With the halfway point fast approaching, we go into the Christmas period with the 2014/15 Sky Bet Championship beginning to take shape. There are still no sides that are standing alone at the top, with Steve McClaren’s Derby County edging Ipswich by just the one point as things stand. Strugglers Blackpool will need to pick up the pace to avoid falling even further adrift: they face a trip to the Valley to play Charlton Athletic this weekend.
TWENTIETH V TWENTY-SECOND, THEN FIRST V FOURTH
The weekend’s action will kick off with a six-pointer at the foot of the table, with Sami Hyypia’s Brighton meeting Millwall at the Amex. The Seagulls, in twenty-second, are two points away from Rotherham one place above them, so the three points over the Lions will definitely take them out of the bottom three, at least until Saturday’s fixtures get underway. Millwall are without a win in their last six, so desperately need a kickstart, especially after last week’s heavy 5-1 home defeat to Middlesbrough.
Speaking about Boro, they too have a big game in front of the Sky cameras this weekend, as they host league leaders Derby County at the Riverside on Saturday lunchtime. “Derby are the best team in the league in my opinion, and after that game we have Ipswich. They will be difficult games.” Those were the words of Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka this week, but his side are no slouches, as they currently occupy fourth in the table. The Spaniard will serve a one-match ban after receiving a Football League charge of improper conduct relating to November’s draw with Blackburn. Two points separate the two sides, and this one will have a big impact on determining which team will top the table at the close of play on Saturday.
There is some challenge on offer for Cardiff City this weekend, as they travel to the league’s form side, AFC Bournemouth. After breaking their duck away from home at Watford last time out, the Bluebirds will now want to build some momentum on their travels, but in order to do so they must make amends for a harsh 3-0 loss suffered against Bournemouth in Capital One Cup action earlier this season. Eddie Howe’s side are undefeated since a 2-0 reverse to Derby in September, and returned to winning ways at Wolves last weekend after three consecutive draws.
Neil Lennon’s Bolton Wanderers are another side with a big task on their hands this weekend, as they host second-placed Ipswich Town at the Macron. The Trotters announced the return of Eiður Guðjohnsen to the club, fourteen years after he first departed the Greater Manchester outift. Icelander Guðjohnsen became one of Europe’s elite players during his time at Chelsea and then FC Barcelona, but now he has the honour of playing alongside two Cardiff City loanees in Kevin McNaughton and Joe Mason. Eiður can be seen above fighting it out with former Bluebird Jeff Eckhardt during a meeting between City and Bolton in 1999. Ipswich, after winning five of their last six, have some good momentum in their favour now, and were also boosted financially this week by the announcement that the club had reduced its loss for 2013/14.
Another of this season’s Championship over-achievers are Brentford, who are fifth on thirty-four points. They host seventh-placed Blackburn Rovers this weekend before visiting Wales the week after, and will have French midfielder Toumani Diagouraga fit and available after he signed an extended contract this week. A two-goal Rovers win would see them leapfrog their hosts and move into the top six. The Bees’ winning run of five games was ended by Huddersfield last weekend; this one provides the test of whether they can bounce back.
BEST OF THE REST
Watford host Wigan Athletic in a game which sees a play-off side take on a side currently in the midst of a bottom-of-the-table scrap. The Hornets were rampant last week, with Almen Abdi getting two and Troy Deeney a hat-trick as they smashed Fulham 5-0 at Craven Cottage on Friday night. Three points for the Latics this weekend could see them rise as high as twentieth, as their goal difference is superior to the next three sides above them as it stands.
FULL CHAMPIONSHIP FIXTURE LIST
15:00 Unless Stated
FRIDAY 12 DECEMBER 2014
Brighton & Hove Albion v Millwall (19.45)
SATURDAY 13 DECEMBER 2014
Middlesbrough v Derby County (12.15)
Birmingham City v Reading
Bolton Wanderers v Ipswich Town
AFC Bournemouth v Cardiff City
Brentford v Blackburn Rovers
Charlton Athletic v Blackpool
Leeds United v Fulham
Norwich City v Huddersfield Town
Rotherham United v Nottingham Forest
Sheffield Wednesday v Wolverhampton Wanderers
Watford v Wigan Athletic