Bournemouth were inspired to an impressive win by the brave David Brooks. Cardiff, Hull and Peterborough could all do with new managers.
He may not have been on the pitch, nor will he be for the foreseeable future for obvious and awful reasons, but every Bournemouth player on the Ashton Gate pitch this weekend was inspired by David Brooks. That spirit coursed through an electric first-half display which helped keep this Cherries side a level above their closest challengers.
There is something incredible in how little drama Bournemouth are currently bringing to such an exciting division, largely due to the fact that they are too good to require the drama which late winners and close contests bring. From the first kick to the final whistle, particularly in the first 45 minutes against Bristol City, Bournemouth out-thought, out-fought and outshone their opponents. We have a feeling that’s a phrase we’ll be using time and time again about Scott Parker’s side this campaign. Here’s to hoping that Brooks has a similarly effective recovery.
Nottingham Forest, rejuvenated
Steve Cooper’s side are now equidistant in points from the relegation zone and the play-offs. A devastating start to the season under the turbulent tutelage of Chris Hughton has been more than made up for by yet another great result under the latest man to take the City Ground reins. Few have put the ‘success’ in ‘successor’ quite like Cooper, who has Forest in promotion form following his September appointment.
It’s fantastic going for a side who were on course for a return to the dark days of League One not so long ago, yet are now heading in only one direction. It will level out, of course, and Forest as a club are in no fit position to challenge for a place in the Premier League just yet. Cooper himself can attest to a club fighting for a place in the top flight while being clearly unready behind the scenes. But right now there is pride, belief and excitement by the River Trent for the first time in too long.
What’s more, they have won games under Cooper after coming from behind, scoring the first goal without being pegged back and now having scored the first goal and being drawn level. Keep finding new ways to win and the top half will soon be in reach.
A debut goal in an opening-day defeat to Blackburn was something of a false start for Jamie Paterson’s Swansea City career. Just like his new club, Paterson failed to get going and went a further six games without either a goal or assist to his name as Russell Martin’s side flattered to deceive.
But as Swansea have started to turn performances into something more tangible, the 29-year-old winger has improved considerably into a key performer. He showed that no better than in the 3-0 derby victory over Cardiff City at Sunday lunchtime. A stunning opening strike followed by two assists made it six goal involvements in his last five outings. As long as Paterson is in that form, Swansea should continue to move steadily up the Championship standings.
Such has been Reading’s defiance of the narrative that surrounds the club off the pitch, with a six to nine-point deduction hanging not so nicely over the Royals’ heads, that John Swift had taken something of a backseat in the starring role as his teammates came to the match-winning fore prior to the international break.
As Barnsley dug in their heels like the stubborn yet toothless Tykes they are this season, Swift won the game quick as a flash with a cool finish to take Veljko Paunovic’s side to the brink of the top six thanks to a fifth win in six Championship outings.
The backing singers continue to shine, too. Luke Southwood started the campaign as second-choice shot-stopper but another imperious performance between the sticks mean he should be undisputed number one, while Scott Dann was impressive at the back and brought the best out of fellow experienced centre-back Liam Moore. Danny Drinkwater, meanwhile, continues to shine in the second tier and all looks rosy in Berkshire, points deduction or not.
England’s record goalscorer and one of the deadliest strikers the Premier League has seen he may be, but Wayne Rooney is currently in charge of one of the Championship’s most stringent defences. It may not be pretty and it is rarely exciting, but it is functional and solid. Right now, that is just what the Rams need on the pitch to make up for the multiple clusterf**ks off it. Another shut out and point on the board makes it another step closer to safety. Should they achieve it, Rooney’s managerial reputation should be approaching the same stratosphere as his prime playing career.
Bring Wayne Rooney in to replace Ole Solskjaer.
Rooney trained under Carlos, Ferguson, Mourinho, Van Gaal, Capello etc. He understands football. Doing the best job in England right now, in the worst run club.
— H. (@Hxnz99) October 16, 2021
If ever a footballer epitomised the strength and power that comes with belief, then it is QPR and Scotland striker Lyndon Dykes. His current run of form is the best of his professional career. His equaliser in the west London derby at neighbours Fulham will go down as an open net, but the end result was borne from his confidence to round goalkeeper Marek Rodak and the finish was still relatively far out and from a tight enough angle that many forwards would miss.
His fifth league goal of the season, and fourth goal involvement in three Championship fixtures added to by being the first man to score in four consecutive Scotland games since 1969, mean Dykes is the second most in-form man in this part of the capital.
We have said it before and we will undoubtedly be saying it again. The most in-form man in west London is the most in-form man in all of London and almost perennially the most in-form player in the Championship. The Serbian’s double at Saturday lunchtime made it a dozen goals in as many second-tier matches in 2021/22. In his time in this division, he has 66 goal involvements in under 100 games. Fulham aren’t perfect across the pitch, but with the man whose name is so often preceded by ‘who else but?’, they don’t need to be to achieve their ambitions of another instant return to the top flight.
Oftentimes, the best scorers needn’t play through the middle to be their best selves. Just as Ben Brereton Diaz thrives coming in off the left, Karlan Grant has been a revelation since his return to the flank from the central role in which he was deployed at the start of the season.
No club’s fans have loftier ambitions than the Baggies faithful right now, yet another win and weekend ending with a position in the top two was preceded by audible and visible grumbles in the stands at The Hawthorns on Friday night. But as long as Grant is deployed off centre and not as the focal point in Valerien Ismael’s plans, West Brom will likely come good more often than not.
His stunning winner against Birmingham was his fourth goal in as many matches either side of the international break, having scored just two in his West Brom career to date beforehand. When he scores, the Baggies win. Only one of his club’s seven victories this term have come without the former Huddersfield man bagging a goal or assist. He is their not-so-secret weapon back to the top table of English football.
On in the 77th minute. Assisted the equaliser in the 80th. Scored the winner in the 83rd. Name me a better definition of a super sub than Sheffield United veteran David McGoldrick. I’ll wait.
No time to die for Coventry
Alright, the reference is slightly outdated, but I’m not the one who timed the release of the next instalment of the James Bond franchise during an international break, so Coventry’s latest comeback saga made for another blockbuster in the Midlands.
Had enough yet? Good.
Having come back from losing 3-0 to Peterborough and trailing to Fulham at the break in the following fixture to win 4-1, the Sky Blues came from two goals down at Blackburn to take a point and maintain momentum near the top of the table. Never say never again.
It would be easy to place Mick McCarthy alone at the top of the latter half of this list; goodness knows he has been a regular feature here in recent weeks. But Sunday’s 3-0 derby defeat at Swansea was as stark as it was eye-opening. The international break provided the Bluebirds with a two-week period in which to find a new manager, hire them and then provide a springboard to arrest a worrying slide down the Championship table against bitter rivals Swansea City. It did not come.
McCarthy’s time at Cardiff has shown no signs of improving, this their sixth consecutive defeat. Since the start of September, there is only a win against Nottingham Forest to show for McCarthy’s efforts. Shortly thereafter, Forest dismissed Hughton and have not looked back. The Cardiff board should have seen this coming; we all could. Nobody could have been more ill-suited to taking charge against Swansea and it showed with yet another thrashing. This time, it was in an unforgivable manner against their most hated opponents. There can be no more stalling.
Before the international break, we spoke of how Barnsley manager Markus Schopp would be fortunate to hang onto his job in south Yorkshire. Lo and behold, he was there on the touchline against Reading, but predictably little had changed over the course of a fortnight. There was fight and determination, but once Reading resolved to dig deeper, the foundations of the Tykes crumbled once more – apt considering the literal crumbling of their own home stadium.
John Swift’s poke into an empty net provided a timely reminder of the Barnsley board’s latest miss at an open goal of their own: the inability to admit a mistake has been made is the most obvious way of emphasising it. They may be without three of the talismen of last season’s play-off campaign in Ismael, Daryl Dike and Alex Mowatt, but this is too much of a drop even with that caveat.
No side in the entirety of the EFL has scored fewer goals than a side that was just three games away from the Premier League in the summer. Barnsley have scored just twice since the start of September and failed to score for the fourth time in five Championship outings. Even with all the best intentions in the world, this is far from good enough. Nothing is going right in this corner of south Yorkshire, on or off the pitch.
League One Hull and Peterborough
Hull and Peterborough were quite comfortably the two best teams in League One last season, while Blackpool’s late surge after a slow start saw the Tangerines make the second tier, Neil Critchley’s side are the only one of the promoted trio who seem to belong at this level.
Two-nil defeats to Huddersfield and Middlesbrough mean last season’s two automatically promoted sides are staring below at whence they came. That Derby, with their transfer embargoes and points deductions are looking more likely to stay up than either Hull or Peterborough is testament to just how poorly these two sides have been managed.
There is a precise science and delicate arts to what makes a second-tier survival side. But it can also be simplified: you can stay up with a good manager or a good squad, almost certainly with both, and probably not with neither. Both Grant McCann and Darren Ferguson have shoddy Championship track records while their playing staff easily rank among the bottom three.
Something needs to give before the end of January. Only one of those options can happen before the new year begins; McCann and Ferguson will stop looking over their shoulders because soon, there will be nothing behind them.
With each of the top three winning this weekend, the onus was on the chasing pack to keep up the pressure. With ten minutes to go of their clash with their fellow red and white stripes, Stoke were keeping their side of the bargain.
But one McGoldrick substitution later and the Potters were smashed. Such a stellar start to the season means results like this are a setback rather than a tangible devastation, but it was all so avoidable. Going into the international break, a minor gap had opened between the top five and the chasing pack for sixth spot; Michael O’Neill’s side now sit snugly between the two.
Birmingham City’s attack
Birmingham’s only goal since the start of September came in a 4-1 home defeat to Fulham. As far as stats go, that might be one of the most depressing I’ve heard. A positive start to the campaign has dissipated and Brum are currently stinking out the second tier. Against West Brom, the wing play was good but they never really looked like scoring, even when on the front foot. Their slide down the table shows no sign of arrest, and that criminal attacking record could see the Second City club keeping right on all the way to the bottom three.