Beach balls, whistles and funerals
It’s been an amazing weekend in the Championship. We had a three goal comeback in the last few minutes in the game between Rotherham and Derby, all hell breaking loose at Middlesbrough who went on to lose at Charlton where the fans are stepping up their protests against the owners, and the Nottingham Forest owners have done what they do best, they’ve sacked another manager.
Sometimes it is difficult to know where to start when reviewing the Championship for the reason that little had happened, today it is difficult to know where to start because there is just so much to cover.
For obvious reasons, it’s up at the top of the league where we start because it’s there that things can have such an effect on us. Sean Dyche will always say you can’t affect anything elsewhere, and he is right, of course, but for us fans we really do have to take notice of what’s going on with Hull, Middlesbrough and Brighton.
While we were winning at Huddersfield, Hull were failing to do likewise in their home game against the franchise from MK. This, I thought, was a guaranteed home banker, but Hull managed to go a goal behind before quickly equalising. Even so, a point from a 1-1 draw was not a good result for them.
“It was poor and it’s not for me to try and dress it up,” said a disappointed Steve Bruce, who added: “The first half in particular wasn’t good enough. We were much better in the second half, although we couldn’t have been any worse. We huffed and puffed but we became anxious, nervy and edgy and it turned into a disappointing afternoon which you sometimes have to put up with at this stage of the season.”
As we left Huddersfield, that result was being greeted with delight with the Burnley fans who were making their way home. Meanwhile, we laughed when the news came through from Rotherham who had produced the most amazing of comebacks.
Love him, our loathe him, Neil Warnock has had a good week. His team did us a favour by beating Middlesbrough, and more on them very soon, last Tuesday but they looked dead and buried on Saturday when Derby scored three second half goals in ten minutes to lead 3-0.
It has to be the comeback of the season. They didn’t get their first until the 83rd minute but it was 3-3 at the end and left Warnock enthusing and Darren Wassall, the Derby manager, stunned. He said: “I’m flabbergasted and very, very disappointed. For 82 minutes, everybody could see that it was the best football that we had played all season.”
I loved his: “We can’t be three goals up with ten minutes left and draw 3-3, but we’ve done it.”
You have to be impressed with a club that sets priorities and sticks to them. After the Boxing Day fixtures they were top of the league with 47 points from 23 games. Many thought they were more than a good bet for an automatic promotion place.
However, those of us outside of the club weren’t aware that winning promotion wasn’t a priority and you have to give them real credit to sticking to those priorities since. Averaging more than two points per game, they’ve rectified the problem with 14 points from 14 games since. Only Fulham, Charlton, Bolton and Brentford have won less points. Paul Clement, when he looks back, will have no complaints at losing his job; he was simply picking up too many points.
What they will do now is anyone’s guess. They are still in the top six. I guess it will all depend now on whether they stick to their priorities and ensure a drop of at least another two places before the end of the season.
With all this going on, news was coming out of Middlesbrough that there had been a walk out by manager Aitor Karanka. Obviously it couldn’t be the case given they were second in the league and still considered a big favourite to go straight up.
A lot has been said and written about it all, but the fact is he wasn’t permitted to take training on Saturday and wasn’t at the game yesterday. The latest news coming from Teesside is that his future will be decided in the next 48 hours.
The fans made it clear where their support lay during yesterday’s game at Charlton with chants for Karanka throughout the match. There have been rumours of a clash between Karanka and David Nugent but more reliable stories seem to point to his concerns over other players and their performances, notably Stewart Downing.
I don’t know how they would have played with him charge yesterday at Charlton, but I do know they were woeful without him.
What an afternoon it was. Having endured, and I think endured is a correct choice of word, the Wolves v Birmingham game, I really didn’t expect to gain much enthusiasm from a game I expected Middlesbrough to win comfortably.
What an afternoon. They turned in an appalling performance and could have no complaints at Charlton’s 2-0 win although a good number of the home fans missed the second goal having left as part of their protests against owner Roland Duchâtelet and chief exec Katrien Meire.
As part of the ‘We want our Charlton back’ campaign, they staged a mock funeral procession, threw on a load of black and white beach balls at the start of the game (the colours chosen as the ones they wore when they beat us in the 1947 FA Cup Final). Throw in a few bogus whistles that baffled players and referee Darren Deadman, although it takes little to baffle him, and a one man pitch invasion, and it was all good fun.
Let me say now that I don’t approve of the pitch invasion and, as much as it was funny, the whistle idea was not the best. But I have every sympathy with these supporters who have seen their club ripped apart since it was taken over.
I like going to Charlton. They are just an ordinary club like ours with decent supporters, certainly the ones I’ve met on our trips there. What’s happened to their club in the last couple of years is just not right.
As for Middlesbrough, they remain dangerous. They are a wounded animal right now and they, along with both Hull and Brighton, who both play tomorrow, are still very much a threat to what we want to achieve this season.
Nottingham Forest certainly aren’t. Only last month when we played them I wrote that Dougie Freedman must now be considered a long term manager for them having been in charge for over a year. It can’t be a surprise, the manager’s door has been a revolving one since Fawaz Al-Hasawi took control of the club.
Just like the Charlton owners, you wouldn’t want Al-Hasawi anywhere near your club. He’s run it so badly that they’ve been placed under a transfer embargo, limiting Freedman’s role. Prior to the game at the Turf they had lost at home to Huddersfield; before that they had just been on a thirteen game unbeaten run.
That’s six managers sacked since the summer of 2012. Former Forest defender Kenny Burns has blasted the owner. He said: “To me it’s not the manager’s fault they’ve been losing games, or should I say the former manager. To me the big problem with Nottingham Forest is not on the field, it’s off it.”
One of those six managers to depart is Billy Davies. Would Burns welcome him back? No is the definite answer to that. “He is one of the reasons this football club is what it is right now,” Burns added.
Nigel Pearson, complete with his ostrich, has been installed as favourite with Davies just behind. Just for a bit of mischief Karanka is also in the betting. The local paper in Nottingham report that the club favour a foreign manager.
Elsewhere, Bolton’s new owners didn’t get the start they wanted. Despite going in front they were beaten 2-1 at home by Preston. It’s all but over for them now. They are now 11 points away from safety with just nine games to play.
It’s tightened up at the bottom. Rotherham’s draw keeps them one point behind MK but they are now also just one point behind Fulham who were beaten 2-1 at home by Bristol City. It’s going to be an interesting few weeks down there to see who does go down. I still see little chance of Charlton surviving, despite their win, and certainly no hope for Bolton.
All of the players I listed in the last review who were on nine yellow cards escaped a two match ban. Some, such as Kevin McDonald at Wolves and Corry Evans of Blackburn were on the bench whilst Birmingham boss Gary Rowett quickly substituted Maikel Kieftenbeld when a card looked likely.
All the red and yellow card counts per club can be found with the leading goalscorers, the highest and lowest attendances and each club’s average attendance at Goalscorers – Discipline – Attendances which is within the 2015/16 Stats on the top menu.
This week’s fixtures
Tuesday 15th March
Brighton v Reading
Hull v Nottingham Forest
Ipswich v Blackburn
Friday 18th March
Middlesbrough v Hull
Saturday 19th March
Birmingham v Fulham
Brentford v Blackburn
Bristol City v Bolton
Burnley v Wolves
Derby v Nottingham Forest (12:30 p.m. kick off)
Ipswich v Rotherham
Leeds v Huddersfield
MK v Brighton
Preston v QPR
Reading v Cardiff
Sheffield Wednesday v Charlton