CHAMPIONSHIP REVIEW: LOOMING LOCKDOWN NO ISSUE FOR ENGLISH FOOTBALL
We may now be in another national lockdown, but the midweek Championship action was free-flowing enough to keep supporters spirits up despite everything that is going on in the world.
Reading tasted defeat for the second game in a row, a goal in the 92nd minute gave Wycombe back-to-back wins and Sheffield Wednesday pulled off a pair of major victories in consecutive days.
Here is the best of the action:
Reading 0-3 Preston North End
Championship leaders Reading fell to a heavy defeat at the hands of Preston, as they were torn apart in an underwhelming second-half display at the Madjeski Stadium.
Despite the one-sided scoreline the Royals started brightly as they looked to continue their perfect home record, with both Lucas Joao and Sone Aluko forcing Declan Rudd into first-half saves.
The defeat that Veljko Paunovic’s side suffered at Coventry last time out was perhaps a touch unfortunate, but his side’s second-half performance contributed to a deserved defeat to Preston.
The second period got off to the worst possible start as young defender Tom McIntyre clumsily brought down Emil Riis as the North End striker advanced into the penalty area, leading to a spot-kick.
Rafael made up for two uncharacteristic errors in the defeat at St Andrews to keep out Daniel Johnson’s tame penalty, but the tone for the second half had been set.
Alex Neil’s side eventually took the lead when Scott Sinclair got goal-side of the Reading defence and finished expertly.
The lead was doubled only minutes later when Riis outmuscled McIntyre to get on the end of a long ball and slot home his first goal for Preston.
The win was sealed by a late counter-attack that saw Brad Potts slam home a cutback from Tom Barkhuizen.
Preston’s excellent away form is keeping them in touch with the play-off spots, their home form is preventing them from challenging for automatic promotion.
The win moves them up to 12th.
Many have been sceptical of Reading’s fantastic start to the season, suggesting they have more points than their performances indicate they should have and this is possibly the first clear sign they are in something of a false position.
Their lead at the top of the Championship is down to three points.
Watford 3-2 Stoke City
A last-minute Ismaila Sarr goal decided an exciting game at Vicarage Road between two sides that will hope to be in the end of season promotion shake-up.
Sarr slotted home a composed finish after great work from Ken Sema down the Watford left to secure the Hornet’s first win in four matches.
Stoke more than played their part in this game though, and it was they who took the lead after only two minutes when a neatly worked corner routine was tapped home at the back post by Steven Fletcher.
Watford manager Vladimir Ivic has come under increasing pressure following the Hornet’s poor run of form, but his team controversially drew level before half-time as Joao Pedro appeared to bundle Stoke goalkeeper Angus Gunn over the line with the ball in his hands.
Referee Andy Davies saw nothing wrong with Pedro’s challenge and awarded the goal.
Gunn’s difficult evening continued in the second-half, as he was a fraction late going in to a challenge with Sarr and gave away a penalty.
Pedro stepped up to embarrass the Southampton loanee for a second time by sending him the wrong way.
Despite the setback, it is clear that this Stoke team under Michael O’Neill has a greater team spirit than previous Potters’ sides and they were back level when Nick Powell thumped home a loose ball from the edge of box with only 10 minutes to play.
It was Sarr though who had the final say, but not without further controversy as he appeared to handle the ball in the build-up to the goal.
The win moves Watford back into the play-off spots and relieves some of the pressure on Ivic as Watford’s demanding owners are no doubt hoping for an immediate return to the Premier League.
The defeat sees Stoke drop to 11th. Inconsistency is their Achilles heel as they are now on a run of win, loss, win, loss.
Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 Bournemouth
A second-half Barry Bannan penalty helped out of form Sheffield Wednesday to a hard-earned win over Bournemouth which was followed by news the next day that their points deduction had been halved.
Wednesday’s appeal against the 12-point deduction they were handed for failing Financial Fair Play was successful and the penalty was reduced to six points, leaving them in touching distance of a clutch of fellow relegation rivals.
The Owls were just as impressive on the pitch as they were in the courtroom in the victory over Bournemouth, ending the only remaining unbeaten start in the Championship on a cold night at Hillsborough.
The game’s key moment came in the second half as Bournemouth captain Steve Cook was dismissed for bringing down Josh Windass after the Wednesday forward had rounded Asmir Begovic, leading to a soft-looking penalty.
Bannan remained composed to score his second spot-kick of the season.
The home side also finished with 10 men as Kadeem Harris was dismissed in injury-time for a combination of a lunge on Jefferson Lerma and then a kick-out at the Colombian international as the pair tangled on the floor.
It did little to diminish the feeling of relief for Garry Monk though, as a first home win since February has no doubt helped to quieten vociferous calls for his dismissal.
Wednesday remain bottom, but the nine-point swing leaves them only a point behind Derby.
Jason Tindall could be forgiven for thinking management was an easy gig after his great start to life in the Bournemouth dugout, but this defeat will be a reality check for his talented squad.
The Cherries are now in fifth.
Birmingham 1-2 Wycombe Wanderers
An injury-time own goal from Birmingham’s Kristian Pedersen gave Wycombe a second win of the season only days after they secured their first-ever second-tier victory.
The late goal came after a scramble in the Birmingham penalty area that ended with Blues goalkeeper Neil Etheridge in no man’s land as Pedersen headed the ball into his own net under pressure from Fred Onyedinma.
Wycombe understandably arrived in the second city in a buoyant mood after their win over Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday, and they were more than a match for the hosts in an even first half.
It was Birmingham who took the lead though, as Marc Roberts headed in a Jeremie Bela corner. The simplicity of the goal will no doubt have frustrated Chairboys manager Gareth Ainsworth, who was still absent after undergoing back surgery last week.
Aitor Karanka’s side noticeably sat back in the second half as they looked to hold on for a third win in a row and they came to regret it when Scott Kashket turned home an Onyedinma shot with 15 minutes left to play.
Wycombe weren’t satisfied with a point though and it was they who pushed hardest for a late winner.
They were gifted a more than deserved three points by the own goal and turning draws into wins in these sort of games could be vital if the Chairboys are going to secure a second season in the Championship.
They are now up to 22nd and only a point from safety.
Birmingham will be disappointed to have given up points from a winning position, it is not something Karanka is known for, but their steady start to the season sees them in 14th.
Cardiff City 3-0 Barnsley
A trademark Harry Wilson strike capped a comfortable win for Cardiff against Barnsley, condemning Tykes manager Valerien Ismael to a first defeat in English football in the process.
Wilson thumped home a left-footed strike in the final 15 minutes to seal the victory for Neil Harris’ side to compliment the Bluebird’s best performance of the campaign so far.
Cardiff hadn’t won in four heading into this one and were without a home win all season, but a goal from Junior Hoilett after only four minutes helped them settle any early nerves.
On the stroke of half-time, Wilson was brought down by Barnsley defender Michael Helik in the area for a stonewall penalty.
Joe Ralls stepped up to take his third penalty in two games and was on target to give his side a commanding lead at the interval.
Despite being unbeaten in five heading to South Wales, Barnsley never threatened to get back into the game as they struggled to fashion goalscoring opportunities.
Wilson, returning to the side after missing the last two games through injury, ended feint hopes of a comeback with a goal that shows he is probably too good to be playing in the Championship, but that will be of little concern to his manager.
Cardiff move up to 11th in the table.
Barnsley’s excellent run had to come to an end at some point and this did look a game too far for them, as they lacked their usual energy and enthusiasm.
Defeat seems them drop to 17th.