Welcome all to The EFL 2016/17 Round-Up: The Story So Far. Focusing on – you guessed it – the 3 English Football League divisions, this first installment will become a regular feature chronicling the most interesting stories and a full low down of the weekly goings on across the 72 EFL teams.
This week’s featured fix of Football League will give you a rough guide of how The Championship, League One and League Two are shaping up so far. You lucky things you.
One of world football’s most unpredictable divisions is treating us with it’s usual early-season shenanigans. Huddersfield – 19th in 2015/16 – sit top of the tree going into October, spurred on by hard-working, narrow wins and a stringent defence. Their last 5 wins have all come by a single goal, as have the two defeats shoe-horned in between, and David Wagner’s approach is working well for The Terriers.
Close behind, relegated Norwich and Newcastle are living up to their pre-season tags as promotion favourites in 2nd and 3rd. Bighton (4th), chasing promotion once again after coming so close last time, complete the play-off places with Bristol City (5th) and Birmingham (6th), both of whom are punching above their weight this time around based on their previous campaigns.
Just three points separate the rest of the next seven teams in what always proves to be a remarkably competitive division. Brentford (7th) have built on a strong 2015/16, closely followed by Reading (8th), who’ve one defeat in eight, and Sheffield Wednesday (9th), who will of course be desperate to go one further than last season’s play-off final defeat to Hull City.
New-boys Barnsley (10th) have started brilliantly with their 21 goals only bettered by title favourites Newcastle (22) after only scraping into the League One play-offs last season; proof as good as any just how hard it is to predict The Championship. Inconsistent Wolves (12th), along with Leeds (11th), complete the top half of the table as winter creeps upon us.
To show just how difficult and genuinely high in quality The Championship, 6 teams in the bottom half have been in the Premier League in the last 5 years – Wigan (21st), in fact, back in the second tier following their cruise to the League One title last year. They sit just a point above the relegation zone which, as it stands, it resided by fellow other big names Blackburn (22nd) and Cardiff (23rd). Rotherham prop up the table and already sit 3 points from safety, and will need to act fast to give themselves a good chance of survival.
One surprise for many is the struggles of 20th place Derby (20th), fresh from a play-off campaign and a led by a man who’s won The Championship before, Nigel Pearson. Equally disappointed will be Aston Villa (19th), who join The Rams on 10 points and have sacked Champions League winner Roberto Di Matteo after just a solitary win.
Above them, Nottingham Forest (18th) have continued their predictably unpredictable form of 2015/16 to sit just two places below where they finished last time, with Preston (17th) climbing above them after 7 points in three games. Ipswich (16th) – The Championship’s longest running side – came so close to the play-offs in their last campaign but have struggled with just 3 wins in their first 11 games.
Burton Albion (15th) will be the much happier than The Tractor Boys to be on 13 points after their second successive promotion to the second tier for the first time in their short 66 year history under Nigel Clough. Above them two more big names in Fulham (14th) – just a point better off than at the same stage 12 months ago – and apparent moneybags QPR (13th) complete the middle of the table.
Again, the tough, competitive nature of League One is shining bright as the frankly non-British we had this year after 11 rounds of fixtures. None of the teams relegated to the third-tier – Bolton (8th), MK Dons (9th) and Charlton (18th) occupy even a play-off place. The happiest side of all will be Scunthorpe United (1st). Led by Football League legend Graham Alexander they’ve continued their excellent end to 2015/16, where they finished just 3 goals from usurping eventually promoted Barnsley, to sit top of the tree with 7 wins from 11 and more goals (26) than any other professional side in the country.
Unbeaten Bradford have also followed a successful season by sitting second at present, scoring 21 goals along the way, with defensively strong Bury (3rd), on-form Sheffield United (4th) and somewhat inconsistent Port Vale (6th) all improving dramatically this time out. Joining them in the play-offs are new-boys Northampton (5th), who also gave Man United a scare in the League cup to cap an excellent start to 2016/17.
Yes, the second tier is looking close when we look at the points, but nothing like League One – just 4 points separate 6th place Port Vale from the relegation zone. Below the Valiants (great nickname), steady climbers Bristol Rovers (7th) and Bolton sit a point behind on 16, with The relegated Dons and promoted Oxford United (10th) proving this, too, is an unpredictable division. Level on points with them are surging Rochdale (11th) and leaky Gillingham (12th) who conversely, are rather behaving themselves, situated very close to last season’s final placing.
A look at the relegation zone tells us, once again, you can never second guess League One, with goal-desperate Oldham (24th) and managerless Coventry (23rd) slipping from respective finishes of 17th and 8th in 15/16 to prop the division already three points from safety. A slight upturn of form from Shrewsbury (22nd) and Southend (21st) has dragged them marginally closer to escaping the dreaded drop-zone. Southend United in particular are just a point away from 16th place Walsall, who have just one loss in 5.
With consistently lowly Swindon (20th), defensively incapable Millwall (19th), relegated Charlton and Chesterfield (17th) on the same points anything goes in the lower echelons of League One after gameweek 11. Just another point keeps climbing Walsall, last year’s League Two play-off winners Wimbledon (15th) and Fleetwood Town (14th) – winless in 5 – on 13 points. No doubt they’ll all be keen to climb above the unlucky number quickly because, stay there for long, and they’re in trouble. Peterborough (13th), who’ve drawn 5 of their last 6, complete the tight bottom half of the division.
With 1st to 4th only separated by 6 points, you’d be forgiven for thinking the title race is far from over with 35 games still left to play, as strong as The Iron have started at the top. However, with the next six points taking us all the way to the relegation zone, it’s absolutely impossible to know quite how the league will look at the end of the season. Anyone can do anything and I can’t wait to see it all unfold.
With that, we reach the foot of the EFL in League Two and the biggest runaway leaders in English professional football, solid south-coasters Plymouth Argyle (1st). 8 wins in their last 9 have given them an early lead of 5 points over pre-season favourites Doncaster Rovers (2nd), back in the third tier for the first time since winning the last ever “Division Three” in 2004.
Just a point behind are one of just two unbeaten sides in the EFL, Carlisle (3rd) – although their lack of goals and 7 draws from 11 games has them lower then they potentially could be. A couple of famous sides in the play-offs in recovering Portsmouth (6th) and the oldest remaining side in England, Notts County (7th) are joined by free-scoring Luton Town (4th) and Crawley Town (5th) who, conversely, have the fewest goals in the top half.
Once more, there’s little to separate so many teams this early in 2016/17, as 3 points sit between Luton Town and the bottom half of the table. Clutching to the tail of the play-offs are relegated Crewe Alexandra (8th) and promoted Grimsby Town (9th). Once again the EFL demonstrates the fluctuating fortunes of it’s occupants as the two teams, this time last year, were two divisions apart and now sit side by side.
Had Wigan just one more point in The Championship, or Aston Villa one less, that same situation would incredibly be playing out across all three EFL divisions. Beneath The Mariners, another seaside town Morecambe (10th) defy their pre-season billing as relegation candidates to sit a point above off-form Colchester (11th), with one solitary win in six, and on-form Accrington Stanley (12th), just one defeat in six.
At the base of the EFL heap sit lowly Newport County (24th), favourites for relegation after coming 22nd in 15/16, although they’ve lost two games so far to poor pitch conditions. Still, their form and current managerless state doesn’t suggest they’ll be catching a young, goal-shy Exeter (23rd) and disciplined but struggling new side Cheltenham (22nd), both three points ahead of Newport, who have just 6 so far.
A point above them Exeter and Cheltenham, on 10, Yeovil (21st) represent the leakiest defence in the league, with Stevenage (20th) holding 11 points and Cambridge (19th) on 12, though three wins on the bounce has thrown them from the bottom of the table to put a smile on the faces of their patient, faithful fans after a dire start. Barnet (18th) and Leyton Orient (17th), also on 12 points, have no wins in four and five games respectively and will be looking over their shoulders, although again Barnet are held back by a postponed fixture.
Above The Orient, Blackpool’s spectacular fall from grace has them 16th after a third relegation in five years. Just above them, improving Wycombe (15th) have 3 wins in four after five games without victory, and they are joined on points by goal-shy, but defensively sound, Mansfield (14th), with unbeaten-in-five Hartlepool (13th) a point and a place above.
Can Plymouth maintain this fast start? Will Newport drag themselves to football league safety? Might the bigger names of Portsmouth, Blackpool and Doncaster supplement their recent histories with the success their fans had come to expect, or will promoted Grimsby and Cheltenham prove the rulebook wrong to continue their climb up the football ladder? And will anyone be threatened with administration this year, as seems to so often be the case in the fourth tier of English football?
There’s already a hell of a lot going on in the EFL, and I’m immensely excited to be covering it one game at a time as this already enthralling, exciting season goes on.