Championship Strikers lack the quality of seasons past

With the season entering its final chapter and with enough time given for someone to come through the ranks, a quick glance at the goalscoring tables just really serves to highlight the dearth in striking talent left in the Championship.

The gap between the Championship and the Premiership is closing to a large degree, sides in the top half of the Championship and the lower half of the Premiership are fairly interchangeable when it comes to their side’s ability, and the only difference is obviously in the level and consistency of their play.

Last season Sylvain Ebanks Blake finished as top goalscorer for Wolves as he spearheaded their promotion campaign with a great return of 25 goals, but he has flopped badly this season and confirmed what everyone suspected, he’s out of his depth playing week in week out at the highest level. Jason Scotland was second with 21 goals and similarly, he too has failed to make the step up with Wigan after doing so well with Swansea last term, yet he has failed to trouble the scorer’s at all so far for Martinez’s boys.

Martin Paterson has shown flashes of his decent form last year for Burnley but has failed to match his 12 goals of last season. Tommy Smith, Chris Iwelumo and Kevin Phillips have also seen opportunities restricted by a lack of playing time for their respective clubs and so it falls to Kevin Doyle, the only one to have improved on last season’s performances. Although his goal return has decreased with the Irishman only netting six times so far this season for Wolves compared to his 18 last year for Reading.

This year the league’s top scorer is Cardiff midfielder Peter Whittingham with 18 goals, of which a large amount have been penalties, much like what happened with fellow club member Ross McCormack last year. McCormack has suffered this term with only 2 goals in all competitions as he’s struggled to get anywhere near his tally of 21 last year and also get past the flourishing partnership of Jay Bothroyd and Michael Chopra.

It is very odd for a league such as the Championship not to have at least one prominent goalscoring striker in it; the closest it gets is Doncaster’s Billy Sharp who has 15 goals to his name. But it does beg the question – is the standard simply not good enough nowadays, or is this year just a one off?

The league does possess some decent striker’s but compare the pool of talent to season’s past and it is certainly going through a rare tough patch in terms of quality. Amongst the best striker’s in the league are Dexter Blackstock, Jay Simpson, Andy Carroll, Michael Chopra and possibly Rob Earnshaw, but if you list their qualities they are fairly one dimensional players and limited in terms of what they could offer pursuing clubs in the top flight. Sadly Leon Best has failed to live up to expectations since his move north from Coventry to leaders Newcastle and has thus far failed to add to add a single goal to his name in the famous black and white shirt.

That’s why Kevin Doyle has slotted in so well again in the Premiership for he is a multi faceted player, his ability to hold the ball up, play up front by himself or with a partner coupled with his pace and high work rate make him an extremely attractive proposition for potential buyers and he has been one of the success stories of the season for Mick McCarthy’s Wolves side.

The Championship this season has most definitely seen the rise of the goal getting midfielder, and it’s a mark of the way the modern game is headed. Alongside Whittingham, Charlie Adam, Darren Ambrose, Brunt and Dorrans at West Brom and Kevin Nolan have all impressed in that respect in particular.

It hasn’t been a particularly high scoring league so far this season with Swansea most notably building their success under the effortlessly cool Paulo Sousa, on defensive solidity and possession football. They have score the lowest amount of goals in the entire league with just 32 coming from 38 games, but with the best defensive record in the league, their progress and success is a mark of the way the league has headed this year.

Whether this points to sides’ wisening up to the fact that there is so much more to lose financially by attacking too much or whether it’s just that certain teams play in a defensive manner is up for debate. Title hopefuls Newcastle and West Brom are the two sides to have scored the most goals in the league with Hughton’s men netting 71 times to West Brom’s 76, but this is by no means an exceptional total historically.

Their success is to be expected with the resources they have at their disposal, yet no real striker of note has emerged to take the league by storm. Andy Carroll has been solid and threatening but is still inconsistent in front of goal with a lack of composure hindering him at times, whereas at West Brom, goals have been shared out equally between the team with Jerome Thomas, Roman Bednar and Simon Cox aiding Dorrans and Brunt on easing the burden for De Matteo’s aesthetically pleasing side.

Free scoring Cardiff have played their part too with Chopra and Whittingham in particular performing well in front of goal, but both tend to get goals in bunches, much like Jermain Defoe does at Spurs, and whilst this is not a bad thing, it can make them an unpredictable outfit, for when they are firing they are an extremely tough side to face, but they can be got at and are equally as prone to being vulnerable as they are brilliant, such is their Jekyll and Hyde nature.

It will be interesting to see with only eight fixtures remaining and the playoff places all but sown up for everyone currently in them except perhaps Cardiff, whether the defensive shackles that have bound the league all season are set loose remains to be seen. As is often the case with sides that have been relegated or have little to play for, they can often end up playing with greater freedom due to a decreased sense of responsibility and so with a lot of clubs caught neither here nor there with concerns to a playoff push or a relegation scrap, the Championship could well be in for a particularly entertaining month.

As I pointed out earlier, mid-table teams in the Premiership often look to the Championship for a cheaper striker to bolster their squad when summer rolls around, but with Newcastle and West Brom all but certain to go up in my opinion, there will be little call to sign any striker in the Championship on this season’s goalscoring evidence alone. Dexter Blackstock is probably the best bet and Jay Simpson could probably do a job at Premiership level too but other than that the choice of striking quality is somewhat deficient with realistic purchases few and far between.

There’s a reason Jermain Beckford is touted so widely in some quarters for a potential move from Leeds to the Premiership. He is a very good goalscorer, perhaps a little too lightweight for the physical nature of the league, he has performed well every time he has faced Premiership opposition this season after notably bagging goals against both Spurs and Man Utd in the cup. His potential ascension to a league two tiers higher than the one he currently plies his trade in is directly linked to the lack of competition he faces from rival strikers of his quality in the Championship and is a rare occurrence. If that is not an indictment on the relative weak bunch of strikers playing in the Championship now I don’t know what is, for Beckford is a very good performer and comfortably better than League One, but the Premiership, well that’s a different kettle of fish entirely and I suspect it may be above his standard, much like most Championship striker’s around at the minute.

Written By James McManus