Hello and a warm welcome to the brand new weekly EFL round up. This weekly article is perfect for those interested in all manner of things surrounding the English football league. With comprehensive details of the Championship, League One and League Two there’s something for everyone especially if you support a team who currently sits outside the illustrious lights of the Premier League. And yes I understand it is bizarre to start part way through a season but hopefully we can leave no stone unturned as the roller coaster ride of the run in gathers pace. I hope you enjoy.
The damaging impact of relegation has the power to decimate a club inside and out. But this certainly hasn’t been the case for Norwich City who sit at the summit of the Championship, five points clear of second place Watford and ten points clear of Swansea with a game in hand over the former. Head Coach Daniel Frake has repaid the faith of the board following their 20th place finish in the Premier League last season and saw his team fight back from 1-0 down to secure an impressive 2-1 away win at Hillsborough on Saturday. At time of writing that continues a run of wins stretching to 8 games now and they’ll hope to make it nine when they take on Nottingham Forest at 7pm on Wednesday night.
The league leaders’ closest challengers Watford continued their own mission to obtain an immediate return to the top flight and gave their chances a boost with two away wins in the space of four days. A sensational 94th minute winner in Cardiff followed by a comprehensive 4-1 victory over lowly Rotherham United helped to maintain the Hornets promotion charge. They sit one place and three points above third place Swansea however have played a game more than their South Wales promotion rivals. This creates a fascinating scrap for second place with both sides seemingly unable to reign in runaway leaders Norwich with less than ten games to go. Swansea themselves picked up an impressive 1-0 away win at Luton though fell short on the south coast losing 3-0 to play off chasing Bournemouth.
It is sure to be a fascinating race for automatic promotion come the end of the season. One that is truly befitting of the blockbuster nature of The Championship.
Not many would have pinned the obligatory Championship surprise package tag on Valerien Ismael’s Barnsley. However, the side have seemingly harnessed the spirit which led to their superb escape from relegation last season and mounting a promotion push. The South Yorkshire outfit currently occupy the last remaining play off place, clear of nearest challengers Bournemouth by two points and with an all important game in hand under their belts. This gap was enhanced by the Tykes 3-2 away victory over the cherries on Saturday. They now face bottom of the table Wycombe Wanderers at Adams Park in their midweek fixture. Victory here could send them as high as fifth depending on the result of fellow promotion rivals Reading. No matter what the final outcome for Barnsley this is surely one of the stories of the season in the Championship. Barnsley do have one sole season in the Premier League in their history books and would surely be the fans favourite if indeed they maintain their position in the playoffs.
As for the aforementioned Bournemouth, they dusted themselves down successfully from their defeat to Barnsley to pick up maximum points Tuesday. Jonathan Woodgate will be keen to prove himself by the time the season ends in order to command a new contract at the season’s end. However, a serious run of form is required in order to catch either Barnsley or Reading and subsequently stave off Woodgate’s former side Middlesbrough and Mick McCarthy’s Cardiff City. Once again the Championship play off fight is simply something no one can take their eyes off and is sure to go right to the wire.
Now to the wrong end of the Championship table and our local side Birmingham City who have appointed Lee Bowyer as their new manager. The former midfielder who spent two and a half years at City left Charlton athletic on Monday to take the vacant managerial post following the departure of Aitor Karanka. “My priority is to lift everybody” said Bowyer as he takes charge of a side just three points above the relegation zone. The situation is doubly difficult for Bowyer when the three games in hand for third bottom Rotherham United are taken into account. Spirits will need to be lifted quickly and considerably after Birmingham’s 3-0 home defeat to Bristol City on Saturday. Bowyer’s first look at his new side will come against promotion chasing Reading on Wednesday.
The initiative is with Birmingham however following a disappointing display from Rotherham United on Tuesday night. Paul Warne’s side will need to make use of their games in hand over the Midlands club in order to avoid yet another immediate return to the League One. A feeling Rotherham fans are becoming rather accustomed to in recent years. As for Sheffield Wednesday and Wycombe Wanderers the situation remains bleak.
Key fixtures to keep an eye on this weekend include Wycombe’s trip to Coventry City and a battle at both ends of the table with Watford v Birmingham City. However, the undoubted clash of the weekend takes place at 5:30 at the Liberty Stadium as South Wales rivals Cardiff and Swansea battle it out to enhance their respective promotion ambitions. Certainly not one to be missed.
High flying Hull
It may not be the heights that Hull City fans have grown accustomed to in recent years but nonetheless fans of the North East outfit will be enjoying life at League one’s summit. Whilst their position may be slightly false due to the inconsistent nature of how many games each team has played in England’s third tier credit must go to Grant McCann’s side. The Tigers recorded an impressive 2-0 victory over Oxford United on Saturday and have a free week in comparison to many of their other promotion rivals to prepare for the trip to Shrewsbury.
Despite Hull’s success there is no let up from fellow title hunters Peterborough United. The Posh swept aside managerless Portsmouth on Tuesday night to maintain their position in second place. Three points separate the top two but Peterborough’s two games in hand still give them the edge going into the run in. And challenges from former league leaders Lincoln City and a rejuvenated Sunderland cannot be ignored along with Doncaster Rovers who still maintain the advantage over some teams above due to games played. They are however not looking the same side since the departure of Darren Moore as manager.
Play off Party
It’s not uncommon in the EFL to see large numbers of teams chasing a small number of playoff spots going into the final push and yet it always seems to be surprising when it happens. Just 8 points separate Doncaster Rovers in 5th to Crewe in 15th. And with all teams on different numbers of games played a wide variety of goal difference it’d take quite a lot even for the bookies to predict how this one will play out. Both Charlton Athletic and Portsmouth go into the next round of games managerless however the latter may expect to have a new man in the dugout by the time they face fellow play off chasers Ipswich on Saturday.
The top four seem to be set for now however it would only take a bad run of form for a side such as Lincoln or Sunderland to be dragged into the mix. Usual suspects Oxford United have hauled themselves into contention once again and sit just one point below Ipswich Town in 8th. Ipswich themselves are hoping that new manager Paul Cook can inspire a team who have underachieved since their relegation to the third tier. Similarly Portsmouth will hope their poor run of form will come to an end with the introduction of a new face in the dugout following Kenny Jackett’s departure. Once again it’s a made chase to the finish line.
Many wouldn’t have given Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink a chance when he took over a seemingly battered Brewers rooted to the bottom of the League One table. But the former Chelsea striker has worked wonders at the Staffordshire club. A 1-1 draw with Blackpool made it seven games unbeaten for Hasselbaink’s men who now sit 8 points clear of the League one trap door. Its MK Dons up next for Burton who by now won’t be fearing anyone and have seemingly left the relegation battle behind. The same cannot be said for the teams directly below them.
Both Bristol Rovers and Wigan sit just one point above the drop zone and will be looking over their shoulders at all of their relegation rivals below them. Even bottom of the table Swindon Town could be potentially one win away from moving above the dotted line however it is AFC Wimbledon with the all important game in hand on all of their relegation rivals. From Burton up there should be no concerns. The fight for survival is very much a six way race. And only two can survive.
It’s all about the clash of playoff contenders going into next week with Portsmouth hosting Ipswich at the earlier time of 1pm. Paul Cook making his return to Fratton Park. Then at the usual time of 3pm 4th place Sunderland face 3rd place Lincoln as both sides look to keep hopes of automatic promotion alive.
We could be seeing double trouble from the west country next season in League One if both Cheltenham Town and Forest Green Rovers. Despite the former’s 2-0 defeat to Barrow in midweek the league leaders are in pole position to secure promotion from the fourth tier. Meanwhile their outfit from down the road sit third and recorded a 2-1 away win at mid table Harrogate town on Saturday. Forest Green sit 4 points clear of fourth with a game in hand which could ultimately see them leapfrog their rivals into top spot with just a point separating the two teams.
Sandwiched between 1st and 2nd is Cambridge United who will be feeling the heat having played at least a game more than their nearest promotion rivals. However, the side showed significant spirit and intent on staying in those automatic promotion places with a hard fought 4-2 away win over Oldham Athletic on Saturday. Newport, Tranmere, Bolton and Morecambe are separated by just a point and will feel that a charge for the top three is well within their reach.
As for the play off challengers the situation seems a lot clearer than that of League One. Exeter City will once again go for promotion following several years of heartache and sit just 3 points outside the play off places with two games in hand on most of their rivals. Who knows, maybe even a push for the top three could be on for the Devon club. Salford City and Crawley will still fancy their outside chances.
The undoubted biggest clash of the weekend comes at the Abbey Stadium where Cambridge United take on Forest Green Rovers in a game which could define the picture in the automatic promotion race. Tranmere Rovers will be keen to put the EFL trophy defeat behind them as they face fellow promotion chasers Exeter City at home.
League two was well represented at Wembley as both the 2020 and 2021 final of the EFL trophy took place this weekend. On Saturday League Two claimed a triumph over League One as Salford City continued their incredible story with a victory on penalties against former trophy holders Portsmouth. This led to the defeated side parting company with manager Kenny Jackett. For Salford though the victory marked another landmark in their rise through the footballing ranks backed by the notorious class of 92.
For Tranmere Rovers their day was not so successful slipping to a 1-0 defeat against League One giants Sunderland. Lynden Gooch’s second half strike was enough for the north east outfit to claim the prize under the Wembley arch. This two years on from their penalty shoot out to defeat to Portsmouth in the same competition. Both sides will now return to their respective promotion ambitions.