The excitement is building as we enter the final week of the Football League Championship’s regular season. With the relegation and play-off places decided already, all eyes will be on the three teams at the summit of the table – all of whom can still win the league heading into week 48 of the competition.
The game of the round will pit Middlesbrough and Brighton, who currently occupy second and third place, against one another in an absolute must-win game for both sides. Elsewhere, Burnley will confident of wrapping up the league with a solid win over the already relegated Charlton Athletic.
Saturday 7 May
Blackburn 27/20 | Draw 9/4 | Reading 39/20
Another year, another lacklustre season for fans of Blackburn Rovers. The Lancashire outfit have struggled again this season, especially after selling two of the best centre-forwards in the league – Jordan Rhodes and Rudy Gestede – to Middlesbrough and Aston Villa. They won last time out against Rotherham United following a sixth minute Shane Duffy strike. They head into Saturday’s fixture that manager Paul Lambert will step down at the end of the season – relegation candidates next season? Maybe.
Reading are another club who have had to endure a rather unremarkable season. The Royals head into this game without a win in six as the pressure grows on Brian McDermott and his underperforming squad. This is one of those horrible games that I’d ordinarily stay away from, however, if you absolutely must have a bet, take the draw at 9/4.
Cardiff 11/10 | Draw 47/20 | Birmingham City 24/10
Cardiff City will be bitterly disappointed having just missed out on a sixth-place finish. They hit a dire run of form toward the back end of the season – just as they needed to show their mettle to put pressure on a faltering Sheffield Wednesday in sixth place. The Bluebirds were taken apart by the Owls last weekend thanks to a magnificent second half performance that saw Gary Hooper bag two goals while Lee Peltier put through his own net as the Sheffield club secured the final play-off place.
Birmingham City will be encouraged by their 2015/16 showing and look a good bet at earning play-off place next season. Although their form has dipped toward the back end of the season, they’ve shown more than enough mettle to suggest that they’ll challenge at the top of the league next season. They head into Saturday’s clash off the back of three straight draws against a Cardiff side with one win in six. There’s not too much to pick between these sides, play it safe and take both sides to score at 15/20.
Charlton 5/1 | Draw 33/10 | Burnley 5/10
Having already been relegated heading into their game against Leeds last weekend, the pressure – for the most part – was off the players. It showed as they put in one of their better performances this season to beat Leeds 2-1 away at Elland Road. The goals came from Johan Berg Gudmundsson and Ademola Lookman either side of halftime before Sol Bamba pulled one back on 71 minutes.
The Addicks will have it all to do this weekend as they take on newly-promoted Burnley this weekend. The Clarets can secure the league with a win against the relegated Londoners – and they’re tipped to do just that this weekend with a thumping victory against a side who are already preparing for life in League One. Burnley to win at 5/10.
Derby 15/20 | Draw 26/10 | Ipswich 36/10
Derby County seem to have hit form at just the right time in the season as they prepare for their crunch play-off tie against Hull City. Darren Wassall may give some of his bigger names a rest this week as he prepares to face Steve Bruce’s Tigers over two legs on May 14 and May 17.
Ipswich Town, having set much of the early pace in the Championship this season, can now only finish in seventh or eighth place. Mick McCarthy has done a magnificent job at the Suffolk club who will no doubt be targeting – at a bare minimum – a place in the play-offs next season. This is a tricky one to call, as I’m not sure how Derby County will line-up on Saturday. If the Rams go with their strongest XI, they should have more than enough firepower to claim all three points here. Take the home win at 15/20.
Fulham 7/10 | Draw 29/10 | Bolton 33/10
Things are looking bleak on the bank of the River Thames. Fulham have endured another nightmare season as their fall from grace reaches new lows. Having narrowly avoided relegation this term, the Londoners look prime candidates to be dragged into yet another bottom-of-the-table scrap next season. They’re also likely to lose teen sensation Moussa Dembele to one of the Premier League’s big hitters.
Bolton are another club who have had to endure a shambolic season. Financial issues off the pitch have had a dire effect on the side’s performances on the field. They spend a good few months flirting with administration before former striker Dean Holdsworth and his consortium purchased the club in February. Fulham should have the beating of the Trotters here. That said, Bolton tend to score more often than not. Take Fulham to win and both teams to score at 18/10.
Huddersfield 23/20 | Draw 5/2 | Brentford 43/20
Huddersfield Town come into this game having avoided relegation yet again – something quite remarkable for such a small team. They were downed 4-0 by Bristol City last weekend as Jonathan Kodjia struck twice to take his season’s tally to 20. The Terriers will want to end their season on a high against Brentford this weekend – a win could possibly see them move from 19th to 15th if other results go their way.
Brentford are yet another small club that can be immensely proud of their season. They currently occupy 10th place on the standings and are on a decent run, having won four of their last six games. The Bees cruised past a struggling Fulham side last weekend as a Scott Hogan double and Sam Saunders strike ensured a 3-0 win. The away win is tipped here at 43/20.
Hull 6/10 | Draw 29/10 | Rotherham 9/2
Hull City – having claimed a place in the play-offs – will be furious with themselves for not securing one of the two automatic promotion places. They were cruising just after the New Year and looked as though they’d win the league at a canter, however, a poor run of results in recent weeks means that they will have to settle for either fourth of fifth place.
Rotherham United pulled off arguably one of the greatest relegation escapes that the Championship has ever seen. The Millers – under the tutelage of Neil Warnock – managed to overhaul a six-point gap from safety with an 11-game unbeaten run. Having secured their Championship status, Rotherham have gone off the boil slightly in the last few weeks. Add the Hull City win to all of your weekend multiples at 6/10.
MK Dons 33/20 | Draw 9/4 | Nottingham Forest 16/10
MK Dons were the biggest losers following Rotherham’s amazing escape from the jaws of relegation. The Milton Keynes side were relegated two weeks ago following a 4-1 home loss against Brentford. They lost yet again last Saturday as a 90th-minute Luke Varney strike condemned the Dons to their 24th loss of the season.
They go up against another one of this season’s biggest losers, Nottingham Forest. The two-time European champions looked for all money as if they’d secure a promotion play-off midway through the season. However, a dreadful run of form saw them slip from fourth place all the way down to 17th. Forest haven’t been great lately, but they should have more than enough talent to brush a demoralised MK Dons team aside this weekend. The away win is tipped at 16/10.
Middlesbrough 11/10 | Draw 9/4 | Brighton 49/20
This is it! The game of the weekend – the season even! Middlesbrough and Brighton go up against in a game the visitors absolutely must win if they want to secure an automatic promotion place. Middlesbrough head into this game knowing that all they need is a draw to secure their promotion back into the Premier League. Aitor Karanka’s men have recovered magnificently from a festive season slump that threatened to derail their promotion push altogether. They now find themselves on the brink and will be in confident mood in front of a packed Riverside Stadium.
Brighton and Hove Albion have played some of the most attractive football in the Championship this season and will be desperate to beat Boro on England’s north coast on Saturday. They showed incredible character last weekend to snatch a 95th-minute equaliser against Derby County thanks to a James Wilson strike. They’re defensively sound and ruthless on the counter-attack and have showed more heart than anyone in the division – although Rotherham may have something to say about that. The Seagulls are tipped to win at 49/20, booking their place back in England’s top flight following a 33-year absence.
Preston 1/1 | Draw 47/20 | Leeds 26/10
Preston endured yet another mid-table finish as fans of the Lilywhites are left wondering whether or not they’ll ever make it back into the Premier League. The perennial lower league underachievers gave their fans something to smile about last weekend with a dramatic last-minute win against reading at the Madejski Stadium. It was, however, just another bright blip in an otherwise forgettable season for the Lancashire club.
Leeds find themselves in pretty much exactly the same position as Preston. They’re a big club with big ambitions that routinely leave their fans in limbo. This much was evident last weekend when the Yorkshire club were put to the sword at home by Charlton, who have been of the worst sides in the league this season. Preston will be buzzing after their win last weekend and will look to finish the season off strongly. Back the home win at even money.
QPR 27/20 | Draw 23/10 | Bristol 29/20
It’s not all doom and gloom for QPR who will have been disappointed not to have secured a play-off place. They’ve managed to finish comfortably in mid-table and can now work on building a squad around to challenge at the top of the Championship. Their late-season form hasn’t been the best, but their financial clout will see them improve next season.
They’ll go head to head with Bristol City who have done well to avoid relegation to League One this season. They’re another one of the small clubs who have done well to secure another season of Championship football. They’ll head into their final game of the season buzzing following their 4-0 thumping of Huddersfield town and look good value to beat QPR this weekend. Back the away win at 29/20.
Wolves 14/10 | Draw 23/10 | Sheffield Wednesday 37/20
Wolverhampton Wanderers have had to endure a rather poor 2015/16 season for a club of their stature. They’ve not ended the season well having only won one of their last six games as they slipped to 14th on the table. The Black County side will be keen to end their season off on a high against Sheffield Wednesday as they look to build for the 2016/17 campaign.
Wednesday have already secured their play-off place, as such Carlos Carvalhal may look to rest some of his first team players following a gruelling schedule which has seen his side play seven games in April. That said, it’s hard to ignore the value the Owls represent at 37/20 – take the away win.