It was a bad weekend for... Harry Redknapp, Grant Holt and Blackburn Rovers (again)

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The Doomed

There were very few raised eyebrows at Reading on Saturday lunchtime, with the only real surprise being that Southampton weren’t able to take more of their chances in the ‘Nigel Adkins Derby’.

The 2-0 scoreline barely hinted at the level of superiority enjoyed by the visiting Saints, who will have gone some way towards eradicating any disappointment felt at losing out on last season’s Championship title to the Royals.

The loss more or less consigned Reading to the drop. Although technically they can still finish the season on 41 points, the odds of them even reaching even the 31 point mark (which would currently see them level with 17th placed Sunderland) seem remote. The manner of the defeat – very much in the ‘roll over and die’ vain – spoke of a side preparing themselves for a season in the second tier.

Elsewhere in the bottom three, Queen’s Park Rangers threw away their best chance of making up ground on those above them by conceding a last minute equaliser to visitng Wigan. Rangers had taken the lead (in perhaps unlikely fashion given they were reduced to ten men midway through the first half thanks to Bobby Zamora’s stray boot) with barely five minutes of normal time to play, but two of the three vital points were snatched away from them by Shaun Maloney’s superb free kick.

The result leaves QPR just one point better off than Reading with six games remaining. Post game, manager Harry Redknapp seemed to have all but given up, admitting “if we had won, it would have given us a lift to go on a run and stay up.”

With games against Everton, Arsenal and Liverpool still to come, you can forgive his pessimism.

Potty Fans

Fans. Supporters. Punters. Whatever you want to call them, there is nowhere else in the country where such spotlight is placed on those in the stands than in the Potteries. Since Stoke City were promoted to the Premier League in 2008, fans at the Britannia Stadium have been widely accredited as the noisiest and most passionate in the league, with commentators repeatedly resorting to the old ‘Twelfth Man’ cliché. Indeed, Stoke’s home form has been a major factor in their four consecutive top flight seasons.

But recently, Stoke fans have been painted as an ungrateful bunch of ne’er-do-wells for having the front to voice displeasure at what has been served up to them this season. Is it the style of football? Is it the form that has seen the Potters tumble towards the relegation zone? Is it Tony Pulis seemingly lacking the nous to turn it around? Chances are it’s all three, but the media consensus seems to be that the supporters should be damn well grateful to be where they are.

Yet Saturday’s 3-1 home defeat to Aston Villa was surely avoidable. Despite a poor season overall, Stoke had only been beaten twice on home turf, and hold a positive goal difference. Villa, by comparison had conceded more than anyone bar Newcastle on their travels.

But the Villans have discovered character, and that’s exactly what Stoke are lacking. Whereas Villa have won three of their last four league games, Stoke have won just once in 2013. Their fans are worried, and rightly so with Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and four relegation candidates still to play, the Potters will not enjoy an easy ride at any point from now until May.

Yesterday’s Man

When Southampton were promoted to the Premier League at the end of last season, there was one man their 31 goal striker, Rickie Lambert, hoped to emulate: Grant Holt. Former teammates at Rochdale (where in two seasons the pair helped themselves to 55 goals), Lambert will have looked at Holt’s debut Premier League season with a mixture of pride and envy. Holt, you see, was scoring at a rate of almost a goal every other game, ending the season with an impressive 15 strikes in 36 games amid growing murmurs of a possible England call up.

But Lambert’s debut Premier League season has thus far been every bit as impressive as Holt’s, with the Saint grabbing 14 goals in 31 games thus far. But there is no way that the Southampton man will be looking to emulate Holt’s second season.

The Norwich frontman has failed to even approach reaching the heights of last season, scoring just five times in the league in nearly 30 games. Brought on as a substitute in his side’s 2-2 draw with Swansea on Saturday, Holt looked well off the pace. His first significant contribution to the game was raking his boot down Chico’s shin in a challenge that should perhaps have seen him dismissed. Minutes later, Holt was booked for another foul on the Spanish defender.

What next for Holt? Despite a poor season he is still Norwich’s second top scorer and a cult hero at Carrow Road. At the age of 31, however, you can’t help but feel that if the Canaries manage to beat the drop, his days in East Anglia could be numbered.

The Shambles That Is….Blackburn Rovers

Ah, Steve Kean. Old Keano. The last good Blackburn Rovers manager. Perhaps overstating it a bit, but it’s worth noting that despite being wildly unpopular and vilified to the point of resignation, Kean did at least leave Rovers third in the Championship when he departed in September. Third. And with only one defeat to their name.

What has followed has been a season that has been so bizarre it would be funny were it not so tragic – although you suspect Burnley fans may have still raised a titter. Caretaker manager Eric Black was replaced by Henning Berg, who in turn replaced by Michael Appleton, who was then fired himself, leaving Gary Bowyer as the only man in East Lancashire yet to have a turn. Now, with six games left of the season, Blackburn have finally found themselves third from bottom in the Championship, and in deep relegation trouble following Saturday’s 3-2 defeat to fellow strugglers Sheffield Wednesday.

The Championship relegation battle is so tough that Wolves’ run of four wins in five still only sees them one point above the drop zone and Peterborough, undefeated in eight games, are second bottom. The point is, unless you suddenly find yourself in play-off form, you’re going down – just ask Bristol City.

Rovers haven’t been in the third tier of English football since 1980, but come August they could be renewing hostilities with the likes of Preston, Carlisle and the newly crowned Johnstone Paint Trophy winners, Crewe.

League One Chasers

With just a handful of games remaining in the League One season, Doncaster Rovers and Bournemouth used the weekend to all but sew up the two promotion spots. Following Doncaster’s 1-0 win over Tranmere and Bournemouth’s 3-1 home victory against Notts County (that’s six in a row for Bournemouth now), there are now a mighty five points separating second and third.

Which is bad news for the other promotion hopefuls, as seven teams duke it out for just four play-off spots and a shot at that last promotion place. Yeovil and Brentford in third and fourth must be favourites, but they are equally as far from second as they are from eighth, which, in a league where bad form can strike out of the blue (Hello Tranmere and Scunthorpe), their positions are far from secure.

For months, League One looked like a league nobody wanted to win, but now that two teams have decided they’d actually quite like to finish top, it seems the rest are being left behind.

League Two’s Other 23

On Saturday, Gillingham became the first Football League team to secure promotion this season, with their 1-0 win over Torquay United enough to put them far enough ahead of fourth place for them to chill out until May.

In what was a strange weekend in League Two, started by Port Vale’s Friday night 7-1 shellacking of Burton Albion, every team from third to seventh lost, as if demotivated by Gillingham’s dominance.

But congratulations must go to the Gills for a solid, if somewhat unremarkable season, that has seen them climb to first place on the back of an impressive away record (they have lost just one on their travels all season) coupled with decent home performances.

The signs are that they won’t take their foot off the gas just yet, with Vale snapping at their heels in second place, but ‘Mad Dog’ Martin Allen can already start to look forward to next term.