EFL TIPS: With no League One or Two action this weekend, we preview four Championship fixtures, alongside some of our favourite bets.
READING V PRESTON NORTH END: FRIDAY 20:00
The Madejski Stadium will host the Friday night fixture to kick off our Championship action this weekend, with Reading hosting an in-form Preston North End. The Royals found themselves unable to leapfrog Luton Town in 10th place with a 0-0 stalemate against the Hatters on Tuesday, extending their winless away run to four games. In fact, Reading have won just one of their last seven league matches stretching back to early October, a streak that has rather sobered premature aspirations for a sensational promotion push.
Still, the Royals remain strong in front of their own fans, winning six league games at home already (they only managed seven last season), and will fancy their chances against a Preston side against whom they’ve won seven of their last nine encounters. That being said, Preston possess the third-best away record in the league – winning four and drawing three of their nine fixtures on the road.
The Lilywhites have now kept 11 clean sheets, which is comfortably a league-high, and have shipped a joint-lowest 15 goals in their 19 league fixtures thus far. Whilst their attacking numbers can sometimes hamper their progress, they should have enough resilience about them to avoid defeat at the Madejski on Friday evening. Laying Reading at 2.58, therefore, seems a reasonable punt.
SHEFFIELD UNITED V BURNELY: SATURDAY 12:30
The lunchtime kick-off this Saturday sees Championship leaders Burnley visit third-placed Sheffield United at Brammall Lane in what amounts to a heavyweight tussle at the top of the table. The Blades are off the back of two successive away victories to arrest their somewhat sliding domestic form, but still remain winless at home in four fixtures.
Paul Heckingbottom’s men will hope successive clean sheets in their last two games will continue a recent trend against the Clarets, with the Blades having shut out Burnley in four of their last six meetings at Bramall Lane. United will however find themselves up against Vincent Kompany’s side in dangerously good form, winning six of their last seven league games whilst amassing 18 goals in that period.
Burnley, interestingly, are the only side in the EFL not to have lost a game on a Saturday so far this season. The Clarets have two recent injury-time winners in successive fixtures to thank for their grasp on first position in the league, but undeniably remain a well-coached and expressive outfit. With that in mind, backing Kompany’s men to avoid defeat and laying on Sheffield United at 2.58 is the pick for this fixture.
ROTHERHAM UNITED V NORWICH CITY: SATURDAY 15:00
Rotherham United fell to a gut-wrenching loss to leaders Burnley on Wednesday night, surrendering a 2-1 lead in stoppage time to lose the game 3-2 and extend their winless run to four matches. They return to the New York Stadium on Saturday for the first time in four games, where they’ve lost just two fixtures in what has been an encouraging Championship home campaign so far.
Their opponents this weekend are promotion-chasing Norwich City, whom they’ve lost to in each of their last four encounters. The Canaries are however in something of a rough patch themselves, with Wednesday’s 0-0 draw to QPR meaning Dean Smith’s side have won just one of their last eight league matches, as they continue to lose ground on the automatic promotion places.
Despite the disparity in league positions, the reality is that Rotherham, tipped for relegation by many, are only seven points behind the East Anglian side as we approach the halfway point of the season. Norwich have lost two of their last four away matches, failing to win any of those, so we’re courageously predicting the South Yorkshire side will deliver an upset on Saturday afternoon. Backing Rotherham at 4.3 may therefore end up being a very profitable punt.
BLACKBURN ROVERS V HUDDERSFIELD TOWN: SATURDAY 15:00
Promotion-chasing Blackburn were dealt a surprise blow by relegation-threatened Coventry City in midweek, succumbing to a 1-0 defeat that ended their four-game winning streak. Jon Tomasson’s men remarkably remain the only side in the division not to have drawn a game so far this campaign, but you feel Rovers can ill-afford any similar slip-ups if they are to end their 11-year absence from the Premier League and secure promotion from the Championship.
On Saturday they lock horns with another club who are fighting for their division credentials, Huddersfield Town, as Rovers attempt to make up five-point gap that now exists between them and leaders Burnley. Huddersfield are now the only side without an away win in the league, and a bitterly disappointing 2-0 defeat at home to Sunderland on Wednesday kept the west Yorkshire side rooted to the bottom of the table – still five points adrift of safety.
Anything can happen in the Championship, as exemplified by Rovers’ loss in midweek, but Tomasson’s side look good value to get back to winning ways against a desperately poor Huddersfield team. Backing Blackburn at 1.89 could be a well-valued punt to include as part of a wider accumulator.