A goal from Danny Batth two minutes into stoppage time at the end of Saturday afternoon’s match at Molineux between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Leeds United was enough to rescue a critical point for the home side, one which kept them out of the relegation places, above Barnsley on goal difference alone. The decline of Wolverhampton Wanderers over the course of this season has been one of the under-reported stories of the Championship season so far, and their trip to Oakwell a week tomorrow now takes on the attributes of something that no Wolves supporter would have expected at the start of the season – a relegation six-pointer – and there seems to have been improved under Dean Saunders, who has now gone five games without a win since taking over at Molineux. None of the clubs relegated from the Premier League at the end of last season have exactly set the Championship alight this season, though, although the other two did at least win at the weekend. Bolton Wanderers eased their own relegation fears in coming from behind to beat Burnley, while Blackburn Rovers are now up to eighth place in the table after their third successive win, although this one was dependent on a scrappy own goal from the Ipswich Town goalkeeper Stephen Henderson to guarantee them all three points at Ewood Park.
It was, in general terms, a weekend of scuffs and stumbles in the Championship. At the top of the table, Cardiff City ground out a goalless draw at Huddersfield Town and this point ended the day as one gained rather than two dropped after Leicester City lost against bottom club Peterborough United and Hull City were beaten by a single goal at Brighton & Hove Albion, who stay in touch with the play-off places after Vicente’s second half free-kick was enough to win them all three points in the Saturday evening match. Just one point now separates the four clubs below Cardiff City in the table after Crystal Palace came from two goals down to snatch a point at the hitherto in-form Watford on Friday night. A similar bottle-neck is now building up below the play-off places, with Brighton now heading up a list of seven clubs that are within six points of sixth place in the table. Amongst these are Championship’s crisis club du jour, Nottingham Forest, whose team may or may not have said something profound about their current revolving door managerial policy in losing at Bristol City on Saturday afternoon. It should probably be added that Nottingham Forest are only seven points above the division’s relegation places, as well.
In the Premier League, meanwhile, there was something very final about Manchester City’s surrender at Southampton on Saturday evening. The odds against Roberto Mancini being the next Premier League manager to get the sack had tumbled during the week on the basis of a hoax tweet sent from the account of a Sky Sports journalist. It rather looked, at St Marys on Saturday, as if this had become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Manchester City showed flashes of the swagger that saw them claw themselves the league championship last season, but this was buried under the weight of individual errors and defensive disorganisation in the Manchester City defence. Another Premier League manager who seems to be under perpetual fire of some description, Rafael Benitez, had been the subject of a faeces-stirring article in a tabloid newspaper on Saturday morning suggesting that he would definitely get the sack if his Chelsea team didn’t beat Wigan Athletic on Saturday afternoon. They did, of course, although there may have been some nerves around Stamford Bridge when Shaun Maloney pulled a goal back for Wigan shortly after Eden Hazard had scored Chelsea’s second goal early in the second half, so Benitez remains safe. For now. Assuming there was anything in the story in the first place. Which there probably wasn’t.
Elsewhere in the Premier League, the biggest talking point of the weekend was the question of whether Gareth Bale is now merely the greatest footballer in the known universe or whether he has now started to transcend the plane of mere mortals to become a God amongst men. Of course, it is just possible that Bale is a very good player who is enjoying a decent run of form at the moment, and Spurs need that right now, when we consider that Emmanuel Adebayor’s latest bout of petulant entitlement left Andre Villa Boas without any strikers for their home match against Newcastle United on Saturday lunchtime. Leading the attack probably wasn’t what Clint Dempsey had in mind when he signed for the club from Fulham last summer. Still, Spurs won again, thanks to the Bale-ai Lama (all rights reserved), and they remain in fourth place in the table and four points ahead of Arsenal, who rose to fifth place in the table after winning by a lone goal at Sunderland, while Everton lost an Manchester United, who are now twelve points clear at the top of the table. They. Just. Keep. Winning.
At the bottom of the Premier League table, meanwhile, that tight Queens Park Rangers defence of late came undone in getting thrashed at Swansea City, whilst Reading also lost to the still obstinately mid-table Stoke City. At Villa Park, meanwhile, the moon turned blue and a porcine object was seen floating serenely past the back of The Doug Ellis Stand yesterday afternoon, shortly before Aston Villa beat West Ham United by two goals to one. Villa had been threatening to win a match for a little while now, having spent much of the last couple of months in the apparent pursuit of strange and interesting new ways to agonise their supporters, and perhaps West Ham United, whose away form has been amongst the worst in the entire division this season, were always likely candidates against whom they could end their wretched run. The win was enough to lift them out of the relegation places, but few at Villa Park will need much reminding of the importance of that result not being a blip and Villa’s next two matches against Arsenal and Manchester City.
League One, meanwhile, is becoming this year’s Division That No-One Really Wants To Win. Tranmere Rovers started the day ahead of Doncaster Rovers on goal difference only and were still there by the end of the weekend, after both clubs lost by two goals to one – Tranmere at Leyton Orient and Doncaster at home against Walsall. Swindon Town might have gone top of the table, but they were held at home by bottom of the table Hartlepool United, meaning that they stay a point behind the top two, now level on points with Bournemouth, who consigned Portsmouth to their ninth successive league defeat at Dean Court. Elsewhere at the bottom of the table, Oldham Athletic went a little of the way towards silencing those critical of their decision to sack manager Paul Dickov after knocking Liverpool out of the FA Cup with their first win in ten league matches. A division below them, Port Vale stay top of the table in spite of only being able to manage a draw at struggling Barnet, for whom the result was enough to lift them out of the relegation places, to be replaced by Aldershot Town. Finally, the result of the weekend came in the Blue Square Bet Premier, where Mansfield Town’s manager Paul Cox won himself the chairman’s Aston Martin car by beating Barrow – who had beaten Luton Town in their previous league match by eight (EIGHT) goals to one at Field Mill on Saturday. Second hand it may well be, but we doubt that Cox will be complaining too much about that this morning.
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