Npower “Championship Tenner” is a weekly column that tells you the top 10 things to look forward to in England’s 2nd division. In this edition, Forest bask in the glory of hitting seven at Leeds, Reading must play without their lucky charm, there is a chink of light for crisis-club Portsmouth and “The Entertainers” are finally back.
1. Seven-Up Forest on a high….
Result of the week, if not the season so far in the Npower Championship, was Nottingham Forest’s stunning 7-3 victory over Leeds United at Elland Road.
Star of the show was winger Gareth McCleary, who helped himself to four goals as Steve Cotterill’s men moved further clear of the relegation zone.
Next up for a Forest team high on confidence is two games against in-form sides; fourth placed Brighton at home on Saturday, followed by a trip to local rivals Leicester City on Tuesday, a side which thumped Forest 4-0 in a FA Cup replay earlier this season.
On paper, it looks like two tough games for Forest, with anything upward of 3 points gained from the two matches being classed as a success. But don’t bet against two wins for the former European Cup winners; after all, Forest weren’t fancied at Elland Road and looked what happened there!
2. …. whilst Warnock’s Leeds lick their wounds
Whilst Forest must be congratulated for their amazing midweek win, spare a thought for the Leeds United fans. Tuesday night was the first time in their proud history that they conceded seven goals at Elland Road. Much more of a concern though is the fact that it left Neil Warnock’s men still six points adrift of a play-off spot.
Rather than dwell on what went wrong on Tuesday, the Whites must quickly put the result behind them, starting with the trip to Millwall on Saturday. However, the Lions themselves come into the game in good form having won 2 out of four games, as well as pushing leaders Southampton close last weekend, though Rickie Lambert gave the Saints a late 3-2 win.
Add to the fact that Millwall v Leeds is often a fixture which the Police force dread due to the notorious sets of rival fans, then Saturday’s fixture promises to be an explosive affair both on and off the pitch. It is one which TheHardTackle cannot predict, so we will plump for the honours to be shared.
3. Rampant Leaders face second from bottom
This week, Nigel Adkins men entertain second from bottom Doncaster Rovers. Donny are fighting for their lives at the foot of the table and picked up an impressive point at West Ham last weekend.
However, with the home side edging ever nearer to a return to the Premier League, TheHardTackle can see nothing but a comfortable Southampton victory this weekend.
4. Can Reading cope without their lucky charm?
Since signing from Blackburn Rovers in late January, Jason Roberts has proved to be somewhat of a lucky charm for Reading. The Royals won all of Roberts’ first 8 games, drew the next, and then won the tenth, with Roberts notching his 5 goals.
Roberts’ first taste of defeat in a Reading shirt came in Tuesday night’s 3-1 loss at Peterborough United. As well as defeat, Roberts limped off with six minutes remaining with what looked like a hamstring injury, meaning he may not feature in many of the last 8 games of Reading’s promotion push.
So how will the Royals cope without their lucky charm? Well, they have moved quickly to bring in 19-year old England youth international Benik Afobe on-loan from Arsenal. The highly-rated striker has previously impressed in a similar deal at League One Huddersfield Town, where he netted eight times in 30-odd appearances, whilst also providing 10 assists.
Afobe will have a chance to plug the Roberts-sized gap as Brian McDermott’s side hope to return to winning ways when they entertain fifth place Blackpool on Saturday.
5. Jekyll and Hyde Hammers hope away form keeps them in contention
West Ham United remain in third place after failing to capitalise on Reading’s midweek defeat, instead drawing 1-1 at home to Middlesbrough. It was the fifth home game on the trot in which the Hammers have drawn, with the home fans displaying their displeasure by booing their side at the final whistle.
The only thing keeping the Hammers within striking distance of the automatic promotion spots is their away form, which is the best in the Championship. Sam Allardyce’s men have picked up 10 wins and 4 draws from 18 games on their travels, with impressive wins at Middlesbrough and Blackpool recently.
Good news for the Hammers fans is that they face two away games this week. First up is a trip to Burnley on Saturday, followed by a visit to Peterborough United. Six points and a continuation of their excellent away form is needed if they are to keep the pressure on Reading and Southampton for automatic promotion from the Championship to the Premier League.
6. A tale of two faltering cities
Sunday sees a clash between two sides that are in danger of missing out on the play-offs as Birmingham City host Cardiff City. After previously occupying places in the top three, poor form has seen both sides fall outside the play-off positions, 1 point behind sixth placed Middlesbrough.
Birmingham have only won 1 out of 6 league games, whilst Cardiff have picked up only six points from a possible 18 since their heartbreaking penalty-shootout defeat to Liverpool in the Carling Cup final.
Sunday’s clash is destined to be a tight affair with both sides desperate to win, but also aware that defeat could end their play-off hopes. With home advantage, Birmingham will go into the game as slight favourites and we expect them to pick up the three points.
7. Chink of light for Pompey
Despite Birmingham taking a first-half lead, Pompey roared back with four second half goals to seal their first win in 10 games and their first since going back into administration.
One of the scorers for Michael Appleton’s team was Chris Maguire, who has joined on-loan from Derby County. Pompey will be hoping the striker hits the target again this week as they visit fellow strugglers Coventry City, a team who sit one place and two points clear of Pompey, then host Hull City at Fratton Park three days later.
8. Pearson hosts former team
Nigel Pearson sees his current club Leicester City, face his old club Hull City on Saturday.
After leaving the Foxes for the Tigers nearly two years ago, Pearson did the same but in reverse earlier this season following the sacking of Leicester boss Sven Goran Eriksson.
Inconsistent form has troubled the Foxes’ season, leaving them eight points adrift of the play-offs. This could have been reduced to six though on Wednesday night, as they led 3-2 at Blackpool going into stoppage time, only for Kevin Phillips to grab an equaliser.
After Hull’s visit on Saturday, East Midlands’ rivals Nottingham Forest make the trip to the King Power Stadium on Tuesday. Anything less than six points from the double header, will surely mean an end to the Foxes’ play-off hopes.
9. Watford v Ipswich
Vicarage Road hosts a meeting between two sides who have greatly improved since the turn of the year.
Sean Dyche’s young Watford side are one of the form sides in the division, with three wins out of the last 5 games. With the likes of captain John Eustace and Sean Murray impressing in midfield, the goals of Troy Deeney have propelled the pre-season relegation favourites to a respectable mid table position, where points-wise they are closer to the play-offs rather than the bottom three.
Ipswich Town are another side who have vastly improved. A pre-Christmas run of 8 defeats on the bounce saw Ipswich flirting with relegation and boss Paul Jewell on the brink of losing his job. But, an upturn of form sees the Tractor boys sit comfortably in mid table, currently on a run of 3 wins from 5 games and five successive home victories.. Key to the improvement is star striker Michael Chopra, who grabbed his 14th of the season to beat Burnley on Wednesday night.
With both teams 9 points off a play-off position, though Ipswich have a game in hand, it may be too much to ask for either side to mount a late promotion challenge. But, after their pre-Christmas form, both teams will be more than happy with their current positions.
10. Will Goals continue to fly in at the Posh?
It’s took a while, but Peterborough United are finally living up to “The Entertainers” label we gave to them earlier in the season.
Last weekend they were involved in a 5-goal thriller against Ipswich Town, with the East Anglians nicking the points to gain revenge for the 7-1 bashing Posh handed out to them in August.
On Tuesday evening, Posh produced a fantastic performance to inflict a 3-1 defeat on a Reading side who had won 9 of their last ten games.
Key to Posh’s goalscoring form has been new arrival Tyrone Barnett, who has scored in three successive games to take his tally to four since arriving from Crawley Town.
So, if it is goals you are after in this Championship week, the Peterborough entertainment express rolls in to Barnsley on Saturday and then back to London Road on Tuesday for the visit of West Ham United.