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Relegation Watch: 7 To Play

The relegation battle hots up with victories for four of the bottom eight.

Birmingham City v Ipswich Town - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

What a goal. What a game. What a relief...

Thanks to Sone Aluko’s screamer, Vito Mannone’s penalty save and a fair portion of good fortune, Reading won their first home game since November on Saturday. The 1-0 win against QPR christened Paul Clement’s tenure in style, a performance characterised by guts and resilience whilst under the cosh. Let’s not get too carried away - the resurgent Royals remain far from safe with a tricky remaining fixture list, but nevertheless, the result has restored hope and boosted fan morale.

Elsewhere in the relegation picture, it was an abject weekend for Barnsley. Things were looking up for the battling Tykes who took the lead against Bristol City after just seven minutes - the lofty Kieffer Moore heading home. The hosts were pegged back before half-time though, Famara Diedhiou with an emphatic response.

Barnsley registered 23 shots in total and, when Brad Potts scored ten minutes from time, it looked as they were about to secure their first win at Oakwell in 2018. Alas, in stoppage time, Josh Brownhill’s looping header found it’s way into the corner and, simultaneously, opened the door for the home side’s relegation rivals.

As well as Reading, Birmingham took advantage. Garry Monk’s side won their second consecutive game at home to Ipswich. Against the odds, Sunderland also made the most of Derby’s current plight to win emphatically at Pride Park. Honeyman, Fletcher, McGeady and O’Shea netted for the Black Cats, with ex-Royal Matej Vydra bagging a consolation for Rowett’s wretched Rams.

Another former Reading striker scored at Elland Road, but Adam Le Fondre’s goal wasn’t enough for Bolton, who lost 2-1. Burton also suffered an unsurprising defeat at high-flying Cardiff, whilst Hull drew 0-0 with Aston Villa. Sheffield Wednesday, however, surely confirmed their safety. The Owls won 4-1 against Preston, Atdhe Nuhui scoring the pick of the goals.

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

17th Sheffield Wednesday – 44pts

This week’s results: Sheffield Wednesday 4-1 Preston

Form: L-L-D-W-W

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

Average position of remaining opponents: 13th

My verdict: Back-to-back wins have all but sealed Sheffield Wednesday’s place in the division after a torrid season. Few would have predicted that Lucas João and Atdhe Nuhiu would be Wednesday’s go-to frontmen, in a squad blessed with attacking talent, but the pair have scored seven of the club’s last nine goals to fuel their survival push. The Owls ten-point cushion could work in Reading’s favour, as they may be mathematically safe and effectively playing for nothing when the sides meet later this month.

18th Hull City – 40pts

This week’s results: Hull City 0-0 Aston Villa

Form: L-W-W-L-D

Next up: Wolves (a), QPR (h), Burton (a)

Average position of remaining opponents: 10th

My verdict: Hull’s well-deserved point shared with promotion contenders Villa may well prove to be crucial, but their job is far from complete. Hull, along with Reading, have statistically the toughest run-in and must profit from their upcoming home games against QPR and Sheffield Wednesday. In addition to their off-the-field problems, they have a mass of first-team regulars out of contract in the summer, so Nigel Adkins faces a rebuild regardless of this season’s outcome.

Hull City v Aston Villa - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images

19th Reading – 39pts

This week’s results: Reading 1-0 QPR

Form: D-D-L-L-W

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

Average position of remaining opponents: 10th

My verdict: The Royals badly needed a win on Friday and, with a new face in the dugout, they managed just that. Regardless of the performance, there was a very different feel at the Mad Stad – a buzz, an optimism and a renewed bond between players and fans. Reading’s run-in is still arguably the toughest of this season’s strugglers and a glance at the next three games emphasises that. Can they build on this weekend’s success and steer clear of danger?

20th Bolton Wanderers – 39pts

This week’s results: Leeds 2-1 Bolton

Form: L-D-D-W-L

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

Average position of remaining opponents: 14th

My verdict: Phil Parkinson’s Bolton fell to 20th this weekend but shouldn’t panic just yet. They have a succession of winnable games coming up and have demonstrated enough tenacity and togetherness to convince me that they’ll be OK. In Adam Le Fondre, Wanderers have a striker in top form that could have a major part to play.

21st Birmingham City – 36pts

This week’s results: Birmingham 1-0 Ipswich

Form: L-L-L-W-W

Next up: Bolton (a), Burton (h), Bristol City (a)

Average position of remaining opponents: 11th

My verdict: It may well prove to be third-time lucky for Birmingham. Their third manager of the season, Garry Monk, earned his second successive win on Sunday, helping the Blues out of the relegation zone for the first time since February. Their next two games against relegation rivals will be pivotal, as they still have Wolves and Fulham to play, whilst their woeful goal difference (-28) could still be an issue.

Birmingham City v Ipswich Town - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

22nd Barnsley – 34pts

This week’s results: Barnsley 2-2 Bristol City

Form: L-L-D-L-D

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

Average position of remaining opponents: 12th

My verdict: Josh Brownhill’s stoppage time equaliser was a cruel blow for Barnsley. Despite promising signs, José Morais is yet to trigger an upturn in their fortunes and time is quickly running out. Alarmingly, the Tykes have registered just two wins in their last twenty-four games, however, four of their remaining matches are against midtable sides. That could work in their favour.

23rd Sunderland – 31pts

This week’s results: Derby 1-4 Sunderland

Form: D-L-L-L-W

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

Average position of remaining opponents: 13th

My verdict: Before their shock win at Derby, I hadn’t given Sunderland a chance in this relegation fight. I’m sticking to my guns too. The Black Cats were fortunate to face a talented Derby side amidst a recent crisis of confidence and, ordinarily, I can’t see them outscoring their opposition on too many more occasions. Their home form is particularly poor, so they’ll have to spring another surprise to overcome Sheffield Wednesday next up.

24th Burton Albion – 30pts

This week’s results: Cardiff 3-1 Burton

Form: L-D-L-L-L

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

Average position of remaining opponents: 15th

My verdict: Crunch-time is fast approaching for Burton. If Nigel Clough is to produce a ‘great escape’ he will need to target upcoming fixtures against Birmingham, Hull, Sunderland and Bolton, and win at least three of them. Is that too much to ask of the league’s minnows? The Brewers’ won’t go down without a fight, but as the league’s lowest scorers with the most porous defence, few will fancy their chances. I don’t.