Championship Analysis – Bristol City turn up the relegation battle heat after last-gasp win over Millwall

Bristol City rose to 19th and three points clear of the relegation zone on Tuesday evening after Nicky Maynard’s goal sank Millwall in the third minute of injury time. Derek McInnes’ side leapfrogged the Lions in the process, and the result will not have gone down well with the other clubs involved in the struggle either.

The Robins appear to have stabilised again after a run of four matches without a win in December, including a defeat to bottom club Coventry City, before a shock zero-to-hero triumph against leaders Southampton at St Mary’s in the last game of 2011. However, January could prove a pivotal month in the transfer market with top-scorer Maynard, the subject of jeers from the home faithful despite his goal, seemingly on his way out after failing to agree to a new contract.

For Millwall it was a second successive defeat and one which leaves them 21st. It’s been a hugely disappointing and worrying season for the Lions so far after following up promotion from League One with an impressive ninth-place finish in the last campaign. Other than a purple patch in October and early November, a period in which the club enjoyed a five-match unbeaten run including three consecutive wins, Kenny Jackett’s side have failed to get going at all and barely risen above mid-table. Away form has been the biggest worry, with only seven goals on the road so far – three of which came in the solitary away win over Leicester on 22 October. Only Coventry (six) have scored fewer.

It’s a stat that Jackett is only too aware of, commenting after Tuesday’s defeat: “We had a lot of chances but that’s been us, we haven’t scored enough goals generally. We haven’t got outplayed by Bristol City, we haven’t been second best in any area but we’ve lost the game. We’ve had too many like that. Our ‘goals for’ tally has been poor.”

Coventry were dealt the biggest blow by the result. The Sky Blues enjoyed some welcome festive cheer, ending a 12-match winless run with two consecutive victories either side of Christmas – one of which, of course, was against Bristol City. However, the Robins’ win on Tuesday means the bottom club are back down to seven points adrift of safety.

At the other end, Southampton are now only top on goal difference following two consecutive defeats and just one win in six. Ricky Lambert’s red card at Brighton means the league’s top scorer will be suspended for forthcoming fixtures against Nottingham Forest and Leicester. West Ham failed to take advantage of the Saints’ wobble, picking up only four points from their three festive matches, and as a result the gap behind the top two has narrowed to just two points, with Cardiff and Middlesbrough in contention to snatch top spot when the Championship resumes after the FA Cup third round.

The gap to fifth-placed Reading has stretched to six points, but only three points separate the Royals and Crystal Palace in 11th as the play-off race hots up. In Wednesday’s game, Ipswich will go back above Bristol City if they avoid defeat at Birmingham. A win for the hosts will propel them up to ninth, with a game still in hand.

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