With just three games remaining, the Championship relegation battle is reaching its climax. Reading’s breathless 2-2 draw with Sunderland may not have been the result that we craved, but fixtures elsewhere ended largely in our favour… again!
Burton earned the result of the weekend, defeating Derby by three goals to one. The Brewers responded to their 5-0 midweek thrashing in the 26th minute, Liam Boyce tapping home at the far post. Dave Nugent was on hand to head home an equaliser for Derby, meeting Tom Lawrence’s sumptuous cross, before Luke Murphy fired Nigel Clough’s side into a 2-1 lead.
It’s fair to say that Burton have struggled defensively, conceding a league-high seventy-eight goals this season, but, in truth, they haven’t been effective going forwards either! On Saturday, Burton scored a third goal for just the second time this campaign, Lucas Akins putting the game to bed from close-range. Burton are now five points from safety.
Barnsley and Bolton shared the spoils in their bottom of the table clash, but the match wasn’t without drama. The away side thought they had earned a vital win, scoring two late goals to overturn Barnsley’s lead, but an Oliver McBurnie tap-in deep into stoppage time saved the Tykes from disaster. They stay in the bottom-three with an upcoming game in hand.
Birmingham’s late-season form has ended abruptly with back-to-back defeats, the latest 2-0 against Wolves. Harlee Dean was sent off for Garry Monk’s side. Meanwhile, Hull couldn’t follow-up their midweek heroics with another win. They lost 1-0 to Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday.
Here’s how the table looks with three to play:
18th Hull City – 47pts
This week’s results: Burton 0-5 Hull, Hull 0-1 Sheffield Wednesday
Next up: Bristol City (a), Cardiff (h), Brentford (a)
Average position of remaining opponents: 8th
My verdict: Nigel Adkins has done a magnificent job at struggling Hull, surely keeping the Tigers in the division despite ongoing off-the-field problems. They thumped Burton midweek, nearing mathematical safety, but were unable to finish the job against a resurgent Sheffield Wednesday. Their remaining games are tough but results elsewhere are likely to seal their fate next weekend.
19th Reading – 43pts
This week’s results: Fulham 1-0 Reading, Reading 2-2 Sunderland
Next up: Sheffield Wednesday (a), Ipswich (h), Cardiff (a)
Average position of remaining opponents: 10th
My verdict: The Royals still have work to do to secure safety. At 2-1 down on Saturday, the league table looked as fragile as ever, but Yann Kermorgant’s goal could prove to be pivotal. Importantly, Reading’s fans, players and management appear to be united again, and that gives us a fighting chance as we head to Hillsborough to face the in-form Owls next weekend. We’ll survive by the skin of our teeth.
20th Bolton Wanderers – 40pts
This week’s results: Bolton 0-2 Millwall, Barnsley 2-2 Bolton
Next up: Wolves (h), Burton (a), Nottingham Forest (h)
Average position of remaining opponents: 14th
My verdict: Oliver McBurnie’s 93rd minute equaliser was a cruel blow for Phil Parkinson’s Bolton. They are stuttering at just the wrong time and may drop into the bottom-three against Wolves next time out. In ex-Royal Adam Le Fondre, Wanderers have a frontman with a predatory striker’s instinct and that will give them hope, with fellow strugglers Burton and fading Forest still to play. I still back them to survive.
21st Birmingham City – 40pts
This week’s results: Bristol City 3-1 Birmingham, Wolves 2-0 Birmingham
Next up: Sheffield United (h), QPR (a), Fulham (h)
Average position of remaining opponents: 9th
My verdict: Now that Birmingham’s scintillating form has been halted, their Championship status looks more precarious. The Blues face a perilous run-in and, as the Championship’s lowest scorers (32), goal difference is unlikely to bail them out. It could well go to the final day and few would envy the visit of Fulham under such circumstances.
22nd Barnsley – 38pts (+1 game in hand)
This week’s results: Ipswich 1-0 Barnsley, Barnsley 2-2 Bolton
Next up: Leeds (a), Nottingham Forest (a), Brentford (h)
Average position of remaining opponents: 12th
My verdict: Barnsley’s game in hand is unnerving – it could be the key to Reading’s downfall or it could, just as easily, be much ado about nothing. Relief will be the overwhelming feeling for Barnsley fans right now, after their late equaliser against Bolton at the weekend, and they’ll be encouraged by the form of loanee Oliver McBurnie, who has scored eight goals in twelve games. They face their former manager next weekend, a game that I think is winnable.
23rd Burton Albion – 35pts
This week’s results: Burton 0-5 Hull, Burton 3-1 Derby
Next up: Sunderland (a), Bolton (h), Preston (a)
Average position of remaining opponents: 18th
My verdict: From the ridiculous to the sublime – the Brewers responded to their 5-0 drubbing midweek with a rousing victory over playoff hopefuls Derby. Given the relative ease of their remaining games, Burton will remain hopeful, but they’ve only won successive league games once this season. Their match against Bolton could potentially help Reading, ensuring that at least one of these teams remains below us on the final day.
24th Sunderland – 34pts
This week’s results: Sunderland 1-1 Norwich, Reading 2-2 Sunderland
Next up: Burton (h), Fulham (a), Wolves (h)
Average position of remaining opponents: 9th
My verdict: Despite their plight, I felt that Sunderland put in an impressive shift on Saturday. They looked motivated and dangerous on the counter-attack, punishing Reading’s inadequacies, and were unlucky not to win all three points. Regardless, it won’t prove to be enough for the Black Cats who face a harrowing final two games and will be relegated in the coming weeks.