This year’s Championship has seen 17 fixtures, which puts us just over a third of the way through the season; but despite all that football, the table is still incredibly tight with just 9 points separating Derby in 1st and Cardiff in 12th. One team that has dropped off the pace in recent weeks is Norwich, but they remain just six points off the top, and this could be ideal time to back the Canaries at decent odds.
You really could throw a blanket over the top ten in the league, and it’s Derby who hold the initiative at the moment as they lead Bournemouth and Middlesborough by a single point. Ipswich, Watford and Brentford occupy the remaining three play-off places, in 4th, 5th, and 6th respectively, while Norwich are back in 10th place, six points behind leaders Derby.
Steve McClaren’s Derby team are justifiable favourites in the betting at present, but look a touch short at odds of +225 with Skybet
Bournemouth and Middlesborough both look like they can be opposed. They’re in very good form at the moment, which has seen them rise up the table, but its questionable whether either can sustain their form over the long Championship season.
Beyond the top three in the betting, we have Norwich, Watford, Ipswich, Blackburn, and Wolves. While none of these teams can be ruled out at this stage, Norwich are the side that stands out as having the depth of squad to compete for the whole season.
A Slump in Form
The fact that the Canaries are only six points off the top of the league is testament to their early season form. They got off to a flyer under Neil Adams and didn’t suffer the Premier League hangover that befell Cardiff and Fulham.
They won five of their first seven games in the league this season, and that put them in the top two for a long period. They’ve hit a real blip in form since then though, and can only claim two victories in their last ten. However, this kind of slump is not unusual in the Championship, and every side will suffer it at some point during the season as injuries, suspension, and fatigue take hold. If Norwich get through this poor run and are still in touch with the leaders, I expect them to have a strong finish to the season.
The Yellows have got a strong squad of players, with plenty of experience in their ranks with the likes of Carlos Cueller and Michael Turner at the back, John Ruddy in goal, and Cameron Jerome, Kyle Lafferty, and Gary Hooper up front. The last ten games which have seen Norwich fall away, have included four defeats and four draws, but performances have been good in the majority of those games. They now face back-to-back home matches against Brighton and Reading, and a couple of good results there could take them into the busy Christmas period on a high.
The New Man
The club announced this week that it was appointing Mike Phelan as first team coach, after Mark Robson’s dismissal earlier in the month. Phelan played for Norwich for four years, making 194 appearances, so he will know the club well. He’ll also bring a wealth of experience with him, having served as Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant for five years up to his retirement in 2013. During his time with Manchester United the club won three Premier League titles and the Champion League, and if he can bring that winning mentality to Norwich, all the better.
Canaries Manager Neil Adams said of the appointment, “It was important for us to try and get the best coach we could”.
They certainly appear to have done that, and Phelan is probably the most decorated coach in the Championship. His arrival could galvanize the players and Adams will be hoping it brings about a revival of fortunes at the East Anglian club. One thing he’ll be desperate for Phelan to help him sort out is the manner in which Norwich have been conceding recently, as they’ve let in a number of sloppy goals over the last few weeks. However, with the quality and experience they have at the back, it should just be a matter of time before they iron out the organisational problems, and get back on track.
No Runaway Leaders
Leicester won last year’s Championship title after storming to 102 points and losing just six matches all season. However, this year there doesn’t appear to be one outstanding team pulling away from the pack, and its shaping up to be much more like the 2012/13 season, when Cardiff took the title with just 87 points, and were able to afford losing 9 matches over the course of the campaign. More than ever, the Championship has the feel that anyone can beat anyone on their day, and the points distribution could be very evenly spread across the division. In fact, excluding Blackpool, who are bottom with seven points, there are just 16 points between Derby and 23rd place Birmingham.
Norwich have been a well-run club over the last few years, and they are effectively debt-free. In Adams and Phelan they have a double-act of former players who understand the club and the area, and they have several promising youth players in their ranks, such as Nathan Redmond and twin brothers Jacob and Josh Murphy, who helped Norwich to FA Youth Cup glory in 2013. This is a club on an upward trajectory, and they look strongly poised to return to the Premier League. If and when the tide turns, odds of +1000 won’t be around for long, so it’s worth jumping on the Norfolk side now.
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