Championship Analysis - Bristol City triumph in relegation clash as Coventry’s survival hopes fade
Bristol City came from behind to defeat fellow strugglers Coventry 3-1 at Ashton Gate, a result that could be pivotal in deciding which club beats relegation. The Robins, in 21st place, now lead the Sky Blues by four points with four matches remaining.
Psychologically it was a massive blow for Coventry, who had clawed back a significant points deficit over a number of weeks to leapfrog their opponents just last weekend, propelling the club outside the bottom three for the first time since October. Indeed, Saturday’s 2-2 draw at home to Peterborough stretched an impressive unbeaten run to seven matches. The bad news for them, however, is that Bristol City appear to have regained form at the vital time. Prior to what could also be considered a crucial win at Nottingham Forest on Saturday, Derek McInnes’ side had won only once in 13 matches.
"To beat Nottingham Forest and Coventry in the space of three days is a magnificent effort by the players and I couldn't have asked for more. But the job is not done yet. All we have done is given ourselves a decent chance of staying up," a cautious McInnes told the BBC afterwards.
"We have enough games left to get ourselves out of trouble and Bristol probably have a tougher run-in, so it isn't over yet," was Coventry boss Andy Thorn’s reply.
Brave words from Thorn, but in fairness, arguably accurate ones. Bristol City travel to Birmingham on Saturday and then host West Ham next Tuesday, fixtures that on paper at least don’t scream points, even to the most relaxed of their faithful. Coventry’s next two games - a trip to Burnley and a home clash with Millwall - look comparatively much more winnable. On the flipside, the Sky Blues face the unenviable task of a trip to St Mary’s on the final Sunday. Ultimately it would take a brave punter to flog cash on a team four points from safety at such a late stage of the season.
Barring a miracle, one club definitely facing League One football next season is Doncaster Rovers. Back-to-back defeats over Easter have left Donny 11 points adrift of safety, and relegation will be confirmed on Saturday if they fail to beat Portsmouth. A point for Millwall and a win for Bristol City would also shut the door regardless of the result at the Keepmoat. Pompey, only two points better off, also look down and out. Michael Appleton’s side take on Millwall on Tuesday but even a win would leave the club six points adrift of safety.
At the top end, West Ham salvaged a last-gasp point at home to Birmingham to go three points behind Reading, but the Royals have the opportunity to pull away again and draw back level with Southampton if they win at Brighton on Tuesday. Intriguingly, the top two go head-to-head at St Mary’s on Friday evening for a mouth-watering encounter that could well determine the destiny of the Championship trophy.
Of course, Tuesday’s clash at the Apex is also a vital one for the Seagulls, who dropped out of the play-off places after Monday’s results and need a win to climb back above Cardiff to sixth. As it stands, only three points separate the Bluebirds from ninth-placed Leicester, whose impressive goal difference of plus 12 could yet see them sneak into the pack.