Tuesday, August 11, 2009

In recent seasons I’ve become a huge fan of the football played in the Championship. Last season, in particular, I got more enjoyment out of watching those games than most of the Premiership encounters that were served up.

The skill levels might not be just as high as the illustrious League above it, and the players on display may not be household names, yet, but the passion and desire to win more than makes up for all that as far as I’m concerned and this season it looks like it could be even better.

The opening round of fixtures were played at the weekend and it was the first chance to see what we have in store for the many months ahead and it looks like being a cracker.

The weekend had it all. Two relegated teams meeting right away, Cloughie v Fergie, Cardiff’s new 50 million pound stadium and of course the teams that have all the big money backing at the moment like Derby and QPR.

One of the big questions that everyone was asking was how would Newcastle fare and the answer still is we don’t know. Their game away to West Brom ended 1-1 and they were saved from a potential thrashing by the 21 year old Dutch substitute goalkeeper Tim Krul‘s fantastic display. Krul looked more like he should be on stage with Julian Casablancas than keeping out the Baggies but produced one of the performances of the weekend (Clinton Morrison's fantasic lobbed first goal for Coventry bags the goal of the weekend).

With so much uncertainty still surrounding the Maggies we’re still harbouring some hope that they’re going to do another Leeds.

West Brom didn’t look as sharp as when they dominated the division two seasons ago and the other relegated side Middlesborough looked woeful, as they were booed off the pitch on Friday night. How Gareth Southgate still holds onto a manager’s job with them is now becoming a huge mystery.

It’s usually the case that at least one, and usually two, of the relegated teams dominate the division after they come down and head straight back up again. I really think it will be different this year though and we could see a couple of surprising and unfashionable teams up there chasing the golden goose that is the Premiership.

Bristol City and Preston played out an entertaining 2-2 draw on Saturday but I think, and hope, that both teams will be making a serious push for the two automatic promotion spots. Bristol City struggled a little last season after coming so agonisingly close to going up the season before but the additions of Paul Hartley and David Clarkson will invigorate them and Preston were oh so unlucky last season.

If either, or both, of these teams can make the leap to the top flight and the likes of Doncaster, Scunthorpe and Barnsley can avoid the drop, then that would be a result for fans of unfashionable sides the land over and give hope to us all.

With the Championship being so wide open this season, eight draws in the first round of matches, it could be the managers that start to shine and make the all important difference. There’s so many characters and stories this season.

The Cloughie-Fergie second generation battle would make for a great story but in truth both Derby and Peterborough will probably both be happy with a mid table season of consolidation. I quite fancy Derby to overachieve this season though. Nigel Clough has put together a good squad, with some highly experienced journeymen players who can still do the business at this level. Their team performance in the 2-1 win over The Posh on Saturday shone through.

Darren Ferguson has to be fully commended with sticking with his core squad of players that have seen back to back promotions. Those players deserve their chance to shine at the higher level and I’d really love to see them take it.

And when you have the fantastic characters of Neil Warnock and Ian Holloway in the division as well, what excuse do you have not to watch things develop?

Whilst the world watches the overpaid prima donnas show the uneven split in the Premiership once again (yawn), those in the know will be watching the real football action and drama unfold in the Championship.

Maybe it’s good that they don’t get as much coverage worldwide. We don’t want it to go the same way as the boring stuff above them, although the serious money is coming in at this level now and the budgets between the rich and poor are widening. At least in this league you have competition that lasts the whole season and covers most of the teams in the division.

After all, when football stops becoming entertaining with meaningful games, then what’s the point?


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