The Championship is in full flow at the moment and this weekend’s games are the last before the third international break of the season. Some huge games on show and we preview five in detail, with the inclusion of our new the72 podcasts on three of the games.
Derby County v Wolverhampton Wanders
The lunchtime offering in the Championship this week is great way to start the days action with 4th against 6th at the iPro.
Derby had been having a tough time in recent weeks with back-to-back defeats against Wigan and Brentford, however they returned to winning ways in midweek with a win over Huddersfield. Despite controlling the game, the Rams faced a tricky final few minutes as the Terriers rallied late on. Derby are just one point behind leaders Bournemouth and with the top two sides meeting at the Riverside, the Rams could return to the top of the table. Jordon Ibe is on loan from Liverpool and had a huge part to play already this season. The winger has scored three goals this season and is getting better and better. He is this game’s key man.
Wolves are just two points behind Derby in the table and sit 6th in the table. However, a midweek defeat at Ipswich made it just one point from their last two games. All season Wolves have struggled to get wins on the road, just two wins from their eight away games. Nevertheless, they have only lost twice and have proved to be very hard to beat all season. A win for Kenny Jackett’s side would both see them climb above Derby in the table and right in the mix to be in the top two come the close of play on Saturday.
Listen to the72 contributor and Derby fan Matt Jones discuss this game with Sam Ashoo in The72 podcast.
Score prediction: 3-1 Derby win
Middlesbrough v AFC Bournemouth
At the start of the season you would have sounded crazy to say that this game would be a meeting between the top two in the table, especially with the visitors leading the division. A clear stand out game this weekend.
Middlesbrough can no longer be considered dark horses or under the radar. The weekend win at Rotherham got people talking, whilst the 4-0 demolition of Norwich at the Riverside laid down a marker to the rest of the front runners. Despite scoring seven goals in their last two games it has remained the Boro defence that has impressed the most. They were only the 4th side to shut out Norwich this season and have the best defensive record in the league, conceding just 12 goals. Midfielder Grant Leadbitter has been banging them in at the other end, with another two to add to his tally in the midweek win. He already has nine goals for the season and is this game’s key man.
Bournemouth just cannot stop winning football matches. Wins other Brighton and Sheffield Wednesday showed that the Cherries can grind out wins when necessary, a key quality of sides looking to gain promotion. The win at Hillsborough set a new record for the Cherries as they won six games in a row in the 2nd tier for the first time in the club’s history. If they are to remain top of the Championship they are going to have to break another record and that is winning a game at Middlesbrough. In fact to date Bournemouth have won just once home or away against the Boro in their 13 meetings. It will be interesting to see whether Eddie Howe switches to a 4-5-1 formation which he favoured at Watford or sticks with the attacking 4-4-2 that has done so well over the past month or so.
Listen to the72 editor and Bournemouth fan Jason Lewis preview this game with Sam Ashoo in the72 podcast.
Score prediction: 1-1 draw
Nottingham Forest v Norwich
A meeting of two sides struggling for form of late after both making a great start to the season. Can one of them get back on track with a win this weekend?
Nottingham Forest have gone from having a mini-blip to some sort of disaster. Performances in the last couple of weeks have been a shadow of the side that set the pace over the early weeks of the season. Without a win in nine games and coming into this one on a run of three consecutive defeats in the space of 11 days. The major change has seen to come at the back. Initially this campaign Forest looked like they would be a very difficult side to breakdown, however they are leaking goals at will recently, 15 conceded in their last five league games. This form that has the Reds bottom of the form table has seen them slide to 11th in the table, eight points behind leaders Bournemouth. Karl Darlow has been out of sorts in-between the sticks this season. He may have a busy day against Norwich and he is this game’s key man.
Similarly Norwich have not been able to put points on the board recently. Last weekend’s win against Bolton was a minor reprieve, but it is just one win in seven for the Canaries. Their latest defeat at Middlesbrough was a schooling on the wrong end of a 4-0 scoreline. Neil Adams looked like he had a team that would be contenders for the league title, but recent performances suggest that the form that took them top of the table was not the norm. All season they have found it difficult to break down teams that are happy for a draw. In Forest they will certainly face a side going for the win and perhaps this will favour the away side.
Listen to the72 contributor and freelance journalist Nathan Staples preview this game with Sam Ashoo in the72 podcast.
Score prediction: 2-1 Norwich win
Brighton & Hove Albion v Blackburn Rovers
A meeting of two sides who have probably been slightly underwhelmed with the start of the season. Pressure is on Sami Hyppia, whilst Rovers look to break into the top six.
Perhaps Brighton as a club are victims of their own success. After two very successful seasons in the Championship making the play-offs in both, it could be argued that they expect too much from their squad. Despite this their record so far this season has been poor, so much so a defeat this weekend could see them drop into the bottom three. In midweek the Seagulls had a massive win against fellow strugglers Wigan at the AMEX. It was their first win since August and it ended a run of 11 games without a victory in the Championship. Back-to-back victories would leave the side in high spirits going into the international break.
As discussed in the midweek Championship preview, Blackburn are starting to find the form that they ended last season with and that will delight boss Gary Bowyer. Their current unbeaten run spans six games, claiming 12 points in that time. Rovers have won three times on the road this season, most impressively at the City Ground where they beat Forest 3-1 last weekend. Another win this weekend could put Rovers in the play-off spots going into the international break which would be a huge boost for the club. Rudy Gestede is pushing his way into the foreground of Blackburn’s attack alongside Jordan Rhodes. Gestede has outscored his strike partner this season and is this game’s key man.
Listen to the72 contributor, Blackburn fan and freelance journalist Sal Saba preview this game with Sam Ashoo in the72 podcast.
Score prediction: 1-1 draw
Leeds United v Blackpool
These two sides would definitely top the table if it was based on off the field controversy, as we all know it is not and both are desperate for three points with neither winning in over five league games.
Two disappointing results for Leeds and a winding-up order, just a normal week for United this season. The return of Neil Redfearn has failed to spark the same instant success that it did during his caretaker spell in charge earlier in the year and debate has already started on whether Massimo Cellino will boot another head coach. United have not won in eight games, although a midweek draw with Charlton was an improvement on recent displays it was not enough to satisfy some of the Leeds faithful. Alex Mowatt scored a stunning brace last time out against Charlton and at just 19 is a real talent to keep an eye on. One of the few positives to take from this season is Mowatt’s individual performance’s and he is this game’s key man.
Has Lee Clark taking an impossible job. He seems to think otherwise, however the writing is very much on the wall for Blackpool. As other sides start to show some signs of improvement the Tangerines are still rooted to the bottom of the table. Even a draw in midweek at Fulham does not gloss over the fact that Blackpool have claimed just seven points from there 16 league games this season and are already nine points away from safety. New signings Jamie O’Hara, Jonathan Legear, Jacob Murphy and Brian Lenihan have all been drafted in to add much need strength to the squad. However with such little time between games it is a big ask to expect them to all have an instant impact this weekend.
Score prediction: 1-0 Leeds win
Other fixtures and score predictions
Birmingham 2-2 Cardiff
Fulham 2-0 Huddersfield
Ipswich 1-1 Watford
Millwall 0-2 Brentford
Reading 0-1 Charlton
Sheffield Wednesday 0-0 Rotherham