Just under two months into the new campaign and already this Championship season is shaping up to be a memorable one.
Huddersfield Town’s unexpected rise to the summit is one of the reasons this season seems intriguing. Widely tipped to be struggling near the bottom, Town have shocked most by taking 19 points from their first eight games of the season. David Wagner, in his first full season in charge, has recruited well in the transfer window with new signings Rajiv Van La Parra, Elias Kachunga and Kasey Palmer all impressing in the early run in. Aside from Van La Parra, Huddersfield’s signings lack Championship experience, but with that comes the element of an unknown quantity. The Terrier’s free flowing style has proved to be a surprise for their opponents, and many have been unable to combat it.
So far, Huddersfield have dealt with everything thrown at them. Early on they were dealt arguably their two hardest away games of the season in Newcastle and Aston Villa, yet managed to pick up four points. They came close to losing at Villa Park, but their persistence earned them a point. They also recovered well from their first defeat against Brighton by defeating QPR 2-1 at John Smith’s Stadium.
The big test for Huddersfield now is to keep themselves at the top when the rest of the division gets accustomed to their playing style. A lot also rests on whether they can keep players fit; injuries to the likes of defenders Mark Hudson or Tommy Smith could test them to their limits.
Sitting in second and third are Norwich City and Newcastle United. Both have adapted well to the Championship, but early signs suggest neither will run away with the title. The Canaries have gone about their early season business under the radar; at the end of August, Norwich suffered a 3-0 defeat at Birmingham City but since then have recorded three impressive wins against Cardiff City, Wigan and Nottingham Forest.
Cameron Jerome and Johnny Howson have both begun where they left off in the Championship, while Jacob Murphy is beginning to fulfil his potential with some fantastic early season form. The 21-year-old is very much in the ilk of recently departed Nathan Redmond and is filling his boots nicely so far.
Newcastle United were seemingly flying towards the Championship title after winning six in a row, but a defeat to Wolves last weekend brought them back down to the reality of England’s second tier. That said, last Saturday’s result should prove to be nothing more than a blip.
While the new signings at Newcastle have impressed, particularly Dwight Gayle, it has been the form of two of their Premier League players that has got them challenging. Yoann Gouffran has been a transformed man in the Championship, scoring two goals and producing several impressive displays. Jonjo Shelvey has also excelled with some commanding performances that show why Newcastle were willing to spend money on him.
The primary question facing Norwich and Newcastle is whether they can keep up this form for the rest of the season. If Norwich can maintain their winning run and Newcastle can repeat another six-game run, a playoff place will at least be waiting for them.
With one point separating third from eighth, the race for the playoffs is as thrilling as ever. There are three surprise packages occupying the playoff spots in Barnsley, Birmingham and Brentford.
Barnsley, bar Huddersfield, have been the most exciting side in the division. Carrying on their form from last season, the Tykes have a young and vibrant squad packed with quality talent. Connor Hourihane has took to the Championship with ease, as he did with League One football; the former Plymouth man earned the August player of the month award for his performances. Ryan Kent has proved to be one of the best loan signings with some great showings in wins over QPR and Rotherham. Another loan signing, Adam Armstrong from Newcastle, has took some of the weight off the shoulders of Tom Bradshaw and Sam Winnall and gives Barnsley one of the more potent front lines in the league.
Birmingham City appeared to be stagnating under Gary Rowett, but wins over Norwich City, Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday have shown they can compete for a playoff spot. Clayton Donaldson has finally started to deliver with four goals, while new signing Che Adams has provided them with a different option going forward. Whether this is just a rich vain of form will be answered once the injuries hit, but for now Birmingham fans can be optimistic.
In Scott Hogan, sixth-place Brentford have almost gained a new signing. Injured for his first two seasons with the club, the former Rochdale player has come back and adapted to the Championship with ease. Six goals in his first eight games is proof the injury did not hamper him one bit. The last month has proved Brentford to be a real challenger, having picked up eight points in games against Sheffield Wednesday, Brighton, Aston Villa and Preston – sides mostly expected to be challenging near the top.
Just outside the playoffs are Brighton and Reading. The Seagulls are there due to back-to-back defeats to Newcastle and Brentford, but after beating Huddersfield and Burton they should be on their way back into the top six possibly at the expense of Barnsley, who they play on Saturday.
Reading appear to be finding the form that has evaded them so often in the last few years. A win with ten men at Barnsley last weekend was just the victory they needed to prove they have the character for a Championship promotion push.