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.

Chase for The Championship – Down to the wire?

With Brighton winning away in London on the Friday and Newcastle United losing on the Saturday, it saw the two teams swap places as they aim for glory. It was the seagulls third win in six days and looks enough to keep them in the automatic promotion spots, but as we have seen, nothing is quite guaranteed. For Friday’s game it looked like it could fizzle out in to a draw that would have quite suited their rivals Newcastle.

Glenn Murray had bagged his 21st of the season and his goals going on in the final few games will prove crucial to the South Coast outfit’s promotion chances. Chances were few and far between either of the clubs (eight out of twenty eight combined) but sometimes you just need to convert the ones you take and two out of three for Brighton was enough.

For Newcastle United, their day was the opposite. They were up against it playing Sheffield Wednesday who themselves aiming for a play off spot. It didn’t get any better after 29 minutes when they lost their star striker Dwight Gayle. Despite having the more shots and possession, Rafa Benitez’s men showed that stats don’t count for nothing. Like the game at Loftus Road, it was one of second half showing. A goal on hour and one ten minutes later had most certainly secured the points for the Owls, even though Jonjo Shelvey had netted for Newcastle close to the end.

Huddersfield who are currently third, may have a game in hand but they have a ten point deficit and it could very well be the Easter weekend fixtures that seal the automatic promotion or see oportunities still open. Huddersfield host Preston on Friday and travel to Derby County on the Monday. Two top ten teams battling for position more than anything as they seem too far back in hoping for a playoff spot but for Huddersfield automatic promotion is the feint hope they have whilst they look to cement their playoff spot. Seven points separate Huddersfield and Derby County so points will be crucial come this weekend.

Brighton face Wolves on Good Friday and host Wigan on Easter Monday whilst Newcastle host another promotion chaser in the form of Leeds United and struggling Ipswich. Brighton should be the happier of the two clubs come Tuesday morning as they should take six points, whilst Newcastle United may find themselves only picking up four, especially if they are without their top scorer Dwight Gayle.

Reading, who are a point behind Huddersfield will be hoping to reclaim third spot, which for a number of weeks was their home. Their last game was one to forget as they went crashing to a 7-1 defeat away to Norwich City. Their run in though gives them hope for securing a playoff spot, Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest break up the two games against relegation favourites Wigan and doomed Rotherham. Whilst Nottingham Forest find themselves at the wrong end of the table, they should be safe from the drop.

Having had a bad start to the season, Leeds United are doing their bit to make sure they have a playoff hope and a return to the top flight once more. They though have a marginally easier run in. Apart from the trip to Newcastle on Good Friday and a home game against promotion rivals Norwich City at the end of April, it’s a case of the strugglers. Of course though never understimate the strugglers. They will have all to play for and will no doubt not have a care in the world with regards to who is challenging for the title or chasing a play off place.

Fulham who lie just outside the playoff spots by two points will be hoping that their recent good form will keep them moving higher and into the playoff spots although for the West London club, it will be a little more trickier journey. Fulham travel to Norwich on Good Friday whilst hosting Villa on the Monday. Fellow promotion chasers Huddersfield, who will have their own place to secure host Fulham in the penultimate game whilst a game against midtable Brentford brings their season to a close.

It’s going to be quite close and exciting for fans of the top six seven although for Brighton given their position, they will be the more happier. A top two spot for them is definitely going to happen, it’s just down to whether they or Newcastle have the bottle to go the stay the course. Newcastle with the experience and leadership of Rafa Benitez should guide them to another championship trophy and return to the Premier League.

Playoffs? well that’s where the fun starts and although the current spot takers are Huddersfield, Reading Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday, I think one of the later could find themselves losing out to Fulham.