Championship Round-Up: The Title Race Gets a Little Bit Hotter
Norwich retain top spot despite some late drama at Carrow Lane. Bolton fought back in heroic style after going two down; goals from Ameobi and stalwart centre-half Mark Beevers looked set to give the Trotters a vital point. But Norwich talisman Teemu Pukki netted his 12th of the season in the dying embers to spare his side’s blushes.
It was an imperative three points for the Canaries, with Leeds United hot on their heels. The Yorkshire outfit played host to mid-table London side QPR. Rangers stunned Elland Road into silence, taking the lead just before the half an hour mark. But it was short-lived elation for the travelling fans, a Kemar Roofe brace proving enough to keep Leeds within one point of the summit.
In the evening kickoff, Chris Wilder’s Blades marched up to third disposing of managerless Reading with ease. Substitute Billy Sharp broke the deadlock seven minutes from time with a simple tap-in before Reading number 9 Sam Baldock headed into his own net to make sure of the points for United. Steadfast manager Chris Wilder still refuses to get ahead of himself, but his side are making real headway at the top end of the table.
“Frank Lampard’s Derby” made it three wins in five beating Wigan by just the one goal at the DW Stadium. With just fifteen minutes on the clock, Wigan defender Kai Naismith was dismissed, giving Derby the perfect invitation to take the lead. A deft Jack Marriott header put the Rams in-front, but rather than demolishing their opponents, they found themselves protecting a slender lead in a nervy second half. Derby failed to put the game to bed, leaving the door ajar for a Wigan side who have an impressive home record. Unfortunately for Wigan, they sunk to a fifth defeat in eight games.
Middlesbrough’s slight sticky patch continued as they failed to bounce back after their 3-nil humbling at Villa Park. The theme of red cards continued when tenacious Bosnian Mo Besic tugged the shirt of Bradley Dack, preventing a clear goalscoring opportunity. Charlie Mulgrew netted from the subsequent freekick, giving Blackburn a tenuous halftime advantage. Rovers had a couple of gilt-edged opportunities to seal a big three points on the road, but they failed to put daylight between themselves and Boro. The tactically adept Tony Pulis made all of his changes after the break and it paid dividends when out-of-favour Britt Assombalonga nailed home a sumptuous strike to earn his side a point.
At Griffin Park, Wayne Routledge set the tone for a thrilling encounter when he gave the Swans the lead a mere 25 seconds into the game. The rampant Swans soared into a 3-nil lead and looked to be in cruise control, but Ollie Watkins pulled one back before the interval to keep the Bees in the game. Algerian maestro Said Benrahma set up a grandstand finish thirty minutes from time, but the Swans held on, denying the Bees a share of the honey. That was their eighth defeat in thirteen League games… Tricky times for manager Thomas Frank.
Away day delight for my team Preston North End as they bounced back from humiliation against Birmingham City with a gritty 1-nil win away at inform Nottingham Forest. I didn’t expect this one and I think it’s fair to say the same for most of my fellow compatriots in Preston. Alex Neil’s men weathered a series of Forest efforts before storming into an early second half lead thanks to Stokie Louis Moult. It was a true poacher’s effort from Moult who is quickly cementing his status as a North End cult hero.
Speaking of Stokies, Tom Ince and Joe Allen sealed a second win in three games for Stoke City, keeping them firmly in touch with the playoff spots. Stoke’s elation came at the expense of Ipswich Town who are quickly becoming marooned at the foot of the table. A chasm of eight points separates them from 21st place Millwall.
Millwall had to settle for a meagre point against fellow strugglers Hull City, despite taking the lead just before the hour mark. It was an archetypal relegation dogfight at the foot of the table, both sides feeling the pressure. In the end they settled for a share of the spoils after a cagey affair in Bermondsey.
Elsewhere in the lower regions of the Championship, Sheffield Wednesday and fellow Yorkshire side Rotherham United played out a Desmond Tutu at Hillsborough. It was the derby win that got away from newly promoted Rotherham, as Michael Smith played in Will Vaulks with a lovely cushioned volley just ten minutes from time with the score level at 2-2. Vaulks pulled the trigger in front of the travelling fans, but watched on in agony as he sent his effort whistling past the post. Game over.
The full time whistle coincided with a chorus of incessant boos that rang out from the vexed home fans. Wednesday look bereft of both confidence and quality after registering just two wins in ten games. Whilst resolute Rotherham keep plugging away in search of their second win in fourteen games.
Last but not least comes the drab affair between Birmingham and Bristol City. Famara Diedhiou’s fifth goal of the season consigned the Blues to their first home defeat of the campaign, in a game that took a whole hour to spark into life. Not much for me to say here, as Bristol City continue to meander in the middle.
Oh, and before I sign off this one I thought I’d introduce a new, innovative feature; Tweet of the Day. Enjoy!