The Race Is On!

If you can tear your eyes away from the European stage for a moment, join me for a quick glance over what has been a very interesting week in the Championship. The race for second place has been blown wide open (if it weren’t so already) by Nottingham Forest failing to capitalise on one of their games in hand, and losing to Scunthorpe United in mid-week.

In general, the re-arranged games on Tuesday and Wednesday ended up benefitting the teams who didn’t play, as just 2 of the 5 produced positive results. The only other victors being Ipswich, who scored six at the Keepmoat to continue their recent good form. Doncaster Rovers, on the other hand, are sliding fast. One win since New Year’s Day is a worrying statistic and although they shouldn’t get dragged into a relegation battle, things could begin to get a little desperate if they can’t get anything from two tough away games at Swansea City and Norwich City over the next few days.

As for last weekend, the big game was a top of the table clash at Loftus Road, where Forest took on leaders Queens Park Rangers. I think a lot of us expected Billy Davies to ‘park the bus’, but instead they took the game to Rangers from the start. Unfortunately, once Raddy Majewski got himself sent off after 20 minutes, that game plan had to alter somewhat. At a goal and a man down, Forest were in big trouble, but they managed to score a rather fortunate equaliser before pulling off a sensational defensive performance to hold out for a point. Davies will be furious that after the application and grit they showed on Sunday they managed to lose to a team in the relegation zone on Wednesday.

Other points of interest from the past week include Middlesbrough throwing away a 3-1 lead at home to Swansea, Craig Beattie breaking with tradition and scoring to give the Welshmen a vital 3 points in the playoff race. Since sacking Gordon Strachan, ‘Boro have threatened to turn the corner a few times but never managed to put a run together to really propel them up the table. As it is, they remain in trouble, just 4 points outside the relegation spots. It is beginning to look more and more like it will be 3 of Preston, Scunthorpe, Sheffield United and Crystal Palace who fall through the trapdoor, unless Derby continue their alarming downward spiral. They played Leicester in the live game on Saturday afternoon, and though the Foxes were very good in the first half, Derby looked like they’d have struggled to score even if the game lasted ‘til Christmas. Since then they have added Jamie Ward to their squad, on loan from Bramall Lane, but their problems look far deeper-rooted than the playing staff.

Finally, looking to the week ahead, there’s an almost-full programme this weekend – Burnley have FA Cup commitments so their game is postponed – and another on Tuesday night (Premier League clubs complain about fixture congestion!). Highlights include Norwich’s trip to Leeds, and Cardiff’s tough double header; they travel to Nottingham Forest on Saturday before hosting a rampant Leicester City mid-week. Cardiff – Leicester games have been very exciting recently, the most notable meeting being the play-off semi-final last year, when the game twisted and turned before Yann Kermorgant’s attempt at a Panenka backfired spectacularly to send the Bluebirds to Wembley.

I don’t do predictions, but I fancy a few goals this week…

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Barnsley 1-1 Ipswich
Bristol City 0-2 Leeds
Cardiff 1-0 Scunthorpe
Derby 0-2 Leicester
Doncaster 0-2 Portsmouth
Hull 1-0 Preston
Middlesbrough 3-4 Swansea
Norwich 2-1 Reading
QPR 1-1 Nottingham Forest
Sheffield Utd 1-1 Millwall
Watford 1-3 Burnley

Midweek Results:
Cardiff 1-1 Burnley
Doncaster 0-6 Ipswich
Scunthorpe 1-0 Nottingham Forest
Sheffield Utd 1-1 Reading
Watford 2-2 Preston

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James Knight

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