Five surprises in the Championship this season

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Blackpool, Crystal Palace, Birmingham City, Bolton and Millwall all feature.

As ever its a topsy turvy season in the Championship, and pre-season predictions are already out of the window, with a number of experienced managers handed their P45s already. Here is a look at five of the biggest surprise packages so far, a mixture of good and bad...

Blackpool - Bad surprise

Blackpool were last season's play-off runners-up, and would have been keen to bounce back to the top flight next year, but its already looking a tough ask. They started in fine form, demolishing a rancid Ipswich side 6-0, a game which had many tipping them to be automatic promotion contenders. The form of Tom Ince attracted attention from Manchester United no less, but then things started to spiral downwards. Manager Ian Holloway quit the club for Crystal Palace on November 3, perhaps sensing the club may not have it so easy; they had lost three of their previous four games. Michael Appleton was poached from Portsmouth to replace him, an inexperienced manager who has found it tough going early on, he has seen his side draw all four of their games. While he can trumpet he is undefeated, a look at the league table doesn't look so clever, Blackpool lie in 16th, already 13 points behind the league leaders. There is still time to turn it around, but they will need a big run of results in December to enhance their fortunes.

Crystal Palace - Good surprise

Ian Holloway's new side lie in the automatic promotion spot, defying all sorts of predictions, Chris Kamara had them tagged for a 17th place finish. Palace were rocked in early October when club man Dougie Freedman left for Bolton, but the ship was steadied, and Palace went on an unbeaten run, and that was before Holloway arrived to carry on the good work. With star man Wilfried Zaha attracting the attention, little focus has been on the excellent Glenn Murray, scorer of 15 goals in 16 games. They may have failed to win their last two, but remain in second. Supporters would have taken a play-off spot in a snap before the season began, and it is a sign of their progress that an automatic promotion spot is at this point a possibility, but much will depend on whether they can hang onto Zaha in January, and if not, how they re-invest the money.

Bolton Bad surprise

The final part of the managerial merry-go-round brings us to Bolton, where Dougie Freedman is manager having walked out on quite a good thing at Crystal Palace, perhaps better than even he realised. You can't blame him being tempted by a club of Bolton's size and recent pedigree - It was only recently they held Bayern Munich to a draw in the Europa League at the Allianz Arena. It's safe to say things have changed since then, their limp relegation was a surprise last year, and despite being tipped to bounce straight back under Owen Coyle, the poor results continued and chairman Phil Gartside decided he had no option but to change manager. So out went Coyle and in came Freedman, but the mixed results have continued. In seven games he has two wins, one loss, and four draws, and Bolton sit in 17th after last night's game with Blackburn. The division is so unpredictable a late play-off run can never be ruled out, but so far this season has been below expectations for Trotters fans, however the excellent win away to Blackburn last night will certainly have given hope.

Birmingham - Bad surprise

Birmingham performed amazingly well last season to finish in a play-off position given their changes in personnel and Europa League distraction, but Chris Hughton pulled them together and almost pulled off the impossible. Naturally he was snapped up by a Premier League team, so City had to pick a new manager. In Lee Clark, club and supporters were hopeful they had one of the best young managers in the game, who impressed with a superb winning record with Huddersfield in League One before his surprise dismissal. So far it has been a highly disappointing season, shrouded in mediocrity. The nadir was a 5-0 home defeat to Barnsley, and two wins in 10 tells its own story. Clark is a man at risk, with Birmingham down in 19th place. Star goalkeeper Jack Butland could well be snapped up in the January transfer market, so the club will have to get as much money as they can and spend wisely.

Millwall - Good surprise

Millwall won't have been on many people's list of promotion contenders before the season, nor will they ever be English football's most popular club. Nevertheless their league position can't be argued with, the Lions are unbeaten in their last 12 games and lie in fifth position, occupying a play-off spot. Successive away wins agains Blackburn and Wolves have proved their mettle, and a south London derby against Charlton is up next. Their progress will depend partly on loanee Chris Wood, the New Zealand international is their top scorer with eight goals, and at present he is due to return to West Brom in January. Millwall will want to make sure they can keep him, and if he carries on scoring like this, he'll want to stay too.

Which side's performances have shocked you the most? Who will maintain their form and who won't?

images: © Matthew Wilkinson, © Matthew Wilkinson

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