With FA Cup quarter-finals featuring two Championship sides, this will be an unusual weekend for the second-tier. Only 20 of the 24 sides will be in action, and all on Saturday, with no Friday or Sunday matches.
With only nine games to go (for most teams), the end is coming into sight, and it makes points gained around the title, play-off, and relegation races feel even more important.
We’ve picked out and previewed four of the best ties from Saturday’s fixtures.
Leeds vs Sheffield United
The lunch-time kick-off, this Yorkshire derby is also second-place against third, separated by just two points.
Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United could knock Norwich City off top spot with a win (if the Canaries lose to fellow Yorkshire side Rotherham), but will drop out of the automatic promotion spots if they lose.
Both teams are in good form — unsurprising given their position in the table. Sheffield United haven’t lost since January 19 and have won five of their last six.
Leeds United have also won five of their last six, and haven’t conceded a goal in three matches.
Although the Peacocks — or, rather, Bielsa teams — have a reputation for fatigue, their time in matches where they score their goals goes against this idea completely. Nearly 70 per cent of their goals in the Championship this season have come in the second half, with over a quarter coming after the 76th minute. The average minute of their first goal is the 51st.
Sheffield United run them close, though. Just over 60 per cent of their goals have come after the half-time break.
Rotherham United vs Norwich City
Leeds’ hopes of taking top spot this weekend rest on the 22nd-best side in the league. However, the Millers are a relegation-threatened side in decent form. They won their midweek game away at Queens Park Rangers, drawing them level on points with Wigan Athletic in 21st.
That match was their second win in three games, coming off the back of a February where they managed to draw all five of their matches.
Against any other team, Rotherham might be underdog favourites. However, Norwich City have won seven of their last eight, and have only lost one league game in 2019.
Rotherham topscorer Semi Ajayi took his tally to seven goals for the season with a brace against QPR. Norwich’s topscorer Teemu Pukki sits on 24. Ten of those 24 have been the opening goal in matches, three more than Ajayi has in total.
Pukki is in a rare dry spell of two whole games. He’s only gone three games without scoring once this season. Rotherham have only kept one clean sheet in all competitions since the start of November. Reach your own conclusions.
Aston Villa vs Middlesbrough
Middlesbrough sit fifth in the Championship, on 58 points. Derby County and Bristol City, neither of whom play this weekend, sit immediately below on 56 and 55. And then is Aston Villa on 54.
Both were relegated from the Premier League in the last three years and are desperate to get back before it feels like the door of opportunity shuts for good. For Villa, who lost in the play-off final to Fulham last year, finishing outside the top six would feel like a definite step backwards.
Their immediate form is very different. Villa have won their last three, Middlesbrough have failed to win any of their last three. That includes a draw and two home defeats in a row.
Manager Tony Pulis rotated in midweek, seeking to change fortunes after four games in a row starting with an unchanged side. It didn’t help, although nor did a controversial red card for defender Daniel Ayala which will see him miss Saturday’s match.
The reverse fixture earlier in the season saw Villa emerge 3-0 winners at the Riverside Stadium too. The omens aren’t good for the Smoggies.
Wigan vs Bolton
From the top of the table to the bottom. Wigan are currently 21st, sandwiched between Reading and Rotherham who both also have 36 points. Bolton are only two places below the Latics, but trail by seven points.
A win for Wigan will make them feel a little safer in the relegation battle while making Bolton’s path to safety look increasingly impossible.
Paul Cook’s side haven’t won since the first match of February, though, while Bolton won a week ago against Millwall. Bolton also have a virtually identical record at home and away; four wins, four draws, eleven losses on home soil and three wins, four draws, eleven losses on their travels.
The Latics, though, are overwhelmingly a home comforts team. Eight of their nine league victories have come at the DW stadium, and only four of their 19 defeats. In fact, if the league was just judged on home form, Wigan would be tenth.
A tight game between local rivals with a lot to play for.
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