Championship report card: How many of the 24 teams are matching expectations?
With over a quarter of the Championship season has gone, Christopher Cox provides the low-down on the second tier the action so farÃ¢ÂÂ¦
Newly promoted Southampton lead the way at this early stage, and before their 1Ã¢ÂÂ1 draw at Reading on Saturday evening they were five points clear. Even the most optimistic Saints fan wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt have seen this one coming - just donÃ¢ÂÂt ask Nigel Adkins about it. HeÃ¢ÂÂll talk forever about how itÃ¢ÂÂs not about individuals, yada yada yada. Have they peaked too soon? Is better to peak early than not peak at all?
Despite the SaintsÃ¢ÂÂ impressive start, Crystal Palace are perhaps the biggest surprise packages of the Championship season so far. There has been quite some turnaround at Selhurst Park. It wasnÃ¢ÂÂt that long ago they were needing to win their final few games to stay up (Hull away last season, Sheffield Wednesday away before that), so Dougie FreedmanÃ¢ÂÂs young team are really defying expectations by surging up as high as third place
Peterborough United have obviously learnt their lessons from two seasons ago Ã¢ÂÂ when they dropped straight back down to League One, and theyÃ¢ÂÂve coped admirably with the departure of Craig Mackail-Smith. Hull City are also looking good, which is perhaps surprising given their lack of goals.
YouÃ¢ÂÂd expect West Ham to be involved in the promotion shake-up come the end of the season, though itÃ¢ÂÂs probably tougher than some people might imagine being the big fish in what is a medium-sized pond, at best. TheyÃ¢ÂÂve got almost a completely new team, a new manager and a new philosophy to adopt. That bedding in period canÃ¢ÂÂt last forever though, and they do now look to be clicking into gear.
Middlesbrough finished last season strongly and to go twelve games unbeaten is a fine achievement, though the number of games theyÃ¢ÂÂve drawn at home may be a concern. Their defeat at Nottingham Forest could be attributed to Ã¢ÂÂnew manager syndromeÃ¢ÂÂ, and given that has been their only loss to date, you canÃ¢ÂÂt argue that itÃ¢ÂÂs been pretty damn good so far.
Leeds, Derby and Cardiff are up at the right end of the table. The Yorkshiremen came through a sticky patch at the very start of the season, Derby have been pretty solid, and Malky MackayÃ¢ÂÂs Bluebirds have gone about their business well, if not making too many headlines.
Brighton and Ipswich are probably where they deserve to be too. The Seagulls are currently searching for the form that made them early-season pace-setters, while Ipswich seem to be improving with each game.
Must do better
Blackpool fans are probably a bit disappointed with things so far given how close they were to avoiding being in this division at all last season. Yet Ian Holloway is in the middle of a rebuilding job, especially after losing key players such as Charlie Adam, David Vaughan and DJ Campbell, so it would be harsh to condemn him too strongly.
Leicester and Birmingham fans will definitely be disappointed with their starts. It was only a matter of time for Sven, having spent so much money with little sign of reward. That said, the Foxes are only five points off the automatic promotion spots, but big spending owners will nearly always expect immediate success. At St Andrews, meanwhile, Chris Hughton has a massive job on his hands given the weight of expectation and the worsening financial situation of the Blues. Both have strong squads, so really should be climbing the table.
Burnley and Millwall have both disappointed despite little being expected of them, which takes some doingÃ¢ÂÂ¦
A category those teams who leave us thinking Ã¢ÂÂwhat on earth is going on there?Ã¢ÂÂ. Reading look as if theyÃ¢ÂÂve suffered some sort of hangover after last seasonÃ¢ÂÂs play-off final. They may have lost Shane Long and Matt Mills, but itÃ¢ÂÂs still a bit of a mystery as to why they have started so poorly. Things are getting better though, so they might not be in the bottom half for much longer.
Portsmouth seemed to have put their troubles behind them and even started spending the cash. Steve Cotterill is apparently not all that missed at Fratton Park after some negative tactical decisions (such as playing 4-5-1 even at home), but with players like Dave Kitson, Luke Varney, David Norris and Greg Halford, you wonder whatÃ¢ÂÂs wrong (this time) in the blue part of Hampshire.
Nottingham Forest have made the headlines for all the wrong reasons, but it is genuinely baffling that a squad so strong hasnÃ¢ÂÂt led them to a higher position in the league. ItÃ¢ÂÂs not fair to place the blame solely at the feet of Steve McClaren, with the goings on behind the scenes clearly causing problems for the former England boss. And itÃ¢ÂÂs not as if the aforementioned Steve Cotterill is any better a manager, though they now have two wins from their last two games, so maybe things are about to change.
It could go either way with these two. Bristol City may have appointed a new manager, but it still doesnÃ¢ÂÂt look all that good. Has the damage been done already? Derek McInnes comes with the backing of managers such as BoltonÃ¢ÂÂs Owen Coyle, but not all managers from Scotland can bridge the gap between Scottish and English football (Maurice Malpas springs to mind).
Barnsley appointed Keith Hill, a man with big ideas and a record of success in the lower leagues, and theyÃ¢ÂÂre not doing too badly so far. Jacob Butterfield is their standout player and heÃ¢ÂÂs been rewarded by Premier League interes. Fans at Oakwell however will surely be looking over their shouldersÃ¢ÂÂ¦
For these teams, itÃ¢ÂÂs brown trousers time already. Coventry were widely touted to struggle this season, and theyÃ¢ÂÂve done little to prove the doubters wrong. A lot rests on the shoulders of Lukas Jutkiewicz, their powerful striker who was linked with a move away in the summer.
ItÃ¢ÂÂs a similar story at Watford. Manager Sean Dyche is a likable figure and you have to feel sympathy for him given the situation heÃ¢ÂÂs walked into. Marvin Sordell isnÃ¢ÂÂt having quite the season he did last time around, with pundits theorising that speculation of a move in the summer has affected him. Whatever the reason, Watford are in trouble.
It was a shame to see Doncaster dismiss Sean OÃ¢ÂÂDriscoll so swiftly, but few were complaining when replacement Dean Saunders lead Rovers to their first win of the season in his first match in charge. Successive defeats in their last two matches mean the honeymoon is already over, though, and itÃ¢ÂÂs going to be a long and quite possibly painful season for Donny.