The first five rounds of fixtures in the Championship have produced plenty of surprises and talking points.
Old pros Warnock and McCarthy lead the way
Few would have predicted that Cardiff City and Ipswich Town would end the month in the automatic promotion spots, but two of the most experienced Championship managers have led their sides to an impressive start to the season. Cardiff are the only side left with a 100% record, a run which includes impressive wins over big-spending Wolves and Aston Villa. Nathaniel Mendez-Laing has impressed scoring five goals so far and the defence has been strong, conceding only two goals so far.
There was a lot of negativity around Portman Road before the season began, particularly after a pre-season hammering at Charlton Athletic, but a lengthy injury list has not prevented Ipswich from starting the season brightly. They won their first four leagues matches, including a 4-3 classic at Millwall – before finally succumbing to Fulham 2-0. Neither side is expected to challenge for automatic promotion over the course of the season, but a strong first month has given both clubs reasons to be positive heading into September.
Steady start for relegated trio
It has been a steady and unspectacular start for the three sides relegated from the Premier League, with none of them in the top six at the end of August. Middlesbrough have struggled to find the net so far, scoring only four goals in five games so far despite spending around £35million on Britt Assombalonga, Ashley Fletcher and Martin Braithwaite. Garry Monk is still working out what his best side is and made two further additions on deadline day – Ryan Shotton from Birmingham City and winger Marvin Johnson from Oxford United. There appears to be a hangover from their underwhelming attempt at staying in the Premier League, despite the personnel changes.
Hull City have had the opposite problem – Leonid Slutsky’s side are the top scorers in the division but have also leaked goals at the other end. Comfortable wins were secured over Bolton Wanderers and Burton Albion, but there have also been defeats to Wolves and QPR. The late signings of Jackson Irvine, Jon Toral and Nouha Dicko add some much-needed depth to the squad. Sunderland, meanwhile, have only a solitary league win to their name, a comfortable 3-1 victory at Norwich. They were thumped by Barnsley at the end of the month, a result that will cause some concern even amongst a fanbase with low expectations for the season ahead.
Leeds and Wolves impress, Forest and Sheffield United surprise
Leeds United narrowly missed out on the play-offs last season and have begun the new campaign strongly under new ownership and management. Thomas Christiansen’s men are unbeaten so far and the additions to the squad look to be settling in well, though time will tell how the late sale of Chris Wood to Burnley will impact them. Big-spending Wolves are one of the bookies favourites and have three wins to their name already, defeating three of the league’s stronger sides in Middlesbrough, Hull City and Derby County. A home defeat to Cardiff City may help to temper expectations after their early wins.
Two other sides have taken three wins from the first month of the season. Newly-promoted Sheffield United have a 100% record at Bramall Lane thus far, taking three points from Brentford, Barnsley and Derby. The momentum from their 100-point campaign in League One appears to have carried over, and in Billy Sharp they have a striker with plenty of experience at this level. Nottingham Forest stayed up on the final day of last season but if August is anything to go by, the fans won’t have to worry about a relegation scrap this time. Wins over Middlesbrough, Brentford and Millwall see them in the top six at this early stage. Mark Warburton is seen as a safe pair of hands and despite the sale of Assombalonga, they should easily improve on last season’s effort.
Bolton and Brentford winless
At the other end of the table, two sides have failed to win a single game so far. Dean Smith’s Brentford side have often dominated games but have only picked up two points so far. The sales of captain Harlee Dean and star player Jota to Birmingham City in the last days of the transfer window have left the club on the back foot, and they’ll need to pick up some wins quickly to allay any fears of a relegation battle.
One club that was expected to struggle before the season’s start is Bolton Wanderers. Still under strict transfer restrictions, they have only two points so far and have conceded ten goals in the process. A long battle lays ahead for the Lancashire side to escape an immediate return to League One.
Slow start for Norwich, Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday
Three of the sides are expected to challenge for promotion have had a slow start to the season. Norwich were hoping that Daniel Farke would have a similar impact to David Wagner at Huddersfield but he has had a poor start. Despite dominating possession in most games they have the worst defence in league, with 12 goals conceded, and only four points on the board so far. A thumping 4-0 defeat at Millwall has left fans concerned that the club will miss out on the play-offs again.
Fulham went winless in their first four matches before defeating Ipswich 2-0 at Portman Road, which they will hope will kickstart their season. Tom Cairney is crucially still at the club but Sone Aluko has been sold to Reading. The Cottagers have faced Leeds, Norwich, Reading and Sheffield Wednesday so far so shouldn’t be judged too harshly on their only form. Sheffield Wednesday have also begun slowly, taking only one win away at Fulham and scoring only four goals in the process, despite an array of talented strikers. Carlos Carvalhal’s position could be in danger if the club aren’t challenging for the top six by the end of the year.
Despite the current international break there are another five rounds of fixtures coming up in September, after which we should have a better idea of the Championship pecking order. After a busy transfer deadline day for a number of clubs, in particular Birmingham City and Sunderland, it will be interesting to see which clubs have strengthened most effectively.