We’ve entered the shortest month of the year when the footballing season enters its final sprint to the finish.
A weekend packed healthily with Championship fixtures has come and gone, and once again, Soccity is here to bring you up-to-date with all of the goings-on.
The winners and losers
On Friday, Sammy Ameobi produced a solo run and precise strike that would have made his footballing heritage proud (and put pay to a frustrated Bristol City side). Lee Johnson’s men made the trip back down south with nothing to show for their forays. The game was a frustrating 1-0 loss to Bolton Wanderers, who were playing home side at Macron Stadium.
Saturday’s ensuing fixtures stayed bizarrely true to the form book. Aston Villa beat Burton Albion 3-2 in a thrilling encounter at Villa Park (to ensure that they continue to put the pressure on second place Derby County). Meanwhile, the Championship’s form side, Fulham, strode comfortably past Nottingham Forest.
Additionally, Cardiff City made sure that it was curtains on Thomas Christiansen’s time at Leeds United. He’s since been replaced by Barnsley’s Paul Heckingbottom—an appointment that assures that the merry-go-round is far from stopping at Leeds.
Elsewhere, there were wins for Derby County at home against Brentford; Norwich against Middlesbrough; Preston against Hull; QPR against Barnsley, and Millwall away at Reading.
Down at the bottom, Sunderland’s players continue to cut defeated figures. The misery of their 2-0 home defeat was only compounded by Birmingham’s 3-1 away rout at Sheffield Wednesday.
Wolves did exactly what was expected of them (yet again) and dispatched Sheffield United 3-0 at Molineux to further increase their iron grip on the Championship trophy.
Leeds need to shed the sacking culture
Following a defeat to Cardiff at the weekend, Leeds United decided to sack manager Thomas Christiansen—after just eight months in charge.
Replacing him, somewhat shockingly, is Paul Heckingbottom, whose Barnsley side have recently been in a rut of poor form.
Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani quickly apologized for the appointment of the Dane, citing that he had ‘made a mistake’ in bringing him in eight months ago. During his tenure, Christiansen guided Leeds to 15 wins in 35 games, but a recent run of four out of five defeats left the Elland Road men lagging seven points behind the play-off places.
Heckingbottom becomes Leeds’s ninth manager since 2014, an alarming trend that must surely end if Leeds are to ever make good on the expectations that their often over-zealous and unrealistic owners continue to press on them.
Burton Albion are losing ground
Burton Albion now find themselves bottom of the league, having lost their last four games in a row.
With fellow languishers Birmingham City and Bolton Wanderers embarking on decent mini-runs (to put some distance between themselves and the relegation zone), Burton Albion are becoming more and more clouded in their dust.
If it was not for Sunderland and Hull City’s similar struggles, Burton would be out of touch altogether.
One thing is unerringly clear: they need a win, and soon.
Are we beginning to see a clear top four?
With Aston Villa and Fulham both winning (at least) their last five games on the bounce, and Derby continuing to cement their place in second (as a side that harnesses the threatening dual ability to win a game fluently while being difficult to beat), it seems that a top four is announcing itself.
Obviously, the table doesn’t currently reflect this, but the last six games or so have shown that Fulham, Villa, Wolves and Derby seem to be a cut above the rest. Cardiff continue to hang on, with Bristol City just about in the mix, as well. But most Championship fans will be able to imagine a universe in which both of these teams fall away from the rest.
One supposes that only time shall tell, but the signs all seem to be aligning and pointing to a (largely Midlands dominated) cogent top four.
Second city derby will be a meeting of two form sides
And speaking of sides from the Midlands…
This coming Sunday will see Birmingham and Aston Villa go head-to-head for the second time this season at Villa Park. This time, though, in markedly different positions in the table, and in markedly different positions from the ones they found themselves in late 2017.
However, only three places separate them in the form table: Aston Villa are top with six wins in their last six, while Birmingham are in fourth with four wins in the same time.
They are the antithesis of each other if their whole campaigns are compared, but Sunday’s meeting is unlikely to be the walkover that the table might suggest.
Either way, it’s a match absolutely not to be missed.
When it rains, it pours—especially if you’re a goalkeeper
Undeniably, the player who will least want to review his performance from the weekend is Sheffield Wednesday’s stopper, Joe Wildsmith.
During the course of Birmingham’s 3-1 away win at Hillsborough, Wildsmith made one glaring error (and was involved in another), as Blues emerged as comfortable victors against the Owls’ nine men.
The first was a miscommunication with a central defender after a corner, allowing David Davis to poke home from nary five yards out; the second was the kind of goalkeeping error that no one likes to see (apart from the scoring team). Jota’s tame, twenty-five-yard shot looked easily covered by Wildsmith as it dribbled towards his outstretched arms, but the young ‘keeper allowed it to slip through his grasp into the back of the net.
Wildsmith’s mistakes capped a miserable day for Wednesday, who now find themselves being unhappily dragged into the relegation battle.
Who’d be a goalkeeper, eh?
As previously mentioned, next weekend’s big game is the second city derby, so expect analysis of that game and more in the following iteration of Soccity’s Championship round-up.