With five Championship sides in FA Cup 5th round action there are just seven Championship fixtures this weekend, but still plenty to feast on. Ten of the bottom twelve teams are in action and with it so tight at the bottom, the table could look very different come Saturday evening. The weather may play havoc with the weekends fixtures, but still we preview four of the games in detail.
Doncaster Rovers v Barnsley
Doncaster have made an early charge away from the relegation zone in recent weeks, whilst Barnsley are still clinging on to the teams just above them at the foot of the table. Therefore this is a massive game for both teams as Doncaster attempt to increase the gap and Barnsley try to draw another team back into immediate danger.
Rovers are not going to leave anything in the tank this season in their bid to survive and credit to them for that. Prior to their defeat last weekend at Brighton, Donny had gone four games unbeaten, with two defeats and two draws. At present they sit five points clear of the relegation zone, although they have played more games than all of the bottom three. Since joining on loan Billy Sharp has been the catalyst for Rovers improved results, adding goalscoring class and much-needed experience at Championship level. However, he was sent off last weekend against Brighton and will miss this big clash. This puts pressure back onto top scorer Chris Brown to get the goals and he is this games key man.
Danny Wilson could easily be one of the most frustrated managers in the league. He has seen his side put in some great performances of late, drawing away at Birmingham and Ipswich, holding Blackburn to a point at home and beating Blackpool with ease at Oakwell. However, in the big game against Sheffield Wednesday they conceded a very late goal to travel home with nothing to show for their efforts and fall further from safety. Despite this, a win on Saturday would see them leapfrog Charlton, who are in cup action, and if Millwall lose they will be just two points behind the Lions with two games in hand. Barnsley were able to strengthen in January, but new signings have not hit the ground running. Emmanuel Frimpong was sent off in the first half of his Tykes debut. Barnsley have won just once on the road all year, but have been more resilient of late and will put up a good fight.
Last meeting: 0-0 draw
Match odds: Doncaster 11/8 Draw 23/10 Barnsley 19/10
Score prediction: 2-1 Doncaster win
AFC Bournemouth v Burnley
A game Bournemouth fans have been waiting for since the fixtures came out, whilst boss Eddie Howe will probably feel it is just another game. Howe ended his first spell at Bournemouth to take the job at Burnley, but after 18 months at Turf Moor made the switch back down south and led Bournemouth to a magnificent promotion from League 1. Howe’s replacement, Sean Dyche, has transformed the Clarets into promotion contenders this year and this one should be a cracking Championship spectacle weather permitting. A pitch inspection is taking place at 7:30 on Saturday morning.
As mentioned in this weeks 5 things, Bournemouth are a stern contest for any side in this division as Leicester will vouch when they visited Dean Court earlier this month. Excluding the blip at Wigan, the Cherries have conceded just eight goals in their last nine games, scoring eleven. Compare this to their first eight of the season where they shipped seventeen and scored just eleven. There has been a stark improvement. The additions of Yann Kermorgant and Adam Smith add Championship experience and some extra depth in the squad. The return of Steve Cook has come at a good time for the Cherries with Elliot Ward looking set for a long spell on the sidelines. Cook has taken to the Championship like a duck to water and will be up against the leagues deadliest duo in Sam Vokes and Danny Ings. Cook is this games key man.
I have to put my hands up. I wrote Burnley off at the turn of the year questioning their reliance on Ings to spearhead the team. This may be the case, but with his current form if he stays fit Burnley will be in and around the top two come May. Lead marksman Ings is hunting down the Championship top scorer Ross McCormack game by game. The Burnley man is now on nineteen league goals after a brace last weekend against Millwall to secure the points. The Clarets were in midweek action against Bolton and when Ings does not score strike partner Sam Vokes takes on the mantle. The big Welshman now has fifteen league goals to compliment Ings’s total. The two former Cherries have scored more goals between themselves than eight Championship sides! Both will be looking to net on their returns to Dean Court.
Last meeting: 1-1 draw
Match odds: Bournemouth 15/8 Draw 23/10 Burnley 7/5
Score prediction: 1-1 draw
Millwall v Bolton Wanderers
Time to dig out the football clichés for a definite six pointer at the New Den. Both these sides are at the wrong end of both the Championship league and form table going into this one, the notion of avoiding defeat could be more important than getting the win.
Ian Holloway is yet to have his trademark impact at Millwall, it is clear to see the players lack confidence and stepping out on to the pitch with trepidation. Just one win in eleven league games is relegation form and is why the Lions rightfully are teetering over the relegation zone having already played more games than the teams below them. At home they have been a reletively tough nut to crack putting up a fight against most opposition, but a lack of a goalscorer is the concern for the Millwall fans. Steve Morison is their current top scorer in the league, he has netted just five goals. Alongside this lack of goals the Lions have a tendency to ship a fair few, conceding fifty-eight goals already this campaign, the worst record in the league. Holloway is looking to get the basics right and that could start with a solid clean sheet against the struggling Bolton.
Pressure is a funny old thing in football. Some people thrive on it, others crumbled under it. In Bolton’s case it seems to be the latter. The Trotters have picked up just two points from their last six games as they sit second bottom of the form table. Last weekend they let a two goal lead slip at the Reebok agaisnt Bournemouth, leaving them licking their wouds. Recent trips on the road have not been enjoyable either for Dougie Freedman’s men, four straight defeats conceding fifteen. However, Freedman remains upbeat and has the confidence that his players have enough quality to avoid safety at a canter. Januray loan signing Lukas Jutkiewicz made an instant impact last week with a beautiful strike to score the second against Bournemouth. He will be looking to find the net again in this massive game and he is the key man.
Last meeting: 3-1 Bolton win
Match odds: Millwall 13/8 Draw 23/10 Bolton 13/8
Score prediction: 2-1 Bolton win
Queens Park Rangers v Reading
A little Sunday afternoon treat for Championship fans live on Sky Sports. It is third against sixth in one of the games that could be looked back on as crucial come May and both teams will be looking to steal a march on teams around them who are in Cup action or without a game this weekend. Both teams occupy top four spaces in the form table so this makes for a cracking contest at Loftus Road.
Q.P.R. come into this one without a win in two having drawn at home in a six goal thriller against Burnley, before losing at Derby in a scrappy game on Monday night. A response is need as they now sit outside the automatic promotion spots and need to prove they can cope without the injured Charlie Austin. Rangers home form is a fine record, eleven wins, three draws and just one defeat, matching the record of leaders Leicester. Goals have continued to flow for the time being thanks to new signings and some goals from midfield, but the back line that was impenetrable early on in the year is looking tired and susceptible to pacey attacks. Richard Dunn is the experienced leader of the defence and needs to take command of his unit and ensure they get enough protection from the midfield. Dunn is this games key man.
Reading’s early form in 2014 laid down a marker that was going to be tough to follow and so it has proved. A slip up at home against Sheffield Wednesday has meant they have lost ground on the top five who all seem to be picking up points at the moment. Alex Pearce was sent off against Wednesday early on making it a difficult game for the Royals. His ban was rescinded and he will feature again in the heart of the Reading defence that prior to the game against the Owls had looked tough to break down. The strike force of le Fondre and Pogrebnyak drew a blank last time out, although they could prove deadly against the Rangers defence that is lacking in confidence slightly.
Last meeting: 1-1 draw
Match odds: Q.P.R. 19/20 Draw 12/5 Reading 14/5
Score prediction: 2-2 draw
Other fixtures with score predictions
Saturday 3pm kick offs
Birmingham 1 Huddersfield 1
Ipswich 2 Blackpool 0
Watford 1 Middlesbrough 0