There was a top-versus-bottom clash on Saturday but, even taking the margin of victory into account, no truly shocking scoreline, as Championship leaders Bournemouth returned to the south coast with a 6-1 win at Blackpool, ending the Tangerines’ four-match unbeaten run.
The past seven days have given us a telling insight into the gulf in quality between the Premier League and the bottom of the second tier. The Cherries were an irresistible force last Saturday, with five goals shared throughout the team against Cardiff, but were outclassed for the majority of their Carling Cup quarter-final in midweek by a Liverpool side that on paper looked there for the taking. When Eddie Howe’s side did create chances they were strangely wasteful and were punished. It’s a lesson that last season’s promoted clubs, Leicester, QPR and Burnley, have also had to learn so far in the top flight.
It would be very harsh to focus solely on this, however, for Bournemouth were back enjoying themselves again on Saturday and making seasonal mincemeat of lowly opponents in the Championship. Nevertheless, Howe was understandably cautious, commenting afterwards:
“We don’t want to get too carried away with what we can achieve at the end of the season. We just keep ticking along for the minute. This is uncharted territory for us as a club. Let’s just enjoy the moment and see where it can take us. We’re delighted with where we are but there are big tests to come.”
Middlesbrough boss Aitor Karanka will no doubt concur with Howe’s sentiment after his side were beaten by Ipswich in another of Saturday’s key games. It meant the Tractor Boys swapped places with Boro and are now in second spot, one point behind Bournemouth.
“This is the first time I have been angry with my players’ attitude,” said Karanka. “After last week’s win against Derby County, we thought we were a Champions League team. But today it is impossible to take anything from the game.”
Still only four points separate the top six, although for the first time Watford, who lie in in sixth spot after a 1-0 win over Reading, have breathing space, with Norwich four points adrift of the play-offs.
At the bottom end the three sides in the relegation spots all need snookers after Saturday’s results, most significantly after Wigan were defeated in their six-pointer against Rotherham at the DW Stadium. Admittedly while a win wouldn’t have propelled the Latics away from the drop zone, it would have taken them to within a point of their opponents.
Instead, they are six points below safety, with Malky Mackay, who has lost four of his five matches in charge since taking over as manager, citing cutting the size of his squad to improve it as being his first priority in the January transfer window.
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