The Championship continues apace, with displays of determination characterising the recent weekend’s performances. The standout of these entertaining games occurred at the Cardiff City Stadium, where the home side’s two goal lead was overhauled by Neil Adams’ Norwich City.
Joe Ralls put the Bluebirds ahead in the fourth minute with a focused effort, and Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s men doubled their advantage when Aaron Gunnarsson swept in from the left to turn home Cardiff’s second. The home team were well in control, comfortably easing into halftime with a performance Solskjær described as the best he’d seen Cardiff play. Beginning the second half in much the same fashion, Cardiff came close to further increasing their lead, with Federico Macheda only kept from his first league goal by an impressive save off the left foot of John Ruddy. Norwich, however, remained resolute, and pulled one goal back when Lewis Grabban was challenged by Matt Connolly in the box, the ball trickling from the tangle of legs into the path of onrushing Martin Olsson, who calmly slotted home.
Just four minutes later Norwich were level, with Wes Hoolahan capitalising on a loose ball after David Marshall pulled off an excellent save to palm away a header from Cameron Jerome, only to see the ball fall into the path of Hoolahan to tuck away. In the 71st minute Norwich took the lead, when an intricate corner routine, aided in part by some lax defending, left Alex Tettey able to skilfully create space in the box before selflessly squaring the ball to be turned home by Michael Turner. Having already achieved a stunning turnaround, Norwich ensured their lead with a fourth when former Bluebird Cameron Jerome latched onto a sumptuous long ball, rounded Marshall and swept the ball into the back of the net.
A characteristically determined performance from Norwich, who have taken points from each game bar the opening day of the season, a 1-0 win for Wolves over the 10-man Canaries, took them into the automatic promotion places, a deserved achievement given the resolute determination displayed in their victory over Cardiff.
Another highlight of the weekend came at the Madejski, where Reading took three points with three goals in their victory over Fulham. Taking an early lead through on-loan striker Glenn Murray, recently arrived at the club from Crystal Palace, Reading were significantly aided in their efforts by an 18th minute red card for Fulham debutant Matt Smith. Murray doubled his tally and Reading’s advantage, before a late effort from Nick Blackman sealed the win with a neat finish.
What is particularly impressive about Reading’s recent form, which has left them one point shy of the play-off spots and just three behind second-placed Norwich in the automatic promotion places, is the manner in which manager Nigel Adkins has kept the team successful in the face of financial challenges. With a massive sixteen departures from the club, including those of star forward Adam Le Fondre to rivals Cardiff, centre-back Daniel Carriço to Sevilla and young goalkeeping prodigy Alex McCarthy to QPR, Adkins has had to deal with the effects on the team of such enormous book-balancing. The financial challenges of football, most of which are forgotten outside of the Premier League, which this transfer window posted record spending, are more visible at this level. Teams must function season-by-season, and in some cases sell their best players to survive, and yet examples such as Reading continue to aspire for success, and under the management of Nigel Adkins Reading are achieving that success.
On a similar basis, with rampant spending and inflated prices being a big talking point in the recent transfer window, occasions of smaller clubs retaining their biggest assets are increasingly uncommon. Blackburn, who won 3-1 over Wigan, should be recognised for retaining Jordan Rhodes in the face of interest from Premier League sides and fees offered in the region of £12 million. Likewise, Rhodes himself should be applauded for his own commitment to stay, as many players’ heads are turned and protracted sagas of transfer requests and public assertions of a desire to move on are commonplace.
As the Championship progresses its teams continue to demonstrate an admirable determination and resourcefulness, both on and off the pitch.
How might Norwich further improve their chances to return to the Premier League?