CHAMPIONSHIP RECAP: THE MOST EXCITING LEAGUE IN THE WORLD DELIVERS YET AGAIN
Whilst the Premier League failed to deliver for the majority of the weekend, the Championship was once again bringing the excitement as an impressive 30 goals were scored across the 12 games.
There was a comfortable win for Swansea in the South Wales derby, a Pukki party for Norwich at Ewood Park and a vital victory for Coventry in their relegation six-pointer with Wycombe.
Here is the best of the action:
Cardiff City 0-2 Swansea City
Two goals from Jamal Lowe saw Swansea ease to victory against an out of sorts Cardiff in the first South Wales derby of the season.
Lowe’s first came in the opening minutes of the game as he found himself unmarked in the Bluebirds’ penalty area and bundled a shot past Alex Smithies.
Cardiff rarely threatened the Swansea goal, but they were unfortunate not to be facing ten men when Swans defender Ryan Bennett escaped a second booking after bringing down Kieffer Moore on the edge of the box.
It was in fact the home side that found themselves a man down early in the second half as midfielder Joe Ralls picked up two yellow cards in quick succession for late challenges on Jay Fulton and Korey Smith.
The ten men were left with a mountain to climb in the final 20 minutes when Lowe picked the ball up and drove at the Cardiff backline, before placing an exquisite shot into the bottom corner of Smithies’ goal with the outside of his foot.
The ease with which Swansea brushed aside Neil Harris’ side has to mark them out as real contenders for promotion and with makeshift striker Lowe finding the net for the first time since October, they might have found some goals to go with their impressive defensive record.
Steve Cooper’s side are now up to third in the Championship table.
The lack of intensity shown by Cardiff may well have been down to the fact that Harris named an unchanged starting line-up for the fifth game in a row, his side looked increasingly short of energy and ideas as Swansea kept them at arm’s length.
The defeat sees them drop to tenth.
AFC Bournemouth 5-0 Huddersfield Town
Bournemouth blew Huddersfield away in a blistering opening 20 minutes that saw Dominic Solanke and David Brooks put the Terriers to the sword.
Solanke opened the scoring after eight minutes with a delicate chip after being played in by Brooks and he had a second only five minutes later when Jefferson Lerma capitalised on indecision in the Huddersfield backline to tee up the former Chelsea and Liverpool striker.
Solanke turned provider when he set up Brooks to curl home a lovely strike from the edge of the box, much to the delight of the 2,000 Bournemouth fans in attendance – the first time supporters have been allowed in the Vitality Stadium since February.
Carlos Corberan’s side managed to stem the flow of goals until the second half, but they could do little to stop Junior Stanislas midway through the half when he slalomed through a number of challenges before slotting past Ryan Schofield, who had come on for the injured Ben Hamer at half-time.
Substitute Sam Surridge completed the rout when he tapped home a cross from fellow replacement Dan Gosling.
This victory was the clearest indication yet that Bournemouth still have a host of Premier League quality in attack, and if they continue to fire at this rate they will be back playing in the top tier before long.
The convincing win sees Jason Tindall’s Cherries hold onto second place.
Huddersfield never got going in this one, and the adventurous style that Corberan encourages them to play can often leave them exposed at the back, which against a side as clinical as Bournemouth was always likely to cause problems.
The defeat sees them drop to 14th.
Blackburn Rovers 1-2 Norwich City
A brace from Teemu Pukki helped Norwich overcome a tricky test at Ewood Park against an in-form Blackburn outfit.
Pukki gave the Canaries the lead with a trademark turn and finish as his side made a confident start in Lancashire.
The Finnish striker also struck the crossbar from an Emi Buendia cross as Tony Mowbray’s Rovers were fortunate to make it to the interval only one goal down.
The home side made the most of their good luck early in the second half when Liverpool loanee Harvey Elliott picked the ball up on the right wing before closing in on goal and poking a finish past Michael McGovern in the Norwich goal.
Parity barely lasted five minutes though as Pukki was in the right place at the right time to deflect home a Buendia shot at the other end, making it nine goals for the season already.
Whether or not the 2018/19 Championship Golden Boot winner meant the touch only he will know, but with the form that he is in it would be hard to bet against him.
The win sees Norwich maintain their three-point lead at the top of the Championship and they are showing no signs of letting that lead slip.
It was another frustrating afternoon for Rovers, as it was they who were in the ascendency when Elliott had drawn them level.
This defeat means they still have not beaten a side above them in the league table, which is a problem for their play-off hopes as they are in 12th place.
Nottingham Forest 1-3 Brentford
Brentford brushed Nottingham Forest aside at the City Ground to move back into the play-off places, extending the hosts winless run to seven games.
The Bees have been in fine form having not lost since the middle of October, and they took the lead against Chris Hughton’s side when Henrik Dalsgaard shrugged off his marker to loop home a header from a Mathias Jensen corner.
Forest rarely threatened until Anthony Knockaert was introduced at half-time, and the Frenchman felt aggrieved to have what would have been an equalising goal ruled out due to team-mate Lyle Taylor standing in the eye-line of Brentford ‘keeper David Raya in an offside position.
Brentford finally got the second goal that their dominance deserved when their own substitute, Josh Dasilva, beautifully curled a shot into the far corner of Brice Samba’s net in the final ten minutes of the game.
Their advantage was extended when top-scorer Ivan Toney capitalised on indecision in the Forest backline to slide home his 15th Championship goal of the season.
The drama was not done there though, as Knockaert teed up Joe Worrall for a late consolation before picking up a second booking for simulation as he attempted to win a penalty.
Hughton should be given time to turn things around at Forest, but he appears no closer to finding a solution to his team’s problems, particularly in attack.
The league’s third lowest scorers remain in 21st place, but are only above the drop zone on goal difference.
Brentford are really starting to hit form after their now annually-occurring slow start to the season, 11 games unbeaten has seen them move up to sixth – only three points from the automatic promotion places.
Wycombe Wanderers 1-2 Coventry City
A first half brace from Coventry captain Liam Kelly helped the Sky Blues squeeze past Wycombe at Adams Park.
Kelly was forced off with an injury at half-time, but he more than made his mark on proceedings in his 45 minutes on the pitch.
He opened the scoring in what was always likely to be a tense affair between two of the pre-season favourites for relegation when he strode onto a loose ball in the middle of the park and fired home an unstoppable shot from 25 yards.
Kelly, who hadn’t scored for Coventry in over two years, doubled his tally for the afternoon with a header from an innovative set-piece routine.
Wycombe, without a win in their last eight games, dragged themselves back into the game in the second half after the introduction of Adebayo Akinfenwa as a substitute.
When Akinfenwa laid the ball off for David Wheeler in the penalty area, the Wycombe man was bundled over by Ben Sheaf for a stonewall penalty that Joe Jacobson stroked home calmly.
Gareth Ainsworth’s side threw everything at the visitors in search of an equaliser, and they thought they had it in the dying moments when Scot Kashket turned home a rebound, but he was denied by a late offside flag.
The call was marginal at best, only adding to the frustration for Ainsworth as his team once again made life hard for themselves by conceding soft goals.
Their winless run has meant they have failed to make the most of the struggles of the more established sides around them and remain in 23rd place.
Coventry have been a revelation since the end of the last international break.
Unbeaten in seven and markedly improved in defence, whilst they will be concerned about a potential absence for Kelly, Mark Robins side are up to 18th and eight points clear of the drop zone.