CHAMPIONSHIP REVIEW: ALL THE MIDWEEK MAGIC FROM THE TOP 5 GAMES
It was a fourth game in 11 days for the majority of Championship teams this midweek and as the games start to come think and fast, the talking points are following suit.
League leaders Reading overcame their toughest test yet to extend their lead at the top once more, Barnsley got their first win of the season in new manager Valerien Ismael’s first game in charge and Rotherham eased past Sheffield Wednesday in a South Yorkshire derby.
Blackburn Rovers 2-4 Reading
A Yakou Meite goal after only nine seconds set Reading up to make it seven wins from their first eight games of the season, extending their lead at the top of the Championship in the process.
The early goal came when the Blackburn defence failed to deal with a long ball, presenting Meite with an open goal to roll home his third goal in his last two appearances.
Blackburn were level only two minutes later when top scorer Adam Armstrong steered home a Harvey Elliott cross and Rovers did have the better of this one throughout but they failed to match the clinical finishing of the visitors.
More chaotic defending from Blackburn allowed Michael Olise to stride through on goal to score, before a curling shot from Josh Laurent made it 3-1 to the Royals with less than 20 minutes on the clock.
Armstrong passed up a handful of presentable chances to get Rovers back in the game before angling a header past Rafael in the Reading goal to give Blackburn hope with 30 minutes still to play.
That hope was extinguished when Lucas Joao dribbled past a couple of defenders and slotted a composed finish into the bottom corner to score Reading’s fourth goal from their fourth shot on target at Ewood Park.
Blackburn were unusually disorganised at the back, meaning not even the impressive goal-scoring exploits of Armstrong could rescue a point.
Tony Mowbray’s side have dropped to 12th in the table.
Going into every game, pundits and rival fans alike are suggesting that Reading’s remarkable run will come to the end soon enough, but this win over a much fancied Blackburn side may be a sign that they are a genuine contender for promotion – even if they have scored more than double their expected goals total.
Their lead at the top of the Championship now stands at seven points.
Barnsley 3-0 QPR
Barnsley swotted aside QPR in Valerien Ismael’s first game in charge of the Tykes, as his new side capitalised on a first half red card for Rangers’ defender Rob Dickie.
Dickie was sent off for hauling down Cauley Woodrow in the box, just as the Barnsley forward was about to shoot. Woodrow slammed home a convincing penalty from the spot to pick up his third goal of the season.
QPR had started brightly before being reduced to ten men, but Woodrow’s penalty swung the game in favour of the home side.
A clinical near-post finish from Conor Chaplin before half-time confirmed Barnsley’s dominance and effectively ensured Ismael would get off to a winning start.
The former Crystal Palace defender appears to be in a similar mould to previous Barnsley managers Daniel Stendel and Gerhard Struber and his perfect start to life in English football was capped off by a ludicrous own goal that summed up the evening for Mark Warburton and QPR.
Midway through the second half, the ball fell loose in the R’s penalty area and centre-back Yoan Barbet attempted to poke it back in the direction of goalkeeper Seny Dieng.
Unfortunately, he put far too much pace on the ball and it nestled in the corner of his own net – a grim way to confirm a seventh game without a win.
QPR were missing influential winger Bright Osayi-Samuel as his contract dispute with the club rumbles on and their dismal early season form suggests it will be a difficult campaign with or without him.
They are now 18th in the league table.
Barnsley had been performing fairly well before Struber departed for New York Red Bulls, but they have added a clinical edge to their play that has kick-started their season.
Eight goals in their last four games has brought with it six points and Tuesday night’s win lifted them above QPR into 16th.
Rotherham United 3-0 Sheffield Wednesday
A sensational first-half performance from Rotherham saw them breeze past local rivals Sheffield Wednesday, in what looked to be an early season clash of relegation candidates.
Rotherham have been denied by late goals in several of their matches since an opening day win at Wycombe and they started this game like a team with a point to prove.
As soon as Scottish midfielder Jamie Lindsay looped a header into the Wednesday net after only five minutes, Paul Warne’s side never looked like losing this one.
The closest they came to being stopped in their tracks was when a drone was flown over the New York Stadium, halting play for almost 10 minutes in the first-half.
Garry Monk’s Owls have been in abysmal form for most of the calendar year, and Rotherham’s second goal showcased the type of defending that has seen Wednesday pick up only six league wins since the start of 2020.
Cameron Dawson came rushing out of his goal but was beaten to the loose ball by Freddie Ladapo and as Ladapo went to roll the ball home, Tom Lees brought him down and was rightly sent off, handing the home side a penalty in the process.
Dan Barlaser made Dawson pay for his error by slamming a confident penalty straight down the middle of the goal.
Lindsay got his second goal of the evening on the stroke of half-time as he reacted quickly to slam home the rebound from a Barlaser shot.
The only positive for Wednesday was that they managed to limit their hosts to only three goals, with Dawson going some way to redeeming himself with a string of good saves in the second half.
Pressure is beginning to grow on Monk as his side are now nine points adrift of safety thanks to their pre-season points deduction and a run of only two wins in their first eight.
Rotherham were aggressive, direct and organised – features of their game that should stand them in good stead for the relegation dogfight ahead.
Their first home win of the season sees them move up to 17th in the table.
Preston North End 0-2 Millwall
Two second-half goals helped continue Millwall’s excellent away record under Gary Rowett and ensured Alex Neil’s Preston would continue their poor home form at the start of this campaign.
Since Rowett was appointed manager in October 2019, Millwall have lost only five of 20 away league matches and this was the type of performance that showed why.
Being hard to beat has been a vital aspect of this run and that was again the case at Deepdale, as the Lions defended well throughout to nullify a Preston attack that has been in blistering form on the road but unable to hit a barn door at home.
North End are yet to pick up a point, or even score a goal, at home this season, but they are unbeaten on their travels, finding the net 10 times in those four games.
This strange inconsistency looked set to continue from the moment Kenneth Zohore gave Millwall a 54th minute lead. The Danish striker got on the end of a flowing counter-attack to set Rowett’s side up for a third win in four.
The victory was sealed by a late Jed Wallace penalty after team-mate Murray Wallace was up-ended in the Preston penalty area.
Millwall are now up to fourth following their win in Lancashire and their away form looks to be the key to them maintaining a play-off push.
Conversely, Preston’s results at home are holding them back massively, and if they cannot find some home comforts soon they could well be looking at another season ending in mid-table mediocrity.
Swansea City 2-0 Stoke City
Swansea won their first game since before the international break to move up to third in the Championship.
A promising start to the season for Steve Cooper’s side has been undermined by a run of three games without a win heading into this one, but once Jay Fulton gave them the lead with a brilliant flicked finish on the half hour mark, they looked certain to end their bad run.
Cooper gave a first start to the season to former Liverpool academy youngster Yan Dhanda and he was in exceptional form, hitting the post early on and bringing fluency to a Swansea attack that has misfired in recent weeks.
Stoke had been in fine form before their trip to South Wales, but Michael O’Neill’s decision to start young striker Tyrese Campbell on the bench backfired massively as the Potters failed to register a shot on target all evening.
Swansea confirmed the win deep into the second half when substitute Kasey Palmer bravely headed a bouncing ball past Stoke keeper Angus Gunn, taking a blow to the head in the process.
Gunn’s hesitancy in beating Palmer to the ball summed up the passive performance of his side. Stoke’s impressive win over Brentford only three days beforehand was full of intensity combined with quality in possession, but neither of those were present in defeat at the Liberty Stadium – an indication that the inconsistency that has dogged Stoke since relegation from the Premier League has not been eliminated yet.
They are now ninth in the table.
It was probably the Swans most impressive performance of the season so far as their usually sturdy defence was nicely complimented by greater attacking intent.
They are now up to third and will stay there for the foreseeable if similar performances follow.