English Championship Preview

Last weekend’s results perfectly underline the unpredictability of life in England’s second tier with news of several surprise results filtering through to South African punters. The shock of the round saw a struggling Wolverhampton Wanderers side defeat Derby County while relegation-threatened Bristol City won away at Nottingham Forest. There’s yet another full set of fixtures coming your way this week; and as always, there’s plenty of value to be had. Let’s get to it!

Thursday 3 March

26/10 Birmingham | Draw 43/20 | Hull 11/10 (21:45)

Birmingham City’s indifferent run of form continued as they were downed 2-0 by QPR at Loftus Road on Saturday afternoon. First half strikes from Tjaronn Chery and Junior Hoilett condemned the Blues to their 10th defeat of the season. Gary Rowett’s blues will be his side's inability to find the net – the men from England’s Second City have only managed to score twice in their last five league games – hardly ideal heading into a game with one of the league’s form sides. Hull City were held to a 0-0 draw last time out against high-flying Sheffield Wednesday. It was to be a game highlighted by missed chances and Owls’ striker Fernando Forestieri’s second red card in a week. Failure to claim all three points means that Hull absolutely must win against Birmingham City if they are to maintain their place in the automatic promotion spots. The last thing the Blues’ goal-shy centre-forwards need right now is a game against one of the most miserly defenses in the division – a Hull City win is tipped here at 11/10.

Friday 4 March

11/20 Middlesbrough | 28/10 | Wolves 52/10 (21:45)

After a bit of a mid-season hiccough, Middlesbrough seem to be back on track. They cruised past Fulham last time out, defeating the Cottagers 2-0 at Craven Cottage on Saturday evening. First half goals from Albert Adomah and Grant Leadbitter put the game to bed early on before Richard Stearman was given his marching orders for a foul on Boro’s Jordan Rhodes. The win puts Aitor Karanka‘s side level on points with second-placed Hull City with a game in hand. Wolves pulled off one of the upsets of round 34 when they beat Derby County 2-1 at the Molineux last weekend. George Saville’s first two goals for the Midlands club put an end to a three-match losing run that was threatening to derail their season. Kenny Jacket will be pleased with his side’s efforts last time out in a game in which they were dominated by the Rams. Despite that win, however, I simply don’t see them beating Boro on Friday evening – back the Teesiders to claim all three points at the Riverside.

Saturday 5 March

12/10 Bristol City | 23/10 | Cardiff City 22/10 (14:00)

Bristol City eased their relegation fears by coming from behind to beat Nottingham Forest 2-1 at the City ground last weekend. The win was Lee Johnson’s side’s fourth in five games as they went seven points clear of 22nd-placed Rotherham United. Ben Osborn opened the scoring for Forest before his side wasted several gilt-edged opportunities to make the game safe. Jonathan Kodija equalised for the Robins before Aden Flint secured all three points with a commanding header on the 70-minute mark. Cardiff City put an end to Preston North End’s four-game winning run thanks to two Anthony Pilkington penalties either side of half time. The win moved the Bluebirds to within three-points of the play-off places following a remarkable run which has seen them lose just one of their last eight games. Both of these sides have been in excellent goal-scoring form of late, and it would take an extremely brave punter to pick a winner – take Both Teams To Score at 17/20.

9/10 Burnley | 47/20 | Blackburn 32/10 (14:30)

The game of the weekend will see bitter rivals Burnley and Blackburn slug it out for East Lancashire bragging rights. The Clarets survived a bit of scare last time out against Bolton Wanderers as they fell behind in the 69th minute. However, Burnley showed their title credentials as the league’s top scorer, Andre Gray netted twice in the last 15 minutes to consolidate Sean Dyche’s men’s place atop the table. Blackburn also head into the derby off the back of win following their thrilling 3-2 victory over MK Dons. Jordi Gomez secured all three points for Rovers in the 93rd minute with a stunning 30-yard free kick. The win eased Rovers’ relegation fears as they moved seven points clear of the drop zone. As is always the case, you can throw away the formbook when it comes to these sort of games. However, Burnley do look as though they should have the measure of Blackburn – Burnley to win at 9/10.

9/10 Leeds United | 24/10 | Bolton Wanderers 3/1 (17:00)

Leeds suffered a chastening 4-0 away defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion last time out. A 20-minute first-half blitz from the Seagulls condemned to their fifth game without a win. Appalling defending from the Yorkshire club allowed Brighton to score almost at will in the first half before taking their foot off the gas in the second. Leeds have now only won once in their last 10 games as pressure on Steve Evans grows. They will take on a Bolton side who came perilously close to beating table-topping Burnley at the Macron Stadium on Saturday. Liam Feeney sent the home fans into raptures as he gave his side the lead only for Andre Gray’s two late goals to bring them back down to earth with a thud. It was revealed this week that Bolton’s wage bill is one of the highest in the league and that none of their top-earners have relegation clauses in their contracts – not good news for a club in financial dire straits. Bolton have improved slightly over the last few weeks and look good value at 3/1 – get on!

23/20 Ipswich Town | 9/4 | Nottingham Forest 24/10 (17:00)

Ipswich Town put an end to their three-game losing streak with a somewhat surprising win at John Smith’s stadium over Huddersfield Town on Saturday. Ben Pringle scored the only goal of the game in 19th-minute to secure all three points and put a handsome smile back on Mick McCarthy’s face. The goal came against the run of play in a game that the Terriers really should have come away with a point. They will take on a Nottingham Forest side who have lost their last three games on the trot as they continue their slide down the Championship table. They’ve struggled for goals all season and it showed again as they failed to break down a rather porous Bristol defence at the City ground on Saturday. They will need a much-improved performance if they are to get one over the Tractor Boys this weekend. Take Ipswich on the Matchbet + Both Teams To Score: No market at 23/10.

18/10 Preston North End | 2/1 | Brighton and Hove Albion 31/20 (17:00)

Preston disappointingly went down last time out away at Cardiff as they slumped to their first defeat in five games, putting an end to their four-game winning streak. The defeat also put the brakes on the Lilywhites’ promotion charge. Simon Grayson’s side now sit seven points behind Sheffield Wednesday in sixth place. Brighton on the other hand, were nothing short of magnificent last time out against an out of sorts Leeds United side. Their 4-0 victory of the Yorkshire club kept their hopes of automatic promotions very much alive as they consolidated their grip on fourth place. Had they not suffered a small mid-season slump, they could well be clear at the top of the table ahead of Burnley and Hull City. Brighton look a different class at the moment – back the away win 31/20.

7/10 Sheffield Wednesday | 26/10 | Rotherham 39/10 (17:00) 

The Owls would have been quietly satisfied with their 0-0 draw away at Hull City on Friday evening. What will have disappointed Carlos Carvalhal, however, was Fernando Forestieri’s second red card in a week. The club’s top scorer was sent off for a second bookable offense late on following what was deemed to be a dive by referee, Tim Robinson. They will go up against a Rotherham side that refuses to be written off. The Millers did their hopes of survival no harm as they fought their way to a heartening 2-1 win over Brentford. Goals from Matt Derbyshire and Danny Ward either side of judge strike moved Rotherham to within three points of safety. Rotherham will no doubt put in a brave performance. However, their defensive frailties and Wednesday’s wealth of attacking talent mean that I can only see this game going one way. Back Wednesday at 7/10.

1/1 Reading | 24/10 | Fulham 26/10 (17:00)

Reading were involved in the game of the week last Saturday as they clinched a thrilling 4-3 win away at Charlton. On-loan Arsenal striker, Yaya Sanogo netted a hat-trick for the home side to before Deniss Rakels broke Charlton hearts with a 92nd-minute winner to plunge the Addicks even deeper trouble at the bottom of the table. Fulham were brushed aside last time out at home to a resurgent Middlesbrough as they went down 2-0, suffering their 14th defeat of the campaign. The Cottagers’ misery was capped off following Richard Stearman controversial sending off in the 86th minute. This looks as though it will be tricky to call – Both Teams To Score at 15/20 looks a safe enough bet though.

13/20 Brentford | 3/1 | Charlton 39/10 (17:00)

Brentford were beaten last time out by a resurgent Rotherham United. The defeat was the Bees’ fourth in six games as they continue to plummet down the table. While realistically, they can’t be relegated; Dean Smith will still want his side to recapture their early season form which saw them punching well above their weight. They have the perfect opportunity to do just that as they welcome Charlton Athletic to Griffin Park. The Addicks remain rooted to the bottom of the table following their 4-3 defeat at the hands of Reading last week. They simply don’t have the quality to compete at this level and look as though they’ll be plying their trade in League One come next season. The home win is tipped at 13/20.

18/10 MK Dons | 43/20 | QPR 31/20 (17:00)

MK Dons are slowly but surely being dragged back into the relegation scrap. Defeat last time out against Blackburn Rovers courtesy of a 93rd-minute Jordi Gomez strike leaves the Dons just three points above the drop zone following a bit of a resurgence in the middle of the season. Their next two or three games are going to be vital as they look to avoid the drop. They will welcome a wildly inconsistent QPR to the MK Stadium this weekend. The R’s played well last time out against an undercooked Birmingham City side, winning 2-0. Their very faint hopes of a place in the top six could well hinge on their result against MK Dons this weekend. I’m tipping QPR to build on their win against Birmingham last time out with a comfortable enough win against the Dons at 31/20.

17/20 Derby County | 24/10 | Huddersfield Town 33/10 (17:00)

Darren Wassall would have been furious following his side’s 2-1 away defeat at a woefully out of form Wolves side this past weekend. The Rams looked as though they had stopped the rot which saw them slide out of the automatic promotion places before they were brought crashing back down by Wolves. They will need to get back to their best if they want to remain in the top six, otherwise they could well see themselves slipping out of contention as the season winds down. Huddersfield were edged out last time out by a determined-looking Ipswich Town side. A solitary Ben Pringle strike ensured that the Tractor Boys claimed all three points and got their promotion charge back on track. The Terriers look safe enough in mid-table and certainly won’t be challenging for promotion this season. With this in mind, I’m backing Derby to claim all three points here at 17/20 as they look to consolidate their place in the top six.

Written by Jason Dewey

Championship Picks

Hull WIN 11/10
Middlesbrough WIN 11/20
Bristol City BTTS 17/20
Burnley WIN 9/10
Bolton WIN 3/1
Ipswich WIN + BTTS: NO 23/10
Brighton WIN 31/20
Sheffield Wednesday WIN 7/10
Reading BTTS 17/20
Brentford WIN 13/20
QPR WIN 31/20
Derby WIN 17/20