The Weekly Gab: Championship relegation picks…

Our EFL pundit Gab Sutton gives us his take on the state of play in the Championship and shares his predictions for relegation to the third tier…

Gab Sutton

Heading into the season, the likes of Reading, Birmingham City and Rotherham United were the popular picks for relegation in the Championship.

With the unfancied trio sitting comfortably in 12th, 13th and 16th respectively, however, we have to look elsewhere for likely candidates, as EFL pundit Gab Sutton discusses.

Most years, there are at least two teams relegated from the Championship who were broadly expected to tread water in pre-season, with perhaps the occasional surprise struggler.

This time around, that theme could be turned on it’s head with Huddersfield Town, Blackpool and Wigan Athletic occupying the relegation spots 21 games in.

The Terriers and Tangerines had extremely successful campaigns last time around and while they were expected to drop-off after the respective departures of Carlos Corberan and Neil Critchley, they weren’t common picks for the drop.

The Latics, meanwhile, had retained the personnel that won them the League One title last season.

Moving above the relegation zone, West Brom, despite their issues, are always expected to thrive at this level.

While Hull City, under Acun Illicali’s ownership, were one of the summer’s big-spenders, landing title-winner Jean-Michel Seri from Fulham.

In fact, none of the current bottom eight would have been considered a relegation favourite: 18th-placed Bristol City were even tipped by FansBet’s editor to challenge for the automatics!

(Thanks for that, Gab!)

Across the Severn, Cardiff City had a very busy summer even with no Gareth Bale, while Stoke City had signed Championship experience in Aden Flint, Josh Laurent and Dwight Gayle.

With all that in mind, unscrambling the relegation puzzle is a challenge.

53 points is the current projected requirement for survival, so four or five more wins would do the trick for Reading, Birmingham and Rotherham, which looks attainable with 25 games to play.

West Brom have picked up under new boss Corberan, enjoying the perfect November with three straight wins to nil, and should pull away from danger.

Corberan is the pick of the managers towards the bottom, although Liam Rosenior will be satisfied with his start at Hull, having won 3-2 at Cardiff before an encouraging showing at home to Reading, albeit in defeat.

Mark Hudson, given the Cardiff job until the end of the season, has to remedy his side’s goalscoring troubles, with the Bluebirds finding the net just 17 times.

City have strong runners like Joe Ralls and Andy Rinomhota, and they have players who can control and create from deep, but they don’t have anyone who can create from advanced positions.

They don’t have much of a goal threat – Callum Robinson and Mark Harris are joint-top scorers in all competitions with only three.

If Cardiff can add the right two or three players in January, then get the likes of Jamilu Collins and Ebou Adams back fit, they could pick up, but question marks lie in the dugout.

Hudson may yet prove an excellent manager but, like Steve Morison last season, he’s been given the job with has no track record of success.

He does have some coaching experience but not a massively esteemed reputation, having just overseen six defeats in eight.

Whether Hudson is the right person to keep Cardiff out of the dogfight, let alone take them forward long-term, remains to be seen.

Stoke though have, on paper, the safer managerial bet in Alex Neil, who delivered excellent results at Hamilton, then likewise for parts of his stints at Norwich and Preston North End.

He was not been adequately backed in the latter two cases – further underlining his success with the Canaries and Lilywhites – before steering Sunderland to League One promotion last season.

Neil hasn’t quite had the instant impact in the Potteries that he’s had with other clubs, however.

The Scot will be hoping to stamp out individual mistakes, whilst getting proven poacher Dwight Gayle or Man City loanee Liam Delap firing in the way many hoped, and strengthening the mentality in the team.

The Potters have been fine holding onto leads this season, but have only taken three points from losing positions.

Alex Neil

There are problems, too, at Bristol City, who have an excellent crop of youngsters led by Alex Scott and Tommy Conway, but been unable to fix defensive issues that have lingered from previous seasons.

City haven’t been helped by injures in defence, especially to Kal Naismith, who’s passing range had been so crucial to promising early season performances.

There’s hope for progress when he returns along with Tomas Kalas, Kane Wilson and Ayman Benarous.

Nobody immediately above the drop zone looks likely to plummet so significant improvement is required from Blackpool, Wigan and Huddersfield.

The Tangerines are in trouble.

Michael Appleton gained a lukewarm reception after taking over in the summer and whether his PNE links impacted that is up for debate, but last season’s pressing game has not been quite as intense under the Mancunian.

The former Lincoln City boss has come under fire for several eyebrow-raising decisions, such as persisting with Chris Maxwell’s experience over Daniel Grimshaw’s sublime shot-stopping ability.

The Pool might improve under different guidance, especially if they managed to find a coach as strong as predecessor Neil Critchley.

But it’s also a squad that performed well above the sum of it’s parts last season and, even taking Appleton out of the equation, things may be levelling out somewhat this year.

Huddersfield have made some progress lately with eight points accrued from their last six, keeping three clean sheets in that sequence.

The Terriers have the makings of a solid, workmanlike side under disciplinarian Mark Fotheringham but, even when their injuries ease, they miss a smattering of inspiration in certain areas.

Goalkeeper Lee Nicholls, defenders Ollie Turton and Michal Helik, energetic left-sider Ben Jackson plus tenacious midfielders David Kasumu and Etienne Camara have all been among Town’s better players thus far.

But only Sorba Thomas has offered technical wizardry – and even that’s tended to be solely from set pieces.

Nonetheless, if Fotheringham’s side continue their current form, they would hit 54 points, which would be enough to stay up.

Wigan are the unknown quantity, especially after performances have dropped off massively in the last two months of Leam Richardson’s tenure as manager.

Still, the decision to dismiss the man who played a huge part in saving the club in 2020-21, then led them to the League One title the following season, seems very harsh.

The Latics have appointed Kolo Toure, however, somebody with a more esteemed standing within the game.

As well as having been an Invincible with Arsenal, a history-maker with Man City and an African Cup of Nations champion with Ivory Coast, Toure has had an excellent coaching career.

The 41-year-old assisted Brendan Rodgers to Scottish Premiership dominance with Celtic, then to successive fifth-placed Premier League finishes with Leicester and an FA Cup.

Toure’s contacts at various high-profile clubs could be valuable in the loan market, and his coaching career suggests he’s more than a fancy name.

The circumstances of his appointment make him something of a step-father figure, potentially, to some members of the group, many of whom may have wanted Richardson to have had a fairer chance.

So, who goes down from the Championship?

My prediction:

Huddersfield won’t quite be able to maintain the solidity they need to overcome the dearth of quality in open play, and Fotheringham’s style of management ultimately proves a little bit too intense for the personnel available.

The Terriers are relegated along with Blackpool, who improve under a new manager but not enough to get to 52 points.

Wigan do well in the loan market in January and Toure pleasantly surprises a few people with his coaching ability, so the Latics pull away along with West Brom.

While Hull tighten up enough defensively for their individual quality to shine through after another busy window.

Bristol City and Stoke also have enough in their armoury to stay clear of the drop.

But, Cardiff may struggle to find the funds to strengthen their squad adequately in January after a busy summer, and Hudson is unable to arrest the slide.

Relegated: Huddersfield, Blackpool and Cardiff

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