Championship Analysis – Late wins for Cardiff, Norwich and Swansea, while gritty Forest hold QPR

If ever there was a weekend defining the strength of character needed to stay in the promotion hunt, this was it. Cardiff, Norwich, and Swansea all grasped late goals to earn vital wins on Saturday, while on Sunday Nottingham Forest held leaders QPR to a 1-1 draw despite playing for 70 minutes with 10 men.

Going into the weekend, Forest’s trip to Loftus Road was a clash between the top two, but by Sunday lunchtime’s kick-off the visitors had been shunted down to fifth due to the previous day’s results. That meant added pressure on Forest to bounce back into the automatic promotion slots. They didn’t achieve it – and the draw also meant an end to their six-match winning streak – but their resilience in coming from behind and grinding out a point after Radoslaw Majewski’s sending off in the 23rd minute will keep the spirits up for all at the City Ground. Forest can still boast an unbeaten league run stretching back to 29th November and the point did lift them back up a place to fourth.

For the neutral, Majewski’s red card, though deserved for a reckless lunge on Adel Taraabt, was a pity so early on in the game, as what should have been an end-to-end encounter involving two attacking teams instead became a more lopsided tactical affair with Forest needing to be more conservative. Nevertheless, it still made for an enjoyable spectacle and the result keeps the promotion race as fascinating as ever. QPR still enjoy a healthy lead, though it’s now been cut to six points and Cardiff and Forest can go within touching distance should they win their games in hand.

In what has been a merry-go-round regarding the positions at the top involving four clubs since the start of the new year, Cardiff climbed to second, though their need for a late winner – a close-range header from Seyi Olofinjana on 85 minutes – was perhaps the most surprising as the opposition were second-bottom Scunthorpe. On the flipside, Norwich’s last-gasp effort from Grant Holt in a 2-1 home win over Reading was more predictable as it was the ninth time this season the Canaries have scored in added time.

Swansea’s performance was the most impressive. Although recent events remind us never to write anyone off, at 3-1 down after an hour to Middlesbrough at the Riverside, the Welshmen looked dead and buried, especially considering they had previously scored fewer goals than any of their promotion rivals. But events took a dramatic turn and after Scott Sinclair and Ashley Williams levelled it up, Craig Beattie struck a dramatic winner in the fifth minute of injury time to pile on the agony for Tony Mowbray.

Boro’s self-destruct button act saw them slip a place to 20th as late goals also had a bearing at the bottom end of the table. Sheffield United blew an opportunity to go within a point of Crystal Palace – who lost 2-1 at Coventry – when Millwall’s Kevin Lisbie headed home a 90th minute equaliser at Bramall Lane. As it is, the Blades remain three points adrift in 22nd.

Preston manager Phil Brown was all smiles as he departed the team coach to warm applause from Hull supporters. However, his previous employers didn’t do him any favours and Anthony Gerrard’s free header just before half-time once again confirmed why Brown’s team are rock-bottom. With upcoming fixtures against Watford, QPR and Forest, the Lilywhites now have a massive mountain to climb if they are to claw back the 10-point gap between themselves and safety.

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