Championship Round-Up: Goals Galore on New Year’s Day
Well, isn’t that funny… As soon as I write an article professing my admiration for Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa, the promotion-bound club succumb to not one, but two successive defeats.
Coincidence? Quite probably, but even so, I did state that a sticky patch was plausible and that Leeds fans must stick right behind their obsessive and beautifully bizarre Argentine.
Perhaps the players had devoured a few too many mince pies and a tad too much mulled wine over the festive period. Or perhaps they are quite simply feeling the effects of Bielsa’s militaristic training intensity, especially at a time of the year when the games are in abundance.
On New Year’s Day, Leeds were looking to bounce back after being mauled by the Tigers of Hull City just three days prior. Instead, they found themselves starting the new year with a strong dosage of reality.
After falling behind on the hour mark, Nottingham Forest struck three times in seven minutes to send Marcelo Bielsa home with nothing but a stern reminder of the unforgiving nature of the Championship.
The three point package was a welcome gift for Forest, who had failed to win in their previous five matches. Could this win be the springboard for a meaningful promotion push? For me, no. Forest have been nothing short of underwhelming this campaign, especially considering their summer outlay. A playoff scramble is the most they can hope for in 2019.
Fortuitously for Leeds, the team hot on their heels could do nothing but scrape a meagre point. Norwich City came up against a Brentford outfit who are making incremental improvements after a shocking run of form. It was an enthralling clash at Griffin Park, characterised by calamitous officiating and missed opportunities.
Norwich faced a rejuvenated Brentford defence who marshalled the Canaries brilliantly after taking the lead in the first-half. The Bees were playing fluid football at a frenetic pace and this ‘swarm mentality’ was proving to be very effective. Norwich did eventually grab a leveller late on, but it would have been the Bees who felt more aggrieved after a dominant display in the capital.
The news of dropped points at the top made for the perfect hangover cure for the Sheffield United faithful. The razor-sharp Blades were rampant once again as they dispatched Wigan Athletic with ease. A fourteen minute unanswered goal blitz was enough to seal nine points in nine for the Yorkshire side who made the game look like a 9 am training exercise once they got into their stride. The Blades made vital ground at the top, pulling themselves to within four points of Leeds United at the summit.
After 266 days without an away win, Neil Harris’ Millwall side finally registered that elusive three points on the road, leaving Portman Road with an unbeaten record in 2019… It was a dogfight at the bottom and Millwall knew they were in for an arduous afternoon when Ipswich struck as early as the second minute.
But Millwall were willing to put in a fight and they flexed their muscles when they struck three times in a mere sixteen minutes to make it 3-1.
However, this pulsating affair was far from over when Ipswich substitute Kayden Jackson curled home a sumptuous effort just before the 90. It wasn’t enough, though, Millwall holding firm for the perfect end to the festive period.
The beer would’ve been flowing in Bermondsey that night, with some crucial results coming elsewhere. Bolton Wanderers were hit for six on their travels to Hull City… Yes, you heard that correctly: SIX. What a way to enter the new calendar year.
The stats speak for themselves in this one, as Bolton were well and truly mauled by the ferocious Tigers of Hull. Bolton created a paltry four chances compared to Hull’s eighteen. Hull also had five times more shots than their opposition inside the box. Need I continue? Probably not.
Although, for Bolton, there was slight consolation in the defeat of fellow relegation fodder Reading Football Club. Swansea were on the right end of this one, finding a wickedly ruthless edge, winning 4-1 in the end. Reading, under new management, have failed to win in the previous ten, whilst Swansea kept their slim promotion hopes alive.
Sticking with those on the peripheries of the playoffs, Aston Villa and QPR played out a Desmond Tutu whilst Birmingham and Sheffield Wednesday also stumbled to a stalemate.
In the first of those two fixtures, QPR shook Villa to the very core, when they emerged from behind to stab Villa twice. But once again Tammy Abraham rescued his side with his sixteenth of the season.
Tammy’s scintillating form has seen speculation rise and the loanee looks set to be moving on a permanent deal to fellow Midlanders Wolves. A lengthy injury list has also plagued the Villans who have had to recall two of their loan players in a bid to beef up their depleted ranks.
Sticking with the Midlands, Birmingham stopper Lee Camp salvaged a point on the road at Sheffield Wednesday, producing a catalogue of heroic saves. The Owls dominated proceedings for the duration, but found their lead slashed when Blues talisman Che Adams netted shortly after the half-time interval. Wednesday pounded Birmingham’s staunch resistance but Lee Camp was in no mood to surrender the point.
After falling to defeat just once in both November and December, our resident outfit Stoke City slumped to defeat at the hands of promotion hopefuls Bristol City. Perhaps it could’ve been a different story had Benik Afobe converted a sixth-minute spot kick.
But he didn’t, and a series of decent chances came and went, before Stoke were punished for their profligacy when Diedhiou powered home a header on the 39th minute. Stoke continued to huff and puff, but were finished off when Callum O’Dowda slotted home the winner nine minutes from time.
Anguish at the Bet365 Stadium as the full time whistle coincided with a chorus of bitter boos. A flag brandishing “Rowett Out” was unfurled mid-match and this seems to be the consensual opinion at the minute. “New year, new manager” on the horizon if results stay sour.
In East Lancashire, Blackburn put in a dogged display against West Brom to end a run of three consecutive defeats. Even when Rovers cruised into a 2-nil lead, their fans would be forgiven for lacking optimism.
In their last six encounters, they have surrendered the lead three times, dropping seven points in the process. But they made sure they rectified their defensive resolve, holding on to claim their first win in six.
The tense affair sparked into life on 53 minutes, when Charlie Mulgrew scored directly from a corner for the second time this season. And things just got better for Mowbray’s men, when rampant Dack shifted the ball onto his left peg before unleashing an emphatic finish into the top corner.
But Rovers gifted their shell shocked opponents a lifeline, when Barnes was brought down in the box. Rodriguez stepped up to the spot, greeted by a chorus of boos, but this did not faze the experienced hitman who lashed home the penalty to make it 2-1. The nerves began to jangle at Ewood Park, but Rovers held on to earn a deserved win.
In the playoffs, a strong Middlesbrough side stifled “Frank Lampard’s Derby” in a game that finished 1-1. The Rams faded after an impressive start which saw them break the deadlock with a Harry Wilson strike.
But Boro grew into the match and levelled through target man Hugill just seven minutes after the interval. Derby bounced back with a couple of swift counter-attacks and had a glorious chance to snatch three points, but one cap wonder David Nugent smacked his shot straight at Randolph. All square.
Right, I’m onto the last match now and that’s a bloody good job because our boiler has began spurting water from all angles and my hands are starting to freeze up. In order to prevent my fingers from snapping off like icicles, I am clinging onto the few ounces of warmth that are being expelled from my twentieth brew in as many minutes. Sounds like an X Factor sob story!
Anyway, onto Rotherham and Preston… Congratulations if you have persisted to these final musings. I am becoming delusional in the bitter internal conditions, so I thought I’d sum this one up in just four words; Rotherham punish wasteful Preston.
See you in the next one!