With another tightly contested Championship season at the halfway mark, the league has already provided surprise teams and players. Here is a look at some of them so far this season.
The eagles were touted for relegation by many, with bookmakers Paddy Power installing them as fifth favourites to go down at odds of 3/1. Palace have played some great football, despite losing their manager after just 12 games as Dougie Freedman moved north to Bolton. New manager Ian Holloway hit the ground running as Palace continued their good start to the season. Wingers Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie have terrorised the divisions full backs while Glenn Murray, a free transfer from Brighton in 2011, has provided the goals. He is the leading scorer in the division with 20 goals. With a combination of youngster and old professionals, Palace have been an ever present in the automatic spots. But lately, they have faltered, with one win in their last six games. Whether they can keep in contention for promotion is questionable.
Another team tipped for relegation, Watford were Paddy Power's eighth favourites to be demoted to league 1 at odds of 11/2. With Gianfranco Zola installed as manager by new Italian owners, the Hornets had a major overhaul with over 15 new signings. Ten of these were from owners the Pozzo families other club, Udinese. Two of the other additions, Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia and QPR defender Fitz Hall, have made the Hornets serious playoff contenders as they lie sixth place. Good football has seen them defeat strong sides such as Nottingham Forest and most notably Leeds United in a shock 6-1 victory at Elland Road. One defeat in ten has seen them become a strong force in the league and they could be a shock inclusion in the playoffs come May.
Rovers were fourth favourite for promotion with paddy power at odds of 10/1 after signing over 13 new players following relegation. Three of the new signings cost a total of £13 million, including Huddersfield Town striker Jordan Rhodes who cost a reported £8 million. He has netted 13 league goals so far but this has had no effect as Rovers lie 17th. An unsurprising managerial change came seven games into the season as fans hate figure Steve Kean was forced to resign. His replacement, Henning Berg, took over as they were in fifth place. He has since seen Rovers slide down the table and they have taken just 6 points from the last 24. Doubt has been cast over his future recently, with ex-Rovers boss Mark Hughes being lined up to replace Berg at Ewood Park.
The tigers were not tipped for promotion or relegation by many but Steve Bruce’s men are now genuine contenders, after a gradual rise to replace Crystal Palace in the automatic spot. They are another team with a good mixture of youth and experience with players such as Abdoulaye Faye and Robert Koren who are proven in this league. Loanee’s David Meyler and Ahmed Elmohamady, from Bruce’s old club Sunderland, have starred alongside summer signing Sone Aluko this season who have been largely influential for the Tigers this season. A run of just two defeats in ten has seen them rise up the table, leaving them three points from leaders Cardiff.
Players of the season
Charlie Austin, Burnley.
Burley forward Charlie Austin has been linked with moves to the Premier League following his incredible rise. He has climbed up the footballing ladder since playing part time for Poole Town as he was a bricklayer by trade. Three and a half years later he is one of the Championship’s most clinical strikers, after his form at Swindon saw him get a move to the Clarets in 2011. The 2012/13 season has seen Austin get many plaudits as he has scored 19 league goals in 22 appearances, equalling a club record of scoring a goal in eight consecutive games.
Another product from the Eagles academy, Zaha has attracted top clubs in europe in a season that saw his performances earn his first England call-up against Sweden in November. The Ivory coast-born youngster has scored just five goals in 24 appearances but his performances have been highly influential to Palace’s league position with flashy footwork on the wings. The winger has earned praise from big names in the game and current manager Ian Holloway is one of his biggest fans. He described the 20 year old as “a pure talent, almost mesmeric and a genius with the ball.” It certainly won’t be long until Zaha will make his mark in the Premier League and Palace fans will be hoping it will be in Eagles shirt.
Young Stars of the Season
Will Hughes, Derby County.
The 17 year old has caught the attention of a number of top clubs in his first full year as a professional. The fair-haired youngster has impressed in a number of performances this season, including in the 3-1 win over Leeds United at Pride Park. Hughes, a central midfielder, has been Derby’s creative spark this season as well as making a number of important tackles to make him an instant hit with the Pride Park faithful. He has already appeared for England U21’s and Derby will be fighting to keep hold of the youngster with the Rams manager Nigel Clough conceding it as “inevitable” that the club will get interest in the player.
Sam Byram, Leeds United.
The 19 year old’s impressive performances in pre-season led to Neil Warnock handing him a start in the League Cup against Shrewsbury. After retaining his place, Byram has been an ever present in Leeds’ starting 11 along the right flank as he has starred in games, some where he came up against Wilfried Zaha and Matt Jarvis. Integral performances have earned him praise from Whites manager Neil Warnock and Sky Sports pundit Don Goodman in televised matches, as his performances have shown he is comfortable at both right back and right midfield.
Prediction: 1. Leicester 2. Hull 3. Cardiff 4. Leeds 5. Brighton 6. Crystal Palace.
Relegation: 18. Sheffield Wednesday 19. Peterborough 20. Bristol City.