Championship Predictions: Gameweek 20

Daryl Murphy

Daryl Murphy

Cardiff manager Russell Slade has a very good chance to get some revenge on Rotherham, who defeated his Leyton Orient side in last season’s League One play-off final. Meanwhile, Ipswich look for a 7th home win of the season against Leeds, who will look to build on last week’s 2-0 win over Derby.

Cardiff v Rotherham

Cardiff are showing signs of improvement under Russell Slade, and under him, they have moved to within 2 points of the play-off places. A big factor behind their progress may be the new-found stability in the team. Slade was known at Leyton Orient as a manager who wanted to keep a consistent side, and he has started to find his favoured line-up, having made a total of just 5 changes in the last 4 games.

He deserves his chance to manage in the Championship, but he would have had it a few months earlier were it not for his next opponents, Rotherham. The Millers won promotion from League One in May, coming back from 2-0 down to beat Slade’s Leyton Orient in the play-off final. They had a solid start to life in the Championship, but a chronic lack of goals, and a run of just 1 point from 5, has seen them fall into the relegation mix.

Steve Evans has loaned in attacking midfielder Tom Lawrence, from Leicester, and there is some pressure on him to make an instant impact. So far, Rotherham’s game plan has been to play long balls up to target man Alex Revell, yet that can only work if he has players making quick, intelligent runs around him. The likes of Revell and Matt Derbyshire might work hard, but they are not natural goalscorers and they lack the technical quality needed.

Rotherham’s attack is looking very one dimensional, and they have scored just 1 goal scored in 5 games. The Millers are bottom of the form table, and you wonder whether continued failure to create chances will, ultimately, have a negative impact on their defence. The midfield is set up to be solid and hard to break down, but sometimes that can mean that the players drop too deep, and invite pressure.

This could be a problem, because Cardiff are looking very strong in midfield at the moment. Peter Whittingham has put in some outstanding performances over the past month, his range of passing has allowed him to control games, and he has hit some impressive strikes from distance. Aron Gunnarsson, meanwhile, has done well in a more defensive role, breaking up attacks. We can expect Cardiff’s midfield to dominate against Rotherham, and given the attacking quality they possess, Slade’s men may win at a canter.

Ipswich v Leeds

Ipswich are perhaps the hardest working team in the Championship. They do not possess the most expensively-assembled squad, but with the money available, they have created a close-knit group of players that will put in a shift for one another. In the Championship, that type of setup can go a long way; we need look no further than Burnley’s success last season for evidence of that.

Ipswich have only lost once since August. The committed nature of their midfield means that the full-backs, Jonathan Parr and Tyrone Mings, are given the licence to burst forward and provide width, knowing that their position will be covered by Jay Tabb, or Luke Hyam. There is an industriousness about this Ipswich side, particularly at Portman Road, which has helped have the best home defensive record in the Championship.

You will never see Mick McCarthy’s side dominate a game in quite the same way that a team like Derby or Middlesbrough can, but they are always able to win the ball in midfield and get it to the forwards quickly. With Daryl Murphy enjoying perhaps the best season of his career at the age of 31, the Tractor Boys have that little bit of individual quality needed to win games.

Leeds United are set up very differently. Over the last few weeks, they have been comfortable on the ball, and played some neat football. Alex Mowatt, in particular, looks a real creative talent, and without doubt has the potential to play in the Premier League. Meanwhile, Mirco Antenucci scored a couple of classic poacher’s goals against Derby recently, and he has adjusted well to life in the Championship.

The concern from Leeds’ point of view is their lack of physicality, and poor levels of work rate off the ball. They have a lot of young, foreign players in their squad, and this may be an explanation for, at times, some very naïve defending from Leeds this season. The team played fairly well in the 2-1 defeat at Blackburn 2 weeks ago, but for Blackburn’s equalizer, the defence pressed high, leaving centre-back Liam Cooper in a situation where he was the only defender behind the ball, and was isolated against Jordan Rhodes. That kind of defending would have been more understandable if Leeds were chasing a goal, but they were in front late on, and should have had a better defensive strategy. Ipswich have won 6 out of their 9 home games, and Leeds have lost 6 out of 9 away, which makes this a fairly easy one to call.