Monday, 31 March 2014

Championship Weekend Review: 29th March

This weekend, we have seen Leicester take another step towards clinching the Championship title, while bad results for Yeovil and Millwall have reduced their hopes of survival. The key issue, though, is the increasing unpredictability of the race for sixth place, that final play-off spot. We will also look at Barnsley's chances of survival, and who will partner Chris O'Grady up front for the Tykes. Here's a review of the weekend's action.

Play-off race is wide open
Will Reading hold onto 6th?
With promotion all but certain for Leicester and Burnley, and the relegation battle not as compact as it has been in recent years, it’s a good job that the race for the play-offs is still wide open.  Just a week ago, it looked to be between Reading, Nottingham Forest and Brighton for the final spot. However, neither side have won any of their last two games. On the other hand, Ipswich and Bournemouth are in good form, and Watford picked up a convincing 4-1 win at Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday.

Beforehand, Watford were without an away win since early October beforehand, and form on the road was the main thing holding  them back. The Hornets have scored goals in recent weeks too, and will start picking up wins if they can couple that, with their solid defence under Giuseppe Sannino. Ipswich were looking out of the equation, but they have taken seven points from their last three, thanks to a couple of arguably fortuitous wins. The Tractor Boys are now just two points off the play-offs, although they will have to cope without top scorer David McGoldrick.

Bournemouth have taken nineteen points this March, and are now just five points off the play-offs, having hit four goals past Leeds and Birmingham in the last week. Another factor will be the new manager that Nottingham Forest appoint. They are without a win in eight, but a new boss could give them a ‘honeymoon period’ and revive their promotion push. These recent developments make the battle for sixth an intriguing one.

Barnsley are alive and kicking – but who will partner O’Grady?
Chris O'Grady
What a difference a week makes. Barnsley looked to be sinking to the drop after a 1-0 loss to Bournemouth, with an injury-time goal being the sucker punch. Two wins, an uplifting 3-1 victory at Reading and a vital 4-1 win at Yeovil, mean the Tykes are now level on points with 21st-placed Charlton, though Charlton have two games in hand.

Chris O’Grady scored a brace, his first goals since early-February. Both chances presented themselves to O’Grady favourably, for the first he latched onto a poor opposition back pass, the second he was in acres of space, one-on-one with the keeper. However, those goals could give him a crucial confidence booster going into the remainder of the season.

The big question for Barnsley, is who will play up front alongside O’Grady. When Nick Proschwitz first arrived on loan, he looked to form a great partnership with the 28-year-old, he had the quality movement to compliment O’Grady’s strength and hold-up play. However, in the last few weeks, Proschwitz has disappointed at Oakwell, meaning Marcus Pedersen has come back into the side. This summer, the loan of Pedersen was deemed a coup. A young player who has played five times for Norway, and had attracted interest from Liverpool in recent years.

Known for his combative, all-action style of play, Pedersen has struggled with a hamstring injury this season, but back to fitness, his energy could be the perfect foil for Chris O’Grady. 21-year-old Dale Jennings often looks to cut inside, and operate behind the front two. He was snapped up by European Champions Bayern Munich not long ago, and has already scored a couple of long-range goals for the Tykes. Finding a good strike partner for Chris O’Grady will be key to Barnsley’s survival chances.

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