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Championship Focus: Week 2

Bluebirds soaring, four-three Forest, and a hat-trick hero - we review week two in the Championship.

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

Cardiff thrash fragile Villa

Cardiff City continued their perfect start to the Championship season with a convincing 3-0 win over Aston Villa. The Welsh side now sit top of the league, having scored four and kept two clean sheets.

In Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, Cardiff may just have found a rough diamond. The direct, athletic winger scored in the Carabao Cup midweek, and his brace of well-taken goals on Saturday proved he’s more than capable at Championship level. He demonstrated physical strength and aerial presence for the first, rising above a hapless Neil Taylor to head home at the far post. Yet it was his second that particularly caught the eye. Ten minutes after Junior Hoilett had doubled the Bluebirds advantage, he latched onto Aron Gunnarsson’s threaded pass, two step overs were enough to bamboozle James Chester, before he curled an effort past the Villa keeper and sealed the win. It hasn’t been the smoothest journey to Championship football for Mendez-Laing, 25, whose undoubted talent has in the past been undermined by disciplinary issues and fitness concerns, but having joined Cardiff on a free transfer this summer, this is perhaps his best chance to shine.

Cardiff’s manager Neil Warnock will no doubt be delighted with his team’s start to the season. Though his methodologies and quirks are not always popular with opposition fans, the Yorkshireman is proving once more that he knows of a winning formula at this level. Lauded by many as a terrific man-manager, Warnock is now teasing the best form out of Cardiff’s key men, Gunnarsson, Hoilett and Zohore, and it’s not such a leap to predict that they will be dark horses this season.

Villa meanwhile look someway off promotion candidates, and Steve Bruce will be asking for a response at the Madejski on Tuesday night.

Forest in seventh-heaven

Nottingham Forest v Shrewsbury Town - Carabao Cup First Round Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

There was no shortage of goals at Griffin Park on Saturday. Mark Warburton’s Nottingham Forest exposed Brentford’s defensive frailties in a pulsating seven-goal thriller, continuing their early season form with a 4-3 win. Having only survived on the final day of last season, Forest’s business over the summer appears to have paid off, as three new signings scored their goals.

The game exploded into life seven minutes from half-time, but it was Brentford who were first to strike a blow. Defender John Egan looped a header over Forest goalkeeper Jordan Smith, and the ball deflected in off the far post. The lead only lasted three minutes though. Andreas Bouchalakis opened his account in style, with a sweetly struck volley from the edge of the box. The Greek midfielder joined Forest from Olympiacos for no fee, since both clubs are under the control of wealthy owner Evangelos Marinakis. Only two minutes later, Forest went ahead. Experienced striker Daryl Murphy provided the finish, as he aims to fill the void left by Britt Assombalonga. 2-1 to the visitors at half time.

Soon after the break Forest had extended their unlikely lead, and this was the goal of the game. Teed up by Barrie McKay, Bouchalakis curled a first-time effort past Daniel Bentley from outside the box, and put the away side 3-1 up. The Bees ‘huffed and puffed’ thereafter, but the home fans were forced to wait patiently for another breakthrough. In the 79th minute, it finally came, when Andreas Bjelland glanced a header over the line, but once more Brentford failed to look after matters at the other end. Kieran Dowell, on loan from Everton, saw his deflected shot trickle into the net, for 4-2. There was still time for late drama. Ollie Watkins went close twice for Brentford in the closing stages, Florian Josefzoon struck the post with a free-kick, and eventually French frontman Neal Maupay did restore the deficit to just one, with a cool finish in stoppage time. Inevitably, it was too little too late.

The woes of last season are in the distant past for Forest, and evidence suggests that Brentford’s exciting attacking threat may prove futile if they can’t learn to shut-up-shop defensively.

Elsewhere…

Hull City v Middlesbrough - Premier League Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Abel Hernandez scored a hat-trick as Hull recorded a 4-1 win against 10-man Burton. The Uruguay international scored 20 goals in his only previous year in the second-tier, and Tigers boss Leonid Slutsky will be hoping for a similar haul as they look to bounce back to the Premier League at first attempt.

Lewis Grabban also scored three goals this weekend, although one of them was in the wrong net. The striker’s double inspired Sunderland to a 3-1 win at Norwich, with unsettled striker Nelson Oliveira once more having to settle for a place on the bench, amidst rumoured exit talks.

A sublime free-kick from Bolton’s Filipe Morais earned a point at Millwall, and Leeds couldn’t make a man-advantage count in a stalemate against Preston. Harry Redknapp’s Birmingham also had a man sent off, but held on for a 2-1 victory at home to Bristol City.

Crowd trouble marred Boro’s 1-0 win over Championship new boys Sheffield United. The Blades thought they had scored a stoppage time equaliser, but Jack O’Connell’s header was ruled out for a contentious offside. After the game, a brawl broke out in a coach park near the ground, and disturbingly, reports suggest that the injured included children.

Martyn Waghorn scored the winner on his Ipswich debut, as Barnsley failed to get off the mark at Oakwell, and Wolves continued their impressive start with an away win at Gary Rowett’s Derby County. Goals from Barry Douglas and Ivan Cavaleiro proved the difference.

Meanwhile, last week’s pantomime villain Jamie Mackie found the net for QPR, only for his first-half goal to be cancelled out by Sheffield Wednesday’s Sam Winnall, in a 1-1 draw at Hillsborough. Mackie is the fifth ex-Royal to score a Championship goal in the opening weeks, joining Lewis Grabban (3), Billy Sharp, Adam Le Fondre and Lucas Piazon.

Coming up next week:

We have two rounds of Championship football to look forward to, with our first haul of midweek fixtures prior to Saturday’s action. In a lull in Tuesday night’s game against Villa, it might be worth checking out how Fulham are faring at Leeds. Then on Saturday, Reading face a tricky test at Deepdale, but my pick of the fixtures is Cardiff’s trip to Molineux.