For most clubs, there are just 15 matches remaining in the 2017/18 Championship season. The contest for playoff places is fierce, while a clutch of clubs remain focussed on avoiding the gravitational pull towards the bottom three.
It’s set to be a bumper weekend of fixtures, that will set the tone for the sharply-following midweek matches.
Let’s take a run through some of the 3pm Saturday kick-offs here…
Burton Albion vs Nottingham Forest
Nottingham Forest come into this one on a painful three-match losing streak. They have not scored a single goal during that run. That said, Aitor Karanka’s side still have a relatively cosy cushion keeping them from the bottom three.
Burton notched a crucial draw last weekend to end their own losing run, but remain fixed to the foot of the table, still four points from safety. Holding the worst defensive record in the league - including 18 against in their last 10 – this might be the ideal match as Forest’s attack looks to find its form.
I fancy Forest to turn things around in this one. A couple of victories and the questions around Karanka will quickly vanish. This side should not be in the position it is right now, and I don’t think it will be for long.
TIP: Nottingham Forest to win @ 29/20
Cardiff City vs Middlesbrough
Neil Warnock and Tony Pulis are separated by 10 points ahead of this clash. An almost insurmountable challenge for the trailing Boro, but their eyes will be firmly fixed on sixth-placed Bristol City, who occupy the final playoff position just four points ahead.
Cardiff are a single point behind the second automatic promotion place, and are on a four-match unbeaten run. Warnock’s side have lost just two matches at home this season. That would make them my strong favourites for this one, at least to avoid defeat.
Pulis’ team need to put a string of victories together if they are to break into the top six. They have struggled to do that all season. Adama Traore is the player who could cause an upset of sorts, but I am still siding with the home side.
TIP: Cardiff City to win OR draw @ 7/20
Fulham vs Aston Villa
Fulham have not lost a Championship match since mid-December. Aston Villa have not lost a Championship match since Boxing Day. Fair to call this a meeting of two form teams, then.
Still separated by eight points, this is a massive fixture for both as they aim to continue their stellar streaks. Defeat could see Fulham lose their cushion to seventh, while Villa will likely relinquish their second place.
This is a meeting of contrasting styles. Fulham are the second highest scorers in the league, netting 23 in their last eight. Over the same time, Steve Bruce’s Villains have conceded just five. It goes without saying that they are the two best teams in the division over that period.
Fulham’s draw with Bolton last weekend halted their momentum. That, I think, makes Villa a solid bet for this one.
TIP: Aston Villa to win OR draw @ 4/6
Preston North End vs Wolverhampton Wanderers
Wolves are the 1/20 favourites to win the Championship this season. Their 12-point lead makes their Premier League status next season undoubtable. There is no sign of a blip either, having taken 39 from the last 48 points available.
Preston are the lowest scorers in the top half of the division. Their five-match unbeaten streak in the league has seen three draws, leaving Alex Neil’s side a frustrating three points short of the playoff places.
It will take a superb rearguard action for the hosts to get anything from this one. Wolves’ eyebrow-raising summer recruitment has paid substantial dividends on the pitch, and they look simply too good for their opponents at the moment.
There might be moments of frustration, but I cannot see that being converted into points for the home side.
TIP: Wolverhampton Wanderers to win @ 23/20
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*