Championship Preview: Huge Weekend In Store As Top-Six Contenders Meet At Villa Park

The games are coming thick and fast as we approach the season's climax

Football Whispers

Despite a marathon season, there is no rest for Championship clubs, even at this late stage.

All 24 teams are back in action this weekend after a full programme of midweek fixtures.

With just five games remaining for most, time is running out for those hoping to clinch a play-off spot, and for those who are scrapping to avoid relegation down to League One.

Here, we preview the weekend’s six best Championship games.

Aston Villa v Bristol City

What a game this promises to be. Fifth host sixth in a mouthwatering battle between two play-off contenders.

Bristol City have a game in hand on their hosts but Villa can pull four points clear with another win. Dean Smith’s men have caught fire at the perfect time, reeling off seven wins on the bounce to firm up their play-off credentials.

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Their most recent success was Wednesday night’s comeback win at Rotherham, securing three points after going a goal and a man down following Tyrone Mings’ dismissal.

But Bristol are unbeaten in their last five, beat West Brom midweek and held Villa to a 1-1 draw back in September. However, even Lee Johnson, who’s done an excellent job at Ashton Gate, will need all of his burgeoning managerial nous to guide The Robins to three points at Villa Park.

Aston Villa v Bristol City Preview, Betting Tips And Enhanced Odds

Middlesbrough v Hull City

One side hoping for a draw at Villa Park are Middlesbrough. Tony Pulis’ Teessiders are four points off the play-off spots but can potentially narrow the gap on Bristol with a win over Hull, who themselves still have a slim chance of cracking the top six.

Boro stopped their recent freefall midweek with a 2-0 win away at Bolton Wanderers, which stopped their losing streak at six.

Ashley Fletcher returned to the score sheet, too, his brace boosting their chances of catching Bristol.

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But Hull have built up some momentum recently. Three wins on the trot has sparked them back into life. Kamil Grosicki, who’s enjoyed a fine campaign, has been highly productive of late with four goals and four assists in his last five outings.

That included teeing up Jordy de Wijs’ late winner against Wigan midweek, which could prove to be a huge goal by the end of the season.

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West Bromwich Albion v Preston North End

West Brom’s decision to sack Darren Moore last month seemed to have initially paid off, with three wins immediately following his departure. But they have slumped to back-to-back defeats in the past week and automatic promotion by way of a top-two finish now seems beyond them (they’re nine points behind Leeds United).

After a couple of defeats on the road, the Baggies look to steady the ship back at the Hawthorns. With speculation mounting over Alex Neil’s possible arrival in the dugout, interim boss Jimmy Shan can make the Scot’s job a little easier by seeing off Neil’s current side Preston on Saturday.

Although Neil has admirably said his focus remains on this game, he is widely expected to be confirmed as Moore’s successor sooner rather than later. What a bizarre scenario it would be if he were to sign off at Preston with a victory over the club at which he’s about to be appointed.

Sheffield United v Millwall

The Blades dropped out of second after their 1-1 draw with Birmingham but, with Leeds kicking off at 5.30pm, they can temporarily move back up with three points against struggling Millwall.

In September, the sides played out a five-goal thriller at The Den with David McGoldrick scoring two late goals to secure a 3-2 win.

It’s set to be a cracking atmosphere at Bramall Lane as Chris Wilder’s men attempt to ask the question of Yorkshire rivals Leeds.

Millwall, two points above the relegation zone, have an unsurprisingly poor record away from home, having managed just three wins all season. They have shown guts in their last two games, though, beating West Brom 2-0 before holding Queens Park Rangers to a scoreless draw.

Leeds United v Sheffield Wednesday

Now, it’s no longer about finishing top: Leeds just want to snap up second place and start looking forward to their first Premier League campaign in 15 years.

It’s been a rollercoaster first season under Marcelo Bielsa, he of meticulously composed scout reports and newfound global fame (he can thank Game of Thrones actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau for that).

Leeds v Sheffield Wednesday Preview, Betting Tips And Enhanced Odds

And, yes, it’s been a very Leeds-y last month. Their home defeat to Sheffield United was followed by a dramatic comeback win over Millwall. They followed that with a limp 1-0 defeat at Birmingham only to bounce back immediately with a 2-0 win over Preston.

It’s difficult to predict what Leeds will do next but it’s usually safe to bet against them when they face Wednesday. The Owls have seven points from their last three meetings.  

Wigan Athletic v Norwich City

The Canaries are getting closer. Daniel Farke’s pacesetters are six points clear at the top and can take another significant step towards the promised land by dispatching Wigan at The DW Stadium.

The Latics are in the opposite situation. Fighting for their lives, they are one place and two points above the relegation zone. With a testing trip to Leeds to come next week, three points here can ease the pressure in their quest for survival.

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Norwich aren’t taking anything granted, especially not after conceding a last-minute goal to Reading during the week.

A professional performance here would yield another three points and put them on the verge of a top-flight return.

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