Congratulations to Reading, who reached the quarter finals of the FA Cup following a surprise 1-0 win at Everton on Tuesday night. Having beaten West Brom and Stevenage in the earlier rounds, the Royals will travel to Eastlands on Sunday March 13th to play Manchester City.
It would be extremely foolish to write Brian McDermott’s side off – they’ve drawn all three of their cup games at City over the years and with the hosts having drawn with both Leicester and Notts County in earlier in the competition, a Manchester City win isn’t as straightforward as it first appears.
Returning to the Championship, having only been out of top spot twice since the season began, QPR’s apparently inevitable path to the Premier League continued after a 2-0 win over Ipswich Town. However, with almost three quarters of the season gone, it might be worth looking at what might happen between now and the end of the season.
Not surprisingly, QPR are the odds on favourites to win the Championship; although it’s still possible that Rangers can be overtaken, there have been countless opportunities for their rivals to catch them and it looks unlikely that any of them will be able to mount a serious challenge.
Much like last season, the scramble for second place and the playoff spots should be exciting for neutrals and excruciating for fans of the clubs involved. The bookies seem to think Cardiff, Swansea and Nottingham Forest have an advantage here, which makes sense until you remember that until Swansea beat Leeds last weekend they’d only won one other game against a side in current top six. From that point of view, Forest’s trip to Swansea in a couple of weeks has already been pencilled in as a potential game of the week.
It would also be unwise to rule out last season’s other beaten semi finalists – Sven Goran Eriksson’s appointment as Leicester manager might have been the shrewdest signing of the season.
It probably escaped most people’s notice during the week, but Burnley’s win at Preston last weekend means that The Lillywhites cannot win the Championship. That’s the last of Phil Brown’s worries: the bookies have completely written off the bottom three, but I’ve got a feeling that Scunthorpe’s trip to Crystal Palace in April might be crucial for both teams.
Although Forest and Leicester are doing well this season, the East Midlands also provided the biggest shock in the FA Cup for years. Derby County were in the play off places at the end of November but the Rams have since lost eleven of their sixteen league games and were knocked out of the FA Cup by Crawley. The situation has degenerated to the point where Nigel Clough is favourite to be the next manager in the Championship to lose his job, although I’m not sure if getting rid of Clough is a good idea – they’re clearly better than the teams below them, although the recent home defeat by Sheffield United indicates how bad they are right now. Derby also have a couple of tricky looking games coming up – at Middlesbrough on Tuesday and at Crystal Palace on March 19th – and if Clough can survive March then he should still be at Pride Park in August.
With no changes at either the top or the bottom of the table possible this weekend, interest this weekend moves to the battle for the last play off place between Leeds and Leicester.
Leeds may have the easier task when they host Doncaster, although Rovers’ win at Derby on Tuesday was their first away success since mid November and the last time they made the short trip to Elland Road for a league game they came away with all three points. Leicester won at Loftus Road last season, but QPR have won six of the last ten league games between these two in West London and won 2-0 at the Walker’s Stadium in September.
The only televised game this weekend is Cardiff v Ipswich (Sky Sports 2, 5:20); a win could move the Bluebirds into second place if Swansea fail to win at Scunthorpe earlier in the afternoon. There’s also a full programme on Tuesday night.