9 April ~ It's said that the Championship is the hardest division to get out of, but sometimes it seems as if the teams at the top are hardly trying. For most of this season observers of the second tier have been saying that any team can beat any other and that there isn't a Newcastle to run away with the title or a West Brom to break away from the chasing pack. But in recent weeks several teams that fondly imagined they would be challenging QPR for the top spot have started dropping points left, right and centre and, without seeming to have broken much of a sweat, the Rs are suddenly nine points clear with seven games remaining.
Like last season, Nottingham Forest recovered from a slow start, crept slowly up the table and briefly claimed second place. This time, it was felt, some steel had been added to the previous season's flair and the Reds might manage to hold on to an automatic promotion place and spare their long-suffering supporters the prospect of yet another implosion in the play-offs. In attempting to contain rising expectations on Trentside, Billy Davies repeatedly cautioned that the top six would change in the latter stages of the season. He can't have imagined that change would see Forest slip out of the play-off places thanks to a wretched run of four draws and four defeats.
Their place has been quietly taken by Reading, with five successive wins in a nine-match unbeaten run. Like Blackpool last season, they are hitting form at just the right time. In beating Preston on Tuesday they moved three points clear of Forest with a much better goal difference. Indeed, the most obvious difference between the two teams, apart perhaps from the volubility and volatility of their managers, is in front of goal. Shane Long has 20 league goals to his name this season, while the seven forwards Forest have fielded have scored just 22 between them.
But runs are there to be ended. For all their mounting frailties, injuries and suspensions, Forest haven't become a bad team overnight and have tended to disappoint most against ostensibly weaker teams. The Royals, meanwhile, have managed just three points from eight matches against the current top four. So will Forest rediscover their previously imperious home form or will Reading put further daylight between the teams? Whatever the result, such are the vulnerabilities of even the better Championship sides that many fans are admitting the promotion race is little more than a fight for parachute money to finance another Championship campaign in 2012-13. Richard Harrison