Championship: Sheffield United, Norwich, Reading and Bristol City looking good

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Following an unexpected pause for the death of the Queen, the EFL season resumes in midweek with a full programme of fixtures in all three divisions.

The Championship rarely disappoints us and the season is already shaping up to be a classic with some unexpected teams joining the anticipated promotion challengers in the opening weeks.

We preview the midweek second-tier action here by bringing you up to date on the talking points from the season so far.

BLADES CERTAINLY DON’T LACK A CUTTING EDGE

Beaten in agonising fashion by Nottingham Forest in last season’s play-offs, Sheffield United have simply come back stronger and look determined to return to the Premier League via the easier route.

It’s been a fine start to the campaign by Paul Heckingbottom’s side, who lead the table heading into this midweek round, which sees them visit Swansea.

Sheffield United have started the season brightly with Oli McBurnie finally back in the goals

Sheffield United have started the season brightly with Oli McBurnie finally back in the goals

The Blades haven’t lost in the league since the opening weekend at Watford, winning five of the seven games they’ve played, including eye-catching home wins over Blackburn (3-0) and Reading (4-0).

Iliman Ndiaye, comfortable playing as either a centre forward or attacking midfielder, already has four goals, while Sander Berge has netted three from midfield.

The signing of Bosnian centre-back Anel Ahmedhodzic also looks to be inspired. Not only has he kept things tight at the back, he has a knack for scoring too.

Iliman Ndiaye has started the season in prolific fashion as the Blades set the early pace

Iliman Ndiaye has started the season in prolific fashion as the Blades set the early pace

It also helps that Oli McBurnie has rediscovered his touch in front of goal. He’d gone 43 league games without finding the net until he headed the Blades’ equaliser at Luton last month, but now has three in three.

Most expected United to be in and around the top six at the end of the season but their very positive start has raised expectations they can gain automatic promotion.

How the top eight in the Championship looks ahead of the midweek set of fixtures

How the top eight in the Championship looks ahead of the midweek set of fixtures

NORWICH HAVE GONE FROM BOTTOM TO TOP!

All the bookmakers tipped Norwich to make an immediate return to the Premier League – as they usually do – before a ball had been kicked this season.

But when they were propping up the Championship after failing to win any of their opening three games, some were wondering whether the Norwich yo-yo had snapped.

There was no need to worry, however, because Dean Smith’s side have won their next five in the league to restore themselves to more familiar heights ahead of Wednesday’s home game with Bristol City.

American Josh Sargent has enjoyed a fine start to the season for Norwich, scoring five times

American Josh Sargent has enjoyed a fine start to the season for Norwich, scoring five times

Josh Sargent has been their outstanding player so far, netting five times and compensating for usual hotshot Teemu Pukki, whose game time had to be limited because of a bruised foot.

The Finn, who has scored 29 and 26 goals in his last two seasons at this level, returned to form with a goal in the 3-0 win over struggling Coventry last time out.

Norwich still have a very strong squad for this level and we haven’t even seen much of Gabriel Sara, the talented Brazilian midfielder signed for £11million from Sao Paulo over the summer.

If their two previous promotion seasons are anything to go by, we can expect Norwich to click through the gears during the autumn and establish themselves at the top.

Norwich are likely to lean on their prolific Finnish striker Teemu Pukki in the season ahead

Norwich are likely to lean on their prolific Finnish striker Teemu Pukki in the season ahead

Midweek Championship fixtures

Tuesday

7.45pm kick-off unless stated

Blackburn Rovers vs Watford

Huddersfield Town vs Wigan Athletic

Hull City vs Stoke City

Middlesbrough vs Cardiff City

Swansea City vs Sheffield United

Preston North End vs Burnley (8pm)

Live on Sky Sports Main Event and Football

 

Wednesday

7.45pm kick-off unless stated

Luton Town vs Coventry City

Millwall vs Queens Park Rangers

Norwich City vs Bristol City

Rotherham United vs Blackpool

Reading vs Sunderland (8pm)

Live on Sky Sports Main Event and Football

West Bromwich Albion vs Birmingham City (8pm)

Live on Sky Sports Arena

INCE HAS TRANSFORMED READING

Last season was a shambles for Reading as they avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth.

Paul Ince, who’d replaced Veljko Paunovic as interim manager in February, was handed the reins permanently after keeping them up and they suddenly look a much better proposition.

That’s despite having absolutely no money to spend over the summer, with every signing a freebie or loan. Ince has managed to fit together all the different parts into a decent side.

Lucas Joao was at the double as Reading beat Stoke 2-1 last time out amid a strong start

Lucas Joao was at the double as Reading beat Stoke 2-1 last time out amid a strong start

The Royals have been especially strong at home, winning all four games so far and there’s a good chance that will be five from five when they entertain Sunderland on Wednesday.

If they can sort out their away form – 4-0 losses at Rotherham and Sheffield United have been a reality check – then there’s no reason Reading can’t challenge for the top six.

Ince’s son Tom has started the season well, while Lucas Joao has found a scoring touch with three so far. This included two last time out in the televised win over Stoke.

Paul Ince steered Reading to safety last season and now wants to kick on towards promotion

Paul Ince steered Reading to safety last season and now wants to kick on towards promotion

CAN NIGEL FINALLY LEAD BRISTOL CITY TO THE BIG TIME?

Bristol has always been regarded as one of the largest cities never to host a Premier League football club.

The closest they came was when losing the 2008 play-off final to Hull and they haven’t managed to crack the top six since, finishing a lowly 17th last season.

But the early evidence of the current campaign is that Nigel Pearson’s team could finally do it having improved enormously.

Optimism at Ashton Gate wasn’t especially high when they lost their opening two games to Hull and Sunderland, but a run of six unbeaten in the league, including four wins, has flipped the mood.

Tommy Conway celebrates scoring for Bristol City at Blackburn amid an encouraging start

Tommy Conway celebrates scoring for Bristol City at Blackburn amid an encouraging start

Nigel Pearson's side could only manage a 17th-place finish last season but have improved

Nigel Pearson’s side could only manage a 17th-place finish last season but have improved

Goals haven’t been an issue with 20-year-old academy graduate Tommy Conway already scoring six in all competitions and his fellow forwards Andreas Weimann and Nahki Wells netting four apiece.

Conway has just won the EFL Championship Young Player of the Month for August. 

They do face a tricky midweek assignment at Norwich but if they avoid defeat against the promotion favourites, belief will only grow this could be their time.

USUAL PROMOTION SUSPECTS LURKING

While Reading and Bristol City have raised a few eyebrows, there’s little surprise in Burnley and Watford rounding out the top six after eight games.

Both were considered odds-on favourites to bounce back to the Premier League at the first time of asking and, while being far from totally convincing, they’re picking up plenty of points.

Vincent Kompany’s Burnley have still only lost once this season but they need to convert more draws into wins if they’re to push for automatic promotion.

Burnley's players celebrate a goal by Jay Rodriguez during their 1-1 draw at West Brom

Burnley’s players celebrate a goal by Jay Rodriguez during their 1-1 draw at West Brom

Given the upheaval at Turf Moor over the summer, with so many stalwarts departing and new players to settle in, they don’t look too bad.

On Tuesday, they make the short trip to Preston North End, whose extraordinary, binary sequence of scorelines has seen them scored just twice but concede only once so far this season.

Watford were also starting afresh under manager Rob Edwards but remarkably they managed to keep hold of star men Ismaila Sarr and Joao Pedro beyond the transfer window.

Ismaila Sarr celebrates his goal in Watford's victory over Middlesbrough last month

Ismaila Sarr celebrates his goal in Watford’s victory over Middlesbrough last month

Both have been on target during the early weeks, likewise new arrival Vakoun Bayo, and the Hornets have also suffered just the one loss to date.

Like Burnley, they too need to work out how to convert one point into three, starting with Tuesday’s trip to Blackburn.

THE TEAMS IN TROUBLE

It’s still early in the season to be getting too worried but several teams have started far more slowly than they’d have liked.

Coventry’s stadium pitch issues mean they have three games to make up, but just one points from the five games they have played in alarming form.

Huddersfield made last season’s play-off final but have started poorly under Danny Schofield, who took over when Carlos Corberan walked out in July.

It's been far from an ideal start to the season for Coventry both on and off their ruined pitch

It’s been far from an ideal start to the season for Coventry both on and off their ruined pitch

Cardiff and Birmingham could do with a kick-start to their seasons, while Stoke fired manager Michael O’Neill before August was even out, replacing him with Sunderland’s Alex Neil.

Swansea were tipped by some to do well this season and need to build on their 1-0 win over QPR last time out following a sluggish start.

How the Championship bottom six looks entering the midweek round of fixtures

How the Championship bottom six looks entering the midweek round of fixtures

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