Old man Weimann proves us wrong, while Lowe continues to enjoy some early highs at Preston…
We recommended that Bristol City needed a younger goal scorer this month to stave off fears of relegation and build back in an upwards direction for the first time since Lee Johnson’s departure in 2019. Maybe we’ve underestimated how good 30-year-old Andi Weimann can be. Against Millwall, 2022 looked to be going the same way at Ashton Gate as much of the year before it, an early lead being wiped away by goals from Tom Bradshaw and former Robins’ favourite Benik Afobe.
But it was the current star forward who had the last laugh, striking twice in the final 20 minutes of the contest to ensure a promising start to the New Year. Given just how difficult 2021 proved to be for Nigel Pearson’s side, three points and three goals for Weimann are about as good as they could have wished for. Next up; finding some much needed consistency to move away from the lower echelons of the table.
More than three weeks separated Ryan Lowe’s first game in charge of Preston from his second. Both ended with 2-1 victories against sides at opposite ends of the table. Under predecessor Frankie McAvoy, the Lilywhites looked limp, lifeless and without much meaning. With Lowe at the helm, the Deepdale side have won despite a Barnsley equaliser and have now come from behind at Stoke to take home the three points.
Preston are now firmly entrenched in midtable, and any slight relegation worries have been allayed already after just two games under Lowe. The second half of the campaign should now make for interesting watching as Lowe works out how to get Preston higher and higher over the next couple of seasons.
For large parts of the points deduction derby, it looked as though Reading would be keeping the much needed three points in Berkshire. The Royals were rumbled by a relentless Derby performance which showcased many of the Rams’ fighting qualities while exposing many of Reading’s weaknesses. Two goals up with five minutes to go, Veljko Paunovic’s side were driving a massive nail into Derby’s Championship coffin, ending Derby’s recent run of excellent results while moving themselves away from the bottom three.
A point might not do much good for either side in the long run, and there is a very realistic possibility this could be a fixture in League One next season, yet Curtis Davies’ fine late header shows why Derby have much more positivity about their fight to stay in the second tier than Monday’s opponents.
QPR’s Away Form
Queens Park Rangers rightly went to midtable Birmingham as favourites on the day. They promptly put in a performance which proved why Mark Warburton’s side should continue to be taken seriously in the race for Premier League football. Having gone down at home to Bournemouth over the festive period, this was their second successive 2-1 victory away from home and means they have taken 13 points from the last 15 on offer on the road.
Grimshaw began the season as Blackpool’s second choice goalkeeper – little surprise considering no EFL ‘keeper kept more clean sheets than number one Chris Maxwell in the Tangerines’ promotion season. Taken from the Man City academy, Grimshaw has had opportunities this term with 13 Championship appearances to his name either side of Maxwell’s brief return from, and reoccurrence of, a quad injury.
But against Hull, Grimshaw staked a claim to take over as first choice shot stopper with a man-of-the-match performance to ensure Neil Critchley’s side would keep the three points beside the seaside and edge themselves further away from relegation while earning himself a fourth clean sheet of the campaign. Maxwell has half as many in just one fewer appearance. The Tangerines are in rude health and spoilt for choice between the sticks.
At half time of their relegation clash with Doncaster, even the most optimistic Morecambe fan could have been forgiven for thinking this was the point of no return in their season. Three goals down at home to one of the only clubs to have performed worse in the third tier, the Shrimps produced a second half masterclass to complete a full comeback courtesy of a Cole Stockton double and Toumani Diagouraga’s late super strike. It was enough to take the Shrimps out of the bottom four. With Stockton likely to be in demand from Championship clubs, it will take more to keep them there. For now, the celebrations are rightly rife on the North West coast.
He may be League One’s second top scorer, but Michael Smith had gone the entirety of November and December without notching for the Millers. It didn’t affect the Millers – who continued all the way to Boxing Day on their club record unbeaten run before coming unstuck at Accrington Stanley.
Against a Covid-struck Bolton, Paul Warne’s side were far from their best, but a return to scoring form for Smith brought with it a return to winning ways for Rotherham and a return to the top of the third tier table come Saturday’s end.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink
A year after taking back over at a club rooted squarely to the bottom of League One and in need of a miracle, Burton Albion and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink celebrated the anniversary by tearing apart a Crewe Alexandra side in a similar position this year to keep their own place in midtable. That ‘mediocrity’ should be celebrated given how dire a position the Brewers occupied prior to Hasselbaink and assistant Dino Maamria
In defeating lowly Stevenage, Forest Green cemented their own place at the top of the League Two table, and look to have a first ever foot in the third tier already. The 2-0 victory took the Gloucestershire side nine points clear of the play-off places and above their points tally from their debut EFL season in 2017/18.
Since his summer switch to Swindon, Harry McKirdy had netted five goals prior to a top-of-the-table clash with Northampton. Victory against this Cobblers side is never a shoe-in, but the former Aston Villa youngster made light work of the visitors, almost doubling his Robins’ tally with four goals to take Swindon to within three points of Saturday’s opponents and make their pre-season relegation worries look farcical.
One own goal sandwiched between two goals – the second of which was as spectacular as it was dramatic in securing Walsall a 3-3 draw with Newport in the last minutes of the match, Wilkinson’s positives far outweighed the negatives of that own goal.
West Brom and Cardiff’s Sorry Seasons
Sunday afternoon’s tussle between West Brom and Cardiff may have been between sides at opposite ends of the table, but the clash showcased many faults that the two have in common in seasons of woe thus far. Both have had struggles in front of goal and despite the Baggies having operated in the top six for its entirety, both sets of fans have been left underwhelmed and audibly frustrated by what has been served up to them this term.
James Collins has been one of the Bluebirds’ obvious frustrations, but bagged just his second goal of the campaign with a smart header in the first half, a deficit which allowed for yet another chorus of half time boos from the Hawthorns’ crowd. That has been far too regular an occurrence this season for a club with such lofty ambitions. Fulham and Bournemouth are understandably superior; Blackburn should not be.
Callum Robinson’s leveller was a welcome moment of reprieve, but rarely did West Brom look like genuinely winning the game. Daryl Dike’s arrival is even more welcome to fix that. But if the 90 minutes showcased much of the restraints these two sides suffer from, the end of the game saw key players in Sam Johnstone and Aden Flint sent off for their parts in a needless melee which saw the Baggies reduced to nine men following Alex Mowatt’s dismissal a quarter of an hour previously.
Supporters, players and management have all taken to blaming the officials for the frustrations which followed, but blaming external sources is far too easy a get out when there is so much wrong inside both clubs.
Accusing your opposition of ‘not wanting to play any football’ while your own fans have been slagging off your own style of playing is not the best look, Valerien. The pressure is telling on the Baggies boss.
When you are one of the biggest clubs in the division, and one who knows relegation from the division above came as a result of a points deduction and despite coming oh so close to staying in the Championship, there is naturally pressure both from outside and within the club to deliver quality winning football. Sheffield Wednesday have not been that bad this season, but every single defeat has been met with the reaction of wishing to swap Darren Moore out for another manager.
Largely, these calls have been unwarranted as Wednesday hang on the periphery of the play-off places, knowing they have the talent and quality in the squad to get on the right side of the dotted line come May. In this day and age, the middle ground ceases to exist and every defeat is the end of the world just as every win conjures images of HMS Piss The League. Having finished 2021 with a 5-0 pasting at the hands of Sunderland, starting the New Year with a meek surrendering to Shrewsbury Town means even Moore must be questioning his own Hillsborough future.
Moore’s former employers are an example of a club who have it so much worse. We have viewed this from the other side of the coin, but this is a tale which must be examined on both sides. Doncaster came into the match with no confidence, a young side who have looked utterly incapable of keeping Rovers up and a new, inexperienced manager in Gary McSheffrey who must already have one eye on a League Two campaign in 2022/23. At half time, for the first time in some time, the visitors looked bright and confident. An hour later, they are at rock bottom, figuratively and literally. This is the sort of result which goes beyond standard analysis and your typical fayre of post-match discussion. It is a result for the ages which makes it appear there is no way back this season.
Rock bottom is a position with which Crewe have become familiar this season. Doncaster are now unsurprisingly worse, but Dave Artell’s side do not look long for League One. A trip to Burton exemplified many of Crewe’s problems through 2021 have not been resolved at the start of this year. Against Burton, the Railwaymen showed a little positivity in levelling up from an early deficit, but exemplified far more negativity at the back, shipping four times against their local rivals.