Championship Round-Up: Norwich retain top spot whilst Ipswich remain rock bottom
By Bob Melling
A lot of media attention is devoted towards the Premier League so instead of contributing a bit more dirge to an oversaturated market, I thought I would give you my impartial (if that’s possible) opinion on arguably the most competitive league of football, not just in England but on an international scale. This isn’t an accolade I give out lightly either.
Keele is situated within a geographical area burgeoning with second tier clubs…. Any Stoke fans out there? Hence why I thought I should offer a weekly round-up of all things Championship. My real reason is that I’m an avid Preston North End supporter; lucky me! All jokes aside, the Championship is a fascinating league to follow and it never fails to deliver both the expected but more often than not, the unexpected.
Now, without being too blatantly partisan, the game of the weekend for me was Preston North End vs. Blackburn Rovers. It was a case of derby day delight for North End, who rampantly tore apart their infamous Lancashire rivals. This one was a thriller from the onset, as the Lilywhites came out of the blocks at a blistering pace, bagging two goals within the first ten minutes. Blackburn were in the ascendancy as the second half began and their persistence paid dividends when veteran striker Danny Graham headed home on the 48th minute. But their celebrations were silenced, as Preston sent their neighbours home 4-1 for a miserable evening. Substitute Louis Moult grabbed the vital goal, before turning provider; setting up Irishman Alan Browne to bundle the ball home. A bumper Deepdale crowd went home happy and I enjoyed a pint or two or three in celebration; it’s been a rough season!
In the other raucous derby of the weekend, Aston Villa came from behind to beat fierce rivals Birmingham City in one of the great Second City derby games of recent history. Aston Villa continued their resurgence under new boss Dean Smith, making it three wins on the bounce, whilst extending Birmingham’s winless run in this fixture to thirteen league derbies. It was Birmingham who started the brighter of the two sides, Lukas Jutkiewicz slotting home from a 28th minute corner to give his side a deserved lead. But Smith’s side completed the turnaround in a mere two minutes; Kodjia and boyhood Villan Jack Grealish grabbing the goals. A Tammy Abraham penalty then gave Scotsman Alan Hutton the perfect platform to seal a famous Villa win that will live long in the memory; perhaps not if you’re a Blues fan.
Meanwhile at the top end of the table, surprise package Norwich City consolidated their firm grip over top spot with an emphatic 4-1 win over former Premier League outfit Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium. Daniel Farke’s side were in imperious form this weekend, as they secured a sixth straight win in the League. Can they maintain this form for the duration?
Leeds also maintain their pressure at the summit, as they swept aside 10-man Bristol City with ease. Former Preston youngster Josh Brownhill was dismissed 10 minutes into the second half and the Yorkshire side didn’t need much more of an invitation to take three crucial points back over the Pennines.
Frank Lampard’s Derby (their new name, in case you didn’t know) erased the memory of that 3-0 defeat to Aston Villa before the international break with a comeback victory over Sheffield Wednesday. Winger Adam Reach gave the Owls the advantage, but Derby smashed home two goals in quick succession to retain their spot in the playoffs.
Elsewhere, Bolton and Millwall starred in a cagey relegation zone battle in South East London. Bolton, the league’s lowest scorers, took an early lead, which they held onto until the dying embers. However, their plight continued as they surrendered their advantage, taking home a share of the spoils.
Local outfit Stoke City continued their incremental climb towards the playoffs with their fourth draw in five games. The Potters were the bookies favourites for promotion for the majority of the summer break, but it’s fair to say they’ve struggled adjusting to life in the second tier of English football. QPR defender Angel Rangel struck twice either side of two Stoke goals to continue their inspired form as of late. Rangers boss Steve McClaren came under severe scrutiny at the start of the campaign, but he’s successfully managed to galvanise his troops and weather an early storm.
The two Yorkshire clubs, Sheffield United and Rotherham United, played out a Desmond Tutu at the New York Stadium. The Millers came from behind twice in the match to earn a respectable point against formidable opposition.
Nottingham Forest made it three wins in five, mounting further pressure on the top six, whilst compiling more misery on Hull City. Second-half goals within the space of just three minutes from Grabban and Lolley were the visitor’s reward for a dominant display.
The tea-time kick-off saw Brentford take on an archetypal Tony Pulis side in Middlesbrough at Griffin Park. The Boro have conceded just nine goals this season and continued this impressive feat against the Bees, conceding just the one goal on their trip to Greater London.
Newly promoted Wigan Athletic paid the price for spurning a series of openings, as Reading kept the Latics at bay. Post-match, Wigan boss Paul Cook talked about the unforgiving nature of the league, as his side continue to adapt to their new surroundings.
And finally, we come to the Friday night kick-off between rock-bottom Ipswich Town and high-flyers West Brom. Despite a late rally at Portman Road, last season’s Premier League relegation fodder, West Brom, overcame their opponents with their abundance of quality. Jay Rodriguez and Harvey Barnes netted for the visitors, as Paul Lambert’s side continue their woeful run of form.