CHAMPIONSHIP RECAP: 14 GOALS IN 5 GAMES - MISSED IT? THEN YOU NEED TO READ THESE QUICK REVIEWS NOW!
The heavy winter fixture list appears to be taking its toll on the quality of Championship games already as the games from this midweek had a distinct lack of goals – even the seemingly irrepressible Adam Armstrong and Ivan Toney were kept quiet as both Blackburn and Brentford drew blanks.
Despite the distinct lack of net-busting, there were plenty of intriguing games to delve into, as league leaders Norwich just about saw off Nottingham Forest, Cardiff came from behind to put a dent in Stoke’s play-off hopes and Reading’s patchy form continued with a home defeat to Birmingham.
Here is the best of the action:
Norwich City 2-1 Nottingham Forest
A deflected strike from Emi Buendia helped injury-hit Norwich tighten their grip on top spot in the Championship by beating a battling Nottingham Forest outfit at Carrow Road.
The Argentine midfielder fired home a deflected shot late in the game to extend Norwich’s lead at the top of the second tier to three points after Bournemouth were held at Swansea.
Norwich controlled the game for long periods but Forest remained a threat on the counter-attack, with Joe Lolley hitting the post as the first half drew to a close.
Just as Chris Hughton’s side thought they had reached half-time on level terms, the ball dropped to Norwich’s Danish midfielder Jacob Lungi Sorenson on the edge of the box and he fired past Brice Samba to give the Canaries the lead.
Sorenson is currently being deployed at left-back due to the number of injuries Daniel Farke’s side have in defence, but his finish was that of a regular goal-scorer.
Norwich continued to pepper Samba’s goal in the second period but looked to have been denied victory when a cross from Forest substitute Anthony Knockaert drifted beyond Norwich ‘keeper Michael McGovern and in to the far corner of the net.
The goal was the first Forest had scored in over five games and looked to have set them up for a valuable point on the road with only 15 minutes left to play.
Parity was only restored for a matter of moments though, as Buendia took aim from the edge of the box before his shot took a massive deflection off Forest skipper Joe Worrall to wrong-foot Samba and find the bottom corner.
Despite Todd Cantwell, Jordan Hugill and Kieran Dowell all returning to the Canaries’ matchday squad, they still have an injury list almost reaching double figures, making their recent run of one defeat in 13 all the more impressive.
They now have breathing space at the top of the table ahead of a weekend trip to Blackburn.
Forest’s troubles in front of goal blighted the final weeks of Sabri Lamouchi’s reign and they have continued so far under Hughton.
The underlying attacking data suggests Forest should be much higher in the table than they currently are, but unless they find a clinical edge soon, they could well be in a relegation dogfight come the New Year.
A sixth game without a win keeps them in 21st, just a point above the drop zone.
Preston North End 3-0 Middlesbrough
A second half Middlesbrough collapse helped Preston to only a second home win of the season that sees them move just a point behind play-off chasing Boro.
Quick-fire goals from Scott Sinclair and Emil Riis in the final ten minutes helped put a convincing gloss on a commanding performance from Alex Neil’s side.
Despite Preston having the better of the chances throughout, it took until midway through the second half for them to take the lead when Brad Potts deflected an Andrew Hughes shot past Marcus Bettinelli.
North End wrapped up the win when Sinclair finished confidently from just inside the penalty area on his weaker left foot after he had earlier hit the underside of the crossbar with a close-range header.
It was Riis who set up Sinclair for the former Manchester City winger’s seventh goal of the season, and the big Danish striker completed the scoring when he powerfully drove past Dael Fry before firing a shot beyond Bettinelli.
This was the type of convincing home performance that has been missing for Preston so far this season as they had previously failed to score more than once in a league game at Deepdale this season before Saturday’s draw with Wycombe.
They are now up to 13th in the Championship and will only continue to climb with performances like this.
A life-less display from Neil Warnock’s side means they are now on a run of three defeats in four, and whilst scoring goals has not come easy to them all season, conceding eight times in those four games will no doubt have the manager drilling his players rigorously on the training pitch ahead of the Christmas period.
The defeat sees Boro drop to 11th.
Stoke City 1-2 Cardiff City
Cardiff skipper Sean Morrison went from zero to hero as his late winner at the Bet365 Stadium more than made up for a first-half own goal that had given the Potters the lead.
Morrison’s header in the closing stages of the game, after he had also given away a second-half penalty, helped to extend his side’s winning run to four games and further alleviate the pressure that had been building on manager Neil Harris.
The Bluebirds fell behind midway through the opening 45 when Morrison failed to adjust his feet quickly enough and ended up turning Tyrese Campbell’s cross into his own net from close range.
Michael O’Neill’s Stoke had much the better of the opening hour of this one, but the momentum of the game seemed to turn once Sam Vokes saw his spot-kick saved by Alex Smithies, after Morrison had bundled over Nick Powell in the box.
Barely five minutes later, Cardiff substitute Robert Glatzel finished calmly at the back post after being picked out by a wicked delivery from Joe Ralls.
It was another excellent delivery from Ralls that decided the game, as his corner picked out Morrison, who’s header bounced up onto the crossbar and in, leaving Stoke ‘keeper Josef Bursik with no chance.
The victory was probably the least convincing of Cardiff’s recent good run, but the character they showed to come from behind was further evidence of the belief the squad seem to have in the previously under-fire Harris.
They now head into a South Wales derby against Swansea on Saturday in a rich vein of form and in ninth place in the Championship, only four points behind their local rivals.
Stoke were unfortunate to come away with nothing and their performances in recent weeks suggest they are genuine play-off contenders.
This defeat sees them drop to eighth, but a greater concern for O’Neill will be an injury to key man Campbell who was forced off just before the penalty incident.
Huddersfield Town 2-0 Sheffield Wednesday
Tony Pulis remains without a win as Sheffield Wednesday boss after his side were blown away by an impressive first-half performance from Huddersfield at the John Smith’s Stadium.
Early goals from Josh Koroma and Isaac Mbenza set Carlos Corberan’s side up for a comfortable evening in which they secured their first win against Yorkshire rivals Wednesday since 2013.
The opener came when Koroma was left in far too much space in the Owls’ penalty area to collect a pass from Fraizer Campbell before thumping home his third goal in his last four games.
The Terriers’ second was a spectacular free-kick form Mbenza that curled over the wall and beyond goalkeeper Joe Wildsmith.
The away side were fortunate not to fall further behind in the second half when Juninho Bacuna managed to miss the target completely from the penalty spot after he had been brought down by Dominic Iorfa.
Scoring goals has been an issue in the early weeks of Pulis’ time at Wednesday, and they were once again blunt in attack in this one, but their slack defending was uncharacteristic of the former West Brom and Stoke boss.
He will no doubt be looking for an improved rear-guard performance when his side take on Barnsley in another Yorkshire derby at the weekend which they go into bottom of the Championship.
Huddersfield continue to excite under Corberan, and now look well set to defy pre-season expectations of a relegation battle with their high-energy pressing and slick passing game helping them to 12th in the table.
Reading 1-2 Birmingham City
A Jon Toral brace gave Birmingham enough breathing space to survive a second-half onslaught from Reading and win back-to-back away games for the first time since February.
Toral gave Aitor Karanka’s side the lead midway through the first half with a neat finish from the edge of the box after a cut-back from Kristian Pedersen.
The Spaniard doubled his tally for the evening minutes later when he bent home a lovely curling shot with his weaker left foot after Reading failed to close him down quickly enough.
Blues were slightly fortunate to find themselves two up at the break as Toral’s double had come from the only two shots they hit the target with in the opening 45.
Reading have been in patchy form since they were knocked off the top of the Championship midway through November, but they gave themselves a lifeline at the Madjeski Stadium when Yakou Meite steered home a deflected Andy Rinomhota cross early in the second half.
The home side were gifted a glorious opportunity to equalise when Birmingham captain Harlee Dean was shown a second yellow card for bringing down Meite in the box.
However, Neil Etheridge was equal to Lucas Joao’s poor penalty and the ten men managed to hang on for the win.
Birmingham’s good run on the road has seen them move up to 15th and eased relegation fears.
Reading now seem incapable of stringing together results as they did so well in the early weeks of the campaign.
Their good start means they remain in fifth place, but should their inconsistency continue they are unlikely to remain there for long.