Just four points separate the last play-off place from an automatic promotion spot in the Championship. Norwich City have seen their gap at the top reduced to three points, with Brentford’s midweek victory, whilst Swansea, Bournemouth and Watford are all within touching distance. Beyond those top five clubs, Reading, Stoke and Barnsley are hot on their heels.
Norwich take on eighth placed Barnsley at home, a game in which the Canaries will be looking to pick up their first win in three games. Brentford host mid-table Bristol City and Reading travel to the similarly positioned Huddersfield. Both high flying clubs will be anticipating victory in those matches, but the real crunch clashes take place at the Liberty and Bet365 Stadiums.
Indeed, at the Liberty Stadium, it’s third versus fifth as Swansea City face Watford. Meanwhile, at the Bet365 ground, seventh placed Stoke host Bournemouth, who currently lie in fourth position.
The latter is perhaps the most intriguing match up as Bournemouth seek to bounce back after being stung by the Bees on their final outing of 2020. The Cherries are six points off the top, with a game in hand and victory could potentially lift them into second. Jason Tindall’s men will be well up for their trip to the West Midlands after feeling aggrieved to have come away from the Brentford Community Stadium empty handed.
Bournemouth and Brentford have enjoyed some classic festive fixtures over the years, most notably when the pair met on New Year’s Day 2005. A Steve Fletcher hat-trick inspired Bournemouth to a thrilling 3-2 victory on the south coast on that occasion. Fans will recall that game as being a League One contest, but now the fortunes of both have changed dramatically as they vie for a place in the Premier League.
The most recent festive encounter between the clubs, on 30 December 2020, was no less exciting. Bournemouth almost took the lead in the opening 30 seconds as Solanki’s strike was cleared off the line courtesy of some tremendous defending. The seasiders then carved out a one-on-one opportunity, only for Stanislas to be forced wide, before Billing burst through and saw his square pass cleared thanks to another piece of outstanding defending. These events all unfolded within the first 10 minutes and Jason Tindall must have been scratching his head as to how Bournemouth weren’t in front.
With those early chances going begging, Brentford grew into the game. On the 18th minute Canos danced past Lewis Cook and blazed just wide with his left footed shot from the edge of the area. He would rue that missed opportunity as Lloyd Kelly’s cross found Solanki six minutes later. The striker ran across the keeper and converted with a lovely first time finish.
The lead was no more than Bournemouth deserved, but plucky Brentford pegged them back on 36 minutes as a superb corner kicked was headed home at the front post by Dalsgaard. The hosts then had the better of the action until half time.
The second 45 began in much the same way as it ended. Adam Smith turned a dangerous cross away in the 51st minute, but the Bees took the lead when a nicely flighted ball was headed home by Fosu-Henry at the back stick.
Brentford won the game 2-1, which bolsters their chances of promotion as they went within three points of Norwich. For Bournemouth, they will be furious at not coming away with at least a point for their efforts. They need to harbour that sense of injustice and produce the goods at Stoke. Victory over the Potters could be invaluable as they have a favourable run of fixtures coming up, along with a game in hand at their disposal.
Whatever happens, it promises to be an intriguing day of football at the top end of the Championship tomorrow.