CHAMPIONSHIP REVIEW: ROONEY'S DERBY UNBEATEN IN SIX AND SHEFFIELD LOSE AGAIN, PLUS LOADS MORE
The Championship action continues to come thick and fast as this most congested of seasons continues to throw up late goals, comeback wins and surprise results.
The final midweek fixture list before Christmas saw Nottingham Forest end their poor recent run, Derby continue their excellent recent form under the temporary management of Wayne Rooney, and Millwall rejuvenates their season with a win at Bristol City.
Here is the best of the action:
Nottingham Forest 2-0 Sheffield Wednesday
Nottingham Forest won for the first time in eight to continue Tony Pulis’ miserable start to life as Sheffield Wednesday manager.
Forest, who have been increasingly goal-shy throughout their winless run, took just three minutes to take the lead at the City ground as full-back Yuri Ribeiro was gifted acres of space in the Wednesday penalty area to fire a shot beyond Joe Wildsmith in goal.
It was the Portuguese defender’s first ever goal for Forest and helped to calm the nerves of Chris Hughton’s side.
The early goal meant the onus was on the away side to take the initiative, but fashioning chances has been a real problem for the Owls all season, and the arrival of Pulis eight games ago has done little to help.
They managed just one shot on target in this one, and were fortunate not to be two behind at the break when Forest striker Lyle Taylor had an effort cleared off the line.
The second half saw the return of Lewis Grabban for the home side after almost two months out with a hip injury.
Forest’s top scorer from last season wasted little time waiting to improve his tally for the current campaign, as he sealed the victory late on when he got the better of Wednesday defender Tom Lees before bending a lovely strike into the bottom corner with the outside of his foot.
The win will really help to stave off early doubts about Hughton’s appointment, and the increased threat they showed in attack is a further sign that Forest are moving in the right direction.
Despite the long-awaited win finally arriving though, Forest remain in 21st place in the Championship.
Whilst the pressure is lifting on Hughton, things are only getting worse for Pulis.
Defeat in the East Midlands means they remain bottom of the league and are now seven points from safety.
Cardiff City 3-2 Birmingham City
A late Sean Morrison goal helped Cardiff complete a second-half turnaround against Birmingham to go some way towards making up for their underwhelming defeat to Swansea at the weekend.
Bluebirds’ captain Morrison powered a header beyond former team-mate Neil Etheridge in the Birmingham goal with only minutes remaining to secure the win.
Cardiff, who had won five games in a row before their defeat in the South Wales derby, made a bright start against Aitor Karanka’s side and took the lead when Robert Glatzel capitalised on sloppy defending to score his third goal of the season.
Blues were back level before half-time when Marc Roberts fired through a crowded penalty area to give his side real hope of making it three away wins in a row.
They were on course to do so when Ivan Sanchez dribbled through a host of Cardiff defenders and scored early in the second half.
Cardiff were gifted a chance to get level when Jake Clarke-Salter handled a Harry Wilson cross in his own box, but Etheridge came back to haunt his former employers by saving Glatzel’s penalty.
Neil Harris’ side weren’t to be denied though, and they did eventually get level when Wilson finished confidently after being played in by Marlon Pack.
It was a Wilson corner that set up Morrison for the winner as well, showing the importance of the Liverpool loanee to his team once again.
Cardiff’s late win sees them move up to tenth, only three points from the final play-off spot.
Birmingham were uncharacteristically sloppy in defence, with Clarke-Salter in particular having a night to forget.
Defeat sees them remain in 17th.
Derby County 2-0 Swansea City
Derby are now unbeaten in six games under the caretaker management of Wayne Rooney and Liam Rosenior after a comfortable win over high-flying Swansea at Pride Park.
An impressive start from the Rams was crowned by a goal from Colin Kazim-Richards after the Swans failed to clear a free-kick into their box.
Derby continued to control the tempo of the game throughout the opening 45 minutes and they more than merited their second goal that came from neat interplay between Martyn Waghorn and Kamil Jozwiak, before the Polish winger fired a shot beyond Freddie Woodman.
Both Jason Knight and Kazim-Richards hit the woodwork before the interval as the Swans failed to cope with their hosts.
A triple change at half-time from Steve Cooper helped Swansea get a foothold in the game, but they never truly threatened to stage a comeback.
In the second half, Derby showed a sternness in defence to complement their first half attacking threat as they comfortably saw out the victory.
Derby’s improvement in recent weeks has been impressive and surprising in equal measure, as their abject start to the campaign showed no signs of relenting in Rooney’s early weeks in the hot seat.
They remain 22nd and in the relegation zone despite their win, but they are level on points with Forest and Rotherham above them.
It was an uncharacteristically lacklustre showing from Cooper’s Swans as they failed to even register a shot on target throughout the 90 minutes.
A first defeat in four sees them drop to fourth.
Reading 1-2 Norwich City
Goals from Emi Buendia and Teemu Pukki helped Norwich maintain their four-point lead at the top of the Championship.
Buendia was gifted a fourth goal in his last six games after only 11 minutes when Reading’s Andy Rinomhota played a loose pass straight to the Argentine and he finished with aplomb on his weaker left foot.
The Royals didn’t waste any time drawing level though, as an Ovie Ejaria shot was deflected beyond Michael McGovern by team-mate Michael Olise.
Olise came off the bench to score a wonderful winning goal at QPR at the weekend, but he knew nothing about this one.
Norwich were in the ascendency throughout this clash at the Madjeski Stadium, and top scorer Pukki forced Reading ‘keeper Rafael into two good saves before half-time.
However, the Brazilian was sent the wrong way from the penalty spot by Pukki early in the second half after a driving run from Max Aarons was brought to an illegal halt by Liam Moore.
The home side rarely threatened to draw level, and it was in fact Norwich’s Keiran Dowell, making his first appearance since September following injury, who came closest to scoring next when his deflected shot came back off the post.
This was a further reality check for surprise early-season front-runners Reading, as they didn’t look on the same level as a side that many would consider a genuine promotion favourite.
Veljko Paunovic’s Royals remain 5th, but have now won only three of their last 11 games.
Norwich continue to go from strength to strength, and with the likes of Dowell returning to fitness, they look to have a squad capable of holding on to top spot.
Bristol City 0-2 Millwall
Millwall won for the first time since October thanks to an impressive display at promotion-chasing Bristol City.
Gary Rowett’s side have been on a dismal run over the early Winter months, even drawing every game in November, but they took the lead at Ashton Gate after just 17 minutes when Tom Bradshaw deflected a Ryan Leonard shot into the back of the Robins’ net.
Bristol City controlled possession throughout but showed next to no cutting edge in attack and also looked extremely vulnerable to Millwall’s fast-paced counter-attacks.
It was from one such counter-attack that Rowett’s side extended their lead, as after Leonard robbed Han Noah-Massengo of possession on halfway, he slid the ball to Mason Bennett, who curled home a lovely strike from the edge of the box.
Robins’ manager Dean Holden had thrown on striker Famara Diedhou just before the second goal to try and rescue something from the game, but the Senegalese striker received an unwelcome card on the day of his 28th birthday when he was given a second booking for a high boot within 20 minutes of coming on.
This was Millwall at their best under Rowett, they were miserly in defence and effective on the break, it looks like they will have to settle for a season of consolidation but should be in no danger of going down with more results like this.
They are now 15th in the Championship.
There seems to be no obvious solution to Bristol City’s recent slump, a fourth defeat in their last six has seen them slip from second all the way down to ninth.