Dwight Gayle being sh*t, Chris Wilder sacked and more shocks of the 22/23 Championship season
The Championship is one of the most unpredictable leagues in the world and some pretty inconceivable things have gone down in 2022/23.
Not many would have seen second-tier specialist Dwight Gayle being a flop at Stoke City or Chuba Akpom turning into an Erling Haaland-esque goalscorer…
Dwight Gayle being a flop at Stoke City
There are many strikers who have struggled in the Premier League but have guaranteed goals in the Championship. Teemu Pukki and Cameron Jerome come to mind as prime examples but Gayle was king of the hill.
Prior to this season, Gayle had 33 goal involvements in 145 Premier League outings; this compared to 75 in 100 appearances in the Championship.
Stoke appeared to pull off a coup by signing Gayle on a free transfer from Newcastle United in the summer. But a move to a pretty mediocre Potters side has proven to be the striker’s kryptonite.
The last time Gayle was in the Championship, he netted 23 goals in 39 games for West Brom in 2018/19. Yet this term it took him 21 appearances to score his first league goal for Stoke.
With Gayle failing to fire, Stoke’s joint-top goalscorers – Tyrese Campbell and Lewis Baker – sit on five apiece and Alex Neil’s side are in a perilous position just five points above the bottom three.
You imagine that Stoke will have enough quality at their disposal to stay up, but they will be praying that Gayle can rediscover his Championship scoring touch.
Chris Wilder’s ugly Middlesbrough exit
Prior to this season, Boro were many people’s favourites to get promoted with ex-Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder being spoiled with an abundance of quality throughout his squad.
But under Wilder, they managed to win just two of their opening 12 games of the 2022/23 campaign. While this was ongoing, he was being heavily linked with the vacant manager’s job at AFC Bournemouth.
Wilder was seemingly tempted by this significant fall upwards and this cannot have helped his cause at the Riverside. With the talent at Boro’s disposal, it seemed only a matter of time before they picked up, but the funk stretched into October and he had to go as his position became untenable.
The lure of a return to the Premier League with Bournemouth was always going to be tempting for Wilder, but these links added to what was going wrong at Boro. Had things played out differently, he could have ruled himself out of the running for the south coast job and rebuilt the Teesside outfit to realise their promotion potential.
Instead, Wilder is out of work with his reputation and ego taking a hit and Middlesbrough have instead been on the rise under novice boss Michael Carrick.
The Manchester United legend is working wonders as he has established Boro as play-off favourites. He has also turned one of their strikers into a world-beater…
Chuba Akpom being the Championship top scorer
Up until this season, the 27-year-old former Arsenal academy product got lost around Europe as he has struggled to find a home.
He managed just 12 appearances for the Gunners and he had six loan spells elsewhere before he joined Greek side PAOK in 2018.
Akpom returned to England in 2020 as he joined Middlesbrough for around £2.75m. A forgettable debut season led to him returning to PAOK on loan in 2021/22.
After barely featuring under Wilder, Carrick has managed to unearth a supreme talent as Akpom is finally reaching his full potential.
The forward has netted 14 goals in just 19 games since Carrick took over and he is now four clear of Viktor Gyokeres and Oscar Estupinan as the top scorer in the Championship – a truly remarkable rise for a forward who looked destined to meander through the remainder of his career without ever really firing.
But now his stock is through the roof, Johnny Nic is one of his biggest fans and his goals could well fire Middlesbrough to promotion at the end of what’s been a mindboggling season for the club.
Luton Town sticking around the play-off picture
While Huddersfield Town have declined this season after finishing in the play-offs in 2021/22, Luton Town have gone from strength to strength.
The Hatters have one of the lowest budgets in the division and they continue to battle above their means near the top of the Championship table.
Nathan Jones did a phenomenal job at Kenilworth Road – and he will perhaps wish now that he stayed on – so their achievements this term become even more impressive considering that there has been a managerial change thrown into the mix.
On early evidence, Rob Edwards has proven to be an inspired appointment by the club’s hierarchy after he was unfairly dismissed after just 11 games by the Pozzo family of Watford.
The ex-Forest Green boss has won seven of his first 12 games in charge as Luton have moved ahead of the chasing pack to sit joint-third on 48 points after 29 games.
This is a remarkable feat given the size and the funds the clubs around them have at their disposal. They really have no right to be up there but the foundations forged by Jones have been strengthened further by Edwards; a second successive play-off finish looks likely.
Luton are three points ahead of rivals Watford with a game in hand. Considering how harshly Edwards was binned off by the Hornets, it would be pretty amusing if his current team end up in the play-offs and his ever-tinkering former club miss out.
Wigan sacking Leam Richardson…then Kolo Toure after nine games
The Latics truly have been a shambles this season.
From the outside, it has been infuriating to watch them undo all of the promising work done last season in League One. Richardson’s side were the rightful champions in the third tier as they edged out Rotherham United and MK Dons for the title.
The foundations were there for them to establish themselves in the Championship once again, but Richardson had his hands tied behind his back by Wigan’s board, who refused to back him in the transfer market.
Despite their positive start to the season, Wigan’s lack of quality at this level eventually came to the fore and they have slumped to the point now where they are favourites to finish bottom of the league.
It is difficult not to have empathy for Richardson and this was increased further when he was sacked in November. His dismissal came just two weeks after he signed a new three-year contract.
With Wigan in freefall, the board took the bold step to appoint ex-Leicester City assistant manager Kolo Toure, who in turn was becoming a head coach for the first time.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and you have to feel that Toure would now regret taking on the job, especially given that he was sacked after just nine games.
Toure was thrown into the deepest of water with this job and he was unable to put a stop to Wigan’s barren run in the brief time he was there. It would not surprise me if he does come good as a manager in the future. But this was the wrong job at the wrong time, at a club heading for relegation…and it’s all their doing.
Preston being 11th having only scored 27 goals
27 league goals in just 29 games.
You would be forgiven for thinking that these stats belong to a club battling relegation. But no, Preston are in fact 11th in the Championship and just four points adrift of the play-offs. Oh, I do love the daftness of the second tier. It makes no sense.
Earlier this season, you would have thought that Preston would be doing well to reach 27 goals after 29 games too. Ten games into the league season, they had managed just three goals.
Ryan Lowe’s players have sorted themselves a bit in recent months and have even scored four goals in a single game against Blackburn. Their fans must have been coming out in hot sweats by the final whistle!
On the current trajectory, Preston will end up scoring 42 goals in 46 Championship games this season. Their defenders’ backs must be aching from doing most of the heavy lifting this season.
Burnley may have even had a fight on their hands for the title if Preston’s attackers had
Dwight Gayle’s Chuba Akpom’s scoring power…