A League Of Its Own – A Tribute to English Football’s Second Tier…

bdLet’s face it, the Premier League title race is over. There will be no Manchester United collapse. There will be no squeaky bum time. There will be no Agueroooooooooo. The crown sits squarely on Sir Alex’s crusty head, and we’re yet to breach the vernal equinox.

But fear not, there is still entertainment to be had watching Sky Sports desperately trying to inject excitement into the proceedings. Flailing like a wounded goliath, they insist that Chelsea and Spurs are locked in a death battle for 3rd place. Hmm. That would be a battle to avoid a couple of extra games in the Champions League next August then. Tense stuff.

Yes, we can rubberneck at the relegation ‘dogfight’ but even that’s got a wearily familiar look about it. There’s a bad team, an improving team, A ‘too big to go down’ team, and a Wigan team. “It could be any three from five!” froths the goliath. And indeed it could. But the five involved are all clubs expert at inspiring little more than indifference among neutrals. Not a single soul outside Berkshire has ever concerned themselves over the fate of Reading FC.

So thank the footballing gods for The Championship. If The Premiership is a gleaming Formula-One procession, England’s second tier is pure demolition derby. About as predictable as a gibbon on speed, this division is throttling its way towards another blanket finish. At one stage Cardiff City looked like they might disappear into the promotion sunset, but once again, as the line approaches, they seem intent on reprising their excellent Devon Loch impression. With only one win in the last five, The Bluebirds are in serious danger of being sucked back into the playoff vortex – a hole from which history tells us they are unlikely to emerge.

Watford and Crystal Palace are amongst those ready to engulf the stumbling Welshmen, which brings us to another Championship selling point: the ‘surprise package’. The Football League provides a conveyor belt of such packages (the previous two seasons have seen newly-promoted teams finish second), and it’s in stark contrast to the Premiership’s upper echelons, whose hallowed halls have a strictly enforced admission policy. Watford, under the management of lovable imp Gianfranco Zola, have impressed with their slick, attacking style, and the Hornets flew in very much under the radar – it’s six years since their latest banishment from the top table, and with five seasons of mid-league drudgery in the bank they started the season at around 50/1.

But even they look like being pipped to the ‘where the hell did they come from?’ award by Crystal Palace. Having spent four years heavy petting with relegation, the lads from Selhurst Park suddenly find themselves on the cusp of promotion, with the goal-scoring habits of Glenn Murray playing a large part in that success. It’s a shame that Glenn’s name doesn’t really fit into the ‘he scores when he wants’ song, because apparently he does – across Europe’s elite divisions only Messi has more. Palace will also be many neutrals’ hope for promotion, primarily because Ian Holloway’s gnomic wisdom is perhaps the only thing that could make Match of the Day entertaining.

Beneath the promotion scrap there’s the equally frenzied attempts to secure an invitation to the playoff party. Preseason favourites Leicester City look likely to be in attendance, and there’s a couple of slumbering giants hoping to crash the gaff. Leeds United are close enough to have hope, while Nottingham Forest have surged into the top six on the back of five straight wins. Forest, it seems, have this year hit upon a quaint formula for success: sack manager, appoint popular manager, sack popular manager, appoint unpopular manager, effectively sack unpopular manager, appoint former manager. Genius.

So if the Premiership is making you yawn, simply inject the Championship directly into your eyeballs and enjoy instant excitement.

Gareth Thornton

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