Southampton In Control At The Top

After two games in less than a week, there are gaps opening at the top and bottom of the table. Southampton are five points clear of West Ham, who were beaten by the Saints on Tuesday night when Dutch defender Jos Hooiveld scored on the stroke of half time.

At the other end of the table Bristol City are four points from safety – the Robins were one of four sides who failed to pick up any points from the six available in the last two games, but will have a new manager in place before Sunday’s game with Birmingham City. Former WBA and Millwall midfielder Derek McInnes took over at Ashton Gate on Wednesday after two years as manager of Scottish Premier League side St. Johnstone; as we mentioned last week, Nottingham Forest appointed Steve Cotterill as manager, which leaves Portsmouth as the only club needing a to make an appointment.

It was a good week for both Peterborough and Crystal Palace, who won both beat Bristol City on their way to achieving maximum points. The Posh have maintained the type of form that earned them promotion from League 1 last season: despite having failed to keep a single clean sheet in the league so far, Darren Ferguson’s side have only failed to score once and only Southampton have scored more goals this season – which makes Ferguson’s decision to sell Craig Mackail-Smith to Brighton look like a very astute piece of business indeed. This weekend’s games begin when Leeds travel to London Road for only the second league meeting between the clubs and it looks like a game that won’t finish 0-0.

It was a bad week for Doncaster, Watford and Burnley all of whom emulated Bristol City’s inability to pick up a single point. Donny’s mini revival under Dean Saunders seems to have hit the skids following consecutive defeats while Watford have failed to score in seven of their twelve games this season and haven’t scored at all since Craig Forsyth scored the winner against Millwall at the end of September. Whilst we weren’t sold on either Doncaster or Watford before the season started, Burnley’s current difficulties aren’t immediately obvious until you realise that they have only won five of their last fifteen games at Turf Moor and are another side currently having trouble scoring: if you can stop Charlie Austin scoring you’ve effectively stopped Burnley.

There are two games between the top six on Saturday afternoon. Derby travel to Middlesbrough: the last time the Rams picked up a point on Teeside was in January 2000 and Boro have won the last five meetings at home since then. However, despite being unbeaten at the Riverside this season, the hosts last home win was back in August and there are signs that their impressive start could be on the rocks: they’ve failed to score in four of their last five games and – like Burnley – are over reliant on one player (Marvin Emnes) to provide the goals.

Game of the week is between two clubs that have shown significant improvement this season. Whatever changes Paul Jewell introduced after Ipswich were thrashed 7-1 at Peterborough in August seem to have worked: they’ve only lost once in the eight games since and have won at West Ham and drawn at Cardiff in that spell. Crystal Palace’s resurgence is down to their metamorphosis away from Selhurst Park. The Eagles have already won more away games this season than they did in 2010/11 – including victories at Brighton and Hull – but still look as if they’re a work in progress rather than genuine promotion candidates.

The last game on Saturday is Reading versus Southampton (Sky Sports 2, 5:20), but this weekend’s round of matches continues until Monday. Birmingham have to play two games in four days (at Bristol City on Sunday and at home to Leeds on Wednesday) and with West Ham’s trip to Brighton on Monday (Sky Sports 1, 7:45pm) coming the day before the Carling Cup ties between Championship teams it’s almost as busy as Christmas.

With two guaranteed qualifiers for the last eight in the Carling Cup the Championship is well represented but it’s difficult to see any of the four teams left in the competition getting any further. Only Southampton have ever reached the final (in 1979); Burnley, Crystal Palace and Cardiff have all reached the semi finals before, but have been knocked out every time they’ve reached that stage so once again it looks as if Championship clubs might have to be content with being knocked out before the final by a Premier League club. We’ll see.

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Author: Mike Roberts

A football fan since the 1970s, I take my inspiration from the standard of writing that made Shoot! magazine streets ahead of anything else back in the day. I'm also a complete and utter stathead, which I blame on being exposed to American sports at the end of my teens.