As ever the Championship season is providing arguably the fiercest competition in world football as a host of clubs look to fight heir way to the promised land of the Premier League.
There has already been one game completed on Friday night as ground sharing Coventry City and Birmingham City played out a rather lacklustre 0-0 draw on Friday night.
Here is your preview of the rest of the big games over the weekend…
AFC Bournemouth v Reading Saturday 12.30pm
Fourth place Bournemouth welcome table toppers Reading to the Vitality Stadium with a chance of overtaking their visitors.
Reading had been unbeatable in thre league until recently, where they are now clinging on to dear life at the summit after losing their last three matches before the break.
Steve Tindall’s Cherries will be without Josh king who tested positive for COVID-19 whilst away on international duty as the relegated south coast club look to bounce back immediately.
QPR V Watford Saturday 3.00pm
An all London affair on Saturday afternoon as second place Watford travel to Loftus Road looking to go top of their table in their quest to make an instant return to the Premier League.
QPR meanwhile have been inconsistent at best during 2020/21 and will be looking to resolve their problems in order to start moving in the right direction and away from the threat of relegation.
Middlesbrough v Norwich City Saturday 3.00pm
Middlesbrough go into this match unbeaten in 10 and with October’s manager of the month, Neil Warnock, at the helm. The hosts are on the cusp of the play-off places but will need to turn a plethora of draws into wins if they are going to challenge.
High-flying Norwich are another side hoping to bounce straight back into he top flight and Daniel Farke’s side are making a decent fist of it as they sit third. Goal scorer Teemu Pukki will be pivotal to the Canaries chances.
Bristol City v Derby County Saturday 3.00pm
Bristol City in fifth are unlikely to be the story of this clash as bottom of the table Derby head to Ashton Gate with Wayne Rooney as their manaager.
Rooney is in temporary charge of the Rams after Phillip Cocu was sacked during the international break, giving Rooney his first role in senior management.
The former Manchester United striker has a huge job on his hands getting a talented Derby squad heading in the right direction.
Reading missed the chance to extend their lead at the top to six points after a second straight defeat. Second placed Swansea drew with Brentford meaning Reading still have a three point lead. Bristol City and Cardiff bonce back from weekend losses with wins. Wycombe make it two wins in two and Prestons impressive away form continues as they make it four wins from five.
Swansea traveled to Brentford, the side that beat them in last seasons play-offs.
The Swans started brightly with Kyle Naughton and Andre Ayew testing the Bees Keeper David Raya. Brentford, however, took the lead in the 32nd minute as Ivan Toney turned in Mathias Jensens cross from close range. Swansea leveled through Ayew, who turned in Matt Grimes’ cross inside the six yard box. Swansea sit second after an impressive start whilst last years play-off finalists sit in tenth.
Swansea boss Steve Cooper thought his side deserved to win the game telling the BBC:
“We thought that we were comfortable in the game and Freddie (Woodman) didn’t have a save to make all game. Their keeper made two world class saves in the early stages.
“You wish after a performance like that coming here that it would have been three points instead of one”.
Thomas Frank told BBC Radio London:
“We didn’t play particularly well in the second half, but neither did Swansea. There was a lot of back and forth, but with their goal, we need to defend better”.
Bristol City, meanwhile, are back to winning ways after five games without one, coming from behind at Huddersfield Town. Josh Koroma gave the home side the lead two minutes from the break.
City turned the game around in the second half with goals from Jay Dasilva and Jamie Paterson. Huddersfield sit 15th in the table whilst Bristol City sit outside the play-off places on goal difference. This was a good time for Bristol to regain some form as they head to south Wales on Friday for the Severnside Derby.
Their host’s on Friday also got a win on Tuesday as Cardiff responded to Neil Harris’ criticism of them after Saturday loss to QPR. Neil Harris switched to a 4-4-2 starting with Kieffer Moore and Robert Glatzel. Junior Hoilett gave the Bluebirds the lead after four minutes skillfully bringing down Joe Bennett’s cross. Joe Ralls added a second just before the break from the spot after Harry Wilson was brought down. Wilson added a third on 77 minutes with a stunning left footed strike from outside the box. Cardiff move to 13th and Barnsley are 18th.
Sheffield Wednesday ended Bournemouth’s unbeaten start with a 1-0 victory at Hillsborough. The goal came from the spot after Josh Windass skipped around Begovic but was brought down by Steve Cook. Cook also saw a red card for the challenge. Barry Bannan calmly put the spot kick home. Wednesday held on to win despite Kadeem Harris being sent off for a rash tackle in stoppage time.
Norwich City were unable to break Millwall’s defence at Carrow Road as Millwall get a vital away point.
Przemysław Płacheta saw his effort just before half time smash the upright. Emiliano Buendia saw his effort saved by Millwall keeper Bialkowski. Norwich boss Daniel Farke told BBC Radio Norfolk:
“We created an unbelievable amount of chances with lots of possession close to the opponent’s box. We had 27 chances today. Can’t complain too much, the only thing we can criticise is our responsibility to finish”.
Elsewhere, Middlesbrough made it nine unbeaten as they drew at Blackburn 0-0.
Blackburn boss Tony Mowbray told BBC Radio Lancashire:
“Let’s hope there are not many games like that the rest of the season. It wasn’t nice to watch, I didn’t enjoy it. Lets take the point put it in the bank and move on”.
Neil Warnock told BBC Tees:
“The only regret was not getting three points but that’s the Championship, if you don’t win you’ve got to make sure you come away with a point”.
Another away win for Preston as they beat leaders Reading by three goals. Despite a missed penalty from Daniel Johnson two goals in four minutes from Scott Sinclair and Emil Riis followed by a Brad Potts goal in stoppage time gave Preston their fourth away win.
A high ball into the box was clearly chested down by Sinclair and slotted into the goal despite Reading appeals for offside. A quick counter saw Preston double their lead Emil Riis reaching a long ball and sliding his shot under the advancing keeper. Another quick break from Preston saw Tom Barkhuizen get behind Readings defence. His squared ball into the box was met by Potts who put the ball into the top corner.
Reading head coach Veljko Paunovic said after the game:
“I’m not disappointed but I feel the pain. When you lose a game, you have to absorb it. That’s what I’ve told the players.
“You have to bounce back and convert the pain into a positive energy for the next game”.
Preston boss Alex Neil said:
“This seems to be quite common for us on the road. We’ve been excellent on the road”.
A five goal thriller at Vicarage Road as Watford beat Stoke City. Stoke took the lead after 2 minutes, Steven Fletcher finishing a training ground corner.
Watford equalised after 28 minutes Tom Cleverley finishing off a lovely piece of passing play from Watford. Cleverley’s shot came off the bar and the ground to be collected by the keeper, after a brief wait the ref gave the goal after receiving a signal form the Goal Decision System.
Joao Pedro’s gave the lead to Watford after Sarr was brought down by Stoke Keeper Angus Gunn. Nick Powell leveled for Stoke with a right footed strike from the edge of the box on 81 minutes. But Watford weren’t done as Sarr found the net three minutes into added time.
Wycombe made it three unbeaten with a 2-1 win at St Andrews. Despite going behind to a Marc Roberts goal just before the break. A late second half fight back with Scott Kashket leveling the game on 75 minutes and an own goal in injury time from Kristian Pedersen. Wycombe after severn points in three games are not just a point of Coventry and getting out of the relegation zone.
Coventry lost out on a point to a 96 minute Lyle Taylor penalty as they lost to Forest 2-1. Scott Mckenna had given Forest the lead before Callum O’Hare squared things up. This was Forests first win in five and they sit 20th in the table. Derby lost again at Pride Park as QPR scored a late winner for the second game running. After a 91 minute winner on Saturday, Macauley Bonne’s late header gave QPR another three points. Luton picked up a good win away at Rotherham 1-0 with a goal from James Collins.
Another busy weekend of Championship action as Friday sees the Serevenside Derby between Cardiff City and Bristol City. Leaders Reading host Stoke in Saturdays early kick off, whilst Norwich v Swansea should be a cracker of a game.
Derby will host Cardiff City on Wednesday night at Pride Park. The Rams (yet to gain a point at home) face a Cardiff team who have seven of their nine points on the road. County are without a goal in their three home games this season, while Cardiff are yet to concede on their travels.
Last seasons meeting at Pride park saw a 1-1 draw with Scott Malone scoring for the hosts before a Robert Glatzel penalty. In 2018, Derby won a rearranged fixture by three goals to one The original fixture was postponed on the morning of the game for snow in and around the stadium. Then Cardiff manager Neil Warnock called the decision a “disgrace”. Warnock’s view was that Derby (who had several injuries at the time) welcomed the postponement.
Home v Away
Cardiff have two wins and draw away from home and are yet to concede. The Bluebirds are, however, another side who have struggled at home but seem to be thriving on their travels.
Derby sit bottom of the league on home form without a single goal or point.
Liam Rosenior spoke to the press ahead of the game said:
“It goes to show you how important the supporters are”.
Neil Harris, meanwhile, commented on the strange home/away records this season:
“I don’t expect that to change without fans. In some ways its better to be away from home”.
Derby will be without Wayne Rooney once again due to him self-isolating. Rosenior did confirm that he would re-join the squad this Friday ahead of Saturday’s fixture against Bournemouth. Nathan Byrne has been training and is available for the match against Cardiff.
Lee Tomlin could return to the bench for the Bluebirds, however, Neil Harris is keen not to rush him saying:
“Tommo has been on the training pitch, that’s a real positive for us. What we can’t do is push Tommo too soon and he falls of the edge of a cliff”.
Harris is also waiting to see if full backs Joe Bennett and Jordi Osei-Tutu will be available.
When asked about Derby gaining their first point at home Rosenior said:
“It would mean we have done our jobs.
“We have got a big game against a good side, but if we perform they will know they are in for a good game”.
Speaking about what danger Cardiff pose, Rosenior added:
“They’ve got really good wide players with quality as well”.
“It’ll be a completely different game to Boro the other evening”. “They’ve got good players and important players back in the group. They’ve got attacking intent. We have to handle it completely differently, you have to have great shape, good pressing triggers and organisation. When we have the ball we have to hurt them”.
For Derby Tom Lawrence could be the key to unlocking Cardiff’s away defence. It was Lawrence’s neat footwork that set up the ruled out second goal against Forest. He picked up a 7.6 rating on whoscored.com for his performance. Lawrence spent time at Cardiff in 15/16 on loan.
Harry Wilson has been involved in Cardiff’s attacking massively since signing on loan. He got his first goal against former team Bournemouth and will be looking to get another in this game. Wilson has a passing % of 77.6 for City and Cardiff will likely attack though him.
Prediction; Derby 0 v 1 Cardiff
Without having any success at home this season Derby will be under pressure to turn this around. The longer the game goes on the more likely of Cardiff catching out their hosts.
Games are staring to come along quickly as the Championship rolls on. Readings good form continues as they lead the table. Bristol City remain second but there are just four points between them and 14th placed Huddersfield.
East Midlands Derby
Friday night saw the East Midlands derby between Nottingham Forest and Derby County. It was the 108th meeting of the long time rivals.
The two side were up for this game, Lyle Taylor shot forcing a good save from David Marshall. Marshall’s opposite number Brice Samba was also tested in the first half. Graeme Shinnies curling shot met by the diving hand of the Forest Keeper.
It was Derby who scored first after 30 minutes. Martyn Waghorn’s with a free kick the self-isolating Wayne Rooney would be proud to claim. Waghorn lifted the ball over wall and it clipped the inside of the bar to go in the net.
Derby thought they had won it when some clever footwork from Tom Lawrence allowed him to slide a ball into Jozwiak who found the net. Jozwiak wheeled off in celebration but the assistant’s flag was up. Waghorn in an offside position was deemed to be interfering with play.
Forest Manager Chris Hughton told BBC Radio Nottingham:
“I wasn’t too happy with the first half performance. I thought we needed to be better on the ball and our movement needed to be better against a team who were happy to defend in a really good shape”.
After seeing his side second goal ruled out Phillip Cocu told BBC Radio Derby:
“I don’t see any offside. The goalkeeper reaches for the corner where the shot goes, so the view is not blocked. The frustration is quite big here”.
Reading Go Five Clear
Championships leaders Reading won their sixth game of season clinically beating Rotherham 3-0. Reading took the lead towards the end of the first half though Yakou Meite.
The striker doubled the home side lead on 74 minutes, with an overhead kick. From a corner he control the ball with his chest before performing an overhead kick into the top corner of the net. A good win was finished in stoppage time with a Lucas Joao penalty.
Reading manager Veljko Paunovicsaid:
“What we saw in our team was the consistency of getting the job done, doing your job for the team. You also have to be patient, have a strong mentality and not get frustrated if our game plan is not working. And don’t ever give up”.
Rotherham drop to 18th place and manager Paul Warne told BBC Radio Sheffield:
“We were away from home against top of the league and had lots of possession in the first half and we were the only side that played on the front foot. We passed the ball really well without creating enough clear cut chances and obviously for them to score the first time they were in our box was a massive sucker punch”.
Mepham Saves a Point
Late drama as Chris Mepham’s 94th minute goal saved a point for Bournemouth. Watford had lead since the 12 minute from Stipe Perrica’s first goal for the club.
Bournemouth’s Lloyd Kelly was lucky to only see a yellow card for his poor challenge after just two minutes. Lunging in late on Ismaila Sarr catching the Watford player above the knee.
Watford’s goal came after Sarr’s ball across the box from the right was met a sliding Perrica who simply directed the ball into the net. Ismaila Sarr had the chance to make it too but his shot was stopped by a strong right hand from Asmir Begovic.
Begovic kept his in it again saving from Quina before quickly pushing the ball away from Pedro. Bournemouth pressed for an equaliser but found resilient Watford defencing and a in form Ben Forster.
Josh king saw his late header turned over the bar by Forster. However Bournemouth got their reward from the corner. Forster punched the ball away but the return ball in the box was turned in by Mepham.
The draw means Watford stay in 3rd and Bournemouth 4th.
There were away wins For Blackburn (4-0 v Coventry), Luton (1-0 v Sheffield Wednesday) and Preston (2-1 v Huddersfield) on Saturday.
Coventry were reduced to 10 men after 14 minutes with Michael Rose receiving a straight red for a push in the box. Adam Armstrong scored from the spot. Armstrong got a second after 49 minutes getting on the end of Brereton’s though ball. Harvey Elliott made it three on 62 minutes assisted again from Brereton. Rovers wrapped up a fine display with a fourth on 88 minutes from Sam Gallagher.
Sheffield Wednesday remain bottom after a 1-0 home defeat to Luton. Wednesday’s Joost van Aken saw red for a reckless high challenge. The hatters took advantage of the extra man to get the win with Pelly Ruddock scoring on 74 minutes.
While they can’t win at home Preston are still unbeaten on the road. Frazier Campbell’s 8th minute goal gave Huddersfield a half time lead. A curling effort from Alan Browne levelled the game on 51 minutes. Just two minutes later Browne found the net again. This time looping a soft punch from the keeper back into the goal. Naby Sarr got a red card for pulling down Riis Jakobsen.
Stoke up to 8th
Stoke stormed into a 3-0 lead after an hour. A free head for Steven Fletcher after nine minutes, was followed by a James McClean low shot into the near post. On the hour mark Tyrese Campbell made it three cutting inside to the edge of the box and curling a shot into the far corner. Brentford pulled two back thanks to sub Marcus Forss but Stoke held on to take their unbeaten run to seven games.
Norwich got their third straight league win after beating pointless Wycombe 2-1 at Carrow Road. Timo Pukki gave Norwich the lead early on. Scot Kashket got the goal that got Wycombe level after some poor Norwich defending. Wycombe may have thought they had their first championship point but there was late drama. Mario Vrancic 91st minute free kick went straight into the top corner with the Wycombe wall seamingly rooted to the floor. Adam Idah was shown a red card for appearing to push Joe Jacobson to the floor.
Middlesbrough left Cardiff with a point on Neil Warnock’s first visit to Cardiff City Stadium since leaving the Bluebirds. It was a classic Warnock display from Boro’ who set out early to slow the game and frustrate Cardiff. The visitors took the lead with George Saville’s header lopped in the Cardiff goal. Cardiff took the game to Boro in the second half but could not find the final touch. Their hard work did get them level with Sheyi Ojo second goal since signing from Liverpool.
Jamal Lowe smashed in on 51 minutes to give Swansea the lead at Ashton Gate. It was his second goal for Swansea. Putting it in off his left foot turning towards goal. Bristol City equalised from a Nahki Wells penalty. Conner Roberts judged to have brought down Semenyo Antoine just inside the area. A soft penalty but dispatched down the middle with power from Wells. The result sees Bristol City remain in second and Swansea in 6th.
At The Den two goals in two minutes at the end of the first half saw Millwall and Barnsley share the points. Alex Mowatt stunning volley from the edge of the area gave Barnsley the lead. Just a minute later Jake Cooper rose above everyone else to head home for Millwall.
A goalless draw at The Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium as QPR met Birmingham City. Scott Hogan did find the net for City but was ruled offside. QPR are 16th while Brimingham are 17th.
The championship rolls on to Tuesday and Wednesday again this week with Blackburn hosting leaders Reading and Bournemouth v Bristol City as the stand out games.
Neil Warnock returns to Cardiff for the first time since leaving the Welsh club. He’ll bring his Middlesbrough side to face the club he took to the Premier League in 2018. Warnock faced the Bluebirds at the end of last season with Cardiff winning 3-1 at the Riverside.
Middlesbrough are unbeaten in five matches since their opening day loss to Watford. Their last match saw them win away at Bristol City. Cardiff trail Boro by a point and will be looking for their first win at Cardiff City Stadium.
Cardiff have won the last four meetings between the sides. Although, history suggests that this game could go either way. Over the last 14 games the sides have managed seven wins apiece. This should be a close encounter as 10 of theses games have been decided by a single goal. With both managers setting their teams up to be hard to beat, this is unlikely to be an exception.
Neil Harris confirmed in his press conference that left back Greg Cunningham will be out for four to six weeks. Cunningham went off injured in last Saturday’s win at Preston.
On his other injured players, Harris said:
“The other three are edging closer. Jordi (Osei-Tutu) and Benno (Joe Bennett) have been on the grass today. We could have the possibility of one, both or neither available.
“Tommo (Lee Tomlin) is getting closer but not for tomorrow”.
Middlesbrough are meanwhile likely to be without Britt Assombalonga.
Speaking at his press conference, Warnock said:
“From yesterday I don’t think he’s got much of a chance but we’ll see this afternoon.
“Its just a nick on the adductor on the side of the groin and it just didn’t feel right”.
They are also still without last seasons top scorer, Ashley Fletcher who is ruled out until January with a hamstring injury.
The Managers Thoughts
Both managers spoke about the heavy schedule of upcoming fixtures. Championship games are coming thick and fast after the late start to this season.
Neil Warnock called the EFL to discuss the fixture scheduling. After the trip to Bristol City on Tuesday, they travel to Cardiff for this weekends game.
At his press conference on Monday, Warnock gave details of his call to the EFL, he said:
” It was just how it fell, they did look at it but there was nothing they could do about it”.
“We’ll be traveling back to Teeside after the Bristol game and then back to Cardiff on Friday.
“It means we can’t do much training for games. We’re traveling most of the time”.
Neil Harris also had this to say:
“We played on the Sunday against Preston and Bristol on a Friday. It becomes seven games in nineteen days for us. It is what it is but its a bit unfair and it’s wrong. We have to be creative to be as fresh as we can to get results”.
For Cardiff, new signing Harry Wilson will be the creative key to unlock Middlesbrough’s defence. Wilson got his first goal for Cardiff in Wednesday draw with Bournemouth. He also hit the bar form a free kick and on another night could have taken the match ball home.
Akpom Chuba has two goals this season and with Middlesbrough injuries they will be looking for him to add to his tally. George Saville, who scored the winner by pressing the Bristol City defence, is another player who could cause Cardiff problems.
Prediction: Cardiff 1-0 Middlesbrough
History suggests a close game, but Cardiff should have the edge creatively. Warnock will set his side out to be hard to beat and hit the Bluebirds on the break. So the Welsh side will have to find a way to unlock a determined team and I think they will do just that.