English Championship Preview

Things are heating up at both ends of the Football League Championship with six points separating first from sixth and four points between bottom-placed Charlton Athletic and 20th Bristol City. I managed to six from 11 with last week’s tips – a decent return in such an unpredictable league. This week, however, I’ll try and go one or two better with a number of fantastic fixtures set to take place over Saturday and Monday.

Saturday 13 February

1/1 QPR | Draw 24/10 | Fulham 11/4 (14:30)

We kick things off this weekend with a London Derby at Loftus Road between Queens Park Rangers and Fulham. Rangers secured their first home win under new manager, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink thanks to an 88th minute goal from Matt Phillips against Ipswich Town last time out. The goal was created by January signing, Nasser El Khayati after he found a pocket of space down the inside right channel before delivering the cross that Phillips headed home. Fulham would have been satisfied with a point against Derby County at the weekend. The Cottagers went ahead in the 17th minute after Marcus Olsson put through his own net thanks to a wicket deflection following a low cross from Luke Garbutt. Derby would equalise just before the half-time break in atrociously windy conditions as Craig Bryson side-footed home past a despairing Andrew Lonergan. Neither team has been shy of goals this season, backing the Both Teams To Score market at 7/10 is a no-brainer here. 

21/10 Charlton | 23/10 | Cardiff 5/4 (17:00) 

Just as I thought Charlton had turned a corner and would begin to climb toward safety, they were defeated at home by fellow strugglers, Bristol City. The wind played havoc in a tightly-contested affair where Bristol scored the only goal of the game thanks to a Lee Tomlin penalty. The penalty followed a fairly innocuous looking push on Johann Berg Gudmundsson as he attempted to volley a squared ball from Mark Little. The Addicks now face an uphill battle as they look to survive the drop come the end of the season. Cardiff missed a golden opportunity to close in on the play-off spots as they battled to a 0-0 draw with MK Dons at the weekend. The draw was their 12th of the season, and although the Bluebirds are now unbeaten in 11 home games, they haven’t been able to win back-to-back since September. That being said, they should have more than enough quality to get one over their London rivals this weekend. Back them at 5/4.

13/20 Derby | 11/4 | MK Dons 42/10 (17:00) 

Derby’s stuttering second-half to the season continued as they were held 1-1 away at Craven Cottage by a determined Fulham side. Having gone down thanks to an own goal from Marcus Olsson, they equalised through Craig Bryson just before the halftime break. The Rams have failed to win in any of their last six games and are at risk of slipping out of the play-off places if they suffer defeat at the weekend. MK Dons are also struggling to put together a decent run of form at the minute, however, they will take heart from their away performance at Cardiff City at the weekend. They’re hovering dangerously close to the relegation zone in 21st position and will be desperate to leapfrog the likes of Bristol City and Fulham who sit just above them. I simply don’t see that happening this weekend, though. This match is the ideal opportunity for Derby County to get their season back on track. The home win is tipped here at 13/20.

15/10 Reading | 23/10 | Burnley 7/4 (17:00)

Uninspiring and turgid – those two words probably best describe Reading’s home performance against Wolves at the weekend in a game that ended 0-0. Ali Al-Habsi was probably the man of the match, the Reading ‘keeper managing three good saves from James Henry. Reading have now only managed two wins in their last 13 games and look destined to finish in mid-table obscurity. Burnley put in a magnificent display to defeat table-topping Hull City at Turf Moor at the weekend. An instinctive finish by Sam Vokes following a good save from a Joey Barton thunderbolt ensured that the Clarets moved to within a point of the Hull and Middlesbrough at the top of the table. Burnley are undefeated in six, winning four and drawing two in the league. They look great value to get one over Reading this weekend. The away win is tipped at 7/4.

11/10 Nottingham Forest | 23/10 | Huddersfield 5/2 (17:00) 

Dougie Freedman’s side extended their unbeaten run to 13 games with a hard-fought 1-0 over Leeds United last week at Elland Road. Nelson Oliveira scored his side’s only goal in the 60th minute after he netted from close range following a beautifully measured cross from Eric Lichaj. It was a game that Forest dominated from the outset and could easily have gone on to score three or four against their hapless Yorkshire opponents. There was late drama at Deepdale as Huddersfield suffered their third defeat in as many games at the hands of Preston North End. A dull game exploded into life in the 80th minute when Nahki Wells prodded home to give the visitors the lead. However, Joel Lynch put through his own net to level matters three minutes later before Alan Browne headed Preston to victory following a Calum Woods cross to in the 91st minute to send Deepdale into delirium. Forest are the form team here, back them to claim victory at 11/10.

16/10 Bristol City | 23/10 | Ipswich Town 16/10 (17:00)

Bristol City claimed a vital victory in a relegation six-pointer away at Charlton Athletic this weekend. Bournemouth loanee Lee Tomlin scored the game’s only goal as his penalty somehow made it past Stephen Henderson. In truth, City dominated the game as the home supporters held up banners in protest of their Belgian owners. Bristol have now won two out of their last four games and will be looking to climb further away from the relegation zone this weekend. Matt Phillips broke Ipswich hearts at the weekend after his 88th minute header bulged the net in a dull affair at Loftus Road last time out. A win for the tractor boys would have lifted them into the promotion places above Sheffield Wednesday and there’s no doubt that the charming Mick McCarthy would have torn into his players following the defeat. Ipswich have the chance to atone for their loss this weekend, and I’m tipping them to put the smile back on Mick’s face this weekend at 16/10.

9/10 Sheffield Wednesday | 24/10 | Brentford 3/1 (17:00)

Sheffield Wednesday have Gary Hooper to thank after the former Celtic man scored twice in three minutes to ensure that his side maintain their grip on sixth place as they defeated Birmingham City at St. Andrew’s Stadium. Clayton Donaldson gave the Blues the lead after 39 minutes as he fired home following Michael Morrison’s blocked shot. Despite looking comfortable against the Owls, Birmingham were rocked when Hooper slotted past Tomasz Kuszczak. There would be cries of discontent from the Birmingham faithful just three minutes later at Hooper rifled home a shot following some tidy build-up play from Barry Bannan and Fernando Forestieri. Brentford were clobbered 3-0 last time out against a revitalised Brighton and Hove Albion side at the Amex Stadium. Anthony Knockaert gave the Seagulls the lead before goals from Tomer Hemed and Jamie Murphy put the gloss on their sides against a Brentford team who have now only won once in their last six outings. Sheffield Wednesday are one of the league’s form sides and shouldn’t have any trouble beating Brentford. The home win is tipped at 9/10.

11/10 Wolverhampton | 23/10 | Preston 5/2 (17:00) 

Wolves have had quite a strange season winning 10, losing 10 and drawing 10 of their games in the league this term. They’ve drawn their last three games and found goals hard to come by since the departure of Benik Afobe to Bournemouth. They dominated last time out against Reading, however, a lack of composure up front cost them dearly in the end as the game finished 0-0. Preston bagged a handy late win against Huddersfield Town at the weekend thanks to a 91st minute winner from Alan Browne. Preston have now only lost one in six and will be looking to edge closer to the play-off places, although they will more than likely see the season out in mid-table. I’m backing Preston on the Win/Draw Double Chance at 6/10.

31/20 Rotherham | 23/10 | Birmingham 16/10 (17:00)

Rotherham were beaten 2-1 last time out thanks to a 92nd minute Kaiyne Woolery goal gave the Trotters a win that lifted them off the bottom of the table for the first time in weeks. Jay Spearing put Bolton ahead on two minutes as he fired a delicious half-volley into the top corner from the edge of the box following a half-cleared corner. The Millers would equalise following a decisive move which saw Chris Burke fire past Ben Amos. Rotherham hearts would be broken late on as Woolery latched onto Kelvin Davies’ saved effort to roll the ball into an empty net. City were bitterly disappointed as they let in two late goals against Sheffield Wednesday last time out to go down 2-1 at St. Andrew’s. It was Birmingham’s first defeat in six games and has just put the brakes on their charge for a play-off place this season. That being said, I do think that they’ll claim all three points against Rotherham this weekend. The away win is tipped at 16/10.

6/10 Brighton | 11/4 | Bolton 9/2 (17:00)

Brighton and Hove Albion recorded their third straight victory as they cruised past Brentford securing a 3-0 home win. Goals from Anthony Knockaert, Tomer Hemed and Jamie Murphy ensured that the Seagulls remain in the hunt for an automatic play-off place. They seem to have put their mid-season dip in form behind them with Chris Hughton’s men looking more and more dangerous every week. They will go up against a Bolton side who have managed to haul themselves off the bottom of the league for the first time in weeks following their win over Rotherham last week. The Trotters have hit a bit of form lately having won two and drawn one of their last three games. That being said, I simply can’t see them getting one over a resurgent Brighton side. Back the home side to claim an easy enough win at 6/10.

19/10 Blackburn | 9/4 | Hull 27/20 (17:00) 

Blackburn Rovers secured a well-earned 1-1 draw away to Middlesbrough at the weekend. Jordi Gomez put the Lancashire club ahead after Darragh Lenihan set Gomez to rifle home a ferocious effort from the edge of the box in the 72nd minute. Rovers wouldn’t be able to hold on though as David Nugent headed home at the far post following Emilo Nsue’s floated cross. Blackburn have failed to win any of their last six games and the threat of relegation looms over Paul Lambert. Hull City were beaten at the weekend by Burnley but remain top of the league thanks to their superior goal difference over Middlesbrough. A 77th minute Sam Vokes strike saw the Clarets claim all three points to move within a point of the top two. Even with their loss against Burnley, I really don’t think that Blackburn can beat Hull at the weekend, back the away win at 27/20. 

Monday 15 February

5/2 Leeds | 23/10 | Middlesbrough 11/10 (21:45)

Leeds’ push for promotion seems to have come to an end following a disappointing few months. Their early-season form has dipped alarmingly and they now find themselves in 16th position with one win from six games. Their last defeat came at home to Nottingham Forest who secured a 1-0 thanks to a 60th minute Nelson Oliveira goal. They will take on Middlesbrough who will be equally disappointed with their 1-1 draw with Blackburn Rovers at the weekend. One feels that new signing, Jordan Rhodes, will get his first start for the club on Monday evening following his nine-million Pound move from Blackburn. Leeds have been poor of late and shouldn’t really be able to compete against a strong Boro side. Back the away win at 11/10.

Written by Jason Dewey

Championship Picks

Cardiff WIN 5/4
Derby WIN 13/20
Burnley WIN 7/4
Nottingham Forest WIN 11/10
Ipswich WIN 16/10
Sheffield Wednesday WIN 9/10
Preston WIN/DRAW 6/10
Birmingham WIN 16/10
Brighton WIN 6/10
Hull WIN 27/20
Middlesbrough WIN 11/10