The View Outside The Premier League: Sharp Blunts Doncaster And Macclesfield Continue To Slide
In the marathon that is the 46 game Championship season, inevitably teams will hit a bad patch. Southampton got their sticky period out of the way early in the New Year but West Ham have hit the wall at the wrong moment.
Like a long distance race runner, the Hammers are finding that what seeemed easy and comfortable now takes tremendous effort. On Saturday Sam Allardyce's side picked up just one point but even that was only thanks to an epic comeback- and while the draw was welcome, it still meant Reading accelerated further into the distance.
At St Mary's, Billy Sharp delivered a brace against his old club to keep Southampton handily placed at the summit. After the horrendous events in Sharp's family life even Doncaster Rovers fans would hardly begrudge the striker some good fortune on the park- his signing has been a timely boost to the long-time league leaders and the Saints are surging down the run-in to May.
Reading maintained the pressure on West Ham by bouncing back from a surprise midweek reversal at Peterborough. There's a calmness about the Royals squad that bodes well for the run-in and at the moment they do look likely to push West Ham into the play-offs.
Down in the Championship drop zone Coventry City gave their survival hopes a huge lift and dealt another hammer blow to Portsmouth in the bargain. Since their 10 point deduction Pompey have looked destinated for League One football but Coventry are moving in the opposite direction.
Before Christmas the Sky Blues appeared to be on a one-way trip to the third tier but their results showed a pattern of very tight losses. In the New Year, Andy Thorn's side have been abel to turn enough of these tight encounters into winning positions to offer a real chance to keep Championship football at the Ricoh.
Only the most optimistic Sky Blue fan would have chanced any money on the club staying up in December but matters are every different now. Crucially, Coventry must visit Bristol City on 9th April- a potential relegation decider- and they also have both Millwall and Doncaster still to come to the Midlands.
In League Two The battle to avoid the drop has taken on a changed complexion. Northampton Town have finally put together a run of form to put a bit of daylight between them and the bottom two. Macclesfield Town have now been dragged even further into the mire and the Silkmen sacked Gary Simpson in response.
New man Brian Horton is an experienced boss who has been in the hot seat at the Moss Rose before but he will need all his considerable acumen and more to craft an escape. He has to confront a situation in which Macclesfield haven't won a game in 2012.
Their last win came on December 31st and the club looked pretty safe at that time. Then came the euphoria of the draw against Premier League Bolton in the FA Cup but since early January its been a grim struggle.
Other results are going against them too. Horton saw his new squad grind out a point against fellow strugglers Barnet on Friday night and on Saturday that draw could have kept them out of the relegation berths until Dagenham & Redbridge completed a last minute comeback to bag all three points.
Fleetwood Town are moving closer and closer to being one of the teams that will come up to League Two. They now have a nine point gap to Wrexham; the Welsh side do have two games in hand but the Cod Army haven't tasted defeat in the League since October, so the title is surely theirs to lose now.
In the battle for the play-offs York City have slipped to sixth and coach Gary Mills will be determined to keep the Minstermen on track for promotion. York have reached the FA Trophy Final after a major struggle with promotion rivals Luton but regaining their Football League berth remains the priority.