It was another typically enthralling weekend of football in the Championship. From demoralising drubbings to unanticipated upsets, matchweek 29 had it all on offer.
Here, I will be analysing the five key talking points from this weekend’s action.
Bristol City’s concerning capitulation
Alarm bells are rightfully sounding at Ashton Gate after the Robins succumbed to their tenth defeat in thirteen games.
It wasn’t just any defeat, either.
A 6-0 trouncing at the hands of Watford marked as the most substantial defeat across the entirety of the 2020/21 campaign and served as a grave telling of the Bristolians’ current fortunes.
Unnervingly, a perturbing run of fixtures looms for Dean Holden’s side, who have seen their playoff ambitions capsized in recent weeks.
Reading, Swansea and Bournemouth – all of whom are current occupants of the top six-lie ahead in Bristol’s path over the next five games.
At the time of writing, Bristol are in possession of the division’s fourth worst defensive record with 39 conceded goals to their name.
Undeniably, the aforementioned opponents are bound to be licking their lips at the Robins’ gaping defensive wounds, which will only be worsened if they fail to rekindle their season.
Birmingham City’s frightening flirtation with relegation
It must be a deep dagger to the hearts of Bluenoses when contrasting their state of affairs to those of their cross-city rivals Aston Villa, who are thriving in the Premier League and knocking on the door of European football.
Achingly, that wealth of success and establishment is a far cry from reality for Birmingham City, with the fear of dropping out of the Championship becoming a more distinctive worry each passing matchday.
It has been close to thirty years since the Blues plied their trade in the third-tier, last securing automatic promotion in the 1991-92 campaign.
However, a 13-game winless run following Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Luton Town has ignited a sense of crisis at St Andrews. And worryingly, there is little to suggest improvement will be imposed either.
Despite the encouraging signings of Yan Valery, Sam Cosgrove and Rekeem Harper, Birmingham are the present tenants of 23rd place, currently sitting one point from safety.
It does provoke something of a surprise within Championship audiences as Aitor Karanka has evidently inherited a reasonably-talented group of individuals- but for whatever reason, the Midlands-based outfit have failed to perform to their capabilities.
Detrimentally in the midst of a relegation dogfight, Birmingham need to step up promptly if they are to remain in the league they have called home since 2011 next term.
Cardiff City’s resurgence
After a 3-1 victory at home to Coventry City on Saturday afternoon, unlikely aspirations for a late playoff push swiftly emerged amongst the Cardiff City faithful.
Only a couple of weeks beforehand, the Bluebirds sat fifteenth in the table and any hopes of success were seemingly long-extinguished.
But now, an aura of resurrection is beaming in South Wales.
Out of nowhere, three straight victories have seen Cardiff astonishingly ascend to 7th place, a position which finds the Welsh side six points shy of Bournemouth.
To the amazement of the masses, this revelation has been masterminded by new boss Mick McCarthy.
Returning to British soil from a brief and unsuccessful stint on the Mediterranean with Cyprus-based APOEL Nicosa, the appointment was initially met with yawns of criticism and apathy.
Brought in on a six-month deal, McCarthy has reinjected a sense of spirit and freedom to the Cardiff City side who look a totally different outfit under his stewardship.
Renowned for his man-management skills, many players are benefitting from his charisma and demeanour, but it is also the tactical element which has served as a big boost for the Bluebirds.
A change to the 5-3-2 formation has paid dividends for Cardiff thus far, facilitating an increased defensive structure and allowing the offensive players to get forward more often whilst the midfield duo of Will Vaulks and Joe Ralls keep shape in the middle of the park.
Having already discovered an effective tactical formula, the key to rekindling the squad morale and the knowledge of his best team to field, it could be harsh to merely attribute Cardiff’s rejuvenation to the ‘new manager bounce’.
For me, Mick McCarthy suits the Bluebirds down to the ground.
Convictionless Potters continue to diminish
Brutalised by the season-ending injury to star man Tyrese Campbell, Stoke City subsisted their downfall as they slumped to a 4-1 hammering from league leaders Norwich.
The 21-year old attacker was undoubtedly instrumental for Michael O’Neill’s side as he lit up the division, weighing in with six strikes and five assists in only sixteen appearances.
At the time of Campbell’s injury Stoke sat in 6th place, separated from the automatic spots by a mere three points.
The absence of Campbell’s goalscoring expertise has been sorely felt in Staffordshire as the Potters have only put the ball in the back of the net nine times since his inimical injury.
This has also seen Stoke’s playoff dreams curtailed, registering a solitary win over Blackburn Rovers and slipping down to 10th in that period.
Subsequently, the Potters loaned in Welsh forward Rabbi Matondo from Schalke. As a result, there will be a titanic reliance on the Cardiff native to provide the firepower and repropel his team up the table.
Buoyant Barnsley stun Thomas Frank’s Brentford
These sort of results are the ones that truly epitomise the entertainment and the lottery-esque unpredictability of England’s second tier.
Heading into the contest with a hugely impressive 22-match unbeaten run, few would have tipped second-placed Brentford to come out on the losing end against visiting Barnsley.
Having prevented the Bees from securing automatic promotion last term with a thrilling 2-1 victory on the final day, Barnsley reigned victorious once again in the Capital as they accomplished a 2-0 win over their opponents.
Miraculously, the terror-inducing talents of marksman Ivan Toney were also halted- a fearsome task given that prior to sunday’s encounter, the Englishman had seven goals and four assists in his last four appearances.
Brentford are not the first Championship side to fall victim to a Barnsley upset. Surprisingly, the Tykes overcame Norwich City in the fourth round of the FA Cup and ran out 1-0 victors over Watford earlier on this season.
Under the management of French coach Valerien Ismael, the Yorkshire-based club have enjoyed a real upturn over the course of the campaign and are placed 12th in the division, seven points shy of 6th place.
Brentford meanwhile, still harbour favourable hopes of playing Premier League football next season and will be looking to reach the summit of the table when they face QPR in wednesday’s West London Derby.
What do you make of these key points? Let us know in the comments below!