As the first international break of the season draws to a close, the EFL marked its return to a full complement of fixtures in a predictably unpredictable fashion.
Yet more unbeaten records bit the dust in shocking and dramatic circumstances, whilst there were also goals, surprises and talking points aplenty across England’s second, third and fourth tiers.
But who were the big winners and losers of this mid-September weekend?
The majority of talk surrounding the Championship over the international break had been about possible point deductions for both Birmingham City and Bolton Wanderers, for differing reasons.
News surfaced in the last week that the Trotters were set to enter administration, and with it, be handed a 12-point penalty in the league as a result, whilst fellow relegation candidates Birmingham were set to receive the same punishment for breaching the EFL’s profitability and sustainability rules.
Bolton managed to see their sanction scuppered due to a late deal being reached over the payment of a debt to the club’s main creditor, BluMarble Capital, but for the Blues, dark clouds and uncertainty continue to linger over St Andrew’s, despite an impressive showing in the Friday night fixture – a local derby against West Bromwich Albion.
It was the first time Birmingham had met their West Midlands rivals in a league encounter for over seven years, and Garry Monk’s side went into it without a victory against their cross-region opponents since 2006.
They did manage to get off to the best possible start however, despite their winless start to the season.
After dominating early proceedings, Jota got on the end of a Lukas Jutkiewicz knock-down to squeeze an effort in from a tight-angle at the back post, and just moments later, the Spaniard had a golden chance to make it two.
Kyle Bartley bizarrely handled a cross in the area which gifted Jota and the Blues an opportunity from the spot, but former Aston Villa man Sam Johnstone was equal to it, and Monk’s men were later made to pay – and not for the first time in 2018-19.
With little over five minutes remaining of the first half, full-back Kristian Pedersen – whose £2-million summer capture could also leave Birmingham in hot water for breaching the terms of their transfer embargo – sloppily lost possession after initially gaining it back from Matt Phillips, and the powerful winger finished calmly under goalkeeper Lee Camp.
Birmingham may have looked impressive, but it was Albion who went closest to nicking the points in the second half, as Harvey Barnes cannoned one off the crossbar.
Ultimately it ended a goal apiece and another story of what might have been for the Blues, but it was still a point that keeps them out of the bottom three – for now.
As for Bolton, there may have been good news earlier in the week for the Whites, but none so on Saturday as they went down 2-1 at home to Steve McClaren’s QPR, who are enjoying a mini-revival with two wins from their last three.
In the upper echelons of the division, Leeds cling onto top spot and keep their unbeaten run alive thanks to a last-gasp equaliser from Manchester City loanee Jack Harrison at Millwall.
The 1-1 draw at the Den means Marcelo Bielsa’s side remain the only team yet to taste defeat in the Championship this campaign, as an uninspiring Middlesbrough lost 1-0 at Norwich.
Leapfrogging Boro are Brentford and Bristol City, who both enjoyed home wins and clean sheets against Wigan and Sheffield United respectively. The impressive Bees sit second, whilst Lee Johnson’s Robins have won four in a row after failing to win any of their first three.
Derby drop out of the playoffs as new manager Frank Lampard saw Tom Lawrence sent off during their defeat to Rotherham, and they’re replaced in the top six by Swansea who drew a blank against the Rams’ local rivals, Nottingham Forest.
At the other end of the table, Reading leapfrogged opponents Preston after a 3-2 win at Deepdale earned them their maiden win of the campaign, whilst Ipswich remain rooted to the bottom after a 2-0 loss at Hull which sees the Tigers pull away from the bottom three.
In the remaining match-ups, Sheffield Wednesday came from two goals down to draw against Stoke at Hillsborough, and it’s now six-games without a win in all competitions for Aston Villa, who could only snatch a point in stoppage time at newly-promoted Blackburn.
All eyes were on London Road on Saturday, as the two early pacesetters in League One set out to do battle.
Both Peterborough and Portsmouth went into the afternoon’s eagerly anticipated match with unbeaten records on the line, with the former leading their opposition by two points having drawn one less game.
But despite home advantage, Posh crumbled, and it was Pompey who made the happy journey back down to the South Coast with three points in the bag.
After a goalless first half, Kenny Jackett’s side sprung into life in what proved to be a fatal 15-minute spell in the second period for Peterborough. First, Oli Hawkins got the opener just after the 60-minute mark, and Jamal Lowe made the points all-but-safe with a quarter of an hour remaining – both strikes assisted by the impressive youngster, Ronan Curtis.
Matt Godden got Posh on the scoresheet in the dying embers, but it was too-little too-late for the home side, who fall to defeat for the first time this season, and with it, down into second place behind their visitors.
And they weren’t the only team to lose for the first time this campaign, as the chasing pack in the playoffs all failed to register victories.
Barnsley succumbed to defeat at Coventry courtesy of Jordan Willis’ late goal, which gave the Sky Blues back-to-back wins, whilst Sunderland went down 2-1 at Burton and Walsall let a lead slip to lose 4-1 at home to Doncaster – a result that sees Rovers leapfrog the Saddlers and move into fifth.
Joey Barton’s Fleetwood occupied the final playoff spot heading into the weekend but they now drop out after a 1-1 home draw with Accrington – a result which sees Stanley extend their unbeaten run to seven league games.
Meanwhile, Shrewsbury were the big winners down at the bottom as two first-half goals gave John Askey’s men their first league win of the season at home to Southend, who they move a place above into 17th.
Plymouth seem to be mirroring their poor start of last year, as yet another defeat sees them remain bottom. The Pilgrims lost 1-0 at home to a Blackpool side who received two red cards in stoppage time, but held out to make it nine games unbeaten in all competitions.
Just above the Green Army are Oxford who drew 0-0 at Wycombe, Bristol Rovers’ poor form continues with a 1-0 loss at Luton, and Bradford now join them in the bottom four as a 2-0 home loss to Charlton makes it four consecutive defeats.
Gillingham are hovering dangerously above the drop zone as Ian Henderson’s hat-trick condemned them to a 3-0 defeat at Rochdale, and Scunthorpe complete the League One round-up with a first win for new boss Stuart McCall, as the Iron won 3-2 at AFC Wimbledon to climb the table.
Six was the magic number for Yeovil, who won the ‘battle of the early season surprise packages’ in style at Newport to move into the playoffs.
The Welsh outfit went into the weekend on the back of an impressive run which had seen them soar into second place and level on points with leaders Lincoln, but an abysmal afternoon – which also saw half-time substitute Robbie Willmott dismissed late on – was certainly one to forget for manager Michael Flynn.
Darren Way and Yeovil’s 6-0 win also makes it six games unbeaten for the Glovers and lifts them into fifth – just two points behind their hosts – who drop to third.
That result made it advantage Lincoln in the race at the top, and Danny Cowley’s side capitalised in what was a battle between opposing ends of the league at Moss Rose.
The Imps dominated for large spells against struggling Macclesfield and led through Tom Pett, but were pegged back late on by Jamie Grimes’ scrappy goal.
With their equaliser coming seven minutes from time, the hosts seemed destined for a point which would have lifted them out of the relegation zone, but the hopes of the home faithful were dashed soon after by Jason Shackell’s winner.
Exeter are now the Imps’ closest competition, as the Grecians backed up last week’s thrashing of Notts County with an equally impressive win against another Nottinghamshire-based side in Mansfield.
Matt Taylor’s men ended the Stags’ unbeaten start to the season with a 2-1 win at the One Call Stadium, which makes it ten games unbeaten for City at Mansfield – a run that stretches back to 1996.
The loss for David Flitcroft’s Yellows means Forest Green and MK Dons are the only two unbeaten sides left, as the two teams shared the spoils in a competitive game that ended 1-1.
That point wasn’t enough to keep the Dons in the top seven however, as Bury and Oldham both move above them with impressive 2-1 and 3-0 away victories at Swindon and Grimsby respectively.
Colchester retained their playoff berth with a convincing 3-0 win at home to Cambridge, but Carlisle drop out after losing 2-0 at home to Tranmere.
At the bottom, Notts County ended their losing streak with a high-scoring 3-3 draw at home to Stevenage, but will be left thinking what might have been after leading three times at Meadow Lane. The result keeps them at the foot of the table on goal difference.
Morecambe remain just above the Magpies and Macclesfield despite having a fourth straight loss inflicted on them by Crawley, and it’s back-to-back defeats for Northampton, whose ten men went down 2-0 at Port Vale.
The only other game of the weekend and rounding us off was a goalless draw between Cheltenham and Crewe, which sees the two clubs side-by-side in 18th and 17th respectively. The less said about that one the better.