The festivities are well and truly over, and the New Year has rolled in. Championship teams are now back to the usual grind, and so are Soccity.
2018 promises to be a year of unparalleled quality and shocking circumstances, of ecstatic peaks and exasperating troughs—as ever, England’s second tier is no different.
The winners and losers
Narrowly avoiding the proverbial bad luck of a Friday the 13th fixture, the City of Steel derby stuttered the weekend into life with a remarkably bore 0-0 draw on Friday the 12th. Spectators were spared superstition, but found themselves watching an uninspiring match that identified them as no less unlucky.
Perhaps both Wednesday and United fans had walked under ladders on their way to the turnstiles at Bramall Lane, though it was fans of the former that would have returned home the happier as Jos Luhukay drew his first game in charge of Sheffield Wednesday.
On Saturday, Cardiff City returned to winning ways with an emphatic 4-0 drubbing of a hapless and dejected visiting Sunderland side. Not to be outdone, however, fellow automatic promotion chasers Derby answered that result with a 3-0 win of their own at St. Andrew’s a couple of hours later.
Burton Albion failed to capitalise on the poor results of their struggling relegation candidate colleagues, losing 3-1 at home against QPR, while Bolton Wanderers also suffered defeat at the hands of Brentford.
Elsewhere, there were wins for Norwich City against a teetering Bristol City side, Ipswich Town against Leeds United, Fulham away at Middlesbrough, and Aston Villa away at Nottingham Forest in Saturday’s late kick-off.
Barnsley earned a hard fought 0-0 draw against runaway table toppers Wolves, moving them three points clear of the drop zone. Meanwhile, the game between Hull City and Reading ended goalless, and Millwall drew 1-1 at home to Preston North End.
Five things we’ve learned
Bristol City need to win, and fast
Lee Johnson’s Bristol City, having earned so many plaudits from fans, commentators and critics alike so far this season, have lost their last three matches in a row. What’s more, they’ve failed to find the net in each of those three games.
Tipped by many (including myself) to be the surprise act in this year’s playoffs as far back as their opening game of the season, in which they strode to a comfortable 3-1 win against Barnsley, City are now a side teetering on the edge, in danger of replicating teams like Cardiff and Sheffield United who have struggled of late.
Nevertheless, a respectable 2-1 Carabao Cup semi-final first-leg defeat at the Etihad Stadium against Manchester City indicates that there’s still plenty of fight left in Johnson’s men and, with crucial ties against Derby County and QPR on the horizon, there’s more than enough time to make up for this bad run.
Fulham are mounting a charge
Last week, I suggested that Fulham might be getting back to the simple tactical notion that made them such a formidable force last season—outscoring teams.
A tight 1-0 away result this week, though, doesn’t necessarily suggest a rampant, potent attack, but it does show that Fulham are nearing their best—after all, an away success against a side in the Premier League last season is no mean feat.
Now just a point away from the top six, and with four wins in their last five games, Fulham seem to be hitting form at exactly the right stage of the season. As we so often see, securing that playoff spot usually comes down to who strings together results at precisely the right stage in the season. Championship fans will wait with baited breath, then, to see if Jokanovic does indeed have perfect timing.
Derby continue to impress
Derby County managed to steal two points on leaders Wolves at the weekend with a hearty 3-0 win away at Birmingham City. Though the gap still remains at ten points, there are many signs of encouragement for Gary Rowett.
Saturday’s result saw Rowett head-to-head against the club that took the ludicrous decision to sack him last season though placed in 7th and outside of the playoff places solely on goal difference, and the former Derby and Birmingham player took sweet, swift and well-deserved retribution against his former employers.
The scoring form of Matej Vydra was impressively upheld, a fact that will no doubt make Rowett immensely happy—the Czech international now has 16 goals in all competitions this season.
With three wins in their last five games, unbeaten in that same stretch, and with the second most goals in the league, there is plenty of optimism surrounding Pride Park at this stage of the season.
Cardiff City prove their mettle
Saturday’s early fixture saw the Bluebirds brush aside Sunderland, managed by fellow Welshman Chris Coleman, at the Cardiff City Stadium.
Neil Warnock’s side beat the Black Cats 4-0 to put an abrupt end to their four match winless run, which had seen the club developing an intense case of imposter syndrome in consideration of their time at the top of the table.
Scotland international Callum Paterson, who scored a brace in Saturday’s match, declared that Cardiff’s ‘wobble’ had come to an end: “Hopefully we’ve got our wobble out of the way and now the only way is up … Everyone struggles at some point in a season and hopefully this can be the kick-start we need to get us back up to where we want to be.”
Hull are still without a win under Adkins
This weekend’s visitors at the KCOM stadium were Reading, a side dejected after a seven match winless run. Furthermore, the Royals were without a goal in two games, having been held in the FA Cup against lower-league Stevenage in their last game.
After a 0-0 draw, Japp Stam is instead looking at a string of eight games without a win, and three games without a goal.
Hull City’s Nigel Adkins, on the other hand, must be wondering what he must have to do to get a win, if he cannot beat such a misfiring opponent.
The Tigers find themselves only a point above the drop zone currently, unable to score in five of their last six games, and are without a win in that same stretch, which began when Adkins was appointed their manager.
Employed to stave off danger, Adkins has thus far only managed to steer Hull towards it, though he has an excellent chance of achieving his first win as the new boss when his side meet Sunderland, the lowest scorers in the division, this weekend.
A six-pointer no doubt, but one that many would have imagined would be occurring at the opposite end of the table when the season began.
Next week, we’ll take a look at a big crunch match at the top between Derby County and Bristol City, and that important relegation clash just mentioned, as well as a host of pivotal games.
See you then.