As featured on NewsNow: Football news

Championship review: Unstoppable Southampton; Ipswich and Norwich derby thriller; Max O'Leary has day out

Russ Martin's Southampton now have the wind at their backs, we all enjoyed the return of the East Anglian derby and Scott Twine is beginning to recapture his best form at Hull City. All this and more from the latest round of the Championship...



For full disclosure I'm writing this before Leicester City head to Birmingham City for the Monday night TV game, but whatever happens in that matchup, rivals Southampton have still had an excellent weekend. The Saints have been part four of a top four that looks a level above the rest of the division but they really locked on to the top three this weekend after they beat Blackburn 4-0 and both Ipswich and Leeds were held to home draws in their games.

Russ Martin's side are now level on points with Leeds in third and ten points behind both of the top two, with the caveat of that Leicester game in hand at St Andrew's.

Southampton have taken a while to get moving under Martin but their current unbeaten run stands at a whopping fourteen games and were it not for the combination of a dreadful September and some ridiculous points scoring from Leicester and Ipswich they'd be right in the mix for one those coveted automatic promotion spots. While Saints are further building this formidable undefeated streak, there are a couple of helpful head to heads over Christmas with Ipswich heading to Leeds and then hosting Leicester.

The Southampton fixture list looks much friendlier and they don't face any of the current top six teams until seven games time when Hull City visit St Mary's. The trend says if Saints hold their course they'll close the gap but they do still have to face away visits to all of their current top five rivals in the final stretch of this season.


Max O'Leary (Bristol City)

It's very rare for us to celebrate a goalkeeper so let's do it this round and revel in a match winning performance from Bristol City keeper Max O'Leary. It's always with a pinch of salt that we call a keeper a 'match winner', as this most unique of roles can only allow those between the sticks to help their side maintain what they have given themselves in an attacking sense. Fortunately for Bristol City, they had a Tommy Conway penalty to defend in their game against Sunderland and O'Leary stepped up with a brilliant second half performance to do just that.

There were two particular saves of note, both from corners, both to O'Leary's left hand side and in both instances the Bristol City keeper had the proverbial mountain to climb to keep the ball out of his net.

It was the one from Luke O'Nien that probably will take the plaudits with the ball heading into the corner and goal line tech confirming that O'Leary had clawed it away with a mere inch or two worth of headroom. Goalkeeper is a position where experience is so greatly coveted and Max O'Leary has got most of his during loan spells away from Ashton Gate.

He's been at Kidderminster, Bath, Solihull Moors and Shrewsbury on his way to becoming a Championship number one over the past two seasons. It's been a long road to get there, but O'Leary will be keeping that number one shirt for a long time to come if performances like this weekend's become the norm.


The Return Of The East Anglian Derby

Over the past few seasons we've seen some of English football's finest local derby matches come and go from the Championship. Nottingham Forest and Derby headed in opposite directions, Sheffield United and Wednesday have been ships passing in the night, and Aston Villa seem much more concerned with the Champions League at the moment rather than a second tier matchup with Birmingham City!

We do however have the return of the East Anglian derby this season as for the first time since 2019, Norwich City and Ipswich Town find themselves in the same division.

Some rather uninitiated football fans struggle with the concept of clubs forty miles apart being local rivals, but believe me when I say that's more down to their lack of understanding rather than this rivalry not being worthy. Norwich and Ipswich are one club counties, the border separates people and that distance really intensifies the rivalry rather than watering it down.

The yellow half of East Anglia have had the bragging rights over the past decade as their flirtations with the Championship promotion and the Premier League have coincided with a slow rot in the Blue half and their relegation down to League One.

Much is different now, but some things are still the same. Ipswich look to be in the ascendancy after the takeover and appointment of Kieran McKenna a couple of years ago, while Norwich's own takeover is rather more slow moving and there's a very real danger that their Premier League parachute payments will run out with them still in the Championship at the end of this season. While that is all a bit different, Ipswich still couldn't beat Norwich, with Johnny Rowe's double earning a point in a 2-2 draw for the stubborn Canaries. And so the story continues in what is a highly underrated rivalry the Championship should be only too pleased to be hosting once again.


Scott Twine (Hull City on loan from Burnley)

I know this is a Championship column, but anyone with an eye on League One over the past few seasons will be well aware of Scott Twine. The young attacker made his name in the EFL with Swindon but really lit up League 1 at MK Dons, where his 20 goals and 13 assists took the club to third in the division and a magnificent 89 point total. We all know what's coming next though don't we, Wycombe and Gareth Ainsworth in the play-offs and the season ending in disappointment. That was only the start of it for MK Dons who were relegated the following season after the sale of Twine to Burnley.

If it didn't go well for MK Dons last season it wasn't exactly plain sailing for Twine at Burnley, with a mixture of injury and competition limiting his debut season in the Championship to just three goals and an assist. For The Clarets there was plenty to cheer about as they romped to the Championship title, but the attackers being lauded were Zaroury and Benson rather than Twine.

If he wasn't in the first team in the Championship, then the Premier League was almost certainly going to be deemed a step too far, and Twine was loaned to Hull where it looks like we're just about starting to see the best of him again. It's three goals in his last five for the play-off chasing Tigers and this weekend's effort against Cardiff was a signature free kick that became his trademark in League 1 with MK Dons. If Hull get more of that MK version then the play-off spot they're currently occupying could be theirs to keep until May.

Video of the day:

About the author

Benjamin Bloom


Subscribe and go ad-free

For only $10 a year

  1. Go Ad-Free
  2. Faster site experience
  3. Support great writing
  4. Subscribe now
Launch Offer: 2 months free

Subscribe and go ad-free

For only $10 a year

Subscribe now
Launch Offer: 2 months free