West Ham romp sets up a gripping midweek in the Championship
Southampton suddenly go from title favourites to sweating over second
Having spent the entire season in the top two, Southampton are threatened by the galling prospect of being dumped out of the automatic promotion spots in the final fortnight after West Ham returned to form with precision timing.
The Saints started matchday 43 odds-on to win the title, six points clear of third-placed West Ham and with an 11-strike goal difference cushion, aware that victory at home to Reading would leave them tantalisingly close to the Premier League.
Despite dominating the majority of that encounter, Reading scored from their three shots on target to claim a landscape-changing 3-1 triumph, in the process emerging as 1/6 favourites to finish first.
West Ham’s response to being presented the slightest of openings was a 6-0 demolition of play-off chasing Brighton which sliced the gap between them and Nigel Adkins’ side to three in terms of both points and goal difference.
A grand finale now awaits to a campaign which looked destined to end with Southampton and Reading as the top two after the Royals’ won 4-2 at the Boleyn Ground during the Irons’ recent seven-match run without a home win.
Sam Allardyce’s pre-season fancies head to relegation-threatened Bristol City on Tuesday in a game that they are 8/11 to prevail in, having pocketed 14 of the last 18 points available to them on their travels.
At the same time, Southampton will be visiting another club not yet mathematically safe from relegation in Peterborough, who have won just once in six since an unexpected success against leaders Reading.
Southampton’s away form has improved hugely over the last few months, meaning they are 8/13 to deliver, and their ability to react to this sudden pressure will probably determine the outcome of the race for second.
Triumph at London Road on Tuesday and the momentum regenerated will likely carry them through.