As we head once again towards that foreboding date, the Championship table has again thrown up a myriad of questions.
In the build-up to this most portentous of times, are there yet more bad omens on the horizon for those floundering at the bottom?
Will Wolves, so long at the head of the Empire, finally succumb to Cardiff’s knife?
Am I pushing this metaphor too far?
The answers to all of these queries will become apparent in due time, but the results of the past week have certainly demarcated the next steps of each club’s fate.
The winners and losers last week
The start of Garry Monk’s tenure as Birmingham City boss was a losing one, as his quest to save the Blues from the drop began with defeat against his former club Middlesbrough at St Andrew’s on Tuesday 6 March. Patrick Bamford, who found game-time hard to come by under Monk, grabbed the only goal of the match.
Thankfully for Monk and Birmingham, the teams dotted around them in the struggle against relegation were equally unfortunate – Burton lost 2-0 at home to Dean Smith’s exciting Brentford side, Barnsley were beaten 2-1 away at Cardiff, Hull lost 2-1 against Millwall at the KCOM stadium, and Sunderland were trounced 3-0 at home against Aston Villa.
At the top, Fulham continued their impressive run against Sheffield Wednesday with a 3-0 victory to ensure that Slavisa Jokanovic’s men remained well immersed in the play-off run-in — the win over Chris Wilder’s hapless Blades meant that Fulham had taken 29 points from 11 games in 2018.
In response, Derby County could only muster a 1-1 away draw at QPR, while Bristol City were defeated 2-1 away at Preston North End.
Elsewhere, Norwich and Nottingham Forest fans endured a less than thrilling 0-0 draw at Carrow Road, while Reading and Bolton played out a 1-1 draw of their own at the Madejski. Ipswich were rewarded on their travels, beating Sheffield Wednesday 2-1.
The following day, knowing they needed a ferocious response, Wolves battered Leeds United 3-0 at Elland Road to remind the chasing pack exactly what they’re capable of.
The following Saturday, however, put Santo’s side on edge again.
A close 3-2 win for Cardiff City against Birmingham at three o’clock meant that Wolves kicked off their Midlands derby against Villa later that afternoon needing a win. Cardiff’s pressure, however, eventually told, with Wolves succumbing to a 4-1 away defeat at Villa Park, having kept it tight to end the first half 1-1.
Back in the three o’clock kick offs, Hull City took full advantage of yet another Birmingham defeat to steer further clear of the drop zone with a 4-3 win over Norwich. Bolton Wanderers and Burton Albion ensured that they kept their hopes of staying up alive with battling draws against Sheffield Wednesday and Bristol City respectively.
Sunderland, however, were not so lucky, slipping to a 1-0 defeat away at QPR. Barnsley, too, could not overcome the difficult task of beating Middlesbrough at the Riverside, losing 3-1, with Patrick Bamford again amongst the goals.
There were also wins for Millwall at home against Brentford and Fulham away at Preston North End. The matches between Ipswich Town and Sheffield United, and Reading and Leeds, ended as draws.
On Sunday, Derby County travelled to fierce rivals Nottingham Forest (what we might perhaps denote the ‘Clough Derby’) hoping to keep pace with Cardiff, Villa and Fulham. Neither side could manage a goal, though, meaning that Rowett’s side were again left to lick their wounds.
The winners and losers on catch-up Tuesday
Oh how football’s fortune turns her wheel day by day.
Aston Villa, who looked immaculate against Wolves, were well beaten at home by QPR — 3-1 it finished at Villa Park.
Cardiff, by contrast, continued to step up, winning 3-1 away at Brentford, by no means an easy match to win.
Wolves, again needing to show some bite, travelled to Reading and trounced them 3-0 — pressure, what pressure?
At the bottom, that elusive three points still evades Barnsley, as they could only draw against Norwich at Oakwell, while Hull improved upon their survival credentials with a 3-0 win away at Ipswich Town.
Elsewhere, Sheffield United returned to winning ways against Burton Albion.
An auspicious time indeed.
Next week sees an important London derby take place at Craven Cottage between Fulham and QPR, while Hull City travel to Birmingham in Saturday’s vital relegation clash.