It seems that every season in the Championship, one side close to mid-table finds a run of form in mid-winter which sees the club thrust into the play-off picture. This season, it is looking like that could very well be Brighton in their first Championship season under Gus Poyet – on a ride the fans have dubbed ‘the Gus Bus’.
Now unbeaten in six, a run which followed four straight defeats, Albion are firmly in the hunt for a top six place – always the ambition of the owner and manager despite being new to the division. The signing of Craig Mackail-Smith for a club record £3million was testimony to this. Other players have come to the fore this season helping drive the team forward despite a shortage of quality in some areas.
Fortune has also shined brightly on Brighton in recent weeks to maintain the run of form. Behind against Palace in midweek, the Seagulls were awarded a dubious penalty which allowed them to come away with a point. Come Saturday, lady luck again smiled on Brighton as Leicester came to the Amex. The visitors had two players sent off and a last minute goal from Will Buckley sealed the points for the home side in a 1-0 win.
Brighton though did not have it all their own way – Kasper Schmeichel was in inspired form for the visitors and Matt Sparrow was sent off for Poyet’s men as they sought to take advantage of having an extra man on the pitch.
Buckley has quietly been the inspiration for Brighton’s recent run with his seven goals this season equalling that of club record signing Mackail-Smith.
Poyet has now guided Brighton to within two points of the play-off places, and will be determined to continue this excellent run of form in a bid to establish his side as genuine contenders for promotion to the Premier League. Nigel Pearson on the other hand will reflect again on the task he has on his hands at Leicester – his side flattering to deceive and now with players due to serve suspensions.
Blackpool earned a massive three points to go fourth – an excellent turn around to put themselves in the hunt for automatic promotion. The Tangerines went to the Cardiff City Stadium and surprised Malky Mackay’s side coming from a goal down to win 3-1, with all the away side’s goals coming in the final 11 minutes. Phillips was the name on Ian Holloway’s lips after the match – experienced striker Kevin got Blackpool on terms and winger Matty fired two late goals to seal the win.
Managerless Leeds are now just two points from the play-off places at the end of the week in which Simon Grayson was sacked. A 3-0 away at Bristol City was convincing and the squad looks in good shape for whoever takes the reins at Elland Road. Much admired Robert Snodgrass gave the Whites the lead and late goals from Ross McCormack and Luciano Becchio adding the final touches to a dominant performance.
West Ham are now four points clear at the top, despite having skipper Kevin Nolan sent off after just 10 minutes in the derby against Millwall at Upton Park. The Hammers took the lead through Carlton Cole with his ninth of the season. Liam Trotter, the engine room of the Lions, pulled his team level with an excellent curling effort before Winston Reid got the home side all three points. Millwall remain 21st, just four points above the bottom three.
Paul Jewell’s Ipswich pulled 10 points clear of the relegation zone with a 3-2 win at bottom club Coventry. The Sky Blues went into half-time 2-1 up thanks to Gary Deegan’s goal on the stroke of half-time, but the Tractor Boys hit back after the break. Michael Chopra equalised mid-way through the second half and he then went on to score the winner in injury time. Andy Thorn’s side remain seven points from safety with games starting to run out.
Watford and Barnsley clashed at Vicarage Road in what many pre-season thought would be a relegation tussle. Instead, two teams looking secure in mid-table played out a game with over 20 attempts at goal – the Hornets taking all the points with a brace from John Eustace. Barnsley were back in the game with five minutes to play but Sean Dyche’s side held on for the win.
Southampton played the division’s form side Birmingham in the evening kick off at St. Andrew’s but the tight encounter finished goalless. New signing Billy Sharp debuted for the Saints but even he was unable to inspire his new team to three points. The result leaves Nigel Adkins’ side four points off the lead and just five points ahead of the ever improving Blues.
Middlesbrough hung on to a top six place after a drab 0-0 at home to Crystal Palace. Tony Mowbray had keeper Luke Steele to thank for the point after a couple of important blocks. At Turf Moor, Burnley left it late to secure a point against Peterborough with Jay Rodriguez scoring with just three minutes left.
Both Reading’s trip to Doncaster and Hull’s visit to Portsmouth were postponed because of frozen pitches and heavy snowfall overnight in Derby meant the East Midlands clash between Derby and Nottingham Forest was postponed.
This came less than 24 hours after the news broke that Forest chairman Nigel Doughty was found dead at his home. Our condolences go out to his family and everyone associated with the club.
Tags: Birmingham City, Blackpool, Brighton & Hove Albion, Crystal Palace, Gus Poyet, Leeds United, Leicester City, Nottingham Forest, Southampton, West Ham United