Sky Bet Championship preview: January 12–13
Tuesday, January 12
Blackburn Rovers v Queens Park Rangers
After a promising start to life under Paul Lambert, Blackburn have lost three games in a row.
Lambert, who was appointed as Rovers boss in mid-November, had led his new side to three wins from five before they hit a poor run of form.
Like Blackburn, Queens Park Rangers have recently appointed a new manager; Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was named as the successor to Chris Ramsey in early-December.
So far, Hasselbaink’s appointment hasn’t had the desired effect, as Rangers are still yet to record their first league victory under the former Burton Albion boss.
In his six league matches at the helm to date, QPR have drawn three and lost two, while they also lost at Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup on Saturday.
Verdict: Both out-of-form, I can only see these two sides cancelling each other out. 1–1
Brentford v Middlesbrough
Middlesbrough went close to promotion last year, but it looks like they’re going to go one step further this time around.
At present, they look a class above the rest, sitting four points clear at the top with a game in hand.
They have been unstoppable of late, winning seven out of their last eight league fixtures.
Recent victories over Derby, Sheffield Wednesday, Brighton and Burnley, and clean sheets to go with them, have been particularly impressive.
Brentford, meanwhile, appointed Dean Smith as their new manager in early-December.
Since then, their form has been steady; they have won three, drawn two and lost two in the league.
They have been unfortunate in their loses, too, conceding late on in defeats to Cardiff and Birmingham.
The Bees will want to put their FA Cup defeat to Smith’s old side, Walsall, behind them.
Verdict: I expect Middlesbrough to continue their excellent form. Brentford isn’t an easy place to visit, but they have enough in them to come away with three points. 1–2
Bristol City v Preston North End
Without a win in five league matches, Bristol City find themselves in the bottom three, as they have done for large parts of the season.
Last season’s League 1 champions have found it difficult to adapt to life in the Championship.
While they have put in some decent displays and picked up results to match, they have also been on the receiving end of a few hidings.
Steve Cotterill’s men are without a win at home in five matches and have only picked up three points at Ashton Gate on two occasions this season. If they wish to stay up, that must improve.
Although they put in a decent display at West Brom in the FA Cup, conceding late on was the problem once again, as the Baggies secured a replay with a 95th-minute equaliser.
Preston were tipped by many to cope the best out of the promoted clubs and that has proved to be the case.
North End don’t scored many; equally, though, they don’t concede many.
Only bottom club Bolton have scored less goals than Simon Grayson’s side but, on the flip side, only the league’s top three clubs — Middlesbrough, Derby and Hull — have conceded less.
Sitting ten points clear of the relegation zone, Preston could be safe if they pick up a couple of more wins.
Verdict: This game has a goalless draw written all over it. Preston don’t ship many goals and will likely head to Bristol very well set-up and organised. 0–0
Derby County v Reading
Derby’s defeat at Middlesbrough last time out in the league was their first in nine matches.
Their form before that had seen them move up to second, where they still remain despite the result.
They look good for a play-off spot already and their squad is certainly strong enough to secure automatic promotion.
However, this is the Championship and they need to make sure that they get back to winning ways.
Reading started the season very well, but they have now dropped down as far as 12th.
Steve Clarke was going to take the managerial post at Fulham, then he decided to stay and, after a poor run of results, he was sacked by Reading.
In has come Brian McDermott for his second spell in charge of the club.
So far, Reading have picked up two wins and lost four under McDermott.
They are only eight points off the play-offs, so that has to be the aim for the Royals.
But they must improve their consistency.
Verdict: Derby have only lost once at home all season and I can’t see Reading making that two. A straightforward win for the Rams. 2–0
Huddersfield Town v Charlton Athletic
Since appointing David Wagner as head coach in early-November, Huddersfield had a string of poor results before the former Borrusia Dortmund reserves coach began to steady the ship.
Now unbeaten in three league matches, Town will be hoping to kick on.
One huge plus for the Terriers is that they’re playing an attractive brand of football and, in their 2–0 win over Bolton, they were very impressive.
Whether they’ll be able to match physical sides when they come across them is another matter.
Charlton, sitting second from bottom, have been poor in the first-half of the season.
Without a win in eight matches, Karel Fraeye’s side are in real danger of relegation if their form doesn’t improve soon.
They have won only three matches at home this season, with the last coming two months ago against Sheffield Wednesday.
If they have aspirations of avoiding the drop, they need to make The Valley more of a fortress.
They will also want to respond to a disappointing 2–1 defeat at League One Colchester United in the FA Cup on Saturday.
Verdict: Charlton are struggling and Huddersfield are beginning to find their feet. I can only see a home victory in this one. 3–1
Ipswich Town v Leeds United
Mick McCarthy has done a fine a job as Ipswich boss in his time with the club to date.
After guiding Town to the play-offs last term on a fairly tight budget, they once again sit within the top six this time around.
Their form is steady both at home and on their travels and, if anything, they will be hoping to improve their form at Portman Road to give themselves more chance of promotion come the end of the season.
It’s fair to say that Steve Evans has improved Leeds United since he was appointed as manager in October.
They are now creating plenty of chances, where as before they rarely had a shot at goal under Uwe Rosler.
Unbeaten in seven in the league and well-clear of the relegation zone, Leeds will be looking to have a surge for the play-offs in the second-half of the season.
Verdict: It’ll be a close one, but Ipswich get my bet in their clash against Leeds United. 2–1
MK Dons v Burnley
MK Dons’ first ever season in the Championship was going to be tough and that has proved to be the case.
However, they currently sit just outside the relegation spots and they’ll be hoping to stay there.
One positive for Karl Robinson’s side so far this term is that they have picked up results against those near them in the table.
They’ll need to continue that if they want to avoid the drop.
Sitting eight points off the automatic promotion spots, Burnley’s form has been hit-and-miss of late.
They haven’t picked up many points against their fellow promotion rivals and they need to change that.
But, with Andre Gray — who is the division’s leading scorer on 15 — in their side, they are capable of scoring goals, which will no doubt work in their favour as crunch time approaches.
Verdict: Burnley should pick up their first win on the road for some time, but it won’t be straightforward. I think they’ll get a late winner. 1–2
Nottingham Forest v Birmingham City
Since taking over as manager at Birmingham City midway through last season, Gary Rowett has done a great job.
After taking the Blues from relegation battlers to a mid-table side in 2014/15, he has turned them into play-off contenders this time around.
Although they had a sticky patch after a excellent start to the campaign, they have started to pick up wins again and sit just two points outside of the top six.
The hosts, unbeaten in eight, are currently in their best form of the season.
More importantly for them, they haven’t lost at home since early-October and have won four of their last five at the City Ground.
Verdict: Both sides are going steady at the minute so I think a draw is on the cards. 1–1
Rotherham United v Brighton & Hove Albion
If Rotherham raised their game every week and played to their capability, where would they be in the table?
Although the New York Stadium outfit have picked up some impressive wins — 4–0 over Bolton, 2–0 over Hull and 3–0 over Bristol City, to name a few — they also pick up some poor results.
They never seem to be able to string a run of results together; if they did, they probably wouldn’t be where they are now.
Brighton, meanwhile, aren’t in the best of form.
Without a win in six and three defeats in the last four, Chris Houghton’s side have dropped down to fourth in the table.
True, Brighton have done well to go from strugglers last season to promotion contenders this season, but they will want to keep up their title challenge.
If they fall away now, all the progress they made in the first-half of the season will count for little.
Verdict: When Rotherham play well, they’re a match for a lot of sides in the Championship. This is an opportunity against a Brighton side out-of-form, but I think it’ll be a draw. 1–1
Sheffield Wednesday v Bolton Wanderers
Unbeaten at home since late-August, Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsbrough is now a very difficult proposition.
Wednesday, sitting just outside the play-off spots, look a strong side under Carlos Carvalhal.
The Championship is an unpredictable division but, if they can start to pick up a few more points on the road, particularly against sides lower in the table, they should be in the top six come the end of the season.
From the high of beating your local rivals and renewing your hope, to being brought back down to earth with a bang: a Bolton fan.
There are major off-the-field issues at Bolton, but that can’t always be used as an excuse.
The current squad of players at the Whites is better than some others in the Championship and shouldn’t find itself where it does.
The visitors are likely to be without Mark Davies and Zach Clough, who are both on the verge of moves away from the Macron Stadium.
Verdict: Bolton simply don’t cope on their travels and I don’t see that changing at Sheffield Wednesday, who are tough team to face at present. Wanderers desperately need to put a string of results together, but that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon. 2–0
Wolverhampton Wanderers v Fulham
It’s been a frustrating season for Wolves so far.
After a solid season last time around, narrowly missing out on the play-offs, Kenny Jackett’s have struggled in the 2015/16 campaign.
However, they are now up to 11th and looking up the table after winning their last three.
Wolves’ squad is reasonably strong and, if they can carry on their solid defensive form of late, they could be in with an outside chance of making the top six.
Fulham have had an equally frustrating season, as they sit down in 19th.
The Craven Cottage side don’t look in any real danger of relegation — laregly because they have Ross McCormack, who guarantees goals — so Jokanovic’s job will be to guide them as far up the table as possible.
Verdict: It’ll be a close one, but I think Wolves will have the edge and score a late winner. 1–0
Wednesday, January 13
Hull City v Cardiff City
Hull, with a strong squad following their relegation from the Premier League last season, have had a decent 2015/16 so far.
They sit third in the table and are just one point off Derby County in second.
If they wish to gain automatic promotion, though, they need to cut out the kind of defeats they have had at Preston and Rotherham, as those are the type of games they need to be winning.
Like a number of sides in mid-table, if Cardiff put a run of games together, they’ll give themselves a good chance of making the play-offs.
Their form at the Cardiff City Stadium, where they haven’t lost since mid-September, is very good, but they need to improve on the road.
City’s last away win was at bottom-of-the-table Bolton Wanderers in December but, before that, they hadn’t won since August on their travels.
Verdict: Generally, Hull’s home form is good while Cardiff are poor away from home. A win for Hull is the likely outcome. 2–1