This week we have two rounds of Championship fixtures to cover, including crucial ties at Molineux and Ashton Gate that could decide the course of the season.
The winners and losers in midweek
While it was a very happy Halloween for Wolves, Bristol City, and Cardiff, Sheffield United suffered a real scare away at QPR. The Blades had won three in a row before their trip to Loftus Road, which ended in a 1-0 win for Rangers.
Wolves on the other hand, continued to march forward with a 2-0 win away at Norwich, while Bristol City and Cardiff also tightened their grip on the top places with victories against Fulham and Ipswich Town respectively.
At the other end of the table, Barnsley beat Burton Albion 4-2 in a thrilling six-pointer at the Pirelli Stadium to climb away from the danger zone, while Sunderland and Bolton Wanderers acted out an equally enticing 3-3 draw in what was to be Simon Grayson’s last game in charge.
Elsewhere, there were wins for Middlesbrough at Hull, and Derby County at now struggling Leeds United.
Meanwhile, Sheffield Wednesday returned to winning ways against Millwall at Hillsbrough, and Reading beat Nottingham Forest 3-1 at The Madejski.
The first evening of November saw Brentford travel to Birmingham, and Preston host Aston Villa. Both matches ended 2-0 in favour of the away sides, with Brentford and Villa the victors.
The winners and losers at the weekend
Normal fixture service resumed on Friday night as Wolves hosted Fulham. Both clubs were tipped to finish highly at the start of the season, but Wolves’s 2-0 win proved just how far apart these two teams now find themselves.
Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off saw Cardiff travel to Bristol City for a match that was a must-win for both sides. A 2-1 victory for Lee Johnson’s men made it three wins in three, though Cardiff still occupy third, a place above The Robins.
Sheffield Wednesday journeyed to Villa Park buoyed by their midweek success against Millwall, and Carvalho’s men duly picked up from where they had left off — a 2-1 away win made it two wins in two for the Yorkshire club.
Another side to achieve back-to-back wins was Reading, who ran out 4-2 victors away at Gary Rowett’s Derby County. Nottingham Forest also put four past QPR at home, while Sheffield United returned to winning ways with a 4-1 win against Hull City.
Elsewhere in the three o’clock kick-offs, there were wins for Barnsley, Bolton, Ipswich, and Burton.
Saturday’s late game saw Brentford host a Leeds United side whose form had recently taken a turn for the worse. There was nothing to chose between the sides at 1-1 going into the last ten minutes, but Yoann Barbet’s freekick in the 85th minute, coupled with Ryan Woods’s 18-yarder in stoppage time, put pay to a sorry Leeds.
Sunday’s only fixture saw Middlesbrough beat Sunderland 1-0 — Middlesbrough now occupy fifth spot after three wins in three.
Five things we’ve learned
Leeds are in free fall
Thomas Christiansen’s men have now only won once in their last five games.
This week, Leeds had two extremely winnable matches. The first of these, against Derby at Elland Road, was undoubtedly tricky — Rowett’s Rams had won three in a row before making the trip north. Before that run of games, however, Derby had drawn three in a row, and it’s precisely this kind of inconsistency that had been a constant stumbling block for them so far this season. Christiansen would have been disappointed to lose 2-1 to them at home, especially given Derby’s position as rivals for promotion.
The defeat away at Brentford would have stung players, fans, and manager alike. A relatively solid performance ended in capitulation in the final minutes.
The end result? Leeds United have now lost three games on the bounce, and must now face two tough matches against a resurgent Middlesbrough, and a brilliant, nigh on unbeatable, Wolves side.
No immediate change in fortunes for Sunderland
Sunderland sacked long-suffering manager Simon Grayson after their 3-3 home draw against fellow relegation candidates Bolton Wanderers.
Still without a win since August, Sunderland now find themselves propping up the Championship table in 24th, a fact that the board at The Stadium of Light could no longer stomach.
Unsurprisingly, Grayson was given his marching orders, forcing Billy McKinlay and Robbie Stockdale to step in as caretaker managers for the weekend’s trip to The Riverside.
While Sunderland fans can take some heart in the chances their side created — Darren Randolph produced some stellar saves to keep them from scoring — another defeat beckoned.
Both McKinlay and Stockdale are expected to be replaced on Wearside, but changing the manager certainly didn’t’ have an immediate effect as far as results are concerned.
And none for Birmingham either
Meanwhile, Birmingham continue to struggle.
Despite a heartening victory over Cardiff City in his first game in charge, Steve Cotterill’s side have managed just a point since that game. Worse still, they haven’t scored in four matches.
Birmingham remain the lowest scorers in the Championship with just eight goals, and their decision to sack Harry Redknapp in favour of Cotterill has thus far paid no dividends.
Two 2-0 defeats in a row against Brentford and potential relegation rivals Barnsley means that the Blues head into the international break in the drop zone.
Fulham remain inconsistent
Despite a play-off semi-final defeat to Reading at the end of last year, many Fulham fans were hopeful of automatic promotion this season, and many pundits predicted that they would be there-or-there-abouts come May.
Last year, Tom Cairney was the best player in the league, and the Craven Cottage faithful were hopeful that their success in keeping him despite Premier League interest would ensure their promotion this term.
Fast forward sixteen games, and that hope has vanished.
Having taken only two points in their last five games, and without a win since September, Fulham are now languishing at the bottom of the table and continue to plummet.
Fulham had struggled in the Championship since being relegated from the top division in 2014, but last year seemed to have put that behind them.
Worryingly for Fulham fans, this year’s side look far more akin to those strugglers than they do to the play-off semi-finalists of the last campaign.
The relegation battle is becoming clearer than the promotion one
Currently, a mere five points separate Middlesbrough in fifth and QPR in fifteenth.
As I asserted last week, an extended run of form could see any side in those places mount a promotion push.
While the race at the top only becomes more unpredictable with every passing game, the fight at the bottom seems to become clearer and clearer.
Where five points separate eleven sides at the right end of the table, a similar measure spans only five at the wrong one. Hull City, in twentieth position, have sixteen points, six more than Sunderland at rock bottom.
Undeniably, just as a run of good form can change everything in the scrap for promotion, so can it determine the fight against relegation, but the margins seems to be much finer in one direction than the other.
A guess could far more readily be made that Sunderland, Bolton, Birmingham, and Burton will be staring League One in the face at the season’s close, than a prediction that Middlesbrough, Aston Villa, Derby County, and Ipswich will even be competing for fifth and sixth in May.
The international break rears its ugly head once again this week, so Soccity’s Championship round-up will rest up until the following week’s domestic fixtures.
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