While Coventry City are flying high, Sheffield United and Chris Hughton need to turn things around quickly. Here are your Championship winners and losers…
Injury Time Specialists Coventry City
In both games since returning home, Coventry City have washed, rinsed and repeated the trick of extremely late winners from going a goal down. If you thought Kyle MacFadzean’s 96th-minute winner was dramatic, Matty Godden went two better with a 98th-minute strike to soar the Sky Blues high into fourth place in the early Championship standings.
It may well be too soon to look at league tables with any courage and conviction, but it is never too early to revel in such sweetness as a club which has endured such dark times is at the current peak of their rise back from playing League Two football at Northampton Town’s Sixfields. Days like this dramatic turnaround against Reading and the win over Nottingham Forest seemed like too distant a dream to think about not even half a decade ago, and yet such majesty in injury time has Coventry looking up yet again rather than over their shoulders.
Their ‘home’ record at St. Andrew’s was good, and not just all things considered, but genuinely good. But in two league games since returning to their city, they have made memories which will far outweigh the best part of two years in the second city, much of that behind closed doors. If every club has missed that connection with their fans over the last 18 months, then Mark Robins’ side have done without them in their full capacity for even longer. They are more than making up for lost time, and given all the troubles they have experienced off the pitch, nobody can begrudge them the scenes on it in the last two home games. Well, nobody outside of Forest and Reading circles, that is.
Life moves fast when you’re measuring it in bi-weekly Winners & Losers columns. But if you stand and look around more than once in a while, you’re bound to get whiplash from the sudden twists and turns endured by Championship clubs between the respective columns on show here.
Step forward Birmingham City, who found themselves on the opposite side of things in midweek for matters on and off the pitch, only to be the biggest winners this weekend, in terms of scoreline at least. I’m almost certain there isn’t an EFL fan alive, and certainly not a Hatter or a Bluenose who would have expected a five-goal swing in either direction here, but Brum bounced back from a quite horrific week to land the biggest win of the Championship season thus far.
Having spent most of the last few seasons looking over their shoulder, Lee Bowyer’s first full season has largely started in decent fashion, with this their third win and fourth clean sheet in all competitions, that dismal defeat to Bournemouth in midweek looking an exception rather than the rule.
Throw in five goals from four different scorers and a potential return to form for brace hitter Scott Hogan and this looks like a simple season at worst for Birmingham. For once, any complications to the campaign would look to come from fighting for a play-off place rather than battling a drop to League One.
A Good Week For Huddersfield Town
Two successive appearances in the winner’s column for Huddersfield Town. Either the Terriers have come good or Winty has cracked and gone into dictatorship mode at F365 Towers. Thankfully, Huddersfield’s rise in the standings disproves the latter and confirms there is still positivity to be had in the Kirklees.
Ignore the fact their first win of the season came against a ‘pointless’ Preston, and today’s against a Sheffield United side without a league goal coming into this fixture. That each game was played against a side at the bottom of the table proved just how important each victory was to Huddersfield as they look for some form of progression from a difficult couple of campaigns.
Having littered their squad with a plethora of journeyman signings who wouldn’t look out of place in any League One Team of the Week from the last three years, it is the youngsters who are making Town look every bit a competent Championship outfit.
Josh Koroma has been the brightest talent in the blue and white corner of West Yorkshire for the best part of the calendar year while winger Sorba Thomas has found the transition from National League to second tier football seamless. It was the former who got a largely dull Yorkshire derby off the ground with quarter of an hour of the game remaining before on-loan centre back Levi Colwill – already looking destined for the top in his teenage years – stabbed home an even later injury-time winner than Billy Sharp’s 90th-minute equaliser. As long as Corberan continues to realise the kids are alright, Huddersfield won’t be shrinking from their Championship challenge.
To say Blackpool’s return to the Championship has been largely underwhelming would be an understatement; a dramatic draw at Bristol City on match day one preceded two defeats which left the Seasiders beside the lower echelons of the table. A point in and of itself may not do much to change that situation on the face of it, but the way in which it came about provides some clarity on how the season could go for Neil Crtichley’s side.
Coming back from an early two-goal deficit at likely promotion challengers Bournemouth to gain a point, with last season’s main man Jerry Yates getting his first goal of the season, offers not just a potential kickstart, but allows for a moment of reflection that Blackpool started last season – a campaign that ended in play-off success and promotion – in equally slow fashion.
Second-bottom seven games in and only breaking into the top six for the first time in late March, Blackpool have already shown there is plenty of reason to believe results like these will become more frequent as the season goes on. A few more signings through the door would be most welcome and nobody is suggesting you lump on a second successive promotion, but this could be a point which looks much more impressive come May than it does right now.
This QPR team just doesn’t know when it’s beaten, does it? Having trailed Middlesbrough in midweek and down to 10 men later on in the game, Mark Warburton’s side departed the Riverside with all three points, and gathered another one in equally unlikely circumstances.
And while special mention has to be given to the ever-effervescent Ilias Chair for his moments of magic in halving the deficit and Charlie Austin for being in the right place at the absolute right time, much credit must go to head coach Warburton, who made a brave call to take off George Thomas and full debutant Andre Dozzell in the latter stages of the first half with Barnsley two up and looking likely to extend that lead.
The shift in formation and personnel handed initiative back to the hosts and that control paid dividends in the end for Warburton and Co. who rose to the challenge to keep up their impressive unbeaten start to the season.
Swansea City & Preston, Getting First Much Needed Wins
Neither of their games were classics, but having had such poor starts to the new season, each under new permanent managerships, both Swansea and Preston will have just felt relief at getting their campaigns up and running if nothing else.
Neither Bristol City nor Peterborough United offered the sternest of tests, but as with Huddersfield and the Robins in midweek, that needn’t matter at this stage of the season. Just getting the wins is enough.
Two games. Four points. Two clean sheets. It’s not been a bad week for Derby County, who will take low scoring affairs and midtable football all season if it means avoiding the embarrassment that we all presumed would come their way.
Just missing the cut for the midweek edition after his two-goal haul, a repeat of that success against Millwall makes Aden Flint the Championship’s outright top scorer with four goals from as many games.
Having scored that many over the last three seasons combined, it is a genuine joy to see the 6ft 5in colossus return to his Bristol City heyday. At this rate, he may even beat his own personal record of 14 (fourteen) goals in a single season.
Another equally unlikely man at the top of the goal-scoring charts is a currently lesser known name in EFL circles, and most likely one who won’t be outside the top flight for long at all.
With two Premier League appearances and a top flight goal to his name already, three at Championship level in just four outings have the Portuguese born, England youth international as one of the division’s brightest talents.
Another good result for Fulham and another outstanding individual contribution from the 19-year-old means it is no wonder clubs in the division above are sniffing around. Either way, Carvalho will be a top-flight player this time next year.
Because I can’t keep simply writing about Stoke every time they win, let’s focus on a single player in a performance full of fantastic individual contributions. Joe Allen produced one of his finest performances in the Potteries for years while the young and imperious back three maintained their superb start to the season, but wing back Josh Tymon marked his continued presence in the side with his first league goal in ST4, capping a wonderful team move late in the second half to maintain Stoke’s fantastic turnaround from last season to this.
The odd man out for much of his time in Stoke, Tymon now looks to be securing a place on the left hand side for this latest edition of ‘Stokealona’.
A commanding young Barnsley centre back signed from Forest Green and having no qualms in stepping up through the divisions. If Liam Kitching’s middle name isn’t Ethan Pinnock and he isn’t in the Premier League in two years’ time, the universe has gone badly wrong somewhere.
Oh dear. We were told the second season was where Chris Hughton came into his own. We were told this was the time for Nottingham Forest to finally realise their potential in the Championship. We all believed he was the manager who was going to take Forest out of this poisonous and counter productive ‘wash-rinse-repeat’ of swapping and changing managers almost every season and summer.
Just four games into the new season, and it appears there is little way out of this cycle for Forest in the short term, with Hughton’s days at the club already looking numbered after a fourth straight league defeat to start the season. In truth, their best hopes of taking anything from the bet365 Stadium looked to be holding on for a 0-0 draw, a feat from which they only fell 15 minutes short.
But that in itself shows just some of the problems encountering Hughton, who had done what was asked last season, staving off a relegation fight, instilling solidity and laying the foundations for a more successful season this time around.
The early signs show all that good work from 2020/21 has gone to waste at the worst time, with fans back in the stadiums and clearly showing their displeasure with what has been laid out before them. The imminent loan return of James Garner – one of Forest’s standout performers in the second half of last season in his initial temporary exit from Manchester United – will likely do little to save Hughton. One star midfielder alone does not a great team make.
But if Hughton is the fall guy, there are plenty who deserve the chop alongside, or even before him in the Forest hierarchy. They may be used to hiring a manager, allowing him to bring in a group of players to call his own and ultimately see it all turn sour, but this is new ground for the veteran. Second season successes are commonplace for the Irishman, having enjoyed sophomore success with Brighton and Birmingham, and it is difficult to see much more being achieved with this current Forest squad under any manager.
Of course, should Hughton depart, a new man will be given his own crop of players to add to a perennially bloated squad and the cycle will begin again. Forest will always be losers for as long as they do that. For Hughton, who waited almost 18 months for an opportunity, that decision making seems odder with every passing defeat. He will have turned down offers in waiting for something perfect, picking Forest is a poor call. At 62 years old, another 18-month wait for a managerial role may not be his own decision.
Millwall, Quietly Struggling
After the cowardly clusterf*ck that was Gary Rowett’s post-match interview in midweek, this weekend saw Millwall fail to impress on the pitch as well. If you – perhaps rather unfairly – associate the Lions with industrious play and winning physical battles, then you would be surprised to see Rowett’s side conceded three goals against Cardiff City, all to centre backs.
But there are bigger problems at hand for the capital side, who are on a punishing run of form, winning just once in their last 10 league games stretching into last season. Having been tipped by some as dark horses for promotion last season, that tag may well be applied to a relegation fight this time around.
Few summer signings have seen this squad look stale after a couple of years of looking up towards the top of the league. You would reckon they will be fine, but this has been a largely depressing start for Millwall.
Bristol City, Failing to Build Momentum
After a first league win of the season in midweek, Bristol City throw it away against a Swansea City side who were largely there for the taking. On Thursday, I wrote of the need to make that one win count, that three points alone were not enough to celebrate, but if it could be turned into part of something greater, it could reap great rewards for the Robins.
Instead, Nigel Pearson’s side are now without a home win in their last 12 at Ashton Gate, meaning the former Leicester boss is still searching for his first three-point haul in BS3. One step forward has been followed by yet another two steps in the wrong direction. Carry on with such poor form and Bristol City are headed in one direction only; down.
Sheffield United, Snatching Humiliation From the Jaws of Mediocrity
Four Championship W&L columns into the season and Sheffield United have made it a full house in the latter column thus far, despite being just minutes from earning themselves some reprieve. Now I’m sure Slavisa Jokanovic has bigger worries in his mind than my ramblings, but it speaks volumes as to just how badly Sheffield United have started this season.
In the summer, we wrote how the Serbian was a Championship cheat code and one of the only choices who could provide excitement after the highs of Chris Wilder’s tenure in charge. It is important not to include every team after every defeat, but when the problems worsen, it is equally difficult to ignore.
Having gone three league games without hitting the back of the net and looking set for a fourth, Billy Sharp’s injury-time equaliser at home to Huddersfield Town broke that particular duck and looked to give the club a pathway if nothing else to mediocrity and beyond. But some scandalous defending switched the problems from the forward areas to the back as Town’s own centre back Colwill was given the freedom of the Steel City to hand Huddersfield another three points of their own, while the Blades sit on one.
After each game, we are reminded that nothing is decided so early in the season, and yet it is important to remember that Jokanovic will not stick around forever. He left Watford after getting the Hornets promoted, spent 12 and five games in charge of Levski Sofia and Hercules earlier in his career and had no qualms in departing Al-Gharafa for Sheffield United this summer. Promises will have undoubtedly been made but this is still almost the exact squad that Wilder left behind. If the hierarchy do not pull their fingers out, Jokanovic will get out.
Having spent the outcome of the opening weekend touted as this season’s promotion dark horses, Luton Town have since come crashing back down to earth, exiting on penalties in the Carabao Cup to League Two Stevenage, going 3-0 down to West Brom while failing to pull it back and this weekend getting smashed at home 5-0 by fellow dark horses Birmingham City.
All in all, it suggests Luton are more likely than not to finish there or thereabouts again in midtable after their 12th place standing in 2020/21, but a five-goal home crushing without reply to a side with similar ambitions can not go unnoticed. A very bad day at the office, and the worst since Nathan Jones’ return to the club.