As we enter the throes of December, and the excruciating excitement for Christmas begins to warm our winter-hewn bones, there are plenty of EFL Championship fixtures to tide us over until the big day.
Advent is famously a busy time for English football clubs, with matches played mere days after one another, but at Soccity, we’ll cover everything so you don’t have to worry about keeping up.
Here are this weekend’s merry results:
The winners and losers
Friday night provided us with not one, but two games to sink our teeth into, and what important games they were.
Cardiff City continued to defy expectations, critics, and the rule book all at once as they beat Norwich City comprehensively—it finished 3-1 at the Cardiff City Stadium.
The conventional televised game was bestowed upon Leeds United and Aston Villa in what was a crucial play-off obtaining fixture. Honours finished even at Elland Road, in a game that Thomas Christiansen will believe his side should have won.
Saturday was, mercifully, a goal-fest, with 31 goals scored up and down the country.
Bolton Wanderers climbed out of the relegation places with an impressive 3-1 victory against Barnsley. Brentford, of perennial draw fame, also won 3-1, against Fulham at Griffin Park.
Rounding off the quatrain of 3-1s were Millwall, who beat now sinking Sheffield United at home, and Reading, who defeated still miserable Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.
Elsewhere, there were wins for Derby County in their midlands derby against Burton Albion, Ipswich Town in a 4-2 thriller against Nottingham Forest, and Preston North End against QPR.
There was only won draw on Saturday, occurring at Hillsbrough, where Sheffield Wednesday acted out a 2-2 stalemate with managerless Hull City.
Saturday’s evening game saw Bristol City host Middlesbrough, in yet another important promotion clash.
In a match in which youngster Bobby Reid impressed for the Robins, second-half goals from Joe Bryan and Jamie Paterson were enough to see off Boro, who grabbed a consolation in the 75th minute through Hordur Magnusson’s own goal.
Championship fans then had to wait until Monday to get their next footballing fix, as Birmingham City hosted table-toppers Wolves, in a second city derby.
Wolves won the game early—Leo Bonatini scored his 12th goal of the season in the 8th minute at St Andrew’s. Birmingham, unsurprisingly for the lowest scoring team in the division, were unable to answer, and, to add insult to injury, Harlee Dean was sent off in the 83rd minute for a silly push on Diogo Jota.
Wolves remain top—Blues continue to languish in the relegation places.
Five things we’ve learned
Coleman hasn’t worked any instant magic
Sunderland’s troubles haven’t gone away just yet with the introduction of former Wales manager Chris Coleman.
The Black Cats have now gone almost a year since winning at the Stadium of Light, and Coleman hasn’t been able to pull any unprecedented tricks.
Ironically, it was Coleman’s old Wales player Dave Edward who got Reading off the mark on Saturday, after Callum McManaman was sent off on the stroke of half-time.
Coleman was quick to recognise the deflated atmosphere that currently engulfs Wearside, citing Sunderland’s current, desperate situation:
“It is a huge disappointment for us because we are flat again. I can see the frustration here, you can’t blame everybody for being frustrated”.
“This week it’s being kicked back down into the gutter and we have to deal with that.”
With Coleman’s side travelling to Wolves next time out, quickly followed by a home fixture against the unknown quantity that is Jokanovic’s Fulham team, it’s difficult to see Sunderland’s fortunes taking a turn for the better any time soon.
Wolves showed us something different
Wolves certainly didn’t perform to their majestic best against a toothless Birmingham City on Monday night.
While Wolves were comfortable in the first half of the game, Birmingham were resurgent in the second period, and managed to take the game to Nuno Espirito Santo’s side without being able to make the crucial breakthrough.
But Wolves showed commentators, fans, and critics alike that they have that trait that all promotion-chasing sides require: they can win games even when they’re not at their best.
Despite a lacklustre performance against Birmingham—if they’d been playing anyone else but the lowest scorers in the league they might well have been punished—they battled and deserved a 1-0 win.
One need not look further than Jota’s battered physical form to prove that Wolves have the players to fight for every blade of grass this season.
Bolton Wanderers are fighters
Bolton, more than any other side this season, looked like prime relegation fodder, following their abysmal start to the season.
In their last five matches, however, they look like they might well survive, and they’re certainly outperforming their rivals in the drop zone.
Manager Phil Parkinson cited his team’s positive character and determined spirit as the reason for their win at the weekend, and for their dramatic turn in form:
“I am very pleased because of the character we showed. We had to stand strong as a team and so I am delighted”.
“It’s a huge boost for us. That’s only one defeat in nine now, five unbeaten at home and we are starting to build momentum”.
“It is good to see the table. I have only glanced at it, but it’s a good feeling”.
Often, the team that wants it most is able to haul themselves away from the dreaded drop, and Bolton have gone a long way this weekend to proving that they have that fight in them this season.
Sheffield United are on the wane
Millwall had fallen foul of a six-match winless run until their match at the New Den with promotion hopefuls Sheffield United.
Chris Wilder’s side were, in turn, experiencing their own drop in form, having failed to win in their last three games.
Goals from Lee Gregory, Mahlon Romeo, and Jake Cooper (his first for the club) were enough to cancel out up-and-coming wonderkid David Brooks’ effort just before the half-time whistle.
Sheffield United, who obtained promotion from League One last season, had been over performing in the league until recently, and many expected the side to suffer a turn in form at some point in the season, such is the furious pace of the Championship.
Wilder will be hoping that his team can show the necessary character in the coming days to keep their hopes of back-to-back promotion alive.
Cardiff are beginning to stretch the field
Automatic promotion may, however, be off the cards for Wilder’s United, as Cardiff City stretched the gap between themselves and Bristol City in third to six points this weekend.
Warnock’s side, like the Blades, have been outdoing expectations this year, but, unlike Sheffield United, they’ve managed to keep up the momentum thus far.
The recently extended points difference is manageable, and surmountable for sides in the wake of Wolves and Cardiff, but this might be the moment in the season that turns the possibility of a two-horse race into a reality.
Where Newcastle and Brighton were two such parties last campaign, perhaps Wolves and Cardiff have now stitched their destinies, as two teams that are to do battle with each other until the end of the season.
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