Championship Analysis – Cardiff in no mood for play-off hangover

Swansea be enjoying life in the Premier League, but Welsh neighbours Cardiff are already in determined mood to forget their play-off heartache in May, and are top of the Championship pile after week two of the new season.

It’s pointless speculating what will happen between now and next summer at such an early stage, but Bluebirds fans will be happy with what they’ve seen so far. The opening-day win at West Ham was a fine example of the smash-and-grab mentality needed for a promotion challenge, and Sunday’s stylish victory over Bristol City brought smiles back to the faces of the home faithful, whose last visit to the Cardiff City Stadium ended in tears at the hands of Reading.

There were many changes in personnel at the club during the summer, including the loss of star players such as Jay Bothroyd and the introduction of Malky McKay, who took over the managerial reins from Dave Jones. There’s always a risk that such upheaval requires a transitional period in order for a new regime to bed down, but perhaps in Cardiff’s case it could prove a blessing in disguise if it means the turnover in staff reduces the post-play-off hangover vibe. Back-to-back opening league wins for the Bluebirds for the first time in nine seasons is an encouraging start.

As for Reading, the play-off finalists have kept a steadier ship, though this week suffered the loss of the prolific Shane Long, who joined West Brom and scored on his Premier League debut against Manchester United on Sunday. Nevertheless, it’s been a good start for the Royals as well. After snatching a 2-2 draw from the jaws of defeat against Millwall last weekend, Reading continued their remarkable away form from last season to bag an impressive win at the much-fancied Leicester.

Replacing Long will be a massive task, particularly for a relatively small-spending club at Championship level, so great results like that one on the road may be key to determining Reading’s chances of challenging this season.

Nottingham Forest could be the team to suffer most from its play-off exit, one which led to the sacking of Billy Davies and the departure of several first-team players, including strikers Rob Earnshaw and Nathan Tyson. Having guided the club to two consecutive play-off campaigns, Davies was perhaps harshly dismissed, and successor Steve McClaren has already admitted he is behind schedule with regards to bolstering his squad. A drab opening-day goalless draw with Barnsley and defeat at Millwall on Saturday suggests the club needs to catch up fast.

A former Forest hero has enjoyed better fortunes so far, however. Nigel Clough’s Derby clinched a fine 2-1 win over Birmingham on the opening day, and on Saturday grabbed another three points at Watford – the club’s first away win in seven. Normally it would be patronising to label a team a surprise package only two games in, but when a manager himself admits he’s surprised at his team’s start, it becomes an opportunity too good to lose. Clough Sr would be proud of his son’s modesty. Probably.

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