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Football: Bluebirds are flying but who will finish the season on top? CHAMPIONSHIP FOCUS.

Byline: Ian Coyne

Chris Kamara

Sky Sports pundit

THE ten-game point is the time when you look at the table and think that the teams who are up there should stay there, as everyone by now has played a fair cross-section of sides of all abilities.

Cardiff players like Paul Parry, Michael Chopra, Joe Ledley and Ricky Scimeca are playing the best football of their careers, all at the same time.

It really is unbelievable what Dave Jones has done considering that Cardiff sold their main source of goals in Cameron Jerome to Birmingham in the summer.

People say they haven't got a massive squad, but this point can often be overstated. Reading didn't have a massive squad, for example.

I wouldn't dissuade people from a bet on Cardiff at 9-2, but I backed West Brom at the outset and am sticking with them. Diomansy Kamara could have saved Bryan Robson had he been fit at the start of term.

A team who could enter the fray at a big price? Luton play some great football, and if they sign players rather than sell them (as they have tended to) they are a live each-way shout at 80-1.

Who will win the title?

West Brom

Each-way value

Luton

Steve Claridge

Ex-footballer & manager

YOU can't fail to be impressed by what Cardiff have done in their first ten games.

In some ways they remind me of when I was at Cambridge. We didn't have the best players on paper, but what we did have was a great tactical set-up, and I think that is what Dave Jones has hit on at Ninian Park.

Every player knows his role, and they have pairings of players all over the pitch who complement each other, such as Paul Parry and Stephen McPhail in midfield.

That said, I think Cardiff may fall short in the end due to a lack of squad depth. Paul Simpson has done terrifically well since taking over at Preston, but the same factor may count against them, too.

Birmingham have the best firepower in Cameron Jerome, Mikael Forssell and DJ Campbell. And though some may say that the level of expectation at St Andrews will be a hindrance, the players shouldn't be there if they can't cope with that.

The Blues will spend in January, and while I think the Championship is a nightmare league to identify value in, Birmingham are the team I would back if I was to have a bet.

Who will win the title?

Birmingham

Rob McCaffrey

Sky Sports presenter

SOUTHAMPTON are the team that I see taking the title from what I have seen so far.

I spoke to their manager, George Burley recently and asked him how many he would give his team out of ten on what they have done so far.

"Six," he replied, and I told him I thought that was harsh.

What he meant was that he feels there is plenty more to come from the Saints. They have goals in them with Grzegorz Rasiak in their attack, and play the best football I have seen in the division.

Their next ten games will give a good idea of their prospects. They have a trip to Cardiff on October 17, and Birmingham go to St Mary's on November 11.

Cardiff have been fantastic early on and I have so much admiration for the way Dave Jones has them playing. But there are 36 games to go, which it is worth pointing out is only two matches fewer than a whole season in the Premiership.

Who will win the title?

Southampton

Garry Birtles

Sky Sports & ex-footballer

TRYING to identify outright value is hard, unlike last season when Reading and Sheffield United swiftly got away from the pack, and there is little between the top teams this term.

But Burnley are certainly worth an each-way bet at 66-1.

Sunday's 4-1 defeat of Norwich was the most destructive performance I have seen in the division. I was able to speak to boss Steve Cotterill beforehand, and he said that though they are playing well he would like to sign a few more if possible.

The squad for the Norwich game was basically all they have got, but if they can keep the likes of Steve Jones and Andy Gray fit they have a right chance. And the defence of Michael Duff, Frank Sinclair, John McGreal and Jon Harley is the best in the league in my view.

West Brom are taking their time with their new managerial appointment, have the best squad and would be my selection to win it, even though Cardiff are battering teams at present.

And there is no reason that a fancied side can't recover from a slow start, as there are so few points between the teams.

Sunderland are going on a run under Roy Keane and should be in contention with the players they have.

Who will win the title?

West Brom

Each-way value

Burnley

Adrian Chiles

BBC Sport presenter

IT IS a far too often used clichA that the Championship is wide open, but that doesn't make it any less true.

My gut feeling remains that Birmingham will be the eventual winners. That isn't me just being pessimistic as a West Brom fan - Wolves would be a far worse result for us Baggies followers.

The Blues are strong in all areas and should be able to make up the five-point gap by which they trail Cardiff, though Dave Jones's team are playing fantastically well at present. There is plenty of time to go.

What of my team? We have a chance, but we need another centre-back, and must make the right decision after the regrettable move to sack Bryan Robson - it is not as if we were miles off the pace when he went.

My choice for the position would be Alex McLeish. We must make some effective signings in January, even if they are only loan deals.

Who will win the title?

Birmingham

Tony Cascarino

RPSPORT columnist

BIRMINGHAM still head the betting, but I am not sure about how steady a ship the Blues are at the moment.

For example, why a quality player like Mikael Forssell is on the bench is a puzzling question. I am not sure that everything is rosy there at present.

Who have impressed me? It has to be Cardiff. Dave Jones always comes across well when you talk to him and he has so many players performing superbly at the moment.

Michael Chopra has had the most attention, but for me the outstanding man in their great start has been Stephen McPhail in midfield.

Cardiff have remarkable goal difference for this early stage in the season (+14 when the next best is only +6), and while they weren't expected to be up there by most punters and bookmakers before the start of the season I think they are a club who will spend to reinforce the squad if they are still in contention at the turn of the year. They are still a fair price at 9-2.

The sacking of Bryan Robson when West Brom were in a retrievable position with no immediate replacement has put their challenge in doubt.

And I think there are more than enough games left for a side a little off the pace at present to get on a run and bely big odds.

The one that appeals to me is Derby at 50-1. The Rams have a clinical forward in Steve Howard and they are another team who will spend money if they are in contention come January.

Who will win the title?

Cardiff

Each-way value

Derby

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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Oct 3, 2006
Words:1285
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