Fulham are unstoppable at the moment, while Tyrhys Dolan and Sol Bamba are impressing at their clubs…
This time last month, Nottingham Forest would have been the perfect opposition for any team looking to keep up their promotion charge, but the subsequent appointment of Steve Cooper and unbeaten run that has followed has made Forest one of the most feared opposition in the second tier this season.
Unfortunately for Forest, Fulham never read that memo, and cast the first defeat of the Cooper era in Nottinghamshire in typically relentless and ruthless fashion. Four goals by the Trent made it 33 strikes for the season from the first 14 games, ensuring the Cottagers are on course for over a century of goals this campaign, scoring every 38 minutes on current form.
Yet another brace for Aleksandar Mitrovic aided his ridiculous strike rate at this level with an own goal and a notch from Neeskens Kebano late on made this yet another fine attacking display from the capital side, who punished a weak Forest midfield and showed that there is still much work to be done to take this Forest side to the next level.
But it is the next level where Fulham look destined for once more. Bournemouth are a more complete side with former Cottagers manager Scott Parker in charge, but Marco Silva is doing what he does best, entertaining all who watch with an excellent attacking setup which defies many of the deficiencies behind it. They aren’t the best team, but they are extremely good going forward, and that will only continue to serve them well in the near future.
— Fulham Football Club (@FulhamFC) October 25, 2021
It had to be him. The goal scorers for Middlesbrough were Andraz Sporar and Martin Payero, but former Cardiff City man Sol Bamba was the match winner with a typically imperious performance against his former employers.
While the Bluebirds have been lining up with up to five centre backs at once in recent weeks, their performances put together could not match the numbers Bamba put up against the side that released him in controversial circumstances over the summer. A fourth clean sheet from his six starts for Boro, Bamba won 10 out of his 13 duels, made 14 clearances, three blocks and had a shot on target to prove he can even outperform the Cardiff attackers.
Given the illness that has plagued much of the last couple of years of his career and life, to return to professional football is a stellar achievement. To return to the same level he excelled at continue to do so to new heights is Roy of the Rovers stuff. Even Cardiff fans couldn’t begrudge him this performance today, but how everyone connect to the club will be wishing they were still coming for the Bluebirds.
That Blackburn forward Tyrhys Dolan is scoring goals on a semi-regular basis in regular starts should not be ignored. The former Preston youngster is a mainstay of this functional, exciting and groovy Blackburn side who are doing things their own way. Tony Mowbray may be an old dog compared to many of his managerial peers, but with youngsters like Dolan impressing, new tricks are easy to come by, and oh so effective.
Against Reading, Blackburn looked like a side in an iffy spell of form, but held their own against a team with similar pedigree of the dark horse variety until the hour mark, when Sam Gallagher opened the scoring before Dolan curled a lovely goal home. At 19-years-old, Dolan’s 50th appearance for Rovers brought a third goal of this season, matching his tally from last. The ceiling for him is as high as the roof that was lifted off Ewood Park for each of Blackburn’s strikes. This victory takes them just one point shy of the play-off places.
Birmingham City had gone nearly 10 hours without scoring before Saturday’s matchup against in form Swansea. Of course, the Championship being what it is, the script was turned on its head and Brum finally broke the mightiest of ducks early in the second half, and there was no more fitting goal scorer than boyhood Blue Troy Deeney.
His penalty in early September was Birmingham’s most recent strike prior to Swansea rocking up at St. Andrew’s the best part of two months later, and it was the former Watford man who scored Brum’s first goal in seven games in breaking the deadlock in the second half. And while the goal against Fulham was no more than a consolation, this strike opened the scoring in a much needed victory for his current employers and boyhood club.
“We need to make this a fortress.” 🙌🏠@T_Deeney on captaining the side, scoring his second goal and the support from the fans!
— Birmingham City FC (@BCFC) October 23, 2021
Harrison Burrows and Siriki Dembele
When Harrison Burrows scores, Peterborough fans should know that it won’t be long before Siriki Dembele follows suit. Burrows equaliser against QPR was his third goal of the season and his career. His first two goals were added to by Dembele in a dramatic victory over Derby and in a draw at Cardiff.
So of course, QPR knew what was likely coming once Saturday’s fixture was made 1-1 by the youngster and sure as night follows day, Dembele followed Burrows onto the scoresheet with his second injury time winner of the season, and fourth goal overall. Not bad for a man who set to leave the club over the summer. For Peterborough, it’s a second win in a week, each against teams at opposite ends of the table, affording the Posh some breathing space from the bottom three themselves.
The Chasing Pack
It was less than a month ago that we wrote about the top five at the time – Bournemouth, West Brom, Fulham Stoke and Coventry – had created a buffer that at such an early stage of the season, could offer some shielding from the chasing pack.
Fast forward not very much time to today, and no fewer than seven teams sit on 21 points, from Luton Town in fifth to Blackpool in 11th. At this rate, we could be on for one of the tastiest play-off races in second tier history.
One team that need not worry about the chasing pack any time soon is Bournemouth. In what should have been a difficult fixture against high flying Huddersfield Town, everything went to plan once again for the Cherries. There is nothing new to be said that we haven’t already seen so often this campaign for Scott Parker’s men, but continued excellency must not be ignored. They are scarily good.
A fixture that had been 11 years in the making, and well worth every day as Blackpool defeated bitter rivals Preston in the first league meeting between the sides since 2010. Like Bournemouth, we are running out of platitudes for this Tangerines side in recent weeks. A slow start to the season is very much in the rear view mirror, and even without top scorer Shayne Lavery, Neil Critchley’s team look too menacing in front of goal for the majority of their second tier opponents.
They are the lowest rung of the 21 pointers owing to still having a negative goal difference, but that will soon change on current form. 11th they may be, but only four Championship teams have more points than the Seasiders this term. Critchley is a superbly talented manager.
This feels almost out of the blue. Luton had made many of us look foolish with their early season form, citing them as more than just dark horses for promotion. They had long since returned to midtable form before the newspapers would have even bothered printing league tables in the good old days, but out of nowhere, the Hatters are fifth in the division at a time when the league table does begin to have some permanency about it.
It was one of the day’s less noticeable matches, but Elijah Adebayo’s 17th minute goal was enough to leave these two orange based sides on very different sides of the league standings, and a result that means as much to Hatters as a thrashing. Dare we back them for promotion once more?
At the end of last season, Kieffer Moore was in the best form of his life. Off the back of his first 20+ season at any level for goals scored and set to lead the line for Wales at the delayed EURO2020, it seemed Moore would end up in the Premier League come the end of the summer transfer window.
His season started in solid if not outstanding form, notching a goal and an assist in the opening month with his future looking to be away from South Wales, only to see a deadline day move to Wolves fall through. His record now reads one strike and two assists in 14 games, having played most minutes in September and October. Questions rightly stem from whether his scoreless streak is the cause of eight straight defeats or the effect from a record-breaking run of form.
Under Mick McCarthy, Moore’s industrious target man role should have been the envy of every team in the Championship, and even the handful of Premier League starting XIs he would have walked into at the start of the season. Now McCarthy has finally been relieved of his duties, Moore will be hoping for a second wind to reignite his career.
Barnsley: Too Little, Too Late
In many ways, Barnsley’s South Yorkshire defeat to Sheffield United was the perfect microcosm of the Tykes’ season to date under manager Markus Schopp. An extremely dull first half for both sides paved way to Barnsley being dominated and embarrassed by three Blades goals in quickfire fashion before a two goal reply proved to be too little, too late.
They may be 23rd, but no club has acquired fewer points than Barnsley this season, and against a Sheffield United side who were there for the taking and in less need of the points, Barnsley could only come out to play once three goals down. A completed comeback would have been delicious, but this was yet another winless game for the Tykes – 11 of those in a row – and a sixth defeat in a row.
If they could instil the final quarter of an hour over the course of a full game, there might just be hope. But it feels like the best course of action is to admit defeat and go again. Markus Schopp is no Valerien Ismael. While their former manager is sitting pretty in the top three, Barnsley look incapable of getting out of the bottom three. It is better to admit a mistake now than allow it to fester and should the inevitable come later on in the campaign, again find it a case of too little, too late.
𝐂’𝐞𝐬𝐭 𝐦𝐚𝐠𝐧𝐢𝐟𝐢𝐪𝐮𝐞. 🤤🏴☠️ pic.twitter.com/2RFzZ6GfWw
— Sheffield United (@SheffieldUnited) October 25, 2021
There is a balance between finding a formation which suits your team at its best and knowing when is appropriate to make the changes needed. Based on recent history, Michael O’Neill is yet to find that balance.
Stoke have largely benefitted from a 5-3-2 formation this season, which is perfect at accentuating the strengths within their strongest XI: three dominating centre backs, talented wing backs, a midfield packed with technical qualities and a hard working strike pairing up front. But as has been too often the case for Stoke in recent outings, O’Neill has failed to grasp when changes were needed and been left to pay the price.
Without a commanding midfielder, a luxury afforded when the ideal and dominating back three of Harry Souttar, Ben Wilmot and Leo Ostigaard are available in their optimum positions, O’Neill needs to recognise when to twist rather than stick. Romaine Sawyers opened the scoring in fine fashion at the Den, but should have been taken off to afford more solidity if not before the equaliser, then certainly before Tom Bradshaw’s winning goal.
It is not the first time Stoke have snatched dropped points from winning positions in recent weeks, and it is costing them what was an extremely promising start to the season. Against their former manager Gary Rowett, a particularly unpopular figure in ST4 owing to his ill-suited time in the Stoke hot seat, it was the Millwall chief who got the better of the two men on the touchline. The Lions are now level with Stoke in the table, an unthinkable outcome only a matter of weeks ago.
Last time out, Bristol City conspired to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in conceding two injury time goals at home to Nottingham Forest. Such has been the Robins’ away form this campaign, going the best part of a year without a home victory has proven to be an inconvenience rather than anything tangibly bad.
But it is vital that Nigel Pearson’s side do not allow the points away from home to stop before the home duck comes to an end. In going down 3-0 to West Brom without registering much of a fight, the Robins will be looking over their shoulder hoping not to fly south down the table for the winter.
October began with what felt like a season-changing victory against Yorkshire rivals Middlesbrough, just Grant McCann’s 14th Championship victory in his 58th outing in the dugout as a second tier boss. Since then, normal service has resumed for Hull City under their League One promotion winning manager, who is once more proving to be inadequate at this level. Three games have followed the Middlesbrough victory with a grand return of zero points, just one goal scored, and losing to three sides who should represent winnable fixtures in the guise of Huddersfield, Peterborough and Luton Town. With every passing week, Grant McCann is looking more and more like Grant McCan’t.