Football League Expert & Columnist
Tale of two Cities
Peter Beagrie looks at the contrasting ambitions of Bristol City and Cardiff City ahead of Saturday's clash.
Last Updated: 09/03/12 12:49pm
The cities of Bristol and Cardiff may be quite close in terms of geography, but they are poles apart in terms of their footballing ambitions this season.
Bristol City are just looking to survive, while Cardiff are looking to get back into the mix for the play-off places.
In recent weeks, Cardiff have provided an example of taking your eye off the ball - and the league! They were in a rich vein of form, but their progress to the Carling Cup Final halted that.
They put on a fantastic show at Wembley with their players out on their feet by the end, but unfortunately Anthony Gerrard's penalty-shoot-out-miss allowed his cousin to lift the trophy for Liverpool.
They need to regroup and refocus, but I'd say that automatic promotion is beyond them now because the teams above them are in such good form.
Brighton have gone unbeaten in 11 games (although they've only won one of their last five) to go above Cardiff, but the big winners of the week were Middlesbrough - who went above Birmingham and Blackpool (those sides have taken just one point from the last six).
Wins over Barnsley and Pompey have taken Boro to fourth place and they're a team on the up. They have the 10th best home record in the Championship and if that was better they'd be even closer to the top two because their away record is the second best in the league behind West Ham.
They have often been too reliant on Marvin Emnes, but have added the services of Adam Hammill on loan from Wolves, a quick and tricky player who has performed well in this division. The solid partnership of Seb Hines and Matthew Bates in the centre of defence has also been heart-warming for Tony Mowbray. This is a pivotal month for Boro now with Leeds (h), Birmingham (a) and West Ham (a) coming up.
Battle at the bottom
As for Bristol City, their midweek victory over Leicester was their first win in eight games.
They went on a great run when Derek McInnes first took over, but some of the frailties and negative thinking seemed to return. I saw Blackpool go to Ashton Gate and destroy them and the passing teams seem to do well on their big pitch.
Doncaster did them a favour by beating Nottingham Forest with Frederic Piquionne, who has been paired with El-Hadji Diouf up front, scoring on his debut. I bet Portsmouth and Coventry below them would love such Premier League pedigree in their ranks.
At the bottom, Portsmouth have had a points deduction, but they have only picked up two points from a possible 21 so their problems are really mounting up. They are looking doomed sadly.
So Bristol City's game with Cardiff is a big one. They might be separated by a big gulf in the league, but in terms of form the two sides are in a similar place right now.
Cardiff are looking for a springboard for a play-off push, but in terms of confidence it's imperative the home team get something out of the game.
I would say Bristol City might just scrape themselves to safety - I think they'll put together enough points to stay up - but I don't think they've got the squad to win three or four games on the trot.
Meanwhile, Malky Mackay will hope that Saturday's the day they can put their cup heartache behind them and start to make strides towards the play-offs.
League One Look
Charlton lost their 100 per cent home record this week. At any level of football, if two or three players are below par then you can come unstuck and Colchester, who were under no pressure, performed heroics. It shows the need for total concentration at all times; there's no such thing as a gimme in that division.
Bradley Wright-Phillips's golden goal touch seemed to have deserted him, but that's not too much of a concern when you see how far clear they are at the top. Their lead is unassailable in my view, especially in such a punishing division. The level of performance from Chris Powell's side all season leads me to think they'll be fine. The rest are chasing one automatic promotion place.
League Two look
Port Vale may be going into administration, but the players have shown tremendous focus and professionalism. Their 3-0 victory over Burton was their eighth game unbeaten, including five wins, and I can't praise them enough. They're making inroads on the teams above them in the race for the play-offs and they have been absolutely brilliant.
Players of the Month
Congratulations are due to the outstanding performers of February with the gongs going to...
Championship: Adam Federici (Reading)
Federici has proven to be one of the best stoppers in the Championship. A host of clean sheets plus magnificent game-changing, point-making saves in the month of February saw him help the Royals up to third, hot on the heels of West Ham and Southampton.
League One: Dean Bowditch (MK Dons)
A 10-point haul in February for the Dons was largely due to their main marksman, Bowditch. He helped himself to four goals in this month, three of them coming in key wins against Oldham and Bury, easy the loss of sharp-shooter Sam Baldock to West Ham.
League Two: Paul Benson (Swindon)
Inspired signing Paul Benson's seamless integration into Paolo's project is just one of the reasons why Swindon fans believe automatic promotion beckons. The fact that he's a natural goalscorer with guaranteed performance at this level was evident this month with five quality finishes cementing Swindon's place at the top of the division.