For every edition of this column, there seems to be a shock result to provide a key talking point, and this weekend was no exception. The standout result was undoubtedly Bolton Wanderers’ 4-1 win against high-flying Hull City at the Reebok Stadium. Goals from Darren Pratley, Mark Davies and a double from loan-man Craig Dawson secured an excellent win for Dougie Freedman’s men, who are a squad still getting to grips with life in the second tier. As for Hull, who were three goals down in just eight minutes, boss Steve Bruce will be bitterly disappointed at missing the opportunity to keep ahead of Watford, who continued their excellent run with a 2-1 win over Derby County. The Tigers now find themselves behind the Hornets in third; level on points but behind on that crucial thing called goal difference. Anxious times ahead for both sets of supporters, but exciting for then neutral in what has been one of the most entertaining Championship seasons in recent times.
Sean O’Driscoll, who arrived at Bristol City last month as the man charged with the task of saving the stricken Robins, steered his side to a crucial 5-3 win over relegation rivals Barnsley at Ashton Gate at the weekend. A Jon Stead brace, with goals from Liam Fontaine, Lewin Nyatanga and Steven Davies, sealed the win against a Barnsley side staging a revival of their own under new boss David Flitcroft. The Tykes had won six out of the last seven games and despite their battling efforts with second-half goals from Chris O’Grady, Tomasz Cywka and Jason Scotland, it was not enough to end the run that has seen them lifted out of the relegation zone and two points clear of Wolves in twenty-first place. With the erratic Peterborough, who after winning 5-1 away at Millwall lost 2-0 at home to Birmingham at the weekend also in the mix, it promises to be a thrilling climax at the bottom end of the table.
Since buying Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2007, Steve Morgan has generally backed his managers well and ran a steady ship with long serving Chief Executive Jez Moxey. But things deviated from the norm a year ago, when somewhat panicked at the club’s run of bad form, the powers that be dispensed with the services of Mick McCarthy. His assistant Terry Connor was no adequate replacement and Wolves dropped out of the Premier League last May. With a talented squad of players more than capable of bouncing back, Wolves needed a steady hand – perhaps a then available Steve Bruce – now doing so well at Hull City – would have fitted the bill. Yet perhaps in an ill-advised stab at innovation, the club went for Norwegian Stale Solbakken. After slipping down the table, Solbakken was dismissed last month, but again, Wolves went for a leftfield choice in the form of Doncaster Rovers manager Dean Saunders, himself relegated from the Championship last season. Saunders is still yet to win in his short stint at Molineux, with genuine relegation fears confounded by his side’s 2-1 home defeat to league leaders Cardiff City at the weekend, leaving them two points adrift having played a game less than their nearest rivals Barnsley. While it’s not uncommon for big clubs handicapped by financial issues to slide down the leagues, for a club perceived to be in rude health off the field, it’d be ludicrous for Wolves to fall to successive relegations, considering it could have been so easily preventable.
Paul Ince, who ended a two year absence from management last week after being announced as the new Blackpool manager, has had a mixed start to life at Bloomfield Road. His first game saw his spirited side beaten 2-0 away to Leeds United, yet undeterred, that same spirit was evident again at the weekend when his side battled to a 0-0 draw at home to play-off contenders Leicester City. Blackpool had the better of the action against their more-fancied opponents, and there are certainly solid foundations for Ince to build on. For the remainder of the season, Ince will need to secure the Tangerines’s Championship status, as they are still not yet out of the woods, sitting in 17th place, six points clear of relegation. In the longer term, perhaps his most difficult job is securing the future of his son Tom Ince, who has been the subject of constant transfer speculation from the Premier League all season. Also in demand has been Scotland international winger Matt Phillips, who is also sure to be the subject of renewed interest come the summer.
Tony Mowbray’s Middlesbrough, currently on a dismal run that has seen them only win once in 2013, have slipped out of the top six, replaced by Gus Poyet’s Brighton, who were 1-0 home winners over Burnley at the weekend. Their slump has opened up a window of opportunity for a number of teams, including Leeds, Blackburn and foremost, Nottingham. Having re-appointed ex-manager Billy Davies after the farcical circumstances of Alec Mcleish’s short-lived tenure, continuity is key for Forest given the undoubted calibre of their squad, and Davies, a man who took them to the play-offs in his last spell, is the safe pair of hands they require. Forest secured an impressive 2-0 away win at the weekend against Chris Powell’s Charlton Athletic, a side boasting one of the division’s best home records at their fortress The Valley. Two second-half goals from Radoslaw Madjewski and Henri Lansbury ensured Davies’s men left south London with three points, and with Forest now finding themselves in eighth place and just four points off the play-offs, fans will now once again thinking of what had seemed unthinkable just a month ago.
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