Championship Analysis – Classy Southampton brush disappointing Middlesbrough aside

Southampton remained top of the Championship thanks to a surprisingly routine win over fellow high-flyers Middlesbrough. Boro, who overcame a somewhat ropey run of form with an impressive win over Derby last weekend, started the day third but looked a shadow of the dogged team which had gone 13 games without defeat until mid-October, and had only conceded three goals away from home all season before Saturday’s clash.

For Southampton, however, this sparkling win continued Nigel Adkins’ side’s 100 per cent home record, and took their overall goal tally to 31. The result arguably flattered Boro more than the hosts, but Adkins was keen to respect Tony Mowbray for his tactical nous, which forced the Saints to chop and change their own formation to seize the victory, telling the club’s Official Website: “I thought we were good in the first half. We talked about it before the game about how challenging a fixture it could be with the different formation that they [Middlesbrough] play and because they pass the ball about. I think in the second half they got on the football. We had to change our shape and normally we will go to a diamond so that we can get a grip of the football, and there were stages there where they were getting a bit too much of the ball, so we had to change it.”

Boro slipped to fourth after Crystal Palace’s goalless draw with Reading was enough to nudge the Eagles above them on goal difference, and both were joined on 24 points by Derby and Hull, who enjoyed victories over Portsmouth and Nottingham Forest respectively. Leeds would also have drawn level had they beaten Cardiff in Sunday’s fixture, but had to settle for a 1-1 draw.

West Ham ensured Southampton’s lead at the top remained three points after beating Leicester, the latest club looking for a new manager. Sven Goran Eriksson, who departed during midweek, was refreshingly dignified in the aftermath of his exit and insisted the Foxes would be promoted in a matter of time, claiming his time in charge at the Walker’s Stadium was “an absolute pleasure.” Steve McLaren’s departure from Forest a fortnight ago means both halves of England’s former management duo have fallen on hard times. Nigel Pearson of Hull and Huddersfield manager Lee Clark are among the names reportedly linked with the vacancy.

Birmingham’s run of four consecutive league wins ended in a draw with Brighton at St Andrews, but Chris Hughton’s side are now just three points below the play-off spots with the luxury of two games in hand on all but one of the seven clubs above.

At the foot of the table, Bristol City secured only their second away win of the season at Barnsley, thanks to a last-gasp goal by Nicky Maynard. The Robins remain bottom and four points adrift of safety, but their victory, the first under Derek McInnes, keeps them just about in touch with their fellow strugglers.

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