After a terrible start to the season, things had begun to look brighter for Bolton Wanderers. They were picking up points against the kinds of teams that they were losing comprehensively to back in the early stages of the campaign, and despite sitting in 18th, just four points above the relegation zone, boss Dougie Freedman had been making noises about using the January transfer window to kick-start his team’s push for as high-placed finish as possible and making another go of it next year. Perhaps it was karma then, that his side would suffer their worst defeat in 32 years at the hands of promotion-chasing Reading. Right from the off, Bolton looked like a side lacking in confidence and the Royals took full advantage. It took top-scorer Adam Le Fondre just over half an hour to grab his hat-trick, finishing smartly for the first two before being handed a tap in thanks to the generosity of Garath McCleary. Bolton were masters of their own downfall, with former Royal Matt Mills and fellow defender Tim Ream having a particularly torrid time in the backline. Pavel Pogrebnyak made it four from the penalty spot just before half time, and the rout continued after the break. Kaspars Gorkss got his second goal in as many games before Hope Akpan scored his first for Reading and Nick Blackman finished coolly. To say Bolton’s defending left much to be desired was an understatement, but the away fans had something to cheer about when David N’Gog stabbed in just two minutes before the final whistle. A 7-1 hiding for Bolton, an embarrassment for Freedman, but relief for Reading, who had only scored two goals in their last five games and hadn’t scored more than once in a match since November.
Such is the competitiveness of the Championship, that even after the bottom three all won on match day 26, they remain stuck in the relegation spots. Yeovil’s 2-0 victory over Birmingham, Barnsley’s defeat of Blackpool to the same scoreline, and Doncaster’s comprehensive 3-0 besting of Wigan weren’t enough to lift the struggling sides to safety, though results do mean that Charlton, Millwall and Sheffield Wednesday are within three points of the cut-off line. Perhaps most surprising was Doncaster’s result, as they put a recently resurgent Wigan to the sword. Chris Brown’s early strike set the victory in motion, and he had a second from the penalty spot after James Coppinger’s scrappy goal had doubled Rovers’ lead. The defeat was Uwe Rosler’s first in charge of Wigan, and it was a stark reminder of the danger of the league. Paul Ince will be more than aware of that fact, having seen his Blackpool team slide further down the table following their eighth defeat in nine matches with defeat by bottom Barnsley. The Tykes themselves ended a winless run, and registered Danny Wilson’s first victory since retaking the helm. Two quick goals by Chris O’Grady silenced Blackpool and brought Barnsley to within four points of safety.
At Elland Road it was a case of two strikers suffering different fortunes. Ross McCormack – the league’s top scorer – was handed the captaincy after questions were raised over Rodolph Austin’s suitability to the role following Leeds’ humiliation at Hillsborough last week. Unfortunately, the forward couldn’t mark the occasion with a goal, despite having four clear-cut chances in the first half. McCormack saw a decent header come off the post, before a neat chip was cleared off the line and Kasper Schmeichel got down well to turn away his follow-up effort. Schmeichel one again thwarted the 27-year-old striker, keeping himself big after McCormack had latched onto a terrible back pass from Paul Konchesky. Conversely David Nugent – the fourth top scorer in the league – had a quiet first half, save for his build up play which led to Jamie Vardy and Anthony Knockaert missing good chances to put Leicester ahead. The introduction of another famed Football League goalscorer proved to be the difference in the two sides, as Kevin Phillips marked his debut with a wonderful dummy that allowed Nugent to clinically stroke home with less than five minutes remaining. Both McCormack and Brian McDermott were left rueing missed opportunities as the Foxes opened up a five point advantage at the summit.
MORE: Man United latest news
MORE: Arsenal latest news
MORE: Chelsea latest news
MORE: Liverpool latest news