CHAMPIONSHIP REVIEW: IVIC SENT PACKING, BORO BATTER BLUES, AND PLENTY MORE
This weekend saw a Championship game called off for Covid-19 related reasons for the first time this season, as a spate of positive tests among the Rotherham squad and coaching staff meant their home game against Derby was postponed just 90 minutes before kick-off.
Despite Wayne Rooney being denied the opportunity to extend his impressive unbeaten run in caretaker charge of the Rams, there was still plenty of second tier football to talk about.
Vladimir Ivic was given the boot by Watford after results stopped papering over poor performances for the final time at Huddersfield, Norwich pulled further clear at the top of the table and Sheffield Wednesday delivered some Christmas cheer for Tony Pulis with a first win since he took charge.
Here is the best of the action:
Huddersfield Town 2-0 Watford
Watford manager Vladimir Ivic was sacked following the Hornets’ 2-0 humbling at the hands of Huddersfield on Saturday.
A calamitous first half at the John Smith’s Stadium saw the visitors fall behind after just nine minutes, when the usually reliable Ben Foster was caught in possession by Huddersfield’s Isaac Mbenza and the loose ball fell to Fraizer Campbell to tap home his fourth goal of the season.
Things got even worse for Watford midway through the half as Etienne Capoue got his feet completely muddled and turned a Huddersfield corner past Foster and into his own net.
Ivic’s side had several good chances to get back into the game with most of them falling to Andre Gray, who was selected to start ahead of Troy Deeney.
Club captain Deeney has been instrumental in Watford collecting points despite playing poorly in recent weeks, but was left on the bench for the entire 90 minutes after reportedly having a disagreement with his soon-to-be-sacked manager in the first half.
It is no real surprise that the Watford board have acted decisively in removing Ivic.
They have a reputation for acting quickly when things are not going well, and despite the Hornets being 5th in the Championship table, they are nine points behind league leaders Norwich and have shown little to suggest they can close that gap.
The drama at Watford should not overshadow another impressive afternoon for Carlos Corberan’s Huddersfield.
Whilst they have played better this season and lost, wins against the likes of Watford are further proof that the Spaniard’s attempts to change the Terriers’ playing style are working.
Their third win in the last five helps them up to 12th in the table.
Brentford 3-1 Reading
A superb first half display helped Brentford to a comfortable win that saw them leapfrog visitors Reading in the Championship table in the process.
The Bees took an early lead when Reading ‘keeper Rafael was unable to keep out a Mathias Jensen shot at his near post.
The rest of the half belonged to Bryan Mbeumo though, as the French winger cut inside from the right to bend home a glorious left-footed strike midway through the half, before latching on to a pass from Ivan Toney to slot home his second on the half hour mark.
Reading looked completely out of their depth for much of the first half, and a third defeat in their last four appeared inevitable.
They gave themselves a glimmer of hope in the second half when substitute Sone Aluko headed in a Michael Olise cross, but the home side never truly looked like throwing away their lead.
Reading have now dropped out of the play-off places for the first time this season as a host of injuries and a general loss of form look like scuppering early season hopes of an unlikely promotion.
The Royals are now eighth in the table, outside the top six on goal difference.
As their visitors continue to slide down the standings, Brentford only continue to rise, as an unbeaten run that stretches all the way back to October has helped Thomas Frank’s side to fourth in the league.
Norwich City 2-0 Cardiff City
Yet another virtuoso display from Emi Buendia ensured Norwich cruised past Cardiff, extending the Canaries’ lead at the top of the Championship to five points.
The diminutive Argentine picked up a goal and an assist as Norwich rarely looked like dropping points against the mid-table Bluebirds.
Buendia gave his side the lead in the first half when he collected the ball goal-side of the Cardiff midfield and drove at the back four before placing a shot into the bottom corner of Alex Smithies' net from the edge of the box.
Cardiff’s best opportunities to equalise both fell to Sean Morrison, but the Bluebirds’ skipper was twice denied by Michael McGovern in the Norwich goal as the first half came to a close.
Teemu Pukki, Mario Vrancic and Buendia all went close to extending the home side’s lead in the second period, but it wasn’t until 20 minutes from time that they wrapped up the victory.
The game-sealing goal came when Buendia sliced open the Cardiff midfield with a pinpoint pass to Todd Cantwell, before the local-born attacker turned and thumped home a great strike from similar range to Buendia’s opener.
Norwich were well worth the win and their fifth victory on the trot helped extend their lead at the top of the Championship after second-placed Bournemouth could only draw at Luton.
Cardiff’s recent good form has sparked hopes of promotion push, but the way in which they were outclassed at Carrow Road suggests they’ll have to settle for the play-offs at best.
Neil Harris’ side remain 10th in the table.
Birmingham City 1-4 Middlesbrough
Middlesbrough scored four goals in a single league game for the first time under Neil Warnock to move into the play-off places.
Birmingham are without a home win since the end of October, but they did take the lead in this one when defender Maxime Colin lashed home a loose ball in the box.
It was an uncharacteristically sloppy goal for Boro to concede, although they had more than made up for it by the half-time interval.
First, a quickly taken free-kick was played into the path of Britt Assombalonga, and the striker beat Neil Etheridge with a powerful strike at the near post.
Five minutes later the game had been completely turned on its head as George Saville tucked home a Marvin Johnson cross to give the away side the lead.
It is of course the season of giving, but Blues’ keeper Etheridge seemed to take the sentiment too literally early in the second half when he dropped a Lewis Wing corner into his own net under minimal pressure.
The afternoon got even better for Wing when his long-range strike flew under the body of Etheridge and in, to give Warnock’s side their most convincing win of the season.
If Boro can continue to score at this rate they will have a great chance of keeping themselves in the top six, as their miserly defence will keep them in games against anyone.
They are now sixth in the table on goal difference.
Birmingham continue to be inconsistent as good wins at Bristol City and Reading have been followed up by three defeats on the spin.
They remain in 17th despite this heavy defeat.
Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 Coventry City
Tony Pulis finally won his first game in charge of Sheffield Wednesday in a relegation six-pointer with fellow strugglers Coventry.
The game’s only goal came midway through the second half as defender Tom Lees headed in a Barry Bannan free-kick to hand the Owls a first win since early November.
It was a game of little quality throughout, with the visiting Sky Blues just about having the better chances but finding themselves repelled by the returning Keiren Westwood in the Wednesday goal.
Westwood kept out Max Biamou in the first half before saving a late Kyle McFadzean header to help his side cling on to the three points.
His opposite number Ben Wilson had a less successful afternoon, as he was tempted to come out by Bannan’s looping set-piece but got nowhere near it, leaving Lees an empty goal to nod in to.
It was no surprise that Wednesday’s only goal came from a set-piece, as they have struggled to create chances throughout Pulis’ reign and beyond, but Josh Windass did miss a good chance from open play to seal the game late on.
Pulis will be pleased to collect a win at the ninth time of asking, particularly against a likely relegation rival, and will hope this is the start of another great escape.