Football League Expert & Columnist
Peter Beagrie: Sky Sports pundit looks at the Championship's top 10
Peter Beagrie looks at how the Championship's high-flyers are shaping up ahead of the busy festive period.
Last Updated: 29/11/13 9:44am
But you have to find ways and means of gaining precious points in the Championship and the Clarets (1st, 35 points) did that against a Nottingham Forest side that everyone is expecting big things from.
It was a brilliant point, which was achieved through strength and resilience and dealing with a very fluid midfield, which contained a young man I really rate in Jamie Paterson.
The youngster has not had a lot of game time since he joined from Walsall but a brilliant bit of individualism - a great cross that Simon Cox finished - helped Forest, and Billy Davies said he has seen enough from his side to suggest that they will be there for the duration.
That game caught my eye, then, but there are plenty of teams also in the promotion reckoning and I have given my take on them in the paragraphs below...
Leicester (2nd, 35 points)
The Foxes have won more games (11) than Burnley and third-placed QPR (both 10) which is no mean feat and what will be pleasing for Nigel Pearson is that they weren't at their best against Ipswich, yet still managed to turn around a one-goal deficit to win 2-1 thanks to David Nugent's brace on his 100th appearance for the Midlanders. Nugent now has nine Championship goals this term, but Lloyd Dyer is a flying machine and a real favourite of mine - he made my Championship over-30s XI earlier this year - and he assisted both of City's goals against Ipswich. That took his tally of set-ups to four for the campaign, showing there's more to his game than just flying down the wing and that he can pick the right pass at the right time. He will be crucial as the season progresses.
QPR (3rd, 35 points)
Charlie Austin thundered in his eighth - and best - of the season against Charlton, to give Rangers their third 1-0 win when he has been the scorer. Charlie was always Harry Redknapp's first choice over the summer and he looks an absolute snip at the minute, despite costing a reported £4million. Austin has evolved his game since coming into League football - getting fitter, cleverer, and better all-round - but he has maintained that non-League work ethic, too. In a side that isn't scoring too many - which QPR aren't at the moment, having netted just four in their last five - he will be pivotal.
Blackpool (4th, 28 points)
The Tangerines, who have had just two defeats all season, have had Tom Ince providing plenty of cut and thrust and if he were to move to a Premier League club of a decent profile in January, I think he could get in England's World Cup squad. He has the pace, ability and creativity and I would argue a little bit more knowledge and knowhow than Theo Walcott in terms of when to release the ball; high praise, yes, but I rate him that highly. His current team, though, are producing heroics with a skeletal squad and the fact they flourished during Paul Ince's touchline ban shows he has trusty lieutenants in Alex Rae and Steve Thomson.
Nottingham Forest (5th, 27 points)
I expect Forest's midfield to be pivitol to their success this year. They have Andy Reid and Jamie Mackie getting goals from wide areas, while Henri Lansbury, who has come into his own this season, has supporting roles from Radoslaw Majewski and Nathaniel Chalobah. Elsewhere on the pitch, Billy Davies will be pleased, too, with the performances of young centre-half, Jamaal Lascelles, while Jamie Paterson is someone I highly rate - he has wonderful balance and an eye for the spectacular. With the congested period over Christmas, Forest have certianly got the strength in depth in their squad to make inroads on the top three and they have the potential to get into the Premier League not only by the play-offs but by the automatic places as well, if they get everything together. Everything's looking good for Forest at the moment and who knows this might be the season they get back up.
Leeds (6th, 26 points)
The Whites have won four on the spin at home and Brian McDermott has utilised a more direct style of play at Elland Road, bringing in Dexter Blackstock - a proven player with a great track record who takes bumps and bruises - to ensure Ross McCormack stays central, gets space and hurts defenders with his low centre of gravity and great shot. What was great against Middlesbrough was that Lee Peltier, who has been playing as a centre-half or right-back, produced a cross that Robert Snodgrass would be proud of, but Leeds is an intimidating place to go and that will help United progress this year.
Derby (7th, 25 points)
We wondered whether Steve McClaren could organise Derby but he has, with a 1-0 victory at Bournemouth evidence of it. The game wasn't full of free-flowing attacking but they tested the Cherries goalkeeper, Lee Camp, on several occasions and had the match-winner in Jamie Ward, who has been a revelation in a midfield packed full of stars, which includes reported Liverpool target Will Hughes. The Rams responded from their defeat to QPR and are really buying into what Steve is saying and while you wonder whether the squad is strong enough to last the pace, that first XI is going great guns.
Reading (8th, 25 points)
You would have imagined Reading being deeply ensconced in the top six by now but it's just not happening - they have won just six out of 16 games - and I think they are really missing Jason Roberts. We saw the impact he can make in the Royals' magnificent promotion season with his experience and power, but that has been missing, while Adam le Fondre and Pavel Pogrebnyak rarely play together, so Nigel Adkins will be looking to readdress his frontline and push on. The imminent full takeover of Anton Zingarevich has yet to materialise but Reading need to do a bit of business to ensure they don't drift away from the teams above them.
Brighton (9th, 24 points)
I think Albion are outside of the top six because of the injury to Leonardo Ulloa. The Argentine battering ram was on fire at the start of the season, scoring four in the first five Championship games, but without him and Craig Mackail-Smith due to injury, they went on a five-game winless run. However, victories in their last three against Doncaster, Blackburn and Wigan have transformed Brighton's fortunes with Ashley Barnes and Jake Forster-Caskey finding their shooting boots, and their often-solid defence always gives them a chance to get something from matches.
Watford (10th, 23 points)
The Hornets are making too many fundamental errors at the minute, while the back three is ever-changing and, with Almen Abdi out, there is a lot of pressure on Lewis McGugan to be creative and score goals from midfield. But, as I mentioned last week, they have struggled with the breakup of that Troy Deeney-Matej Vydra strike partnership, which had pace, strength, quality and a real goal threat. Gianfranco has plenty of individual talents but, as he has alluded to himself, they need to be better in team play because they are not functioning like they did last term and, as a result, are not as dangerous.
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