TOP SIX IN FEBRUARY FOCUS
Roll up, roll up, as this weekend mirrors the opening day fixtures in reverse. Here, we take a look at the key top six battles set to commence, games that could have a big impact on how the division looks at the end of the current campaign.
Ahead of the weekend Championship action the Friday night lights are directed firmly towards Vicarage Road for the top six clash betweenWatfordandCrystal Palacein the 7:45pm televised kick-off. The Hornets returned to winning ways last weekend at home to Bolton following the recent unexpected loss away at Bristol City in twenty third place, the three points earned keeping Zola’s Italian strong squad firmly in the hunt for honours.
A look at the 2012/13 stats so far has Watford second on away results and slightly lower, placed seventh on home soil. Of their current campaign away wins, their first came on the opening day of the season at Selhurst Park. On that day in August the winner came in the ninetieth minute via Vydra, one of eight Udinese players, Watford’s sister club through the Pozzo family at Vicarage Road this season.
The return fixture this Friday evening could see Palace leapfrog the Hornets by two points if Holloway can keep the Eagles back on a winning path. Their 2-1 win over Charlton last Saturday was only their second win in ten games, the former division leading Eagles falling foul to five draws to stall automatic momentum over Christmas and January. City and fellow top six contenders Leicester, Hull and Boro’ will keep a keen eye on this result on Friday night, ahead of pushing for points on their own the following day.
Automatic promotion hopefulsLeicester Citywill be aiming to add to bottom placedPeterborough United’swoes on Saturday at 3pm, hoping to maximise on London Road’s ability to afford points to the visitors, at least on 2012/13 statistics so far. The Posh, six points from safety are also ranked rock bottom of the home form table so far this season, though their last four games are building a trend to try and prove otherwise, possibly an indication of the turning tide thanks to wins over Wolves and Barnsley, followed by consecutive draws against Hull and Burnley.
Stats again light the way as Peterborough are ranked seventh in the table when looking at the last eight games, proving their recent resilience of late. Their retention of George Boyd on deadline day could also prove vital to their survival chances, irrespective of the reasons behind the collapsed deal with Nottingham Forest.
The Foxes remain a promotion favourite, having despatched Posh 2-0 on the opening day, while the addition of Chris Wood from Millwall in January has seen instant dividends. Wood’s arrival has also sparked new life into David Nugent of late, with goals flowing via the two front-men.
Leicester’s confidence can be backed further by ranking first in the January form table, winning four from four, including a home win against promotion chasing Middlesbrough. Last time out they were pushed strongly by Wolves, but held out for the win. The bookies will have the Foxes strong favourites on Saturday, but as we all know, Peterborough can be a difficult place to visit. Cardiff head there at the end of March.
Next on the list is another fixture that looks straightforward on paper, courtesy ofMiddlesbroughin sixth v twenty second placedBarnsley, though recent stats for Boro’ once again point to another possibility. After pushing strongly for a top two finish along with Cardiff, Crystal Palace and Leicester, January couldn’t have gone worse in the league, ranking Tony Mowbray’s team bottom with three losses from three games played.
The trend then continued into February thanks to a humiliating 4-0 loss at struggling Ipswich Town, although their FA Cup run has been in kind contrast with two wins of non league Hastings and League Two Aldershot, setting up a fifth round tie against Chelsea or Brentford.
Barnsley, like Peterborough have found a 2013 resurgence of sorts after a difficult December, ranking the Tykes sixth in January and the last five away games. Recent wins have come against Leeds, Millwall and Blackpool, further cementing the credentials David Flitcroft, the assistant manager promoted to the top job until the end of the season, replacing the deposed Keith Hill. An away upset could be on the cards should Barnsley and Middlesbrough maintain recent form, much to the delight of the eight realistic teams currently chasing top six glory. Back on the opening day Barnsley took all three points in a 1-0 win. The result this time around could prove vital to both teams aspirations.
The late kick-off on Saturday seesBrighton and Hove Albionin eighth place face aHull Cityteam denied second spot by goal difference alone, both teams more than capable of sealing an automatic promotion berth in May. Back in August the points stayed in Hull thanks to an eighty fifth minute winner from Jay Simpson, while the Tigers are currently ranked top of the away table this season despite a few recent stutters, draws against Peterborough and Blackpool seeing the Tigers lose ground on leaders Cardiff. Of the January form table Hull City were left languishing in twenty first after an impressive December that had them placed first on the six games played.
Hull have for large parts of the season been a top six side, regularly flirting with the top two spots, despite not leading the way with goals scored compared to their main rivals. Their record is strong against top half teams under Steve Bruce and many expect to see the Tigers challenge for honours until the final game of the season against Cardiff City on May 4th.
The Seagulls continue to impress in their second year in the Championship, guided by highly rated manager Gus Poyet. Points this season have been equally earned at home and on the road for Brighton, ahead of the weekend notching twenty one, home and away. How that ranks however is in contrast, with Brighton fourteenth on home stats and fifth on away results. A difficult December has turned into a more favourable January for Seagulls, seeing them five points adrift of the top six and eleven from a top two finish. Brighton however remain a team you would be foolish to ignore making a run of form that could turn the division on its head.
Whatever the outcome of our rivals fixtures,Cardiff Citywill aim to notch a league double overHuddersfieldTown in the 3pm kick-off, looking to maintain away form and pressure on the chasing pack. Check back tomorrow for our match preview, while If you’re not one of the large travelling Bluebirds contingent heading to the newly named John Smiths Stadium, make sure to tune intoCardiff City Playerfrom 2:45pm, keeping up with every kick on what will be an interesting afternoon indeed!