It’s been a heady start to the Championship season, England’s second tier proving once again to be one of the most competitive leagues in Europe. Of the three relegated sides Hull and Sunderland have fared best so far, both achieving four points from a win and a draw in the opening two matches. Middlesbrough lost their first game to Wolves, but made amends with a slender 1-0 victory over new-boys Sheffield United on Saturday.
The four unbeaten teams after the opening two fixtures are sure to raise a few eyebrows. Wolves have had an excellent start after a summer of investment, and they are only marginally behind Cardiff at the top of the pile. The Welsh club have made great strides under Neil Warnock and on Saturday comprehensively out-played Aston Villa – one of the preseason favourites for the title. More surprising is the presence of Ipswich and Nottingham Forest in the top four, both landing six points from the first two games. Those two teams were predicted to struggle in lower mid-table by most pundits, but the excellent starts they have made will have optimistic fans dreaming of promotion.
Another full fixture list is scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday nights, as the relentless nature of the Championship gets into full effect. Early season form can often throw up red herrings – remember Bristol City’s excellent start last year before a descent into a relegation battle – but Cardiff’s Bluebirds are one side which it may pay to follow. Another set of Blues under the tutelage of Harry Redknapp, Birmingham, may also be a side to follow this season – particularly on home ground. Warnock’s Cardiff welcome one of his former clubs Sheffield United to Wales on Tuesday evening, while Birmingham entertain newly-promoted Bolton. Both Blues are worth backing to complete home victories on the night.
One preseason favourite for the title which has had a poor start is Norwich. A draw at Fulham on the opening day was a reasonable result, but they were turned over 3-1 by Sunderland at Carrow Road on Sunday, leaving them among the bottom clubs in the early season table. Followers of this column last season will remember the Canaries’ penchant for high-scoring games, and as one Norwich fan remarked after defeat to the Black Cats, ‘New season, new manager, new players; same old defensive mistakes’. The Norfolk club welcomes QPR to the countryside on Wednesday evening, and another goal fest could easily be on the cards.
Cardiff v Sheffield United
A 1-0 away win at Burton was followed by Saturday’s 3-0 trashing of Villa, and it might just be that Neil Warnock has got a good thing going on at the Welsh club. Talk of a promotion challenge may not have been an overestimation by the experienced boss, and his players have not let him down in the early stages of this season. They played at an electrifying pace as they trounced a Villa side captained by John Terry, and if they come out of the blocks as quickly against Sheffield United another three points may be on the cards.
The Blades had a dream start to the season with a 1-0 home win over Brentford, but succumbed to defeat by the same scoreline at Middlesbrough. Their home record in Sheffield may be instrumental in survival this season, but life on the road is expected to be much more difficult. United conceded plenty of goals in their successful League One campaign last term, and could have been further behind at Boro before having a late ‘equaliser’ disallowed. It’s hard to imagine them keeping a clean sheet here, and we don’t foresee them breaching a Cardiff defence which is yet to concede this season.
Birmingham v Bolton
The Blues had a strange season last year – on the cusp of the play offs when they parted company with Gary Rowett and embarked on Gianfranco Zola’s disastrous reign. Harry Redknapp helped them survive in the final weeks of the season, and has stayed around to mange the club through this term. Birmingham have a decent squad at this level and could easily be one of the season’s surprise packages.
Bolton secured their first point of the season away at fellow promoted club Millwall, an improvement on their opening day 3-2 home defeat to Leeds. All signs point to a long hard season for the Trotters and if Birmingham have any pretensions of troubling the top six, they should be winning games like this.
Norwich v QPR
Former Canaries striker Lewis Grabban scored twice for Sunderland in that 3-1 win on Sunday, as well as notching Norwich’s only goal as he put through his own net. Former Borussia Dortmund II boss, Daniel Farke, was impressed with his sides dominance of possession but if he wants to win over the crowd at Carrow road his team will have to convert that pressure into goals. But for a late equaliser at Fulham on the opening day, Norwich would be pointless this season and one expects them to come out all guns blazing in search of points on Wednesday night.
QPR opened their account with a 2-0 win over Reading, and followed up with a respectable 1-1 draw at Sheffield Wednesday. they will be no pushovers by any stretch of the imagination, and are more than capable of taking advantage of any defensive frailties. This could be an open end-to-end game, and one where the over 2.5 goal line can be passed.
Cardiff to beat Sheffield United
Tuesday 15th August, 19:45 GMT
Birmingham to beat Bolton
Tuesday 15th August, 19:45 GMT
Norwich v QPR – Over 2.5 goals
Wednesday 16th August, 19:45 GMT