Eight Championship teams were in midweek FA cup action this week, but focus now returns to the Championship. A full set of fixtures all on Saturday in the Championship this weekend and it is going to be another interesting day at both ends of the table. We preview five of the big games from the weekend in detail.
Leeds United v Leicester City
In mid-December just three places and five points separated these two teams. One month on that gap is now ten places and a staggering nineteen points.
Leeds have been in crisis of late, now without a win in five league games and scoring just three times in their past five. Last time out United were embarrassed in front of the Sky Sports cameras against local rivals Sheffield Wednesday, losing 6-0 at Hillsbrough. This compounded the agony of losing to League 2 Rochdale in the FA Cup. They will be wanting to prove that they are still a serious contender for the play offs and there is no better team to prove that against than league leaders Leicester.
The Foxes have been unstoppable over the past few weeks. They have won their last five league games on the trot and are unbeaten in six. A very convincing win over the strong Derby County side sent a message to the rest of the league and maintained Leicester’s four point gap at the top of the table. They have also added to there attacking options with the signing of veteran goalscorer Kevin Phillips on a deal until the end of the season. He will add great support to David Nugent and Jamie Vardy who have been lethal for the Foxes. Nugent was clear man of the match last time out and he will be wanting to continue his great form. He is this game’s key man.
Last meeting: 0-0 draw
Match odds: Leeds 5/2 Draw 12/5 Leicester 21/20
Score prediction: 3-1 Leicester win
Barnsley v Blackpool
Two teams who have had a season that has not gone exactly to plan thus far. Barnsley have won just three games all season, whilst Blackpool have picked up just one point from their last eight Championship games.
Barnsley took the decision to sack David Flitcroft at the start of December, however since Danny Wilson has taken over their fortunes have not improved. The Tykes are now seeing their fellow relegation rivals drift away from them and the gap to safety is now five points. Barnsley have managed to strengthen with the addition of experienced midfielder and free agent Liam Lawrence on a deal until the end of the season. If Barnsley are going to mount another great escape they are going to have to spark into life soon and their form at Oakwell is going to have to set the tone, eleven of their seventeen points have been picked up at home.
Blackpool are in an utter state of meltdown. After such a great start to the season which showed signs of much promise, they could soon be slipping into the relegation dog fight. As mentioned they have not won in eight Championship fixtures and also were dumped out of the FA Cup by fellow Championship side Bolton. Speculation continues to cloud around Tom Ince’s future at the club with Swansea renewing interest in the young Englishman. Blackpool have won only three games on the road all season, but will not get a better chance than at Barnsley.
Barnsley’s crunch game against Charlton last week was postponed just an hour and half before the scheduled kick off and they need a result from this one to get their season going. Chris O’Grady has been the main threat for Barnsley this season, but has not scored in the league since October. He is this game’s key man.
Last meeting: 1-0 Blackpool win
Match odds: Barnsley 8/5 Draw 9/4 Blackpool 17/10
Score prediction: 2-1 Barnsley win
Burnley v Sheffield Wednesday
Burnley are just not going to go away any time soon. Week after week people are claiming this will be the week that their season goes down the pan and yet they remain right on the heels of leaders Leicester. Meanwhile, Sheffield Wednesday have revived their season which seemed destined to be one of relegation.
After a stop start December, Burnley have returned to winning ways, edging out Huddersfield at home and Yeovil away either side of a narrow defeat at Premier League Southampton. Danny Ings has found his shooting boots again and his partnership with Sam Vokes is not showing any signs of slowing down. The Hampshire born pair’s Championship goal total now stands at twenty-seven. Sean Dyche has added to this with the capture of Ashley Barnes from Brighton, meaning the Clarets now have an attacking force including three of the league’s top forwards.
Wednesday look to of set a New Year’s resolution of turning their sorry situation on the pitch around. Unbeaten in four league games and picking up maximum points from their last two league games. They also progressed in the FA cup via a replay against Macclesfield setting up a tie against League 2 Rochdale. Bookmakers have suspended betting on the new Owls manager, with Stuart Gray set to take the role on full time after a great stint as caretaker boss.
Wednesday are full of confidence and will be looking to keep their great recent run going at one of the toughest away days in the Championship. Kieran Lee has been revelling in his new role in centre midfield. He controlled the Yorkshire derby with Leeds last week, but Burnley will provide a much sterner test for the Man United youth graduate. He is this game’s key man.
Last meeting: 2-1 Burnley win
Match odds: Burnley 5/6 Draw 5/2 Wednesday 100/30
Score prediction: 3-1 Burnley win
Derby County v Brighton & Hove Albion
This might not be the last meeting between these two this season, both sides are looking like serious contenders for the play offs and are going to get there playing some very attractive football.
Now is the time when Steve McClaren and his Derby players will be judged. Their great unbeaten run seems the thing of the past after three consecutive defeats in all competitions, a home loss to Wigan, a tough trip to Chelsea in the cup and a schooling at the King Power stadium courtesy of leaders Leicester. The Rams need to bounce back from this run of tough fixtures or all their good work before the New Year could be undone. They will feel comfortable playing at home and expect Craig Bryson and Will Hughes to be at it from the start after being dominated last week by the Leicester midfield.
Brighton fans were devastated with the sale of Ashely Barnes on the eve of their match against Birmingham, but the players seem unaffected as they took all three points through a David Lopez goal. This win continued the Seagulls great form, which now stands at just two defeats in their last fourteen games and puts them in the top six. They have already been looking for a replacement for Barnes; triggering the buy out clause of Bournemouth’s Lewis Grabben and it is now down to Grabben whether he makes the move. If he does decide to make the switch along the south coast the deal should easily be done in time for him to be included in the squad for Saturday.
Still expect Leonardo Ulloa to start for Brighton and the pressure will be one him to be a menace up front with the news this week that dynamic midfielder Andrew Crofts will be out for the rest of the season after rupturing his cruciate ligament against Birmingham. However, the Brighton defence will have a busier day than Ulloa and Matt Upson will need to be alert to cope with the free scoring Rams’ attack. Upson is this game’s key man.
Last meeting: 2-1 Derby win
Match odds: Derby 11/10 Draw 12/5 Brighton 12/5
Score prediction: 2-1 Derby win
Nottingham Forest v Blackburn Rovers
A clash between two more strong promotion candidates at the City Ground. Also, two teams that have a great history in the top division of English Football and will be looking to return there after varying lengths of absence.
Forest have reverted to their form from early on in the season in recent games, with a lack of that clinical edge to get the wins required to keep pace with the top two. They have however, extended their unbeaten league run to eight games and they would have gained confidence from the ease at which they got past albeit a second string West Ham side in the FA cup a fortnight ago. The news from the chairman that they have an agreement in place with Hull to sign Jack Hobbs, following speculation that Reading were interested in the centre half is what the fans wanted to here. The Reds are still on the lookout for a striker and utility man Greg Halford seems likely to continue to fill the forward berth for Billy Davies.
Blackburn have made a solid start to 2014 consolidating their position just outside the play off spots. They had hard fought wins over Leeds and Doncaster, with a battling performance against Man City forcing them to a replay, in which they were outclassed on Wednesday night going down 5-0. Their heads never dropped and they will travel down to Nottingham in good spirits and knowing they have what it takes to get a result. Rovers are yet to do any business in the January window, but one or two additions is all they need to have that extra edge in the run in.
The game between 5th and 8th in this league is always going to be a tight affair and both these sides pride themselves on a solid defensive unit. With Paul Robinson struggling with a hamstring strain after only managing the first half on Wednesday, the back four of Blackburn will need to on guard. Tommy Spurr has a had a great first season at Ewood Park and he will have to deal with a very creative Forest side. He is this game’s key man.
Last meeting: 1-0 Forest win
Match odds: Forest 10/11 Draw 12/5 Blackburn 3/1
Score prediction: 1-1 draw
Other fixtures with predictions
Saturday 3pm kick offs
Birmingham 2 Yeovil 0
Bournemouth 1 Watford 1
Doncaster 0 Wigan 2
Middlesbrough 2 Charlton 1
Millwall 0 Ipswich 1
Q.P.R. 2 Huddersfield 1
Reading 3 Bolton 2