A weekend of high drama in the Championship last time around and we are all set for me of the same this weekend. We preview five of the big games in detail.
Middlesbrough v Derby County
The obvious place to start our weekend preview as we have 4th placed Boro hosting league leaders Derby in a massive game at the Riverside.
Middlesbrough are displaying all the qualities of a top two side with performances week after week that manage to get points on the board. After three defeats in their opening five league games they have lost just once in their last 15. They ended a three game winless run last week in some style at Millwall, dispatching the opposition 5-1. Boro have a very tough Christmas period to come with trips to Ipswich and Blackburn either side of a home game against Nottingham Forest. Grant Leadbitter is a lynchpin in the midfield for Aitor Karanka’s side. He will have to perhaps limit his attacking drives to ensure Derby do not get space to exploit. Nevertheless, he will have a massive part to play and is this game’s key man.
Derby remain relentless in their pursuit for promotion. They once again proved defeats on the resume are the exception rather than the rule. They put last week’s game against Brighton to bed within the opening 20 minutes, racing away to a three goal lead. Since going top of the Championship in early November, the Rams have yet to be displaced. Away from the iPro they have had the odd poor performance with defeats at Leeds and Brentford in their last three away games. Despite this Steve McClaren’s side are a constant threat and will fancy their chances of getting something out of this game.
Score prediction: 1-1 draw
Bolton Wanderers v Ipswich Town
Neil Lennon has steadied the ship at Bolton, however his side will face a difficult task against one of the league’s in form sides in Ipswich.
Bolton come into this game full of confidence with their longest unbeaten run of the season to try and keep intact. With a draw last weekend at Reading, the Trotters are now unbeaten in five, claiming 11 points. Lennon has transformed the Macron stadium into a fortress. Four wins in a row, scoring 10 goals and conceding just two is some record. The upturn in results has lifted Bolton up into mid-table where the Championship table remains very congested. If Lennon can continue to pick up points over the festive period, fears of relegation will soon vanish.
Ipswich continue to set the pace at the top of the Championship form table. Another victory last weekend at home to Leeds, in convincing fashion, was there 5th in their last six games, and stretched their unbeaten run to seven matches. With Derby facing Middlesbrough and a game against the latter to come for the Tractor Boys next week Mick McCarthy will know that a win this week will give his side a real chance to be top of the table come Christmas. Ipswich’s star man so far this season has to be striker Daryl Murphy. He has been scoring goals for fun and is this game’s key man.
Score prediction: 2-0 Ipswich win
AFC Bournemouth v Cardiff City
Bournemouth have continued to keep in touch with the league leaders Derby and they will want another win at home to Cardiff who have promotion aspirations of their own.
Football really has a habit of upsetting the apple cart. Earlier in the season Bournemouth could not find any luck in the games that they were dominating, but now it is quite the opposite. They say luck levels itself out over the course of the season. Well Bournemouth were given a large slice last weekend. In a below par performance the Cherries looked dead and buried against Wolves, however a controversial red card changed the game and gave the side the boost to turn things around. This weekend Bournemouth will hope to be on top of their game as they wait for any slip up from Derby or Ipswich. Winger Matt Ritchie has been on top of his game in the last month or so after overcoming a preseason injury. His work in tandem with Simon Francis causes all sorts of problems and he is this game’s key man.
Under Russell Slade Cardiff have slowly been plotting their way up the Championship table with relative ease. Without grabbing any headlines they now sit just two points adrift of the top six and they have a lot more to offer if they can gain some consistency. The Bluebirds are currently unbeaten in four games, two wins and as many draws, and if they can continue this run into the New Year then they stand a good chance of being in and amongst the play-off spots. With games at Brentford and Watford to come, they are certainly going to be tested, especially as they have only one just one game so far away from home this season.
Score prediction: 2-1 Bournemouth win
Brentford v Blackburn Rovers
Brentford remain the surprise package in perhaps all of the Football League, whilst Blackburn will want to get back on track after seeing their long unbeaten run ended last weekend at home to Sheffield Wednesday.
Mark Warburton’s side saw their unbeaten run ended last week by Huddersfield, however they remain 5th in the table and just four points behind league leaders Derby. At home Brentford have remained consistent all season, losing out just once way back in September against Norwich. They boast the third best home record in the league, identical to pacesetters Derby. This shows you just how good the Bees have been this season. They face Ipswich on Boxing day and will hope that a win there could push them into the top two if they are not already there.
Blackburn are finally giving their fans the results that they have seen in the pipeline for a long time. The Rovers squad oozes quality from front to back and with strikers like Rudy Gestede and Jordan Rhodes, they always have a chance against anyone in the division. Last weekend may have been a disappointing result for Gary Bowyer’s side, but they can remain confident coming into this one as they are unbeaten on the road in their last five games. Midfielder Ben Marshall has made a fine few opening months of the season chipping in with the odd goal and providing support for the strikers. He is this game’s key man.
Score prediction: 3-1 Brentford win
Watford v Wigan Athletic
Watford stopped the rot in convincing fashion last weekend at Fulham and they face Wigan who continue to struggle at the wrong end of the table.
Watford fans would have been feeling a sense of de ja vu after four consecutive defeats. This season they made a similarly fine start as the last campaign, although that soon turned sour as they went on a prolonged run without a win. Last week’s 5-0 thumping at Craven Cottage should put those doubts to bed and gets fans back to thinking about being involved in the promotion mix. The return of Troy Deeney to full fitness and form is massive boost to the Hornets. The striker fired in a hat-trick last weekend taking his tally to seven for the season. Deeney is this game’s key man.
Wigan are truly having a miserable time of things this winter. The FA Cup glory of the past seems a very distant memory at the present time, as Malky Mackay has failed to provide an immediate turnaround in their fortunes. Mackay has taken just one point from his first three games in charge at the DW and with owner Dave Whelan still in the midst of an FA charge that could see him step down as chairman, there is not my joy at the club. With four games coming up against sides who are yet to set the world alight this season, Wigan will hope they can force their way out of the bottom three. For the time being it seems fair to say that whatever they get out of this game will be a bonus.
Score prediction: 2-0 Watford win
Other fixtures with score predictions
Saturday 3pm kick offs
Birmingham 1-0 Reading
Charlton 2-0 Blackpool
Leeds 2-1 Fulham
Norwich 1-1 Huddersfield
Rotherham 0-2 Nottingham Forest
Sheffield Wednesday 1-1 Wolverhampton Wanderers
Friday evening result
Brighton 0-1 Millwall