Back at the start of the season I did a preview both here and on Amex North Stand and reading it back it just goes to show why bookies will always make a profit and The Championship will always be an impossibly league to predict.
We are now exactly half way through the season and it’s time to take stock of where we are and look at how the second half of the season will pan out. Many of you will now have seen every team in this division though, of course, given the blog name I have only seen the ones that came to the Amex and then I missed Millwall and Blackburn thanks to a holiday and the Aztec Two Step respectively.
Watching a team once in this division is, however, absolutely no guide to how they will appear in the table or what their real quality is. From what we’ve seen you would say that Barnsley are world beaters and Burnley are bottom mid table fodder. In fact, at the half way point Barnsley sit bottom and Burnley third. Bolton and Wigan are underperforming compared to my prediction and we’ve beaten both. Derby, having beaten us in our opening home game thanks to some interesting refereeing from a certain Mr D’Urso , then got rid of long term manager Nigel Clough, to the anger of one of the Derby fans on my twitter timeline. They brought in the Wally with the Brolly and guess what? He’s turned these perennial also rans in to world beaters, going on a winning run that sees them second behind Leicester. Talking of Leicester they head the table by a clear four points, yet again they looked distinctly average down here falling victim to our best performance of the season so far. Perhaps we should thank them for starting Dean Hammond who looked as useful as Andy Kennedy in an Ugly Centre Back competition.
Still (and I quote, and yes I’m showing off) my prediction for our own team looks bang on track. I said “top ten – possibly the playoffs if everything goes to plan”. At the half way point we sit eighth, level on points with sixth place Ipswich, whose goal difference is just +2 better than us.
So who have been the star performers who have helped us achieve what is an excellent first half of the season given the Poyet induced uncertainty of the summer?
Rohan Ince – Number one teachers pet is Rohan Ince, who has been giving teacher his metaphorical apple by smashing away opposition midfielders in the style of Patrick Viera meets Chuck Norris. If Ince plays we get a result, simple as. Surely this is a case to play him every game then? I would say not. In fact I would say Oscar has handled him perfectly, making sure this lad who is still young and developing is given exactly the right amount of game time to make his big impact whenever he does play. Talking of which…
Oscar Garcia – What a great half season from our coach. How lucky we are. Let’s look at what he’s had to do. Adapt to English football and the basket case / lottery that is the Championship. Take on someone else’s squad and later than many of his rivals. Battle the worst injury crisis I can remember at the club. Subtly change the football philosophy at the club. Win over the fans. Bring in decent new faces. By and large he’s done all of it. Yes there’s room for improvement. We could have attacked Barnsley more and not tried to walk it in on a pudding at Charlton, but we are pretty much exactly where I expected and it has been done with a mix of flair and quiet understatedness.
Ashley Barnes – Still Barnes isn’t everyone’s cup of tea yet I’m giving him an A- and putting him in with the swots. For large portions of the season he’s had to play up front on his own with no Ulloa. He’s been kicked, punched and had his shirt ripped constantly by centre backs who know referees go against him and that he has a temper. At no point has he retaliated, He’s held the ball up, got on with his job and scored 6 goals, equal top with Ulloa, including the goal of the season so far at Bournemouth.
Matt Upson – Mr Consistency and the best centre back in the league. Thanks Matt.
Bruno – OLD BRUNO IS BACK! That cocky swagger man, marauding down the wing one minute and winning a tackle he had no right to the next. Halfway through this first half I would have replaced him with Calde and yet his two performaces against Leicester and Huddersfield have been the best I’ve ever seen from a Brighton full back. OK maybe Bridge had a couple better last season overall but there is no doubt that when Bruno’s on form every person in the ground notices him.
Paul Barber – Fair play to the CEO. I certainly didn’t agree with the way the Poyet situation was handled either PR wise or in the length of time it took to get sorted but the Poyet monkey is now off our backs and, it would seen, inexpensively. Meanwhile Mr Barber has overseen a PR revolution, the fans are kept properly informed by him and Tony Bloom and people who take the time to write are replied to in full. The pricing of the Reading cup game is also spot on. If there’s one frustration remaining it’s tendency to talk about FFP when many around us still don’t seem to be taking it seriously, but it’s just the talk that’s frustrating. We will have a viable and sustainable club who may just be *gags* PL Ready *barfs*
Could do better
Keith Andrews – Wasn’t convinced when we signed him, haven’t been since. We win when Ince plays and we don’t when Andrews does.
Kemy Agustein – Injured for much of the season so will be better to judge him when he’s fully fit. But Kemy – what’s with this wearing a snood and gloves when it’s 10 degrees?
The training pitch / The German Doctor – Too many injuries this season. Unexplained.
Referees – Haven’t had a good one yet, as per.
Reading Football Club – There is no way I thought we’d be above them at this stage. Keep Up Nige.