The big game on Easter Monday comes at the AMEX. Brighton are looking to hold onto their play-off place, while Blackpool are in need of a win, after falling into the drop zone for the first time this season. Burnley can secure promotion at the third time of asking with a win against Wigan, while the loser of Ipswich against Bournemouth could be ruled out of the play-off race. Millwall can continue their remarkable recent resurgence against a Doncaster side looking very much part of a tight relegation battle, as this Championship season nears the end.
Birmingham vs. Blackburn
After Friday and Saturday’s results, the battle at the bottom has become ever tighter, with just 1 point separating Birmingham in 18th, from Blackpool in 22nd. Birmingham lost 1-0 at Nottingham Forest, and the concerning thing is that arguably their most creative player, Chris Burke, does not seem to have the pace he had over the last two years. In fact, two assists at Millwall was the only time Burke has contributed directly to a Blues goal since the start of February. Blackburn remain part of a tantalisingly unpredictable play-off race. None of the teams from 6th to 9th won, which makes Blackburn’s 0-0 draw with relegation bankers Yeovil all the more frustrating. The fact that Blackburn had 21 shots in that match, suggests they ran out of ideas a little bit. With Birmingham’s dreadful home form, most teams will fancy their chances of winning at St Andrews. 1-2.
Brighton vs. Blackpool
Blackpool are rivalling Leeds to be the Championship’s drama club of the season. Fans made their feelings known towards chairman Karl Oyston, but fortunes are no better on the pitch, with just 1 point from their last 6. They are now in the relegation zone for the first time this season, too. Big performances are required at Brighton and Wigan before the final day, which it seems Barry Ferguson will struggle to get from his players. Tangerines fans may take some hope from the fact that home form is not Brighton’s strong suit, as the Seagulls have only taken 7 points from their last 6 at the AMEX. But Brighton are unbeaten in 5 overall, and from Blackpool’s perspective, you wonder where the next point is coming from. 2-0.
Burnley vs. Wigan
Burnley just need a win to confirm promotion. Any minor chance of them throwing their lead away was ended with a 1-0 win at Blackpool on Friday, thanks to a well-taken goal from Michael Kightly, so promotion is now a formality. Wigan beat Reading on Friday. The Latics displayed once again the strength in depth of their squad, winning 3-0 despite making 7 changes from the side which played Arsenal. The key thing which stands out from the game, was the importance of positivity. Every time a Wigan player got the ball, they had the confidence to try and beat a player, or have a shot. It’s a confidence that Uwe Rosler has instilled in the team. With Wigan playing so well, Burnley fans might have to wait a few more days to be able to celebrate. 1-1.
Derby vs. Barnsley
A win for Barnsley could take them level on points with 21st place Charlton, you would expect a real battling performance from the Tykes. But against Leeds, they lacked creativity, as Danny Wilson dropped flair players such as Jacob Mellis and Patrick McCourt to the bench. Those are the type of players who you would look to, to provide a key moment of magic for Barnsley. Derby are building up some momentum towards the play-offs, with three consecutive wins. George Thorne scored a belter in the 2-0 win at Doncaster, and he has been another revelation from Steve McClaren in the loan market. Normally a defensive midfielder, Thorne has been vital for Derby going forward too, having scored once and bagged two assists in his last three games. Derby to win this, but Barnsley will have no intentions of making it easy for them. 2-1.
Ipswich vs. Bournemouth
Both teams lost their last match, making this a key game in terms of the battle for the play-offs. If Brighton beat Blackpool as expected, the loser of this will be 4 points (Ipswich) or 6 points (Bournemouth), off the play-offs, which may be too much of a gap with two games left. Bournemouth have been boosted by the recent news that Ian Harte has extended his contract for another 12 months. His experience can be key for the Cherries, who have scored some 15 goals from set pieces this season, and Harte’s delivery has been key to this. I’ll go with Ipswich, because they win at home more often than not, and I feel an excellent season for Bournemouth might just be petering out. 2-1.
Millwall vs. Doncaster
A crucial match in the relegation dogfight. It’s a game which, on immediate form, you would have to fancy Millwall. The Lions have enjoyed a resurrection in the last few weeks, and are now unbeaten in five. Lanky Austrian striker Stefan Maierhofer picked the perfect time to score his first goals for the club, netting a brace from two Lee Martin crosses, to give his side a valuable win at Middlesbrough. Doncaster have taken just 1 point from their last 6 games. After this match, their final two games do not look favourable. They host a Reading side who will be fighting for their play-off spot, before a trip to Leicester, the champions elect, on the final day. The Millwall miracle is looking on the cards, while Doncaster are bang in trouble. 2-1.
QPR vs. Watford
QPR lost 1-0 at Leicester on Saturday, in a weekend that mathematically ended any hope of them getting automatic promotion, but realistically those hopes died a long time ago. It has not been QPR’s Loftus Road form that has let them down, because they have taken more points at home than Burnley this season, winning two-thirds of their games in West London. Watford are unbeaten in 6, and their game in hand gives them an outside chance of sneaking into the play-offs. However, they have only won once away since Giuseppe Sannino took over in December, and this is the first of three consecutive away games. Due to the contrast in home and away records, I’ll go for a QPR win. 2-1.
Sheff Wed vs. Charlton
Sheffield Wednesday have become the Championship’s ‘Roy of the Rovers’ side over the last few weeks. The last 5 games involving them have included a total of 26 goals, which is a big change from how the team were performing when Stuart Gray first took over, when they were just grinding out results. Charlton, by contrast, saw their miserable season in front of goal continue, with another blank against Bolton on Friday. Tellingly, the average age of the striking options in their squad is under 23, so they are clearly lacking that bit of knowhow going forward. In fact, Charlton have got a young side generally. Apart from perhaps Johnnie Jackson, there are not many players who you’d look to for a cool head, at this high-pressure stage of the season. 2-1.
Yeovil vs. Huddersfield
Yeovil deserve credit for the way they stayed organized at Blackburn. They created a few chances towards the end as well, but ultimately, the finishing was not good enough. The Glovers have only seen 9 goals from the strikers that are currently in the squad, James Hayter and Kieffer Moore scoring 5 and 4 respectively. Likewise, Huddersfield’s top scorer is still 12-goal man James Vaughan, and he has only netted once since 1st October. The one positive for the Terriers is that Nahki Wells has scored 4 goals in his last 8, and is adjusting well to life in the Championship. I would back Huddersfield to end their winless streak here, just because I cannot see Yeovil scoring. 0-1.
Leeds vs. Nottm Forest
The slim chances of us seeing Stuart Pearce back on Match of the Day next season are just about alive, after Nottingham Forest won 1-0 against Birmingham on Saturday. Gary Brazil, the caretaker manager at the City Ground, does seem to favour Matt Derbyshire. The striker was very much a bit part player under Billy Davies, but he has started the last 3 games, scoring in 2 of them. Leeds have at least restored some pride in their season, after back-to-back wins. Before the match against Blackpool, they had only kept 1 clean sheet since Christmas, but now they’ve kept two on the trot, thanks to a more organised defence. Both teams come into the game after a win, following a poor run of form. Draw. 1-1.