– Neil Moxley, Daily Mail
The UK’s Football League Championship (formerly Division One) is a famously tough league. Full of recent top-tier teams (Blackburn, Wolves etc.) looking to bounce back, recently promoted clubs like Charlton and Sheffield Wednesday desperate to impress and up-and-coming standouts such as Brighton and Cardiff, the Premier League’s little brother is notable for its fierce level of competition. With so many big-hitters vying for, at the very least, the prestigious Play-Off places (and the ultimate goal of a Premiership status), one would understandably assume that the top half of the table would be cut away from the bottom in terms of competition and quality.
It is worth noting then, that this is not the case at all. With an emerging reputation as a league in which any of its 24 teams can be in the ascendancy at any given time (evident in league leaders Cardiff’s recent home defeat to then rock bottom Peterborough United), the nPower Championship in 2013 has effectively become a lottery.
With the Christmas period now firmly behind us, the beginning of the new year doubles up as the start of the business end of the season, and with that usually comes the “opening up” of the league table. Traditionally, January signals the unveiling of the true champions, undeniable Play-Off contenders and the unfortunate candidates for relegation.
Thus far, January 2013 has simply failed to provide the gaps that many had expected. Admittedly, Malky Mackay’s Cardiff City have established a weighty lead at the top of the table (as of the week ending January 19th, the Bluebirds have established a 10-point advantage, via Sporting Life). More striking, however, is the slender gap between second place and the start of the relegation drop zone. Leicester City, sitting pretty in 2nd with an impressive 50 points, are 21 points ahead of struggling Sheffield Wednesday, with Dave Jones’ team currently one place off relegation (via BBC Sport).
Although 21 points (or seven victories) in any league is an undeniably healthy difference, the nature of the Championship renders that lead not as solid as it would be in the Premier League or, say, Germany’s Bundesliga. In a season that has routinely seen drop zone teams defeating promotion shoe-ins (Barnsley/Millwall, Sheffield Wednesday/Hull City etc.), it is not unthinkable to picture a struggling team such as Ipswich Town or Huddersfield piecing together an unbeaten run and offering a serious Play-Off challenge.
In fact, the 2011/2012 season saw Brian McDermott’s Reading, at one point preparing for a relegation scrap, conjure up an extraordinary 17-match undefeated streak (securing 46 points from a possible 51) on the way to being crowned league champions in late April.