Home English Championship review: A new Beale wobbler at Sunderland; Leeds on super streak; Sargent silencing Norwich doubters

Championship review: A new Beale wobbler at Sunderland; Leeds on super streak; Sargent silencing Norwich doubters

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Championship review: A new Beale wobbler at Sunderland; Leeds on super streak; Sargent silencing Norwich doubters

Leeds United’s super streak continues, no-one at Norwich City are complaining about Josh Sargent these days and it’s now kicking off at Sunderland after Mick Beale’s handshake snub. All this and more from the latest round of the Championship…

TEAM OF THE ROUND

Leeds United

Leeds United picked up an eighth straight Championship victory this weekend winning 2-0 down at Plymouth. Since the streak began back on New Years Day, Leeds record in a perfect 2024 so far reads played eight, won eight, drawn none, lost none, goals scored 19, goals conceded one, points 24.

This latest victory was reasonably straightforward after Willy Gnonto’s fifth goal in his last five games in all competitions rewarded an excellent first half performance. Plymouth were far more competitive in the second half but Georginio Rutter’s goal made things safe as the game went into the final 20 minutes.

This type of run understandably tends to have a huge impact on a team’s season. Just last year Burnley started a magnificent ten game winning streak in second place with a two point promotion cushion, they ended it with a 17 point promotion cushion and could free wheel their way to the title.

This very season Leicester went early with a nine game winning streak leading up to the end of October that gave them a 14 point promotion cushion just 14 games into the campaign. Leeds winning run has been similarly impactful.

At the start of it they were back in fourth place and on the chase, they’re now in second place and the eight games has seen them gain eight points on both Leicester and Southampton and 12 on Ipswich. The Leeds super streak has redrawn the battle lines in the promotion race, if they keep it up significantly longer we might just be looking at the key moment in the unfolding of this season’s extraordinary fight to reach the Premier League.

PLAYER OF THE ROUND

Josh Sargent (Norwich City)

Context is everything in football, take Norwich’s striker Josh Sargent as a key example. The US international arrived in summer 2021 with Norwich back in the Premier League and this time able to spend a bit of money on players to try and help them survive. By the end of the season Norwich were relegated, rock bottom of the table and the summer splash on Sargent, Tzolis, Rashica, Kabak and Gilmour was seen as a massive failure in recruitment.

Fast forward eighteen months and the context has flipped unimaginably as Sargent is now seen as the vital component in the Canaries attempt to get themselves back into the Premier League.

Sargent started the season with four goal contributions in his first four games before an injury in late August saw him sit out almost an entire four months of the campaign. He returned at the very end of 2023 and has picked up exactly where he left off banging in seven goals in his last eight Championship appearances. Aside from the 10 goals in 13 appearances this season, Norwich with Sargent are an entirely different proposition to Norwich without Sargent.

While the American was out injured Norwich picked up 24 points in 20 games, while he’s been fit Norwich have picked up 27 points in 13 games. That’s 1.2 points per game without Sargent and 2.07 points per game with him and the brutal points based maths says Norwich are 72% better with Josh Sargent in their team. With the Canaries in the thick of the play-off chase, they’ll want to keep their key man in the thick of the action.

TALKING POINT OF THE ROUND

The Sunderland Sulk

Pretty much every Saturday my social media timeline will get filled with examples of the same hyper viral Championship football clip of the day. This weekend’s instalment was the substitution of Sunderland fullback Trai Hume who exited his side’s game at Birmingham in the 87th minute.

That wasn’t the story though as Hume was seen to offer a handshake to his manager Mick Beale who seemed to ignore his player and of course, all hell broke loose. As with many fallouts in life, the thing that appears to be the issue is not actually the issue and there are several other layers of suspicion that need to be peeled back to understand the reaction.

You see, Mick Beale has rightly or wrongly become a bit of a lightning rod for fans’ dislike and this latest episode will be added to his charge sheet in the court of public opinion. QPR fans will tell you Beale promised them the earth and then did a runner to Rangers, fans of the Glasgow club will tell you he was a failure at Ibrox, while suspicious Sunderland fans see Beale as the guy that their trigger-happy ownership replaced the highly likeable Tony Mowbray with.

Now add in the extra ironic wrinkle that Sunderland had surrendered a lead and were about to lose to a Birmingham side managed by none other than Tony Mowbray. Beale tried to pour water on the issue post match by saying he didn’t see Hume and he’d apologised, he’s got a way to go though to improve his approval rating with the Black Cats fans.

LOANEE OF THE ROUND

Ike Ugbo (Sheffield Wednesday on-loan from Troyes)

Although it flips and flops from week to week, the longer term pattern in the chase for Championship survival is that the tide is rising at the bottom. Yes, Rotherham do look dead and buried at the foot of the table but both Sheffield Wednesday and QPR are in the bottom three but not functioning like relegation candidates in recent times.

A point per game will normally see you to safety across a Championship season and QPR are well above that with 22 in their last 16 games, Wednesday can better that with 23. Obviously those runs started before the transfer window but both sides have attempted to add goals in January and Wednesday might have found the solution with Ike Ugbo’s arrival on loan from Troyes in the French second tier.

Ugbo is doing double loan duty in the Championship this season having spent the first half of the campaign at Cardiff, scoring four goals in 20 league games. The good news for Wednesday is he’s already one away from that total for the Owls after his double in the win against Birmingham and the opener in yesterday’s key win over Millwall. Here’s the issue though, as Ugbo also had a fast start at Cardiff with three of his four goals coming in his first five games including one against Sheffield Wednesday.

At risk of being overly simplistic, teams are at the bottom of the league because they don’t make enough good chances and they give up too many. The value of having someone who can put away what service he gets is priceless, let’s see if Ugbo can maintain the hot start this time around.

Follow Benjamin Bloom on Twitter @BenjaminBloom

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