Championship Preview: Rotherham’s revival


Neil Warnock –

Here are The Football Lab’s previews for all 12 of Tuesday night’s Championship matches. Bristol City and Rotherham look to continue their climb away from relegation danger. Chris Hughton returns to St Andrews as manager of promotion-chasing Brighton, Burnley and Cardiff look to build on good form while a disappointing 2016 means Hull and Derby must prove they are the real deal.

Birmingham v Brighton

Chris Hughton should get a good reception from the Blues faithful. The 57-year-old returns to St Andrews for the first time since managing the club during a memorable 11/12 campaign. Birmingham reached the play-offs that season but hopes of repeating that feat have vanished after a 2-1 loss at Charlton, as away fans lamented their team after conceding a late goal. Similarly, Brighton shipped a stoppage time leveller against Burnley on Saturday, which weakens their position in the promotion picture. The Seagulls have lost just once since mid-January but need to convert draws into wins – a point in B9 won’t suffice.

Brentford v Bolton

Brentford and Bolton have been two of the worst Championship teams since the turn of the year. The Bees have lacked physicality and defensive discipline, although the return of Alan McCormack may be a factor behind their recent 3-0 win at Nottingham Forest. Bolton lack many qualities, having won just four games all season. Keeping hold of bright youngsters such as Zach Clough and Rob Holding will be key for the Trotters, as they look to re-build in League One. Brentford are now grateful they won’t be joining them.

Bristol City v Rotherham

On recent performances, it seems surprising that both of these teams have spent all season fearing the drop. A return to a 4 at the back system, allied with the addition of full-backs Scott Golbourne and Adam Matthews, has stabilized the Bristol City defence. Rotherham continue to show spirit, epitomized by their 3 goal comeback at Derby last month, helped by energetic performances from Lee Frecklington. With five wins from six, Neil Warnock’s merry Millers are storming to survival, just like the south-west hosts.

Burnley v Cardiff

These two teams have lost just two games between them since Boxing Day. Russell Slade’s Cardiff have an uncanny habit of grinding out results, benefiting from the impressive forward movement of Anthony Pilkington and Lex Immers. Having seen off Derby, Ipswich and Brighton in recent weeks, their next major challenge is league leaders Burnley, arguably the Championship’s most complete side. The Clarets are understandably favourites, but write off the travelling Welshmen at your peril.

Derby v Hull

Inconsistency has plagued Derby during the reign of Darren Wassall, making the East Midlanders untrustworthy promotion chasers. The same tag can be applied to Hull City, who have won just three of their last 12 in all forms, failing to net in seven of those games. Abel Hernandez has been dropped to the bench of late and that is a concern. The Uruguayan has scored 30% of the team’s league goals this term and the Tigers need him fully motivated if they are to provide any sort of goal threat. Derby have a similar problem, averaging just one goal per game since the turn of the year. Recent form suggests there’s work to do for both sides.

Ipswich v Charlton

Ipswich Town have won five of their last six meetings with Charlton, losing none of them The Tractor Boys won 1-0 at the Valley last season deep into injury time and did so in more convincing fashion back in November, thanks to a Daryl Murphy brace. The gulf of 24 points between these sides suggests a repeat is likely, but the five game form book provides hope for the visiting Addicks, who have recorded twice as many points (10). Johann Berg Gudmundsson has helped stimulate the team’s revival and the Icelander will be key to any hopes of staying up. Surivival remains unlikely for the East Londoners however and Ipswich’s play-off dreams seem similarly distant.

Leeds v QPR

Lapses in concentration cost QPR three goals against Middlesbrough on Friday night, but the Rs have otherwise been well-organized lately. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has rightfully adapted the club’s transfer policy, bringing in up-and-coming grafters from the lower leagues. The Dutchman was once linked with the Leeds job but the Elland Road faithful appear happy with the boss they have in Steve Evans. The question for both managers is whether they will be given the time to create anything of substance.

Middlesbrough v Huddersfield

When Aitor Karanka returned to the Boro dugout, one sensed that his side needed to hit the ground running. They have done exactly that with back-to-back wins. Albert Adomah put in the cross for David Nugent’s injury-time winner against Hull and he had another good game in the 3-1 win at Loftus Road. Huddersfield’s high-pressing approach has come unstuck against the better sides in recent weeks. It is not hard to imagine Adomah having forward space to utilize, especially with the questionable Jason Davidson likely to play at left-back for the Terriers. A third straight win for Boro.

MK Dons v Wolves

The last time Wolves visited Milton Keynes, they got 10,000 fans in the away end as part of a 10K to MK campaign. They won 1-0 that day thanks to a goal from Liam McAlinden, now on loan at Crawley. Wanderers had some powerful forward options that year but now their options are diminished, relying on injury hit men, winger James Henry and striker Michal Zyro, for attacking impetus. MK Dons are struggling in that department too and are likely to need 12 points from their last seven games to stay up, rendering this match a must-win.

Preston v Fulham

It is easy to see the strengths and weaknesses of these teams. The Championship’s fourth best defence faces the second best attack, while its’ fourth worst attack faces the third worst defence. Preston will be buoyed by recent Lancashire derby victories but Fulham got a win over rivals of a different kind, beating fellow relegation strugglers MK Dons 2-1 last time out. The travelling Cottagers have the more exciting individuals, but Preston have the more efficient team.

Sheff Wed v Blackburn

The last but one time Blackburn were involved in a game of more than three goals, they drew 2-2 at Sheffield Wednesday. In that game, which saw Paul Lambert occupy the Ewood Park dugout for the first time, Rovers put in a strong, hardworking display, only to ship an 84th minute equalizer. Late goals have been a recurring trend for their opponents this season, the Owls scoring more goals in the last 15 minutes (17) than any other Championship side. Carlos Carvalhal’s side play arguably the best football in the division and after three straight wins, they look a reliable bet for a top six berth.

Reading v Nottm Forest

Reading and Forest are two clubs that are going nowhere fast. The Berkshire Royals have suffered from a lack of investment in recent years and lack quality in forward areas, loanee Ola John aside. By contrast, Forest have had investment without stability, Saturday’s 3-0 trouncing by Brentford ending any notion of a Paul Williams honeymoon period. Recent displays from both teams suggest things will get worse before they get better.