How the season has progressed for Preston North End and their Championship rivals
The coronavirus outbreak has led to a halt in sporting proceedings across the UK, leaving a number of Championship clubs in limbo about their future.
Here the Lancashire Post looks at how they have fared so far, with the season suspended after 37 matches.
Marcelo Bielsa’s leaders have recovered from a mid-campaign slump of just two wins in 11 matches which revived nightmares of last season when they ran out of steam to miss out on automatic promotion and fail in the play-offs. A cushion of seven points to third-place with nine matches puts them in a commanding position.
The Baggies have occupied the top two since early October and after also coming up short in May’s play-offs they remain on target to avoid any late slip-ups with a six-point advantage over their rivals, having also overcome their own December/January stutter of one win in eight.
Properly joined the promotion race in November and have remained in the top six ever since. However, having got themselves into a position to challenge the top two, three wins in their last nine has slowed their upward progress.
They began the year as another of the form horses and although they have recorded seven wins and just three defeats in their last 16 matches the Bees’ momentum stalled with just one win in six, allowing the chasing pack to close the gap.
Forest have bounced around third to sixth place for the last four months and, although they had a good run from Boxing Day, some of that good work was undone with one victory in the last six matches.
Preston North End:
The Lilywhites appeared to have peaked too soon in October and by mid-January had dropped to 11th only for five wins in seven games to catapult them back into the reckoning, although after three successive defeats they are on another downward curve. They have hung on to sixth place despite the form dip.
Bristol City are another club who are trying to pull themselves out of a slump which saw them fall from fourth to 11th over the month of December. Five matches without a win has left them a point off sixth place but their direction of travel is not encouraging.
Since the departure of manager Neil Harris in October with the club 18th, the upward climb has been steady but significant enough, losing just six times, to lift them within two points of the play-offs under Gary Rowett. They too have had a fallow spell since the end of January.
Another club who changed manager with Neil Warnock leaving to be replaced by Harris with the club 14th. Only four defeats since them have put them back in the reckoning for the play-offs.
Rovers boss Tony Mowbray has staged his own recovery as after defeat to Leeds in November left them 18th they won five and drew one of their next six but two wins in their last eight suggests they are running out of gas.
It has been downhill all the way since the Swans won five of their opening six matches and their position of 11th is the joint-lowest they have been all season. Just three wins since Boxing Day has not helped their decline.
The post-Lampard era has not panned out as expected after reaching the play-off finals in May with Philip Cocu having had a season-long struggle just to get his side into the top half of the table. However, current run of seven wins in 13 matches is their best sequence under the Dutchman and coincides with Wayne Rooney’s arrival.
Queens Park Rangers:
QPR have been bumping around mid-table since October but postponement came at exactly the wrong time for them as three wins and three draws is their best unbeaten run of the season.
The somewhat controversial decision to replace the sacked Jose Gomes with Mark Bowen, the club’s sporting director, for his first managerial job was not a popular one with fans in October but has had the desired effect. The Welshman has lifted them from third-bottom so they are now closer to the top six than the relegation zone.
Once again another season of high expectation has developed into one of underachievement. Victory over Bristol City lifted the Owls into third just before Christmas but since then they have won twice, bizarrely one against high-flying Leeds, and have lost five of the last seven.
Blues’ season has been one of steady, gradual decline, having never got higher than eighth. They have beaten only four clubs currently in the top half of the table, and three of them were top-seven sides Forest, Bristol City and Brentford.
Stoke’s Nathan Jones experiment was abandoned in late October, having taken until earlier that month to register their first wins. Michael O’Neill, while still undertaking the Northern Ireland job, took over with the club bottom but has turned things around with 10 victories in 22 matches, as many as they achieved in the previous 12 months before his apOnly three points clear of the drop zone but things are looking more optimistic for the Potters.
Another club for whom a management change has had the desired effect. Former Lincoln boss Danny Cowley took over with the Terriers, on a run of one league win in 32 matches across the Premier League and Championship, 23rd. Cowley’s 10 wins in 30 games has begun the rebuilding process.
Jonathan Woodgate, in his first season as manager, has been fighting against calls for him to be sacked most of the campaign. A first win since New Year’s Day just before the suspension lifted Boro out of the relegation zone but he and the club remain in danger.
The perennial strugglers expected a relegation battle from the off and have spent the majority of the campaign (20 matches) in the bottom three. Five wins - including beating the top two - raised hopes of an escape.
Ninth place on New Year’s Day suggested there were no immediate dangers but the Tigers’ results have fallen off a cliff since then with nine defeats in an 11-match winless run leaving them two points off the drop zone.
The Addicks have issues off the pitch as well as on it but they are another club whose season has been on a downward trend, although three wins in February has given them an important lift.
Graeme Jones' men also enjoyed three wins in February, one against Brentford, but have been in the relegation zone since Boxing Day, and draws against fellow strugglers Wigan and Stoke have not helped their cause.
The sacking of Daniel Stendel in early October did not produce the new manager ‘bounce’ hoped for, with Gerhard Struber having to wait eight games for his first win. Barnsley are in a worse position than when Stendel left but recent victories over Hull and Middlesbrough, in particular, and Fulham have extended a lifeline.