Benjamin Bloom is here to talk through all you need to know ahead of the Championship action, with odds from Betfair throughout.
MATCH TO WATCH: Fulham v Bournemouth
During the 1980s classic movie Ghostbusters, Egon Spengler – played by Harold Ramis – warns his Ghostbusting colleagues they should never “cross the streams”. Spengler was referring to the potential danger when throwing down one’s ‘Proton Pack’ of the proton beams crossing and causing untold damage to humankind. I’m going to ignore Spengler’s warning and metaphorically will be crossing the streams and duplicating the game I covered in this week’s tactical preview column on Football365 once again here in the Big Weekend.
I’m not sure why I’m giving a spoiler alert on a film that came out in 1984, but spoiler alert, at the end of the movie the Ghostbusters actually deliberately ‘cross the streams’ in order to defeat the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man so I’m viewing this second look at Fulham v Bournemouth as a brave and noble deed. This is a game that can’t be ignored; it’s first against second in the Championshi, and the table tells us the two best teams in the division by a distance already.
It’s probably appropriate to be referencing Hollywood alongside this game, as there is equivalent narrative in this match with your average Hollywood script. The game pits the two top-scoring teams, in-form goalscorers Aleksandar Mitrovic and Dominic Solanke, and marks the first return of former Bournemouth boss Scott Parker to Craven Cottage, after he moved between the two clubs in the summer. I won’t apologise for ‘crossing the streams’ as in my estimation this is the biggest Championship game of the season, so go and check out the tactical preview for more on this mouth-watering clash.
TEAM TO WATCH: Hull City
Is it still okay to quote Andy Gray? During the rise of the Premier League he was Sky Sports’ leading pundit, before leaving in somewhat murky circumstances. In his dulcet Glaswegian tones, Gray would often acclaim a great goal in commentary with the catchphrase ‘Take a bow son’. I think having laid out my premise it’s perfectly reasonable for me to take Gray’s words and say ‘Take a bow’ to Hull City.
The Tigers are currently in the midst of a sensational four-game winning streak, the longest currently in the Championship. The run has taken them out of a three-way scrap with Peterborough and Barnsley, and moved them up to 19th place and five points clear of the drop zone. What makes this winning streak even more impressive is the sense of sheer unadulterated surprise. Four games ago Hull had just nine points from their first 16 games, moving at a rate of just over 0.5 points per game with relegation utterly inevitable should that pattern last the season. If we take Derby’s points deduction out of the equation, Hull were comfortably the worst team in the league on the pitch; nobody had fewer wins, fewer goals or fewer points.
I’ve heard various explanations as to why Hull have all of a sudden started winning. Some reference the use of the 3-5-2 shape, some reference the return to form of the influential George Honeyman, and some would argue they’ve had a nice run of opponents and taken full advantage. As ever, the run is probably influenced by multiple factors and not any single thing, especially given the absolutely drastic jump in points output. Up next a trip to Reading, with the Royals currently one place above the relegation zone. Hull have built a gap over the bottom three, another win at the weekend and they could be looking at the huge pack of teams in the middle, rather than that scary-looking line three places from the bottom.
MANAGER TO WATCH: Steve Morison (Cardiff City)
When we hear about the ‘managerial merry go round’ the underlying principle of that well-worn bit of football speak is that the same managers bounce around the same jobs in a repetitive cyclical way. You can see the temptation for owners, in such a high-risk decision as choosing someone to run your football club, it’s nice to think you know what you’re going to get. Cardiff’s recent appointments have been somewhat rooted in the realms of knowing what you’re going to get, Neil Harris less so, but certainly the two either side of him. Neil Warnock and Mick McCarthy, couldn’t skew much more down the experienced route.
The recent appointment of Steve Morison as Bluebirds boss has seen the Cardiff ownership taking a big leap off the ‘managerial merry go round’ and trying something new. We’ll always hear the accusation that the promotion from within, of a younger untried manager, is some kind of money saving exercise, but so far it’s looking like a good decision to give Morison the top job. The well-travelled striker was brought in by ‘former former’ boss Neil Harris, who he played for at Millwall. Morison always struck me as the brains of that Millwall team and was entrusted with Cardiff’s under-23s in early 2020.
Morison’s six games in charge so far have produced an extremely healthy ten points and a run of three wins in the last four for a Cardiff side struggling in the bottom six and on a horrible losing streak at the end of Mick McCarthy’s tenure. Morison has also dipped straight into the group of under-23s he has worked with, using Rubin Colwill, Isaak Davies, Mark Harris, Chanka Zimba and Kieron Evans already. We’ll know in the fullness of time how good a hire this one is, but it’s a case of ‘so far so good’ for Morison in management at Cardiff.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Illias Chair (QPR)
Watching a player come through from the Championship and make a name for himself at the top level can be like seeing a band you’ve followed from the underground through to mainstream popularity. Such a situation can be bittersweet, it’s like divulging the special secret you were in on and now everybody knows it’s not so special anymore. Truly though, that view comes across a little selfish when we consider the sacrifices, disappointments and sheer slog that a footballer or musician encounters in order to reach their full potential.
I caught a bit of Jim White on TalkSport on Tuesday – this was the day after Derby played QPR. Pertinently, the game was on Sky TV with no opposition from any Premier League games. Mr White had been able to watch the game and said on national radio, “Illias Chair, what a player he is”. As he said it I had one of those moments, happy that a player I’ve covered for a few years is moving up in the world and being recognised on the national scene, but also feeling the cat was now out of the bag.
Chair is now 24 and Championship fans have watched him develop over the past three seasons into a key man in a team currently third in the table. The little Moroccan always caught the eye but is now really able to use his excellent close control and ball-carrying skills to consistently influence games. A simple look at Championship goal contributions shows an obvious growth for Chair, from 10 in 2019/20, to 12 in 2020/21, with the total already at 9 less than half way through this current campaign. With QPR looking like one of the better sides in the division and Chair linking up so effectively with fellow attacker Chris Willock, it looks like Championship fans will be handing over another one-time secret to the wider footballing world.
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