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Championship Preview

Championship Preview

The first Championship fixtures of 2014 look set to deliver more of the same entertainment that 2013 brought fans, with all but one game kicking off at 3pm. Every team will be in action and looking to get their first points of the year on the board.

Birmingham vs Barnsley

After a difficult start to the season, Birmingham have gone on an impressive unbeaten run that was extended to 9 games with a 3-2 victory over Blackburn at Ewood Park last weekend. Lee Clarke must now his attention to the visit of Barnsley for their opening game of 2014. The Yorkshire club narrowly avoided relegation at the end of last season, and currently find themselves rooted to the bottom of the table, 5 points from safety. This looks to be a difficult fixture for the visitors, with only one of their three wins so far this season coming away from home.

Chris Burke celebrates scoring in the win against Blackburn.

Chris Burke celebrates scoring in the win against Blackburn.

However, Tom Adeyemi (back) and Aaron McLean (hamstring) will be missing for Bimingham, with loanee Jesse Lingard sitting out the second of his three match ban after receiving a straight red card in the 0-0 draw at Wigan. Barnsley’s chances could be boosted by the potential return to action of as many as 4 players, while competition for places means Tomasz Cywka could be rewarded for his goal against Derby with a start. Paddy McCourt made his comeback from a hamstring problem in their last game, but was replaced on 57 minutes by Marcus Pedersen, and the latter could start instead this time around. David Perkins, Bobby Hassell and Lewin Nyatanga will also be hopeful of returning to the team.

Bolton vs Middlesbrough

Bolton’s form of late has been somewhat of a mixed bag, culminating in a 5-3 defeat at Leicester last weekend. Dougie Freedman’s side started the season expecting to push for the playoffs but 4 defeats in their last 7 games have seen them fall to 18th. Many fans were sceptical upon Middlesbrough’s appointment of former Madrid youth coach Aitor Karanka, and such fears looked justified when they lost 3 of his first 5 games in charge. Since then though, they have won their last 3 games, scoring 6 and conceding no goals in the process. Tomorrow’s game promises to be a close affair. Bolton have only won twice at home so far this season, a record Middlesbrough have matched on the road.

Middlesborough players celebrate during their win over Reading.

Middlesbrough players celebrate during their win over Reading.

Veteran defender Jonathan Woodgate and striker Kei Kamara are the only players likely to be unavailable for Boro. Bolton have no new concerns ahead of the game but remain without Joe Riley, Stuart Holden, Adam Bogdan and Marc Tierney, who all have long-term injuries.

Brighton vs Bournemouth

The Cherries have been in fine form of late, picking up 7 points from the last 9 available to them to move comfortably clear of the relegation zone. Oscar Garcia’s side have taken 9 points from their last 6 games and currently find themselves excluded from the playoff places solely on goal difference. The reverse fixture at the end of November saw, both sides come away with a share of the points, after goals in either half from Matt Ritchie and Ashley Barnes. Tomorrow’s South Coast derby at the Amex Stadium looks set to be another competitive encounter.

Brett Pitman celebrates scoring the equaliser against Ipswich.

Brett Pitman celebrates scoring the equaliser against Ipswich.

The home side received a big injury blow this week, with news that Will Buckley looks set for a spell on the sidelines after picking up a hamstring injury in the 1-0 win at Blackpool. Captain Gordon Greer (calf) and Bruno (thigh) remain unlikely to return, but the fitness of Stephen Ward will be assessed before the game. The visitors will welcome the return from suspension of midfielder Harry Arter, while Shaun MacDonald also looks set for a late fitness test.

Burnley vs Huddersfield

Burnley enjoyed an incredible start to the season under the guidance of Sean Dyche, with fans branding him the ‘Ginger Mourinho’. However, they have hit a sticky patch of form recently, winning just 2 and drawing 6 of their last 10 matches and will be looking to get their push for automatic promotion back on track on New Year’s Day. Huddersfield have been in decent form, and brushed aside Yeovil with ease at the weekend, winning 5-1, and incredibly find themselves just 4 points of the playoff places. Burnley have won 13 of 25 home games so far this season, losing just 3 times at Turf Moor, while Huddersfield have only picked up 3 wins on their travels, but did win 2-1 when the two sides met at the end of November.

Burnley will be hoping to return to winning ways against Huddersfield.

Burnley will be hoping to return to winning ways against Huddersfield.

Ben Mee will be hoping to recover from a thigh injury that has seen him miss Burnley’s last 2 matches. Burnley’s only other notable absentee is Ross Wallace (knee), and Michael Kightly could also return to the team. Huddersfield’s have no new injuries to deal with, but top-scorer James Vaughan (knee) is a doubt. Anthony Gerrard and Joel Lynch will be competing for a starting role at centre-half in Mark Robins’ side.

Derby vs Wigan

Both sides come into this fixture with relatively new bosses. Under Steve McLaren Derby’s fortunes have been transformed, with the former England manager building on the solid foundations left by predecessor Nigel Clough. In recent weeks, The Rams have been in formidable form, recently extending their unbeaten run to 9 games, 8 of which were wins. In fact, Derby welcome Wigan to the recently renamed ‘iPro Stadium’ having lost just once under their new manager. Jamie Ward and Craig Bryson have played a crucial role in this run, scoring 8 goals between them. Wigan lost their first game under Uwe Rosler, fraughted in from Brentford to replace Owen Coyle, but have since gone on a 4 match unbeaten run, including home wins over Bolton and Reading, as well as holding Burnley to a 0-0 draw.

Chris Martin will hope to add to the brace he scored at Barnsley against Wigan.

Chris Martin will hope to add to the brace he scored at Barnsley against Wigan.

Derby midfielder Jeff Hendrick will again be assessed before the game as he sets his site on a return to action after missing the 2-1 win over Barnsley with concussion. Striker Johnny Russell completed the full 90 minutes in their last game, but may be rested in order to manage his return to full fitness from a broken leg. Keiron Freeman, Kalifa Cisse, Conor Sammon and Mason Bennettare are also now available, but McLaren may choose to stick with the same team which has served him well in recent weeks. Wigan will have to manage without Shaun Maloney (shoulder), Gary Caldwell (hip), Ben Watson (foot) and Scott Carson (thigh), but Jean Beausejour is available again after suspension.

Ipswich vs Charlton

Ipswich have enjoyed a successful start to the season under Mick McCarthy, and find themselves inside the playoff places on goal difference going into the New Year. The Tractor Boys have lost just 1 of their last 10 games, going on an impressive unbeaten run in their last 7, a spell in which striker David McGoldrick has scored 3 times. They have also lost only 3 of 11 games at Portman Road, and will feel they can extend this with the visit of Charlton, who have only won twice away from the Valley this season. A Tommy Smith goal was enough for Ipswich to take home all 3 points last time out.

David McGoldrick has been in fine form this season.

David McGoldrick has been in fine form this season.

Injury and suspension news. Ryan Tunnicliffe’s loan deal from Manchester United has expired, and McCarthy is keen to extend his stay at the club. However, an agreement with Moyes has not yet been reached so the midfielder will be unable to play a part tomorrow. Otherwise, Ipswich have no injuries or suspensions affecting their preparation. Leon Cort (knee) is the only player definitely out for Charlton, who are likely to again be able to call upon full-backs Chris Solly and Rhoys Wiggins.

Leeds vs Blackburn

Leeds and Blackburn both enter 2014 on the back of defeats to Nottingham Forest and Birmingham respectively, and will be hopeful of getting back to winning ways at Elland Road. Brian McDermott’s side are only outside the playoff places on goal difference having picked up 18 points from their last 10 games. Blackburn meanwhile find themselves in mid table, and will be looking to make up lost ground on the teams above them.

Leeds will hope to return to winning ways at Elland Road.

Leeds will hope to return to winning ways at Elland Road.

Paddy Kenny and Ross McCormack are both doubts after picking up injuries in the defeat at Forest, and will face late fitness tests ahead of the game alongside Alex Mowatt. Jamie Ashdown, David Norris and Noel Hunt remain on Leeds’ injury list. Jason Lowe is missing for the visitors through suspension, while Josh King, David Dunn and Todd Kane who didn’t feature against Birmingham will also require late assessment. Goalkeeper Paul Robinson, Dickson Etuhu and Corry Evans are still out of contention with long-term injuries.

Millwall vs Leicester

After an embarrassing 4-0 defeat at Watford on Boxing Day, Millwall parted company with Steve Lomas, turning in the short-term to caretaker bosses Scott Fitzgerald and Neil Harris. In their last game they could only muster a 0-0 draw at fellow strugglers Doncaster, and now face the daunting task welcoming high-flying Leicester to The Den. The Foxes have won their last 3 and are unbeaten in their last 4 games, having averaged 2 goals per game over that period. They also possess one of the best away records in the division having won 6 times in 11 attempts this season, while The Lions have only won 4 times at home and lost the reverse fixture 3-0.

Leicester players celebrate during their 5-3 win over Bolton.

Leicester players celebrate during their 5-3 win over Bolton.

Leicester will have to manage without Jamie Vardy who is suspended and with Chris Wood still an injury doubt, Pearson could turn to either Martyn Waghorn, Jeff Schlupp or Gary Taylor-Fletcher to partner David Nugent up front. Millwall captain Paul Robinson and Liam Trotter will face late fitness tests but could make their returns to the side. Vice-captain Danny Shittu is available for election once again after suspension, but he may be left out should Fitzgerald and Harris opt for the same defence that kept a first clean sheet in 6 against Doncaster.

QPR vs Doncaster

Rangers started the season in fine form, but a three game winless run including defeat to Forest has seen them slide down to 4th place, 5 points of the top. Consequently they will welcome the visit of strugglers Doncaster, who have only picked up 1 point from their last 5 matches and sit just 2 points outside the drop zone. The visitors have scored just twice in their last 6 league outings, but the goals have also dried up for QPR in the absence of top-scorer Charlie Austin.

QPR have struggled in the absence of star striker Charlie Austin.

QPR have struggled in the absence of star striker Charlie Austin.

There will be late tests for both Clint Hill and Charlie Austin before the game. Defender Hill missed their match against Watford through illness, and remains the most likely of the two to figure against Doncaster, with Austin still suffering the effects of a hamstring injury that has seen him miss all of their Festive fixtures. Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson may be fit enough to start after being considered only fit enough for the bench at the weekend, with Nico Kranjcar probably set to fill the void up front if the same is the case tomorrow. Rovers have no fresh injury concerns ahead of their trip to Loftus Road, but have been hampered by injuries of late, with Billy Paynter (achilles), Chris Brown (ankle) and James Coppinger (heel) not able to return in time. Long-term absentees Jamie McComb (back), Paul Keegan (hamstring), Rob Jones (neck) and James Husband (shoulder) are still sidelined.

Reading vs Nottingham Forest

Nigel Adkins’ side have lots their last 3 games, but due to the fiercely competitive nature of the Championship this season, are still just a point off the playoffs. Forest are unbeaten in their last 6, a run that has included impressive victories over Leicester, QPR, and Leeds, leaving them just 5 points off 2nd. Reading emerged 3-2 winners the last time the teams met, and will be looking to get their push for a return to the Premier League back on track, and put and end to a run of 2 straight home defeats at the Madejski.

Matt Derbyshire celebrates his goal against Leeds.

Matt Derbyshire celebrates his goal against Leeds.

However, Reading will have to manage without suspended Kaspars Gorkss, after the defender was sent off in their defeat at Middlesborough. His ban further adds to a team riddled with absentees including Chris Baird (ankle), Sean Morrison (knee) and Wayne Bridge (knee) who will all miss out. Jason Roberts (hip), Jem Karacan (knee ligament) and Mikele Leigertwood (ankle) are still injured, but winger Royston Drenthe is in line to make his return. Forest only have one injury concern, but Darius Henderson is still suspended. David Vaughan sat out against Leeds with a thigh problem, but could play a part.

Sheffield Wednesday vs Blackpool

Sheffield Wednesday and Blackpool enter the new year at opposite ends of the table. The Seasiders have lost 5 of their last 6, but are still just 3 points off the playoff places. Wednesday, despite draws against Blackburn and Charlton remain inside the relegation places and 2 points from safety. The home side have only won twice at Hillsborough so far in 2013-14, and while Blackpool have only won 3 times on their travels their last win came when they played The Owls back in November. Tom Ince, the Tangerines’ top-scorer with 7 goals could prove the difference in what promises to be a close game. Striker Connor Wickham, whose current loan from Sunderland expires after New Year’s Day, will be the main threat for the hosts.

Ince will hope Blackpool can secure their first win since _ when they host_.

Ince will hope Blackpool can secure their first win since the end of November at Sheffield Wednesday.

Wednesday are able to include Glen Loovens in their plans after he extended his loan deal at the club, something they will also hope is possible for in-form Wickham. The visitors will have to manage without the suspended Chris Basham and Kirk Broadfoot, with Blackpool’s disciplinary problems being a well-publicised issue for them.  Jack Robinson, Ricardo Fuller and Isaiah Osbourne are all suffering with hamstring problems which will see them miss out.

Yeovil vs Watford

In the day’s late kick off, Watford travel to Yeovil looking to continue their unbeaten run under new manager Giuseppe Sannino. In the Italian’s first game in charge the Hornets picked up a solid 1-1 at Portman Road, before dispatching Millwall 4-0 and impressively holding Queens Park Rangers to a 0-0 draw at Vicarage Road. Yeovil have scored just once in their last three games, and picked up no points from their Christmas fixtures. Watford will be looking to pick up a convincing three points against a side that embarrassed them 3-0 earlier in the season.

Watford will be hoping to extend their unbeaten run under new boss Giuseppe Sannino.

Watford will be hoping to extend their unbeaten run under new boss Giuseppe Sannino.

Gary Johnson is likely to be without goalkeeper Marek Stech and Ed Upson, who were both injured in their 5-1 defeat at Huddersfield last weekend, but could welcome back defender Byron Webster. Meanwhile, the visitors will assess the fitness of Ikechi Anya (groin), Fernando Foresitieri (knee) and Daniel Pudil (hamstring) prior to kick-off. Almen Abdi, Essaid Belkalem, Tommy Hoban and Davide Faraoni remain sidelined.

About Will Annetts