As we enter March, every weekend is becoming more and more crucial in one of the world’s most unpredictable leagues. With stakes increasingly high as the years progress, it’s vital that teams start picking up as many points as possible both at the top and the bottom. This weekend proved to be another exciting feast of football in what has already been one of the most intriguing Championships in recent memory. This weekly article will examine who the big winners and losers were this weekend and what is coming up.
So who were the big winners?
It’s pretty clear by looking at the table who the big winners were this weekend. Newcastle United gained a huge advantage over their title and promotion rivals by winning a six-pointer against Huddersfield Town. The Terriers have been excellent this season, winning 20 games from their 34 fixtures so far. However, a mixture of bad luck and dubious refereeing led to the Magpies securing a huge three points, with top scorer Dwight Gayle adding the third goal in a 3-1 victory. The Magpies have now ridden their luck in the past two away games, at 2nd placed Brighton and in Yorkshire, but Benitez will not mind, given the stage of the season and the magnitude of these games. The north east giants now sit 5 points clear of second placed Brighton, who were humbled 3-0 at Nottingham Forest. More importantly, they hold an 11 point advantage over third placed side Huddersfield, although the Yorkshire outfit have a game in hand.
At the bottom, Blackburn Rovers climbed out of the bottom 3 for only the fourth week of the season courtesy of a priceless win over struggling Wigan Athletic. The 1-0 win, coupled with Bristol City’s dour 0-0 draw with Burton Albion, meant that the Lancashire side reached the lofty heights of 20th in the table. Rovers have improved dramatically since the appointment of Tony Mowbray, and will now fancy their chances of securing an unlikely sixth straight championship campaign for 2017/18.
Another notable mention should go to Fulham, who added another three goals to take their impressive tally to 59, the third highest in the league after Norwich (60) and Newcastle (69). Slavisa Jokanovic is further strengthening his reputation as an excellent Championship manager after leading Watford to the Premier League in 2014/15 before being brutally sacked before the season commenced. Fulham are now 7th and within striking distance of the top 6 despite having relatively low expectations before the season after the sales of McCormack to Aston Villa and Moussa Dembele to Celtic.
Who were the losers?
The big losers were undoubtedly Wigan Athletic. Victory over Blackburn at Ewood Park would have seen Latics climb out of the bottom 3, but instead they find themselves firmly rooted in the bottom 3, 4 points behind 21st placed Wolves. Latics appear to have no goal scoring threat after the huge drop in form of Will Grigg and the negative tactics of boss Warren Joyce. With another huge game coming up next weekend at home to Bristol City, the north west club’s forwards desperately need to find their shooting boots.
As well as Latics, Wolverhampton Wanderers are also enduring a dreadful campaign. High expectations were present before the start of the season, especially with the £12 million permanent signing of Helder Costa from Benfica, but after a 5th defeat in a row at the hands of high flying Reading, fans are becoming disillusioned. Paul Lambert is not a manager who sets fans with great optimism, and despite wins over Stoke and Liverpool in the FA cup, fans are vindicated in their anger.
One of the strangest decisions of the season came at St. Andrews, the home of Birmingham City. After securing long sought after new owners, hopes were high at the club in December. However, what followed has been nothing short of a disaster. The board inexplicably sacked the excellent Gary Rowett, who had taken a very average Championship squad to the brink of a play off position. They replaced him with Zola, who has had a mixed managerial career so far. The club have gone on to win only 2 games since his appointment almost 3 months ago, plummeting from 7th to 17th. After their 3-1 home defeat by Leeds United on Friday night, where former Blues loanee Chris Wood notched twice, the club have some serious soul searching to do before the visit of relegation bound Wigan Athletic on Tuesday.
So what’s next?
With a full compliment of Championship fixtures this midweek, there is no time to rest for the 24 clubs. There are two key games at the top on Tuesday with Reading entertaining Newcastle and Fulham hosting Leeds. Leeds United are enjoying a very impressive season under the excellent Gary Monk, who is adding to his already burgeoning reputation as one of the country’s best young managers. Having compiled a squad with a mixture of young hungry players and talented individuals such as Pablo Hernandez, the Yorkshire giants look well set to take part in the promotion playoffs in May. A win here would further cement their position in the top 6, against a side who are likely to provide the biggest threat to gatecrash the party.
At the bottom there is a chance for Wigan to close the gap on 20th place with time running out. The next two fixtures, Birmingham away and Bristol City at home on Saturday, will provide their best chance of earning some much needed points.
Keep your eyes on the blog for further details on Wigan Athletic’s plight.