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Championship review: Aribo finds Southampton winner; Johnston dazzles for West Brom; QPR & Wednesday still fighting

Leicester City stumble at an ever-improving QPR, Joe Aribo finds a 96th minute winner for Southampton and it's now six teams which sit only a point outside the dropzone. The Championship is getting frenetic - here's the wrap-up from the latest round...


Joe Aribo (Southampton)

They say 'He who laughs last, laughs loudest'. I'm not sure Southampton's Joe Aribo had the last laugh, but he certainly had the last word on an incredible day at the top of the Championship.

We'll work through chronologically with Leeds up first looking for a tenth straight Championship win in the lunchtime kick-off at Huddersfield. Things got spicy in first half stoppage time when unlikely centre back 'goal-machine' Michal Helik gave Huddersfield the lead, then immediately Terriers midfielder Jonathan Hogg got sent off for a second yellow card. It looked set for Leeds to make the comeback but they only had Patrick Bamford's goal to show for their 81% possession and 12 shots during the second half.

Leeds first imperfect result of 2024 meant a chance for Leicester to extend their lead at the top, Ipswich to go second and Southampton to get closer to the top three. At half time it looked like Leeds were receiving a 'get out of jail free' card with Ipswich goalless and both Leicester and Southampton one goal behind to QPR and Birmingham. First placed Leicester couldn't get level with QPR and sunk to a third successive defeat, but Ipswich found two second half goals to beat their League 1 adversaries from last season and move back into the top two.

As the Ipswich players celebrated what looked like being a perfect day, there was one final vital act to be played over at St Andrews. Birmingham and Southampton were all square at 3-3 with Blues down to ten men after Dion Sanderson's red card just past the hour mark. Up stepped Aribo to scramble home a set play in the 96th minute to give Southampton a 4-3 win and add another layer of drama to this thrilling promotion race.

Saints are back to winning ways, Leeds winning streak is over, Ipswich have won five on the trot and, despite their imperious form for the majority of the season, Leicester's third straight defeat has opened the door on a title race that didn't look possible a few short weeks ago. Riveting stuff!


QPR / The perilous fight for Championship survival

There's far too much to say about events in the relegation zone to deal with in one segment of this piece, so I'm going to bolt two together to give it the gravitas it deserves. Not only do we need to talk about our team of the round QPR, but let's link that into a conversation about one of the most lethal looking races for survival I can remember in the Championship.

I'll deal with QPR first. They moved out of the bottom three last weekend after a fourth victory in a brilliant seven game run. Unfortunately for Rangers, despite their great form there were still issues to deal with. Firstly, three of their bottom six rivals also won last week too to blunt the impact of their win. Secondly, they travelled to leaders Leicester where their recent wins over Millwall, Blackburn, Bristol City and Rotherham would surely be put into context by the table topping Foxes.

Well, in a heroic away masterclass, QPR went to Leicester and with only two shots on target came away with a magnificent 2-1 win. I can give relegation-threatened QPR no greater credit than to say that over the past eight games only Leeds, with their giant winning streak, have scored more points than the Hoops.

That should mean QPR are streaking to safety? No! This is not your normal survival fight. Joining Rangers in securing a third straight win were Sheffield Wednesday with their incredible striker Ike Ugbo getting the only goal in a 1-0 win at Rotherham. Stoke City grabbed a vital win against an indifferent looking Middlesbrough outfit to keep Wednesday three points off safety and that's where things start to get really interesting. From Stoke in 22nd place only one solitary point separates the next six sides.

Huddersfield are still there despite hanging on to draw with in form Leeds, Birmingham courtesy of that late Joe Aribo goal, and Millwall despite back to back wins under the returning Neil Harris. Blackburn's defeat at Swansea worked nicely for the Swans but puts Rovers right in the relegation conversation too. We're normally enthralled by the potential number of teams that could finish in the Championship play-offs every season, this year the race to get away from the bottom three could be equally intriguing and utterly brutal for whoever happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.


Mikey Johnston (West Brom on loan from Celtic)

We didn't have to wait too long this weekend for me to crown my loanee of the round. Just six minutes into the Friday night game West Brom's on loan winger Mikey Johnston treated Coventry wing-back Milan Van Ewijk to a moment he'll want to forget. Jinking Johnston on loan from Celtic slunk seamlessly into a nutmeg on the touchline before tiptoeing into the box, side stepping Josh Eccles and bending the ball into the far corner.

It was ruthlessly efficient and set the tone for the narrative in the play-off picture this weekend. Johnston's slalom set the Baggies up for a big 2-1 win against Coventry which keeps the Sky Blues eight points behind them in ninth place.

We've had a pre play-off play-off this past two weeks with West Brom, Hull, Coventry and Preston all involved in head to heads. Pleasingly for the Baggies the game between Preston and Hull this round ended goalless, while the other interested party in the play-off equation Norwich City, beat Sunderland 1-0 with a goal from their talisman Josh Sargent.

There's precious little being given away at the moment with Norwich and Preston undefeated in six and West Brom and Hull losing just once. Right now Sunderland look to have faded and Coventry's back to back defeats mean we're looking at four teams for two places. But let's be honest, I could easily be saying different each and every week as form lines trend up and down and the run-in gains pace.

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Benjamin Bloom


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