Key week in game of promotion leapfrog

Championship football appears to have become a game of leapfrog – with Cardiff and Norwich leading the way and Reading desperately trying to muscle in on the action.

Having taken the second automatic promotion spot back on Friday, City had to sit at home and watch as Cardiff regained it on Saturday with a 3-0 win over Portsmouth.

It can all change again on Thursday, if City can force their weary legs to a win at Ipswich which would put them two points clear of Cardiff, whose turn comes two days later when they entertain leaders Queens Park Rangers. All of a sudden, the question an easy one to put, a much more difficult one to answer: is Ipswich away easier than QPR at home? Local pride is much hyped, but no one needs persuading that it exists in buckets at Portman Road.

What has an Ipswich team that gave up on the play-offs long ago and accepted second best in the Pride of Anglia stakes at about the same time, got in their locker?

The memory of a 4-1 defeat at Carrow Road at the end of November and the resultant derision? A season that promised so much under Roy Keane but will end up with so little at the hands of Paul Jewell other than the hope that he can start again in the summer and build on the chinks of light that have filtered through to Portman Road from time to time? Things like Connor Wickham and Josh Carson, two exciting young players with whom Jewell can shape a proper team for next season.

Revenge? Players tend not to talk about it, but supporters will never tire of their desire for it. Ipswich's home crowd will be baying for blood.

And QPR? The question hardly needs asking given that they could move within touching distance of promotion when they play Derby at Loftus Road tonight. Do that and they just might be relaxed enough to go to south Wales desperate to clinch the title in style by beating their biggest pre-season rivals. Derby are considered to be in-form on the back of a run of two wins in the last eight games, albeit against Swansea and Leeds. If Derby do beat QPR - Scunthorpe did, so why not? - then Rangers may just go to Cardiff in a very different mood, but without losing any of the desire to win.

Most Read

Many a match days has gone by with Norwich benefiting from other results – if they've been held to a draw you can bet one or more of their rivals have too. It didn't quite work out like that at the weekend. As well as Cardiff, Reading won for the eighth game in a row, beating Leicester 3-1. Swansea's awful away run continued with a 2-1 defeat at Burnley, but at this stage of the season, with four games left, it's down to the minutiae. A few weeks ago you'd have been looking at the next half a dozen teams: today, it's the ones on the immediate vicinity that matter most, and while just four points separate City and Swansea, it's going to some effort for the Welsh club to get second.

Not surprisingly, Cardiff believe its theirs for the taking. Midfielder Seyi Olofinjana says their destiny is in their own hands – you can't actually argue with fact.

'We are in the driving seat and we have that automatic second spot right now,' said Olofinjana. 'If we win our games we stand in good stead to get promoted automatically. That's what we need to worry about. It's about us and getting three points.'

Sherlock Holmes watch out.

Reading manager Brian McDermott was a little more circumspect given the gap.

He said: 'I am not looking at second place in the table, I am just looking at our next game at Leeds on Friday night. We are looking to do well there and that's all I am looking at. It's a great league and it is all building up to a good climax.'

You can say that again, Brian.

Leeds have blown it – a home draw with Watford means they're looking down at Nottingham and Forest and Hull, who are more than capable of nicking their sixth place.

It won't have escaped anyone's notice that there are a lot of ifs, buts and maybes littering any conversation about the Championship promotion race. With five points covering the four teams below QPR it's hardly surprising.

At this stage of any football season, results are tough to call. You may well be playing Sheffield United, as are Reading and Swansea, or Preston, as are Cardiff, or Scunthorpe, as are Forest. But teams battling to stay in the division can be as difficult to play against as ones trying to get out at the other end. Scunthorpe are a prime example. Mullered 6-0 at Norwich in manager Alan Knill's first game in charge, they have now beaten QPR and fellow strugglers Crystal Palace, away, on successive Saturday afternoons.

The hope, for Norwich fans, is that the Blades can shock Reading and Swansea and that Preston can undo Cardiff – and that City can once again look at the other results and smile.

It's going to take strong minds and strong wills, which City appear to have in abundance. The sight of Grant Holt and Wes Hoolahan running out on Friday not only cranked the volume up in the crowd, it can only have worked wonders for the players.

They are human beings, not robots: if they see arguably the two best players on the books in the side, it's going to help, not hinder.

Holt's stunning return of a goal every other start in his first real stab at Championship football is staggering: he's scored four in his last four, 10 in his last 13. His header against Forest on Friday was textbook. And he scored a hat-trick against Ipswich earlier this season which will make him public enemy number one at Portman Road – exactly what he thrives on.


1. QPR

P 41 Pts 82 GD +38

Tonight: Derby (h)

April 23, Cardiff (a)

April 25: Hull (h)

April 30: Watford (a)

May 7: Leeds (h)

Current form: W-W-W-L-W

2. Cardiff

P 42 Pts 75 GD +24

April 23: QPR (h)

April 25: Preston (a)

May 2: Middlesbrough (h)

May 7: Burnley (a)

Current form: D-W-W-W-W

3. Norwich City

P 42 Pts 74 GD +19

April 21: Ipswich (a)

April 25: Derby (h)

May 2: Portsmouth (a)

May 7: Coventry (h)

Current form: D-W-L-D-W

4. Reading

P 42 Pts 72 GD +26

April 22: Leeds (a)

April 25: Sheff Utd (h)

April 30: Coventry (a)

May 7: Derby (h)

Current form: W-W-W-W-W

5. Swansea

P 42 Pts 70 GD +18

April 23: Portsmouth (a)

April 25: Ipswich (h)

April 30: Millwall (a)

May 7: Sheffield Utd (h)

Current form: W-L-W-D-L

6. Leeds

P 42 Pts 65 GD +10

April 22: Reading (h)

April 25: C Palace (a)

April 30: Burnley (h)

May 7: QPR (a)

Current form: L-W-L-L-D

7. Nottingham Forest

P 42 Pts 63 GD +10

April 22: Leicester (h)

April 25: Bristol City (a)

April 30: Scunthorpe (h)

May 7: Crystal Palace (a)

Current form: L-L-L-W-L

8. Hull

P 42 Pts 63 GD+6

April 23: Middlesbrough (h)

April 25: QPR (a)

April 30: Crystal Palace (h)

May 7: Bristol City (a)

Current form: D-L-W-D-W

9. Millwall

P 42 Pts 61 GD+12

April 23: Preston (h)

April 25: Scunthorpe (a)

April 30: Swansea (h)

May 7: Barnsley (a)

Current form: D-W-W-D-L

10. Leicester

P 42 Pts 60 GD+2

April 22: Nottm For (a)

April 25: Watford (h)

April 30: Doncaster (a)

May 7: Ipswich (h)

Current form: L-D-W-D-L