What can be learnt from matchday 18 of the Championship?
Derby are the best team in the Championship
Derby County defeated Watford 2-1 on Saturday, moving them three points clear at the top of the league table. A solid first-half performance could not be continued into the second half, and they were pegged back by the Hornets, before Craig Bryson scored a long-range strike to claim the three points. The Rams have built upon their near-miss last season to improve, and they have the squad unity needed for consistency, combined with a number of highly talented players who can win a game from nothing. They defeated one of the strongest teams in the division, with two moments of individual brilliant capping a strong display, but a display with few standout performers - and that is what makes champions.
Leeds United should start to fear relegation
Leeds fell to their eight defeat of the season on Saturday, as bad luck and calamitous defending cost them a one-goal lead over Blackburn, who came back to win 2-1 despite being reduced to 10-men. The Whites have won just one of their last 10 games, and they sit just two points off the relegation places. Despite promising performances, results are going against them, and Neil Redfearn looks to be incapable of stemming the tide of losing points from winning positions. The coach has worked wonders with a number of his young squad who are making a name for themselves in the Championship, but, if relegation ensues, he could have a real task to keep hold of Alex Mowatt, Lewis Cook and Sam Byram, with the appeals of the Premier League far off at Elland Road.
Forest registered their second successive victory with a 3-0 win over Wolves, having previously gone nine games without one. Calls for Stuart Pearce to lose his job were becoming increasingly clear, and, although injuries were costing the team in vital areas, the coach did little to improve faith in him. It is hard to see why results have improved so miraculously in the last weeks, as performance levels have remained almost the same as they were during the poor run, but optimism can be felt at the City Ground again. Forest now sit just two points off the final play-off place, and four off second place, and upcoming fixtures with Birmingham, Charlton, Rotherham and Leeds give the Reds a real chance to secure their position in the promotion race heading into the new year.
Promotion for Brentford could cost them Griffin Park
Brentford have been the truly great story of the season, impressing all who have seen them play as they sit in the play-off places after 18 games. Following a fourth successive victory over West London rivals Fulham, the Bees are just four points off top spot, and they don’t look likely to collapse in the near future, with impressive high-intensity displays deserving of their position. They surely have real aspirations of Premier League promotion, but that could cost them next season. Griffin Park does not comply with Premier League regulations, as it possesses standing areas at each end of the ground, and the club could be forced to ground-share should they make it to the top flight. They can also adapt their current ground, but the cost could be too large, and the club are said to be considering grounds within a 10-mile radius of Griffin Park - as long as they are not already used as football stadia.
Bournemouth continue to defy the odds
A 2-2 draw with Ipswich was a fair result for the two sides sitting in the play-off places, although it is better for Ipswich as it prevents the Cherries from widening the gap between automatic promotion and the chasing pack. Eddie Howe continues to work wonders with his promising squad, and, although they have not won either of their last two games - both against promotion rivals - they are unbeaten in eight and in the League Cup quarter-final. With an FFP transfer embargo likely in January, it will be interesting to see whether the club can cope the full season with the same squad, and they should be fearing any serious injuries to key players as the campaign progresses.