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Championship Focus: Week 26

The wait goes on for Ipswich, Fulham are flying and Reading’s relegation rivals rue missed opportunities.

Ipswich Town v Norwich City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Valiant Ipswich fail to break their derby duck

Norwich City 1 Ipswich Town 1

Long-suffering Ipswich fans must have thought that the agonising wait was over… A last-gasp Timm Klose header earned Norwich a dramatic draw at Carrow Road on Sunday, denying their bitter rivals much sought-after bragging rights. The result means that this weekend’s visitors remain winless in the East Anglian derby since April 2009 – a run stretching back ten matches.

Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich should be considered one of the surprise packages of this season. Rightly or wrongly, many pundits tipped the Tractor Boys for a relegation battle in the summer but, with a limited budget, their experienced manager has moulded a squad capable of a mid-table finish after an impressive run of early-season form. New frontmen Joe Garner and Martyn Waghorn have contributed twenty league goals this campaign, with exciting loan-signing and Kosovo international Bersant Celina also catching the eye and scoring seven.

After Luke Chambers’ eighty-ninth minute goal was cancelled out on Saturday, a disappointed McCarthy reflected with the BBC that only a lapse in concentration had cost his side the three points:

”In the first half I thought we attacked and defended well and in the second half we worked really hard, got our blocks in and got our goal near the end. I would say we did our job well for 95 minutes, but unfortunately we couldn’t see it out.”

So, Ipswich fans will have to wait another year for that elusive derby-day victory, but they can take heart from their side’s encouraging campaign. Both teams face tough challenges up next – Norwich travel to leaders Wolves, while Ipswich host 2nd placed Cardiff.

The top-two shaken with Fulham stirred

Fulham 2 Aston Villa 0

Fulham v Burton Albion - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

Now just six points from the top-two, it’s no surprise that Fulham fans are harbouring automatic promotion hopes. The Cottagers beat high-flying Aston Villa on Saturday, ending the Villains’ seven-game winning streak in the process, whilst extending their own unbeaten run to ten.

Free-scoring Fulham, the second most deadly in front of goal in the division, edged ahead in the second-half. Their coveted 17-year old winger Ryan Sessegnon is on scintillating form and, when Ryan Fredericks cut the ball back across the penalty area, the youngster finished with aplomb. Sessegnon is already being courted by the Premier League’s elite and, alongside James Maddison, appears to be one of the Championship’s brightest young stars.

Villa, who were crucially missing prolific winger Albert Adomah and creative spark Jack Grealish for their trip to Craven Cottage, huffed and puffed but to no avail. A disastrous clearance from goalkeeper Sam Johnstone provided Floyd Ayité with the chance to make it two. The winger controlled and lobbed the ball into the empty net to secure the points.

There is no doubt that Villa will still be fancied to notch second spot but, given Fulham’s recent form, it’s impossible to rule them out of the running. Slavisa Jokanovic’s players are now fulfilling their potential, after a rocky start, and their brand of exciting, attacking football is bound to attract admirers. In what appears to be a four-horse race, will it be Cardiff, Villa, Derby or Fulham that rise to the top?

Elsewhere in the Championship…

Cardiff City v Norwich City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Cardiff City took full advantage of favourable results around them to reclaim second place. The Bluebirds won 1-0 against Tony Pulis’ Middlesbrough, ex-Royal Sean Morrison scoring the only goal, having beaten Bolton midweek.

Also near the top, Derby and Bristol City both slipped up. The Rams lost 2-0 to Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday night, whilst Bristol City surrendered a two-goal lead at Elland Road on Sunday. Goals from Pierre-Michel Lasogga and Kemar Roofe completed a late comeback for Leeds. Wolves were forced to settled for a point at Deepdale, where Preston kept their playoff chances alive with a gutsy performance.

Thankfully for Reading, it was a weekend of missed opportunities at the foot of the table. Birmingham lost at home to Millwall and Bolton suffered their second defeat of the week at the hands of QPR. Sunderland lost at home again, Mokotdjo and Maupay scoring for visitors Brentford, and Burton Albion couldn’t find a way past Nottingham Forest, despite Eric Lichaj’s sending off after just twenty-eight minutes.

Coming up next week:

The Royals will be busy over the next few weeks, playing six games in nineteen days. They start at the City Ground on Tuesday, needing a morale-boosting win at off-form Nottingham Forest, before facing a stern test at home to Derby this coming Saturday. Elsewhere, Barnsley vs Burton and Bolton vs Sunderland are crucial relegation six-pointers on Tuesday night and, at the weekend, Fulham vs Wolves and Cardiff vs Bristol City are not to be missed.