Bournemouth may have been ousted from the Championship’s top spot in midweek after a draw allowed Watford and Middlesbrough to leapfrog them with victories, but the Cherries took full advantage of their instant opportunity to reclaim the lead by beating Boro in the lunchtime kick-off.
And it got even better later in the afternoon when Watford suffered defeat in stoppage time at home to Ipswich, meaning Bournemouth go into the international break a point clear with a goal difference (42) currently 10 and 12 goals superior to those of their closest Championship rivals, a feature that could yet prove massively important with the race so close. Indeed, only fourth-placed Norwich (33) in the entire division have a goal difference inferior to Bournemouth by a score in single digits.
This, of course, is the perfect case for welcoming the Canaries back into the automatic promotion race, Alex Neil’s side having clawed their way back into contention with victory over Nottingham Forest to reduce the gap to Watford and Middlesbrough to two points. With Derby a further three points behind, it’s difficult to make a realistic case for Steve McClaren’s side still being in contention with games ticking away, particularly with the Rams in such terrible form; their defeat to Wolves on Friday night took their winless run to six matches.
Funnily enough, mind you, if McClaren can get his patched up side fully fit again after the break, a potentially rejuvenated Derby host none other than Watford, while Ipswich, who have been hokey-cokeying around the play-offs each week, host Bournemouth, so scenarios remain for the top six to bunch up a little again. The gap between those clubs narrowed to six points once more on Saturday.
Derby need to be looking over their shoulders as well, however, as with Ipswich now level on points and Brentford and Wolves breathing down their necks, the play-off battle is a new concern. Time will also tell whether the break has come at a convenient time to counter any potential Watford storm following the manner of their defeat.
Hornets boss Slavisa Jokanovic apologised for being too gung-ho and committing too many men forward in the closing stages: “We’ve won many games in the past in the last minute and today we lost the game,” he said
“I accept, first of all, this is my responsibility because I don’t want to close the game out and we’re looking for a way to try and win it. I made a mistake, my team made a mistake in the last moments and we lost one point.”
If only life at the other end of the table was so unpredictable. Admittedly, Wigan have given themselves a fighting chance of escaping the bottom three in recent weeks and on Saturday reduced the gap to safety to five points, the closest it has been for some time. Had Rotherham not conceded twice to Sheffield Wednesday in stoppage time and Wigan not equalised against Bolton, the gap would have been nine.
Rotherham’s stoppage-time capitulation also ended up proving somewhat a missed opportunity for Millwall, who despite digging out an impressive point at Brentford were 2-0 up with five minutes of normal time remaining so would have joined Wigan in closing the gap on the Millers to five points had they managed to hold on.
It also meant that the suffering goes on for Blackpool’s Lee Clark, who will have to wait at least another fortnight for the “slow death” of relegation to become reality. With 21 points still available following a 1-1 draw with Leeds, the 17-point deficit still isn’t enough for those mathematicians out there to pull the plug.
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