Championship teams are preparing themselves for four games in the space of twelve days. The Christmas period has long been a fan’s favourite part of the season and this year shouldn’t disappoint with some great games in the opening round of fixtures. As always we preview five of them in detail.
QPR v Leicester City
Last weekend the lunchtime offering in the Championship was first against second. This week we will all have to make do with first against third live from Loftus Road. The going has got tough for the visitors in recent weeks, without a win in their last three leagues games, although that fought for a vital point against promotion rivals Burnley. The strike force of Vardy and Nugent has been relatively quiet in recent weeks and will be looking to return to form after being dumped out of the League Cup at the hands of Manchester City. Rangers, on the other hand, have maintained there form through December with just a single defeat in their last eight Championship games. Last time out Matt Phillips was up against his former side and played to his best. QPR will hope for more of the same from the winger in this crunch match and he is this games key man.
Score prediction: 1-0 QPR win
Reading v Wigan Athletic
The Royals are yet to grab the Championship headlines this season but continue to quietly go about there business in the thick of the play off places. With just four defeats all season and unbeaten at home until their last match at the Madejski, makes the trip to Berkshire one of the toughest in the Championship. Fortunately for Wigan they come into this game with renewed confidence supplied by boss Uwe Rosler who has had an instant impact at the club. Despite failing to qualify for the next stage of the Europa league the Latics ended their run of four straight defeats last Sunday in a five goal thriller against Bolton. They were on their way to making it two wins in succession before the rain prevented their game against Sheffield Wednesday from being completed. Reading have built around a strong defence with seven clean sheets already this season and nine of their games have decided by a single goal margin. Last time out Nick Powell netted an exquisite overhead kick and he will be trying to continue to do the job for Wigan in this tough game. He is this games key man.
Score prediction: 2-1 Reading win
Leeds United v Barnsley
Leeds form at Elland Road has been imperious this season rolling back the years to the era of Revie and Bremner. Six wins, two draws and just two defeats is a record that will strike fear into most sides in the Championship. Barnsley are rooted to the bottom of the table despite glimpses of improvement in recent weeks. Fans will hope the appointment of Danny Wilson will be a catalyst for a surge out of the bottom three but it is going to be very difficult. The Tykes have lost eight of their ten away games this season, netting just eight goals and conceding eighteen. The main man for Leeds this season has been undoubtedly Ross McCormack as United sit sixth in the table. McCormack has already scored sixteen times in the Championship and is an early contender for player of the season. He is this games key man.
Score prediction: 3-0 Leeds win
Derby County v Doncaster Rovers
When Derby County are the most in form team in Europe you have to credit the players and the work Steve McClaren has done in less than three months. With six wins in a row, scoring sixteen goals and conceding just three. This run has seen the Rams surge up to fourth in the table just three points outside the top two. Doncaster have run hot and cold during the opening half of the season showing signs of quality without consistent results. So far this season Rovers have failed to win two games in succession which is why they find themselves in the lower reaches of the table. There is little promise for Donny fans from the stat that they have only won once on the road this season, whilst their hosts have lost just twice at Pride Park. The creative heart of Derby County comes from Scotsman Craig Bryson who has provided nine goals and eight assists for his side from midfield. He is this games key man.
Score prediction: 2-0 Derby win
Birmingham City v Nottingham Forest
Birmingham are a club still adapting to life outside the Premier League as they attempt to balance on field expectations with financial stability following rash spending in past years. One thing that the Blues have is a great team spirit in their squad which is instilled in manager Lee Clark who’s passion and love of the game is envious. In Nottingham Forest you have something much similar if not a few years down the road from Birmingham. Billy Davies meticulous approach to the game has worked wonders for Forest. A blip in November appears to be behind them as the former champions of Europe attempt to return to the top tier for the first time since 2000. The Forest defence has been one of the best in the leagues but goals have been harder to come by. Championship stalwart Darius Henderson has been in and out of form for Forest with five goals this term and he will need to put a good shift in if his side are going to end Birmingham’s six game unbeaten run. He is this games key man.
Score prediction: 1-1 draw
Other fixtures with predictions
Saturday (3pm kick offs unless stated)
Bolton 2 Charlton 0
Brighton 1 Huddersfield 1
Burnley 2 Blackpool 1
Ipswich 2 Watford 0
Sheffield Wednesday 1 Bournemouth 1
Yeovil 1 Blackburn 2
Millwall 2 Middlesbrough 1 (17.30)