The autumn chill may be upon us, but the action continues to hot up at both ends of the Championship.
Middlesbrough’s recent form has been solid if unspectacular, including back to back draws where they netted just once. Yet they still find themselves level on points with second placed Leeds and only a further two points behind table toppers Sheffield United.
A poor start for Stoke left their billing as promotion favourites look nothing more than a pipe dream. But Gary Rowett’s side look to be gaining momentum, winning three of their last five.
Against a Boro team that tends not to give the opposition so much as a sniff, the Potters may need to find something more to get the three points. Unbeaten only once on the road, Tony Pulis has the nous to outfox his younger foe on his return to his former club.
With a managerial merry-go-round that wouldn’t look out of place at Alton Towers, it’s a miracle only two Championship managers have been given the boot so far. Ipswich’s Paul Hurst was the latest to receive his marching orders after one win in 14. New man Paul Lambert has been given the task of driving the Tractor Boys up and away from the bottom of the table.
Whether he likes it or not, the job ahead of him is a chance at redemption for Lambert. On his third club in a little over a year, he hasn’t torn up any managerial trees since leaving Norwich in 2012. With a side seemingly bereft of confidence and consistent quality, he’s got it all to do.
His first game is against Preston who are unbeaten in their last five games, bagging 13 goals. Despite hovering a perilous two points above the relegation places, you have to fancy the Lancastrians here.
Forest may be hosting league leaders Sheffield United, but they are more than capable of seeing them off at The City Ground. After promising away performances against Bolton and Leeds – taking four points from six – they return home where they’ve lost only once all season, which was against a bang in form Norwich.
Sheffield United have surprised many as they sit top of the table, but their unassuming “names mean nothing” approach has seen the team continue to defy expectations.
They will though be without key defender Chris Basham through suspension, and the Blades could have their automatic promotion hopes blunted against a Forest outfit hovering tantalisingly outside the playoffs.
After a wretched start, it looked like Steve McClaren would be shown the door faster than a Mike Ashley tribute band rocking out in the centre circle of St James’ Park.
To his credit, McClaren remembered he wasn’t just the wally with the brolly – lest we forget he won the League Cup and the Eredivisie, as well as reaching a UEFA Cup final as a manger – and he’s since guided Rangers to 13 points out of 15 in their last five games.
They face Blackburn away at Ewood Park. Rovers are coming off the back of a pretty grim run of fixtures, including Sheffield United, Leeds, Swansea and West Brom. A credible draw against the Baggies – including a pearler from on loan midfielder Harrison Reed – coupled with other handy results show Tony Mowbray’s men are adapting well to life back in the Championship.
Against the division’s form side though, Blackburn could be found wanting. A paltry two home wins all season could be telling as QPR look to hurtle further up the table.
Odds correct at time of publication. Subject to change.
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