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Championship Focus: Week 13

Bristol beat ten-man Cardiff, a contender for Goal of the Season and another managerial casualty.

Bristol City v Bolton Wanderers - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images

The GIF that keeps on giving...

Bristol City 2 Cardiff City 1

It’s a very good time to be a Bristol City fan. The revived Robins sit fourth in the Championship and back-to-back wins this week have closed the gap on the top-two to just three points. The South-West side have the second-best goal difference in the league and welcome Manchester United to Ashton Gate next month in their first League Cup quarter final since 1989.

On Saturday, Bristol won a thrilling Severnside derby against fellow promotion-hopefuls Cardiff. Callum O’Dowda opened the scoring after twenty minutes. The promising Republic of Ireland international is flourishing in his second season at Ashton Gate and curled in his first league goal of the season, assisted by Joe Bryan. One-time Reading target and ex-Grimsby striker Omar Bogle levelled the scoring with his second goal in two starts, but later influenced the game for all the wrong reasons. Bogle’s ill-judged and reckless lunge on Marlon Pack merited a straight red card from referee Mike Jones and, ten minutes later, 10-man Cardiff succumbed to the home side’s pressure. Notoriously prolific centre-half Aden Flint headed home the eventual match-winner and the City social media department celebrated in style with a trademark GIF:

The club’s outstanding start to the season highlights an incredible turnaround in fortunes for manager Lee Johnson. Little more than six months ago, Johnson’s job was under severe scrutiny. Few of the Bristol City fans had faith in the 36-year old to mount any form of a promotion challenge, especially in the aftermath of a club-record run of eight successive defeats midway through the last campaign. Johnson told BBC Points West that, during a difficult year, he had also received a death threat regarding the transfer of Matty Taylor and had been forced to move to a new house. Now, with his team pushing for an unlikely play-off place, Johnson’s job is more secure than ever, and he was recently named Championship Manager of the Month for September. City face Sheffield Wednesday, Preston and Hull up next, with the automatic places in clear sight.

Reach wondergoal inspires Wednesday win

Aston Villa 1 Sheffield Wednesday 2

Bolton Wanderers v Sheffield Wednesday - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Sheffield Wednesday midfielder Adam Reach may well have earned himself a nomination for the Championship Goal of the Season. His strike, just eighteen seconds into Saturday’s game, was his third goal in successive matches and gave his side the perfect start in their surprise 2-1 away win at in-form Villa. Reach’s confidence to take the ball on the half-volley from thirty yards out was justified as the ball looped over helpless goalkeeper Sam Johnstone into the top corner.

The home side were favourites, having won six of their last eight outings and registered seven clean sheets in their last ten games. They struggled to assert their authority early on and were weakened by an injury to John Terry, which forced the ex-Chelsea skipper to be replaced. There are fears that the iconic centre-back could be out for some time with a broken metatarsal. Two minutes later, the Owls doubled their advantage. Jordan Rhodes, who completed his permanent move to Wednesday in the summer, combined with Barry Bannan and finished calmly from close-range. The once-lauded striker ended an incredible 25-game goal drought on Tuesday night against Millwall. Terry’s replacement, the experienced former-Blackburn man Christopher Samba, did at least give the Villa fans something to cheer with a late consolation goal, but a comeback was never on the cards.

Back-to-back wins this week helped Wednesday climb to eleventh, easing mounting pressure on Carlos Carvahal. The Owls have finished in the play-off places in both of the last two seasons and fans will feel that, given the quality of the squad on paper, a promotion back to the top flight is now overdue. There is still plenty to play for, with two thirds of the season remaining, and for now the expectant fans have a vital three points and a wonder-strike to savour.

It is worth mentioning that Adam Reach didn’t score the only contender for Goal of the Season this week. Check out Joe Williams’ spectacular volley in Barnsley’s trip to Burton Albion:

Elsewhere in the Championship…

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Fulham - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Sunderland’s plight continued this week. The Black Cats sacked their manager Simon Grayson after a run of twelve games without a win. On Tuesday night, they salvaged a point in a 3-3 draw at home to fellow strugglers Bolton, before Boro’s Marcus Tavernier resigned them to a 1-0 defeat at the Riverside.

Phil Parkinson’s Bolton are finally beginning to adjust to life in the Championship. Their 2-1 win over Norwich was enough to climb off the bottom of the table and move to within two points of safety. Birmingham and Burton swapped places on Saturday. Burton secured a vital away win at The Den, thanks to Marvin Sordell’s goal, whilst Birmingham lost 2-0 to Barnsley at Oakwell. The Tykes bagged all six available points this week and climbed to 16th.

Wolves are top of the table after consecutive 2-0 wins. Goals from Romain Saiss and the impressive Leo Bonatini, who has scored in his last six league games, secured Friday night’s victory at home to Fulham. Sheffield United stumbled to defeat at QPR midweek, but four goals from journeyman-striker Leon Clarke helped them to a 4-1 win over a struggling Hull on Saturday. The 32-year old target-man is in the form of his life, having netted eight times and provided two assists this season.

Ipswich and Forest are closing in on the play-off places. The Tractor Boys won 3-0 against a faltering Preston North End, Martyn Waghorn adding to his goal tally for the season, whilst Forest bounced back from their Madejski woes with a 4-0 mauling of QPR. Brentford also won impressively at home to Leeds. The Bees are beginning to turn good performances into good results and are now unbeaten in nine league games.

Coming up next week:

We have a break from Championship action next weekend, as focus turns to the World Cup play-offs. Two massive results for the Royals this week have surely saved Jaap Stam from the sack, for now at least, but it will be interesting to see if any other under-fire managers are ousted and replaced before the next round of fixtures. When league action returns, it’s top of the table Wolves who visit the Madejski – a chance to watch the top scorer Leo Bonatini and highly-praised Diogo Jota and Ruben Neves in action.