Aston Villa’s presence in the Championship, and to some extent Derby County’s, has been used as an example of how extreme the competition has become. Yet the recent strife at both clubs says far more about the type of division they are in.
Of three managerial changes in the league, two have come at Villa and Derby. Roberto Di Matteo, a Champions League winner, survived for 12 games at Villa Park.
Nigel Pearson, who managed Leicester City to a resounding promotion in 2014, made it through 14 at Pride Park. Pearson’s exit after a period of suspension will see Steve McClaren on the bench when Leeds United turn out at Derby tomorrow.
United’s head coach, Garry Monk, can see from a mile off that both squads are punching below their weight and with McClaren back in charge as Derby’s manager, he does not want his players to think that a club tipped for the play-offs before the season began are waiting to roll over. But the form affecting Villa and County – 19th and 20th in the table respectively – underlines his view that the Championship has never been more unforgiving.
“It’s a bit of a bizarre league at the best of times,” Monk said. “There are so many games. You can go one week and have an unbelievable week. Everything’s great. You can go one week, not win a game and everything’s a disaster. That’s how it’s perceived.
“Do we expect those teams to be down there come the end of the season? No we don’t. But there’s also no divine right to be anywhere. You have too earn it and that’s what we’re trying to do – earn the right to be a good team in this league.
“Wherever you finish is where you deserve to finish. Hard-luck stories – I don’t think you’ve got time for those. Certain decisions will go against you but you make your own luck through the hard work you do. Tactically, teams in this league are better than ever before.”
For much of this week, Leeds were preparing for a Derby team managed by assistant and caretaker Chris Powell.
McClaren’s sudden arrival on Wednesday, bringing him back to a club he ran for two years from 2013 onwards, will make County’s tactics more unpredictable. The first game of McClaren’s previous spell in charge, at home to Leeds, ended in a deserved Derby win.
Monk, however, is taking his squad to Pride Park with their tails up; seven games before the international break yielded five victories.
“The way I am, I don’t focus on the news,” Monk said.
“But he (McClaren) has gone in there and the little bit of doubt you have in those situations is that certain things could change, things they might do differently from what they’ve done so far. There is that possibility.
“But we make the players adaptable.
“Part of our training is always about that. If there are changes then we have to be ready for them.
“I expect it to be a really tough game now and I expect their players to try and impress the new manager.
“Our desire has to be right up there and our intensity has to be as good as theirs, if not better.
“My players are in a good way right now, really competitive. We’ve shown big improvement but we should be showing even more. This squad can produce it. There’ll be dips along the way and we have to accept that but we’ll come out the other side.”
Monk added: “I feel good about the players. They want to produce more.”