Championship Round-Up; the White Rose Blazes
Leeds made it five consecutive wins with a narrow 1-0 victory over strugglers Bolton. Frontman Patrick Bamford returned from injury to help his side grab a vital three points on the road, taking them to the summit. Bolton have had a turbulent time both on and off the pitch lately, coming into Saturday’s clash in 23rd place. Once again they had failed to pay their players on time and even went and banned one of Bolton News’ leading reporters for a Muppets meme… No joke. More worryingly they’ve registered a mere one win in eighteen matches.
Bolton now find themselves looking nervously over their shoulder after Paul Lambert claimed his first three points at the helm of Ipswich Town. It was a moment of relief for Lambert who embraced every single one of his players at full time. Loanee Reece James rattled the bar for Wigan but it was a deflected Freddie Sears strike that settled the tie in the Tractor Boys’ favour just moments later.
Sticking with the relegation zone, Millwall sunk into the bottom three following a miserable afternoon up North in Preston. PNE made it 24 points from their last 12 games, but this one certainly wasn’t comfortable viewing for the duration. The torrid conditions at Deepdale played their part in a static opening half an hour, but Preston struck twice in the space of five minutes to make things a little more bearable.
The Lions came out of the blocks after the interval at a blistering pace and earned their reward when towering centre half Liam Cooper squeezed in a header at the back post. But Preston stood firm and put the game to bed 20 minutes later when fullback Andrew Hughes found the back of the net with a grass-cutting freekick. A late consolation gave the Lions something to roar about, but it was a goal that simply made the scoreline a little bit more flattering.
The Canaries were knocked off their perch at the top, as they stuttered to a stalemate at Ashton Gate. Norwich took the lead in style, as Marco Stiepermann sent a superb effort curling into the bottom-left corner. Suspect goalkeeping from the ever-present Tim Krul let Bristol City back into the game on the stroke of half time, before Callum O’Dowda completed the turnaround with an emphatic finish. But it was Norwich who dug deep when Max Aarons got on the end of a pinpoint Hernandez cross to nod the equaliser over the line. It finished all square, as Norwich relinquished top spot; fine margins in the race for promotion.
After their impressive start to the campaign, Middlesbrough continue to tumble in the wrong direction. It was a fourth successive match without a win for Boro, who fell to a 2-1 defeat on their travellers to QPR. Rangers broke the deadlock with just four minutes on the clock, when Pawel Wszolek prodded the ball home. George Saville levelled things up for the visitors just after the break, but Tony Pulis’ side succumbed to defeat on the hour mark as Nakhi Wells gave the hosts all three points.
At Ewood Park, Blackburn Rovers looked destined to be lurching back into playoff contention when they stormed into a 2-0 lead against Birmingham City. But Blues hit back twice in just two minutes to stun the hosts into silence as the rain bounced off the turf. Craig Gardner converted a spot kick on 78 minutes before Che Adams slotted home from close range to give his side an equaliser. Rovers boss Tony Mowbray was duly incredulous after his side’s dominant display. It was a draw that felt more like a defeat.
Aston Villa remain unbeaten at home under boss Dean Smith, but they had to come from behind twice against Stoke to retain this accolade. Jonathan Kodjia was the Holte End hero, coming to Villa’s rescue to salvage a point in a game that finished 2-2 at Villa Park. An unmarked Joe Allen rifled Stoke City into the lead just moments into the second half, sparking the clash into life. Kodjia then graced the field as a substitute on the 66th minute and immediately changed the complexion of the match.
Erik Pieters clumsily brought Kodjia down in the box and Tammy Abraham stepped up, converting the spot kick to draw Villa level. But it was the visitors who regained the lead with a spot kick of their own five minutes later, when Benik Afobe placed his penalty into the bottom-left corner. Jubilation for the travelling Stokies who looked set to leapfrog their hosts. Their celebrations were muted, however, when Kodjia deftly headed home Bolasie’s cross to earn his side a share of the spoils.
At the other end of the table, Rotherham and Reading played out a cagey 1-1 draw, with the goals coming 81 minutes apart. As the game approached it’s conclusion, it looked like Sam Baldock’s 9th minute goal would settle the tie in Reading’s favour, but Joe Mattock bundled the ball home in the dying embers to salvage a crucial point for Rotherham. It was a point that kept both sides poised just above the dreaded drop zone.
Just above Rotherham and Reading sit Brentford, who have won just one in fifteen League matches. Saturday was another soul destroying afternoon for the Bees whose alarming run of form was compounded by a 2-0 defeat at Hull City. Frazier Campbell’s first half double was enough to seal the three points and intensify the pressure upon Bees boss Thomas Frank who has won just one game since taking the reins at Brentford. Attacking has been the least of Brentford’s worries, but their amateurish defending has been woeful. Brentford looked potent for large portions of the game, but could not penetrate a resilient Hull backline. Perhaps they might be able to resurrect the season in January, should they make some defensive additions.
Over the border in Wales, Swansea kept pace with the top six as they achieved back-to-back wins for the third time this season. Marco Matias put Sheffield Wednesday ahead on the hour mark, but Swansea super-sub Bersant Celina turned the game on its head in a mere two minutes. The swirling wind and driving rain made this a tough contest, but it was the Owls who took an unlikely lead when Matias robbed the Swans of possession before drilling a shot past Mulder and into the back of the net. However Wednesday have not won on the road in over two months and this was not set to change. Bersant Celina came onto the pitch to make an inspired impact. The Kosovan showed real composure to finish off an impressive attacking move, before turning provider, lifting a defence-splitting pass into the feet of Wayne Routledge who put the ball through the legs of the keeper to complete the comeback.
Finally, we come to the East Midlands derby between Derby County and Nottingham Forest. The setting was a swollen and raucous Pride Park, but I think it’s fair to say that this fiery fixture was lacking in quality on the pitch. Both sides huffed and puffed producing no significant end product. Joe Lolley sent an emphatic strike crashing against the bar for Forest, whilst Derby had shouts for a blatant penalty waved away, but other than that, little separated the two historic clubs. It was a full-blooded physical affair that showed neither side is probably ready for top-flight football.
Forest relied heavily on long-balls hoofed up to talisman Grabban; an ad hoc approach that had limited success. Eventually they adopted a more measured passing approach, pressing further up the field. Then, Forest began to carve out more meaningful attacking sequences, but a staunch Derby defence thwarted much of their visitor’s creative intent. Derby went close through potent outlet Harry Wilson and a David Nugent header which stretched Costel Pantilimon, but both sides stood firm in a game that fizzled out rather tamely.
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