Johnny Cantor: Intriquing and intense – it’s the Championship

Steve Sidwell in action against Aston Villa last Friday. Picture by Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)
Steve Sidwell in action against Aston Villa last Friday. Picture by Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)
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It wasn’t a classic by any means but Brighton & Hove Albion’s point against Aston Villa last Friday could well be seen as vital by the end of the season.

In a way, it felt like two experienced Championship managers slugging it out and, on the balance of play, both teams got what they deserved.

The quality of the managers in this division is now exceptional. Not only do we have two old hands in Steve Bruce and Chris Hughton, we also have the hardened campaigners Ian Holloway and Neil Warnock.

It also has one of the most successful managers ever with Rafa Benitez at Newcastle but Garry Monk has done very well to settle at the volatile Leeds, who are now among the chasing pack.

The relatively-inexperienced Jaap Stam has led Reading to a wonderful run of late, David Wagner at Huddersfield continues to impress but there is also the pragmatic Gary Rowett at Birmingham.

The division boasts a bit of glamour with Carlos Carvalhal at Hillsborough but significantly more and more Championship managers have been in charge of Premier League teams.

This weekend’s opponents Fulham have a manager who came close. Slavisa Jokanovic achieved promotion with Watford but never got the chance to go on and take charge at the top level.

Many supporters seem disillusioned with top-flight football in this country but just below there is a huge wealth of talent in the dugout, as well as on the pitch.

It is a gruelling 46 games in total and several bosses have already been cast aside this season in a fiercely competitive division but it provides intrigue and intense matches.

A possible promotion to the Premier League will provide fans with a whole new experience but the regular weekly challenge of closely-matched opponents may well diminish.

It has its faults but the Championship season also provides some appealing stories. The recent breakdown between the EFL and the FA means that a possible restructure has been parked for some time and the riches are a galaxy away from those in the Premier League – but the quality of the managers and the small margins between most of the teams remain in the division below.

It seems the Championship is no longer a dirty word and many bosses are flourishing at the top end of the table. Thankfully for Seagulls supporters, Chris Hughton embodies everything that a successful Championship manager should be. He may yet get another opportunity to compete at the top level once again, but this time with the Albion.

Johnny Cantor covers Brighton & Hove Albion as a commentator and reporter for BBC Sussex Sport.

Follow all the action, home or away, on BBC Sussex Sport or Twitter: @BBCSussexSport or @johnnycburger

To read more by Johnny Cantor, visit www.johnnycantor.com

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