We look to be at the stage of the Championship season, where the teams down at the bottom start fighting desperately for points. All four of the bottom teams who played on Saturday won, and will be looking to build on that with another three points this week. Millwall will be hoping to draw out-of-form Blackpool into the relegation scrap with a win at Bloomfield Road, and Barnsley want to build on their win over Forest but have an unenviable game against runaway leaders Leicester. Higher up the league, Brighton are aiming to break into the play-offs, as they host QPR, who are looking unlikely to gain automatic promotion. Here is our preview of all the matches.
Barnsley vs. Leicester
Leicester are now thirteen points clear of third place, with a game in hand on Derby, and their promotion is a foregone conclusion. On the other hand, Barnsley are fighting to save their Championship status. Thanks to a winner from Dale Jennings, the Tykes got arguably their most important result of the season, a 1-0 victory over Nottingham Forest. After everything that happened at Huddersfield; a 5-0 defeat, awful defending and players dissenting at angry fans; Barnsley needed that kind of result. Complacency could creep into the Leicester camp. They do not have the best record away to the lower teams, as previous defeats at Charlton, Doncaster and Sheffield Wednesday suggest. Barnsley will battle for a point. 1-1.
Brighton vs. QPR
People say Brighton need to improve their home record, but one defeat in their last ten at the AMEX is reasonable progress, with only five goals conceded. A home draw against Reading on Saturday was, ultimately, not a bad result. They played half of that match with ten men, after centre-back Gordon Greer was sent off, and none of the teams around them won. They have not lost any ground. QPR came out 2-0 winners at Birmingham on Saturday, with Ravel Morrison scoring his first goals for the club and putting in a man of the match performance. The problem with both teams is that they do not score enough, so the game could be decided by the odd goal. 0-1.
Derby vs. Bolton
In the space of a week, Derby lost six points on Burnley and now with an eight point gap, their automatic promotion hopes have evaporated. As with QPR, the remainder of their season will be a case of preparing for the play-offs. Bolton are finding some form. The Trotters scored nine goals in their last two games, beating Blackburn and Leeds 4-0 and 5-1 respectively. In both of those games, their goals came from all different goalscorers, as the likes Andre Moritz and Neil Danns are starting to play with confidence from midfield. With neither side having too much to play for, this is likely to be an entertaining, high-scoring affair. 2-2.
Doncaster vs. Watford
Last week, Billy Sharp marked his return from suspension with a goal against Huddersfield. At home, Doncaster have already kept seven clean sheets this season, so a proven goalscorer coming back into the team should give them a boost. Watford are masters of the clean sheets themselves, having kept five out of a possible seven since the start of February. Their only problem is winning games away from home. The Hornets have not won on the road since early October, although eight out of those ten away games ended in draws. Strikers Troy Deeney and Mathias Renegie bagged a brace each in a 4-0 home win over Watford on Saturday, Renegie netting his first goals for the club on just his second start. Doncaster might grind out a win here – the Rovers have a bit more to play for. 1-0.
Leeds vs. Reading
Prospective Leeds owner, Massimo Cellino, launched a scathing attack on the Leeds players, after the 5-1 defeat to Bolton. Those comments will have done little to ingratiate himself with the team, and it seems the wrong thing to say, considering he does not own the club yet. That will unsettle the players, and it is possible that Leeds’ form will fall away towards the end of the season. Reading’s away record is quite good as well. The Royals have taken ten points from their last five on the road, although they failed to take advantage of an extra man at play-off rivals Brighton on Saturday. Royston Drenthe scored his first goal for the club in that match, and keeping him fully fit for the remainder of the season will be important. Reading can get an eighth away win here. 1-2.
Middlesbrough vs. Nottm Forest
Middlesbrough finally ended their seven game goal drought, with a 2-0 win over Ipswich. Aitor Karanka has clearly built a strong defence at the Riverside, with an impressive eleven clean sheets from the nineteen games they’ve played under him. If Danny Graham can build on his brace on Saturday, they should be able to pick up more points towards the end of the season. Nottingham Forest fell to a third consecutive defeat at Barnsley. Their next three home games are against teams down at the bottom, but that is not necessarily going to be an advantage, because a lot of them will be fighting desperately for points. Forest do not have an in-form striker at the moment, and they do not look like they will trouble the Boro back-line. 1-0.
Yeovil vs. Ipswich
Ipswich have only scored one goal in their last four games and, although it is still possible, the Tractor Boys are not really threatening to break into the play-off places. Away from home, they have only taken two points from their last five, and have won just three on the road all season. After a five match unbeaten run, Yeovil are starting to believe they can beat the drop. Ishmael Miller grabbed his seventh goal for the Glovers in thirteen games, with a brace against Sheffield Wednesday. In the next two weeks, Yeovil have QPR, Wigan, and Leicester away, so they will need to win this type of game. 1-1.
Blackpool vs. Millwall
The awful run of form Blackpool are on means this match has become crucial. While some people might say this is a ‘must win game’ for the Tangerines, it would be wrong for Barry Ferguson to highlight this match as one they need to win. Although it would extend the winless run, a few draws for Blackpool at this stage may not be such a bad thing. Ferguson just needs to steady the ship, and the team must rebuild confidence gradually, without falling deeper into the relegation mire. Millwall picked up a priceless win at Derby on Saturday, without which they would have fallen to second bottom. For that, they have Davide Forde to thank, because he pulled off a string off very good saves to preserve the three points. Generally though, Millwall have struggled to win away from home, so this might be a draw. 1-1.
Birmingham vs. Burnley
You would get high odds for a home win here. Birmingham have won the fewest number of home games in the Championship, while Burnley have lost the fewest away. Only Barnsley and Millwall have conceded more home goals than the Blues, who have again reshuffled their back-line, as Lee Clark reverted to a three-man defence against QPR. Burnley on the other hand, have maintained a consistent side throughout the season, and Jason Shackell is an ever-present for them. They look likely to go up automatically with Leicester, as Sean Dyche’s men are now eight points clear of third-place. It’s hard to see the Clarets dropping points here, and you can expect Birmingham’s winless home run to be extended, to thirteen games. 0-2.
Blackburn vs. Bournemouth
Blackburn’s home record against the lesser sides is quite impressive. The Rovers have taken twenty-three points from eleven games at Ewood Park, when playing the teams from midtable downwards. The one positive from their defeat to Burnley, was a first goal in eight games for Jordan Rhodes, and they could certainly do with him rediscovering his first half of the season form. Bournemouth are a team performing well at the moment, the Cherries built on their thrashing of Doncaster with a win at Blackpool. The only two matches they have lost since mid-January, have been narrow defeats to promotion chasing Leicester and Derby, and in both games the consensus was they were unfortunate. I’d still back Blackburn to take three points. 3-1.
Charlton vs. Huddersfield
Chris Powell has been sacked by Charlton. With such a short time span between his sacking and this match, it will be tough for the players to prepare themselves quickly, in these circumstances. Under Powell, scoring goals had been the problem, the Addicks have failed to net in four of their last six league games. Huddersfield will try to take advantage of the uncertainty at the Valley, but they have lost five of their last six away games, and have not kept a clean sheet on the road since Christmas. Then again, the other factor is Huddersfield’s midfield. With Norwood and Clayton performing well at the moment, it looks stronger than what Charlton have got, because they seem to be relying on inexperienced, unproven players. 1-2.
Wigan vs. Sheff Wed
Both sides have benefitted from a change of manager. Under Rosler, Wigan fans could potentially have three trips to Wembley this spring. They are now in the FA Cup semi-finals, after proudly joining Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Chelsea in the club of teams to have beaten Manchester City on their own turf. Sheffield Wednesday are ten points clear of relegation, which represents fantastic work from Stuart Gray, when you consider how much trouble they were in when he took over. The only problem for Wigan is, there might be a slight ‘morning after’ effect, having put all their energies into beating Man City on Saturday. Sheffield Wednesday do not lose many away games, and they might take a point here. 1-1.