Potters' poor away form to continue
Middlesbrough 2.3611/8 v Stoke 3.55; The Draw 3.185/40
When Stoke and Middlesbrough met at the beginning of December, the pair played out a tempestuous 90 minutes, and this could be another hugely competitive affair. Both teams will come into this game having been on the receiving end of a dubious injury-time penalty decision against Swansea, and that sense of injustice is likely to manifest itself in this potentially fiesty encounter.
Neil Warnock was apoplectic with rage following the final whistle, and his anger will hardly have been assuaged by the news that Anfernee Dijksteel has been ruled out for the remainder of the season. The experienced boss is still likely to be seething, however, the 72-year old should be able to channel his anger to help ensure that his side are suitably stoked up for this clash at the Riverside.
With the exception of the Swansea defeat, Boro have been in decent form and have won three of their last six Championship matches. Their xG numbers have also improved in recent weeks and they've been giving away far fewer chances. The Teessiders cannot be described as prolific and haven't scored more than two goals in a game since beating Wycombe on January 2nd, so it's imperative that they are able to keep it tight at the back.
Warnock has managed to improve several players this season, with Marc Bola and the aforementioned Dijksteel having progressed significantly under his tutelage. George Saville has also benefited from the Yorkshireman's arrival, and the Northern Ireland international has started to add goals to his game in recent months. With prolific and consistent strikers at a premimum, Boro need their midfielders to step up and contribute in the final third.
The hosts' home form is far from exemplary, and they have been marginally better on their travels this season. However, they have recently beaten Huddersfield here, and were the better side in the second half against in-form Cardiff.
Stoke bounced back from their Swansea disappointment with a comfortable 3-0 victory over rock-bottom Wycombe. Michael O'Neill's men are tough to beat on their own patch, however, their away form is less than satisfactory. They've won just four times on the road this season and haven't tasted victory on their travels since December 2nd.
Some fans have accused O'Neill of setting up far too defensively away from home, and with six draws in their last nine, they certainly have a point. Stoke have a talented squad, however, their lack of bite in the final third has seen them fail to net more than a single goal in just one of their last 11 away matches.
Nick Powell is enjoying a profitable spell in the XI, whilst Rhys Norrington-Davies and Harry Souttar have also been excellent in recent weeks.
The visitors are just two points behind their opponents coming into this game, and with both teams still harbouring faint play-off hopes, this is a crucial fixture. Stoke will probably settle for a draw, however, Middlesbrough have looked much better in recent weeks, and they should be able to edge this one. At 2.3611/8 on the Exchange, the Teessiders are worth backing to collect all three points and will be expected to bounce back from last weeks injury time heartbreak.
QPR to secure successive home victories
QPR 2.0621/20 v Huddersfield 3.814/5; The Draw 3.55/2
QPR moved into the top half of the Championship table in midweek courtesy of a narrow victory over struggling Wycombe. Mark Warburton has also been nominated for February's Manager of the Month award following a run of four consecutive wins. However, the West Londoners are still a little inconsistent, and their 2-1 defeat against Birmingham was a hugely disappointing way to end the month.
Nevertheless, they have been suitably tough to break down with defensive duo Rob Dickie and Yoann Barbet helping the club to keep four clean sheets in their last eight matches. The R's have played 12 times in 2021 and have conceded just nine times. Only Norwich have been breached fewer times since the turn of the year, and they will be fancied to keep things tight once again on Saturday afternoon.
At the other end of the field, Ilias Chair has seemingly found his shooting boots, and although Charlie Austin must be carefully managed amid a hectic fixture list, the experienced striker remains a constant threat. Stefan Johansen and Chris Willock have also been excellent, and have proved to be extremely savvy January additions.
Huddersfield picked up a creditable goalless draw with in-form Cardiff last week, and the Terriers will be hoping that they can build on that performance here. The West Yorkshire club should have secured all three points, however, Yaya Sanogo spurned the opportunity from the penalty spot. Carlos Corberan's side have struggled defensively this year, however, Naby Sarr and Richard Keogh were exemplary throughout.
Although it was a decent point, the visitors are far from safe and can't afford to take their foot off the gas just yet. They need to start picking up points away from home, with only Wycombe having collected fewer so far this season.
With a 2-4-11 record on their travels, the Spaniard must find a way to get his side firing outside of West Yorkshire, and they could be in for a tough afternoon here. They've scored just 14 times on the road, and with QPR's defence having improved significantly in recent weeks, they could struggle to find a way through.
The hosts are 2.0621/20 on the Exchange and although Huddersfield have had a full seven days to prepare for this tie, QPR should be too tough and are worth backing on Saturday.
Both sides to find the net at St.Andrews
Birmingham 2.26/5 v Bristol City 43/1; The Draw 3.39/4
Birmingham were second best against in-form Barnsley at the weekend, and the Blues are still teetering precariously above the relegation zone. Aitor Karanka cannot seem to get his side firing, and they haven't been able to put together an unbeaten run of more than two matches since mid-November.
They looked devoid of creativity against the Tykes and have the fourth lowest xG numbers across the entire Championship season. Having failed to register a single shot-on-target last weekend, the West Midlands outfit will need to far better on Saturday afternoon.
Despite this, the Blues have been a little more threatening at home in recent weeks and have found the back of the net in three of their last four home matches. They also managed to come from behind against QPR at the end of February, and that should give them a bit of confidence ahead of this contest.
Birmingham aren't the only side to have failed to trouble the Barnsley defence, and they should have better luck against a leaky Bristol City side. Karanka must decide whether to persist with the Jutkiewicz-Hogan partnership, or whether to revert back to a lone frontman. The pair clicked last season, and were one of the most prolific partnerships in the division, however, it just hasn't worked out this time around, and Hogan has looked far better in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Bristol City are still proving to be frustratingly inconsistent under new boss Nigel Pearson and they slipped up against QPR last weekend. Although Adam Nagy's injury didn't help matters, they were poor throughout and managed just a single shot on target.
Although the former Leicester boss secured back-to-back away wins upon his arrival, he has failed to stem the tide, and his side are still vulnerable at the back. Last weekend's opponents registered 16 shots throughout the 90 minutes and the Robins haven't kept a clean sheet since mid-January. They are giving away chances and making mistakes at the back, and that could result in an entertaining 90 minutes.
The visitors are improving, albeit slowly, yet they are still shaky at the back. Birmingham have been better going forward at home so backing BTTS at 2.0621/20 on the Exchange looks a sensible option here.
You can follow Jack Critchley on Twitter @jcritch7