This weekend sees many Championship sides playing their third game in seven days and as we race until the final couple of months of the season the Championship is starting to heat up nicely. We preview four of this weekend’s big games in detail.
Burnley v Leeds United
These two sides would have had differing expectations for the season back in August and whilst Burnley have exceeded any hopes they had, Leeds have been nothing other than disappointing. With the sides at opposite ends of the form table this one looks like a home banker.
Burnley have continued to plough through all that come before them and were one minute away from making it four wins in a row, but Federico Macheda’s equaliser meant they had to settle for a draw. Despite this the Clarets remain unbeaten in league action since December and are the only team still unbeaten at home in the top four tiers of the English game. Danny Ings netted the winner in the derby game against Blackburn last weekend and this week was short-listed for the Championship player of the year award. Ings has scored 20 league goals this term and remains hot on the heels of the league’s top scorer Ross McCormack. Ings has scored once in his last six games and will want to get back in the goals more often this weekend. He is this game’s key man.
Over a month has now passed since Massimo Cellino sacked then reappointed Brian McDermott as Leeds manager. Since then the Italian is still waiting for Football League approval to take over the club and Leeds have not won any of their last five league games. Leeds have only picked up one victory from their last seven games on the road and have conceded nine goals in their last two games. One positive story coming out of Elland Road this week is that captain and top marksman Ross McCormack has been nominated for the Championship player of the year award. Without McCormack Leeds would be in the midst of a relegation scrap and are going to find it difficult to keep hold of the Scot in the summer.
Last meeting: 2-1 Burnley win
Match Odds: Burnley 8/11 Draw 5/2 Leeds 4/1
Score prediction: 2-0 Burnley win
Nottingham Forest v Doncaster Rovers
The wheels appear to have suddenly collapsed off of the Forest promotion chase, whilst Doncaster have lit fresh rubber in their push for Championship survival.
The form table rarely lies and with Forest 19th taking just five points out of their last eighteen they are far from in the form of a side chasing promotion. The injury crisis has grabbed plenty of internet column inches, but the players out on the pitch have to take the brunt of the blame. On too many occasions this year they have been reliant on the craft of Henri Lansbury or the brilliance of Andy Reid. Now without the pair they have been left rather stagnant in their attacks. A draw in midweek against Middlesbrough steadied a run of three straight defeats, with the away defeat at Barnsley one of the Reds worst results of the season, although Reid may return this weekend after his hernia operation. Their place in the top six is far from secure and they need to get back to winning ways if they want the chance to make promotion through the play offs.
A roller coaster couple of weeks for Doncaster. Two weeks ago they were played off the park by a rampant Bournemouth side, travelling back to the Keepmoat on the wrong side of a 5-0 scoreline. They responded superbly however beating Huddersfield last week, before making it back-to-back wins by seeing off Watford. Rovers have not won in thirteen games on the road, but will need to improve that statistic if they are going to remain in the Championship come the end of the season. The importance of Billy Sharp was proved as he returned from suspension to score in each of their recent wins. Since joining in January the striker has already scored three goals from six games. He is certain to score plenty more in the remaining eleven games. He is this game’s key man.
Last meeting: 2-2 draw
Match Odds: Forest 1/2 Draw 3/1 Doncaster 6/1
Score prediction: 1-1 draw
Millwall v Charlton Athletic
This South London derby does not need any added spice to make it a must win game, however here we have two sides who by the end of play could both sit in the bottom three if they do not get the win.
It is still a working progress at the New Den under Ian Holloway. They remain in and around the relegation scrap in 21st place with each of the bottom three having at least one game in hand over them. This makes the meeting against bottom side Charlton even more important going into the final ten games. The Lion’s problem all season has been scoring goals and that looks set to be the achilles heel of a side that lacks that creative edge. They have scored just thirty-two goals in the thirty-five league games and have brought in former Wolves forward Stefan Maierhofer until the end of the season to give them a figure head upfront. Millwall are looking to improve a record of just one win in nine games and have not won in their last four games at the New Den.
The shock story of the week came on Tuesday as Charlton parted company with long time manager Chris Powell, replacing him almost immediately with technical director of the AC Milan academy Jose Riga. The Addicks do sit bottom of the league table, but Powell had led them to the FA cup quarter finals and with games in hand fans had every confidence in him to lead them to safety. It is believed Powell failed to agree terms on a contract extension with new owner Roland Duchatelet and various disagreements played a part in his sacking. Charlton have struggled to get over the loss of Yann Kermorgant and Dale Stephens in January, although they did manage a steady 0-0 draw at home to Huddersfield on Wednesday. Skipper Johnnie Jackson signed a new contract this week and will lead from the front to help his side turn things around. He is this game’s key man.
Last meeting: 1-0 Millwall win
Match Odds: Millwall 7/5 Draw 11/5 Charlton 2/1
Score prediction: 1-0 Millwall win
Reading v Derby County
Third place Derby make the trip down to the Madejski knowing that they need to return to winning ways if they want to hunt down second place Burnley. Reading, meanwhile, are clinging on to 6th place and a win here could see them leapfrog 5th placed Forest who are really struggling of late.
Reading are yo-yoing in and out of the play off places every week at the moment. A slip up at home is followed up with a valiant away performance, whilst no-one wants to stake a claim on the final play off spot. They have created some stability in their last three games, remaining unbeaten and building some confidence heading into a favourable run of games after this weekend’s clash. A six goal thriller at Elland Road on Tuesday saw the Royals come out 4-2 winners. Since late December Reading have faired better away from home, finding it difficult to take the game to their opponents at home. They can be sure though that Derby will be coming for all three points so expect a classic free flowing Championship game.
Derby are yet to really show signs of a recovery following their tough loss at Burnley a fortnight ago. Two home games without a goal is very uncharacteristic for the Rams this season who usually employ a creative and attacking brand of football. There is still plenty of points to win and lose over the remaining two months and despite the gap currently being eight points to second place Burnley, that could all change in the space of a week. The shock absentee in the player of the year nominations was a certain Craig Bryson. I have sung the talents of this man to the high heavens all season and remain questioning the panel’s decision. The central midfielder has scored twelve league goals this season, that would be enough to be the top scorer at over half the sides in the Championship, as well as setting up nine goals for his team mates. A sensational season that deserves recognition. He can do his talking on the pitch however and the three points on Saturday will make him a happy man. He is this game’s key man.
Last meeting: 3-1 Reading win
Match Odds: Reading 6/4 Draw 23/10 Derby 7/4
Score prediction: 2-2 draw
Other fixtures with predictions
Saturday 3pm kick offs
Bolton 0 Brighton 0
Bournemouth 2 Middlesbrough 0
Huddersfield 3 Blackburn 1
Ipswich 1 Wigan 2
Leicester 3 Blackpool 0
Q.P.R. 2 Yeovil 0
Sheffield Wednesday 1 Birmingham 0
Watford 1 Barnsley 1