Portsmouth boss Michael Appleton will probably be happier with the 1-1 stalemate. His side remain in a lowly 17th place but results have stabilised since he took charge four games ago with two wins and two draws, albeit somewhat in the backdrop of the club’s financial troubles off the pitch.
For Southampton the draw edges them a point clear of West Ham. The Saints are yet to win in December, but as the season hits its midway point fans and Nigel Adkins are unlikely to be concerned – the club hasn’t been top of the division since early September for no reason and thoroughly deserves to be there as Christmas approaches. Expansive attacking football didn’t do Norwich any harm last season, and should the Saints in particular maintain their awesome home form, the title will be theirs.
Middlesbrough continue to mean business at the top end after winning Saturday’s juiciest fixture at Cardiff. It brought to an end the Bluebirds’ 10-match unbeaten run and, more significantly, meant it was the visitors who climbed to third spot rather than their hosts. It also gave Boro their seventh victory from 11 games on the road this season, a record matched only by West Ham in second.
The Hammers, who suffered two defeats on the bounce, returned to winning ways against Barnsley, which put them joint top overnight. Hull City remain the team in form and leapt over Cardiff into fourth spot after their fifth win in seven matches since Nick Barmby became temporary manager. Barmby insists a decision over a permanent role won’t be made until the New Year, but assuming he wants the job, it is surely a formality.
Leeds remain the other team in the play-off picture, but suffered a home defeat to Reading, who are now two points behind their victims after their fourth win in five. The Royals burst into the play-offs at the back end of last season and reached the final thanks to similar form, and Brian McDermott’s team could again be a threat come May.
At the other end of the table there was more misery for Coventry City, who are now without a win in 12 matches after suffering defeat to a Peterborough side who before Saturday hadn’t won in five. The Sky Blues are now eight points adrift of safety due to Bristol City and Nottingham Forest sharing a goalless draw at Ashton Gate, a result that does little for either side, especially as Doncaster came to within two points of both thanks to a fine win over Leicester, with Billy Sharp notching his eigth and ninth goals of the season.
Birmingham gave a great account of themselves in the Europa League but finally bowed out on Thursday, and the Blues can now concentrate solely on domestic duties, starting with a trip to Crystal Palace in Monday’s fixture.