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Relegation Watch: 2 To Play

Reading falter at Hillsborough - but are we still tipping them to survive?

Sunderland v Burton Albion - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

I was hoping to be able to rename this article by now - maybe to ‘Mid-table Watch’, or even ‘Safe With A Whimper Watch’...? Sadly, I can’t.

Reading were dismantled at the weekend by a Sheffield Wednesday team with little to play for. Tyler Blackett became the fourth Reading player to be red-carded during Paul Clement’s tenure whilst, at the other end, a lacklustre attacking-line mustered just one shot on target. How disappointing.

Burton secured the result of the weekend, leaving it late to beat Sunderland 2-1 and relegate their drop-zone rival. Paddy McNair had given the Black Cats a first-half advantage, but Burton showed strength and resolve to keep their survival hopes alive. Experienced striker Darren Bent equalised four minutes from time, pouncing on a goalkeeping parry to head home. Liam Boyce then netted a second header in stoppage time to seal Sunderland’s fate.

Sunderland v Burton Albion - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

Birmingham were also victorious on Saturday afternoon. They bombarded Sheffield United’s goal with sixteen shots, ultimately coming back from a goal down to win 2-1 at St. Andrews. The win moved Birmingham level on points with the Royals.

Meanwhile, Barnsley missed a chance, losing 2-1 to Leeds and their former-manager Paul Heckingbottom. They remain two points from safety with a game in hand. Phil Parkinson’s Bolton were thrashed by Champions Wolves, setting up a nervy finale. Finally, a special mention to Hull who confirmed their survival in a pulsating 5-5 draw at Bristol City!

Here’s how the table looks with just two to play:

19th Reading – 43pts

Goal difference: -18

This week’s results: Sheffield Wednesday 3-0 Reading

Form: L-W-L-D-L

Next up: Ipswich (h), Cardiff (a)

Average position of remaining opponents: 9th

My verdict: Yes, Reading were unacceptably dire at the weekend - but let’s remember that, thanks to gutsy wins against QPR and Preston, we still occupy pole position in the relegation scrap. Unfortunately, a ‘Reading’ still exists that looks shambolic, bereft of confidence, conviction and ideas, but the home games have proven that there is a new ‘Reading’ emerging, capable of scrapping for every ball and defending for their lives. Let’s hope that the latter turns up to play Ipswich next weekend. A victory would all-but-seal survival; defeat would be catastrophic.

20th Birmingham City – 43pts

Goal difference: -30

This week’s results: Birmingham 2-1 Sheffield United

Form: W-D-L-L-W

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

Average position of remaining opponents: 9th

My verdict: Birmingham are edging ever closer to safety. Their third manager of the season could be their saviour, with a succession of narrow victories underpinning a revival under Garry Monk. Barnsley’s superior goal difference remains a concern and they have a nightmarish final home game, but if they can gain a point at QPR, I think Brum will have secured enough points to survive.

21st Bolton Wanderers – 40pts

Goal difference: -34

This week’s results: Bolton 0-4 Wolves

Form: L-L-L-D-L

Next up: Burton (a), Nottingham Forest (h)

Average position of remaining opponents: 20th

My verdict: Bolton fans will have gnawed down their fingernails by now. Though defeat against the Champions was an inevitability, they are capitulating at exactly the wrong time, meaning momentum will be with the home side at the Pirelli Stadium next time out. Phil Parkinson’s one consolation is the relative ease of their remaining fixtures. Their woe is a circumstantial source of comfort for Reading.

22nd Barnsley – 38pts (+1 game in hand)

Goal difference: -20

This week’s results: Leeds 2-1 Barnsley

Form: D-W-L-D-L

Next up: Nottingham Forest (a), Brentford (h), Derby (a)

Average position of remaining opponents: 11th

My verdict: Barnsley will be ruing a missed opportunity this weekend, as they quickly run out of matches. Their game-in-hand has been an irritating unknown factor for several weeks now and they’ll finally play the rearranged fixture on Tuesday night. Reading, Bolton, Birmingham and Burton fans will wait nervously for the outcome. Forest, their opponents, are on rotten form and could offer the Tykes a lifeline.

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

23rd Burton Albion – 38pts

Goal difference: -44

This week’s results: Sunderland 1-2 Burton

Form: D-D-L-W-W

Next up: Bolton (h), Preston (a)

Average position of remaining opponents: 15th

My verdict: The Brewers are resurgent, but have they left it too late? They will be the form team heading into next weekend’s pivotal clash with Bolton but may also need to beat Preston on the final day to cancel-out Barnsley’s game-in-hand. A ‘great escape’ would be Nigel Clough’s most unexpected achievement to date and, hesitantly, I’m beginning to think that he has a chance…

24th Sunderland – 34pts

Goal difference: -30

This week’s results: Sunderland 1-1 Norwich, Reading 2-2 Sunderland

Form: L-D-D-D-L

Next up: Fulham (a), Wolves (h)

Average position of remaining opponents: 2nd

My verdict: It’s now official - Sunderland have succumbed to back-to-back relegations. It’s a bitter pill to swallow for their loyal fanbase and a damning indicator of the Black Cats’ struggles both on and off the pitch. Relegation to League One stains Chris Coleman’s managerial CV and he may regret taking on this poisoned chalice back in November.