Weekend media reports speculated that Crystal Palace’s star man Wilfried Zaha is to be subject to a £15m bid from Manchester United this January. Sir Alex Ferguson, not a bad judge of young talent, has allegedly identified the forward as a key signing as he looks to take the Red Devils into the next era of success. After being capped by England manager Roy Hodgson last November for the Sweden friendly, Zaha came to the wider public’s attention. But anyone who has followed the Championship during the last two years would already have been well aware of this precious young talent. Zaha, who remains eligible for the Ivory Coast in what could yet prove to be an unwelcome headache for Hodgson, was unable to prevent his side losing away to Burnley 1-0 on Saturday. But Palace seem adamant towards holding onto Zaha in some form, with a condition put forward that he will remain at Selhurst Park for the rest of the season for the Eagles’ promotion push. Remaining in fourth and still just two points from the automatic spot, Ian Holloway’s side still have it all to play for in what has still been an excellent season.
At just 21 years old, Chris Wood had emerged as the Championship’s most sought-after player. When parent club West Bromwich Albion indicated their willingness to sell, it is believed up to six clubs put in an offer for the Kiwi striker. Fresh from a highly successful loan spell at Millwall, where he netted 11 times in 19 games, Wood signed for big-spending Leicester City for £1.25m. And what a bargain this is already becoming! The Auckland-born Wood, who played at the 2010 World Cup for his country, scored a sensational first-half hat-trick to help his side to a dominant 4-0 win over relegation threatened Bristol City, and take his tally to six goals in just three games since arriving at the King Power Stadium. Midfielder Matty Jones added the fourth, and the Foxes now find themselves back in the automatic promotion picture after a recent mini-slump. The Championship is a league where the term “speculate to accumulate” has never been more pertinent. If Wood’s goals fire his new club to a return to the top flight after nine years away, he could prove to be one of the great bargains of recent times. Meanwhile, their fallen opponents did some shuffling of their own.
Following the heavy defeat which sent the Robins to the bottom of the table, the club’s board dispensed with the services of Derek McInnes after just a year in charge at Ashton Gate. After working wonders to keep his side up last season, the Scot could perhaps feel hard done by to be given his P45. But after investment in the squad, it was hoped they’d move on but progress has not materialised. His successor was announced earlier today as Sean O’Driscoll, recently dismissed by Nottingham Forest. The issues behind O’Driscoll’s own sacking have been debated heavily, but one thing is certain: Bristol City have a attracted a good manager with an attractive footballing philosophy. Whether or not it’ll be enough to save Bristol City is unclear, but they are far from dead and buried.
Another new managerial appointment (the 13th change of the season) announced on Monday was Barnsley promoting caretaker manager Gary Flitcroft to the role of permanent boss. After overseeing his side’s 2-0 home win over a lacklustre Leeds at the weekend – their second successive victory – Flitcroft has begun a climb off the bottom. Yet, still four points away from their South Yorkshire relegation rivals Sheffield Wednesday in the safety zone, the Tykes will have to continue to show some of their newly-found fighting spirit in order to avoid the drop. Striker Chris Dagnall, who netted twice on Saturday for the first time in over twenty games, could prove a key player if his form reflects his own side’s resurgence.
When asked recently who the best signing in the Championship had been this season, the name which immediately sprung to mind was that of Matej Vydra, the Watford striker currently on loan from Serie A side Udinese. Watford have benefited greatly from borrowing players from the side they share an owner with, having sat in the play-offs for well over a month and showing little sign of slowing down. The Czech international striker has netted 14 times in 21 games this term, and looks like a player capable of heading to the very top. Whether this will be with Watford or in the larger surroundings of Serie A with Udinese remains a mystery. But during what is an exciting time for Watford fans under manager Gianfranco Zola, Vydra stands out as the very best.
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