With the festive period out the way and the FA cup drama of last weekend Championship sides would have enjoyed a midweek off, but they can not catch their breath for long. Teams will be beginning to plan their challenges for the top six or escape plans from the foot of the table and that starts this weekend with all the Championship sides in action. We preview five of the games in detail.
Leicester City v Derby County
This week’s games commence with an absolute cracker at the King Power Stadium live on Sky on Friday evening with the league leaders, Leicester, hosting the Championship’s in form side, Derby. Both sides were knocked out of the FA cup at their first hurdle with defeats to Stoke and Chelsea respectively, however boths sides could be forgiven for having promotion to the Premier League as their main objective.
For the first time all season Leicester have generated a slight gap between themselves and the rest of the field; they are four points above second place Burnley. The Foxes have won their last four in a row in the league with their strike partnership of Vardy and Nugent back together in tandem. Leicester picked up some big results over the festive period, the stand out one being their victory at fellow promotion hopefuls QPR in which the Foxes controlled the game from start to finish.
Derby’s unbeaten run stretching back to the first week of November was ended in their last league game when they lost out to the reinvigorated Wigan at Pride Park. Despite this the Rams are just three points behind second place Burnley and are being talked about as real contenders for automatic promotion. The midfield partnership of Craig Bryson and Will Hughes has blossomed under Steve McClaren, with the latter being linked with a move to a number of Premier League clubs. Derby have done some early business in the window with the loan signing of striker Patrick Bamford from Chelsea and permanent signing of midfielder Simon Dawkins from Tottenham.
With these additions Derby will travel to Leicester with confidence of getting something out of the game and Will Hughes will need to be at his creative best if his side are going to close the gap on the top two. He is this game’s key man.
Last meeting: 1-0 Leicester win
Match odds: Leicester Evens Draw 12/5 Derby 11/4
Score prediction: 2-1 Leicester win
Ipswich v QPR
Ipswich would have ended 2013 as one of the more happier teams in the Championship. Their great end to the year saw them start 2014 unbeaten in seven games and they have stretched that to nine games with a draw at home to Charlton before being held by League 1 Preston in the FA Cup last weekend. They now find themselves in the top six with Mick McCarthy working his magic with the Tractor Boys. Their defensive record has underpinned their season thus far with only twenty-seven goals conceded all season. Meanwhile the goalscoring duo of McGoldrick and Murphy have worked well to keep tucking in the goals home and away.
QPR will want to forget 2013 in a hurry. Relegation from the Premier League was almost a certainty from the start of the year, but the R’s have failed to dominate the Championship as everyone expected. Their defence has remained solid all season, however a distinct lack of goals at the close of the year has seen them lose pace with the leaders Leicester. Take Charlie Austin out of the side and Rangers have managed just thirteen league goals so far this season which is far from promotion worthy. A crushing 4-0 defeat to Everton in the cup could act as the reality check the players need and Harry Redknapp is inevitably looking to strengthen in the transfer window.
As mentioned striker Charlie Austin is spearheading the Rangers goal threat on his own, but as we all know he is more than capable of doing this and will want to add to his total of eleven Championship goals. He is this game’s key man.
Last meeting: 1-0 QPR win
Match odds: Ipswich 9/5 Draw 9/4 QPR 6/4
Score prediction: 1-1 draw
Sheffield Wednesday v Leeds United
A big Yorkshire clash at Hillsbrough between two teams with very different objectives for the season. Wednesday managed just twelve Championship wins throughout the whole of 2013 and only three this season. Stuart Gray still remains in caretaker charge since the sacking of Dave Jones in November and they have improved of late. Unbeaten in their last four games in all competitions and a win at home to Blackpool on New Year’s day saw Wednesday climb out of the bottom three for the first time since October. The extension of the loan deals of keeper Damien Martinez and the goal scoring Connor Wickham will aid Wednesday through January as they attempt to pull away from the relegation zone.
As they seem to always be in the recent past, takeover uncertainties are looming over Leeds once again with consortium, Sport Capital, on the verge of acquiring a minimum 75% stake in the club. The investors have said funds are available to spend on players should the takeover be completed before the end of the window. However, as Leeds fans will tell you this is a broken record at Elland Road and they seem to be waiting with bated breath on this new takeover. Back to matters on the pitch. Leeds fans have had little to shout about of late, without a win since mid December and dropping out of the top six was not what Brian McDermott would have wanted for Christmas. It is no surprise that Ross McCormack’s goal drought is in line with Leeds winless run. The Scot has netted seventeen of United’s thirty-five league goals and last scored in their 3-0 win at Doncaster. Leeds have secured the services of Hull winger Cameron Stuart on a 93-day loan ahead of a permanent move and he could feature on Saturday.
Connor Wickham has led Wednesday in their recovery since the sacking of Dave Jones and Leeds defender Jason Pearce will have a busy afternoon keeping the England Under 21 international at bay. Pearce is this game’s key man.
Last meeting: 1-1 draw
Match odds: Wednesday 8/5 Draw 9/4 Leeds 17/10
Score Prediction: 2-2 draw
Blackpool v Middlesbrough
The form of these two sides has reversed over the last month of the season, with Blackpool falling into a crisis and Middlesbrough playing some fantastic football and getting the results under Aitor Karanka. Blackpool’s great start to the season was one of the early surprises in the Championship and boss Paul Ince warned that this could not be maintained. The poor discipline of the Tangerines has been their downfall with nine red cards already this season, which has stretched their already small squad to the limits. Once again Tom Ince is being linked with Premier League teams, but for now he remains at Blackpool where he has netted seven times and got six assists in the league. With just a single point to show from their last seven league games Blackpool will be looking to go back to basics and stop their slide down the table.
Middlesbrough have found new levels since the appointment of Aitor Karanka, who in his first mangement job seems to have all the skills to go to the top of the game. He has been helped with the return from injury of dynamic winger Emmanuel Ledesma, who seems like the catalyst in the revival on Teesside. Boro are unbeaten in their last four league games which has put them in the mid-table madness of the Championship. An area of improvement for Middlesbrough is their away form. They have managed ten points out of a possible thirty-six away from the Riverside.
Games like this between two of the leagues more inconsistent sides determine whether you are a dark horse for the play offs or worrying about slipping into a relegation battle. If Tom Ince is departing in the January transfer window he will want to leave the fans with a performance to remember him. He is this game’s key man.
Last meeting: 1-1 draw
Match odds: Blackpool 2/1 Draw 23/10 Middlesbrough 11/8
Score prediction: 2-1 Blackpool win
Watford v Reading
During spells of the season these two sides have played some of the best football in the league, but they have lacked that fine art of grinding out results when not at their best. The departure of Gianfranco Zola came as a shock to many, however it was clear to see that he was struggling to get the best out of the players. Giuseppe Sannino has a difficult task on his hands trying to emulate the heights of last season, but Watford are not that far off the top six. Despite a run of just one win in twelve league games, the Hornets are only six points off of the play offs. Their performance last time out in the league was much improved, holding QPR to a 0-0 draw. The signings from Udinese of Swedish striker Mathias Ranegie on a permanent deal and German midfielder Alexander Merkel (no relation to the German chancellor) on loan until the end of the season are both in contention to make their debuts on Saturday.
Reading have really struggled of late with just one win in six and more worryingly just four goals in that time. Speculation is building over the future of Adam Le Fondre who if frustrated over his lack of game time for the Royals. There is also rumours of new investment coming into the club with “issues” with current investor and majority shareholder Anton Zingarevich. Reading exited the cup at the first hurdle at Brighton, but the focus of the season has been to return to the Premier League at the first attempt. With Le Fondre possible on his way out of the club Billy Sharp will have to step up to the fore after netting just two goals in his first ten games at Reading.
Two teams that would have hoped to be amongst the mix for the top two are instead going to have to battle to make the play offs and it is going to be tough to separate the teams. Mathias Ranegie brings international pedigree to the Watford side and will be looking to make an instant impression at his new club. He is this game’s key man.
Last meeting: 3-3 draw
Match odds: Watford 10/11 Draw 12/5 Reading 3/1
Score prediction: 2-1 Watford win
Other fixtures with predictions
Saturday 3pm kick offs
Blackburn 2 Doncaster 0
Bolton 1 Notts Forest 2
Brighton 1 Birmingham 1
Charlton 2 Barnsley 0
Huddersfield 3 Millwall 0
Wigan 2 Bournemouth 1
Yeovil 0 Burnley 2