The Championship is, once again, proving as unpredictable as ever with everyone seemingly capable of beating anyone on their day. (This with the exception of poor Peterborough who have lost each of their seven opening games to date and appear well on their way to a return to League One.)
Last weekend was a prime example of what makes The Championship so engaging and popular. The two remaining unbeaten records in the division vanished as firstly Blackburn lost at home to a Middlesbrough, a side who had lost all three of their away games prior to their trip to Ewood Park. Then Nottingham Forest lost at injury ravaged Leeds.
Throw in Barnsley’s incredible second half annihilation of Birmingham, and Simon Grayson retuning to his old club Blackpool and walking out with three well earned, yet unexpected points and it all added up to your standard Championship weekend of unpredictability, goals and drama.
All this makes any predictions as good as irrelevant, but here we take a close look at the weekend’s key games, and who might just come out on top..
- Cardiff City vs Blackpool
Two teams who have realistic hopes of promotion this season. Cardiff have been so close to promotion in the last few years, finishing in the play offs in each of the last three seasons but falling at the final hurdle on every occasion.
They’ve started positively again and are well in amongst the early pace setters. The arrival of Craig Bellamy has been a huge lift to the club and his stunning free kick against Leeds a fortnight ago showed that he still has the quality.
As for Blackpool, they too have started well, but suffered a set back on Monday night going down 3-1 at home to Huddersfield. With the club still receiving parachute payments following their mini Premier League adventure, they have been able to hang on to the talented winger Tom Ince, and he has been instrumental in Blackpool’s early season form.
With both teams looking to play expansive, open football, expect lots of goals, with Cardiff’s home form ultimately being the difference. Prediction ; 3-2.
- Brighton v Birmingham City
It will be fascinating to see how Birmingham respond to last weekend’s 5-0 mauling at the hands of Barnsley, but in truth they couldn’t have wished for a more tougher match to follow such a drubbing. Brighton have won five in a row, sit at the top of the Championship table and are the in form side in the division right now.
After taking a while to settle to life by the seaside, Gus Poyet is now seeing the best of Craig Mackail-Smith and his goals have played a central part in Brighton’s recent run of victories. The pressure is already on Lee Clark to transform Birmingham’s season around, but no one will relish a visit to the AMEX Stadium this season.
This is a clash between a side who have the momentum against a side whose confidence is low, and I can’t see any other result than a sixth straight win for Brighton. Prediction ; 2-0
- Bristol City v Leeds United
Ashton Gate is the place to be if you want to see goals this season. Their three home league games have already seen an astonishing 19 goals, and with Leeds United in town, who usually provide their fair share of entertainment, anything is possible.
Leeds’ recent record against Bristol City is extremely good, winning all four of the pair’s meetings since the Whites return to The Championship three years ago. It’s been an up and down start for Leeds with the situation off the pitch overshadowing what is happening on the pitch.
A morale boosting victory over Everton in midweek could provide the perfect tonic for Neil Warnock’s men to gather some momentum and find some consistency, but with a small squad further depleted by injuries, Leeds are already on the ropes in terms of personnel.
Bristol City will be satisfied with their start to the season as they look to improve from their relegation haunted campaign last year and will be confident they can end their barren run against Leeds this weekend. There will be little to choose between the two sides, with a draw the most likely result. Prediction ; 2-2
- Charlton Athletic v Blackburn Rovers
There were two divisions between these sides just a year ago, but tomorrow they will meet on a level playing field. Of course, it’s only five years ago that this was a Premier League fixture, and such is the nature of the Championship, neither side would see a return to the Premier League next May as beyond them.
Speculation over Steve Kean’s future at Ewood Park has dominated the build up to this game, and failure to return to winning ways will surely add fuel to the “Kean Out” protests which have persisted now for over a year. Things are much more stable at Charlton following last season’s promotion, and manager Chris Powell will hope that The Addicks can build on last weekends win at Ipswich, something I think they are capable of achieving. Prediction ; 1-0
- Nottingham Forest v Derby County (Sunday)
Two famous names of English football meet in a Midlands derby at the City Ground on Sunday. Derby fans will have fond memories of last season’s meeting, in which they recovered from Frank Fielding’s first minute dismissal to win 2-1. But Nottingham Forest are a vastly improved outfit since then and will start as favourites in this match.
Forest’s unbeaten start to the season came to an end at Elland Road last weekend, but have since strengthened their side with the acquisition of Jermaine Jenas on a one month loan from Tottenham. As for Derby, they need to improve from a defensive point of view if they are to start climbing the table. Expect a traditionally feisty affair between these two sides, with Forest just pipping it. 1-0
Barnsley v Ipswich Town – 1-1
Bolton Wanderers v Crystal Palace 2-1
Burnley v Millwall 0-0
Huddersfield Town v Watford 3-1
Hull City v Peterborough United 2-0
Middlesbrough v Leicester City 1-2
Wolves v Sheffield Wednesday 2-2