Middlesbrough emphatically bounced back, Dwight Gayle stunned Sunderland in Stoke City's colours and Luke McNally is tipped as one to watch. All this and more from the latest round of the Championship...
TEAM OF THE ROUND
Middlesbrough aren't very used to having to bounce back following a defeat, but they're very good at it. After Boro lost at Preston in Michael Carrick's first game in charge they hit a near perfect 13 points across the next five games. The defeats to Burnley in December and Sunderland in January were also followed by four and five game winning streaks. Perhaps it was no surprise then that last week's slip at West Brom was followed up by a resounding win over Reading this past weekend.
Boro strolled in 5-0 over the Royals without conceding a single shot on target. Championship top scorer Chuba Akpom banged in another two, Aaron Ramsey also hit a double with Marcus Forss adding a fifth. All eyes for Boro now switch to the team occupying the automatic promotion spot they're frantically trying to pinch, Sheffield United.
The Blades are in action this midweek playing their much discussed game in hand against, you guessed it, Reading. If the United find playing the Royals as easy as Middlesbrough did then we could well see that seven point gap appear once again between the teams in second and third in the table. Michael Carrick's men are certainly doing their bit in the chase for automatic promotion, will they be left waiting in vain for a slip up ahead of them?
PLAYER OF THE ROUND
I'd be interested to know the data analysis from all our friendly neighbourhood bookmakers on how their customers forecast Sunderland v Stoke City to play out. Did anybody in their wildest dreams back struggling Stoke to wallop play-off chasing Sunderland 5-1 in their own backyard? This was a matchup laden with storylines, most noteworthy was former Sunderland boss Alex Neill returning to the Stadium Of Light for the first time since leaving for Stoke earlier in the season. Neill certainly got the last laugh on his return but the identity of the scorer of the last two Potters goals is where I'm going to focus.
Dwight Gayle was once considered amongst the most sought after Championship strikers, get him in your team and the goals were pretty much guaranteed. Gayle smashed in 23 in just 26 starts for Newcastle in their 2017 promotion and then hit another 23 for West Brom two years later as they missed out in the play-offs. Unfortunately for Gayle the Premier League was less fertile goalscoring ground and he hit just 5 goals in the past three years, with his exemplary record meaning constant links to the Championship each and every transfer window in between.
Gayle returned to the second tier with Stoke this season but the goal drought continued. He had to wait until the 21st January for his first goal to literally bounce in off him, things then went quiet again for another seven appearances. Gayle doubled his tally for the season at the weekend with his two goals rounding off Stoke's emphatic win, maybe he isn't the player he once was but the tally is very slowly starting to build.
TALKING POINT OF THE ROUND
Outfielder in goal alert!!
There are few things more riveting than the sight of an outfield player having to go in goal. It's one of those rare occurrences in football that shouldn't ever really happen but certain circumstances just make it unavoidable. This weekend we got an outfielder in goal alert during the game between Cardiff City and Bristol City. The Bluebirds had battled themselves into a 2-0 lead with goals from Sory Kaba and Jaden Philogene with the game moving into stoppage time. Manager Sabri Lamouchi had quite reasonably used up all his three sub windows bringing in four players to try and see out the win and clean sheet, reserve keeper Jay Alnwick knew he wouldn't be entering this game under any circumstances.
Alnwick and Lamouchi were left kicking themselves when Ryan Allsopp came hurtling out of his area, handled the ball and was deemed to have prevented an obvious goal scoring opportunity for Bristol City.
Cardiff were in need of a volunteer to see out the remaining minutes and up stepped defender Perry Ng to take his moment in the spotlight in between the sticks. It was only a few short minutes but Ng kept the clean sheet Cardiff had worked towards intact and their good form continued. I think we should all savour the outfielder in goal effect, you never know when you might see it again.
LOANEE OF THE ROUND
Much has rightly been made of Burnley's excellent recruitment this season with new and often unfamiliar faces coming in and taking the Championship by storm. As a great centre back himself, manager Vincent Kompany has brought in plenty of players in his position, with Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Louis Beyer probably the standouts. All of that has meant that one player who got a little bit lost in the shuffle was Luke McNally, a young centre back brought in from Oxford in the summer.
McNally's chances of the first team were limited by those ahead of him, so much so he was only used for two separate one minute long cameos by the Championship's runaway leaders. In January with another two centre backs arriving, McNally was sent out on loan to Coventry to build up his body of work in Championship football. He went into the team eight games ago and you can draw your own conclusions about his impact.
In the eight games McNally has played for Coventry they've only lost one, a difficult trip to West Brom, and recorded a stunning six clean sheets. The normal wisdom about loans is that everyone wins if they go well, this is true in this case up to a point with Burnley's asset developing nicely and Coventry reaping the benefits on the pitch. The only problem here for Coventry is that McNally's price is going up and up with his good form.
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