EFL stories you may have missed: Southampton's comeback, Barnsley drama, happy Harrogate
It has not been the first weekend in which the Bellingham brothers have both scored well-taken goals, but the fact both continue to do so as the season gears towards the business end is an indication of their mentality.
Where Jobe, 18, is concerned, his individual effort against Plymouth Argyle would have been a contender for goal of the weekend had it not been for sumptuous volleys at St Mary’s — which we will come on to — and at the Select Car Leasing Stadium by Reading’s Femi Azeez. Reading’s win over Charlton meanwhile made it miserable start to life at the helm for new boss Nathan Jones.
Leicester City, Portsmouth and Stockport County continue to set their pace in their respective leagues and, barring some twists towards the season’s conclusion, the question will be one of who will join them on their promotion parties.
This week, we look at the aforementioned volley at Southampton, Blackburn’s end to a tumultuous week, late chaos at Barnsley and Wycombe Wanderers, and a Harrogate Town side who continue to impress.
Here’s what you may have missed in the EFL last weekend.
Rothwell helps Southampton flex their muscle
In a league in which the financial — and technical — disparities are becoming more apparent every week, with the three sides who were relegated from the Premier League last season now occupying the top three positions, a game between second-from-top and fourth-from-bottom should have been a foregone conclusion. Especially when the home side, Southampton, went into the game on a 24-game unbeaten run.
So when Sorba Thomas and David Kasumu put managerless Huddersfield Town 2-0 up at St Mary’s, fans and pundits alike were preparing themselves for a shock. There was even a smattering of boos from the home section.
But what happened next was probably a big example of the strength teams like Southampton can flex. The catalyst for their comeback was the performance of Joe Rothwell, borrowed from nearby Bournemouth — and who had made 11 appearances in the top tier this season.
That they could bring someone of his calibre off the bench was telling — Rothwell’s class oozed instantly and it was his sumptuous, aesthetically pleasing volley which halved the deficit. Rothwell was alone on the edge of the box when a corner was headed out to him. He could have taken a touch but instead caressed a volley with the outside of his foot into the top corner.
— Sky Bet Championship (@SkyBetChamp) February 11, 2024
That was in the 49th minute and by minute 50 Rothwell had scored again to level the game.
Chelsea loanee Alex Matos put Huddersfield ahead again just after the hour but three goals in the last 10 minutes or so helped Russell Martin’s side to an emphatic — if not inevitable — comeback. Their five goals took their home tally this season to 39, the most in the league, as they secured their ninth successive league win at St Mary’s.
“Joe Rothwell was immense, David Brooks showed the quality he has, Kamaldeen (Sulemana) came on and gave us so much threat, and Sam Edozie was outstanding, and Sekou (Mara), but the guys at the back who had a really difficult first half, really stood up,” Martin said.
Brooks followed Rothwell on loan to Southampton from Bournemouth, Sulemana is a Ghana international who played at the World Cup in Qatar, and Mara and Edozie have Premier League experience. Huddersfield’s Thomas also played at the 2022 World Cup with Wales but their starting XI only had two other internationals — Yuta Nakayama (Japan) and Brodie Spencer (Northern Ireland).
It shows that Southampton have a glut of difference-makers at their disposal compared to many of their second-tier competitors.
Blackburn raise spirits after embarrassing fortnight
The 10 days leading up to Blackburn’s game against Stoke City on Saturday were tumultuous to say the least. A transfer saga — which saw a move for Duncan McGuire fall through twice, followed by an appeal which was rejected by the EFL — and the departure of manager Jon Dahl Tomasson were sandwiched by a damaging home defeat by Championship strugglers Queens Park Rangers.
The club appointed John Eustace as head coach — who may feel he has a point to prove after he was booted out at Birmingham City to make way for Wayne Rooney in October.
His start could not have been better. Three goals in the opening 37 minutes blew their visitors away. The scorer of the second, Sam Szmodics, recorded goal number 17 of the Championship season and now leads the goalscoring charts.
🎙️ “𝙏𝙬𝙤 𝙞𝙣𝙨𝙞𝙙𝙚 𝙩𝙬𝙚𝙣𝙩𝙮 𝙢𝙞𝙣𝙪𝙩𝙚𝙨, 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙀𝙬𝙤𝙤𝙙 𝙋𝙖𝙧𝙠 𝙞𝙨 𝙧𝙤𝙘𝙠𝙞𝙣𝙜!”
— Blackburn Rovers (@Rovers) February 11, 2024
With Eustace now at the helm, fans will be hoping this victory is a catalyst for more positivity on the pitch as tensions continue to rise off it in regard to owners Venky’s.
Phillips keeps his head amid Barnsley chaos
Things may not be all rosey behind the scenes at Barnsley, as reported by The Athletic’s Matt Slater this week, but they were able to show resolve to stage a late comeback at home to in-form Leyton Orient.
Ruel Sotiriou put Orient, who had not lost in nine games, 1-0 up in the 10th minute, a lead they held for 78 minutes.
But any Barnsley fans who may have left early would have missed the Adam Phillips show; the midfielder taking centre stage to almost single-handedly drag his side to victory.
His first, on 88 minutes, came when his line-breaking run was expertly picked out by Mael de Gevigney before looping his header over the advancing goalkeeper Sol Brynn.
The hosts were keen to restart the game following the goal, while Orient tried to kill momentum by slowing things down. This annoyed Barnsley midfielder Luca Connell, a bit too much, and he was shown a second yellow for dissent.
Nevertheless, the home side still pressed and got their deserved winner five minutes into stoppage time when Phillips, unmarked, met a Corey O’Keeffe free kick from close range.
Wycombe’s eye-catching result after winter of woe
Wycombe are another side who had a fairly bleak midwinter, with one win in 16, but February has seen an upturn in performances for Matt Bloomfield’s team. They collected a confidence-boosting three points away to Cheltenham Town but a big test came against promotion-pushing Peterborough.
Buoyed by new signings Richard Kone and Matt Butcher, among others, they won 5-2 in one of the more eye-catching results of the weekend. Yes, they were aided by two own goals by Archie Collins and Nicholas Bilokapic and some abject defending which was ruthlessly punished by Kieran Sadlier, but the win, which moves them up to 15th, should provide a good springboard for the rest of the campaign.
“We had a tough time over the winter months, so it’s been important for all of us in the group to remain positive as I have massive faith in this team and my staff,” Bloomfield said. “We’ve had testing moments so to enjoy a day like today in front of our supporters against an incredible team in our league is great.”
Harrogate, League Two’s surprise package, march on
Harrogate Town manager Simon Weaver is the longest-serving manager in English football by a fair distance; his 14 years and nine months in charge means he has seen it all at The EnviroVent Stadium.
Their 10 points won in January secured Weaver, the son of owner and chairman Irving, the League Two manager of the month award and for their next game, against struggling Colchester United, it seemed fitting that it would be one of his long-standing players who would secure another victory.
Jack Muldoon, 34, continues to lead the line for Harrogate and used his experience to be at the right place at the right time to prod home a stoppage-time winner.
Their last 10 games has seen them pick up 23 points and they have risen from 18th to seventh, now occupying the final play-off place. Harrogate resident Gareth Southgate must surely be impressed.
(Top photos: Southampton manager Russell Martin and Harrogate’s Jack Muldoon; Getty Images)