Fresh from being jeered by their own fans on Tuesday night at Peterborough, West Ham continued to do their best to avoid securing an automatic route back to the Premiership. Billed as the traditional promotion six-pointer, Saturday’s home game against the division’s in-form side Reading had offered The Hammers the chance to close the gap on their opponents with just six games left to play. All seemed to be going well for Sam Allardyce’s charges as Carlton Cole’s well-taken goal gave them a first-half lead. However, two goals from Reading just before half-time, from Kaspars Gorkss and Noel Hunt, sent the Royals in leading at the break. With the momentum well and truly in the away side’s favour, Reading continued to press forward and were further rewarded when referee Chris Foy gave them a penalty in the 59th minute, which was confidently dispatched by set-piece specialist Ian Harte. West Ham striker Ricardo Vaz Te set up a potentially nervous finish with a close-range header on 77 minutes, only to see Reading midfielder Mikele Leigertwood’s goal six minutes from time to wrap up the points for the Royals. The result leaves West Ham trailing Reading by four points with six games to go.
Ian Holloway’s men produced the result of the weekend in the Championship to really put themselves in the play-off mix, securing a comfortable 3-0 home win over leaders Southampton in Saturday’s televised game. Two first-half goals from Swansea loanee Stephen Dobbie, his first two for Blackpool, sent the home side in with a deserved lead at the break. Fully aware of the fire-power and resilience within the Saints’ squad, Blackpool continued to press in early in the second half, seeking a third goal to really make the game safe. Their hard work paid dividends within seven minutes, as centre back Ian Evatt crashed in Thomas Ince’s 51st-minute corner at the far post. Blackpool’s victory lifted them into fifth place in the league, tied on 63 points with Brighton and Birmingham. The Tangerines’ chances of securing an instant return to the top flight have definitely been boosted by this victory. With the squad possessing a good balance of youth and experience, including the wily Kevin Phillips, Blackpool will be confident of another play-off final success.
For a team mired at the foot of the Championship table for much of the season, Coventry City have never lost fight or the belief that they could beat the drop. In Andy Thorn they have a manager who has battled fiercely against a deepening financial crisis at the club, never giving in to the pressure both on and off the field. Saturday’s 2-0 away win at play-off-chasing Hull City lifted Coventry out of the relegation zone for the first time since October. It was also the Sky Blues’ first away win of the season; about time too. Normally the luck seems to go against teams fighting relegation, but on this occasion Coventry benefited from an own goal by Hull’s Liam Cooper, to give them a 1-0 half time lead. Despite Hull facing the prospect of a fourth successive defeat, they couldn’t really establish a foothold in the game; and there could be no real complaints when Cody McDonald’s strike four minutes from time sealed the points for the visiting side. This was only the second time this season that Coventry have secured back-to-back wins. As for the home side, yet another defeat has left them five points off the play-offs with only six games left to play. Time is certainly running out for Nick Barmby’s men if they are to be involved in the end of season shake-up.
Things seem to be going from bad to worse for Preston boss Graham Westley. First, he decided to leave promotion-chasing Stevenage for fallen giants Preston North End. Second, he doesn’t appear to be doing a very good job – Preston are currently languishing 16th in League One, just six points off the relegation zone. Saturday’s 2-0 away defeat by promotion-chasing Sheffield Wednesday was really not a surprise result, given the standing of the respective sides. Two second-half goals from Owls striker Gary Medine kept up Wednesday’s push for automatic promotion, leaving Westley to reflect on another bad day at the office for his side. However, in his post-match interview, Westley claimed that members of the Sheffield Wednesday bench had informed him during the match that they had been made aware of Preston’s starting line-up on Friday, thanks to four of Westley’s squad giving them the information. For a team fighting against relegation, this sort of incident is the last thing needed from a point of view of squad unity and desire to stay up. It is such an unusual event, certainly in my experience, that it is difficult to know if this speaks of an underlying problem with the management at the club, or whether, as claimed today by Preston Chairman Peter Ridsdale, it was not in any way malicious. It certainly goes to show that Preston’s fight for League One survival will be taking place both on and off the field over the next few weeks.
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