Neil Critchley was sacked at QPR, Michael Carrick has Middlesbrough surging and new manager Neil Warnock hands a start to an unknown and is rewarded with victory for Huddersfield.
All this and more from the latest round of the Championship…
TEAM OF THE ROUND
I’m getting a weird sense of deja vu about this season’s automatic promotion race in the Championship. Cast your mind back to last season and by this point Fulham are off in the distance, Bournemouth are in second looking a bit shaky and, after a bad start, coming storming up in the background are eventual play-off winners Nottingham Forest. I wonder whether the comparison to this season will end up being a valid one? We have Burnley out ahead in the distance, Sheffield United in second and the in-form side trying to overcome a poor start is Middlesbrough.
Middlesbrough have now won 12 of their last 14 in the Championship, like Forest last season they also changed manager early in the campaign. Unlike Forest however, they’re a lot closer to the top two. On this date last year Forest were 11 points off with 15 to play, Middlesbrough are currently four points off with 13 to play. And what about Sheffield United, are they like Bournemouth in any way? Well the points totals are very similar and although there is probably less suspicion about the Blades manager, we have seen a slip this week with back to back defeats.
The other key detail is that last year Bournemouth went all in on strengthening their squad during the transfer window, this season Sheffield United were embargoed from making new signings mid way through January. We’ll find out whether I’m making a relevant comparison or not in a couple of months, Forest took it all the way to a head to head in game 45 last season and perhaps a few factors are suggesting it might be even closer this time around.
PLAYER OF THE ROUND
Jaheim Headley (Huddersfield Town)
No offence intended of course, but the EFL doesn’t get more bread and butter than Harrogate Town. The Sulphurites are in the bottom four in League Two aiming for football league survival and played out their 2-2 draw with Crewe this weekend in front of just over two and a half thousand spectators. What is my preoccupation with Harrogate all about? Well our player of the round, Jaheim Headley spent the first half of the season on loan there and racked up 25 appearances.
Headley returned to Huddersfield in January and made his first start of the season in midweek against Stoke and although new boss Neil Warnock wasn’t officially in charge for that match, perhaps he had a say in that selection. The young wingback was in from the start against Birmingham and had a fabulous game as Warnock got off to a winning start on his return. Headley stormed out of defence to assist Joseph Hungbo’s opener and smashed in a fierce left footer for the winner.
We all know Warnock’s game by now, he loves to shake things up and create a bit of positive chaos with his selections. Headley went into the week as perhaps a bit of an unknown quantity in the Championship, he leaves the week as a big asset for the old master to put towards the Terriers survival campaign.
TALKING POINT OF THE ROUND
Critchley gone from QPR!
I signed off the ‘talking point’ segment of last week’s Championship column with the line ‘Can Critchley get QPR going? He needs to soon!’. Suffice to say we were definitely barking up the right tree when it came to the precarious managerial situation over at QPR and one week on Neil Critchley has been fired as Rangers manager.
Critchley’s horrible run at Loftus Road had an unsurprisingly horrible ending. In midweek QPR were beaten 0-3 at home to Sunderland, he will no doubt reflect on Illias Chair’s missed penalty with the score at 0-1 as a possible sliding doors moment. This weekend it was off to Championship form team Middlesbrough, another defeat, another three goals shipped and the QPR higher ups had seen enough. The numbers are damning for Critchley, he oversaw just 70 days in charge, 12 games and only one victory.
QPR will now look for their fourth manager in nine months. Mark Warburton’s contract was not renewed last May, Mick Beale quickly jumped ship for the Rangers job and blink and you’d have missed Critchley. The pressure is on director of football Les Ferdinand to make the right call in terms of replacing Critchley, for whom it’s been a disastrous year since leaving his successful run as Blackpool boss for the Aston Villa assistant position. Who Ferdinand picks and where Neil Critchley ends up next represent a couple of big decisions on the horizon.
LOANEE OF THE ROUND
Ian Poveda (Blackpool on loan from Leeds)
Ian Poveda has quite the eclectic CV. As a youngster, the winger went through Chelsea, Arsenal, Barcelona, Brentford and Manchester City, before learning the finer points of ‘Bielsaball’ when he joined Leeds in 2020. Poveda’s elite background hasn’t yet found him in an elite first team and this season is being spent on loan at Blackpool.
Poveda was brought in during the summer window by Michael Appleton, a manager known for getting the best out of wide players and who had a big role in the development of Nottingham Forest speedster Brennan Johnson during his time on loan at Lincoln. Well, read it however you see fit, Appleton is gone and Blackpool have turned to Championship stalwart Mick McCarthy to keep them in the division. It’s not for me to say whether a player will learn more studying ‘Bielsaball’ than ‘McCarthyball’ but you rarely hear a player speak ill of big Mick and they all learn about defending and being hard to beat.
Saturday’s win for Blackpool over Stoke was classic ‘McCarthyball’ in action. Poveda gave Pool the lead with a deflected 7th minute opener which represented their only shot on target in the game. With something to defend Blackpool did just that and, despite giving up 25 shots and 69% possession to Stoke, they hung in there for a clean sheet and three points. It’ll be interesting to hear Poveda’s take on his journey of discovery so far, but I’d wager there’s already things he’s learned under McCarthy that weren’t covered in all those plush academies.