Championship Preview: Rams finding form

Chris Martin

Chris Martin

Here are The Football Lab’s thoughts ahead of Wednesday night’s games in the Championship. Derby County aim to continue their impressive run of form at Ewood Park, as they face a Blackburn side that lost 3-0 to MK Dons on Saturday. The ongoing drama at Leeds United shows no signs of stopping, with Uwe Rosler harshly sacked and controversially replaced by Steve Evans, who has his first game in charge away to Fulham, who look to build on last week’s positive point at Middlesbrough.

Blackburn v Derby

Over the last two seasons, Derby County have been arguably the most entertaining team in the Championship. They got off to an underwhelming start to this campaign and when they lost at home to Leeds at the end of August, some questioned whether it would work out for the Rams under new head coach Paul Clement.

Recent evidence suggests the doubters have been proved wrong, with Derby finding superb form. Over the last 6 weeks, we are seeing more of the Derby team that we had become accustomed to seeing under Steve McClaren, in terms of the fluid passing and movement. Their impressive 4-2 win over Wolves in front of the TV cameras on Sunday was an indication that they are back in the midst of the promotion race.

That match showed the importance of striker Chris Martin. Derby have a lot of talented midfielders who provide intelligence and flair and like to make positive forward runs, but Martin gives those players somebody to aim for. He excels at holding the ball up for other players to burst past him. The ex-Norwich man was superb against Wolves, particularly in the first half, when he could have had a hat-trick but for a poor spot kick.

Another player to impress in that match was winger Johnny Russell who, on his day, is one of the best players in the Championship. Russell has the ability to accelerate past players, but he has also shown that he can produce moments of star quality. He combined very well with fellow Scotsman Craig Forsyth, and the movement of both players can give teams problems. Forsyth’s forward runs from left-back detracts opposition defenders and creates those pockets of space for Russell to thrive in.

All things considered, this could be a very difficult game for Blackburn Rovers, who lost 3-0 at MK Dons last week. The men from Lancashire went down to 10 men inside the first 11 minutes, as right-back Adam Henley was sent off. That result was slightly surprising, because it came at a time when Blackburn were starting to firm up defensively. Their 2-0 win over Ipswich at the beginning of October marked a 5th game in 6 without defeat and a second consecutive home win, but one wonders whether the international break has drained their momentum.

Rovers fans have started to turn on manager Gary Bowyer and there could be quite a toxic atmosphere at Ewood Park. Derby, by contrast, are playing some great football at the moment and will travel to Lancashire full of confidence.

Fulham v Leeds

This blog wrote at the beginning of last season that Massimo Cellino’s chairmanship of Leeds United was doomed to failure. 6 managers, a 15th place finish and a Football League ban later and it is proving to be correct.

Uwe Rosler was very harshly sacked. He had been given very little time to build working relationships with his players and considering how much Leeds had spent in the summer, their position in the table of 19th was not disastrous. In a lot of their games, Leeds had been playing good football and were creating chances, as players looked motivated to play under Rosler. At some point, Massimo Cellino has to learn that the problem is not the managers he keeps seeing fit to sack, but his own egotistical impatience.

Steve Evans is the latest manager to take the hotseat at Elland Road, which is a recipe for disaster. Evans has a belligerent manner and an autocratic style of management. That has worked for him in the lower leagues, but there is a danger that he will alienate a lot of the players at Leeds.

As a neutral, it is frustrating to see these off-field issues at Leeds United, because it detracts from the team’s potential on it. With some stability, some more experienced players and the right investment, they could have a chance of pushing for a play-off place. They have a squad with some talented young players, such as Lewis Cook and Alex Mowatt, who have all the technical talent needed, but the lack of stability at boardroom level is hampering the club.

Fulham are another team underachieving. A squad possessing players with the quality of Tom Cairney and Ross McCormack should, theoretically, be challenging for the play-offs, but one wonders whether this team has the grit and dynamism required to win games that are perhaps not going their way.

The Cottagers did pick up a positive result away to Middlesbrough on Saturday, drawing 0-0 at the Riverside. The Cottagers did not create too much in an attacking sense, but they were well-organized and Kit Symons would certainly have taken that result before the match.

The key for Fulham now is to build on that result, because they have struggled to find any momentum so far this season. Their season so far is best summed up by the fact that they beat West London rivals QPR 4-0 in late September, with a very strong performance, but were thrashed by Wolves a few days later. These are two clubs that should have ambitions of getting back into the Premier League, but it is hard to see either of them breaking into the top 6.