Championship Preview – Southampton, Middlesbrough and Derby look to keep early pace

With nine rounds of game having passed, we find ourselves hurtling toward the reflective point of the season, where performances can be judged with some rationality. The early pace setters are Southampton, Middlesbrough and Derby who have all amassed an impressive nineteen points from their opening games.

Southampton host mid-table Watford, who are showing steady signs of improvement under new boss Sean Dyche. With the shadow of Malky Mackay still hanging over Vicarage road, Dyche has a steren job in hand to rebuild the side in his own image. In Marvin Sordell, Watford have the sort of young talent capable of taking the game to Southampton’s potent attacking side.

Middlesbrough travel to Reading to face Brian McDermott’s under achieving Royals side. Still suffering something of a play-off hangover and mourning the loss of Shane Long, Reading will be looking to kick start their season. Tony Mowbray’s Boro side have a different agenda, and will be looking to keep pace with the league leaders.

Without doubt the most exciting game of the weekend comes in the East Midlands late kick off where Derby travel to big spending Leicester City.

Despite the mass arrivals of big names on even bigger money, the Leicester revolution has not quite taken hold just yet, and in-form Derby will take the confidence of a recent victory against Nottingham Forest into another red hot Derby game. Nigel Clough’s Derby side have been a slowly crafted work in progress for some time now, by contemporary standards.

Having scoured the lower leagues for talent like John Brayford and James Bailey, Nigel Clough has brought in solid Championship performers like Jason Shackell, and young talent in the shape of youth product, Jeff Hendrick.

With a former England manager on the bench, and some significantly rich and ambitous owners in the stand, Leicester City are still dreaming of a promotion season, and sitting in eleventh place, there is no reason to rule them out just yet. Boasting significant firepower, spearheaded by David Nugent, and an incredibly impressive raft of Premier Division quality defenders like Matt Mills, Sol Bamba and Paul Konchesky, one would expect this Leicester side to be slightly higher up the table.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the Leicester set up however, remains the central midfield where Richie Wellens and Andy King continue to perform at a level that suggests they have been under appreciated in the Championship.

Elsewhere in the Championship, Yorkshire plays host to two interesting lower mid table/bottom half match ups, with Barnsley welcoming Coventry to Oakwell, and Steve Cotterill’s Portsmouth heading to frustrated Leeds.

In the North West, Blackpool await the visit of Keith Millen’s relegation threatened Bristol City side, and in the capital, a London derby see’s high flying Crystal Palace attempt to take on the strength of Sam Allardyce’s powerful West Ham outfit.

In other fixtures, Ipswich welcome Gus Poyet’s impressive but recently stuggling Brighton and Hove Albion side, whilst Hull host Cardiff, Burnley head to Milwall, brimming with confidence following a 5-1 rout of Nottingham Forest, and Peterborough play host to Dean Saunders’ Doncaster side.

With Birmingham having played a mid-week Europa League game, their tie with Nottingham Forest will now take place on the sunday, with Steve McClaren’s Reds team hoping to get back on track following a miserable set of results in recent weeks.

Forest were humiliated by local rivals, Derby County, and a hard fought 1-0 win over Watford has done little to restore pride given Tuesday’s crushing defeat away at Burnley. Forest have moved to sack director of football, David Pleat, and performance coach, Bill Beswick, in the light of such a poor start to the season, but it remains to be seen whether either of these departures will make any difference to a side woefully lacking confidence, and incapable of the most basic defending.

Following the weekend, we will have seen ten rounds of Championship games, and both Birmingham and Nottingham Forest will be desperate to be able to reflect on a win that puts some space between themselves and the sides right at the bottom of the table.

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