Here we go again – Championship Football

Domestic football returned on Friday night with the two games in the Championship. Relegated Sunderland kicked off at home to promotion hopefuls Derby. The result was a 1-1 draw which Sunderland fans would have been more happier about on the opening weekend. The other game saw Nottingham Forest host newly promoted Millwall. It was joy for the home side as they sneaked home with a 1-0 a few minutes before half time. It was Nottingham Forest’s fifth win in six opening round fixtures. The Lions were left to rue missed chances. Despite the lack of possession, they had a total of 23 shots but could get only six of those on target. If they are to stay in the Championship, they will surely need to make more of their opportunities as tougher games ahead.

The other two relegated clubs had mixed results.Hull City who were relegated could only manage a 1-1 draw against Aston Villa, now managed by former Tigers boss Steve Bruce. The second half goal from the visitors not only denied their hosts an opening win, but also denied an opening clean sheet for John Terry making his debut with the club. Middlesbrough though were not so lucky and went down to Wolves after Leo Bonatini scored the only goal of the game.

It was mixed results for the other two teams promoted to the Championship. Bristol City had the honour of being top of the table with a 3-1 win over visitors Barnsley. The Robins record signing Famara Diedhiou netted on his debut with Bobby Reid netting the other two. For the Barnsley it is the opening day curse striking again. They have not won on the opening day for the last five seasons. Surely it can’t continue? Sheffield United were victorious but Bolton Wanderers went down 3-2 at home to Leeds United.

QPR got off to a good start as they beat ten man Reading. Conor Washington’s two goals was enough to see the West London club beat last seasons play off finalists, who found themselves with another defeat on their opening away day game. They have managed only one win in the last thirteen away games. On the other hand it was an extended record for Ian Holloway. He has yet to lose an opening game of the season with QPR, how some would love for an unbeaten start to the season.

Promotion hopefuls Fulham and Norwich saw their game finish one  a piece whilst Ipswich put their final day blues behind them to beat Harry Redknapp’s Birmingham City.

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Magpies fly,Canaries perched – Championship review

Rafa Benitez is a man who is always up for a challenge and when appointed as Newcastle manager, he was certainly going to be taking one on. Having taking on the Toon in March 2015, the Spaniard had come close to keeping the North East club up. Unforunately they were a just a win away from survival, one that could have been against Man City had Aguero’s goal not stood. Even worse for United would be seeing their northeast rivals Sunderland retaining their place in the Premier League.

Fastforward to October 2016 and all seems different. The opening two defeats seem a long way away. Having nailed Preston 6-1 in the midweek League Cup tie, I imagine Preston fans were fearing more of the same. For Preston it was alas another defeat to the Magpies but a far less defeat. In fact the goals from Newcastle came in the second half.

Hot on the tails of Newcastle are Brighton & Hove Albion. The South coast club are looking to make promotion to the Premier League having been the nearly men for the last few seasons. The Seagulls were flying high as they hosted Norwich City. The Canaries found themselves on the receiving end of  5-0 tanking, that included a Glen Murray hattrick. It was a blow for Norwich as a victory for them would have seen them go second. They have also taken a single point from nine as they look to return to the Premier League.

It was a blow for Huddersfield Town as they were beaten 5-0 at struggling Fulham. The visitors could have gone level on points with Brighton had they won, but strangely it wasnt to happen. With teams above dropping points enabled Reading to close the gap. They beat Nottingham Forest 2-0. Forest despite hitting just over 20 shots, could only get five on target but none in the back of the net.

At the other end of the table, Rotherham fans saw a second win of the season robbed from them as Ipswich scored a ninety fifth minute equaliser. A draw for Blackburn denied them a chance to pull out of the bottom three. The only teams to be happy near the bottom were Wigan who beat Cardiff to close the gap to a point and Derby County who beat Sheffield Wednesday.

The Championship may only be fifteen games in but the battles for promotion are very much taking shape.

Chasing the Championship – Road to the Premier League

As close as the chase for the Premier League title is, the chase for the Championship and promotion to the top flight is also very close. With four points separating the top four and seven between second placed Middlesbrough and sixth place, things are looking very interesting. Out of the top six, only third placed Brighton have yet to take their chance of Premier League football. Their closest opportunity to Premier League participation has been two play off place defeats. Will the play off runs put them in good stead for a Wembley visit or can they nail the automatic promotion that has eluded them for some time. Here’s how the weekend (26-28 Feb)

Hull opened the Championship’s latest round of fixtures against Sheffield Wednesday, who were looking to further secure their play off spot and brief hopes of automatic promotion. It ended goalless despite the possession and number of shots on goal. Naturally of course the stats count for nothing if you cant convert and so Hull’s chance to increase the gap between them and second place was missed.

Whilst Hull were blowing their opportunity, Burnley doing hard to overcome theirs. After 45 minutes the game was goalless but three second half goals in the space of 16 minutes saw Bolton’s hopes of victory dashed. Having gone 1-0 up in the 69th minute, the lead wasnt to last.  Two goals from Andre Gray (74,85) helped  see his tally rise to 18 and the visitors to the top of the table. The Clarets though will need to make sure they that they keep matters in their own hands having played additional games compared to rivals Hull and Middlesbrough.

Middlesbrough kept the pressure on as they increased their unbeaten run to 4 games with a win over struggling Fulham. An early goal from the promotion chasers together with a second first half goal secured the points and moved Boro level on points with Hull. With two games in hand to all but one of the other promotion chasers around them, it is surely advantage to the North Eastern club if they can take maximum points from those respective games.

As if that wasnt enough for Hull, south coast side Brighton are hanging on in the title race.As they go into their Monday night game against Leeds Utd, the Seagulls have a chance to close the gap on Burnley to 2 points as they hope to make their first visit to the Premier League and the return to the top flight for the first time since 1983.

With ten games to go the chase for the championship looks certain to be another close on.

Race for the Premier League – Down to the wire

So the penultimate week saw make and break time for those looking to reach the Premier League. Watford in the early kick off did their bit with a 2-0 win on the south coast at Brighton. Middlesbrough had to travel to struggling Fulham. In theory it should have been three points to the northerners but it seemed they were doing their best to throw it away. Fulham went 2-0 up before Boro pulled one back. Joy was short lived as the promotion chasers promptly found themselved down to ten men. This led to a penalty and the home side 3-1 up. It looked all over. Two goals in the last twenty minutes brought them level. At 3-3, a point for Middlesbrough looked enough to deny Bournemouth the chance to seal promotion. With little time remaining the visitors goalkeeper went up for a corner and a gamble that completely failed. Fulham cleared the ball and netted a win. Middlesbrough fans must have been pulling their hair out at the clubs inability to stay in the game. It confirmed though Watford’s automatic promotion to the Premier League.

On the Monday night Bournemouth had the task of hosting Bolton. The visitors had nothing really to play for, they were safe from relegation and it was mostly pride. The first half looked like heading to a goalless conclusion. Two goals in six minutes just before half time turned the game. Goals from Pugh and Ritchie sent the home fans into jubilation. They had one hand on Premier League promotion. When the third goal went in, the home fans were in raptures. With the Cherries far superior goal difference, it would mean Charlton having to win 19-0…..That is certainly not going to happen.

The title race wasnt the only thing that was still all to play for. There was the small matter of the Play off spot chase. With Middlesbrough and Norwich securing two of the play off spots, it was down to four teams battling out for the remaining two spots. Ipswich Town, Derby County, Brentford and Wolves all hoping to get the chance of a Wembley win and the third promotion spot. Ipswich Town were home to Nottingham Forest, Derby travelled to relegation threatened Millwall, Brentford travelled to Reading and Wolves also were away to a relegation threatened side in the form of Wigan.

Ipswich scored a 2-1 win with a goal in the last ten minutes to edge closer to play off security. Derby County found themselves facing a battle against relegation threatened Millwall. The Londoners playing for their Championship place found themselves pushing themselves to a 2-0 lead. Derby County reduced the deficit to 2-1 at half time, but not long into the second half, the lead was extended. Millwall fans seemed hopeful of Championship survival. Derby were in trouble it would seem a 70th minute penalty pulled it back to 3-2 but it was still looking bleak. It was game on again for Derby as they levelled with 5 minutes to go.

Brentford scored a 2-0 victory to keep the hopes of a play off place alive into the final game. A goal in each half was enough to give the London club a slim chance of a shot at Wembley. Wolves looking to make a return to the Premier League had what could have been a banana skin trip to Wigan. It took a single goal but it was enough to keep them in touch.

Notable observation is goal difference. Derby County hold the sway with a plus 32 goal difference which could equate to an extra point. In theory County only require a point at home to Reading, but the fans and the club will want to finish off the season at home with all three points. Ipswich travel to Blackburn knowing they too only require a point to take a playoff place. They will need to aim for three points as their goal difference is only three more than Brentford and seven more than Wolves. Brentford will be hoping to avoid a repeat of the game at Brentford which was a goalless draw. This would end their playoff hopes.

Whatever happens it’s going to be an interesting finish to the Championship.

Battle to the Premier League – Championship run in

With Premier League trophy looking likely to head to London in May, less can be said about where the Championship trophy will end up. Bournemouth, Watford, Norwich City and Middlesbrough separated by just two points and with the top four all guaranteed at least a playoff place, it is just the matter of who will finish where. Extraordinarily though the final run in only sees two of the top four battle it out. Friday 17th April sees Norwich City host Middlesbrough in a game where the winner will find themselves top of the league albeit only till Saturday tea time.

Whilst Norwich who recently lost to Wigan in what seems to be a rare defeat, the same could not be said for Middlesbrough whose early season pasting of the Canaries, seems to be a long way a way. They will hope to avoid another defeat to their rivals having already lost to Bournemouth and Watford in the last ten games. Middlesbrough though despite having conceded ten in the last eleven games, still have the tightest defence in the top four but it is the scoring of goals that is the north east club’s problem. They have only bagged 64 goals compared to the likes of Watford, Norwich and Bournemouth, who are 80 plus in the scoring column.

Whilst there are few games that involve the relegation battlers, the other clubs that the top four face will still all be playing for pride, so it is going to be a tricky one to call. I believe though that one of the automatic promotion places will go to Bournemouth with their first visit to the top flight. It will certainly be a turnaround for the club who narrowly avoided relegation from the football league in 2009.

With two play off spots already guaranteed, another mini battle takes place. Derby County, Ipswich, Wolves and Brentford separated by four points, face a battle for two play off spots. Derby and Ipswich are currently in the driving seat with three games to go. In reality Derby County should have really been challenging for automatic promotion and even the title, but a run of seven games without a win including four defeats has consigned them to the playoff route hope.

Ipswich Town face a trip to playoff rivals Wolves. For the Suffolk side they are in the position that means a win or draw keeps their playoff hopes in their control. A draw might also consign Wolves to another season of Championship football. A win for Wolves and its very much game on as Wolves will move level with Ipswich.

Brentford face  a somewhat easier run in as they will play Blackburn Bolton and Wigan, but of course in football there are no easy games, especially when you have something to play for, but whilst fans of clubs involved will be twitchy, for the neutrals it will be an interesting run in and possibly one of the closest for a few seasons.