Jake Livermore rolled back the years for Watford, West Brom are building promotion momentum and we examine the playoff chances of those clubs realistically involved. All this and more from the latest round of the Championship...
TEAM OF THE ROUND
West Brom had a lovely old time on Saturday as they cruised past Blackburn 4-1. Not taking anything away from the Baggies but we should quickly touch on Blackburn's struggles, this was their seventh defeat in nine Championship games and they're now just one place above the bottom six.
If Rovers were a fragile opponent then the Baggies ruthlessly took advantage of that vulnerability and things were pretty much dealt with not long after half past three on Saturday, such was the first half performance from the home side.
Youngster Tom Fellows has been growing in reputation, he forced the opener from a trademark Darnell Furlong long throw. Brandon Thomas-Assante added an excellent second drilling in from the angle, before Dom Hyam put through his own net to give West Brom a 3-0 lead with just 33 minutes played. Jake Garrett briefly gave Rovers hope with his left footed curler but Thomas-Asante replied with his second just three minutes later to make it 4-1.
We'll go into a bit more detail about the play-off chase later in this column, but West Brom are giving off very reliable vibes completely in keeping with that of a Carlos Corberan side. Since Christmas it's four wins out of five in all competitions and since late September only the three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season have picked up more wins. The emergence of Fellows, the continued improvement of Thomas-Asante, the return from injury of Daryl Dike and a five point cushion over sixth place does make the Baggies a fairly safe bet to stay right where they are in those play-off spots.
PLAYER OF THE ROUND
We're going to go with the element of surprise for the player of the round this week. Of course it would've been straightforward to write about Callum O'Hare's excellent takedown of leaders Leicester for Coventry, or another superb solo goal for Norwich's Johnny Rowe at Hull on Friday night. It's no great surprise to see these two players firing their sides to victory, but who would've forecast a Jake Livermore double being the difference in Watford's win at QPR?
Livermore is very much in the 'been there and done it' category of player these days. At 34 years old he's coming up on 500 appearances and knows the game better than most in the Championship. Stick him in central midfield in front of your back four and you'll get leadership, reliability and high in game IQ.
What you don't expect is goals, Livermore has only scored more than two in three of the seventeen seasons he's been active for. That's why two in a single game is a significant red letter day. With QPR missing chances left and right Livermore beautifully curled home the opener from the edge of the box and then followed it up five minutes later drilling home what turned out to be a decisive second.
The win for Watford confirmed by their unlikely goalscoring hero shot them up to within a point of the play-off spots. It wasn't a terribly convincing triumph and history tells us the chances of it happening again are slim, so let's enjoy the goalscoring spotlight being on a player who's rarely afforded that type of attention.
TALKING POINT OF THE ROUND
With 19 games to go it's not unreasonable for us to be firming up our four play-off picks ahead of the tense business of the finishing straight. There are a few helpful gaps that allow us to reach some fairly simplistic conclusions, the first being we can count Leicester out of being in the end of season knockout games. It would take a very unusual turn of events for us not to see the Foxes automatically promoted.
That means the next easy assumption is that the second automatic promotion place will be occupied by either Ipswich, Southampton or Leeds, therefore two of our four play-off teams will come from that trio. West Brom seem too far off to be included in the top two conversation but have a nice cushion in terms of the top six and almost feel a more certain pick than anyone to be a play-off team. Then there's the fight for sixth. It's currently occupied by Coventry but Sunderland are level on points and Watford, Hull and Middlesbrough are only a point behind.
To get a little more specific, the trends for the three teams chasing second would lead you to think all three of Ipswich, Southampton and Leeds are going to post high points totals but with Saints most likely to pinch second place. In terms of that sixth placed spot something is telling me that the semi-final between Middlesbrough and Coventry from last season may give us the two teams we're looking at this season for sixth. Right now, the way Coventry are growing into the season it would be hard to look past the Sky Blues.
That leaves me with a play-off quartet of Ipswich, Leeds, West Brom and Coventry, I'll probably feel differently every fortnight between now and the end of the season but that's the lay of the land as I see it right now.
LOANEE OF THE ROUND
I often talk in this column about same division loans being a rarity, so how about this for a bizarre outlier of a situation? Imagine being captain of a side in poor form towards the bottom of the table and being loaned to a side right up at the top of the table. Not only that, imagine that player went straight into the team and started in an important win that took his loan club back into the automatic promotion positions. You can imagine no more as this has been Lewis Travis' reality this week.
Blackburn captain Travis had fallen a little out of favour at Ewood Park and, with finances extremely tight, the thinking seems to be that loaning him out would free up some money to spend elsewhere.
Travis arrived in the short term to help bolster Ipswich in the central midfield spots with Sam Morsy suspended, Morsy's partner Massimo Luongo rolled his ankle in training and therefore the new man was straight into the first team for the game against Sunderland. The pressure was on Ipswich with Southampton having won in their 3pm kick-off to knock them out of the top two for the first time since September. And on Travis, to have to jump straight in from the start with the TV cameras rolling in the late kick-off.
Travis can be considered to have passed his debut assignment, helping Ipswich come from behind and defeating Sunderland to return immediately to the top two. It was only a few days of training Travis had under his belt, but when you take an experienced player and insert him into a well coached team those factors can work in tandem to make up for a lack of unfamiliarity. This signing won't be the most talked about of the January window but could turn out to be a valuable one at Portman Road if he can help Morsy and Luongo through these final months.