It’s all happening at the top of the table this weekend.

27 Feb

Another huge weekend in the Championship. It’s relentless. Exhausting. Captivating. Utterly, utterly compelling. For Brentford, a patched up team returned to winning ways against Sheffield, Wednesday, and now welcome a visit from Stoke City. Elsewhere, we’ll all be hoping that Bristol City and Bournemouth can reignite their spluttering play-off campaigns as they face off against Swansea City and Watford respectively. The Cherries getting things under way today with a lunchtime kick-off on Sky before we all wait for Norwich City to wrap things up at Wycombe on Sunday.

We all know the shape of the table. We can all see Norwich 7(seven) points clear with Brentford next up. Albeit hanging in there by virtue of our goal difference. What price the free-scoring heroics of Ivan Toney, ably assisted by Sergi Canos, now? Cripes, the top of the table is tight. There are going to be plenty of twists still to come in the final 13 games and the midweek result couldn’t have come at a better time. The horror show of Coventry City expunged and those thrown together to plug the gaps more than pulling it together in style. I thought Winston Reid was immense whilst Mads Bech Sørensen slotted in for Rico Henry quite wonderfully. Good thing too as he’s going to have to do it for most of the remaining season. Replacing the division’s best left back, and a player who one way or another will be in the top flight next season, no small ask. Kudos, Mads.

We all ended Wednesday happy

But it was a determined, feisty performance all round. Not our super slick best but still a million miles away from Coventry. The new look line up finding their feet and then stepping it up as the big guns eased their way back into action from the bench. There was Emiliano Marcondes. Josh Dasilva. Ivan Toney. All making late appearances that coincided with Brentford turning the screw. Samman Ghoddos and Bryan Mbeumo both starting and scoring. Both assisting. Both, being honest, afforded chances that had they been taken would have stretched the scoreline even further. But you can’t be disappointed to end the day with three goals, three points and a clean sheet. The stats, and table, don’t lie. 3-0 is 3-0 is 3-0. I’d have bitten my own hand off for that prior to kick off. Who know how much of a psychological boost Huddersfield Town’s thrashing of Swansea immediately after the debacle at St. Andrew’s proved to be? Either way, we go into the games today infinitely happier than when we turned off the TV last week. Cries of “What the actual just happened…” (or similar) ringing around our house following the most excruciating of displays. 

That was then. This is now. 7(seven) days is a hell of along time in football. Positivity restored and it will go through the roof should we come out of the game with Stoke smiling. Not that we’re going to find that an easy task. Four points outside the play-offs themselves, we join Swansea and Bournemouth in facing teams desperate to make that surge into the promotion pack. Teams who would jump at the chance for a cliffhanger at the W place in North London. The Potters, a dogged side that could almost be argued to have inherited the mantle of being our bogey team form Middlesbrough. 

Nothing needs to be said about our last two encounters – firstly the end of season implosion at their Bet 365 stadium when the promotion opportunity was finally in our hands. Following that was the disaster in this season’s visit when we didn’t so much fall apart as not even show up in that first half. Both deeply frustrating results but, in part, down to the pressure and then the team being re-jigged this time around. Both games we’ll learn from and what better time than now to avoid an unwelcome statistical hat-trick.

One can only assume that the starting line up today will be slightly more recognisable when ‘official’ announce it at 2.02pm. Might we even get a look at the lesser spotted Nørgaard? If Ivan Toney coming off the bench was a bonus, the return of someone who is probably our most influential player cannot come soon enough. The rock at the base of the midfield. We thought it was happening in December but then there was that late setback. Christian not celebrating at Christmas. Now, the talk from Thomas Frank has been super positive and with him, perhaps, underplaying the positions of Ivan and Josh prior to Wednesday, could this great Dane be closer than we think to an appearance? Optimistic to the last. That’s me. I’d love to see him back although can only presume it will be from the bench.

Today won’t be decisive in the promotion stakes whatever happens. Regardless of the 39 points still to play for, we’ve then got Norwich midweek and finish the campaign with games against Watford and Bristol City. Plenty of opportunity to shoot down our rivals (or them, us…) en route to the campaign’s denouement. Yet let’s not pretend that their isn’t a fan amongst us not hoping that Wycombe, Bournemouth and the Robins can pull off the results that their own supporters are so desperate to see this weekend. And if we complete our side of that equation, then all the better. If….

That’s where my focus is today. Anything else a bonus. A boost. All attention on Mark, Marcus and Natalie or whomever we have guiding us through the action from in the I-player commentary box. Edge of the sofa time as it is every Saturday. Lucky shirts back in play (last season’s Ecoworld ‘away’ being worn by me and H the true reason for our win) and waiting for the interminable adverts for FIFA 21 and Carabao that preceded every game.

It’s never easy watching it being played out in an empty stadium on TV. We’d all love to be there. Today probably more then ever where the atmosphere would be a huge factor agasint a team that always make me feel angsty. What play-off final? What disaster on the way home……….? Err. We all now know that won’t be possible this season following the latest roadmap to recovery (or whatever the buzzwords are) announced by Boris. Instead, I’ll see you on the sofa. Metaphorically speaking. Bring it on. Twitter is open. The beers are cold. The football snacks ready. Let’s do this !!!!!!

Nick Bruzon

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