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Football League Championship Preview

Newcastle are a point above Brighton heading into Christmas and host Sheffield Wednesday next.
Newcastle are a point above Brighton heading into Christmas and host Sheffield Wednesday next.
The second last match-week of 2016 is almost upon us. With the Newcastle and Brighton streaking away at the top of the standings, there’s an almighty battle raging for the play-off spots with up to 10 teams in the running at the moment. This week’s biggest match will see Newcastle host Sheffield Wednesday while Brighton’s home clash against QPR should also prove to be quite a feisty affair.

Monday 26 December

11/10 Brentford | Draw 24/10 | Cardiff 23/10 (15:00)

Brentford put up a solid display against Leeds at Elland Road on Saturday afternoon only to go down to an 89th minute Kyle Bartley header. The defeat comes off the back of two wins as the battling Bees regain a bit more traction in the league following their bright start and subsequent slide down the standings. Cardiff have really battled to gain any sort of momentum this season and could well find themselves relegated come the end of the season if they are unable to stop the rot. Their cause wasn’t helped as they went down 4-3 at home against Barnsley thanks to a 95th minute from Ryan Williams. Cardiff have been pretty poor defensively this season and will do well to keep out a Brentford side who have recovered from their mid-season wobble. Brentford to win for me at 11/10.

37/20 Rotherham | 9/4 | Wigan 14/10 (17:00)

You have to feel for Rotherham United; absolutely nothing seems to be going their way this season. The Millers seemed to be heading for a point against the much-fancied Sheffield Wednesday when Richard Wood was sent off after fouling Lucas Joao in the box. Up stepped Stephen Fletcher to dispatch the 94th minute spot kick and condemn the hapless Millers to their 16th loss in 22 games. Wigan have also battled this season after gaining promotion from League One last season. The Latics were also hit with a late goal as Ipswich Town’s David McGoldrick headed home in the 88th minute. I hate trying make calls on games like this. Both teams have been poor this season, however, Rotherham’s woeful defensive record (48 conceded in 22 games) has me leaning toward a Wigan win at 14/10.

15/20 Huddersfield | 26/10 | Nottingham Forest 7/2 (17:00)

Huddersfield Town have recovered magnificently well following what was a bit of a lean streak. After storming to the top of the table in the first few weeks of the campaign, the goals dried up and they became defensively naive. David Wagner has managed to stop the rot, however, with his side winning all of their last three league games. They’ll go up against a Nottingham Forest side who on their day can beat anyone in the division. Those days seem to be too and far between for Philippe Montanier’s men. They went down again last weekend as Wolves romped to a 2-0 victory at the City Ground. Back the Tykes to come out on top against a Forest side who have been struggling with injuries of late.

13/10 Wolves | 23/10 | Bristol 2/1 (17:00)

Wolves have been floating around the wrong end of the table for quite some time now with many of their fans desperate to see them move up the table. They took a step in the right direction last time out by cruising to a 2-0 victory over a wildly inconsistent Nottingham Forest thanks to goals from Helder Costa and Ivan Cavaleiro. They could make it two in a row this weekend when they take on a woefully out of form Bristol City. The Robins have lost five of their last six games as they continue to slide down the league. They were downed by a late Daniel Johnson strike against Preston at home last week, losing 2-1. It’s going to be a long, hard slog through the festive season for City. Wolves should win this, but they’re a side that makes me nervous. Take Both Teams to Score at 15/20 to be safe.

29/20 Preston | 43/20 | Leeds 39/20 (17:00)

Preston have quietly gone about their business well this season – something they seem to do campaign after campaign, always falling agonisingly short of the play-off positions. That might all change this season though, if they can start stringing a few results together. The Lilywhites were good against Bristol City last time out winning 2-1, a win against Leeds on Monday will see them inch closer to the top six. It looks as though Leeds could finally be in with a sniff of making their way back into the Premier League. They’ve started the season remarkably well and currently occupy fourth place following their late win over Brentford. While Preston are a good outfit, Leeds have been one of the better teams in the division this season. I can’t see Leeds losing here – back the away side on the Win/Draw double chance at 5/10.

13/20 Aston Villa | 26/10 | Burton Albion 17/4 (17:00)

Following what can only described as an underwhelming start, Aston Villa have turned a corner and are slowly but surely climbing back toward the top of the division. The Villains heaped more misery on QPR at the weekend as Jonathan Kodjia grabbed the game’s only goal as the Birmingham side ran out 1-0 winners. Burton were unlucky not to come away from the Pirelli Stadium with anything as they went down 2-1 against table-topping Newcastle United. Having said that, losing – albeit rousing – performances against the log leaders won’t keep a side in the division. Nigel Clough will know this and will be desperate to see his side get something at Villa Park. Villa are far too good, especially at home. Back them to saunter across the line at 13/20.

7/4 Reading | 22/10 | Norwich 31/20 (17:00)

Reading have been magnificent this season, grabbing 12 wins in 22 games. This bright start to the season has seen them up at the right end of the table in third. The Royals grabbed yet another win on the weekend as they saw off Blackburn thanks to a stoppage time winner from George Evans as Jaap Stam’s men claimed a 3-2 win. Norwich’s bright start to the season is all but a distant memory now as the Canaries dwindle in 10th position. Alex Neil’s men went down last time out as Huddersfield heaped more pressure on an underperforming manager and side, running out 2-1 winners at Carrow Road. Norwich are all over the place at the moment. Back Reading pretty confidently at an insane price of 7/4.

2/1 Ipswich | 9/4 | Fulham 13/10 (17:00)

Ipswich left it late to beat a struggling Wigan Athletic last time out. The Tractor Boys needed an 88th minute David McGoldrick goal to sink the spirited Latics at the DW Stadium. Mick McCarthy will be looking for a more solid performance on Monday evening when his side host an ever-improving Fulham team. The Londoners are fresh off an excellent performance against Derby in which they ended the Rams’ six match winning streak to draw 2-2. The Cottagers now find themselves on the cusp of the play-off places, and if results go their way, could well break into the top six come the end of the festive season. Slavisa Jokanovic’s men have been excellent of late even if results haven’t always gone their way. Back Fulham to grab all three points here at 13/10.

23/20 Barnsley | 24/10 | Blackburn 22/10 (17:00)

Barnsley have been solid if not spectacular this season. Paul Heckingbottom’s side currently sit 12th on the log with nine wins from their 22 matches thus far. The Tykes were involved in the game of the week last time out as a 95th minute Ryan Williams goal sunk Cardiff at the Cardiff City Stadium in a cracking 4-3 win. Barnsley will take the momentum of that win into their clash against an out of sorts Blackburn Rovers. Despite a small resurgence a few weeks ago, Rovers have gone down 3-2 in each of their last three matches and are still very much in a relegation dogfight. Owen Coyle will need to shore up a very leaky defence if he wants to see his side climb back up the table – some January spending no doubt required. Barnsley should prove too good here. Get on the Tykes to Win + Both Teams to Score at 9/4.

13/20 Newcastle | 26/10 | Sheffield Wed. 17/4 (21:45)

Newcastle have got back to winning ways following back-to-back league defeats against Blackburn and Nottingham Forest. Rafa Benitez and his players were made to work hard for their three points last time out against Burton Albion, with Mo Diame’s 34th minute strike enough to earn the Toon a 2-1 win and cement their place atop the league. Wednesday left it late against rock bottom Rotherham last week. Darren Fletcher’s 94th minute penalty was enough for the Owls as they cling tenaciously to sixth place on the log. That in mind, they haven’t been at their best this season, but do still possess heaps of quality. They’ll need all of their talent to come to the fore in what should be a titanic clash at St. James’ Park. As much as I like the look of Wednesday’s squad, they just haven’t achieved the sort of results that instil confidence. Take Newcastle at 13/20.

Tuesday 27 December

6/10 Brighton | 28/10 | QPR 47/10 (14:30)

Brighton and Hove Albion have been excellent of late, going on a run of 16 games without defeat in the league. This run of form has seen them rocket to the summit of the Championship table, ready to capitalise on any slip-ups from Newcastle. Chris Hughton will want his side to show their ruthless streak when the Londoners come calling on Tuesday evening. QPR have been sucked into an unlikely relegation scrap after suffering five league defeats on the trot. Relegation to the third tier of English football will have an absolutely devastating effect on one of the bigger clubs in the division. They’ve lost their last three matches 1-0 including a shock defeat to bottom club, Rotherham. QPR are all over the shop at the moment and won’t be too keen to face a Brighton side who are firing on all cylinders. Take Brighton on the (-1) Handicap at 31/20.

13/20 Derby | 26/10 | Birmingham 17/4 (17:00)

Derby County are one of the division’s form sides at the moment and are within touching distance of the play-off places. Quite remarkable when you consider just how poor they were at the start of the season. The Rams have spent big over the last few seasons and will need to achieve promotion soon or financial issues could scupper their progress. A solid 2-2 draw at Fulham last time out was preceded by seven straight league wins and six clean sheets. Birmingham City have had a solid campaign thus far, which is why the sacking of Gary Rowett was so strange. Anyway, Gianfranco Zola has come in and has been given a clear mandate from the Birmingham hierarchy – make sure the side gets into the top six come the end of the season. Derby have been outstanding lately and shouldn’t have too many issues getting past a City side in transition. Back the Rams at 13/20.

TREBLE @ 6/1
Brentford Win 11/10
Aston Villa Win 13/20
Barnsley Win 23/20

Written by Jason Dewey