The Tykes have probably become one of the more overlooked teams of the Championship since their promotion in 2006. But the South Yorkshire side deserve enormous credit for managing to preserve their status in England’s second tier, despite having to deal with the pressure of a relegation battle almost every season since promotion. They have faced similar difficulties this season but have gone a superb run since current boss David Flitcroft took over from the sacked Keith Hill in December, winning four of their last six games. They have also gone on an impressive FA Cup run, reaching the quarter-finals. Flitcroft faces a tough task to prove this is more than just a honeymoon period though, and must continue this dominant form if Barnsley’s inspiring stay in the Championship is to continue.
It’s been a bitterly disappointing season so far for Lee Clark’s side. There were high hopes for the Blues following last season’s fourth place finish and the appointment of Clark, who had gained a notable reputation while at Huddersfield Town. But they have languished towards the bottom of the table throughout the season and have struggled for any form of consistency, with September’s 5-0 home defeat at the hands of Barnsley a particular low point. The presence of the likes of England hopeful Jack Butland and top goalscorer Marlon King in their ranks should be enough to steer them clear of relegation, but in an increasingly tight league, it is up to the players to start delivering the performances that this under-performing team is capable of.
A lack of stability has cost Rovers what looked like was going to be an imposing season. There was an air of inevitability surrounding Steve Kean’s resignation as manager in September after failing to win over the Blackburn faithful, despite leading them to the top of the table prior to his departure. The unrest among fans that dominated Kean’s time at the club seems to have made the club’s owners more impatient when it comes to bringing success to the club, as Kean’s replacement, Hanning Berg, was sacked after just 10 games in charge following a disappointing start to his tenure. The board mist give current time to boss Michael Appleton, who has had a promising start which included a superb 1-0 FA Cup win at Arsenal, to deliver some much needed consistency to get their promotion charge back on track.
Last season’s play-off finalists have been rocked by two shocking managerial departures which has overshadowed some very promising early season form. Ian Holloway left for league rivals Crystal Palace in November after three years at Bloomfield Road, and his replacement Michael Appleton lasted just two months in the job before leaving to join Blackburn. The Seasiders have took a gamble on new manager Paul Ince, whose last job in management saw him last just five months in charge at League One side Notts County. The former England midfielder is reunited with son Thomas, who the Lancashire side have come to heavily rely on throughout the season. Promotion looks just out of touch this time around but a strong end to the season is vital to show they are still a force to be dealt with.
The Trotters have struggled to adapt to life outside the Premier League in their first season not in the top flight for 11 years. A poor start to the season saw Owen Coyle sacked in October, leaving them struggling in 18th place. Dougie Freedman was recruited as his replacement after an impressive spell as manager at fellow Championship side Crystal Palace. The Scot had a sluggish start to his time at the Reebok as they struggled to string a decent run of results together. However, there are signs that Freedman is starting to work his magic, with Bolton winning their last three games and having lost just one of their last eight. With the likes of Cardiff, Middlesbrough, and Brighton still to come this season, promotion may be too much to ask, but if their current form can be maintained it could still leave the likes of Brighton looking over their shoulders.
Brighton & Hove Albion
The Seagulls have continued to flourish under the management of Gus Poyet. The former Chelsea midfielder has worked wonders at the south coast club since taking over in November 2009, and they have continued to impress this season. The club have been spurred on by huge attendances at the new Amex Stadium, which they moved into last season following their promotion from League One, and the team has responded magnificently. They have been beaten just once this calendar year, and have shown they are more than capable of beating the bigger teams by recording wins over fellow promotion hopefuls Cardiff and Hull last month. Although Poyet’s men do need to aim to convert more draws into wins at home to solidify their place in the play-offs, on current form, it looks as though they might take some stopping. They are certainly one of the dark horses going into the last few, vital games of the season.