11 August, 2008

Down to Earth

Christ, it must be pretty rough being a Derby fan. After literally the worst top flight season in English football history, they opened their Championship account this year with a home defeat to newly-promoted Doncaster. At home. Ouch. Paul Jewell’s record as the Rams boss is now 1 win out of 29, and however you decide to chop it up, that is miserable to say the least. I’m sure fans were thinking from about March onwards last season that they would remember what is was like to win again soon enough, but this weekend’s defeat will have raised some serious concern amongst the Rams faithful. Obviously let’s not jump to sensationalist conclusions after just one game, but I’m not sure I would be that surprised if Derby were to go straight through the Championship this year and end up in League One this time next season. I don’t think they will, but based on the overall ability of the team and the competitiveness of the Championship, it could happen. Defensively, the word woeful doesn’t quite cover it, but in Roy Carroll they thankfully have a top class goalkeeper, who’s worth at least a couple of goals per game. Up top, well, I just struggle to see where goals are gonna come from. Anyway, like I said, there’s little value in giving them the last rights just yet, so kudos to Doncaster on a great showing.

The other recently-relegated sides also found life hard back in the Championship, with tight games against tenacious opposition to signal that respecting reputations it is not what this league is all about. Birmingham on paper have to be favourites to bounce straight back up, and in Larsson and McFadden especially, they have players that’d walk into most top half Premier League sides. After much delightful interplay though, Birmingham found Sheffield United too resilient too actual football, and so with 93 minutes on the clock, a long ball found new signing Kevin Phillips, who controlled and swivelled effortlessly to score once again on debut and give the Blues the points. Reading meanwhile were also given a game, this time by another newly-promoted side, Nottingham Forest. It’s great to see them back in the big time, and they proved that they have every right to be there against a Reading side, of which 9 players started the last game of the Premier League. What’s just as remarkable though is that 7 of that starting 11 actually played in the Royals’ final Championship game three years; it’s testament to the team’s spirit and Steve Coppell’s steady hand. Anyway, 90 minutes and no goals, but Forest should thank keeper Paul Smith for producing a wondersave from a Kevin Doyle header late on.

So, what are the chances of all three relegated teams coming straight back up next season? Hmmm, it’s a poser certainly. Birmingham surely have enough to walk this league, but as for the other two promotion spots? My money’s on QPR and Crystal Palace. Or Charlton. Or Norwich. Or…you get the picture.

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