For many Championship clubs, the FA Cup has introduced itself as the season’s latest distraction.
Circumventing last weekend’s fourth round fixtures were a smattering of Championship games, each more important and must-win than the last.
The winners and losers mid-month
Bristol City travelled to Derby County on Friday the 19th looking to stabilise after a run of dire results. The Robins managed to keep out Gary Rowett’s frontmen, earning a 0-0 draw.
The following day was something of a goal-fest. Fulham smashed Burton Albion 6-0 at Burton Albion, leaving the midlands team wounded and languishing near the foot of the table. Aston Villa beat similarly lowly Barnsley 3-1 at Villa Park, while Sheffield United continued their recent improvements with a 2-1 win away at Norwich City.
The game of the day belonged to Millwall and Leeds United who played out a 4-3 away win at Elland Road. Neil Harris’s side secured two late goals to pile the misery on Leeds in the dying moments of the game.
Elsewhere, there were wins for Middlesbrough away at QPR, Brentford at Reading, Sunderland in a vital game against Hull City, and Nottingham Forest surprisingly away at Wolves.
Cardiff City built upon their demolition of Sunderland last week by battling for a draw away at Sheffield Wednesday. Birmingham City also managed an impressive away tie against Preston, while Ipswich secured their own away at Bolton.
The winners and losers at the weekend
Due to the FA Cup’s rude (or perhaps not so rude) intrusion, only a few domestic games were played at the weekend, all involving teams who had themselves been knocked out of the competition.
Wolves, looking to make up for their recent defeat to Forest, travelled to Ipswich Town, returning to the midlands with a well-earned 1-0 win. Norwich City, too, returned to winning ways with a 1-0 victory of their own away at Brentford.
In the two other to take place on Saturday, Bristol City put paid to their recent poor form with a 2-0 win against QPR at Ashton Gate, while Fulham continued their stellar run with a 3-1 success away at Barnsley.
The winners and losers in midweek
Tuesday’s catch-up fixtures included a set of pivotal games at the foot of the table.
Birmingham City improved upon their away draw on Weirside to emphatically beat Sunderland 3-1 at St Andrew’s. Jacques Maghoma epitomised his recent form with two sparkling assists, including a smart back heel for David Davis’s opener, while Jeremie Boga and Sam Gallagher both found the back of the net to keep their goalscoring form ticking along healthily.
Meanwhile, Reading also managed a 3-1 win away at Burton Albion to relieve some of the pressure that had been building on them of late, while there were also wins for Aston Villa and Preston North End.
The remaining three fixtures ended as bore nil-nil draws: the matches between Middlesbrough and Sheffield Wednesday, Millwall and Derby County, and Hull City and Leeds United all ended devoid of goal, with any interest in the game similarly left wanting.
Five things we’ve learned
Birmingham are keeping their survival hopes alive
Steve Cotterill’s Birmingham City side have pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps with three wins in their last five games.
Upturns in form for the Blues’ talismanic wingers Jeremie Boga and Jacques Maghoma have provided some much-needed creative edge to the team who, before a ball was kicked against Sunderland at St Andrew’s, were the worst scorers in the entirety of the Football League.
Tuesday’s 3-1 win against the Black Cats was the first time that Birmingham have scored three goals in the Championship since beating Rotherham 4-2 in October 2016.
The table now makes for much happier reading for fans from the second city, whose side spent the entirety of the festive period in the relegation zone.
While Sunderland are in dire straits
It’s now becoming an inescapable fact – Sunderland are totally and utterly devoid of hope.
Tuesday’s match against Birmingham was a must-win, but Chris Coleman’s team failed to turn up. 2-0 down at halftime, it already seemed as though Coleman’s men were well beaten during the break.
Now without their top scorer Lewis Grabban, who has just joined promotion-chasers Aston Villa, the Black Cats will find it even harder to find the net in the Championship, an apprehensive omen given they have the second worst defence in the league.
It’s time to put up or shut up for Bristol City
Bristol City’s draw away at high-fliers Derby and their subsequent 2-0 win against QPR on their return to home turf indicates that Lee Johnson’s team have made it through a rough patch which saw them lose three games—and heavily at that—on the trot.
With eminently winnable ties against Bolton and Sunderland kicking off the Robins’ February, the Bristolians should be a better position than the one they found themselves in a month ago when they contest their difficult end of the month fixtures against Fulham and Cardiff City.
Barnsley are being dragged into trouble
Barnsley have now lost back-to-back games, a miserable mini-run that has seen them solidified in the relegation battle, wavering just a point above the drop zone.
Their January loan signing of Swansea’s Scottish youngster Oliver McBurnie is sure to add some fuel to the front ranks, a welcome provision given February’s games of monumental import – Barnsley will host Burton Albion on the 20th, before travelling to Birmingham to take on the eponymous side on the 24th.
Leeds United are falling by the wayside
What a Jekyll and Hyde season it has been for Thomas Christiansen’s Leeds.
Throughout this campaign, the Yorkshire club have always been in with a sniff of the playoffs, but have always proved themselves beleaguered by inconsistencies. In a Formula 1 race they’d be the most unreliable car with one of the best drivers, always in with a shout of winning the championship despite the fact that they blow their engine every three races.
Things have not looked good recently in particular – they are without a win in their last five games, which include three losses and two draws.
Perhaps to shed their bad luck, the club attempted a badge change, but this proved to have little success—the image resembled more closely a man checking his watch (a common sight at Elland Road these days) than its intended message, which it seems was meant to be one of heartfelt-ness.
Too many other teams are now playing too well—Fulham and Aston Villa spring immediately to mind—for Leeds to continue to oscillate so frequently. Christiansen certainly has a job on his hands to keep everything steady before the season is out, and, if they do fail to attain 6th or higher, before he is inevitably kicked straight out of the front door.
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