Championship winners and losers topped by Nottingham Forest

Nathan Spafford
Ryan Yates of Nottingham Forest playing in the Championship

Nottingham Forest retained the Brian Clough Trophy on Saturday as they continue their push towards the play-off places, while leaky Cardiff City could be in relegation trouble…



Nottingham Forest
Given the narrative on offer and the extensive build up to this East Midlands Derby, the 90 minutes were always going to struggle to live up expectations. But in rivalries such as this, the minutiae of the match are largely irrelevant when the final result is such a positive one. That was the case for the hosts – now unbeaten in nine against their bitter rivals in what could yet prove to be the final ever match between these two sides.

The 100th league fixture between the two sides was decided by two moments of brilliance from perhaps the brightest performers of Steve Cooper’s brilliant reign to date – Lewis Grabban and Brennan Johnson. Grabban’s control of a spinning ball on the rebound was sublime before finishing with the confidence which has seen him notch 12 goals this season and counting while Johnson started and finished one of the few free-flowing moves of the City Ground afternoon.

Forest had ridden their luck in a dull first half when Tom Lawrence shanked an excellent opportunity the wrong side of the post, but made their own luck in the second 45 for a deserved three points and retainment of the Brian Clough Trophy. Much of this match proved why Forest are on the cusp of the play-off places. If they finish the season in the top six, it will come as little surprise to anyone with at least a passing interest in Forest’s fortunes.

Albert Adomah
The Championship’s record appearance holder, Albert Adomah has just two Premier League appearances to his name across his entire career. The winger’s late winner for QPR at Coventry City on Saturday afternoon put the top two in his club’s sights, and a chance to add to those couple of top flight appearances on a personal level too.

For the West Londoners, Adomah has often looked a player capable of playing a level above this season, despite now being 34-years-old. Victory over the Sky Blues took QPR just two points off the top two but with a game in hand. A fourth win in a row sees Mark Warburton’s side rising continuously and while Coventry’s early season promise has fallen away in recent months, QPR look to have the staying power many of their second tier contemporaries don’t have this term. With Bournemouth faltering and Blackburn suffering misfortune this week with defeats and injuries to key players, QPR could look at making it a West London double promotion bid with runaway leaders Fulham.


Bristol City’s Golden Oldies
The Severnside derby played second fiddle to Nottingham Forest and Derby’s Saturday lunchtime clash, but provided Bristol City’s golden oldies Chris Martin and Andi Weimann the perfect opportunities to write themselves further into Robins’ folklore with a double for the former and Weimann’s late strike proving to be the much needed third goal.

Both these sides are amongst the most miserable in our mood rankings, but the Ashton Gate crowd has been given reason to smile for the time being, even if there are bigger concerns behind the scenes on the Avon. Not quite ‘yer da’, Bristol City’s hierarchy have suggested they would take a points deduction over selling their best assets in the summer.

Their 33 and 30-year-old derby heroes may not have much in the way of resale value, but they are providing Nigel Pearson’s side with the necessary strike rate to keep Bristol City away from a relegation battle. If only the same could be said for their bitter rivals…


Hull City
Hull celebrated their takeover on Wednesday night with an eye catching performance and victory against high flying Blackburn Rovers, and followed it up with an equally spirited result against early season table toppers Bournemouth. The Cherries may not have been at their best since the start of November, but Hull have rarely looked 100% at any point this season.

Across 180 minutes of football swelled by the positivity of being taken over by the Acun Medya Group, Hull have won twice in two games, scoring three goals and conceding none against two of the front runners for promotion. Now go read just why everyone connected to Hull is so excited for the future.


Rodrigo Munoz
It speaks volumes that Fulham scoring three times away to Stoke City is an indication that they were without their talismanic top scorer and suggests the Cottagers could be returning to some level of normality after hitting 19 goals across their previous three league outings.

The nightmare start soon gave way to a dream afternoon for their back up men, with Rodrigo Munoz showcasing his talents as more than able backup for Aleksandar Mitrovic with a 2nd minute equaliser before getting the deftest of touches on Fabio Carvalho’s effort to turn the game on its head.

Bobby Decordova-Reid is less a backup striker these days and more of an attacking midfielder, but as an alternative attacking option, like Munoz, he provided Fulham with another three point haul to extend the lead at the top of the table to eight points. Without their best player and likely record breaker, this Fulham side was still too good. Their relegation from the Premier League next season is getting closer and closer.


Danny Ward
To come into this season with a plethora of fantastic wide players and supporting options and Danny Ward as the primary goal getter was a brave choice for Carlos Corberan considering he had scored just 12 goals across his last three Championship campaigns combined.

A well-taken hat-trick in the game of the weekend against Reading was crucial in taking the Terriers back into the top six of the second tier, bringing Ward into double figures for this campaign alone just past the halfway mark. He saved the best until last, his third goal and the seventh of the contest also marking a first hat-trick from a Huddersfield player since Ward himself in a previous spell with the Terriers in 2014. Keep up this unlikely but well deserved scoring and Huddersfield will have every chance of a play-off spot come May.


Rhian Brewster
Such is the length of time Sheffield United striker Rhian Brewster has spent as a lethargic forward after first being a wonderkid and then a young prospect in red hot form at Swansea, it is scarcely believable that the former Liverpool youngster is still just 21-years-old. He has an entire career with which to make up for an incredibly frustrating 18 months with the Blades. There have been false dawns before, but in opening the scoring in Sheffield United’s first home league game for the best part of two months, Brewster made it three goals in his last six appearances.

It may not be the rate one would expect from a striker who cost north of £20million as a Premier League transfer, but it is the start of a forward starting to find some form and confidence. Paul Heckingbottom may not have been a universally popular choice when announced as the permanent manager at Bramall Lane, but the improvement in Brewster’s performances and goal scoring output are just one of many improvements being seen in South Yorkshire already under the former Barnsley and Leeds boss.

West Brom At Last
There is still a lot left to be desired, but three goals and three points brings some joy to the West Brom supporters, who have booed their team almost as often as they have cheered goals at the Hawthorns this campaign.

To stay in the top six is not a great metric of success for Valerien Ismael’s side, particularly when coupled with the lethargic style of play they have operated with in large portions of this campaign, but home defeat to Peterborough – as could have been the case with 15 minutes remaining – would have seen the Baggies at risk of dropping out of the top six altogether come Monday evening.


Max Watters
Plenty of negatives for Cardiff, and we’ll be getting to them, but there was a small slither of a silver lining for the Bluebirds with Max Watters’ 90th minute strike proving fruitless in tangibility, but allowing the striker to open his City account a full year after signing from Crawley Town.

A hot streak with the Sussex side in League Two afforded an almighty jump to the Championship with Cardiff this time last year, but Watters’ half season loan with MK Dons this term has brought him confidence and improvements as a player, which Cardiff may be reliant on now in the second half of the campaign.

Cardiff defender Aden Flint complains


Cardiff’s Defence
There is still a four point buffer to the bottom three, but Cardiff City are showing all the hallmarks of a side headed in only one direction. In the Severnside derby with Bristol City, the Bluebirds scored the first goal of the game and the last, but their well versed defensive deficiencies came to haunt them on three occasions in between.

Manager Steve Morison was a beacon of positivity around the time he replaced Mick McCarthy at the helm, but is now talking of his players being ‘outfought’ and ‘outbattled’, citing the fact yet another defeat doesn’t hurt his players as much as it does. The defensive performances of Aden Flint and Curtis Nelson once more were extremely painful for everyone of a Cardiff persuasion as Bristol City found it all too easy to carve open their opposition on multiple occasions.

The improvements which Morison initially brought to the job included tightening the defence, but old habits are dying hard and now come back with a vengeance. Only Reading and Peterborough have conceded more often this season, while rock bottom Barnsley have shipped eight fewer goals than the Bluebirds. Anywhere above the dotted line come the end of the season is the best case scenario for Cardiff. With this defence, even that is looking like a pipe dream.

Like a good handful of clubs in midtable, Millwall have spent much of this season looking at unlikely but promising tilt at the play-off places, such is the small difference in quality between half a dozen or so teams in those upper midtable places. Milllwall were one of those teams for almost all of the first half of the season but have now suffered three consecutive defeats to make this a very unhappy new year.

There is never any danger of relegation and that must be commended, but hopes of having something to play for in the second half of the season have all but diminished for Gary Rowett’s side after succumbing to a Blackpool team who still fancy themselves as one of the teams who might just be able to make a tilt at the top six. They were in a similar position in League One this time last year, of course. It would take a miracle beyond even that now for Millwall to be there in May.


Derby’s lunchtime defeat meant that Barnsley could move off the bottom of the table with even just a point against out of form Birmingham. That Brum came into the match winless in six outings and with fans protesting the owners en masse suggested that taking a draw from their visit to the Second City should not be out of reach even for this particularly lacklustre Barnsley side.

At full time though, there was nothing surprising in seeing the Tykes leave St. Andrew’s empty handed. Onel Hernandez’ debut strike was followed by Scott Hogan’s goal early in the second half to put the Blues out of reach and leave Barnsley just feeling that colour, as they have done all too often this season.

If relegation seemed a foregone conclusion for Payo Asbaghi’s side this season before kick-off, they now have one foot firmly entrenched in the third tier. That next to nothing has changed from Markus Schopp’s reign to Asbaghi’s further confirms that the problems at the club run much deeper than the dugout. Hard time ahead for Barnsley, even beyond this miserable campaign.


Ravel Morrison
Sometimes, there really is no mystery as to why a player does not fulfil their potential despite possessing swathes of talent and having the world, as well as a football, at their feet. Morrison’s pitiful second half substitution performance was compounded with a late red card for a poor challenge borne out of frustration from his own shortcomings. When Derby needed a hero, they brought on a perennial pantomime villain who made Derby’s tough task even harder than it needed to be.