|Ten Games Assessment - Part One|
Written by tractordownsouth on Thursday, 3rd Oct 2013 17:53
A lot of people refuse to make a prediction for the season until ten games and say that after ten games, the table starts to take shape.
I originally made a prediction for the season around a week before it started and, at the ten-game mark, I have seen some mixed results, with Bolton, a team I tipped for promotion, occupying a place in the bottom three and Blackpool, who I thought would be relegated, have been in and around the top six since the first day of the season. However, Reading, Leicester and Nottingham Forest are all high up the table, as I predicted.
I have decided to review my opinions on the league, with an updated and detailed prediction.
I started this after nine games, as our school had a day off on Tuesday so I felt it a good opportunity to begin this long piece, so apologies if stats are incorrect.
First - Queen's Park Rangers (Current position: First)
Originally, I labelled QPR as I team I expected to struggle unless they got rid of all the high earners and troublemakers. They have done this and are so far unbeaten, sitting pretty at the top and on course for the Premier League.
Joey Barton has been the catalyst for their early success, having just got his head down and played in the Championship, after previously saying that he would not. The goals of Charlie Austin have also been key and he will play a big part in QPR's season.
If they are to bounce straight back, it will be interesting to see what they do with the players they have loaned out (Remy, Taarabt, Park) as they were all criticised last season for their high wages and minimal effort (top scorer Remy perhaps aside).
If they return, will they do the same? I cannot see Harry Redknapp tolerating this behaviour and I expect them to be shipped out regardless as to whether they secure promotion.
QPR have developed a reputation for narrow wins, with all of their victories being 1-0, except a 2-1 against Sheffield Wednesday and a 2-0 against Middlesbrough. If they can continue to do this in such a competitive division, they should comfortably finish in the top two.
Second - Leicester City (Third)
Leicester have been among the promotion favourites for the last three seasons but have yet to seal promotion back to the league they last graced in 2004.
They currently sit in the top six, have only lost once and recorded some impressive wins against Middlesbrough, Blackburn and Wigan. Despite having only seen Leicester properly once this season, in the 2-0 victory against Wigan, I was very impressed, especially with Jamie Vardy (although I was less impressed with his haircut!) and they have a strong spine, with Kaspar Schmeichel in goal, Wes Morgan at the back, Andy King in midfield and the prolific David Nugent paired up front with Vardy.
Although previously inconsistent, I feel that Leicester will join QPR in the Premiership next season. They have financial backing but they will have to comply with the FFP rules, and have already experienced the effects of this, having cancelled a deal for Kevin Doyle, reluctant to pay his wages, rumoured to be £40,000 per week.
Third - Watford (Fourth)
At the start of the season, I felt that Watford would miss out on the play-off places, suffering from a hangover after the 1-0 defeat to Crystal Palace and that 2012/13 was a missed opportunity, especially with Matej Vydra leaving.
However, they have started positively, many of the loanees have returned, they have a prolific striker in Troy Deeney and have only been beaten once (in a 1-0 defeat at Blackpool where they dominated the game).
On the other hand, manager Giafranco Zola has criticised Diego Fabbrini and Fernando Forrestieri for not being "team players" and this could be a sign of a split in the camp. If this is the case, then it could have a negative effect on the team.
I feel that Watford will achieve back-to-back third place finishes, as they have goals in the team and appear to have shored up a defence that leaked 58 goals last season. They will feel confident going into the end of season play-offs
Fourth - Reading (Sixth)
Reading were my original pick to take the title and have started well, only being defeated once and winning all but one of their home matches. They are clearly a difficult team to beat and have a manager who has never failed in management, guiding Scunthorpe to the second tier twice and taking Southampton from League One to the Premiership, before being harshly sacked.
Adam Le Fondre is one of the deadliest strikers at this level and already has four goals to his name and have signed the prolific Billy Sharp on loan from Southampton, linking up with Adkins for the third time. If they form a good partnership, they could fire Reading to promotion.
With Russian international Pavel Pogrebnyak also on the books, the Royals have an embarrassment of riches in the striking department. Add highly-rated goalkeeper Alex McCarthy, former Real Madrid winger Royston Drenthe and Turkish midfielder Jem Karacan into the mix and you have a side capable of challenging at the top of the table.
Fifth - Burnley (Second)
At first I thought Burnley would struggle, especially after the loss of Charlie Austin to QPR, but Danny Ings has stepped up to the plate, as Austin did after the exit of Jay Rodriguez to Southampton in 2012.
They seem to have an incredible team spirit and bond with manager Sean Dyche, which is a big positive, as Yeovil showed by getting promoted last season on the smallest budget in League One.
Turf Moor is an intimidating place to visit and the Clarets are unbeaten at home so far, their only defeat coming at Brighton.
Burnley have quite a small budget, which could be their downfall as they look to comply with Financial Fair Play in the final year of their parachute payments after spending 2009/10 in the Premier League.
I think Burnley can continue their form until the end of the season and will be the surprise package this year.
Sixth - Nottingham Forest (Fifth)
Forest were another team I picked as part of my top six at the start of the season, and Billy Davies's management style has clearly had a positive effect on the club, giving them stability after the shambolic reigns of Steve Cotterill and Alex McLeish.
They have started well so far as expected and have a good squad, with veteran Andy Reid continuing to roll back the years, all four of the strikers (Henderson, Cox, Mackie and Derbyshire) capable of scoring goals, and Chelsea loanee Nathaniel Chalobah in defence.
Nottingham Forest however have a knack for inconsistency and turbulence around the club but fans are optimistic that Davies will continue his good work in his second stint in the City Ground hotseat and deliver at least a play-off place for the Midlands club, who have not played top flight football since 1997.
Seventh- Ipswich Town (Ninth)
At the start of the season, I felt that Ipswich would secure a top-six finish but I think it will be very tough, with a number of teams chasing that final play off berth.
After last season's remarkable turnaround under Mick McCarthy, the Tractor Boys were labelled as 'dark horses' for this season. They sit in the lower reaches of the top half, and considering their difficult fixtures for the first ten games (they have faced all of the relegated sides away from home) it is a good position to be in.
The standout players so far have been former Nottingham Forest defender Luke Chambers, Scottish international Christophe Berra and top scorer David McGoldrick. The goals will struggle to come if the latter picks up an injury, which could prove the difference between a top-six finish.
Another problem is away form, at the time of writing Ipswich have just one point from four games on their travels although they have been against tough opposition) a record which needs to be improved.
Home form is a different story, Town having won four out of five at Portman Road so far. A lot depends on new signings in January, in particular a potential replacement for McGoldrick, should the prolific former Southampton striker be ruled out through injury.
Eighth- Leeds United (15th)
Leeds are always a side who expect to do well, largely due to their fine history, but the opening two months of this season have been largely frustrating for Brian McDermott's men, who have recorded some great away wins at Bolton and Ipswich but have also been beaten twice at Elland Road (albeit against high fliers QPR and Burnley).
They clearly have goals in the team, which always gives a team a chance of success with former Cardiff frontman Ross McCormack already on four, and Oldham FA Cup hero Matt Smith available if called upon, Leeds will not find hitting the back of the net too difficult this year.
Their 12th man is also as good as any in this division, with attendances always above 20,000 and packing out the away end whenever they travel from Yorkshire, which is a valuable tool.
Leeds should be able to mount a play off charge but will ultimately fall short.
Ninth - Brighton & Hove Albion (12th)
After the sacking of Gus Poyet, in seemingly turbulent circumstances, I was unsure as to whether his replacement Oscar Garcia would continue the progress the Seagulls were making under Poyet. I think the jury is still out as Brighton sit in mid-table, with three wins, as many draws and as many defeats.
They started off with two defeats, to Leeds and Derby, which prompted me to think that the south coast club had not yet nursed the play-off hangover of their 2-0 loss to rivals Crystal Palace in May.
But things seem to be steadily improving, with only one defeat in the last seven. Brighton have a strong financial backing too, and last season had the highest average attendances in the Championship last year, higher also than four Premiership clubs.
Despite having a lot of money, they do not have a massive wage bill and are unlikely to be affected by the new Financial Fair Play rules, which many clubs in the league will be.
With a strong squad, expect Brighton to secure a top half finish.
10th - Bournemouth (10th)
Newly-promoted Bournemouth have made a positive impact on the division, as I previously predicted. Manager Eddie Howe is hungry for success and has a point to prove after a disappointing stint at Burnley.
He transformed the club last season and the Cherries have enjoyed a good start this year, although their defensive record is shocking (and that is still somehow a euphemism), conceding 20 goals, including 6-1 and 5-1 defeats to Watford and Huddersfield respectively.
Lewis Grabban already has five goals to his name, although four of them came in the first three games. He will need to start firing again if Bournemouth are to achieve a second successive promotion, as will record signing Tokelo Rantie, the South African having yet failed to find the net since his arrival in August.
Overall, I think 10th would be a satisfactory finish for Bournemouth in their first season back in the Championship, especially as they nearly dropped out of the Football League just four years ago.
11th - Blackburn Rovers (11th)
Blackburn now appear to have some stability under Gary Bowyer, after the abysmal circumstances of last season saw four permanent managers taking charge, with Steve Kean, Henning Berg and then Michael Appleton being shown the door.
They have shown signs of promise this season, with 5-2 and 4-1 victories over Barnsley and Bolton respectively, but sit in mid-table.
They have a Premier League-quality finisher in Jordan Rhodes, who was the subject of summer interest from Bolton and Wigan. The former Huddersfield and Ipswich striker already has eight goals to his name this season but could leave in January if Rovers are not in a promotion spot. They also have Leon Best, DJ Campbell and the pacy Josh King as back-up in the striking department.
With much of their Premier League experience now gone, it would be surprising if Rovers seriously challenge for a return after their relegation in 2012.
12th - Huddersfield Town (eighth)
In my original prediction piece, I felt that Huddersfield would finish bottom of the pile and be consigned to League One football next year. Nevertheless they sit just outside the play-offs.
James Vaughan has been the catalyst of their climb up the table, the former Everton and Norwich forward is the joint top scorer of the Championship, with eight of the Terriers' 11 league goals this term.
But the Premier League's youngest-ever goalscorer is prone to injuries, having suffered numerous times in the past and if he was to be ruled out, Mark Robins's men may struggle.
I do not think that Huddersfield can mount a charge towards the top six as they seem over reliant on Vaughan, but they will still manage a top half finish.
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