Another weekend of decisive Championship action. Twelve games once again on Saturday gives us plenty to look forward to. We preview five of the games in detail.
Burnley v Derby County
In fear of overselling the massive game at Turf Moor, I will simply say that this could well be the game that one of these teams looks back on and says: That is the win that got us promoted. It is second against third with the winner knowing they will sit in second place come Saturday evening.
Burnley have remained unbeaten in 2014. A classy win last week at home to the previously fourteen game unbeaten Nottingham Forest with relative easy was a statement to send to the rest of the promotion pack amidst this tough run of fixtures. Top goalscorer Danny Ings has gone three league games without a goal, however his strike partner Sam Vokes has been there to find the net in recent weeks. The front two have been grabbing the headlines, but without the marauding full back Kieran Trippier they would be lacking in quality delivery. The right back has the most assists in the Championship with twelve already this season. Injuries are going to be a problem for any side chacing promotion, nevertheless just one or two injuries to the Clarets could their magnificent season run aground.
Derby themselves have not tasted league defeat since the 10th January when they travelled to leaders Leicester and since then have won five and drawn two as they charge for the top two. Last week, a late winner over Bournemouth in a below par performance was a massive bonus and served as a great confidence boost for the Rams as they travel up to Lancashire. County signed former Wolves and Celtic left-back Lee Naylor on Thursday and this shows McClaren feels his side needs some experience and nous if they are going to achieve a truly remarkable turnaround to claim an automatic promotion spot. Patrick Bamford has netted five times already since joining on loan from Chelsea in January and could be the goalscorcer Derby need between now and the end of the season. He is this games key man.
Last meeting: 3-0 Burnley win
Match odds: Burnley 6/5 Draw 12/5 Derby 2/1
Score prediction: 1-1 draw
Q.P.R. v Leeds United
Arguably both of these sides will feel disappointed with their respective league positions at this point of the season, but a win could provide the spark to light a run of form going into the last couple of months of the season.
Q.P.R. have seen their grip on second place begin to slip away slightly during a tricky run of fixtures. They have taken just one points from their last four games and lost each of their last three Championship games. Despite strengthening on deadline day the loss of Charlie Austin looks like it could ruin any hopes of automatic promotion back to the Premier League at the first time of asking. Without Austin’s fourteen league goals, Rangers have netted just twenty-three times in their 31 Championship games. Next top scorer Matthew Philips has scored just three league goals. Kevin Doyle did make an instant impact, but is clearly lacking that cutting edge required at this level to lead the line at present and Rangers are being cast adrift from the top two.
Leeds somehow still remain in the unknown with regard to the takeover by Massimo Cellino as the Football League is still “in discussion” about approving the takeover. However, Brian McDermott has managed to do some excellent business in the loan window. The signing of Jack Butland last week instantly looked like good business as he put in a man of the match performance at Middlesbrough and this week Connor Wickham joined on loan from Sunderland. The talented forward had a great spell at Sheffield Wednesday earlier in the season, scoring eight goals in eleven appearances and will be hoping for more of the same at Elland Road. If he hits the ground running with captain and top scorer Ross McCormack, United could have hopes of rekindling their push for a play off spot. Wickham should go straight into the squad and is this games key man.
Last meeting: 1-0 Q.P.R. win
Match odds: Q.P.R. 3/4 Draw 12/5 Leeds 15/4
Score prediction: 2-1 Q.P.R. win
Leicester City v Charlton Athletic
It is getting to the stage where Leicester are counting down the wins till promotion is secured, however they must avoid complacency as the job is not done just yet. Meanwhile, Charlton will be getting alarmed as the games go by and they are still fixed to the bottom four of the table.
Leicester, as they have all season, responded to a mini blip in the form of two 2-2 draws in succession, with a commanding 3-0 over Ipswich at the King Power last weekend. Their current unbeaten league run now stands at thirteen, with ten wins and three draws. When you look at a title winning team there are consistent elements you question. Do they have a solid defence? Do they have enough goals in team? And most importantly in this division do they have the depth of squad to last the distance? The Foxes have all of these in abundance and sit rightly eight points clear at the top of the Championship. They still have work to do, but have shown no signs of giving a quarter with Jamie Vardy finding his scoring boots once more. The forward has scored two in two and manager Nigel Pearson feels he still has a lot more to offer in the closing months. Vardy is this games key man.
For Charlton their survival is still most definitely in their own hands. With three games in hand and a winnable FA Cup quarter final with Sheffield United to come there is reason for some fans to be feeling slightly better about the Addicks position than the current table suggests. Their last minute winner against Q.P.R. last week could be the turnaround in their league form, but away trips do not come much tougher than a trip to Leicester. Especially when Charlton have not won away from the Valley since the first week of November. If Chris Powell travels back to London with anything from this game it will be a bonus, however he will be expecting his players to fight for every ball and as we all know in this league anything can happen.
Last meeting: 2-1 Charlton win
Match odds: Leicester 2/5 Draw 100/30 Charlton 13/2
Score prediction: 3-0 Leicester win
Reading v Yeovil Town
The hosts have stuttered in recent weeks, whilst the visitors are enjoying a three game unbeaten run to revive hopes of Championship survival.
Reading have lost that feeling of home comfort in their recent games at the Madejski. The unfortunate sending off of Alex Pearce changed the game early on against Sheffield Wednesday, whilst a very much below par performance against Blackburn did little to please the fans as they travelled home last weekend. In the first few months the Royal’s displayed some great football with the longest unbeaten home record in the league, which only fell in December. The fans will be hoping they can see a return to the early season displays as they face lowly Yeovil. Garath McClearly has been a creative spark in the Royals midfield combining great service and goals to make him one to watch. He is this games key man.
Yeovil seem to sense that now is the time to get it together if they want to be playing Championship football next season. They have showed vast improvement this month with an unbeaten three game run to avoid being pinned to the foot of table with a large gap to overhaul. Two more home games after this weekend’s trip to Berkshire and improving the home record is a must to create a fairytale story. A couple of new faces in the loan window have given the side renewed impetus and they will be going into this game with every confidence of getting a result that many others would write off.
Last meeting: 1-0 Reading win
Match odds: Reading 8/15 Draw 3/1 Yeovil 9/2
Score prediction: 2-0 Reading win
Nottingham Forest v Wigan Athletic
After fourteen games unbeaten, last weeks result at Turf Moor was a shock to most Forest fans and they will be wanting a response. Wigan have quietly sneaked into play off contention and if results go their way they could occupy a top six place come the close of play.
Forest have been slaughtered by injuries at the worst possible time. Just as it seemed they had closed the gap to the top two after an outstanding unbeaten run spanning several months they were dealt a number of hammer blows. The latest coming this week with the news that top goalscorer and creative wizard Andy Reid will be out for at least six weeks with a hernia problem. Since Henri Lansbury was ruled out for the rest of the season in the new year, Reid has carried the side and now Billy Davies may be forced into bringing in someone on loan if Forest want to recover after last weeks defeat at Burnley, in which the manner of the loss will have really hurt Davies. His side were played off the park in the first half and the game was over as a contest. A response is needed at the City Ground and Davies will have his players well up for this one.
Uwe Rosler is putting himself in contention for manager of the season after working wonders at two clubs this season. After the play off heartbreak at Brentford last season he guided them to an outstanding start to this campaign, before making the switch to Wigan, where he has worked wonders guiding them to the cusp of the top six. It is no doubt that exiting the Europa League at the group stage has been a blessing for the Latics as they have climbed from mid-table with relative ease. They have lost just twice in their last thirteen Championship games. The January loan signing of Nicky Maynard was a master-stroke from Rosler and has provided Wigan with a out-and-out goal threat after losing Grant Holt to Aston Villa. Maynard has scored three goals from his last three matches and is this games key man.
Last meeting: 2-1 Wigan win
Match odds: Forest 23/20 Draw 9/4 Wigan 9/4
Score prediction: 2-1 Wigan win
Other fixtures with score predictions
Saturday 3pm kick offs
Bolton 0 Blackburn 1
Bournemouth 2 Doncaster 1
Huddersfield 1 Barnsley 0
Ipswich 2 Birmingham 0
Millwall 0 Brighton 3
Sheffield Wednesday 1 Middlesbrough 1
Watford 1 Blackpool 0