After last week’s 2-1 defeat by Leeds United, Ian Holloway’s side got back on track with a convincing 3-0 win over fierce rivals Brighton and Hove Albion. Glenn Murray netted twice against his old club, while Owen Garvan completed the rout to send the Eagles back to the summit of the Championship. Nearly coming up to the halfway stage, the position will surely have a positive psychological effect for a side who have long shaken off their tag as overachievers and now look like bona fide contenders. Having relied on the pace from wingers Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie this season, it is the goals of Murray – who finished last season with six but now has 16 already this term – that have kept his side ticking over. The Seagulls had to make do without centre-half Lewis Dunk, who was red carded on 50 minutes after fouling the impressive Yannick Bolasie, who was a constant thorn in his opponents’ side. Manager Gustavo Poyet admitted he could have no complaints, but with Brighton still lurking in eighth place and with a history of bouncing back from defeat, they remain a firm choice for a play-off berth.
The lunchtime kick off at the John Smith Stadium saw Leeds travel the 20 or so miles down the road to Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield Town. In a fixture of intrigue, most notably due to managers Neil Warnock and Simon Grayson coming up against former clubs, Leeds ran out 4-2 winners in a contest that lived up to the expectation. After Huddersfield-born Chris Atkinson gave his hometown side the lead on 12 minutes after a dominant start from the hosts, it looked as if Grayson was set to get revenge on the club that sacked him last February. But Warnock’s Leeds have been a different animal as of late, and scored twice in as many minutes through Michael Tonge and Luciano Becchio. On the stroke of half-time, the drama increased further as another Leeds old boy – Adam Clayton – converted a penalty to equalise, before raising tensions by running straight to Warnock’s bench and taunting the manager who sold him. Such an action proved foolish, as Leeds came out on top for the second half, as substitute Ryan Hall made his mark by setting up goals for David Norris and Becchio again, who has now entered Leeds’ top ten all-time scorers list. As Leeds continue to rise with a third successive win and given Warnock’s track record, their status as promotion contenders could be coming alive again.
Going back to the start of September, south London rivals Millwall and Charlton Athletic found themselves at the wrong end of the table. Both were included among the pre-season favourites for relegation, but have exceeded expectations to varying degrees. After their fiercly contested 0-0 draw at the Den on Saturday, Millwall remain 13 games unbeaten while Charlton haven’t lost in six. In a game the home side had the best of, a win would have taken Kenny Jackett’s side to within five points of the automatic promotion places, but they won’t be disheartened finding themselves in the encouraging position of seventh. Jackett, the league’s longest-serving manager after recently celebrating five years at the club, believes his side have more to come over the next few months. For a manager so long underrated and overlooked by many, the magnitude of the job he has done can no longer be ignored. His rival manager Chris Powell meanwhile has steered his Addicks away from relegation worries up to a respectable 13th. In their first season back in the second tier and with little expectation on them this term, it’s a place their impressive young manager would no doubt be delighted with come May.
Sheffield Wednesday manager Dave Jones, who saw his side lose once again – this time away 1-0 at second place Cardiff City, is a man under serious pressure. In 23rd place and with just 15 points from 20 games, the Owls are in free fall having now suffered six consecutive defeats. With the notoriously trigger happy Milan Mandaric as chairman, it looks inevitable that one more bad result will be a loss too far and Jones could well be the next manager to fall on his sword. But salvation could come in the form of Saturday’s crucial home game with Bristol City, who find themselves just a place above and level on points. More buoyed will be Cardiff boss Malky McKay, whose side have now won an impressive ten home games on the bounce since the start of the season.
A few weeks ago, Burnley were praised for their decision to appoint former Watford manager Sean Dyche to replace Eddie Howe, who went back down south to Bournemouth. So far Dyche has steadied the ship at Turf Moor and has won many supporters round already. With the Clarets in 15th place, similar to when Howe left last month, there was a danger the unsettling nature of his departure could result in the club going in the wrong direction. But a seasoned campaigner like Dyche had his men fired up for Sunday’s Lancashire derby, where they drew 1-1 with rivals Blackburn Rovers, themselves settling into life under new boss Henning Berg. Sam Vokes scored a late equaliser after £8m man Jordan Rhodes fired his side ahead to keep up his impressive tally since signing in August. While a play-off challenge is perhaps beyond Burnley this season, the signs are good under Dyche, and the threat of relegation should be free from Turf Moor this season.
ENHANCED ODDS: Get 8/1 on Chelsea, Liverpool and City to win