Written by David Robinson
The large majority of Championship Clubs now have 20 games left to decide their fate in what should continue to be an interesting campaign with a pivotal 60 points still to play for. While there is still plenty of time, the league has shaped up fairly differently to its usually highly competitive pedigree. Newcastle and Brighton are the clear front runners and it’s there’s to lose in truth for the top two positions. Even 5 points separate the final play-off spot while Rotherham sit at the bottom of the pack nine points adrift. This means that time could start to run out for sides if they go on a poor run of form from now on. The second tier always delivers in terms of it being so tightly contested but this hasn’t been the case to an extent this season. I look ahead to three games that capture the most interest this weekend and are the ones that could have a big say at both ends of the table.
credit Tom Brogan
Blackburn vs Birmingham
This contest at Ewood Park looks to be an interesting one. Particularly as it remains a great chance for the home side to capitalise on the visiting club who have still not won under Gianfranco Zola, who are winless in 7 matches under the Italian. As a Watford fan, I know that Zola struggled to find the answers when the going gets tough and when I saw he was the man to replace Rowett, I was mystified because he does not suit the players he has at his disposal. So while equally it is a game Blackburn must look for all three points in, the Blues will want to at least get a winning feeling back at the club and stay within distance of the play-offs.
Rovers will want to get out of the traps fast and put Birmingham under pressure. If they can find the opening goal that could be decisive however I would fancy a few goals in this one.
credit Jon Candy
Cardiff vs Burton
At the start of the season, the Brewers probably knew this type of game would decide their season and that is why I’ve picked this as a key match. Cardiff sit just 5 points clear of Clough’s men and while you would always fancy a Neil Warnock side to evade relegation, they must be targeted as an opportunity for an away win. The Bluebirds recent home form has some interest. They’ve recorded some good results against the likes of Brighton, Huddersfield and Aston Villa but have got nothing out of Barnsley and Wigan.
This makes you question whether they have enough genuine quality to get the job done consistently against the lower ranked sides. A win would strengthen their position away from the drop whilst it really is a key opportunity for the away side. I find Burton’s position similar to when Yeovil were in the Championship. They had a number of good days but they ended up running out of steam and eventually lost their place. I feel Burton could have more in the tank to improve their chances but this is the game where they probably do need three points.
Derby vs Reading
A game that will have an effect on the race for promotion in both the automatic spots and the play-offs. There’s something about Reading that just makes them go under the radar or no one really notices them. They remain one of just a few likely candidates who can catch Brighton or Newcastle so this is one to keep an eye on from their perspective. 9 off top and with a game in hand, the Royals should remain hopeful that they can continue to defy the odds.
They will still probably not be fancied against a Derby side who have impressively put 8 home clean sheets on the bounce meaning they haven’t been beaten at the iPro in this time. McClaren has definitely had a positive impact but to be outside the play-offs is still not good enough and they will be looking to respond to no wins in their last 4 in all competitions.
I would very much expect this game to be a tightly contested affair and if I had to make a prediction I would say 1-0 very much looks like the most favourable outcome going either way. With former defender Jaap Stam and Derby’s recent record, it all points towards this outcome. The loser of this game will certainly feel deflated about their chances of reaching their best possible objectives so it should be an interesting contest.
Are there any games unfortunate to miss out? Let us know in the comments below!
featured image by Dun.can