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Championship Focus: Week 9

Revolutionised Wolves look a different animal, Hull hit six and Cardiff still sit top the tree.

Wolverhampton v Bristol City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

The Wolves revolution is harbouring success

It was another pleasing weekend for Wolverhampton Wanderers boss Nuno Espirito Santo, as his side won 4-0 at struggling Burton Albion, and moved to within just one point of league leaders Cardiff. After disappointing 14th and 15th place finishes in the past couple of seasons, it seems that fans at Molineux can now legitimately expect a promotion battle.

Wolves turned heads with their summer transfer business, particularly their £15.8 million signing of former Porto captain Ruben Neves. The club’s close relationship with football agent Jorge Mendes has been well-documented, and with his influence at the club, it’s unsurprising perhaps that many of Wolves’ new recruits have had links to Portugal. No fewer than nine of the team’s nineteen goals have been scored by Portuguese players. The hype surrounding their transfer activity made them one of the fancied teams going into this season, and on current form, that favourites tag looks justified.

On Saturday it was the hugely talented Diogo Jota that opened the scoring inside five minutes - the Atletico Madrid loanee now has six goals for the season. The second was opportunistic. Stephen Bywater in the Burton goal fumbled a Ruben Neves free-kick, and Romain Saiss pounced for 2-0. The game was over in earnest before half-time as two Portuguese stars combined once more, Ivan Cavaleiro and Ruben Vinagre, the latter providing the near-post finish. Another summer acquisition, Leo Bonatini on loan from Al-Hilal, finished the rout after a well-worked team move. Evidence suggests that Nuno Espirito Santo’s side have gelled quicker than many would have expected and already their summer revolution is looking more than justified.

Hull hit Birmingham for six

Hull City v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

This was the result of the weekend. Leonid Slutsky’s stuttering Hull beat sorry Birmingham City 6-1 at the KC Stadium, steering the Tigers away from the Championship relegation zone. Newly recruited Birmingham manager Steve Cotterill watched on from the stands, perhaps realising the enormity of the job he has undertaken. Frazier Campbell, David Meyler, Jarrod Bowen, Kamil Grosicki, Markus Henriksen and Sebastian Larsson all scored in Hull’s rampant display, but it is youngster Bowen that I think deserves particular attention.

Had Hull survived in the Premier League last season, it’s very unlikely that Bowen would have been afforded much game-time at all – an unproven, 20-year-old striker, with no loan experience to instil confidence. But, despite Hull’s shaky start to life back in the second tier, Bowen’s impact has been enormous, earning him the EFL Young Player of the Month Award for August, and a new three-year contract at the club. He has scored seven goals for the Tigers, and alongside another surprise package Bobby Reid, is the joint-top scorer in the division. Bowen told the BBC that his fantastic start has taken him by surprise:

"You set goals at the start of the season and I didn't know how much I was going to play, so I just said I wanted to score one goal! I did that in the first game and now I think that, if I keep playing, double figures is achievable for me."

Ultimately, Hull fans will be disappointed to be in 17th position at this stage of the season, their hopes of bouncing straight back up quickly vanishing. However, this is still a team with undoubted quality, one that can outclass the opposition on their day and one that has now discovered a young talent who could bolster their goals tally for years to come.

Meanwhile…

Cardiff City v Leeds United - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Cardiff City are still the Championship pace-setters. They sealed a crucial 3-1 win against promotion rivals Leeds on Tuesday night, and added another point to their tally in a Saturday stalemate against Derby. It was a terrible week for Leeds however as they followed up their midweek defeat with a 3-0 loss at Sheffield Wednesday on Sunday.

Four sides gained maximum points this week. Bristol City followed up a home win over Bolton with a 3-1 away victory at a now fading Ipswich Town side. Attacking pairing Famara Diedhiou and Bobby Reid both continued their goal-scoring form. Aston Villa’s revival continued with back-to-back wins, and they’re now only one point off the playoff positions. Jonathan Kodjia scored his first goal of an injury-hit campaign as well. Fulham and Norwich also secured two precious wins, as they too look to recover from underwhelming starts.

Barnsley gained four points this week, taking them above Reading in the table. Two goals from Tom Bradshaw helped them to a 3-1 win at the New Den. Brentford also moved above the Royals. The Bees have still only registered one win this season, but draws against Derby and Boro should be seen as positive results for an ever-improving side.

Bolton and Sunderland however continue to struggle. Sunderland lost 5-2 to Ipswich midweek, and couldn’t hold on for an unlikely away victory at Preston. They sit one place above Bolton, who remain on just two points, and continue to prop up the table.

Coming up next week:

Another international break is upon us, giving Jaap Stam two full weeks to find a solution to Reading’s current woes. In the cut-throat world of football, and following a further two defeats, it will be interesting to see if Reading legend Phil Parkinson is still in place for Bolton’s next game. I, like many Reading fans, hope he can turn things around.