English Championship Preview

There was drama aplenty last week as news of a slew of shock results from the Football League Championship filtered through to South African punters. Middlesbrough, Reading and Derby were all on the wrong end of poor results which have had some pretty serious ramifications at both ends of the table. With another full set of fixtures to look ahead to this weekend, let’s see if we can pick a few winners.

Friday 5 February

11/10 Brighton | Draw 23/10 | Brentford 24/10 (21:45)

Brighton and Hove Albion have managed to stop the rot that saw them go six games without scoring after two pressure-relieving victories over Blackburn Rovers, and more recently Huddersfield Town. Those two wins have consolidated their standing in the promotion places. It comes as no surprise that the Seagulls’ upturn in form has coincided with the arrival of French winger, Anthony Knockaert from Leicester and the return to form of master-poacher, Bobby Zamora. Brentford will have been buoyed by the news that Alan Judge won’t be leaving the club in the January window. Judge has been one of the Championship’s standout performers this season bagging 12 goals while also making 12 assists. The Bees have had a solid season and currently occupy 10th spot after their draw last time out against Leeds. Chris Hughton and his Brighton side have re-discovered their form and should be able to get past Brentford this Friday. Back the Seagulls at 11/10.

Saturday 6 February

6/10 Middlesbrough | 27/10 | Blackburn 9/2 (17:00)

After dominating the Championship for pretty much the entire season, Aitor Karanka and his Middlesbrough side are just starting to feel the pressure at the top of the league. Two defeats in their last two games have seen them slip off the top of the league with Burnley now occupying top spot. They do have the playing personnel to turn their season around, though. Guys like Stewart Downing, David Nugent, Grant Leadbitter, Daniel Ayala, and Jonathan Woodgate all have plenty of experience at the top level. Rovers come into this game having avoided a potential banana peel in the fourth round of the FA Cup when they won 3-0 away to Oxford United. Ben Marshall and Tony Watt got the goals for Blackburn in a fairly routine victory over their League Two opposition. I’m backing Rovers on the Double Chance at 11/10.

13/10 Preston | 21/10 | Huddersfield 22/10 (17:00)

Preston will have welcomed the near two-week break between their last game and their fixture against Huddersfield this weekend. In a league where fixtures come thick and fast – with virtually no recovery time – the Lilywhites will chomping at the bit to get going again after defeat last time out to Brentford. They'll be looking for a massive performance from former Aston Villa striker, and top scorer; Daniel Johnson. The Jamaican-born midfielder has been in good touch this season and will be looking to guide his side back toward the top half of the table. Let’s be frank, Huddersfield Town have been awful of late. They’ve lost their last three league games and find themselves slipping down the league. If they don’t turn their season around soon, they could well find themselves drawn into a relegation scrap. The Terriers do have the playing personnel to turn in around, however. Emyr Huws (five goals), Nahki Wells (10 goals) and Harry Bunn (seven assists, five goals) have all proven themselves at this level and should be able to steer them to safety. That being said, Preston look the stronger side here. Back them at 13/10.

16/10 QPR | 21/10 | Ipswich 31/20 (17:00)

QPR, for all of their endeavour and their wealth of talent, really haven’t done particularly well this season. Compound this with the fact that they’ve just lost their star centre-forward, Charlie Austin to Southampton, and it looks as though another mediocre mid-table finish is on the cards for the R’s this season. The results simply haven’t been good enough this season for a side who still look as though they’re trying to come to recover from the hangover following a few shambolic seasons in the Premier League. Despite starting the season strongly, Ipswich have been in freefall over the last few weeks following a slew of rubbish performances. These were compounded by an unceremonious 2-1 defeat at the hands of League Two Portsmouth in the third round of the FA Cup. They’re going to need senior players like Freddie Sears, Luke Chambers and Daryl Murphy to step it up if they’re going to push for promotion this season. I really can’t separate these two teams on current form. Back the Draw + Both Teams To Score at 32/10.

31/10 Burnley | 21/10 | Hull City 17/10 (17:00)

Burnley will have been bitterly disappointed to crash out of the FA Cup at the hands of Arsenal last weekend. Having gone a goal down after Calum Chambers put the Gunners ahead, Sam Vokes equalised for the Clarets with a towering header that left David Ospina with no chance. Burnley hearts would be broken in the 50th minute as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cutback found an unmarked Alexis Sanchez to fire past Tom Heaton. Hull had no such trouble as they cruised past Bury in the FA Cup thanks to a magnificent hat-trick from on-loan Arsenal wonder-kid, Chuba Akpom. Hull have been virtually unstoppable of late winning all six of their last games in all competitions. This should definitely be the game of the weekend as both sides are in red-hot form. Hull City have been a cut above the rest of late, though. I’m backing them to consolidate their place atop the league with a win at 17/10.

19/20 Cardiff | 23/10 | MK Dons 26/10 (17:00)

Cardiff continued their extended unbeaten run to three games with a 3-2 victory last time out away at Huddersfield Town. A spectacular free-kick from Peter Whittingham earned the Blue Birds all three points 11 minutes from time. Sammy Ameobi gave the visitors the lead in the 37th minute before Town levelled three minutes later through debutant, Nahki Wells. Huddersfield would grab a consolation goal late on, but it would prove too little too late as they were condemned to their sixth game without a win. MK Dons were taken apart by a rampant Chelsea on Sunday evening at the MK Stadium. The Blues put five past the hapless Dons as they cruised into the fifth round. Oscar netted a hat-trick while Bertrand Traore and Eden Hazard also scored. Dons are probably one of the most unpredictable sides in the Championship, however, their hammering at home to Chelsea will have dented their confidence. I’d back Cardiff claim the win here and continue their push up the table at 19/20.

27/20 Bolton | 9/4 | Rotherham 18/10 (17:00)

Bolton’s woes were compounded as the cash-strapped club bombed out of the FA Cup at the hands of Leeds United. Bolton fell behind early on as Souleymane Doukara scored before Toumani Diagouraga doubled the Yorkshire club’s lead. Darren Pratley pulled one back for Wanderers who pushed hard for an equaliser but to no avail, leaving them out of all cup competitions and rock bottom of the Championship. Rotherham lost at the weekend to fellow relegation candidates, Charlton. The 4-1 scoreline tells the story of a game in which the Addicks probably put in their best performance of the season. Goals from Simon Makienok, Igor Veokele and Ademola Lookman ensured that Charlton climbed to within a point of Rotherham. Pick a winner here at your own peril. I’m backing Both Teams To Score at 15/20.

29/20 Birmingham | 21/10 | Sheffield Wed. 18/10 (17:00)

Birmingham City will enter this weekend’s fixtures occupying the last of the promotions places after they survived a Bristol City onslaught to earn a draw at Ashton Gate. The Blues never really showed up for the game as Bristol butchered chance after chance, Jonathan Kodjia and Kieran Agard two of the main culprits. Former Manchester United keeper, Tomasz Kusczak was in brilliant form as he made a string of fine saves to keep Birmingham in the game. Sheffield Wednesday were dumped out of the FA Cup by Shrewsbury Town this weekend thanks to a last-gasp winner from Jack Grimmer. The Owls took the lead in 19th minute through Lewis McGugan before Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro levelled for the hosts. McGugan scored again for Wednesday before late drama unfolded at New Meadow. The Shrews would level four minutes from time after Shaun Whalley tapped in a saved penalty. There would be even more late drama, however, as Grimmer sent the home fans into rapture as he headed home a Scott Vernon cross in the 97th minute. Again, picking a winner here is proving difficult. Seeing as both teams seem to score as often as they concede, Both Team To Score at 17/20 is tipped.

12/10 Reading | 22/10 | Wolves 9/4 (17:00) 

Reading easily dispatched of Walsall in clinical fashion as they ran out 4-0 winners in the sides’ FA Cup fourth round tie. Goals from Danny Williams, Hal Robson-Kanu and a brace from Matej Vydra sent the Royals into the next round with aplomb. That win means that Brian McDermott’s side have now only lost once in their last six as they look to inch up the table. Wolves have had another decent season although it looks as if they’re well out of the running for a play-off place. They were held last time out away by QPR. They will have played again in mid-week (after this was written) against Bolton Wanderers who they really should beat. Reading will be buzzing after their FA Cup triumph on the weekend. They’ll also be well rested heading into this game, as such, I’m backing them at 12/10.

14/10 Leeds | 21/10 | Nottingham Forest 18/10 (17:00) 

Leeds avoided embarrassment last time out in the FA Cup as the scraped past a dogged Bolton Wanderers outfit. As is always the case, Leeds have blown hot and cold again this season and currently occupy 14th place on the standings. They look unlikely to turn their indifferent form around and to push for a play-off spot but they don’t look poor enough to be dragged into a relegations scrap. They simply haven’t been able to find the back of the net enough this season with just 29 goals in as many games – not good enough if you want to be challenging near the top of the league. Nottingham Forest also look as though they’ll have to settle for mid-table mediocrity this season if they can’t convert some of their draws into wins. They were knocked out of the FA Cup this weekend by a Watford side who are oozing confidence at the moment – the only goal of the game coming from Odion Ighalo. Both of these sides have been involved in low-scoring games of late. Back Under 2.5 Goals at 13/20. 

26/10 Fulham | 5/2 | Derby 19/20 (17:00)

Fulham are a side woefully out of form at the moment, and if they don’t start improving soon, could find themselves plying their trade in League One. Luckily for the leaguered Cottagers, however, they’ve had a near two-week break since their last game – a 1-0 defeat at home to Hull City. Derby County haven’t fared much better of late. Their excellent start to the season has been ruined by a run of form that has seen them win only two of their last eight games as they run the risk of falling out of the promotions places. They were beaten at home on the weekend by Man United as the Rams crashed out of the FA Cup in front of their home supporters. Both teams have been absolutely awful of late, so picking a winner is proving rather tricky. I’m going to back the draw here at 5/2, but I’d stay away from this one if you can.

23/10 Charlton | 23/10 | Bristol City 11/10 (17:00) 

Charlton earned a massive 4-1 victory last time out against fellow strugglers, Rotherham United. They can now potentially climb out of the relegation zone if they can replicate last week’s antics against a Bristol City side who are also staring down the barrel of relegation. Bristol also played well last week as they battered Birmingham City without ever putting the ball in the back of the net. Still, the crowd at Ashton Gate showed their appreciation for their side’s efforts with rapturous applause following the conclusion of the match. Charlton look as though they may have turned a corner last week with their 4-1 thumping of Rotherham and at odds of 23/10, you’d be silly not to back them! 

Written by Jason Dewey

Championship Picks

Brighton WIN 11/10
Blackburn WIN/DRAW 11/10
Preston WIN 13/20
Hull City WIN 17/10
Cardiff WIN 19/20
Bolton BTTS 15/20
Birmingham BTTS 17/20
Reading WIN 12/10
Leeds UNDER 2.5 GOALS 13/20
Fulham DRAW 5/2
Charlton WIN 23/10