Championship Analysis - West Ham mean business as Brighton romp keeps automatic promotion hopes alive
West Ham chose the perfect time to end their eight-match winless home run on Saturday, thrashing Brighton 6-0 at the Boleyn Ground. The Hammers hadn’t won there since February 4, when a 2-1 win over Millwall had put them four points clear at the top. The subsequent downturn in home form has led to growing discontent from the Upton Park faithful as the club lost its grip on automatic promotion, but any tension in the stands on Saturday disappeared within the consumption of a pork pie. A brace from Ricardo Vaz Te and Kevin Nolan effectively won them the game in the opening 11 minutes.
Perhaps more significantly, the addition of the three second-half goals didn’t just add gloss to the scoreline, it also sent shockwaves around the south-coast - not just to the bruised Brighton fans but also those in the Southampton area. Going into the weekend the Saints’ goal difference was 11 superior to that of West Ham, but their 3-1 defeat to Reading on Friday, coupled with Saturday’s result, has produced an eight-goal swing. Southampton still lead the Hammers by three points in second spot, but suddenly the goal difference buffer no longer carries significant weight.
West Ham have also overtaken Reading on goal difference, although with the new leaders still six points ahead, it is less likely to matter. Indeed, the Royals will confirm promotion on Tuesday evening if their result against Nottingham Forest betters West Ham’s against Bristol City. Friday’s victory over Southampton was Reading’s fifth on the trot and, staggeringly, their 14th in the last 16 games.
Brighton’s heavy defeat has severely dented their hopes of a play-off place. The Gulls are now five points adrift of the top six, and their goal difference has been slashed to zero. Fourth-placed Birmingham, who were held at home by Bristol City, have a five-point buffer over Middlesbrough in seventh, so are virtually assured of a play-off spot, leaving Boro to battle with Blackpool and Cardiff, both two points ahead, for the two remaining spots.
At the foot of the table, Doncaster became the first team across the Football League to be officially relegated after a dramatic late defeat to Portsmouth, ending a four-season stay in the Championship. Going into injury time, Donny, leading 3-2, were on the verge of dragging their opponents down with them, but two last-gasp goals for Pompey means Michael Appleton’s side can still technically overhaul a seven-point deficit to Bristol City. Nevertheless, defeat to Crystal Palace on Tuesday would seal their fate, although a City win over West Ham would do the same regardless of the scoreline at Fratton Park.
In fact, it’s possible all three relegation spots could be filled, as the gap between the Robins and 22nd-placed Coventry remains at four points following respective draws. A win for Derek McInnes’s side on Tuesday would send the Sky Blues down if they lose their home fixture against Millwall.
As one door closes on Doncaster, another one opens for League One Charlton Athletic, who on Saturday became the first team across the Football League to be officially promoted. Chris Powell’s Addicks will be returning to the Championship after a three-season absence.