Having last week sacked manager Keith Hall, who admirably kept the Tykes in the division for the past three seasons on a shoe string; the need for the right managerial appointment for Barnsley has never been greater. Having lost star man Jacob Butterfield while continuing to shop in the bargain bins, the Oakwell side who defied relegation for so long are for once meeting expectation.
With owner Carson Yeung’s incarceration still hanging over Birmingham City like a black cloud, the subsequent financial issues that have accompanied it have clearly had an adverse effect on Lee Clarke’s young side. Despite all of the drama off the pitch, on the pitch they have retained some of the division’s best players, so being just four points off relegation in 20th position remains a massive disappointment to many. The rumoured impending sale of England keeper Jack Butland to the Premier League could further derail their season. Staying in the division with a positive change in ownership would surely be top of any Birmingham City wish list right now.
Blackburn’s season has limped from one disaster to another. Having sacked the unpopular Steve Kean despite having signed Jordan Rhodes for £8m and making a good start in fourth place, what followed next was something of a nightmare. The club’s much-maligned owners – Venky’s – brought in old boy Henning Berg to appease the fans, but just one win in ten games saw the Norwegian quickly dismissed. Despite having a collection of seasoned pros in the form of Danny Murphy, Dickson Etuhu and Morten Gamst Pedersen, Rovers remain managerless and way off the pace in 13th. It remains an uncertain time for all concerned.
Despite topping the table in August and looking like the team to beat, Blackpool’s season has since faltered badly. The Tangerines lost Ian Holloway to Palace and with the relatively inexperienced Michael Appleton returning to Lancashire from Portsmouth, the Seasiders have struggled for any form of consistency. Despite being carried by their in-demand winger Thomas Ince, who has notched up an impressive 11 goals so far, Blackpool look like a side destined to remain in England’s second tier for another season. Could have and should have been doing much better.
After Owen Coyle was relieved of his duties last October, Bolton charged Crystal PalacE’s Dougie Freedman with the task of rescuing their season and secure an instant return to the top flight. Despite still having a strong squad packed with many of last season’s big names, the Trotters have found life difficult, and now lie in mid-table after mixed results, with an overhaul looking likely this summer. Freedman saves face by the fact his short time at the club has made it difficult to make his mark on the squad. It’s fair to say the move to the north has been a sidestep, considering the current position of his former employers. Disappointing considering the infrastructure was in place for an instant return.
On their day, Gus Poyet’s side can beat anyone. Boasting a talented squad of players playing attractive and technically efficient football in a fantastic new stadium in the AMEX, Brighton have all the credentials to become a Premier League club. A rejuvenated Wayne Bridge playing at left-back has been one of the highs of their season, his evident class still showing. Although very much still at the races in ninth place, it looks likely Poyet will add another couple of players in order to get ahead of the cluttered playoff contenders.
Under Scot Derek McInnes, Bristol City looked a club on the up. Having avoided relegation last season and securing some astute summer signings, including Cardiff keeper Tom Heaton and West Ham’s Sam Baldock, City certainly had all the ingredients for a competitive team. But rather than struggling, they have quite simply imploded. McInnes has never seemed like a man to shun a fight, and they’ll need all of his grit if they are to get out of relegation danger. Unfortunately for their fans, a betting man would consign them to League One.
Very few clubs would be looking to consolidate this season in the frantic race for the Premier League, but Burnley are perhaps unique in that this is what they require. Manager Eddie Howe headed back south for Bournemouth after an indifferent 18-month spell and was swiftly replaced by Sean Dyche. The ex-Watford boss has so far done a solid job, taking his side up to the top half of the table and ensuring the league’s top scorer Charlie Austin has continued to flourish in front of goal. With talk of multi-million pound bids for their talisman, January could prove a testing time at Turf Moor. An encouraging start at the Clarets for Dyche.
With a £7m summer investment and a re-branding of the club from blue to red by the new Malaysian owners, big things were expected of Cardiff, and up to now, Malky Mackay has delivered the goods. Currently sitting top with a five-point cushion, the Bluebirds look a good bet for finally getting promotion. Their fans however will be wary of past near misses with the Premier League, and will be cautious as they approach the final four months of the season, wary of any potential heartache.
After a three year absence, the Addicks finally returned to England’s second tier having won last season’s League One title at a canter. Scoring goals has not been a problem for Charlton, having recently won a 4-3 thriller with Watford. Captain Johnnie Jackson has remained consistent this term, forming an excellent midfield partnership with Dale Stephens, reportedly being tracked by a number of Premier League clubs. Manager Chris Powell played down expectations this season, and his steady yet effective work at The Valley is paying dividends and gives optimism for the future. Solid if unspectacular stuff.
Having faced the upheaval of the long-serving Freedman leaving for the Bolton hotseat last October, the fine work the Scotsman left behind could have easily unravelled. But the Crystal Palace board’s appointment of Holloway from Blackpool as a successor enabled for a smooth transition, and his side now find themselves third and just two points behind Hull in the automatic places. It’s fair to say there was little expectation pre-season of the Eagles, but their attacking young side, led by the wings by Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie supplying the ammunition for 20-goal man Glenn Murray, shows no sign of slowing down. Palace look a secure bet for the playoffs and given Holloway’s past defying of the odds with Blackpool, could be an even better bet to go all the way.
This season has showcased the great strides made by Derby under their manager Nigel Clough, who has patiently assembled an exciting and combative young team, led by 17-year-old midfield starlet Will Hughes, perhaps the hottest property in the division. Currently in tenth and just three points from the playoffs, Derby could once again falter and finish in mid-table again, but the signs of a club on the up are there for all to see and heading into January, it has been a solid season for the Rams.
ENHANCED ODDS: Get 14/1 on Belgium, Wales and Holland to win