March 31st – April 1st Championship review

Another key weekend in the Championship saw Rotherham relegated officially with 7 games to spare, and the top two tightened their grip on the automatic places, with wins over Wigan Athletic and Blackburn. The see-saw Championship produced some more shock results which will come as no surprise to regular followers of the league. Let’s see who were the winners and losers this week.

Who were the weekend’s winners?

My big winners this week are Burton Albion. Very few people talk about the Midlands minnows, but one thing is for certain, they are having the time of their lives in the second tier this season. Led by Nigel Clough, who turned down the Nottingham Forest job in February, the club picked up their 11th win of the campaign at high- flying Huddersfield at the weekend. A last gasp strike from Irvine gave the Burton club a famous away win, which also moves them four points clear of the drop zone. Even 21st position would represent a huge achievement for the unfancied club, but should their recent upturn in form continue, few would bet against them maintaining their Championship status. A side who do not score bags of goalswith a modest haul of 40 from 39 games, it appears that the club’s defence is what is allowing them to stay afloat in this demanding league. They currently boast the best defensive record in the bottom 7, which is why they can nick late wins like at Huddersfield.image

A side who have featured more on my ‘losers’ column of late, Aston Villa have really turned into a force to be reckoned with in recent weeks. This cannot come as a surprise to many of the followers of this league. Having spent more money this season than they did last season as a Premier League side, Villa were expected to finish top 6 at the very least. However, Di Matteo’s horrendous spell in change ending any realistic chances of automatic promotion, and replacement Steve Bruce hardly covered himself in glory during his first three months in charge. However, having removed Ross McCormack from their books after his ill fated ‘gate gate’ incident, things have taken a turn for the better. A 2-0 weekend over playoff outsiders Norwich City put them into the top half of the table, 10 points from a playoff spot. It is unlikely that they will achieve top 6 finish with only 7 games left, but if Jonathan Kodjia can continue to score goals and Hogan can continue to assist like this weekend, then next season bodes very well for Villa.

My final winners of the weekend are the victors of the biggest game of the weekend, Reading. A side who have featured regularly in my winners section, the Royals continue to impress under Jaap Stam. Stam also seemed to have the attributes of a top manager and it is perhaps a surprise that it has taken so long for a football club to give him the role of first team manager. The club’s hierarchy most definitely will not be regretting the decision to give the former Ajax youth coach the reigns at the Madjeski. Unfancied before the start of the season, Reading are currently 4th after a hard fought 1-0 win over promotion rivals Leeds United thanks to Kermogant’s goal. The Frenchman might not score bags of goals, but when he scores you can be sure it’s an important goal, like on Saturday. The Royals have virtually no chance of automatic promotion, but should the Royals have a good run in the playoffs, one wouldn’t be surprised to see Jaap Stam in the Premier League next season, with or without Reading. image

What about the week’s losers?

The obvious answer would be Rotherham, who were officially relegated from the Championship, after a 1-0 home defeat by Fulham. However, they already featured on my last edition as they were virtually guaranteed relegation after a 5-1 hammering by QPR last time out.

Therefore, the accolade is going to go to Sheffield Wednesday. The much fancied Yorkshire outfit blew a 1-0 lead late on in their derby at Oakwell against Barnsley, and with it their place in the playoffs. Coupled with Fulham’s win, their poor recent form has finally seen them drop out of the top 6 with 7 games to go. Despite former Tykes striker Sam Winnall giving them the lead, Angus McDonald’s last gasp strike meant that the Hillsborough outfit have only won one of their last seven fixtures. This plummet in form will be alarming to fans and manager alike. The club were expecting to reach the playoffs this season, especially with investment in players such as Jordan Rhodes, but will now be fearful that their season could end in fruitless fashion. A quick glance at the table would suggest that a lack of goals is the problem for the Owls. Only 49 goals in 39 matches is the second lowest in the top 10, and surely with stickers such as Rhodes, Hooper and Winnall, they will expect more in the last 7 games.

In a weekend where they were not too many big losers, my final pick is going to be Ipswich Town. Despite not losing their home match with Birmingham City, the 1-1 draw meant that the club haven’t won in their last 5 games and have only won 10 games all season. Admittedly, Mick McCarthy has not got the largest budget in the Championship, and has been hampered by the sale of former talisman Murphy to Newcastle. However, the club has had a very ordinary season, and are thankful to 16 draws for not being closer to the drop zone. Fans are becoming tired of what they consider to be negative football and lack of attacking threat, and this was again on display against Brum. They were lucky to leave with a point against a side who have been equally poor of late, winning an abysmal 2 in 20 under Zola. It will be interesting to see if the Tractor Boys become embroiled in a dogfight in the last 7 games courtesy of this awful form.

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What’s next as we move into April?
There is a full midweek programme this week in the Championship. There are a number of key top v bottom fixtures with Rotherham hosting Sheffield Wednesday, Newcastle hosting Burton and Reading at home to Blackburn. Perhaps the most interesting fixture is a clash between Midlands giants Wolves and Nottingham Forest at Molyneux. Both sides at hanging precariously above the bottom three, although Wolves are heading in the right direction after their 3-1 win over Cardiff. A review will be provided next week for the 2 sets of fixtures which take place this week.

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