- QPR, Blackburn and Coventry are all sitting in the Championship play-offs.
- Last season, they finished ninth, 15th and 16th respectively.
- West Brom, often tipped for promotion, are in fourth.
- Blackburn boast the league’s second-top scorer, Ben Brereton Diaz.
The top of the Championship table looks altogether unsurprising. Fulham and Bournemouth occupy the two automatic promotion spots, while West Brom are in the play-offs – all three teams have been in the Premier League if not last season then in the past two – and while we might not expect West Brom to be so far behind the top two in terms of points, everything looks fairly normal.
The rest of the play-offs makes for perhaps surprising reading, however. In third are Queens Park Rangers, a point ahead of fourth-placed West Brom, and Blackburn Rovers and Coventry City are fifth and sixth respectively.
Teams that might have been expected to challenge, like relegated Sheffield United, Reading and Nottingham Forest are all in the lower half of the table; Reading are just four points and a place above the relegation zone after a seventh-place finish last season. Enter the likes of QPR, Blackburn and Coventry. But how did we get here?
QPR build on last season’s success
QPR have been making steady progress under Mark Warburton since the former Brentford boss took over in 2019, finishing 13th in his first season in charge and 9th last season. Despite losing star talent Eberechi Eze to Crystal Palace in 2020, he’s been able to put his own stamp on the team – and without spending the sort of money owner Tony Fernandes greenlit in the early 2010s.
Experienced Championship stalwarts like Charlie Austin and Moses Odubajo have arrived on free transfers – the former coming after a loan spell – and Andre Gray has come in on loan from Watford to beef up the strike force, scoring a last-minute winner against Derby on Monday as QPR came back from behind to beat the Rams and keep up a run of six games unbeaten and three wins on the bounce.
Captain Stefan Johansen has been impressive since coming in earlier in the year, originally on loan, while goalkeeper Seny Dieng is good at this level – to the point where The Rs reportedly slapped a £12m price tag on his head in September.
The Brereton Diaz effect
Then there’s Blackburn, two places and two points below in fifth. Since promotion back to the second tier in 2018, they’ve been very much a mid-table team, but it looks as if they could finish somewhat higher this time around. They’ve not been too active in the transfer market, Lincoln City left-back Tayo Edun being the only major permanent incoming, though they have seen four young loanees arrive – all of whom have played a role in the team’s success.
Adam Armstrong might have departed for Southampton in the summer, but his influence and goals haven’t been missed perhaps as much as it was thought they would be. Striker Ben Brereton-Diaz has been prolific this season after a couple of modest campaigns, being second only to Fulham’s Aleksandr Mitrovic in the list of top scorers and scoring 16 in 20.
Yes, there was the 7-0 hammering at home to the Cottagers, but it was very much an anomalous result helped by Jan Paul van Hecke’s red card after just half an hour. Since a 1-0 loss to QPR back in October, Blackburn have won five, drawn one, and of course, lost to Fulham – but overall it’s been an impressive run.
Coventry surprise the neutral
Could Coventry be the biggest surprise of the lot? They finished 16th in their first season back in the Championship after eight seasons away and ground shared with Birmingham City for a couple of seasons before returning to Coventry Building Society Arena, formerly known as the Ricoh Arena, for this season.
It would be fair to say that not a whole lot was expected of them this season, but while they’ve certainly not been perfect they’ve definitely overachieved. The highlight so far would have been the 4-1 win at home to Fulham at the start of October, but since then they’ve lost just twice.
Manager Mark Robins was able to strengthen the team over the summer, without paying too much. Midfielder Dan Sheaf joined on a permanent deal from Arsenal after spending the previous season on loan, and the Sky Blues have improved upfront with the signings of Martyn Waghorn and current top scorer Viktor Gyökeres from Derby County and Brighton & Hove Albion respectively. Other new signings include QPR right-back Todd Kane, Sheffield United keeper Simon Moore and Chelsea defensive duo Ian Maatsen and Jake Clarke-Salter, both on loan.
We’re still not even halfway through the season, and – while it might sound like a cliché – anything could happen from here. There’s always a team that starts well only to drop off, and a team that comes from nowhere at the end of the season, but for now QPR, Blackburn and Coventry are all exceeding expectations, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see one, two or all three of them still in the play-offs come the end of the season.
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