Championship title will go down to the final day

Home » Championship title will go down to the final day

In our exclusive interview, the English manager gives his view of both ends of the table in an incredible Championship season.

Visit Betway’s football betting page.

What have you made of the Championship season so far?

It’s been an incredible season so far, both at the top and bottom of the Championship. Leicester flew into a commanding lead and slowly Leeds United have clawed back the deficit and now it’s all to play for. Ipswich have always been in the top three all season, but full credit to them for staying in the promotion race.

In recent weeks, all three teams have slipped up and no one wants to move ahead and get promoted automatically. It’s probably going to go right down to the last game, if not that far, maybe the second to last game when Leicester have that game in hand against Southampton. I went to the Leeds game against Blackburn and it was a game Leeds should have won, but you’ve got teams fighting for their lives at the bottom end of the table, which is just as fascinating as the top end. You cannot predict anything.

Do you think promotion to the Premier League will be decided on the final day?

Absolutely. There are no easy games and with the results over the past few weeks, I expect for twists and turns right until the final whistle of the season. Leeds have got two away games coming up with Middlesbrough and QPR and then finish with Southampton, who themselves are not out of the automatic picture. They go to Leicester as well as Leeds in the remaining weeks, so they have it all to do. Leicester have West Brom and Southampton at home which won’t be easy, but you would prefer to play at home than away. It’s who holds their nerve best that will come out on top. That’s the beauty of the Championship and the playoffs and it’s better to sit and watch than be part of it.

For me, at this point of the season, you do need a bit of luck and then that little bit of momentum can swing your way. Handling the pressure is massive as well. People do say it’s one of the hardest things to do in football, getting over that finishing line in the Championship. So, my heart says Leeds and Leicester, is my head saying the same thing? Hopefully.

But whoever falls out into the play-offs, it’s going to be really difficult to pick yourself up, psychologically, to go again and get promoted. It’s not unachievable, but it’s certainly very difficult to get their minds and bodies going again after a big disappointment.

How impressed have you been by what Kieran McKenna has done and would he be an option for Manchester United?

Unbelievable achievement, what Ipswich have done, and great that Kieran got the recognition of being EFL Championship Manager of the Year. It just shows you that you get a group together that know what they’re doing. They go with a care-free attitude, they’ve got a good spirit about them, they know the roles and responsibility within that group, and they’re enjoying it. It’s such a great achievement for what they’ve done, but they don’t want to be looking back and they don’t want to be reminded of being the team that did really well but just missed out.

Looking at McKenna’s next move, the Manchester United job is very likely to be far too early in his managerial career, but he has done no harm in being on their radar as one to follow. McKenna has done a brilliant job getting Ipswich to the Championship and now to be in real contention for the Premier League, this is a huge achievement. But if you get offered that kind of opportunity, you don’t turn it down. I would be surprised if he gets an offer for that job because there’ll be a lot of other people with vast more experience than him, but you can never say never.

Looking at the other end of the Championship, who will do enough to stay in the league?

It’s as tight at the bottom as it is at the top of the Championship. Rotherham are already relegated, but two more teams will join them in League One and I fear for Huddersfield as they were on the verge of a big win away at Bristol City. Blackburn, Millwall and Plymouth had big wins and can breathe for another week. Sheffield Wednesday just can’t get out the bottom three and to take the lead at home to Stoke City, they will be upset they didn’t take all three points.

With a couple of my former clubs in the relegation battle I’m going to sit on the fence because I’d like two Yorkshire teams to stay up, but I can’t really call that one. I think it’s going to be whoever gets a little bit more luck than the others at this moment in time.

It’s looking like Portsmouth will win automatic promotion to the Championship. Who do you think will join them?

I think John Mousinho has done a fantastic job at Portsmouth and came through a little wobble around New Year, and now they’re certain for promotion. A first-time manager, he has proved he’s a good student of the game and I’m looking forward to how Portsmouth can do in the Championship.

I think that Derby would be the one that will just get over the line because Paul Warne has been there and done it before and he’s got a bit of experience. Bolton will be pushing and pushing to see if they can just nick it and it’s likely to go to the final game to see who will join Portsmouth.

My former club Blackpool are having a great end to the season, and it may be just too much of an ask to make the play-offs. After a great run of form, Lincoln have had a little blip and lost at the weekend and they will be kicking themselves if they don’t make the play-offs. The big winners were Oxford United and full credit to Des Buckingham, who has led his team into sixth and the final play-off spot. It’s now theirs to keep but expect more twists and turns.

How impressed have you been with another of your former clubs, Aston Villa, this season?

I don’t think too many people would have expected them to go and beat Arsenal in the form that Arsenal had been in. Aston Villa are a huge football club in my opinion and it’s great to see them challenging at the top end of the table. Unai Emery has done a great job, doing the double over Arsenal is no mean feat. He has the players playing for him and working so hard. They all know what they’re doing. They’ve got players that can win games out of nothing like Ollie Watkins. They’re pushing Tottenham for that fourth spot for Champions League football and it will be a great achievement if they manage to do that.

The win for Aston Villa has now given Manchester City the upper hand in the title race, and you would think that the experience that City have got and how well they’ve done over the last few weeks. It’s up for Liverpool and Arsenal to galvanise themselves to give a push to bounce back with wins this weekend. But I think most people would think that it’s City’s title.

Ollie Watkins is having an amazing season, should he start for England at Euro 2024?

I think Ollie Watkins has had a super season and has Unai Emery to thank for this, as well as credit must go to Watkins himself, as his finishing has been excellent throughout the season. He deserves to make the Euro 2024 squad for England.

But I think everyone would be pretty shocked and surprised if it’s not Harry Kane leading the line at the opening game for England. However, Watkins must take any chance he has when he comes on as substitute to make an impact.

Do you think Watkins is a genuine contender for Player of the Season?

He must be in the running following his great season in front of goal and with Villa fighting for fourth spot, this is beyond their expectations at the start of the season. I just think that Foden at Man City and others among the top three teams will be more in favour than Watkins.

In terms of what’s next for Watkins, Arsenal need a No. 9 and Watkins has been mentioned as a player that fits the Arsenal mould. I just think if Aston Villa get fourth spot, then there is no need for Watkins to move. Also, any move from Aston Villa to Arsenal will need to be a massive fee. There aren’t many English strikers in top form right now and even though Ivan Toney has been mentioned for top four teams, Watkins would be the one I would consider.

How do you assess Leeds’ form over the past few months?

It’s been a good season so far for Leeds United and looking at 2024 it’s been a great year until last weekend. The wins that they have had since the turn of the year and the way that they played has been outstanding.

One point to mention is the international break came at the wrong time for Leeds as the momentum up until then had been brilliant. To show the quality in the squad, most of the team were on international duty and then once the squad came back together, they haven’t been at that same level.

Crysencio Summerville has been great this season for Leeds United and I think if they got to the Premier League, I don’t think there’s going to be any issues with keeping him because he can fulfil his ambition of playing in the Premier League with a really big football club.

If for whatever reason they don’t, then Leeds, through their own choice, but maybe choice of the player, will lose some of the better players through the financial restraints and also the ambitions of the club. But he’s got to finish the season off in a real positive manner. He struggled in the last couple of games purely because teams are worried about his threat of what he can do. Sometimes he’s got two or three players around him all the time. But that’s the mark of the level of quality that he’s brought to the EFL with Leeds all season.

Moving to Archie Grey, I would be really, really surprised, regardless of what league Leeds are in next year, if Archie leaves. He’s only just turned 20, signed a new contract and is having a good first season. I just think that he needs another year or so before thinking about any possible move as this is his breakthrough season. I’d advise him to spend another season at Leeds, he’s loved by the club and he won’t be in a great rush to leave because, again, he could be a player that can fulfil his ambitions by being a Leeds United player for many, many years, like his uncle, his dad, and his grandad.

Leicester’s promotion push has seriously halted over the last 10 games, do you think they are struggling to cope with the pressure?

They have led from the front all season, but even when clear at the top there’s a lot of negativities around the club. There just doesn’t seem to be that connection between the supporters and the coach. There seems a lot of criticism on him. Supporters are entitled to criticism and managers have to accept criticism.

But, with such a strong squad, maybe the pressure has got to them and this has led to the gap closing at the top and now they are in danger of missing out on automatic promotion. They also have the Premier League charge hanging over them as well.

There is a lot of noise going on at the club when the most important thing to focus on is getting back on track with a win and then finishing the season with good home form to secure promotion back to the Premier League at the first attempt.

You mentioned the fans have been critical of manager Enzo Maresca, do you think the criticism is fair?

The style of football Leicester have played all season has been easy on the eye. Maresca learnt from Pep Guardiola and wants to play possession football. It seems Leicester City fans want to see a bit more direct style. When things are going well, it’s ok, but now Leicester have seen their lead cut at the top of the league, the fans aren’t impressed, and this is having an effect on the players.

Do you think Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall is close to an England call up?

He has been the star player this season. He’s a fantastic talent. I had Kiernan at Blackpool, took him on loan there, and what a lovely lad he was. He wanted to listen, learn and improve. You can see his ability and for me it was never in doubt. He had other loans which toughened him up and gave him experience.

After a good end to the season last year in the Premier League, Dewsbury-Hall has continued his good form and played a key part in Leicester staying at the top until now in the Championship. Maybe a bit of fatigue is setting in and added pressure, because expectation is so high, but he has a very bright future and I am sure whoever is England coach after the Euros will have him on their radar. That’s the biggest complement I can say.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *