There’s a packed fixture schedule midweek as the Championship season intensifies, with title challengers West Brom set to face promotion hopefuls Derby County. Elsewhere, Millwall and Swansea are among the sides in action on Wednesday.
Millwall vs Middlesbrough: Plenty to play for at The Den
Millwall look to strengthen their fading promotion hopes, when hosting relegation-threatened Middlesbrough next.
Their slender but nonetheless important 1-0 away win over Charlton extended a three-game unbeaten streak. It was also their first victory since last month’s restart, during a year which has been uncomfortable viewing for supporters.
2020 had yielded just three league wins (from a possible 15) under Gary Rowett, who was appointed head coach two months before.
He would have felt a mixed of emotions after their narrow weekend win, as there were some impressive displays and equally underwhelming performances too.
Jake Cooper scored their winner, though fellow defender Shaun Hutchinson was their Man of the Match. The former Fulham centre-back recorded a dozen tackles and interceptions, one clearance, won 13 of 15 duels and created two key passes.
However, there were also some frustrating showings – particularly from Brighton loanee Jayson Molumby in midfield. He was replaced by a much more effective figure in Ben Thompson, who could be rewarded with a midweek start.
It’ll be interesting to see how Neil Warnock attempts to break down Wednesday’s hosts, given their defensive capabilities. He saw his Boro side record 15 shots without a goal in their 1-0 defeat by QPR on Sunday, which is worrying.
They don’t lack attacking talent either: Manchester City loanee Patrick Roberts, Ashley Fletcher and Ravel Morrison (Sheffield United) all have points to prove.
Fletcher, their top goalscorer on nine league goals this term, has often been inconsistent in the final third.
After another frustrating display last time out, he’ll need to be sharper against a better backline than QPR – who have all but sealed their safety after their latest win.
With fixtures coming thick and fast, this one has plenty at stake for both sides.
Millwall can’t afford to drop points in the promotion play-off race – Boro hope to climb out of the relegation places. I’m backing a narrow home win.
Millwall (4-3-3): Bialkowski; M. Wallace, Cooper, Peace, Hutchinson; Romeo, Woods, Thompson; J. Wallace, Smith, Leonard.
Middlesbrough (4-1-4-1): Stojanovic; Johnson, Friend, Fry, Shotton; Moukoudi; McNair, Morrison, Roberts, Assombalonga; Fletcher.
West Brom vs Derby: Bilic’s men cannot afford another slip up
Second-placed West Brom will look to reinforce their standing in the automatic promotion places, while denting Derby’s play-off hopes too.
Since their 2-1 away loss by QPR on February 25, Derby are unbeaten in six Championship games. That streak was under threat against Nottingham Forest, though Chris Martin was on hand to snatch a late equaliser in second-half stoppage-time.
After a narrow 1-0 defeat by promotion hopefuls Brentford finished June with a loss, Slaven Bilic’s West Brom have responded well. Convincing wins over Sheffield Wednesday and Hull City have allowed them to refocus, ahead of a sprint to the finish.
With five matches to play, they host seventh-placed Derby knowing that their Premier League destiny remains firmly in their hands.
A point behind league leaders Leeds, they have a five-point gap to third-placed Brentford – who have been excellent recently. Bilic’s men cannot worry about other teams though, if they are to prevent a late stumble under increasing pressure from the chasing pack. It’s why the former West Ham boss is likely to ring in the changes for this clash.
Ahmed Hegazy, who scored before half-time, was sent off in second-half stoppage-time so will miss this match through suspension. Elsewhere in defence, fullbacks Kieran Gibbs (hamstring) and Conor Townsend (knee) are both doubts.
Meanwhile, midfield duo Jake Livermore and Grady Diangana will hope energising displays from the bench have earned them midweek starts. This will be an interesting clash between two sides who cannot afford to slip up.
This fixture has the potential to be a banana skin for both sides: West Brom haven’t been perfect since the restart, though Derby are inconsistent too.
It’ll come down to which side wants it more on the evening, and I’m leaning towards a narrow Baggies win. Derby know they were fortunate to earn a point last weekend and must improve, if they’re to reach this summer’s play-offs.
West Brom (4-3-3): Johnstone; O’Shea, Ajayi, Bartley, Townsend; Diangana, Livermore, Krovinovic; Pereira, Austin, Grosicki.
Swansea (4-3-3): Hamer; Bogle, Clarke, Evans, Lowe; Bird, Rooney, Sibley; Whittaker, Martin, Holmes.
Birmingham City vs Swansea: Can Swans keep pace with playoff rivals?
Swansea look to string back-to-back wins together for the first time since December, when they travel to strugglers Birmingham next.
For a side of Swansea’s quality, the fact they haven’t recorded successive league wins since December is remarkable and alarming.
They have depth across all positions, a handful of Premier League-quality players sprinkled into their ranks and find themselves four points adrift of the play-off places.
The Swans need to be perfect – or very close – over their next five games, starting away against strugglers Birmingham. The hosts’ head coach Pep Clotet has overseen a mixture of frustrating displays since late February, no wins in ten!
Their inability to string together regular wins has proven pivotal in seeing them slide down the Championship standings. Defensively, they’re not much better either: only four teams have conceded more than their 64 goals this term.
That’s a worrying statistic when you consider Swansea’s creative capabilities. They may have only scored one more league goal (51) than Wednesday’s hosts, but possess options galore at Steve Cooper’s disposal.
Liverpool loanee Rhian Brewster and Andre Ayew both got on the scoresheet last weekend, though Bersant Celina and Yan Dhanda were among their unused substitutes.
Both are in line to feature here, after some contrasting displays by midfield teammates against the Owls on Sunday.
On paper, Birmingham shouldn’t have much chance of winning.
After all, they’re in the middle of a ten-match winless run and their prized asset Jude Bellingham is destined for a lucrative summer move. Despite limited touches against Fulham, the 17-year-old hit the woodwork on Saturday.
He’ll be hoping to create more havoc and add to his four league goals for the season in midweek, though I’m confident Swansea will have too much over the 90 minutes.
Birmingham City (4-2-3-1): Camp; Colin, Roberts, Clarke-Salter, Pedersen; Sunjic, Gardner; Bellingham, Crowley, Bela; Hogan.
Swansea (4-3-3): Woodman; Roberts, Guehi, Bidwell, Naughton; Grimes, Gallagher, Celina; Dhanda, Brewster, Ayew.
Bristol City vs Hull City: Two struggling sides clash at Ashton Gate
Two struggling Championship sides meet in midweek, as 12th-placed Bristol City host relegation-threatened Hull City. Between the pair, they’ve won just two of 20 league matches since mid-February but plenty is at stake for both here.
Daniel Ward’s 85th-minute strike proved pivotal for Cardiff as they won away at Bristol last weekend.
It happened in an instant, after a headed clearance upfield was met with a heavy touch by substitute Benik Afobe. Lee Tomlin marauded towards the box before feeding Ward, who was razor-sharp to slot home his first league goal since December.
It typified Bristol’s lack of fortune in recent weeks, where they’ve been beaten by moments like those regularly.
Three of their four successive defeats ended in a one-goal margin. With influential centre-back Ashley Williams still suspended, it’ll be interesting to see how they approach this clash.
Their best player this season – midfielder Josh Brownhill – departed in a £9m move to Premier League side Burnley in January. Their top goalscorer Nahki Wells (16) has three goals since a winter switch from QPR himself, in twelve appearances.
Famara Diedhiou (ten goals) and Andreas Weimann (nine) have both been frustratingly inconsistent. It’s that lack of cohesion which presents an opportunity for Hull, who have already experienced that winning feeling since last month’s resumption.
Their come-from-behind win over Middlesbrough on July 2 was admirable, though they’re only a point above the drop zone right now.
Matheus Pereira had a hat-trick of assists in West Brom’s 4-2 win against them on Sunday, a harsh return to reality. Can they respond?
Talk about a fixture difficult to call. Bristol City possess better quality on paper, though Hull desperately need points in their relegation battle.
I think it’ll be a hard-fought clash which either side could end up victorious, though Wednesday’s hosts are favourites for a reason. It’s up to them to justify that belief, despite their poor form.
Bristol City: Bentley; Vyner, Kalas, Baker, Dasilva; Nagy, Smith, O’Dowda; Weimann, Wells, Diedhiou.
Hull City: Long; Lopes, Wijs, Burke, Pennington; Stewart, Honeyman, Toral; Samuelsen, Magennis, Wilks.
Wigan vs QPR: Latics hope for winning return against depleted Rangers
13th-placed QPR aim to achieve successive victories for the first time in 2020 when they travel to strugglers Wigan Athletic midweek.
Wigan were on a nine-match unbeaten streak (W6, D3) before Said Benrahma dazzled with a hat-trick for Brentford last weekend.
So when I describe them as strugglers, you have to understand where they’re coming from. Paul Cook’s side are six points ahead of the relegation places, yet a points deduction is imminent for the Latics after going into administration last week.
With that in mind, they need as many points as possible to stay in England’s second-tier this summer. Dismantled by an in-form Algerian on Saturday, they host another of the division’s highly-coveted stars in Eberechi Eze.
The creative midfielder, who turned 22 last week, has now gone four games without a goal or assist. It’s unlikely to stay that way for much longer, even if recognised goalscorer Jordan Hugill (on-loan from West Ham) is sidelined through injury.
The 28-year-old, who broke the deadlock against Middlesbrough last time out, limped off with a knock he couldn’t run off in the first-half on Sunday.
It could mean a first start for former Tottenham forward Aramide Oteh, as Mark Warburton is traditionally unafraid to rotate.
Wigan kept seven successive clean sheets before Brentford blasted them into submission in west London, so they’ll want to continue their improved defensive displays.
They’ll have to do so without Leon Balogun (groin) after the Brighton loanee pulled up six minutes in Saturday’s defeat. Will they achieve another important result here?
Another tightly-contested fixture on paper, between two depleted sides that want a strong finish to the campaign for different reasons. I just can’t split them though!
Wigan: Marshall; Robinson, Massey, Kipre, Mlakar; Morsy, Williams, Dowell; Naismith, Moofe, Fox.
QPR: Lumley; Manning, Barbet, Cameron, Kakay; Kane, Ball, Amos; Eze, Oteh, Osayi-Samuel.
Sheff Wednesday vs Preston: Intriguing battle awaits at Hillsborough
Another tricky Championship fixture awaits 15th-placed Sheffield Wednesday when they entertain Preston – five places and six points above them.
Wednesday’s hosts remain without top scorer Steven Fletcher (13 goals, two assists) as they entertain mid-table Preston – both need a victory.
Garry Monk hasn’t been able to call upon Fletcher’s services since his six-minute cameo against Nottingham Forest on June 20. Their reliable marksman (hamstring) is sidelined for at least another week, providing Connor Wickham and Jordan Rhodes more minutes.
The Owls are not yet mathematically safe from relegation. They probably would have secured their Championship status for another season, with better defending on Sunday afternoon against Swansea.
Poor defending allowed Connor Roberts and Andre Ayew to combine down the right, building up to Rhian Brewster’s emphatic opener. Adam Reach gifted them an opportunity to double their lead after needlessly bundling Roberts to the turf in the box.
Ayew slotted home from the spot, though the damage was irreparable by the time substitute Atdhe Nuhiu scored in stoppage-time.
The Kosovo international will probably be rewarded with a start here, while Luongo and the aforementioned Reach presumably both dropped.
As for Preston, they were scoreless for the first time since Boxing Day against relegation-threatened Huddersfield. Their key midfielder and top scorer Daniel Johnson (12, five assists) missed out again with an undisclosed injury.
Marginally better than Alex Neil’s side over the 90 minutes, they’ll hope for a more clinical display against a side without a clean sheet since February.
This is another tough fixture to predict, but I’m inclined to side with a narrow Preston win here.
Why? Although both are without their top scorers, PNE have better quality attackers with the likes of Josh Harrop and Scott Sinclair on the flanks. Their creative capabilities could prove pivotal during a match of such fine margins.
Sheff Wed: Wildsmith; Odubajo, Borner, Iorfa, Palmer; Nuhiu, Bannan, Lee; Murphy, Wickham, Rhodes.
Preston: Rudd; Hughes, Davies, Bauer, Rafferty; Pearson, Ledson, Browne; Harrop,
Stats’ source: SofaScore
Before tomorrow’s fixtures, here’s a look at tonight’s matches:
Nottingham Forest vs Fulham
Brentford vs Charlton Athletic
Luton Town vs Barnsley
Reading vs Huddersfield Town
Cardiff City vs Blackburn Rovers