The Championship continues to motor on in the midst of a run of consecutive weekend/midweek fixtures for a lot of the teams. Coming into the final ten games now is the time for teams to start grinding out the results with three points far more important than the performance. We preview five of the big games in detail
Derby County v Nottingham Forest
This meeting is more than just a game. Any encounter of Derby and Forest is of greater significance than just the three points on offer. A rivalry that has been going all the way back to the 19th century with two of East Midlands cities coming to logger headers and the added spice of both these teams occupying play off spots sets it up to be a real classic.
Since losing to Burnley four games ago the Rams have really struggled. Just two points from their last four games and not scoring a goal in that time. This has allowed Burnley to pull away in second place and the consensus is that Derby are going to have to put together another long winning run like they did throughout November and December if they are going to replace the Clarets. At the start of the season County fans would have been over the moon with a play off spot, but you have to seize the opportunity that you have been presented with and that means a play spot is a minimum expectation now. Top scorer Chris Martin last found the net when Derby last scored and won a match when they hosted Bournemouth. He will need to lead the line in this big game and is the key man.
Similarly, Forest have been going through a baron run of form of late. Without a win in six games and picking up just three draws in that time has seen Forest on the edge of falling out of the top six. The last three games have been especially disappointing as they faced three sides who have been in the bottom half of the table all season. Goal scoring has been the major problem for Forest all season and that has been flagged up even more in this recent run. The return of Andy Reid after a hernia surgery last week against Doncaster was a big positive in their run in, however he picked up a strain and looks set for another couple of weeks on the sidelines. There is every chance that these two sides could face off in the play offs, but for now both will just be focused on attempting to return to winning ways.
Last meeting: 1-0 Forest win
Match Odds: Derby 11/10 Draw 11/5 Forest 13/5
Score prediction: 2-1 Derby win
Blackburn Rovers v Leicester City
Two sides who have hopes of returning to the top tier where they both had great success in decades past with the away team looking set to realise this ambition this campaign and the hosts building for a serious push next season.
Whilst Blackburn appear to have finally reached some stability off the pitch, going a full season with just one manager, on the pitch their performances have wavered between the sublime and the shocking. After three straight defeats, last weekend they travelled to Huddersfield and put in a great performance to see of the Terriers 4-2 in an action packed game. It does not get easier for Rovers, however, as they host the runaway leaders who seem unstoppable. Jordan Rhodes returned to scoring form last weekend with a typically clinical hat-trick and he will be needed to get in behind side with the 4th best defensive record in the Championship. Last weeks goals have broken the twenty goal mark again for Rhodes and rumours will build this summer as he looks destined for Premier League football in the future.
Leicester still have a lot to do with Burnley remaining hot on their heels just seven points adrift, but the Foxes attitude and application to the task at hand has been impeccable. Still unbeaten since the first weekend of December and on a run of four straight wins have nullified any attempt from the Clarets to close the gap in recent weeks. The quality runs throughout the Leicester squad and that has been the difference between themselves and the rest of the Championship. When they have picked up an injury or two a more than able replacement has filled the void, where as at Forest, for example, injuries to Andy Reid and Henri Lansbury have seen the Reds really struggle. A prime example of this depth is January signing Riyad Mahrez. The winger put in a match winning performance last weekend against Blackpool with a goal and an assist. He is this game’s key man.
Last meeting: 2-1 Leicester win
Match Odds: Blackburn 13/5 Draw 5/2 Leicester Evens
Score prediction: 2-0 Leicester win
Charlton Athletic v Burnley
A game in South London that neither side will really want to drop points in. Charlton climbed out of the bottom three and still have games in hand. Meanwhile, Burnley continue to drive on and stretch the gap between themselves and the stuttering pack behind them.
The sacking of Chris Powell drew wide spread criticism of the Addicks new Belgium owner. However, it is a results business and with Charlton sitting bottom of the table Roland Duchatelet felt it was time for a change. So far it has worked with Jose Rega seeing an immediate turnaround in fortunes for Charlton. Unbeaten in three games and picking up only their second win since December on Tuesday over Bournemouth has seen the Addicks climb out of the relegation zone. They still have at least two games in hand on the teams around them and with the spirit the side has shown recently there is hope for the Valley faithful that their side will not fall into the third tier.
Burnley continue to drive on with their incredible season that looks more and more likely to end with promotion to the Premier League. In the time that Charlton have managed just two wins Burnley have not tasted defeat in the Championship and as teams below them continue to stutter the gap widens. The Clarets now have a ten point cushion over their nearest rivals Derby, but Sean Dyche will not be taking anything for granted until the close of play on May 3rd. The signing of defender Chris Baird on a two month deal adds some extra experience to this relatively young Burnley squad, whilst top scorer Danny Ings is set for short spell on the sideline with injury. Burnley play just two of the current top six between now and the end of the season therefore even the odd poor result will not mean they can be displaced. All season Scott Arfield has been a creative maestro for the Clarets and he is this game’s key man.
Last meeting: 3-0 Burnley win
Match Odds: Charlton 5/2 Draw 11/5 Burnley 23/20
Score prediction: 2-0 Burnley win
Leeds United v Millwall
A game at Elland Road that is certain to be full of passion and commitment from the first whistle to the last as both teams have had disappointing campaigns in comparison to their respective aims back at the start of the season.
More drama off the pitch for Leeds as they demand a decision from the Football League, who have been considering the take over of Massimo Cellino for well over a month now. Whilst this has been going on upstairs, down on the pitch things have not been going much better. Without a win in six games and losing four of those has well and truly ended any optimistic hopes of a push for the play offs that some fans had following back-to-back wins at the start of February. This recent run has drawn further speculation over Brian McDermott’s future as manager, although he remains focused on turning things around starting this weekend against Millwall. Last weeks loss at Burnley showed improvements with United taking an early lead before conceding through an unfortunate own goal and a fine strike from Scott Arfield. Ross McCormack remains the shining light of this Leeds side and as captain has set the standards for his team-mates to follow. Now with twenty-four goals in the Championship he looks set to reach the magic thirty and he is this game’s key man.
Millwall found themselves drop into the bottom three in midweek without playing a game as Charlton defeated Bournemouth. A draw at home last weekend against the Addicks was far from a disaster, but if they had managed to get the three points it would have gone a long way to helping them in their goal to avoid relegation. Millwall have only managed consecutive victories in one run way back in September when they managed three on the bounce. If they could put a mini run together of a couple of wins amongst some hard fought draws they could climb clear of the drop zone. Until this happens it is going to be a very difficult task for Ian Holloway and his players. Two away wins all season will not give the Millwall fans much hope, but with the off-field distractions at Elland Road they have every chance of getting something to take back to London to show for their efforts.
Last meeting: 2-0 Millwall win
Match Odds: Leeds 17/20 Draw 12/5 Millwall 100/30
Score prediction: 2-2 draw
Other fixtures with predictions
Saturday 3pm kick offs
Barnsley 0 Bournemouth 1
Birmingham 1 Reading 2
Blackpool 0 Huddersfield 1
Brighton 3 Ipswich 1
Doncaster 1 Sheffield Wednesday 1
Middlesbrough 0 Q.P.R. 2
Wigan 1 Watford 0
Yeovil 2 Bolton 2