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Ask Steve Claridge

Steve Claridge
Claridge is the BBC's Football League expert

There are plenty of talking points around the top of the Championship at the moment and I give my views on the promotion race as well as examining two teams on the fringes of it - QPR and Nottingham Forest.

I look at Coventry's slide down the table, as well as Brighton's next move after sacking Russell Slade and Southampton's hopes of reaching the play-offs.

If you have a question for Steve, you can submit it through Twitter at http://twitter.com/AskClaridge or use the form on the top right of the page.


Hi Steve, what do you make of QPR's recent run of form and them playing some of the best football in the Championship at the moment? Do you think they will be able to stay consistent from now up until the end of the season?
Scott Andrews England

Scott sent this question last week - before Friday's defeat by Leicester and Tuesday's draw with Crystal Palace - which shows how quickly things can change.

QPR 1-2 Leicester City

Highlights - QPR 1-2 Leicester City (UK users only)

This season, QPR have flattered to deceive. They have been winning games you don't expect them to but, just as you think they have turned the corner, they take a bit of a backward step - as with their last two home results.

They are definitely lacking any sort of consistency at the moment. It's a case of when they play well, they are very good - they have got four or five players who can hurt you going forwards.

But defensively they seem to shut off occasionally and they have been punished for it, as with the Leicester game for example.

So they have got to be harder to beat. They cannot play well every week, so they need to have another side to their game and be able to win when they don't turn it on.

And, let's be straight about this, they should be a top-three team in that division with the players they have and the money they are spending. There seems to be a misconception that they haven't spent anything but that is absolute tosh - Alejandro Faurlin cost £3.5m.

QPR 1-1 Crystal Palace

Highlights - QPR 1-1 Crystal Palace (UK users only)

Does that lead to pressure on their manager Jim Magilton? No. Pressure is not when you have got loads of money to spend - pressure is when you are down the bottom of the table with nowhere to turn and no money to buy anyone. I'm sure Jim is sitting there thinking what a lucky, lucky man he is.

If you're in charge there, then it might not be the longest managerial stint of your life but it is certainly a massive opportunity. There are a lot harder jobs out there.

Hello Steve. I've had a season ticket at Nottingham Forest for over 20 years. Obviously I've seen good teams and bad. The one good thing our manager Billy Davies has brought to us this year is two quick wingers who want to run at full-backs but he insists on changing the team depending on who we play. I'm a believer in your best 11 playing every week and letting the opposition worry about you. What do you think? How would you react if you were dropped not because of a bad display but because this week's opposition had a decent midfield so this week were playing one up front?
Mike Campbell, England

I agree with what Mike is saying and, as a player, it can be a little bit disconcerting when you don't know whether you are in or out of the team and don't get a run of games.

I watched Forest against Cardiff and they changed formation two or three times in that game - Billy has got a big squad and he can juggle his players which is why he is doing it.

Cardiff v Nottingham Forest

Highlights - Cardiff 1-1 Nottingham Forest

When you have that situation at a club, it is almost like a Premier League side in that the players know they are not going to play every game. That doesn't sit well with some, but others quite like it. Personally, I'm with Mike - you should play your best players and your best formation every week and only change it when you have to.

There is a danger too that, if you keep changing your side to stop the opposition, then your team stops concentrating on their own strengths.

But Forest are ticking over quite nicely at the moment so, through his chopping and changing, Billy is getting it right.

He has has got the squad he wants and the board have backed him fully. He has done all right of late too and, to be fair, they were not getting the results their performances deserved earlier in the season.

Now they are in the hunt for promotion, and it is where they deserve to be. The turnaround from last year, when they struggled quite badly, has been big but it's what you'd expect it to be considering they have spent so much money.

Just a couple of weeks ago we had a situation where just two points covered the top seven sides in the Championship. It's almost as tight even now. Do you think it is the case that standards are levelling down and the overall quality is reducing? Or just evidence that it is so extraordinarily competitive because of the prize on offer?
Robert Whittaker, London

Occasionally you get runaway winners of the Championship but no-one has emerged from the pack yet. If you look at West Brom boss Roberto Di Matteo after his side's 5-0 win over Watford on Saturday, he is probably thinking back to his side's run of one win in six league games before that - they didn't score in four of them.

West Brom 5-0 Watford

West Brom 5-0 Watford

They are still joint top but if they had only won a couple more then they could have opened up a gap. Instead they went on a bad run.

Will the division stay the same for the rest of the season? Yes, it is going to be close. I don't think Newcastle or West Brom will pull away but you would put them at the top of your list if you are talking about people to go up.

There might be a much of a muchness in the top eight at the moment but I don't think standards have dropped. The Championship isn't a poor division, it's a competitive division. I think it is actually getting better because there is more money there than there was a decade ago.

I'm a die-hard Coventry City supporter but I am seriously losing faith in our manager Chris Coleman and chairman Ray Ranson. I went to the Reading game and was appalled by how badly we played. Coleman has gone down the route of a small but quality squad - but I don't see many quality players at all. We haven't won in five games now and attendances are falling week by week. It's looking grim for all Sky Blues fans (yet again). Do you think we can stay up and avoid the drop with the squad that we've got?
Alex Millington, UK

From the outside, Coventry are not a club that excites me. At the moment I am not looking at them thinking they are about to go on a great run - as Alex says, I look at them and think they could be in trouble.

Coventry 1-3 Reading

Coventry 1-3 Reading

I'm not sure what they need to do to turn things around, but they need to start by getting their enthusiasm back.

Coventry started with a bit of a bang and they were top of the table early on - some people were getting carried away but I wasn't convinced.

They are a decent-sized club in the Championship but there seems to be a general malaise about the place. They do need to freshen things up, and if they sign some new players in January, that could do the trick.

As it stands, they have a small club but they are definitely not showing much quality. Something needs to happen, otherwise they are one of the clubs that could potentially find themselves in a bit of trouble.

Brighton have sacked Russell Slade after 15 games - who do you think we should get as manager? And why couldn't Russell Slade make it work for Brighton? What went wrong?
Jon Chom, Bangkok

I've been down to watch Brighton a couple of times this season and just thought they lacked a bit of balance in midfield, as simple as that. They didn't have any width on the left-hand side so they were a little bit lop-sided.

Brighton 3-3 Hartlepool

Brighton 3-3 Hartlepool

Funnily enough they were one of the pre-season faves which I didn't really see but having said that, you go down there and take a look at their team then their team isn't bad - they certainly shouldn't go down.

But I think Slade knew things had to improve because the club saw itself as being at the other end of the division.

And, whoever gets the job, as long as they can see the next 18 months out, is going to have an unbelievable time. They have been trapped in limbo for a few years but they have got a bright future with their own ground on the horizon - feasibly they could compete on a equal-footing with Southampton or Portsmouth - they've got the fan-base.

Playing at the Withdean has held them back, undoubtedly. It can be cold, wet and windy and has got poor facilities - all in all, it's very unwelcoming and that's just for Brighton! It has never felt like home.

In terms of who they should go for next? I don't think they necessarily need to have an experienced man to fit the bill. Even the best manager will face limitations for the time being, until they go to their new ground.

So it might be an ideal job for a young up and coming manager who might have a chance to bed in, learn the division, and get ready for the move to the new stadium when they can hit the ground running.

If they want experience, then I'm not surprised Steve Coppell has been mentioned because he has proved he is a fantastic manager - no wonder Tranmere apparently want him too.

Coppell is not afraid to get his hands dirty in the lower-leagues and has done very well even without having much money. He is tried and tested and proven and there aren't too many other managers who are.

Southampton seem to be turning things around in the last couple of weeks. In your opinion, where will they finish at the end of the season? Can they make the League One play-offs despite starting on -10 points.
Niels van Burik, Holland

Leyton Orient 2-2 Southampton

Leyton Orient 2-2 Southampton

Southampton started poorly but their form of late has been strong and they seem to have turned the corner - but still I think the play-offs are probably going to be a bit too much to ask, no matter how much I'd like to see them up there.

I just don't see teams like Norwich, Milllwall, Colchester having a bad run so, no I don't see room for them in the top six but, to be fair, I never saw that as being top of their agenda this season - this campaign was going to be about acclimatising and rebuilding, then going for promotion next year.


Steve Claridge is a BBC Football League pundit who played more than 800 matches for 15 clubs over the course of a 24-year playing career. He was talking to Chris Bevan.



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