With a busy February schedule underway, the first of six league games this month kicked off across the Championship; all twelve of the 29th round playing out on Saturday, in anticipation of upcoming mid-week evening fixtures.
AFC Bournemouth continued their dominance as Eddie Howe’s outfit grabbed a 3-1 away win at Wigan Athletic. Three debutants for Latics were not enough – though Leon Clarke did grab the consolation goal - as Callum Wilson broke through the offside trap and comfortably dispatched his 16th of the season, just before half time. Yann Kermorgant then capitalised to double the Cherries’ lead and Wilson netted his second moments after spurning a similar opportunity to put the leaders in the driving seat. Heroics from Artur Boruc kept the score in the away side’s favour, the win Bournemouth’s eighth in ten.
Derby County went one better to defeat Bolton Wanderers 4-1 at iPro Stadium, reducing the goal difference deficit to three as the top two tie on 57 points. Tom Ince and Jeff Hendrick both struck with successive braces though Wanderers midfielder Filip Twardzik did get his name on the scoresheet on his debut for Wanderers, after being brought on as a half-time substitute.
Middlesbrough are now undefeated in seven – including five victories - to round off the top three’s collection of wins, after overcoming Charlton Athletic 3-1 at Riverside Stadium. One point behind the top two, Aitor Karanka’s side went ahead early thanks to reliable scorer Patrick Bamford and though Johann Berg Gudmundsson equalised, Jelle Vossen and Lee Tomlin finished off an outstanding trio of goals from the home side to take all the points.
Four points behind in fourth, Brentford leapfrogged Ipswich Town with a 1-0 away win over Leeds United at Elland Road. Unmarked at the back post, Alex Pritchard’s goal was to be the decider as the Spurs loanee tapped home when United failed to clear a corner. The Bees hit the post either side of Pritchard’s winner - and kept a crucial clean sheet - to total 52 points so far, whilst the Whites are 20th – five points from relegation.
At Carrow Road, Norwich City comprehensively beat Blackpool 4-0. Gary Hooper slotted a cool hat-trick whilst Nathan Redmond added icing to the cake with an exquisite free-kick to stay three points from the play-off positions. Lee Clark’s Blackpool were unable to find the net – Steven Davies closest, producing a fine save from John Ruddy – with the Tangerines currently sitting nine points from safety at the foot of the table.
Our upcoming opponents Brighton & Hove Albion lost to Nottingham Forest 3-2 - Danny Collins, Henri Lansbury and Ben Osborn all contributing with goals. Forest - with new manager and ex-player Dougie Freedman now at the helm - mounted a successful comeback from 1-0 down to make it two wins and two losses in four for the 12th-placed side.
A week after Brighton’s visit we entertain Blackburn Rovers, who on the weekend lost 1-0 to sixth-placed Watford - the Hornets maintaining a three-point gap over nearest rivals Norwich. Rovers stay ninth, though Gary Bowyer’s side are now nine points from the nearest play-off position.
BEST OF THE REST
Ipswich Town have now lost two of their last three, a visit to Rotherham United’s New York Stadium fruitless; a 2-0 home win drops Mick McCarthy’s side to fifth place and lifts the Millers away from the drop to 18th. Meanwhile, Reading moved to fifteenth in the table with a 2-1 away win over Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Cardiff City earned a point on their travels to Hillsborough Stadium with a 1-1 draw played out against Sheffield Wednesday. Kenwyne Jones added another league goal to his total just seven minutes in but the Owls were awarded a penalty with fifteen minutes to go, Will Keane slotting away to Moore’s right. Elsewhere, Birmingham drew with Fulham 1-1 to keep both sides within three points of each other in mid-table.
Huddersfield Town - after being reduced to ten men, six minutes after the restart - defeated Millwall 3-1 to move up to 14th. With the game tied at 1-1, Nahki Wells’ dismissal did little to deter the Terriers; Jacob Butterfield putting the visitors in front with a quarter of an hour to play. A James Vaughan penalty late on secured the points though the Lions are no further from safety; neither of the three teams above the relegation zone managed to pick up a point, nearest rivals Brighton & Hove Albion still a place and two points above.
STATS & FACTS
Middlesbrough are on the division’s biggest winning streak with four victories on the bounce; Birmingham City have drawn their last four and Brighton & Hove Albion are the only team to have lost more than one consecutively. Ipswich Town have failed to score in their last two, whilst Charlton Athletic haven’t tasted victory in twelve games.
Brentford have either won or lost in their last sixteen league meetings – Watford not far behind with fifteen since stalemate – though Middlesbrough currently hold the crown of longest without defeat; it is seven matches since Aitor Karanka’s team have failed to gain at least a point.
Ipswich Town’s Daryl Murphy is on 18 for the season and sits in No. 1 spot, Derby’s Chris Martin two behind on 16. AFC Bournemouth’s Matt Ritchie leads the assists chart with 11; Brentford’s Alan Judge his nearest competitor with nine.