This weekend’s Championship matches saw yet more managerial changes, gaffs from both players and officials, and a change in fortune for a relegation candidate or two.
The Tykes’ Renaissance continues
Without a home league win since September, and without a manager since Keith Hill’s sacking in December, Barnsley fans would have been forgiven for writing off 2013 when it had barely begun. But Saturday’s 2-0 win against Leeds lifted them off the foot of the table and ultimately secured caretaker boss David Flitcroft the permanent position.
Chris Dagnall’s two goals sealed the points, the first from a penalty that he both won and converted, and the second a neat finish across Leeds ‘keeper Paddy Kenny. But it was the manner of the win that would have given Tykes fans the most hope. The interplay between Dagnall and strike partner Marlon Harewood warned of better things to come.
And despite not being the Oakwell board’s first choice (Sean O’Driscoll and Terry Butcher both declined the job following talks with the club) I have a feeling Flitcroft may turn out to be their saviour.
Some things borrowed don’t leave Watford fans blue
I have a confession to make. When Watford started the season with 14 players who technically belonged to other clubs, I didn’t think it would work. But I was wrong.
Gianfranco Zola’s men are currently sixth in the league, and much of their continuing success is down to a striker who gave something of a master-class in forward play on Saturday.
Matej Vydra’s double secured a 2-1 win away to Middlesbrough, taking his tally to 14 goals for the season. But it is no exaggeration to say he could have scored five. Only excellent goalkeeping from Boro’s Jason Steele, and a wayward finish for what would have been his hat-trick, prevented that.
The 20-year-old Czech, on a season-long-loan from Udinese, is quick, clinical and is getting better by the week. There is hope at the club that Vydra, along with a number of other current loanees, will sign permanently. After his performance at the Riverside, they had better move quickly.
Leicester City’s missing piece?
Two weeks ago I wrote an article calling Chris Wood’s transfer to Leicester one of the deals of the season. It wasn’t particularly prescient on my part. After all, the New Zealand striker had already scored 11 goals for Millwall before Nigel Pearson snapped him up for an initial fee of just £1.25million.
But Saturday’s hat-trick against his former club Bristol City made it six goals in just three starts for the Foxes. He also set up the final goal for Matty James to seal a 4-0 win that ended Derek McInnes’ reign as the Robins’ manager.
It could be argued that all Wood’s goals were preventable, as City ‘keeper Dean Gerken was beaten at his near post for the first, fumbled a corner for the second, and allowed the third to tamely roll under him. But Wood was there to score them, and it is that presence that may give Leicester the edge in the second half of the season.
While the teams around them floundered, Pearson’s side climbed to third. And while it will take an almighty collapse from Cardiff to surrender top spot, Leicester have their best chance in years to go up automatically.
A game of blunders
It wasn’t such a good day for the two teams directly above the Foxes. Held at home by Mick McCarthy’s resurgent Ipswich, Cardiff failed to score for the first time in 25 matches. But the big shock came as Sheffield Wednesday climbed out of the bottom three with an excellent 3-1 away win at Hull.
Tigers’ manager Steve Bruce bemoaned the number of mistakes his team made, most notably when goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic dropped the ball into his own net from a routine corner.
But the gaffs weren’t reserved for the players, as referee Mark Haywood inexplicably ruled out what would have been Wednesday’s second goal from Giles Coke for “dangerous play”. Although replays showed Coke simply got his foot to the ball before the ‘keeper got his hands to it.
It was a day to forget for Jakupovic, who allowed Reda Johnson’s header to slip through his legs for Wednesday’s first. And he ended the day in hospital with what Bruce feared was a serious injury, although a club statement has since allayed those fears.
But for all the mistakes, Sheffield Wednesday fully deserved their victory, and after just one defeat in six they look like ending the season far higher than they are currently.
image: © Ben Sutherland