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Championship Focus: Week 7

Bristol City’s goal-machine, Preston quietly flourishing, and Redknapp heads for the exit.

Watford v Bristol City - Carabao Cup Second Round Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images

The Championship’s leading marksman

Bobby Reid has been a revelation this season for Bristol City. Six goals in eight games makes him the league’s top scorer, and judging by some of his performances, you would think he’s been a prolific finisher for years. Look a little closer however, and you’ll see that is far from the truth – in fact, Reid’s revival has hinged on the managerial masterstroke of the season so far.

Up until this season, Bristol-born Reid has been classed as a ‘midfielder’. He has struggled for game-time and been forced to settle for appearances off the bench. His defensive frailties and limited physicality have caused previous managers to look elsewhere. Lee Johnson’s faith in Reid’s attributes however earned him a start in the opening game in a new position - up front alongside record-signing Famara Diedhiou. Reid bagged two that day against Barnsley, and he’s gone from strength to strength ever since. Johnson told the Bristol Post:

“I'm desperate for him to play, but as a midfielder sometimes the competition is too strong and he doesn't have quite the attributes in a defensive sense that I'm after, or the physical prowess. But as a striker he's got good movement, his technique's good, he can handle the ball [with his] back to goal, he never stops running - he's like a Duracell battery up there - at shutting down and pressing and he's just a pest to play against.”

Reid added two more to his tally this week as Bristol City followed up their win at the Madejski with a well-earned 3-3 draw at Wolves, and a thumping 4-1 win over Derby on Saturday. Bristol have climbed to eighth in the division and there’s renewed positivity at Ashton Gate with their converted-striker on fire. Someone fetch a fire extinguisher! Oh wait…

Preston North End are flying under the radar

Preston North End v Burnley - Pre Season Friendly Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Little talked-about Preston North End are one of the Championship’s in-form sides. Unbeaten in five games, the Lilywhites registered two impressive wins this week, inflicting an emphatic first defeat on Cardiff (3-0 at Deepdale) and beating Birmingham 3-1 away from home on Saturday. For many, Alex Neil overstayed his welcome during a spell of mixed fortunes at Norwich City, but on current form, Preston fans will believe they have found a gem.

While many in the Championship have loosened their purse strings to afford marquee signings, Preston have focused on maintaining a settled squad - turning down a transfer request from Reading-target Jordan Hugill late in the window. They have seemingly made two bargain acquisitions too. Relatively unproven wide-man Josh Harrop has looked lively in his maiden campaign and Irish striker Sean Maguire appears to have settled quickly to life in England, having arrived for a compensation fee of little over £100,000 from Cork City.

Few will have expected Preston to be fourth at this stage of the campaign, particularly having played fancied Middlesbrough, Sheffield Wednesday, Derby County, Leeds United and of course Reading in their opening fixtures. Alex Neil’s side have three winnable games approaching, Millwall (H), Hull (A) and Sunderland (H), so don’t be surprised if they have consolidated their top-6 place by the end of the month.

Redknapp’s gone!

Birmingham City v AFC Bournemouth - Carabao Cup Second Round Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images

It was only a matter of time before the Championship’s first managerial casualty and Harry Redknapp has been sacked by Birmingham City after a run of six successive defeats.

In truth, the warning signs were there after Redknapp’s bizarre rant on talkSPORT following an embarrassing defeat to Burton Albion - Redknapp labelled his squad as ‘not good enough to represent the club’, and implored City’s owners to bring new players in, and fast. Despite fourteen new recruits, Birmingham’s poor form has continued with recent defeats to Norwich and Preston, and they now languish in the Championship’s bottom two.

Early tips to replace him include Aitor Karanka and Steve Cotterill, but this is a board that have been known to spring a surprise in the past.

Elsewhere…

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Leicester City - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Wolves’ promising start to the season continued on Saturday with a 2-1 away victory at Forest. Diogo Jota looks a player to watch this season, the on-loan Porto striker scoring four goals now in his last three.

Boro also continue to look a threat, but had to come back from behind twice to beat QPR on Saturday, whilst Aston Villa secured a comfortable away win at Oakwell, youngster Keinan Davies scoring his first professional goal for Steve Bruce’s side.

Norwich secured four points from six this week, winning on Saturday away at in-form Sheffield United. Burton Albion beat Fulham 2-1, despite the away side having over 70% of the possession, and they climb above Sunderland who were denied three points at Hull by a late David Meyler goal.

The shock result of the weekend came at The Den where Millwall subjected Thomas Christiansen’s Leeds side to their first defeat, but Cardiff also slipped up, only salvaging a point against Sheffield Wednesday in the 95th minute. Finally, it’s all doom and gloom for Phil Parkinson at Bolton. They lost twice this week, and sit bottom of the table, already four points adrift from safety.

Coming up next week

It’s Carabao Cup action up next for the Royals, Swansea the opponents, before the visit of a struggling Hull side on Saturday. Reading desperately need three points after a stuttering start to the campaign. Fulham vs Middlesbrough also catches the eye on Saturday, but we’ll have to wait until Sunday for the game of the weekend – the return of the Sheffield derby.