Last post before the International Break, so here’s how things stand before the run in begins:
Derby and Nottingham Forest have new managers and neither of the new bosses will need any introduction. Gary Rowett has taken over at Pride Park after being sacked by Birmingham in December and Mark Warburton has taken over at Forest after leaving Glasgow Rangers.
I think both appointments are excellent – both have Championship experience and both have a point to prove. Additionally, next season – assuming Forest avoid the drop and Derby miss out on the playoffs – will be very interesting. Coincidentally, Derby visit Forest this weekend.
At the top, I think the only issues left to be settled are whether Huddersfield can win automatic promotion and which team from Fulham, Reading and Sheffield Wednesday will miss out on the playoffs. At this point, my guess is that Fulham’s run in will prove too tough – they have to travel to half of the current top ten before the season ends.
At the bottom, Bristol City won at Wigan last weekend but favourable results for Blackburn and Wolves on Tuesday evening saw the Robins drop back into the bottom three. There’s currently only a five point gap between Bristol City and Wolves and although the bookies have almost written Wigan off, the struggle to avoid relegation may very well go down to the wire. Burton have a particularly tough looking run in, with games against Huddersfield, Leeds and Newcastle to come over the next few weeks.
Over the weekend, there are two games that could indicate how the rest of the season might pan out: both feature sides from Yorkshire that have been unrecognisable from last season.
Bristol City v Huddersfield Town (Friday 7:45pm, Sky Sports 1)
City have only lost two of their last six home games, which is actually their best run of form at Ashton Gate since the autumn. They still haven’t beaten a team above them for a while – a 2-0 win over Ipswich before Christmas – and they’ve lost three of their five home games against teams currently in the top six. Despite that, the Robins have only lost two of their last ten league meetings in the South West against the Terriers, but it’s worth pointing out that so far this season, Huddersfield haven’t lost an away game to any side currently in the bottom half of the table and have only suffered one away defeat in the Championship since the start of December.
Leeds v Brighton (tomorrow 5:30pm, Sky Sports 1)
Brighton have probably been lucky so far that their recent patchy away from (two wins in their last six) has been partially overshadowed by Newcastle’s recent wobbles, but they can’t really afford to make any mistakes at Elland Road. Leeds have only lost once at home since the end of November and are clearly the ‘best of the rest’ of the teams that in all likelihood will have to navigate the playoffs to win promotion from the Championship.
One particularly interesting aspect of this game is that Leeds have been terrible against Brighton over the last six seasons. United have won just a single meeting between the clubs in that period, a 2-1 win in August 2013; Leeds have lost the six games.
I’ll be back in a fortnight. Enjoy the international break, it’s going to be intense when the Championship returns.