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The Sky Bet Championship is reaching a dramatic conclusion with everything to play for at both ends of the table and only ten games to go. The rewards for managing to get promoted from this league are so great that teams have put it all on the line for the chance to play in the richest league in the world next season.
At the top of the table, Wolves are still in the driving seat after blowing away Leeds on Wednesday, and Cardiff just below them are grinding out results. In the playoff spots, both Aston Villa and Fulham will be looking to end the season in good form with both still having a chance of going up automatically.
Derby, Middlesborough, Bristol City and Preston battle it out for the remaining opportunities to take part in the playoff lottery. At the other end of the table, 8 teams are still in trouble but the current bottom three – Sunderland, Burton Albion and Birmingham will need a massive upturn in form to escape the drop. Here are 5 things to look out for in the topsy-turvy Championship this weekend.
Gary Monk has got his coaching team of Pep Clotet and James Beattie back together at Birmingham, hoping to turn things around for the ailing blues. But he is currently in charge of the side in the worst form in the whole division. This weekend, they travel to Cardiff who just so happen to be in the best form in the division. It would be a real turn up for the books if Birmingham were to get anything out of this game.
There are several ways to get promoted from The Championship, and these two clubs have picked the exact opposite way of going about it. Steve Bruce has looked for proven ‘characters’ who have experience of the highest level. Aston Villa are a tough tackling team that are hard to play against and with an average age of 28, they have bags of experience.
Nuno Espirito Santo, on the other hand, has heavily recruited from Portugal and has looked for players that can keep hold of the ball and play teams off the park. Although that recruitment has been questioned by the rest of the league in recent weeks, it has been incredibly successful.
It has been revealed recently that Rafa Benitez has set Aleksandar Mitrovic with the task of scoring ’20 or 25′ goals while he is on loan at Fulham for the rest of the season. That had seemed like an impossible task until the Serbian got into the form he is currently in, scoring 5 goals in 5 starts and at this rate, he will have a very impressive return to take back to St. James’ Park.
This weekend, they travel north to take on a Preston side with a realistic chance of making the playoffs, and so it won’t get any harder for Mitrovic and Fulham.
The latest bad news for Jaap Stam and Reading is that winger Garath McCleary will be out for the season with a broken ankle, as if things couldn’t get any worse for the beleaguered Reading manager. The team have only managed 1 win in the league in 2018, and haven’t beaten a team outside the bottom 3 since November. Leeds are the visitors this weekend, and with the pressure mounting on Jaap Stam, nothing but a win will do.
They say that in a Derby game, form goes out the window, and that is exactly what Gary Rowett will be hoping when they make the short trip along the Brian Clough Way to play Forest on Sunday afternoon. The Rams are in dreadful form at the business end of the season once again, and their confidence will not have been helped by conceding a last-minute goal against QPR on Tuesday.
Nottingham Forest, on the other hand, haven’t lost since 10th February and are finding form under new boss Aitor Karanka. So they go into the game against Derby with a level of expectation they haven’t had in recent games. It will be a fascinating watch.