Tuesday 27 January ~
Stylish football is flourishing at the bottom of the Championship. Unfortunately for Southampton, Doncaster and Watford the lack of substance, or at least points gained so far means only the travails of Charlton Athletic are keeping these clubs off the foot of the table. Yet as West Brom have proved in the Premier League over the last month, seemingly doomed clubs can recover. Nottingham Forest in 18th position are only three points above 22nd and there is a full set of League fixtures tonight.
In new head coach Mark Wotte's first game in charge, Southampton travel to Norwich. Wotte has pledged to be more tactically flexible: "We came here with a 4-3-3 philosophy but you have to be realistic. If that doesn't give you enough points you have to try and change the system a little bit." Despite the change in manager Southampton fans still seem, understandably, a little preoccupied about the boardroom situation at the club. Norwich also have a new manager, former goalkeeper Bryan Gunn being appointed for the rest of the season last week. He was joined by former midfielder Ian Crook, who has left a job as high performance manager for A-League side Newcastle Jets. The pair and Gunn in particular, are very popular in the city – Gunn was even made the Sheriff of Norwich in 2002. Glenn Roeder, sacked by Norwich after FA Cup defeat to Charlton has fallen a long way from giddy heights of winning the Intertoto Cup with Newcastle in 2006 which he insisted was a trophy worth having: "It would be disrespectful to consider it a lesser tournament, as some managers do."
Doncaster have won their last three League games whilst playing attractive football. This has involved an away win at Southampton, victory over play-off chasers and Cup specialists Burnley, and a 4-2 win at the the City Ground, as well as an FA Cup draw with Aston Villa. Following his weekend comments that his club “could have done without the replay” against Villa, Sean O'Driscoll has been focussing on the South Yorkshire derby against Sheffield United: "The players know how important staying in the Championship is for the club." Indeed, a point at Bramall Lane could move Doncaster out of bottom three for the first time since September. In Sheffield, Kevin Blackwell has been just as happy to talk up the importance of tonight's game: “We realise Donny have been playing well. But equally they know how well we've been doing. They're only 19 miles or so up the road and that is going to give the game a lot of spice.”
While unlucky not to reach the Carling Cup final, Burnley have lost their four League games since Boxing Day and now lie seventh. Tonight they take on Watford, who parted company with Aidy Boothroyd in November after a much vaunted change in playing style failed to bring positive results. Boothroyd's successor, Brendan Rogers has made the most of his Chelsea links, especially those to Jose Mourinho. Like their opponents tonight, Watford are doing well in the FA Cup, but since Rogers took over on November 24, they have only won twice in the League. As the season begins to enter the critical stage, these three clubs who play laudable football at the bottom of the Championship are all still in need of laudable results.