We’re coming up to the halfway stage in this season’s Championship, and for the three teams relegated sides to return to the top flight from the Premier League at the end of the extended previous campaign, things are looking good. Norwich City, Bournemouth, and Watford occupy the top three places in the Championship table, with the Canaries three points clear at the top. However, it is all still to play for, and at this stage in the season, with games coming thick and fast over the next month or so, form and consistency will be key.
The upper echelons of the table are much closer than further down, where there are gaps starting to show between those in and around the relegation zone. In fact, at the time of writing, all four teams in the play-offs have 30 points, and they’re all in pretty similar form – with Bristol City the only team to suffer two defeats in their last five matches.
It couldn’t be closer in the latest Championship odds either, with joint-favourites Bournemouth and Norwich tipped to win the division. The latest market pits Brentford above Watford, with the Bees currently sitting in seventh in the Championship table, just two points off the play-off zone. They’re the in-form side at the moment, without a defeat in 10 matches – and are making amends for their fairly average start to the season. The Londoners are also in possession of the league’s joint-top scorer. Ivan Toney has really hit the ground running since joining from League One’s Peterborough United, netting 14 goals this campaign – certainly a worthy replacement for Ollie Watkins who joined Aston Villa in September.
For Bournemouth, the fairytale was finally over when they were relegated back to the Championship, after a five-season tenure to return to the top flight. Going from the very depths of the Football League’s basement division, League Two, to reaching Premier League status a mere seven seasons later, proved a remarkable feat and one we may never see replicated again. But with relegation came change, which saw Eddie Howe leave the south coast club, and it was very much a case of sink or swim for the Cherries.
But despite losing some of their best players – Nathan Ake to Manchester City, as well as Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser to Newcastle United – manager Jason Tindall has ensured they’re in the fight for a place back in the Premier League. And an excellent start to the season saw Bournemouth fail to lose a game in their first 10 matches, including a win over Norwich and draw with Watford.
Norwich are almost becoming somewhat of a yo-yo club, as they’ve flitted between the top two divisions since their double promotion from League One to the Premier League in as many seasons (2009-10 and 2010-11). Daniel Farke remains at the helm, and he was the man that guided the Canaries to the promised land in 2018-19, which should stand them in good stead to do it again.
After finishing rock bottom of the Premier League last season, having lost 27 out of 38 matches, while also being awarded the unenviable title of the ‘most relegated Premier League side’, Norwich still have Teemu Pukki in their ranks. The club’s top scorer over the last two campaigns remains their biggest attacking threat, and there’s no doubt they’ll be reliant on the Finnish striker, if they wish to return to the top flight.
Finally, Watford. Their five-season stay in the Premier League came to an end when they lost their final three matches of the season and ultimately, fell into the relegation zone. The chopping and changing of managers certainly didn’t help matters. The Hertfordshire club were the first team on the sack race, relieving Javi Gracia of his duties on September 7th, after just four matches played to return to the top flight. Quique Sánchez Flores, Nigel Pearson and Hayden Mullins (on an interim basis), all came and went.
But Vladimir Ivić has arrived at Vicarage Road and he’s recently been nominated as ‘Manager of the Month’. As things stand, the Hornets are third, and occupying the first of four play-off places. They’re sure to have learnt from their shortcomings last season.
The Championship campaign is a long arduous slog over 46 matches, and with things being too close to call at the moment, it could well come down to a moment of magic in the latter stages of the season, or an underdog’s tale in the play-offs. Will we see all three relegated sides bounce straight back up?