CHAMPIONSHIP RECAP: THE BEST FIVE GAMES FROM THE WEEKEND YOU SHOULDN'T HAVE MISSED
As news came out that supporters may be back in Championship grounds soon (if the ground is south of Birmingham), there was an added sense of anticipation ahead of this week’s round of fixtures.
Bournemouth missed the chance to move top of the league as they could only scrape a draw at Rotherham, Reading finally put their winless streak to bed with a deserved win against Bristol City and Cardiff put their goal-scoring woes behind them by firing four past Luton.
Here is the best of the action:
Huddersfield Town 3-2 Middlesbrough
Huddersfield picked up their first win in five thanks to a late goal at the John Smith’s Stadium from Josh Koroma against Middlesbrough.
Koroma was on hand to fire home the decisive goal from just inside the box after a lovely team move.
Britt Assombalonga had drawn Boro level only minutes beforehand from the penalty spot, and manager Neil Warnock will be alarmed at how easily the hosts were able to create chances against what was the Championship’s best defence at the start of play.
The Teesiders looked on course to maintain their excellent start to the season when Marvin Johnson beat Ryan Schofield at his near post with only 14 minutes gone to give Warnock’s men the lead.
However, as half-time approached, Carol Eiting was given far too much time and space on the edge of the Middlesbrough penalty area, allowing him to find the bottom corner with a composed finish.
And just as the Boro defenders prepared themselves for a Warnock dressing down at the interval, things got worse with Lewis O’Brien robbing George Saville of possession in the Huddersfield half before driving forward and picking out Frazier Campbell, who scuffed a finish past ‘keeper Marcus Bettinelli.
The away side thought they had rescued a point in the closing stages when Assombalonga confidently stroked home his spot-kick after he had been brought down by Naby Sarr in the box, but the Terriers weren’t to be denied.
Koroma cut inside brilliantly before leaving Bettinelli with no chance, scoring his fourth goal of the season in the process.
The win for Carlos Corberan’s side was further proof that the Spaniard is guiding the club in the right direction, they are now 13th in the table.
Warnock was left to rue defensive mistakes, as a third defeat of the campaign sees Boro drop to 10th.
Rotherham United 2-2 Bournemouth
A magnificent performance from goalkeeper Asmir Begovic helped Bournemouth cling on to a point against an impressive Rotherham side.
Begovic miraculously kept out an overhead kick from Millers’ defender Angus MacDonald in the closing stages to ensure the Cherries would take a point from a game they both led and fell behind in.
Jason Tindall’s side took the lead in the first-half from the penalty spot when Junior Stanislas kept his cool to beat Jamal Blackman, after the keeper had clumsily brought down Dominic Solanke in the box.
The in-form Cherries were pegged back not long after though, as Freddie Ladapo found himself unmarked in the Bournemouth penalty area to tap home Joe Mattock’s cross.
Ladapo turned the game on its head in the second half, as his looping cross took a nick off Adam Smith and beat Begovic with the help of the post.
With a three match unbeaten run on the line, Tindall made a double substitution, introducing Diego Rico and Sam Surridge, and it paid off instantly.
Rico broke down the left wing and stood up a delicious cross for Solanke to head home the equaliser and give Bournemouth half an hour to find the goal that would take them top of the league.
However, it was only the heroics of their goalkeeper that ensured they made the long journey home with a point in the bag.
Whilst Tindall will be disappointed his side didn’t take advantage of Norwich dropping points against Coventry, the resolve they showed to fight back at a difficult ground to visit will be reassuring with the draw seeing them remain second.
Rotherham once again put on a display that highlighted the ability of manager Paul Warne to make up for the financial gap between the Millers and the top sides in the Championship through a well-constructed game plan.
The hard-earned point kept them 19th, three points above the relegation zone.
Reading 3-1 Bristol City
Reading ended their recent poor run of form with a convincing victory over fellow early season pace-setters Bristol City.
The Royals were on top throughout their meeting with the Robins, taking the lead early in the second half when Ovie Ejaria beat ‘keeper Daniel Bentley with a deflected strike from the edge of the box.
Veljko Paunovic’s side had failed to win any of their previous five before this one, a run that saw them drop from top of the table to outside the play-off spots, and when Nakhi Wells scrambled home a Bristol City equaliser from a free-kick, their troubles looked set to continue.
Parity lasted for a matter of minutes though, as the home side put together a flowing move that saw Michael Olise release Yakou Meite into acres of space before the French forward calmly slotted past Bentley.
The win was secured in injury-time when Lucas Joao turned brilliantly in the box before firing home his ninth goal of the campaign.
This was a real statement of intent from Paunovic’s side.
Many were sceptical of their promotion credentials in the early weeks of the season and the recent run of results appeared to prove the doubters correct, but more confident performances like this will keep Reading in and around the top six.
Their deserved victory takes them up to fifth.
This was Bristol City’s first defeat in five, but many have had similar doubts about their promotion hopes as those levelled at Reading, and they will need to show a similar improvement to remain in the promotion picture.
Defeat in Berkshire sees them drop to sixth.
Watford 4-1 Preston North End
Watford captain Troy Deeney inspired the Hornets to a comfortable win against injury-ravaged Preston.
Deeney, making his first start of the campaign, scored a second half penalty and set up Nathaniel Chalobah for a game-clinching goal to suggest he will be a massive boost to the promotion hopes of manager Vladimir Ivic.
Watford, who have continued to pick up points despite some underwhelming performances in the early weeks of the season, took the lead at Vicarage Road when Domingos Quina volleyed in Ismaila Sarr’s cross in the eighth minute and never looked back from there.
It took until the second half for the second goal to come, Deeney smashed home from 12 yards after Sarr had gone down under a challenge from Jordan Storey, but it was an accurate reflection of the home side’s dominance.
Tom Barkhuizen threatened to bring the contest to life when his long-range strike took a massive deflection and found the bottom corner, but Watford restored their two goal advantage minutes later as Chalobah acrobatically volleyed home after playing a neat one-two with Deeney.
The win was sealed when first half substitute Joao Pedro found himself in acres of space at the back post from a corner to tap home his first goal in four games.
The convincing nature of the win will leave Ivic convinced that there is more to come from his team in the coming weeks, and with Deeney back among the goals they could take some stopping.
Watford are now third, only a point away from the automatic promotion places.
Preston were missing a host of players through injury and suspension, but this was the second time this week that they have been comprehensively beaten after their 3-0 defeat to Blackburn on Tuesday.
Alex Neil’s side are now in 18th place.
Cardiff City 4-0 Luton Town
Liverpool loanee Sheyi Ojo put in a virtuoso display to help Cardiff to only their second win in nine and alleviate some of the pressure on manager Neil Harris.
Ojo set up Mark Harris to score his first ever Cardiff goal in the first half, before rounding off the win with a fierce shot into the bottom corner in the closing stages.
Cardiff had only scored once in their last three before meeting Nathan Jones’ side, but they took only five minutes to open the scoring at the Cardiff City Stadium when Sean Morrison met a Harry Wilson corner at the far post.
The lead was doubled moments later, with Ojo doing well to pick out academy graduate Harris in the box before he finished confidentially past Simon Sluga.
The Bluebirds have been languishing in the bottom half of the Championship for the majority of the season so far, meaning Harris has come under increased scrutiny after guiding the Welsh club to the play-offs last season.
They looked back to something like their best in this win though, and Kieffer Moore extended the lead in the second half with a trademark towering header from another Wilson set-piece.
Man of the match Ojo was the star of the show, and he got a deserved goal when he collected the ball on the edge of the box and slammed a shot beyond Sluga.
This convincing win and performance will help to stave off the Harris critics until the next game at least, and with key attacking players finally finding some form it would be no surprise to see Cardiff climb the table in the coming weeks.
They are currently 14th in the table.
This was Luton’s worst performance of the season by some margin, they failed to deal with Cardiff’s obvious threat at set-pieces and generally struggled to impose their game on the hosts.
However, the Hatters’ strong start to the season means they are still in 12th despite being without a win since the first game of November.