Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Gabriel's Championship Predictions: 25th March

The Championship’s key game on Tuesday night’s fixtures, comes at the Den. Millwall have only won twice since the appointment of Holloway three months ago, they look to drag Birmingham into the relegation mire, and move to two points off cash-strapped Blues. Two of last season’s relegated clubs, QPR and Wigan, go head-to-head, and the same fixture could well be played in May, with both sides looking likely to get into the play-offs. Barnsley have the worst away record in the Football League, they travel to Reading, whose play-off hopes are being hindered by poor home form. Here’s our preview of the games.

Bournemouth vs. Leeds
Eddie Howe
Outside the current top five, Bournemouth are the Championship’s form side, with thirteen points from their last six games. Furthermore, many of their recent results have come without January signing Yann Kermorgant, who could be out until the summer due to a heel injury. Leeds will be without their tall frontman too, Connor Wickham. The striker has been recalled by Premier League Sunderland, after a brief and uneventful loan spell, with no goals in five games. With or without Wickham, it would be difficult to see any side getting much joy against Bournemouth, who are keeping the ball well and have become more organised of late. A win for Eddie Howe's men, in a game between two sides at opposite ends of the form book. 2-0.

Burnley vs. Doncaster
Doncaster might have taken ten points from their last four, but all three of their wins came from home games. Away form is still their main problem, having failed to score on the road since January. Burnley maintained their ten point cushion with a 3-0 win at Charlton, despite the absence of key men Kieran Trippier and Danny Ings. New signing Chris Baird slotted into right-back well, while striker Ashley Barnes scored on his second start for the Clarets, so the cover in the squad looks very much in place. Doncaster do have a respectable record against the top sides, but not away from home. If Burnley don’t make it a twenty-first game without defeat at Turf Moor, I will not be the only one surprised. 2-0.

Huddersfield vs. Middlesbrough
Two teams who have been destined for midtable since January. In the first half of the season, Huddersfield were relatively strong at home, but they have lost three of their last four at the John Smith’s stadium. Middlesbrough lost 3-1 at home to QPR on Saturday, after a late blunder from Konstantopoulos. In fairness to the goalkeeper, the ball did take a massive bobble before he miskicked it. He had also only conceded one goal in three games for Boro before this match, and made some impressive saves to preserve a point at Bournemouth, the week before. Neither side have won any of their last three matches, but Huddersfield will secure a narrow victory. 2-1.

Ipswich vs. Derby
Ipswich won 2-0 at Brighton on Saturday (more on this here). Ipswich have kept six clean sheets in their last eleven games, although they have arguably been slightly fortunate that a lot of their opponents, have lacked quality in the final third. Finishing quality has looked like a problem for Derby in recent weeks, but that was before they thrashed rivals Nottingham Forest 5-0. Craig Bryson netted a hat-trick in that match, which could be key to his confidence. Prior to then, the Scot had failed to score or assist since January. The reverse fixture ended in a thrilling 4-4 draw, that saw Derby claw back a 4-1 half-time deficit. In rather less dramatic circumstances, I would back them to win here. 1-2.

Leicester vs. Yeovil
Craig Shakespeare
Nigel Pearson will be in hospital for this game, after being taken ill during Leicester’s 1-1 draw at Blackburn. Assistant manager Craig Shakespeare will take charge, and it is difficult to see the Leicester players being particularly affected by this change. Since late-January, Yeovil have dropped a remarkable seventeen points from winning positions. It was a similar story for the Glovers again on Saturday, against Bolton. Having been 2-0 up at half-time, they conceded twice in the second half and missed a penalty, so a lack of experience is a clearly a major problem for Gary Johnson’s side. They might put in a typically spirited display here, but I could see them conceding another costly late goal. 2-1.

Millwall vs. Birmingham
For the most part of this season, Millwall’s home form and Birmingham’s away form were both club’s respective strong suits. However, Millwall have not won any of their last five at the Den, scoring just twice in those games, while Birmingham have lost three of their last four on the road. Charlton might be level on points with the hosts, but they have three games in hand. If Charlton have a ‘honeymoon period’ under a new manager, then it is Birmingham that Millwall need to catch. Due to their poor form, this game has become arguably as important for the Blues as it is for Millwall. Lee Clark’s side have taken just one point from their last five games, although they were a touch unfortunate to lose to Reading on Saturday. This will be a tight, nervy game in South Bermondsey. 1-1.

Nottm Forest vs. Charlton
Joe Pigott
It has been announced that Nottingham Forest have sacked manager Billy Davies, with Neil Warnock in line to replace him (more here). If Warnock is taking over on Monday, it could just be a watching brief for him on Tuesday night. Charlton have recently changed their manager, too. After five points from four games, we are yet to see what kind of impact Riga is having on the team. Goals is a worry, as the Addicks have only scored once since his appointment. They have not found a reliable striker since the sale of Yann Kermorgant, and Riga has recalled striker Joe Pigott from his loan spell at Gillingham. Pigott had only scored one goal in seven games there, at League One level, so it seems like a slightly desperate measure. In truth, neither side seem able to score at the moment, so this is likely to be a low-scoring affair. 1-0.

QPR vs. Wigan
When these teams played out a 0-0 draw back in October, they were eleven places apart, with QPR second, and Wigan languishing in thirteenth place under Owen Coyle. Uwe Rosler has transformed Wigan’s season since taking over, while an inconsistent sequence of results seems to have consigned QPR to just a play-off spot. Now, the two sides are just one place apart. Wigan are unbeaten in ten games. They have only failed to score more than once in one of those ten games, which underlines their constant attacking threat. The Latics’ momentum will be too much for QPR, who have blown hot and cold lately. 1-2.

Sheff Wed vs. Brighton
Jesse Lingard
Brighton’s away form is quite good, with three wins from their last six on the road. Against Ipswich on Saturday, they lacked quality in the final third, which seems to be a recurring theme for the Seagulls this season. They had twenty-two shots – more than any other Championship side that weekend – but still could not find the net, with Jesse Lingard particularly culpable. Meanwhile, Sheffield Wednesday have won each of their previous three home games, the last two being by impressive scorelines. Stuart Gray has started to play a more consistent first XI in recent weeks, and arguably that cost them in terms of energy at Doncaster, during this congested fixture period. Both teams are in similar form and this might be a draw. 1-1.

Watford vs. Blackburn
Watford currently have the best recent home form in the league, having won all of their last five games at Vicarage Road, and keeping a clean sheet on each occasion. Blackburn’s away form was a problem in the first half of the season, but it seems to be improving, with just one defeat in five on the road. On their last outing, the Rovers won 4-2 at Huddersfield, with Jordan Rhodes netting a hat-trick. You can imagine Rhodes will not get so many opportunities against Watford, who have become very difficult to break down under Giuseppe Sannino. Troy Deeney has scored in Watford’s last four home games, and I think he’ll have another good day. 2-0.

Bolton vs. Blackpool
Zat Knight
Both teams look to be safe, after a difficult season. Bolton managed to claw back a two goal deficit to take a point at Yeovil, thanks to a late equalizer from Zat Knight. With that goal, Bolton can consider themselves safe, and start building for what will be a future-defining summer ahead, given the club’s perilous finances. Blackpool are having ownership problems themselves, with Tangerines fans protesting against the regime of chairman Karl Oyston. On the field, they have won two of their last three, Ricardo Fuller stepping up to score the important goals. Neither side will be particularly desperate for a win, as these two clubs look to drag themselves over the safety line. 1-1.

Reading vs. Barnsley

Reading have not won at home since late January. Away, they have been successful, because home teams have attacked them, leaving gaps at the back which they can exploit very well. But when opposing sides come to the Madejski they tend to sit back, and so Reading run out of ideas. In fact, Reading have not scored a winning goal in the second half of a home match since mid-September. Barnsley have become more defence-orientated under Danny Wilson, and you can imagine they will sit deep and get men behind the ball. In Luke Steele, the Tykes have a goalkeeper who is capable of making one or two top saves, and he nearly preserved Barnsley a point last week. I foresee a frustrating day for Reading. 0-0.

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