Simon Moyse: EFL’s Northern sides leading the way to the promised land


Simon Moyse: Is the Championship a better league to watch than the EPL?

Simon Moyse writes on the EFL for Prost International

Simon Moyse looks at the northern sides battling to leave, or avoid leaving the Championship. Moving from north to south, here’s his view of the sides’ progress so far:

Middlesbrough – if you look closely at the carved drawings of the first cavemen playing football, you can see an image of Tony Pulis in the background shouting “Defend! Defend, you f*cks!”

Pulis has been doing what he does for ages now, and he’s pretty good at it.

Defend, get set piece, score, defend, defend, win.

His Boro team have started well, driven by an astonishingly stingy defence, but there are beginning to be signs that the Riverside faithful, cultured folk that they are, may not be as tolerant of his bore-win approach as some of his previous clubs, as shown by his team being booed off the pitch just as they were going top of the league following a recent home draw against Rotherham.

The way they were absolutely pummeled for the first 25 minutes at home against Derby at the weekend was utterly embarrassing. Pulis will keep Pulis-ing, of course, but the world may be tiring of him. My prediction: Boro to miss the playoffs and Pulis replaces Benitez at Newcastle.

You read it here first.

Leeds United – Leeds have fallen away a bit after a flying start, and critics were quick to point to the history of Marcelo Bielsa’s teams falling away due to his intense managerial style. However, my gut feeling is that their drop-off was more down to injuries to key players like Kemar Roofe and Pablo Hernandez, rather than any longer-term issues. With players like these two, Samuel Saiz and Mateusz Klich, Leeds should be there or thereabouts come the end of the season, assuming they can figure out how to defend a set piece occasionally.

Preston North End – Preston surprised a lot of people last year by getting so close to the playoff. They started slowly this year, but are starting to put some results together. Scot Alex Neil has done a top job there and they have some good players. They’ll be alright.

Hull City – the Tigers have a couple of decent strikers in Jarrod Bowen and Fraizer Campbell, but struggle to generate chances for them from their weak midfield. Defensively they are no more than adequate, and the squad is a bit sparse. Should score enough goals to survive, but it could be tight.

Blackburn Rovers – Rovers have consolidated nicely in their first season back in the Championship after promotion. Reasonably solid defensively, and with a top goal poacher in Bradley Dack, relegation should not be a concern for Rovers this year.

Bolton Wanderers – the Trotters got off to a flying start this year, following their miracle survival in May, but have reverted to type since and look set for a long winter. Phil Parkinson is a top motivator, but this is a team that looks painfully short on ability. Unfortunately, I don’t see them surviving again this time without some major changes being made in January.

Wigan Athletic – brilliant at home, dreadful away, the Latics have done ok on their return to the Champo. Nick Powell is a quality player, but their prospects will likely depend heavily on the goals of Will Grigg. Wigan could struggle a little, but there’s enough bad teams out there that they should be safe enough.

Rotherham United – got promoted to the Champo by being big, strong, solid defensively, and generally very northern, and have sensibly taken the same approach to life in the second tier.

Like Bolton, though, it’s really hard to see how they are going to have enough quality to survive. Sorry to say but it’s straight back down for them.

The Millers were promoted on a memorable day at Wembley
Photo: Ali Gilmore/Prost International

Sheffield Wednesday – if you haven’t seen Adam Reach’s recent goal against Leeds United yet, then stop reading this and go look it up right now. Astonishing strike, pretty much a dead-cert for goal of the season in this division. Reach has been a star so far this season with numerous quality goals, and with Barry Bannon running their midfield and Lucas Joao up top, this side has plenty of goals in it.

Unfortunately, the other end has been a bit erratic and is hindering their progress. The Owls are definitely streets ahead of where they were last year, but need to strengthen their defence in order to make further progress.

Sheffield United – The Blades are currently top of the pile, and I have a feeling they are going to stay there. Chris Wilder has recruited well in the summer, adding to an already strong squad, and their powerful, attacking style is really yielding the goals. There is a hunger and confidence about them, and in Billy Sharp and David McGoldrick, they have two in-form goalscorers. They fell away a bit last season, but I don’t see that happening this time. Wilder is a top geezer too, lifelong Blades fan, he’s a hero to the red side of Sheffield and rightly so. Automatic promotion for this lot.

Stoke City – one of the preseason favourites for the division, Stoke have made incredibly heavy weather of it so far. Once one of the hottest managerial prospects around after his brilliant work (ended abruptly by an incomprehensible sacking) at Birmingham, one wonders how Gary Rowett’s reputation is going to survive this one if he can’t turn the Potters around.

His Derby team underachieved under him last season, and how you have a team containing Jack Butland, Tom Ince, Joe Allen and Darren Fletcher sitting in the bottom half is utterly baffling. The talent is clearly there to make a run, but very little sign of it happening so far.

Nottingham Forest – they spent a bit of money in the summer, and there are some signs that Aitor Karanka’s pragmatic style is starting to bed in at the City Ground. In Lewis Grabban, they have one of the division’s best finishers. Even so, Forest are just a bit dull at the moment and it’s hard to see them making a mazy run towards promotion.

Derby County – for the first half of Derby’s season opener at Reading, the Rams reminded me of Jaap Stam’s disastrous Royals team from last year, trying to play out of the back at all times, making a hash of it regularly and getting constantly caught out. Derby eventually came from behind to win that one, and have gone well for the most part since while retaining a hugely entertaining possession-based style.

In fact, I am almost finding myself not hating Frank Lampard for pretty much the first time in his cursed great-for-Chelsea-crap-for-England career.

Playing two attacking young players (Mason Mount and Harry Wilson) as a central midfield tandem is a hella brave move, but one which has worked well so far, as evidenced by the 19-year old Mount recently getting called up to the England squad (Wilson, at 21, is already a grizzled veteran of the Wales team). Great to see former Ipswich loanee Tom Lawrence really fulfilling his potential at Pride Park too, a good lad whose goals may well have saved Town from the drop a couple of years back. Playoffs for the Rams.

Automatic promotion: Sheffield United, Leeds United
Playoffs: West Bromwich Albion, Norwich City, Derby County, Birmingham City
Relegation: Rotherham United, Bolton Wanderers, Hull City


About Author

Born in London, Simon went to his first Ipswich Town game at the age of 7 and has seen Ipswich play at over 50 different stadiums in the UK, as well as in Moscow, Russia, in UEFA Cup competition. He lived in Seattle from 2004 to 2017 and followed the Sounders upon their introduction to MLS in 2009, and also wrote about the Sounders for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He started his own site, 'Are you Serious, Englishman?’ in early 2016, and also writes live music reviews for Bristol In Stereo magazine.