Come the weekend, it will have been over 100 days since the last ball was kicked in the Sky Bet Championship, but this weekend the journey continues!
With 108 matches scheduled to be played across 33 days, there’s a title to be won, Play-Off places to be fought for and relegation battles to be decided. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be entertained, as the Championship returns.
Here’s a quick reminder of the current state of play, as well as what’s coming up this weekend.
The title race…
The two beaten Play-Off Semi-Finalists of last season lead the way at the top of the table, as Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion have returned with a vengeance this season, fighting for a place in the Premier League.
Since October, no other sides have occupied the top two places in the league table and with just one point separating the two, the title race is well and true on.
The race for the Play-Offs…
The fight for the Play-Offs is as exciting as ever, with every team from Fulham in 3rd place down to QPR in 13th still having a chance of promotion. Fulham look the most assured of their spot in the top six, currently just six points adrift of 2nd place and if top scorer Aleksander Mitrovic can pick up where he left off they’ll be confident of finishing the season strongly.
Brentford have two tough opening games, facing Fulham and West Brom, but results against both of those could make the table interesting heading into the final few games. One thing is for sure, Ollie Watkins will be key to any promotion hopes.
Just behind the Bees is Nottingham Forest who, prior to the break were on a poor run of form. They’ll be hoping 17-goal striker Lewis Grabban finds his form for the final nine fixtures.
The race for sixth spot is one not to take your eyes off. Six clubs - including Preston North End, Bristol City, Millwall, Cardiff City, Blackburn Rovers and Swansea City - all have a very realistic chance of making the Play-Offs. With just three points between 6th and 11th, it’s anyone’s to take.
The relegation battle…
Keeping true to Sky Bet Championship tradition, the foot of the table is set up for a dramatic conclusion to the season. Eight points currently separate Barnsley - who sit at the bottom - and Stoke City - currently in 17th place. Lee Bowyer’s Charlton Athletic dropped into the relegation zone for the first time less than a week before the season was temporarily suspended, and sitting just four points below them is last season’s League One champions, Luton Town. Securing Championship status may be a tough ask for the Hatters, but they will most certainly be boosted by the return of former manager, Nathan Jones.
Fulham v Brentford (12:30) - on Sky Sports
After three months away, the weekend’s action restarts with a tasty West London derby between Fulham and Brentford. Two sides battling for a place in the Premier League as well as being local rivals makes this arguably one of the must-watch fixtures of the weekend.
Scott Parker’s side are in 3rd place in the Championship standings, just one place ahead of the Bees who have really turned a corner under Thomas Frank this season.
The two top scorers in the division are set to take to the field on Saturday, and all eyes will be on Aleksander Mitrovic and Ollie Watkins for who comes out on top. With 45 goals between them this campaign, there is no surprise that both sides are riding high in the division.
Millwall v Derby County (13:00)
In one of the two earlier kick-offs in the day, the Lions will be hoping that three points against the Rams and other results going their way could see them sneak into the Play-Off places.
It’s been an up and down campaign for Derby County under new manager Phillip Cocu, but with only three losses in Championship action since January they have given themselves an outside chance of that final Play-Off place.
Another new manager, Gary Rowett, has instilled a calmness on his Millwall side since coming into the club. Despite not being one of the top-scoring teams in the division, they know how to win at the Den and on the road, as well as how to get results against those above them.
Blackburn Rovers v Bristol City
Another game that could have significant impact on the final standings, especially around the Play-Off places in the Championship. Bristol City have the edge over Blackburn Rovers as it stands but three points for Tony Mowbray’s side would give them the advantage over the Robins.
Both teams have been mightily impressive this season, Rovers have kept the pressure on the teams above them all the way which has put them in a fantastic position with nine games remaining.
Adam Armstrong and Nakhi Wells will be two individuals to watch in this game, the former has 11 goals and six assists this campaign, but it's Wells who leads the way in the goalscoring charts between them with his 15 goals to his name.
Huddersfield Town v Wigan Athletic
An important first game back for two sides sitting just above the relegation zone.
Alongside Leeds United and QPR, Wigan Athletic are one of the form sides in the division over the past five games - if it counts for anything, winning three and drawing two in that time frame.
Danny Cowley’s Huddersfield side have won two of their last five games, which has helped them stay out fo the relegation zone, with the likes of Hull City and Middlesbrough below them.
With the final relegation spot potentially being a six-way battle, a win for either side could prove to be vital come the end of the season.
Hull City v Charlton Athletic
A ‘must-not-lose’ game in the Sky Bet Championship. Hull City are currently two points above Charlton, who occupy the final relegation place, but prior to the break Grant McCann’s side had taken just two points from 11 games.
The Addicks will be desperate to survive another season in the second tier after only winning promotion last season. Lee Bowyer however, will have to negotiate the final five weeks of the season without his top goalscorer Lyle Taylor.
Luton Town v Preston North End
After their title-winning season in Sky Bet League One last season, it's been a difficult ride for Luton Town in the Championship, finding themselves in the relegation zone.
Their fortunes could change however, with Nathan Jones now back in the dugout. Jones who played such a huge part in the Hatters recent success, returned to Kenilworth Road during lockdown and he will be hoping to turn things around in these final nine games.
Preston North End on the other hand have had a fantastic season, which has seen them be in and around the Play-Offs all season under manager Alex Neil.
With some difficult opponents to face as we edge towards the end of the season, PNE certainly have a fight on their hands to keep hold of that 6th spot.
Middlesbrough v Swansea City
Jonathan Woodgate’s side are just two points outside of the relegation places in the Sky Bet Championship, and have been trying to keep above the dreaded drop zone line all campaign in his maiden season as a manager.
Swans boss Steve Cooper is enjoying his first season as the main man in the hot seat, the former England youth manager has lead his side to within three points of the Play-Off spots.
One of the most memorable moments of the season for Cooper and his team was the 1-0 win over fierce rivals Cardiff City on home soil, with Leeds, Nottingham Forest, Bristol City and Millwall to play in the final nine fixtures of the season, it will be no mean feat for them to finish in the Play-Offs.
Boro need some of their big players to stand up and be counted as they continue to fight against relegation, with the likes of Hull City, Wigan Athletic and Charlton Athletic on their tales, it will be an interesting battle for survival.
Queens Park Rangers v Barnsley
With the goals and flair of Nakhi Wells and Eberechi Eze this season, Queens Park Rangers have enjoyed a season which has seen them reach 50 points with nine games of the campaign to go.
With Wells departing for Bristol City in January, the following two months saw the R’s make some headway with impressive results against Derby County and a 3-1 win against Preston North End just before the season’s break.
Like those who came up last season, Barnsley have found life back in the Sky Bet Championship slightly more challenging than they might have hoped, with Daniel Stendel departing in October after a run of 10-games without a win.
New man in charge Gerhard Struber and his Tykes side have to overturn a seven-point gap at the bottom, if they’re to avoid the drop back to League One.
Reading v Stoke City
Stoke City boss Micheal O’Neill has recently left his position as manager of Northern Ireland to concentrate on the job in hand at Stoke City. The 50-year-old led his Potters side to a 5-1 victory over struggling Hull City before the enforced break.
Being only three points above the drop zone, and with the cluster of teams that could still go down, O’Neill will be looking to ensure their safety in the second tier in English football as soon as possible.
Reading are currently sitting mid-table and will certainly be hoping to finish the season in style. The Play-Offs are out of reach, but Mark Bowen will still want to finish on a high.
Sheffield Wednesday v Nottingham Forest
Like Reading, Gary Monk’s side sit mid-table in the Sky Bet Championship, and face a difficult challenge in Nottingham Forest.
The Owls have been impressive, most notably Steven Fletcher who has found the back of the net 13 times this campaign, and have recorded some impressive results, their most memorable over Yorkshire rivals Leeds United back in January.
Forest have been impressive this campaign under manager Sabri Lamouchi, who was somewhat an unknown quantity when he took over in the dugout back in the summer.
He has had a fantastic start to life at the City Ground, winning the Sky Bet Championship Manager of the Month back in September 2019 and January 2020 and will be hoping to secure Pay-Off football at the earliest opportunity.
West Bromwich Albion v Birmingham City - on Sky Sports
A Black Country derby to kick off the restart for second-placed West Bromwich Albion and Birmingham City, with Slaven Bilic’s side only a point behind leaders Leeds United, there’s more at stake then just geographical pride.
The Baggies face a Birmingham side without a win in six games, with Pep Clotet announcing earlier this week that these final nine fixtures of the season would be his last as manager.
With the side on 47 points and seeminlgy safe from relegation this season, the 43-year-old would love to sign off the season with a handful of wins over the teams below them.
Cardiff City v Leeds United (Sun 12:00) - on Sky Sports
Current league leaders Leeds United will have to wait until Sunday to get their season back up and running, as they travel to Cardiff City for a midday kick-off in front of the Sky Sports cameras.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side have put last season’s disappointment of losing in the Play-Offs behind them and kicked on ten-fold this campaign. Sitting at the top of the table, things look good for the Whites.
Neil Harris’ Bluebirds have also been in fine form since his arrival in South Wales, already causing trouble for Leeds earlier this season.
Another team very much in with a chance of the final Play-Off spot, Cardiff will be looking to hit the ground running. However, with games against Bristol City, Fulham and Preston North End still to come, Cardiff’s run-in is one of the more difficult in the division.
With the exception of those games broadcast live on Sky Sports, all fixtures will be live streamed on iFollow or a club's equivalent streaming service. To watch live, all you need to do is purchase a match pass. CLICK HERE to buy your match pass for this weekend.