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Championship Focus: Week 10

Cotterill buoys Birmingham, Wolves’ loan sensation sparkles, and Bolton win at long last.

Birmingham City v Cardiff City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Dream start for Cotterill at Birmingham

It’s been a rocky start to the season for Birmingham City, but new manager Steve Cotterill has delivered instant success. His side beat strong favourites Cardiff City 1-0 on Friday night, to climb out of the Championship relegation zone.

Cotterill made five changes to the team that were thumped 6-1 by Hull prior to the international break, leaving summer signing Harlee Dean, Lukas Jutkiewicz and Craig Gardner on the bench. One of those recalled to the starting eleven, Che Adams, scored the only goal of the game. In the nineteenth minute the former Sheffield United youngster finished smartly after a positive, driving run from the left wing. An out-of-sorts Cardiff rarely threatened the Birmingham defence, ultimately failing to register a shot on target.

With respect, Cotterill’s appointment was not one to cause a furore, but he is an experienced manager with significant Football League management experience. Perhaps most notably, he guided Bristol City to the League One title in 2015 and was named LMA League One Manager of the Year. He is also a familiar face at St. Andrews, having joined the club as Redknapp’s first-team coach at the tail end of last season. Having turned down the ‘number two’ role on a permanent basis, his return to the dugout could provide the fresh impetus that Birmingham need. After Friday’s game, Cotterill told the BBC:

"I'm very proud of the players for all they've done for me over the past couple of weeks. But what I've seen is no different to what I saw when I was here at the end of last season. We've just worked really hard at all aspects of our game and what we expected Cardiff to throw at us.”

The Atlético loanee sparkling for table-topping Wolves

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

Diogo Jota looks the real deal. The 20-year-old Portuguese attacker has scored seven goals, making him the league’s joint top scorer, and has spearheaded Wolves’ rise to the top of the Championship table. Though they are by no means a one-man team, Jota has been a standout performer for Nuno Espirito Santo’s side, nominated for September’s Championship Player of the Month.

Jota joined Wolves on a season-long loan from Atlético Madrid in August, a key component of Wanderers’ summer revolution. His agent, Jorge Mendes, has a close relationship with the owners of the Midlands club and has helped to orchestrate many of their recent transfer coups. Such is Jota’s calibre, that he spent last season on loan at Portuguese top-flight runners-up Porto, scoring nine goals in thirty-five appearances, including a Champions League goal in their 5-0 trouncing of Leicester City.

On Saturday, Jota scored one and set up another in Wolves’ 2-0 win over rivals Aston Villa. He finished the home side’s first emphatically, firing high into the roof of the net past a hapless Sam Johnstone. Later in the second half, Espirito Santo brought on Leo Bonatini and he wrapped up the game in the seventy-first minute. It was a swift breakaway, Jota carrying the ball from halfway, dropping his shoulder and wriggling through two defenders, before the ball rebounded to Bonatini and he finished with aplomb. Wolves oozed class throughout, Ruben Neves and Romain Saiss pulling the strings in the centre of the midfield, and Ivan Cavaleiro and Helder Costa providing pace, flair and service for Jota from the flanks.

Wolves look a different beast from last season and continue to justify their ‘promotion favourites’ tag. Yes, you can brand them ‘fortunate’ to be able to bring in players of the quality of Diogo Jota and Ruben Neves, but the management staff deserve credit for moulding the talent into a cohesive unit so quickly. Wolves visit the Madejski next month and I, for one, look forward to seeing this exciting team and their new talisman, Diogo Jota, in action.

Elsewhere…

Bolton Wanderers v Sheffield Wednesday - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Phil Parkinson’s Bolton achieved their long-awaited first win of the season. Sammy Ameobi’s maiden goal of 2017 ended the club’s goal drought that amounted to nearly thirteen hours of football, as the Championship’s bottom side defeated Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 at the Macron Stadium. Could this be the catalyst for a dramatic change in fortunes for Parky?

Sheffield United’s phenomenal start to the season continued on Saturday, winning 1-0 against Mick McCarthy’s stuttering Ipswich. The Blades are now only outside the automatic promotion spots on goal difference and host Reading next weekend. Bristol City remain fourth, but missed the opportunity to gain ground on Cardiff, playing out a disappointing stalemate with Burton Albion on Friday night.

Fulham earned a point in dramatic style, scoring six minutes into injury time to deny Preston an impressive away victory. Ex-Royal Oliver Norwood netted from the spot for the Cottagers in the 2-2 draw. There was more late drama at Carrow Road, with Reading’s summer target Nelson Oliveira equalising deep into stoppage time to secure a point for Norwich against ten-man Hull.

Astoundingly, Sunderland still only have one win this season - they drew 1-1 with QPR on Saturday, Idrissa Sylla and Aiden McGeady on the scoresheet. There were three goals in the first ten minutes at Oakwell, Barnsley ultimately sharing the points with an underperforming Middlesbrough side, and Brentford continued to pull away from the relegation zone with their second win of the season at home to Millwall. Finally, on Sunday, Derby County secured the bragging rights of the East Midlands with a 2-0 win over Forest. Matej Vydra bagged a goal and an assist.

Coming up next week:

Next Saturday cannot come quickly enough for Reading, who will be rallied by their surprise three points at Elland Road. The fixture list is unkind though; a trip to high-flying and in-form Sheffield United awaits Jaap Stam’s side. Meanwhile, keep an eye on whether Phil Parkinson can achieve back-to-back wins when his Bolton side host QPR. Next weekend’s feature game is the East Anglian Derby, with tenth place Ipswich Town, hosting eighth place Norwich City.