THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Championship ~ Reading must handle new pressure
As they enter the final third of the season, Reading find themselves in an unfamiliar position. In the previous few seasons the club have relied on late runs of form to sneak into the play-offs. This season the run has come early. Following their midweek victory over Derby County, Brian McDermott's side currently lie in the Championship's final play-off place. Their recent form has been good, with just two defeats in ten league games, though they both came against play-off rivals Hull and Cardiff City.

Since McDermott was appointed in 2009 with the club in the bottom three, Reading players have revelled in their position as the league's late sprinters. This season, though, they will have to cope with the expectation and pressure of holding onto their play-off place. The challenge will begin tonight with the visit of Burnley, themselves not out of the play-off hunt.

League One ~ Scunthorpe's opportunity to escape danger
Scunthorpe United's 1-0 victory over Rochdale has strengthened their chances of avoiding a second successive relegation. The win against League One's bottom side was only Scunthorpe's second since November. It might just be enough to save Alan Knill's men, who are two points ahead of 21st-place Wycombe with three games in hand. Those extra games include difficult trips to Sheffield United, who are currently in the automatic promotion places, and Yeovil, who have pulled away from the relegation spots in recent weeks. Scunthorpe's case will be helped by the return of number of players from injury, especially as they now face 12 games in 39 days – starting with a trip to Leyton Orient tomorrow.

League Two ~ Di Canio leads Swindon towards the top
Swindon's place as legitimate challengers for the League Two title was cemented on Tuesday with a magnificent 3-0 win over rivals Crawley Town. The victory came on the back of an equally impressive 4-1 win over Southend United. Paolo di Canio's side have lost only once in the league since October, and that was away to Torquay United, a side in equally menacing form at the moment. With just two points separating the top six team in the division, Swindon are currently in fourth place. Di Canio has warned that Hereford United will pose a different, perhaps more frustrating challenge this weekend. The manager, who will continue to watch his team from the stands, thanked the FA for his touchline ban: "I give them permission to ban me for the rest of the season. We will win the league anyway."

Champions League ~ Calamitous defending in Russia
Zenit St Petersburg came away victorious from their second round first leg tie against Benfica, but it was no thanks to their goalkeeper, Yuri Zhevnov. Playing in sub-zero conditions, the Belarusian fumbled two simple saves straight into the paths of both Maxi Pereira and Oscar Cardozo for Benfica's two goals in the 3-2 result. Admittedly the Portuguese club's defending was dire for Zenit's late winner, but they should feel lucky to have come away with two away goals and a real chance of progression to the quarter-finals.

Europa League ~ Arsenal were not the only team outclassed 4-0
Arsenal can take small comfort from the fact that they weren't the only side to suffer a humiliating defeat in European competition this week. Red Bull Salzburg, like Arsenal, succumbed to a 4-0 loss, playing against FC Metalist Kharkiv. Runners-up in the Austrian league last season, home side Salzburg were behind to the Ukrainians after just 33 seconds and now look out of the competition. Tom Hocking & William Turvill

Comments (1)
Comment by geobra 2012-02-18 10:08:15

Not strictly speaking a midweek game, but Inter's 3-0 home defeat to Bologna last night, following on from the 1-0 loss at home to Novara, suggests that I wasn't entirely wrong in suggesting at the beginning of December that they might be in danger of relegation. They are not, thanks to a 7-match winning streak which has now been followed by a haul of one point in 5 games and a 4-13 goal ratio. It looks as though the winning streak was the exception and not what is happening now. Inter are no longer a team, but a collection of individuals, some without motivation, some too old, some lost and some just not good enough. It is not possible to work out exactly what coach Claudio Ranieri is trying to do, but whatever it is it is failing spectacularly. As has been said before, they are paying for not making necessary structural changes after the Champions League win over Bayern in May 2010. Mourinho knew exactly what he was doing when he walked out after that game.

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