Champo Big Weekend: Swansea v Forest, Sheff Utd, Ryan Lowe, Billy Mitchell

We’ve got some big games coming up this weekend in the Championship and Benjamin Bloom is here to talk you through all you need to know, with odds from Betfair throughout.


MATCH TO WATCH: Swansea City v Nottingham Forest
This weekend’s big return sees former boss Steve Cooper going back to Swansea for the first time since leaving in the summer. The need for a reset for the Swans gave Cooper a choice; he either took charge of the big transition or he became another big name going out the door. Cooper, for better or worse, decided that the Swansea reset would be somebody else’s job, and like Andre Ayew, Jamal Lowe, Connor Roberts, Freddie Woodman and Marc Guehi, is a key figure from the past couple of seasons who is no longer with the Swans.

The Championship moves fast and Chris Hughton’s dreadful start for Nottingham Forest meant Cooper wasn’t waiting long for a new job. Having gone all the way to the play-offs in his previous two seasons, Cooper was only out of the Championship for the first eight rounds of this season before throwing himself straight back into the grind. Speaking of grind, Forest are grinding their way through their fixtures since the arrival of their new boss and have only lost one out of 13 League games. Five draws in the last seven has slowed down the quick rise up the table, but with 24 points in the past 13 games, Forest will surely be in the top six if the next 13 games see the same output.

A couple of questions arise from all of this, in the long term can Cooper claw back the head start the rest of the league got over Forest in those awful opening weeks under Hughton? And in the short term, how will the Swansea fans, now invested in the Russ Martin era in South Wales, receive their former manager?

Both teams to score – 17/20 (Betfair)


Sheffield United have moved themselves into a more respectable 10th position over the past four games. The Blades have been ambling through 21/22 in the bottom half of the Championship, whilst fellow parachute payment recipients Fulham, Bournemouth and West Brom sit in positions one, two and three. Based on the immediate past, things are looking up at Bramall Lane, but there is still minimal evidence yet to suggest this will turn into a long-term trend.

The first issue is stability – everything has gone a hundred miles an hour for about five years at Sheffield United. From League One to ninth in the Premier League, then abject relegation and the ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ tenure of Slavisa Jokanovic. Paul Heckingbottom is in the hot seat now and has won his first two games, and those sections of the Blades fanbase who were underwhelmed by the hire will surely now get behind him in the hope of seeing a more stable atmosphere going forward.

The other two factors that will mean Blades fans are not getting carried away yet are the recent opponents and the crowded nature of the Championship’s mid-table teams. The current three-game winning streak against Reading, Bristol City and Cardiff represents an improvement, but the victories came against clubs struggling in 20th, 17th and 21st in the current table. That table sees the teams in 8th and 18th separated by five points, a quick rise can be achieved and may not be an accurate predictor of a sustained presence higher up in the division. Along with this quick improvement in form, the quality of the Blades squad suggests they can indeed keep moving forwards, but I think most of us need a little more meat on the bone to completely buy into a promotion push under Paul Heckingbottom.

Sheffield United to beat QPR – 17/20 (Betfair)


MANAGER TO WATCH: Ryan Lowe (Preston)
It’s traditional over the Christmas period to reflect on life, with the saying ‘out with the old and in with the new’ particularly popular around New Year. It’s been a bit of an ‘out with the old and in with the new’ season in the Championship, especially as it pertains to managers. Since the season started Championship clubs have dispensed with vastly experienced bosses like Neil Warnock, Mick McCarthy and Chris Hughton, with new faces like Poya Asbaghi and Steve Morison joining the division’s managerial ranks.

The latest of the new order of Championship managers is Ryan Lowe who jumps from Plymouth in League One to join Preston North End. The incumbent at Preston going into the weekend was Frankie McAvoy, a former coach under Alex Neil who was given the big job after a successful caretaker stint at the end of last season. McCavoy’s tenure wasn’t disastrous but Preston sit just outside the bottom six, and were it not for Reading’s points deduction would be in there.

The Preston higher-ups had a busy weekend of it and were perhaps moved to act expediently after the Ipswich job came up on Saturday, a historically big fish in a division where Lowe has been performing brilliantly as Plymouth boss. It seems I’s were dotted and T’s crossed at some point early in the week and announcements made on Tuesday by both Plymouth and Preston. Lowe comes in with a big reputation from his time at Bury as well as Plymouth, with his first task to move North End away from that bottom six. Good luck, and welcome to the madhouse Ryan Lowe.

Preston to beat Barnsley – 17/20 (Betfair)



PLAYER TO WATCH: Billy Mitchell (Millwall)
In the early part of the season, Millwall’s Billy Mitchell could be found coming off the bench and doing a short stint playing out of position at wing-back to help his side through an injury crisis. Not ideal obviously, but we all know the deal as a youngster coming through at a club, get your head down, work hard, and do as you’re told.

Mitchell has been around and known to Lions fans as a good prospect for a fair while, and last season his progress was rewarded with ten Championship starts. Manager Gary Rowett has a reputation as an arch pragmatist and has been bringing Mitchell on bit by bit as he grows into Championship football. Well it looks like the slow and steady approach is finally complete and Mitchell has started the last eight games for Millwall in the Championship and all in his preferred central midfield position.

A quick perusal of the Lions stats shows very obviously what Mitchell is able to bring to the side. He is number one for Lions in terms of pass completion percentages, and in a side with a reputation for being hard to beat, Mitchell looks more and more like becoming an important cog in terms of ball retention in midfield alongside that classic Rowett solidity. The Millwall midfield group includes Maikel Kieftenbeld, George Evans, George Saville, Ryan Leonard and Ben Thompson, but Mitchell is by far the youngest and with this looking like a breakthrough season, perhaps he is the best bet for what the Lions midfield will be built on in the future.

Millwall to beat Peterborough – 5/4 (Betfair)


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