CHAMPIONSHIP REVIEW: TOP FIVE GAMES THE LEAGUE HAD TO OFFER THIS WEEKEND
The Championship signed off in style before the final international break of the year with a selection of exciting games, fantastic goals and interesting talking points.
A collection of the promotion favourites all picked up valuable wins whilst surprise league leaders Reading made it three defeats on the bounce and Derby County slumped to the bottom of the table after another home defeat.
Here is the best of the action:
Watford 3-2 Coventry
Watford won their second five-goal thriller of the week to move into the Championship’s automatic promotion places.
It was an end-to-end affair against Coventry and both sides had a number of chances before Andre Gray bundled the Hornets in front early in the second-half, picking up his first goal of the season in the process.
Two goals in two minutes completely swung the game though.
First, Gustavo Hamer looped a 25-yard header over Ben Foster and into the net after Watford had failed to clear a free-kick.
Moments later, Tyler Walker smashed home from the edge of the box after a knockdown from strike partner Maxime Biamou.
It was Walker’s first ever goal for the Sky Blues and marked his return from a Coronavirus-enforced absence nicely.
His joy was not to last for long though, as Nigerian defender William Troost-Ekong headed in a James Garner corner to level the scores.
The Watford equaliser was the fourth goal Coventry have conceded from a set-piece already this season, no doubt a source of frustration for manager Mark Robins.
Further agony lay in wait at Vicarage Road though, as Ismaila Sarr tucked home a late penalty – as he did in the win over Stoke in midweek - after Coventry’s Calum O’Hare was penalised for handball.
The defeat will sting for Robins and his players, but this was another showing that is clear evidence they are capable of beating the drop this season.
One win in nine does mean they are only a point above the relegation zone in 21st though.
Watford have responded well to the pressure that was building on manager Vladimir Ivic after defeat at Barnsley last weekend, and the fact they are now second in the league should mean even the Hornets’ notoriously impatient owners can’t hand him his P45 quite yet.
Birmingham 1-3 Bournemouth
David Brooks sparkled in a dominant Bournemouth display at St Andrews to get the Cherries back to winning ways.
The young Welsh winger, who completed his first 90 minutes in 18 months, scored a deflected strike from outside of the box in the first half before doubling his tally in the second period as he reacted quickly after Dominic Solanke had hit the post.
Bournemouth were on top throughout and it was the impressive Dutch winger Arnaut Danjuma who gave them the lead after less than 10 minutes.
Danjuma, who has started life in the Championship in fine form, cut in from the left and placed the ball past Blues keeper Neil Etheridge to score his fourth goal of the season.
The scruffy nature of Brooks’ first goal belied his majestic first half performance.
His long-range strike took a hefty deflection off Marc Roberts and wrong-footed Etheridge, but the way in which he floated across the pitch and controlled proceedings from his starting position on the right was a joy to watch.
His second also had a touch of fortune about it as the former Sheffield United man was in the right place at the right time to smash the ball home after great work from Solanke was denied a deserved goal by the woodwork.
Birmingham gave themselves a lifeline when Scott Hogan headed home a free-kick to score his first goal since before the UK’s first Covid lockdown in March.
There was still over half an hour to play but Blues were second best throughout and never really threatened to make the game a contest.
This result made it two home defeats in a row for Aitor Karanka’s side and optimistic early season hopes of a play-off charge already look a tad naïve.
They are now in 17th place.
Despite only losing their unbeaten start to the season at Sheffield Wednesday in midweek, Bournemouth had only won one of their last six before this one and young manager Jason Tindall will know more performances like this from his star individuals are required for the Cherries to make an immediate return to the Premier League.
The win takes them up to 4th.
Blackburn 3-1 QPR
An entertaining second half at Ewood Park was decided by two goals for Adam Armstrong that saw him re-take the lead in the race for the golden boot.
The former England youth international was at his sharp-shooting best once again and when Harvey Elliott slid him in with a defence-splitting pass late in the second half, there was a sense of inevitability about Armstrong’s ice-cool finish.
He added another in injury-time as he tapped home a rebound after QPR goalkeeper Seny Dieng had saved his initial effort.
Dieng had earlier denied the Blackburn talisman on a couple of occasions in a tepid first-half, and it was in fact Armstrong’s strike partner Ben Brereton who opened the scoring with an acrobatic effort soon after the restart.
The lead barely lasted 10 minutes though as after Blackburn keeper Thomas Kaminski brought down Rob Dickie in the aftermath of a QPR corner, Lyndon Dykes stepped up to smash home his third penalty of the campaign.
Rangers tails were up after the equaliser, but the space they left at the back in search of a winner was expertly exploited by Armstrong to ensure Rovers would pick up a first win in four.
With Armstrong and young Liverpool loanee Elliott at their best, Blackburn look a match for anyone in the Championship. However, the supporting cast will need to contribute more to maintain a play-off push as Rovers only moved up to 12th despite the win.
QPR ended a positive week on a disappointing note, as victories over Cardiff and Derby moved them clear of the drop zone, but this defeat sees them drop to 18th.
Reading 0-3 Stoke
League leaders Reading suffered their third defeat in a row against a clinical Stoke side at the Madjeski stadium.
The Potters’ young forward Tyrese Campbell was in sublime form and it was he who gave the away team the lead early in the first-half as he smashed home a loose ball in the Reading penalty area.
Reading’s early season success was built on solid defensive displays, but with captain Liam Moore currently injured they have looked shaky at the back, and this was apparent again on Saturday as a poor clearance from goalkeeper Rafael was seized upon by Tommy Smith who set up Steven Fletcher to slot home.
The Royals had more of the ball than Michael O’Neill’s side and worked goalkeeper Angus Gunn on several occasions but the Potters were deadly in the final third, unlike the hosts.
The final nail in the coffin for Veljko Paunovic and his side came in second-half injury-time as another defensive mistake, this time from debutant defender Lewis Gibson, allowed substitute Jacob Brown to round Rafael and score.
Reading’s early season form was always likely to be unsustainable, they were practically scoring with every shot on target at one point and injuries in defence and attack have made them a far weaker side.
Whether or not they can maintain a challenge for promotion will depend upon how they react after the international break once a handful of players return to fitness.
They are still top after Swansea lost at Norwich but their lead has been cut to a single point.
Stoke continue their wildly inconsistent run of form, but performances and results such as this are an indication that they should be serious contenders for a play-off spot at the very least.
The win moves them up to eighth, only a point outside the top six.
Derby 0-2 Barnsley,
A mistake from Derby goalkeeper David Marshall set the Rams on the way to a seventh game without a win that now sees them bottom of the second tier.
The usually reliable Marshall played a slack pass into midfield that was latched upon by Barnsley’s Conor Chaplin, who struck early to catch the keeper out of position.
Derby manager Phillip Cocu was forced to miss the game after coming into contact with club chief executive Stephen Pearce, who tested positive for Covid-19 last week, but stand-in coach Liam Rosenior could do little to inspire much out of the underperforming squad at Pride Park.
Tom Lawrence forced two good saves from Barnsley goalkeeper Jack Walton in the first-half, but once Chaplin scored an air of glum inevitably seemed to set in around the ground.
It was only made worse in the second-half when Victor Adeboyejo drove to the edge of the penalty area and curled a lovely finish into the bottom corner.
It was the Nigerian striker’s first league goal for Barnsley since September 2018, although he finished like a man who’s been scoring every week.
This was yet another game where Derby dominated possession but created very little, suggesting Cocu may not be given a chance to make a return to the dugout after his period of isolation.
News broke on Friday that a takeover of the club by a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family has been ratified by the EFL, but despite optimism about massive investment in the future, the Rams are now bottom of the Championship.
The upturn in fortunes for Barnsley since the last international break has been remarkable.
In October, popular manager Gerhard Struber departed with the club winless since the final day of last season, but new manager Valerien Ismael has collected three wins from his first four games, leaving the Tykes in 16th place.