We’re entering the final stages of the Sky Bet Championship season. Sporting Life’s Tom Carnduff previews the upcoming action.
It’s been a season full of twists and turns, and that was evident once again last week as 60 seconds changed the automatic promotion picture.
At one point, Sheffield United leading against Bristol City and Millwall being ahead against Leeds put the Blades four points clear. However, by the end of it, Leeds were two points clear of their rivals. City scored in the 83rd minute to make it 3-2 at Bramall Lane, while Pablo Hernandez’s goal ensured the same scoreline in Leeds’ favour at Elland Road. Remarkably, the fixture list has worked out that Leeds and Sheffield United will have the same opponents in the same venues over the next two fixtures.
Leeds will be wanting to extend the gap which sees them in the automatic promotion spots as they go to Birmingham. The Blues looking to snap a five-game losing run. Garry Monk’s side are now in a battle to avoid the drop but the current five-point advantage they have over 22nd might be enough to keep them clear. Leeds managed to bounce back from defeat to Sheffield United before the international break with that win over Millwall, and they’ll be hoping the fact that they have the third-best away record in the division will put them in a good place here.
For the Blades, they head to play-off chasing Preston. North End suffered defeat at the hands of Reading last weekend, ending a 12-game unbeaten run for Alex Neil’s side. United have managed to pick up points in their last five away games though, which sets this up to be a game that could go either way.
Current leaders Norwich are closing in on a Premier League return as they sit seven points clear of third. Daniel Farke’s side can, in all honesty, start planning for life in the top-flight now given their current position and form. They’ve won their last seven, with just one defeat in their last ten. They host struggling QPR next, who are without a manager after the sacking of Steve McClaren in midweek.
Bristol City have managed to halt their slump, with victories over Sheffield United and Middlesbrough firing them back into fifth in the league. Lee Johnson’s side had gone six games without victory prior to their trip to South Yorkshire, four of those games ending in defeat. However, back-to-back wins against good opposition has put them in a strong position, and they’ll be hopeful of moving further into the play-offs as they take on Wigan next.
Another one of the division’s form sides is Aston Villa. Five victories in a row has moved them into the play-off positions, one point clear of Derby in seventh. They come up against former manager Steve Bruce this weekend as they travel to Hillsborough to take on Sheffield Wednesday. The Owls hold play-off aspirations of their own and victory here could move them to within a point of the top-six.
One of the sides who look certain for a top-six finish this season is West Brom. The Baggies have won their last three and sit in fourth on 70 points. A tricky test away at Millwall awaits them next. Neil Harris’ men side are a single point above the drop zone and will be looking for their first home win in four games.
One side still in the play-off mix is Middlesbrough, despite the fact that they have lost their last five games. Their away form has been better than their home form though, which could put them in a good position as they travel to take on Swansea. The Swans are a side who do prefer home comforts. They are unbeaten in their last six league games at the Liberty Stadium, winning four of those.
Derby will be looking to build upon their 6-1 win over Rotherham last time out as they visit Brentford. Despite the Bees sitting in 13th, they hold the sixth best home record and have won eight of their last ten in all competitions at Griffin Park.
For Rotherham, they face Nottingham Forest who have experienced mixed form in recent weeks. The Millers have picked up points in three of their last four home games, while Forest are waiting for their first win in ten away league games.
Two sides who won last time out meet as Hull host Reading. The Tigers are unbeaten in their last ten at home, which has played its part in helping them become play-off outsiders. The Royals did win in their recent away game at Ipswich though, following that up with a draw at Stoke. The Potters have now drawn their last four games 0-0. They’ll be hoping that they can grab a goal and a win when they visit Blackburn. Just a point separates the two sides in the standings, with both also seeing just one win in their last eight games.
Elsewhere, the bottom two meet as Bolton take on Ipswich. Wanderers won last time out, while Ipswich have picked up points in three of their last four.