Championship football isn’t predictable – just ask Bolton and Wolves fans. The notion that relegation can be met with instantaneous promotion is a fallacy, and the plight of the two Wanderers just goes to show how tough a league the Championship is. To succeed, teams in this division need more than just a talented squad – they need leadership and resilience.
Neither of the relegated sides would have expected to be sitting close to the foot of the table with 16 games remaining, but for Bolton’s Dougie Freedman and Wolves’ Dean Saunders, the harsh reality they’re facing up to is that they could find themselves sucked into a relegation battle they were hired to avoid.
It isn’t ability that’s the problem, nor is it experience. Both sides still feature squads rife with Premier League and international talent – yet neither are showing the know-how to mount sustained challenges in the division.
Wolves’ problems have been well-documented this season; a manager inexperienced in the challenges of English football was perhaps not the ideal candidate to oversee a team seeking an immediate return to the top flight, and Stale Solbakken’s spell at the club was limited by tactical naivety and a failure to build a run of undefeated games.
Wolves appointed Dean Saunders at the beginning of January as the man to get them out of the rut that Solbakken had left them in. Saunders hasn’t won any of his four games so far; the Black Country side suffered a 2-1 defeat to Leicester City last Thursday that leaves them just two points clear of the relegation zone. Wolves have won just twice in their last ten games.
Meanwhile, at Bolton, the drop from the Premier League was a failure which former manager Owen Coyle struggled to recover from and ultimately paid for with his job. Despite his record at Burnley, which saw him build a promotion-building team, Phil Gartside saw fit to sack Coyle and replace him with Freedman in October.
While Coyle’s successor has a reputation as an impressive young coach, his only full season as Palace’s boss was mired by their poor second-half to the season – a spell which saw them collect just three wins in four months. If Bolton were to replicate such form this time round, it could have potentially disastrous consequences.
The Trotters fell to a 2-1 defeat to Watford, dropping them to 20th and just three points off of the relegation zone. It was their sixth defeat in their last ten games.
With the three teams below Bolton and Wolves showing some grit, the remaining games could be the most significant fixtures in the recent history of both clubs.
League leaders Cardiff City had recently-recruited striker Fraizer Campbell to thank for their 1-0 win over Leeds United at Elland Road. The former Manchester United and Sunderland star joined the Bluebirds in the January transfer window and made an immediate impact, beating Leeds goalkeeper Paddy Kenny with his first touch of the ball.
Nottingham Forest saw their frustrating failures in the January transfer window come back to bite them as Chris Burke, a player Alex McLeish tried to sign, scoring Birmingham City’s two goals in their 2-1 win.
Crystal Palace came from behind to defeat Charlton Athletic at Selhurst Park. Glenn Murray, the league’s leading goal scorer with 24, scored a brace to reignite Ian Holloway’s promotion charge.
Hull City also reaffirmed their promotion credentials with a 1-0 win at Millwall. Mark Beevers was left embarrassed by a poor back-pass which Hull midfielder David Meyler latched on to and scored from.
Fellow promotion challengers Middlesbrough fell to a surprise 4-0 defeat at Ipswich Town, the club’s fourth league defeat in a row. Tommy Smith scored two goals for Mick McCarthy’s side, while new arrivals Aaron McLean and David McGoldrick scored one each. Ipswich hadn’t won their previous four matches.
Derby County are also looking to make a push for the top, following a 3-0 demolition of Huddersfield Town. Goals from Craig Bryson, Jamie Ward and Richard Keogh put the Rams within touching distance of the play-off positions.
Newly-appointed Blackburn Rovers manager Michael Appleton secured the first three points of his reign with a 2-0 win over Bristol City, thanks to a Jordan Rhodes double. The result brought the Robins’ resurgence to a halt – Sean O’Driscoll’s side had won their previous two games.
Steering clear of the relegation battle are Sheffield Wednesday, whose post-Christmas form has seen them climb to 18th – their highest league position since mid-September. A 3-1 win over Brighton & Hove Albion secured the three points for Wednesday, in a bad-tempered match which saw Brighton’s Ashley Barnes receive a straight red for a kick at Wednesday’s Kieran Lee.
Looking to emulate Wednesday’s rise out of the relegation mire are Barnsley, who secured an impressive 2-1 win over Blackpool. Jason Scotland scored his second goal in two games in the 88th minute to give the Tykes the win.
Late goals were the order of the day in the bottom half of the table, and while Barnsley’s helped them, the same could not be said for Peterborough United in their match against Burnley. Having succumbed to an opening goal from Charlie Austin, Posh fought back with two Tommy Rowe goals, only for Burnley’s Martin Patterson to score an 85th minute leveller.