The Championship is back and the finishing line is in approaching sharply on the horizon.
In 37 days time, the season will draw to a close and so to will a host of second tier battles that still hang finely in the balance. Who will finish in the play-offs? Can Bournemouth pip Fulham at the post? Can the bottom three catch Reading?
With no more international breaks to come, every side has got at least seven games to play across the next six weekends to decide their fate for another campaign.
And barring six or so teams at the lower end of mid-table, there’s still everything to play for as another dramatic year in the Championship edges closer to a grandstand finish.
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Friday 19:45 – Hull v Huddersfield
No Championship side needed this international break more than Huddersfield.
After going 18 games unbeaten and looking as if they were solidifying their play-off place, the Terriers dropped off considerably.
Sure, losing two games wouldn’t usually be something to ring the alarm bells about, but it’s more the manner in which they lost – if it wasn’t for goalkeeper Lee Nicholls, then they could have easily been embarrassed on both occasions.
They needed the break to reset because after this game, they take on three teams still looking to finish in the play-offs – Luton Town (h), QPR (h) and Middlesbrough (a) – therefore a win for Carlos Corberan’s side this weekend has got to be seen as a must.
Hull have flattered to deceive on plenty of occasions and it’s difficult to nail down where they are.
Considering the Tigers have only scored more than once on two occasions since the start of February, I’m sensing a lack of goals in this game.
Ryan’s pick – Huddersfield to Win to Zero @ 16/5
Saturday 12:30 – Blackpool v Forest
Forest are on course for a play-off place and despite injuries to some key players, they have not looked like taking their eye off that target at any point.
They’ve only lost four league games since Steve Cooper took over in September and look as if they’re continually improving.
It’s difficult to see them being stopped by Blackpool, however Neil Critchley’s side shouldn’t be underestimated.
10 points from a possible 12 shows they’re not taking the “on the beach” option and are looking to finish the season strongly.
However, I’ll still side with Forest, who are flying high and full of confidence, especially after most recently giving Liverpool a game in the FA Cup.
Ryan’s pick – Forest to win @ 5/4
Saturday 15:00 – Barnsley v Reading
Relegation six-pointers don’t get any bigger than this.
Out of the teams in the bottom four, these two sides have the best chances of staying up, but it’s only going to be one or the other.
One would think that a Reading win would lead to safety being on the horizon for the Royals.
Barnsley, however, will know that victory will throw the doors wide open again, and they’ll also be attracting unlikely support from Derby and Peterborough who need Poya Asbaghi’s team to do them a favour for their own relegation survival plights.
Big games like this often lead to sides cancelling each other out, I can see that happening here.
Ryan’s pick – Barnsley and Reading to result in a draw @ 23/10
Saturday 15:00 – QPR v Fulham
This West London derby sees two sides meeting in very different moods.
Fulham are destined to be back in the Premier League next season, with it more being a matter of when than if.
QPR were hoping to be joining them, but two wins in ten games has seen their chances drastically dwindle.
It’s still possible for Mark Warburton’s men, but a season-ending injury to star man Chris Willock has cast even more doubt on their play-off hopes.
Fulham can add more salt to the wound by securing a derby day victory here.
Despite their form, QPR have found the back of the net in 6 of their last 7 games – so a win for Marco Silva’s team and both teams to score looks good value.
Ryan’s pick – Fulham to win and BTTS @ 51/20
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Sunday 15:00 – Birmingham v West Brom
The only thing on the line in this West Midlands derby is pride.
West Brom’s promotion hopes are virtually over after a wretched January and February saw them pick up just 5 points from a possible 30.
Some very optimistic Baggies fans will tell you that their play-off hopes aren’t dead just yet, but that must be considered further than a long-shot at this point.
Meanwhile, Birmingham will count themselves lucky that the teams in the bottom four have either been extremely poor this season or been hit by points deductions, otherwise Lee Bowyer’s side would likely be involved in a relegation battle.
West Brom have found a bit of form heading into this, having gone four unbeaten, including an impressive win against runaway leaders Fulham.
They’ve been helped by star striker Karlan Grant finding form again – he’s got four goals in his last four games and looks good value to find the back of the net here.
Ryan’s pick – Karlan Grant to score at anytime @ 6/4
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