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Relegation Watch: 8 To Play

Ben takes a look at the relegation picture as Birmingham and Bolton pile the pressure on Reading.

Bolton Wanderers v Millwall - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Paul Thomas/Getty Images

It has been coming… for weeks and weeks, we’ve questioned how Reading have remained “in 18th and six points above the relegation zone”, despite the dismal results. We’ve missed opportunities against Bolton Wanderers and Leeds United, sacrificed winning positions against Derby County and Nottingham Forest, and failed to turn up entirely at Wolves and ‘Boro.

Now, defeat at Norwich and news from St. Andrews and the Macron has hammered home the severity of our plight - we’re in the deepest doo-doo.

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

Birmingham City have a lifeline and they earned it in emphatic style. Garry Monk’s ‘bounce effect’ has taken a few weeks to take hold, but a 3-0 win against relegation rivals Hull City is proof that the appointment is taking effect.

Jota was spectacular for Brentford last season but has taken months to show his worth in blue. On a snow-laden pitch, the Spaniard’s near post run and deft flick gave Birmingham an early advantage, much to his new manager’s delight. Che Adams, who’d provided the assist for the first, whipped in another cross early in the second-half, but this time it looped over the keeper and nestled in the corner.

Did he mean it? Probably not, but Monk won’t care. Jota wrapped up the victory, sweeping home his second of the afternoon and leaving Birmingham level on points with Barnsley. Hull simultaneously undid their great work from earlier in the week, when they beat Ipswich at Portman Road, and so remain in the mix.

Result of the day should be handed to Bolton Wanderers. Phil Parkinson’s side combined guts with glory, edging past high-flying Villa to register an unexpected three points. Ex-Royal Adam Le Fondre scored the only goal, continuing a run of fine form. The strike was vintage Alfie, poaching on a loose ball inside the six-yard box, courtesy of his innate striker’s instinct. He is the perfect striker for a relegation battle – full of running and deadly from close-range, even when isolated for large periods of the game.

Sheffield Wednesday were also victors this weekend. The Owls registered just their second win of Jos Luhukay’s reign, scoring late-on against Leeds. Barnsley were not so lucky however. They followed up a disappointing draw with Norwich midweek with a 2-0 home defeat against in-form Millwall.

Burton Albion and Sunderland also lost – Albion to Wolves at Molineux and the latter at home to Preston. Burton maintained less than 30% of the possession and registered one shot on target against the league leaders (which is still more than Reading managed).

Here’s how the bottom of the table looks with eight games remaining:

17th Sheffield Wednesday – 41pts

This week’s results: Leeds 1-2 Sheffield Wednesday

Form: L-L-L-D-W

Next up: Preston (h), Sunderland (a), Fulham (h)

Average position of remaining opponents: 13th

My verdict: Atdhe Nuhiu’s stoppage-time winner earned a crucial three points and clawed the Owls further clear of the drop-zone. Wednesday have Sunderland, Hull and Reading still to play, but even in the worst-case scenario, it’s hard to see them slipping back into danger.

Regardless, this season has been by no means acceptable from a fan’s perspective and many will be sceptical about the future, given the minimal impact of struggling manager Jos Luhukay.

18th Hull City – 39pts

This week’s results: Ipswich 0-3 Hull City, Birmingham City 3-0 Hull City

Form: D-L-W-W-L

Next up: Aston Villa (h), Wolves (a), QPR (h)

Average position of remaining opponents: 10th

My verdict: It was a week of two halves for Nigel Adkins’ side. An impressive 3-0 win at Portman Road steered the Tigers away from danger, but few would have expected them to succumb to a feeble 3-0 defeat at St. Andrews four days later.

With Jarrod Bowen, Harry Wilson and Abel Hernandez firing, there’s no doubt that they can score enough goals to survive, but with the toughest remaining fixtures, they’re not yet out of the relegation picture just yet.

Hull City v Nottingham Forest - The Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images

19th Bolton Wanderers – 39pts

This week’s results: Bolton 1-0 Aston Villa

Form: D-L-D-D-W

Next up: Leeds (a), Birmingham (h), Derby County (a)

Average position of remaining opponents: 14th

My verdict: Bolton displayed enviable fight, spirit and togetherness to see off fancied Villa at the Macron Stadium. They appear to be everything that Reading are not – unimpressive on paper, but gutsy and resolute in the face of danger. With winnable matches to come, I expect Parky to keep Bolton in the Championship – an amazing turnaround having opened the season without a win in eleven matches.

20th Reading – 36pts

This week’s results: Wolves 3-0 Reading, Norwich 3-2 Reading

Form: L-D-D-L-L

Next up: QPR (h), Aston Villa (a), Preston (h)

Average position of remaining opponents: 11th

My verdict: Two more defeats and Reading are now teetering on the edge. After weeks of unfathomable good fortune, results have finally conspired against us and the seriousness of the situation is now hitting home; this team is not “too good to go down”.

The Royals have now gone nine games without a win, with just one in their last eighteen, but must buck this trend against QPR or risk falling into the bottom-three by the end of the week.

21st Barnsley – 33pts

This week’s results: Barnsley 1-1 Norwich, Barnsley 0-2 Millwall

Form: D-L-L-D-L

Next up: Bristol City (h), Nottingham Forest (a), Sheffield United (h)

Average position of remaining opponents: 12th

My verdict: It has been a bitterly disappointing week for Barnsley. The Tykes picked up just one point from home games against Norwich and Millwall, missing an opportunity to climb above the Royals.

Fans questioned the effort and endeavour of their players and tactical nous of their new manager following Saturday’s defeat and will demand a response against Bristol City. The remaining fixture list is favourable for Barnsley.

Burton Albion v Barnsley - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

22nd Birmingham City – 33pts

This week’s results: Birmingham 3-0 Hull City

Form: L-L-L-L-W

Next up: Ipswich (h), Bolton (a), Burton (h)

Average position of remaining opponents: 11th

My verdict: Is this the beginning of Birmingham’s great escape? After a run of seven successive league defeats, an emphatic 3-0 win over Hull will give fans hope of a late revival. Birmingham have a tough finish, playing Wolves, Sheffield United and Fulham, so if they are to surge out of trouble, they’ll have to do it imminently.

If Monk can get the likes of Jota, Adams and Jutkiewicz performing, they have every chance. I fancy them to beat Ipswich in a fortnight and pile on the pressure.

23rd Burton Albion – 30pts

This week’s results: Sheffield United 2-0 Burton, Wolves 3-1 Burton

Form: L-L-D-L-L

Next up: Cardiff (a), Middlesbrough (h), Birmingham (a)

Average position of remaining opponents: 13th

My verdict: This week was a free-hit for the Brewers, facing two difficult away trips. Their form is poor, registering just one win in twelve, and goals are proving a rare commodity, with just seven scored in that dismal run.

However, as alluded to last week, though Burton may look doomed at first glance, closer inspection reveals that they have Birmingham, Hull, Sunderland and Bolton left to play. There’s still some hope for Nigel Clough, even if backers are in short supply.

24th Sunderland – 28pts

This week’s results: Sunderland 0-2 Preston

Form: D-D-L-L-L

Next up: Derby (a), Sheffield Wednesday (h), Leeds (a)

Average position of remaining opponents: 12th

My verdict: Chris Coleman appears to be fighting a losing battle at Sunderland, as the Black Cats freefall towards back-to-back relegations. They have drawn a blank ten times in their last sixteen games, providing little for dismayed Sunderland fans to cheer.

Despite their woes, they remain just five points adrift of safety, but with confidence at rock-bottom, it’s hard to foresee a miraculous recovery.