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Championship Focus: Week 11

A difficult start for Monk at Boro, Norwich win the East Anglian derby and Terry scores his first Villa goal.

Fulham v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images

Monk under pressure ahead of Madejski showdown

Middlesbrough 0-1 Cardiff City

As August approached, few Championship fanbases would have been more optimistic than Middlesbrough’s. Reinvigorated after Premier League relegation, Boro had a new manager with both Premier League and Football League experience, and a wealth of new talent in their matchday squad. To atone for the inevitable losses of the likes of Marten Roon, Gaston Ramirez and Bernardo Espinosa, the Boro board, under Garry Monk’s guidance, spent a staggering £50 million on new players (transfermarkt.co.uk), twice forking out eight-figure sums to sign Britt Assombalonga from Forest and Martin Braithwaite from Toulouse. Middlesbrough were rightly fancied to bounce back to the Premier League at the first time of asking, cue Chairman Steve Gibson’s confident prediction that they would “smash the league”.

Turn the clocks forward to mid-October however and the picture looks less rosy. Boro are 13th in the Championship table, five points adrift of the playoff positions and without a win in five games. A lacklustre performance on Saturday and a costly mistake from Adama Traore, who last week was dropped from the team altogether after turning up late for the team bus, gifted Cardiff all three points. Joe Ralls scored the only goal from the spot. It was the third time this season that Boro had failed to score at home, and for a team that has spent such considerable money on attacking reinforcements, it is staggering that now only five teams have scored fewer Championship goals than them this season. The fans, once dreaming of a promotion push, now seem suitably unimpressed. Groans, jeers and choruses of boos are becoming commonplace at the Riverside and several fans are turning to social media to call for Garry Monk’s sacking. This is hardly the start to life on Teeside that the ex-Swansea and Leeds manager would have been expecting.

Boro’s surprising struggle makes their trip to the Madejski next weekend all the more crucial. It will be a match-up of two underperforming teams, in desperate need of a win to boost morale and, in Reading’s case, steer clear of the drop-zone. Stam and Monk are both under increased scrutiny and, without wishing to tempt fate, next Saturday’s game will likely set in motion a nervy week for a losing manager.

Canaries secure East Anglian bragging rights

Ipswich Town 0-1 Norwich City

Ipswich Town v Norwich City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images

Daniel Farke won his first East Anglian derby as Norwich City boss, thanks to a second-half winner by young starlet James Maddison. It’s now eight years since Ipswich last defeated their closest rivals in the league.

Joe Garner, David McGoldrick and Martyn Waghorn had the best chances for the home-side in a tetchy first half at Portman Road, but Angus Gunn remained largely untested in the Norwich goal. The Canaries looked brighter in the second half and took their chance in the fifty-ninth minute. Left-back Marco Stiepermann picked out Maddison on the edge of the box and having worked space for a shot, the twenty-year-old whipped the ball into the bottom corner past a helpless Bartosz Bialkowski. The super-confident youngster hushed the Ipswich fans as he peeled away to celebrate. Despite a late rally from the hosts, Norwich’s defensive line held firm to secure the three points.

After a slow start, Daniel Farke’s side have improved significantly in recent weeks and are now one of the Championship’s in-form teams, unbeaten in eight. Another clean sheet on Sunday contributed to an impressive defensive record; since September 8th they have conceded only two goals, the best record in the division during that time. Sunday’s match winner James Maddison has been shining at the other end of the pitch. The attacking midfielder has chipped in with three goals, one of which was a magnificent free-kick against Reading, and earned himself a nomination for the league’s Player of the Month award. If Norwich can keep hold of him in January, he is certainly one to watch for the rest of the season.

Daniel Farke deserves huge credit. After a summer exodus, the German has proven his doubters wrong and appears to have built a squad capable of challenging for the top six. For the first time this season, they now sit in a playoff position, as they prepare for a novelty visit to the Emirates Stadium in the Carabao Cup this week.

Elsewhere in the Championship…

Bristol City v Leeds United - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images

Wolves remain top after a hard-fought 3-2 win against plucky Preston. Reading’s summer target Jordan Hugill scored for the visitors, who went down to ten men in stoppage time. It was a fruitful weekend for promotion chasers Leeds United and Aston Villa too. Leeds recovered from a recent dip in form with a comfortable 3-0 win at fellow playoff hopefuls Bristol City; Samuel Saiz and Pierre-Michel Lasogga scoring the goals. Both sides at Ashton Gate ended the game with ten men, after a confrontation between Gaetano Berardi and Matt Taylor. Meanwhile, John Terry headed home his first goal for Aston Villa in a 2-1 win over Slavisa Jokanovic’s Fulham.

At the opposite end of the table, rock-bottom Bolton failed to win two-in-a-row. They drew 1-1 at the Reebok, Idrissa Sylla scoring a second-half equaliser for QPR. Sunderland also threw away a lead on Saturday and so remain in the Championship relegation zone. They were 3-1 up away to Brentford, two of the goals from Lewis Grabban, but ultimately had to settle for a share of the points. Burton Albion stay 22nd, losing 2-0 to Forest this weekend, and Birmingham are only one point from safety after a disappointing away defeat at Millwall.

Former Royal Matej Vydra followed up a terrific East Midlands Derby display with another goal in a 2-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday. Sheffield Wednesday have finished in the top-six for two consecutive seasons, but currently sit sixteenth, with pressure mounting on manager Carlos Carvahal. Finally, Hull City ended an incredible fourteen-month wait for an away win, Frasier Campbell scoring the only goal at Oakwell.

Coming up next week:

As alluded to already, there is plenty riding on Boro’s trip to Berkshire next Saturday. Reading fans are quickly losing patience with their once hero-worshipped manager and only three points will restore lost faith. Friday night’s televised Yorkshire derby will be worth a watch; it’s fourth versus third as Leeds take on Sheffield United. Then, on Sunday lunchtime two more rivals clash, when a revived Villa make the short trip to strugglers Birmingham.