out of the question, but their recent form is excellent and the top 6 must be considered possible.

Any side that can afford to leave Matty Fryatt and Martyn Waghorn on the bench has strong options up front, and Curtis Davies is a solid defender at this level.

Crystal Palace v Leicester City
Matty Fryatt was prolific last season but currently warms the bench

If Sven’s magic continues, expect the Foxes to be knocking on the door come the end of the season.

Steve Cotterill has done a tremendous job at Portsmouth, who have overcome there well-documented off-field problems to remain in contention.

On the field there is an abundance of class at Championship level.

Similar to Middlesbrough, the Fratton Park club have a number of players with Premiership experience and quality.

Liam Lawrence is potentially one of the top 10 players in the division, and although they lost to Barnsley on Saturday, the Oakwell side rarely lose at home.

Ashdown-Halford-Ward-Rocha-Mokoena-Lawrence-Mullins-Hughes-Utaka-Nugent-Kitson is a starting line-up of top six quality, leaving aside the fact Kanu, Sonko and Hriedarsson could not even make the starting XI.

Lastly, Ipswich are beset by injury problems and rumours of growing pressure on manager Roy Keane.

But the Tractor Boys started the season in fantastic form and with a clean bill of health may still come again.

Senior players such as Martin Fulop, Gareth McAuley and Carlos Edwards have played at international level.

And if the precociously talented Connor Wickham, only 17 but already in the England u-21 squad, starts firing, the old miser Keane may end the season with a smile on his face.

Ipswich Town v Bristol City Aug 2010
Ipswich started the season well but must improve

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Chase For Championship Glory

Cardiff. QPR. Swansea. Derby. Leeds. Burnley. Norwich. Reading. Who is going to win the Championship?

Could Sven’s Foxes or Keano’s Tractor Boys still make a late charge?

And what of Doncaster – could they be 2010’s equivalent to last year’s Blackpool?

With over a third of the season gone, Cardiff and QPR lead the way in what has once again proved the most exciting league in world football.

But there seem to be as many questions as answers against all of the top sides.

And there are still just 12 points between the table-topping Bluebirds and Ipswich down in twelfth.

Even resurgent Leicester and Portsmouth won’t completely rule themselves out.

Cardiff have at times cut a swathe through the division with Jay Bothroyd and Craig Bellamy leading a front line who top the league’s goal scorers.

But will the defence prove their Achilles heel? And was the derby day performance where they seemed to freeze a sign that their ‘chokers’ tag could rear its’ ugly head again.

Bothroyd Celebrates
Man of the Moment Jay Bothroyd

QPR appear a ruthlessly efficient outfit under the irrepressible Neil Warnock and have shipped just 7 goals all season.

But if the goals stop flowing from Jamie Mackie’s boot or if Adel Taraabt picks up an injury, do they have the magic to stay at the top? Though they remain unbeaten, 5 draws in successive games recently was hardly title-winning inspiration.

3 points behind QPR, Swansea were hugely impressive in the South Wales derby, and in Scott Sinclair have a player of outstanding ability at this level.

Defensively they appear solid, but Brendan Rodgers track record is decidedly questionable and there remain suspicions that they may not be for the long haul.

Swansea Freekick
Swansea claimed South Wales bragging rights

Derby and Leeds may fall into the same boat. Nigel Clough has the Rams on an excellent run and Simon Grayson is one of the better young manager’s around, but is there sufficient top quality and depth to make the title-winning charge?

And what of the others in the pack? Norwich and Reading continually threaten before losing games they would expect to win, but Nottingham Forest might just be a shrewd outside bet.

Lewis McGugan has scored some of the goals of the season and Billy Davies’ side might just be the one’s to watch.

Whatever happens, it is another fabulous season and I’ll have a more in-depth look at some of the other sides who may still believe tomorrow!!

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