The season has raced into February, but with every team having at least 17 games remaining and 51 points available there is still plenty of time for things to change at both ends of the table. Another full weekend programme in the Championship with two televised games and some tough away trips for a lot teams near the bottom, it is going to be another fascinating weekend of Championship action. We preview five of the games in detail.
Yeovil Town v Leeds United
A meeting of the two ends of the Championship scale live on Sky Sports this Saturday lunchtime. Yeovil a side who are competing in the second tier for the first season in their history against one of the great English footballing institutes in Leeds. Do not take too much attention to the form guide when looking at this game. Yeovil have proved this season on their day they can mix it with the big boys in this league. Meanwhile, the Leeds players appear to have a new lease of life after the events that took place last weekend involving the sacking and reappointment of manager Brian McDermott either side of a 5-1 victory over rivals Huddersfield.
Yeovil put in two excellent displays on the road in their last two games. At Derby they led 2-0 before losing out to a late Rams fight back. They were right in the game at Forest matching the promotion contenders and always in the game until added time when the Reds netted a third.
I feel I spoken far too much already about Leeds this week and the poor management at board room level so I shall focus on matters on the pitch. An outstanding display last weekend shows that the spirit in the squad has not been diminished and they are a credit to the club. Ross McCormack played as if nothing had happened and has shown he is a natural leader. After returning to scoring form with a hat-trick, McCormack is this games key man.
Last meeting: 2-0 Leeds win
Match odds: Yeovil 21/10 Draw 12/5 Leeds 5/4
Score prediction: 2-0 Leeds win
Blackpool v Nottingham Forest
When these two sides met in early November a late Stephen Dobbie goal snatched the points for Blackpool and saw them maintain their position in 4th place. Forest now sit 5th in the Championship table whilst Blackpool have slid to 16th, 14 points off of the play offs and just 9 clear of the relegation zone.
January could go down as one of the worst months in Blackpool’s recent history, a single point from there 5 games which continued their winless run to 12 games. As a result they sacked manager Paul Ince, but also lost star player Tom Ince who facilitated a loan move for himself to Premier League Crystal Palace. Barry Ferguson has been left in charge and remains the bookies favourite to take over and he will need to turn results around soon or Blackpool will be relegation contenders.
On the other hand, Forest had an excellent January to continue their great form over the festive period. Unbeaten in their four games in the month and now unbeaten in 11 in the league. They also progressed to the 5th round of the FA Cup in midweek after overcoming a good Preston side in a replay. Their great form has kept them within touching distance and they will see this game as a chance to pick up another three points to keep the pressure on 2nd place Q.P.R.. Henri Lansbury looks set to miss the rest of the season with a fractured back which is a massive blow for Forest. This puts even more responsibility on experienced Andy Reid to provide some creativity from midfield. Reid is this games key man.
Last meeting: 1-0 Blackpool win
Match odds: Blackpool 3/1 Draw 13/5 Nottingham Forest 5/6
Score prediction: 2-1 Nottingham Forest win
Charlton Athletic v Birmingham City
It seems that every other week is a big game for the Addicks at present as they are in the midst of the relegation scrap. They host Birmingham who themselves can not feel completely safe just 6 points ahead of 22nd placed Charlton.
If Charlton are going to survive this season they have got to take something away from games like this against teams in the bottom half at home. Once again the Valley pitch is looking worse for wear which is making it difficult for Chris Powell’s men to got out and dominate games, but they have to overcome this. They play 7 of the current bottom 12 at home between now and the end of the season so they have got a great chance if they can make the Valley a fortress. Last time out away at Wigan they put in a fine rearguard display before conceding two late on to travel back to South London with nothing. Michael Morrison was a rock in the game at the DW and will need to set the tone with a solid defensive display. He is this games key man.
Birmingham appeared to be mounting a climb towards mid-table, but 3 defeats and 2 draws in their last 5 Championship games has seen them slip back into the relegation dilemma. They did perform admirably last time out however at home to Derby, they trailed 3-1 with 15 minutes to go and managed to battle for a draw through a late Federico Macheda goal (he has a knack for that). There are three worse teams in this division than Birmingham, but it is not always the worse teams that go down. Under Lee Clark they have kept their team spirit and the addition of Macheda adds another option upfront for the Blues.
Last meeting: 1-0 Charlton win
Match odds: Charlton 5/4 Draw 9/4 Birmingham 11/5
Score prediction: 1-1 draw
Reading v Sheffield Wednesday
The meeting between these two sides early in the season has been one of the shock results of the Championship season thus far. Wednesday destroyed the Royals 5-2 at Hillsborough in November, which at the time was their first win of the season and only Reading’s second defeat.
Wednesday are bucking the trend, showing that taking the decision to sack a manager in the middle of a season can cause an instant turnaround. Credit has to go to Stuart Gray, but also the players for applying his ideas out on the pitch. The Owls have won their last three home games and have not lost in their last 10 games in all competitions. They may have lost Connor Wickham when he returned to Sunderland, but players are filling the void and chipping in with goals all over the pitch. Wednesday have replaced Wickham with Benik Afobe who has the ability to score a hatful in this league.
New year. New Reading. The Royals had a disappointing first half season to the year with experts tipping them to be in the fight for the Championship title. They may sit 6th in the table, but they are making up for lost time. Taking 12 points from their last 5 games has closed the gap with second to just 9 points which is a gap that could easily be closed. The goalscoring plaudits of Adam le Fondre and Pavel Pogrebnyak have dominated defences in recent weeks, the pair scoring 9 goals between them in the last 4 Championship games. The former picked up the Championship January player of the month award this week and he could continue his great form at Hillsborough. He is this games key man.
Last meeting: 5-2 Sheffield Wednesday win
Match odds: Reading 4/5 Draw 5/2 Leeds 7/2
Score prediction: 3-1 Reading win
Derby County v Q.P.R.
A rare Monday night fixture in the Championship has the makings of a cracker live on Sky Sports. Fourth placed Derby host second placed Queens Park Rangers in a game that could see the gap close to just a single point between the two sides if the Rams can get the win.
Derby look in the mood to set another long unbeaten run after seeing leaders Leicester break their record of 7 straight league wins from earlier in the season. The Rams have netted 6 goals in their last 2 Championship games, alarmingly however they have also conceded 5 in that time. Loan signing Patrick Bamford has been a masterstroke by Steve McClaren. The young forward has already netted 5 goals for the club to support Chris Martin who has returned to scoring form. Mr Consistent, Craig Bryson, missed a penalty last week which proved to be crucial as a late Birmingham goal levelled the game at 3-3. Bryson is a strong, strong contender for player of the season and his team will be looking for him to step up in this huge game. He his this games key man.
Q.P.R are determined to not let Leicester race away with the Championship title. They matched the leaders in January with a perfect record taking maximum points from their four Championship games. One of the games of the season last weekend against surprise package Burnley, ended with Rangers being more than contempt with a point after trailing 3-2 with 20 minutes to go. Deadline day signings Kevin Doyle and Modibo Maiga made an instant impact, both netting in the game at Loftus Road last week and Doyle looks set to lead the line again as Rangers aim to stretch the gap between themselves and another of their promotion rivals.
Last meeting: 2-1 Q.P.R. win
Match odds: Derby 11/8 Draw 23/10 Q.P.R. 19/10
Score prediction: 2-2 draw
Other fixtures with predictions
Saturday 3pm kick offs
Barnsley 1 Ipswich 2
Bolton 0 Bournemouth 2
Brighton 1 Doncaster 0
Burnley 3 Millwall 0
Huddersfield 1 Wigan 1
Leicester 2 Watford 0
Middlesbrough 2 Blackburn 2