For many a reason, I haven’t been paying religious attention to what’s what in the Championship of late.
I’ve only been dipping a toe in the water, so to speak.
I did, however, catch The Championship highlights on the Football League Show on Saturday night; I did have an interesting conversation with my cousin in the midst of his 50th birthday celebrations this weekend.
The subject matter was the state of the league this season; how it’s shaping up and – more importantly – the basket cases that are passing through it in 2010-2011.
Like Portsmouth. Able to muster just four substitutes this weekend.
Like Crystal Palace. Fresh from administration and just about to hand Edgar Davids a ticket to the capital’s flesh-pots.
Like Middlesbrough. No Newcastle-like swift return to the Premiership; pressure mounting daily on Gordon Strachan to take them back to the ‘Promised Land’ before all the kids are flogged to the highest bidder.
Like Bristol City. Coppell disappearing within a week of the season starting. And all with someone having the cash to flash in front of David James’ nose.
Like Hull. Premiership bubble burst; Nigel Pearson off to hospital with ‘chest pains’.
And so you can continue…
But what’s interesting – if the table doesn’t lie a mere four games into the season – is those teams that, even now, look as if they may do OK this time round.
Millwall, Norwich, Cardiff, Ipswich, Leeds. And, I suspect, QPR.
We’ll leave them to one side for now; Neil Warnock remains a special case. In many senses.
But the *really* interesting point to those early runners and riders is that – at managerial level – all have a semblance of managerial stability.
Indeed as much as the whole Ridsdale-new stadium-Bellamy combination might stink of classic Championship madness, the fact remains that Bluebirds boss Dave Jones is – I suspect – the longest-serving manager in the second tier.
He’s been in charge for five years. He arrived in South Wales in the summer of 2005. He knows both his squad and the club inside out.
His managerial ethos this time round will be a tweak here, a twiddle there. It will not be wholesale revolution.
And is Bellars a risk? Nah. The boy’s from Ely. As in the Cardiff council estate; not the one with the cathedral. Half his mates still live there; he won’t let them down in a hurry. It’s a magic move as far as Jones in concerned.
Kenny Jackett has been at The New Den since 2007; Simon Grayson has got his feet under the table at Elland Road… ditto both Lambert and Keane in East Anglia.
Yes, behind the scenes the finances still trouble; down the road and the question lies heavy in the air as to just how much club owner Marcus Evans is prepared to commit this summer.
But, to a large extent, both Lambert and Keane now have squads very much of their own making and to their own liking.
A settled manager has a settled dressing room; a settled dressing room tends to then produce more ‘settled’ performances; those that are new and unfamiliar are measured by the handful, not by the dozen.
Everyone knows where they stand; be it player with manager and, indeed, supporter with manager. For those managers that are still in a job after 12 months are, invariably, those with something to show for it.
A promotion in the case of Messrs Grayson, Jackett and Lambert; an FA Cup run and a play-off final in the case of Jones; a ‘name’ and a presence in the case of Keane.
Therefore, they have the confidence of the masses; the support – by and large – of the ‘terraces’.
That helps build a ‘club’ – that sense of ‘togetherness’ that Nigel Worthington would constantly allude to; even if it left him in the end.
You sense Strachan hasn’t got it at The Riverside, for example. Boro could be next on the managerial merry-go-round; by the same token, Alan Pardew’s exit at St Mary’s will – in every likelihood – condemn Saints to another year in the third flight of English football.
Punters and players aren’t daft; they can smell a ‘stop gap’ appointment a mile off; a boardroom appointment designed to do little more than keep the show kinda on the road; just don’t rock the boat… ask too many questions. That’s what a Pompey want.
The Championship is – as ever – a basket case of a league. Home to the Premiership’s dispossessed; those for whom relegation really is the descent into the abyss.
Norwich – to their great credit and considerable fortune – have plumbed those very depths; they have been there and left Southampton and Charlton to it.
Their momentum is forwards and upwards; as it tends to be when you let most managers manage for longer than the nine months that has been the previous norm.
And, of course, there are exceptions to every rule. N Warnock being the principal example. With money being little or no option at Loftus Road, you’d expect our Neil to be able to build a Championship-capable side with his eyes closed; they won’t be far away.
And nor, I suspect, will Norwich. Provided all concerned keep it steady as she goes…