Our EFL Championship Writer takes a look at week 39 of England's second tier.
As the international break comes to an end, regular service resumes in England’s second tier. With Newcastle and Brighton still leading the way at the summit of the table, it’s time for the likes of Huddersfield and Leeds to start picking up wins if they are to close the gap.
This weekend sees a couple of interesting fixtures coming your way, with Saturday's tie between Reading and Leeds arguably the fixture of the round. Norwich’s trip to Aston Villa will also be worth keeping an eye on.
Friday 31 March
Derby 19/20 | Draw 23/10 | QPR 28/10
Derby fans have had to endure another frustrating year in the Championship. Several dips in form have left them well out of the race for the play-off places, dropping points against relegation fodder like Nottingham Forest and Blackburn Rovers. A mixed bag of results necessitated a managerial change, with former Birmingham manager, Gary Rowett overseeing a 1-1 draw against bitter rivals, Forest in his first game in charge. He’ll be hoping that his players return from the international break ready for one final play-off push.
They come up against a plucky QPR side who are on a decent run at the moment, losing just once in their last six matches. Ian Holloway has done a magnificent job since coming in for Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, watching his side smash Rotherham 5-1 after earning a credible away draw at Leeds. The away side are in good touch at the moment, so don’t discount an upset here. I’ll be taking Rangers on the win/draw Double Chance at 15/20 – you should too!
Saturday 1 April
Barnsley 21/10 | Draw 47/20 | Sheffield Wednesday 23/20
The Tykes just appear to have run out of steam. For so long they were mixing it up just outside the play-off places, however, a small squad (relatively speaking) is always going to hamstring you in a 46-match league season. They’ve not won in their last six and will be hoping to turn things around against Wednesday this weekend.
The Owls head into this game struggling for form themselves. Four losses, a draw and a win in their last six matches has seen Carlos Carvalhal’s men now just a single a defeat away from potentially losing their status as a top six team. The international break, therefore, would have come at the perfect time for the Portuguese manager. He will no doubt have taken the two weeks to assess his squad and put things right. Wednesday are the better side and are tipped to get the job done at 23/20.
Aston Villa 27/20 | Draw 43/20 | Norwich 2/1
Villa are one of the form sides in the division at the moment and would have been annoyed at the timing of the international break. That said, Steve Bruce will be confident in seeing his team grab the three points against Norwich. Scott Hogan and Jonathan Kodjia are two of the best centre-forwards in the league at the moment and will relish the chance of getting at a porous Norwich defence.
The Canneries continue to struggle defensively this season, with only Rotherham, Brentford, Blackburn and Nottingham Forest conceding more goals than Alan Irvine’s men. That will need to change if they are to push for a play-off place in the last eight matches of the regular season. I simply can’t see Villa getting anything out of this game. They’ve got a pretty abysmal away record, winning only four times on their travels. Don’t bank on that changing at Villa Park – get on the home side at 27/20.
Newcastle 4/10 | Draw 33/10 | Wigan 13/2
The Toon have endured an uncharacteristically lean spell, having gone three league matches without a win. That all looks set to change this weekend, however, as they welcome lowly Wigan Athletic to St. James’ Park.
Wigan have struggled this season after winning promotion back into England’s second tier last season. They’re six points adrift of safety and will need nothing less than a draw to keep their survival hopes alive. Newcastle should be far too good for the Latics at St. James’ Park – back them on the (-1) Handicap at 11/10. This is one for the weekend multiples.
Brentford 12/10 | Draw 24/10 | Bristol 2/1
Brentford have had a pretty good season thus far, sitting comfortably in mid-table. They’ll want to finish the season strongly now with relegation still a mathematical possibility. They’ll welcome lowly Bristol City to Griffin Park this weekend with Dean Smith no doubt expecting his charges to grab all three points.
Bristol have enjoyed a late-season renaissance over the past month or so. The Robins have won their last two matches, beating fellow relegation scrappers Wigan 1-0 before smashing four unanswered goals past promotion hopefuls Huddersfield. Whether or not they can continue this run of form remains to be seen. This is a tricky one to call. Ordinarily I would have backed Brentford at home, however, the resurgent Robins are giving me second thoughts. Take the safe bet and get on Both Teams To Score at 5/10.
Huddersfield 11/20 | Draw 26/10 | Burton 47/10
David Wagner will be absolutely desperate for his side to lay down a marker against minnows, Burton Albion at the John Smith’s stadium this Saturday. The Yorkshire club have come out of absolutely nowhere this season and could still grab an automatic promotion place before the seasons out.
Burton have done incredibly well in their first season in England’s second tier. They’ll need one final push, however, if they are to avoid relegation. Considering the fact that they’ve won twice away from home this season, they’ll need to put in an almighty shift if they are to cause a shock result. Highly unlikely, get on Huddersfield at a valuable 11/20.
Brighton 11/20 | Draw 28/10 | Blackburn 47/10
Brighton blew yet another chance to go top of the standings last time out as they slumped to a 2-0 defeat against Leeds before the international break. They can ill afford another slip-up, especially against a Blackburn side who have been fighting relegation the entire season.
Rovers have just not been able to break free from the relegation zone despite four draws and two wins in their last six matches. Tony Mowbray’s team will be thoroughly tested against the Seagulls this weekend. A draw is about as good as a result as Blackburn can hope for, however, unlikely that may seem. Take Brighton on the straight win here at 11/20.
Preston 9/10 | Draw 49/20 | Nottingham Forest 11/4
Preston have really impressed this season, sitting just five points off the play-off places with just eight games left in the season. They were fortunate last time out against Blackburn as former Everton winger Aiden McGeady grabbed an equaliser for the Lilywhites in the 93rd-minute. Simon Grayson will not want to drop points two match-weeks in a row against relegation candidates – expect a big performance this weekend.
Forest are now in very real danger of being relegated from the Championship. They have a woeful away record, which has seen them pick up only 10 points from 19 matches this term. I’ll keep this segment brief and tell you to get on the Preston win at 9/10 – they should be far too good at home for Forest.
Ipswich 5/4 | Draw 22/10 | Birmingham 21/10
Ipswich have been on a terrible run of form which has seen them lose five and draw one of their last six matches as they plummet down the standings. A massive turnaround is required as the pressure mounts on Mick McCarthy.
Thankfully for McCarthy, Birmingham are stuck in as deep a rut as Ipswich right now. The teams are both level on points with City’s awful goal difference of (-16) keeping them below Saturday’s opposition. I hate tipping games like this where both teams are turning in such rubbish results. Avoid this at all costs – if you must have a bet, get on the draw at 22/10.
Rotherham 11/2 | Draw 37/10 | Fulham 4/10
I’m going to keep this one short and sweet: Rotherham have conceded the most goals in the league this season (87) while Fulham are second on the scoring charts (66) to Newcastle (70). Take Fulham on the (-1) Handicap at even money.
Wolves 11/10 | Draw 23/10 | Cardiff 47/20
Wolves have moved themselves away from the relegation zone in emphatic style, winning each of their last three league fixtures against Rotherham, Brentford and Fulham. They’ll be looking for more of the same when they host a Cardiff side who have won once in their last five.
Neil Warnock has worked wonders at Cardiff this season. From struggling in and around the relegation zone, the Bluebirds have rocketed up the standings to 13th, well clear of any immediate danger. Both sides have found the net regularly in the last few weeks, get on Both Teams to Score – Yes - at 6/10.
Reading 15/10 | Draw 43/20 | Leeds 7/4
Reading are another side who are in prime position to secure a play-off place come the end of the season. The Royals currently sit fifth on the table and will need an almighty effort to overcome a Leeds United side who boast arguably the best player in the division at the moment, Chris Wood.
Click here for a different opinion
Wood has been a revelation for the Yorkshire outfit this season, scoring 24 league goals as Leeds make a very serious push toward promotions. They won’t have it all their way against the Londoners who have been excellent at home this season, losing only twice in 19 games at the Madejski. It’s a difficult one to call. Both teams have been excellent this term making it particularly difficult to pick a winner. While Leeds are the better team, you can’t discount Reading’s home form. The draw seems the likeliest of results here. Get on at 43/20.
Fulham vs Rotherham: Fulham (-1) 1/1
Huddersfield vs Burton: Huddersfield 11/20
Preston vs Nottingham Forest: Preston 9/10
Treble equates to 4.89/1