Championship Analysis – Watford go top after beating Birmingham and Bournemouth slip up

Watford took charge of the nail-biting but compelling Championship run-in after a 1-0 win over Birmingham saw the Hornets leapfrog Bournemouth, who lost top spot in the dying seconds of their clash with Sheffield Wednesday at the Goldsands Stadium when the visitors netted from the spot to claim a draw.

It was a massive win for Watford, who took full advantage of Norwich’s defeat to Middlesbrough on Friday evening, to move into one of the two automatic slots. It was the Hornets’ fourth win on the trot but Slavisa Jokanovic admitted it was a nervy occasion and, like on a few occasions recently, cited coping with pressure and tactics as being one of the most important ingredients for success.

“It’s not the first time we’ve played a different structure and today I believe they played a good game under some pressure – but we must enjoy this kind of pressure,” said the Watford manager.

Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe tried to put a brave face on his side’s late loss of two points by somewhat attempting to step aside emotionally. “That is the reason why we love the game, with its drama and twists and turns, even in one game. It was a heartbreaking end to the game for us,” he said, although ultimately he was masking some of his players’ nerves as the overall the Cherries had been nowhere near their best and the Owls definitely deserved their point.

Middlesbrough were the other big winners of the weekend and for 24 hours enjoyed top spot after what some may have considered to be a surprise win at Norwich. Despite being labelled by several opposition managers as being the best footballing side in the division, Boro have struggled away from home in recent months and on Easter Monday were comfortably beaten by Watford, so visiting a side on a run of five straight wins looked pretty daunting on paper.

“A lot of their [Norwich’s] players played in the Premier League last season but some of ours came from League One and League Two. I’m very proud of the whole team,” said Boro boss Aitor Karanka after grinding out the 1-0 win.

It was a good week overall for Karanka’s team, who also overcame play-off chasing Wolves, and although it may sound somewhat cruel, their win over Norwich was welcomed by the many thousands of neutrals who have become mesmerised by the possibility of this four-way promotion tussle stretching to the final weekend. A win for the Canaries would have knocked Boro out of contention. Nevertheless, despite Boro drawing level on points with Bournemouth, it is the Cherries who remain in control of their automatic promotion destiny as they have a goal difference 15 points superior.

At the other end of the table, there could be late drama after an administration error saw Rotherham field an ineligible player for the entirety of their 1-0 win over Brighton on Easter Monday. At the time of writing, no date has been set for the FA charge, but should a three-point deduction be awarded, the Millers would sit – hypothetically speaking – just a point clear of Millwall above the relegation zone. The Lions actually get the chance to reduce the current four-point deficit to one for real on Tuesday when they visit Blackburn.

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