Stoke to sack Neil? £15m Hull star’s return to Aston Villa inevitable? – F365’s Championship Spotlight

Lewis Oldham
Championship Spotlight
Alex Neil, Jaden Philogene and Sammie Szmodics.

The Championship Spotlight is on Aston Villa-bound Jaden Philogene and Blackburn Rovers’ Chuba Akpom variant, while Alex Neil is on the brink at Stoke…

 

Phenomenal Philogene’s short but sweet Hull love affair
Hull City saw enough from Philogene during his loan spell at Cardiff City last season to spend £5m on the attacker in the summer and they are already reaping the rewards of this investment.

The winger – who recently broke into the England U21 set-up – is one of the Championship’s in-form players with six goals and five assists in his last ten league games.

The 21-year-old boosted his stats with a midweek brace – which included a cheeky backheeled finish – in the 4-1 thumping of Rotherham United and under up-and-coming coach Liam Rosenior at Hull City, Philogene has found the perfect home at the Yorkshire club.

Following his treacherous but valuable spell at Derby County, it’s clear Rosenior is a brilliant manager in the making and his front-foot approach is helping to get the best out of Philogene, but Hull may not have him for too much longer.

Hull City’s Turkish owners are ambitious and with them currently in the play-off places, they are on an upward trajectory under Rosenior. They will hope that Philogene will be with them for many a year, but Aston Villa may have something to say about that.

The Villans are on the up themselves and they negotiated a £15m buy-back clause into their deal with Hull when they sold him in the summer. Going off the evidence of this season, even with Villa already spoilt for choice in attacking areas, Philogene would be a snip at this fee.

Even if Unai Emery’s side decides against capitalising on their clause, Hull still face losing their star man in January or next summer as Villa’s Premier League rivals will be hot on their heels in the race for the firing Tiger.

 

Blackburn bagsman Szmodics is 2023/24’s Akpom
The Championship is renowned for its unpredictability and no one could have seen ex-Middlesbrough striker Chuba Akpom being last season’s top scorer. Having previously struggled at clubs across Europe, the former Arsenal starlet’s 28-goal campaign came out of nowhere. 

With Akpom securing a move to Dutch giants Ajax in the summer, his Championship Golden Boot trophy was put up for grabs heading into this campaign and a surprising contender is in the running to claim the accolade for the second year on the bounce.

Southampton’s Adam Armstrong, Sunderland’s Jack Clarke and Leeds United’s Crysencio Summerville have made strong starts to the season, but they have been dramatically usurped by Blackburn Rovers attacking midfielder Sammie Szmodics.

After joining Blackburn from Peterborough United for £1.8m plus add-ons in 2022, Szmodics had a decent but unremarkable debut season as he scored five goals in 34 Championship outings.

One of the most inconsistent but entertaining teams in the Championship, Blackburn’s refusal to draw games has carried over into this campaign but they hit their stride in recent heavy wins over Stoke City and Birmingham City.

After losing Ben Brereton Diaz in the summer, the Riversiders were expected to decline this term but Jon Dahl Tomasson continues to work wonders at Ewood Park and Szmodics has been at the core of their success.

The 28-year-old –  who has found the net six times in his last four games – already has 15 goal involvements in 18 Championship outings (13 goals and two assists) as he’s in the form of his life. At this rate, he’ll be at Ajax with Akpom this time next year.

FEATURE: Leicester City 1st), Leeds 2nd), Huddersfield relegated… Predicting the final 23/24 Championship table

 

Alex Neil on the brink at Stoke City?
After making the puzzling decision to depart promoted Sunderland for dwindling Stoke City, Neil may live to regret his decision to leave the Black Cats, who ended last season in the play-offs. While at the Bet365 Stadium, the Scottish manager guided them to their fifth-successive bottom-half finish.

This season was always going to be the decisive one for Neil, whose past success at Norwich City and Preston established him as a Championship specialist. He oversaw a major summer overhaul to turn Stoke City (on paper, at least) into a side capable of being a surprise candidate for promotion.

After five miserable years of Stoke going nowhere, a long-awaited finish in the top half will have been the least demanded of Neil this term. But after disappointing losses to Blackburn and QPR extended their winless run to four games, they are 17th table and another season at the wrong end of the Championship is on the cards.

A dramatic upturn in form is required for Neil to save himself and at this stage, the manager’s job at Stoke City looks pretty cursed and the same spell has seemingly condemned them to whither away in the bottom half of the Championship for the remainder of time.

 

Rotherham United’s away misery continues
As a supporter of a sh*t football team, you are sometimes blinded by unfound optimism and after Rotherham United picked up an expected point at home against Leeds United, I foolishly fancied the Millers to win away at Hull City in midweek.

Being the idiot I am, Rotherham’s stretch of winning just nine of their last 102 Championship away games slipped my mind and their misery on the road continued against Hull City, who were 3-0 up after 20 minutes and ended up winning 4-1.

Rotherham have been steady at home this season as 11 of their 12 points have been picked up at the New York Stadium, but their disastrous away performances and results leave them fighting a losing battle in the relegation slugfest, already seven points adrift of safety.

Upon Matt Taylor’s sacking before the international break, I called for the Millers to bring in ex-Southampton boss Nathan Jones and if local media outlets are to be believed, this appointment is on track to being finalised in the coming days.

Jones’ spell at Southampton was a hilarious mess but Rotherham are of a similar ilk (in terms of club size and culture) to Luton Town and the bullish Welshman will fancy his chances of repeating his Kenilworth Road success with the Millers.

With the Millers needing a no-nonsense manager who can make them difficult to beat and Jones needing to rebuild his image with a club suited to his image, it’s the perfect fit for both at this stage but if he manages to guide Rotherham to safety against all odds, it would arguably surpass everything he did at Luton Town.

FEATURE: Nathan Jones… the definitive collection of his best and most bizarre quotes as Southampton manager