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Monday, 27 February 2012

The View Outside The Premier League: Relegation Battle In The Championship Will Go To The Wire


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Sqf hugh larkin

The Championship is living up to its reputation as one of the most competitive leagues in Europe. All the teams near the bottom have been battling hard in recent weeks and Nottingham Forest proved that nothing can be taken for granted by winning at Birmingham.

This is the same Blues side that were on a great run and undefeated at St Andrews against a Forest side who were in freefall three weeks ago and couldn't buy a goal from anywhere. Perhaps Chris Hughton's team had to come unstuck eventually but few would have picked the East Midlands side as the ones to do it.

The game was a personal triumph for Dexter Blackstock who has endured a nightmare with injuries and hadn't hit the target for fully 15 months - then the striker came up with two in one game.

The win put a bit of daylight between Forest and the bottom three but it was just as well they did get three points, as Millwall and Coventry City were also winners and Doncaster Rovers are still showing signs of life.

Portsmouth's descent into administration has dragged them back into the mire and Bristol City are hovering in a precarious position again after their initial improvement under Derek McInnes.

Ipswich Town surged clear of the pack recently and it begins to look as if the three teams for the drop will come from the current bottom seven, through Peterborough have clawed out a handy 10 point cushion to the drop zone.

Ipswich, Derby and Watford are all on 40 points and each would have to endure a dreadful run to be dragged back into the bottom three. Millwall's win at Burnley could be critical for them - six points separate the Lions from resurgent Coventry.

All season the Sky Blues have been losing games by tight margins but since Christmas Andy Thorn's squad have been getting the edge in enough games to raise belief that they can clamber to safety. This contest looks set to go the last day.

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In League One Sheffield Wednesday staunched a run of damaging defeats in the best possible way by beating arch-rivals Sheffield United. Chris O'Grady's second half winner leaves the Owls just two points adrift of the Blades in the pursuit of automatic promotion.

Only one automatic spot seems to be on offer because Chris Powell's Charlton show no signs of faltering - with a 10-point lead the League One title is theirs to lose.

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Paulo Di Canio's first campaign as a manager is shaping up to be a remarkable one. His Swindon side have now hit the top in League Two and he's steered them to Wembley for the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final.

The Robins have found a consistent vein of form in a division where so many teams have reached the peak only to fall backwards. Southend, Crawley, Shrewsbury and Cheltenham have all had their moments but after a slow start- and a few controversies, inevitably- Di Canio has got his players performing with all the passion and intensity that he was famed for.

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In the Blue Square Premier Fleetwood Town have finally been able to put some daylight between themselves and Wrexham. The Welsh side fell to an unexpected loss at struggling Stockport County and the Lancashire club now hold a five-point advantage in the race for the title - but Wrexham do have a game in hand.

A cluster of recent ex-League clubs are battling for a play-off berth. Luton Town, York City, Grimsby Town, Mansfield Town and Kidderminster Harriers are all in the pack behind Wrexham, as are Southport, who lost their Football League place way back in 1978.

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Hugh Larkin

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