Saturday Championship Tips: QPR to increase pressure on Karanka

QPR boss Mark Warburton
Mark Warburton will be hoping that his side can extend their unbeaten away record

Championship expert Jack Critchley believes that QPR can continue their impressive form and extend their unbeaten run at St Andrews on Saturday afternoon...

"Birmingham may have got on the score-sheet in midweek but they've netted just twice in their last six matches here and they are the joint-lowest home scorers in the division."

Blues to slump to third consecutive home defeat

Birmingham 2.8615/8 v QPR 2.77/4; The Draw 3.3512/5
Saturday, 15:00

Birmingham come into this game having lost four of their last five Championship matches. The Blues are now just two points above the relegation zone. Fans were generally pleased with their side's performance against Norwich, although many of them have questioned the manager's substitutions. Aitor Karanka isn't renowned for his positive approach to games and his decision to throw on Yan Valery, Marc Roberts and Mikel San Jose in midweek wasn't particularly popular.

The Blues have picked up just nine points at St Andrews this season, and have suffered 11 home defeats so far. Although Karanka has been able to set his side up to steal points on the road, they struggle to play on the front foot and take the game to their opponents. They got on the score-sheet in midweek but they've netted just twice in their last six matches here and they are the joint-lowest home scorers in the division.

On paper, the squad is probably good enough to remain in the division. Karanka's baffling tactics, however, have held them back. Although Scott Hogan has been in decent form recently, he will always require an efficient level of service. Ivan Sanchez and Rakeem Harper looked the most likely candidates to create something on Tuesday night but both were hooked in the second-half and replaced by more conservative operators.

QPR's winning run came to a halt in midweek, although they did pick up a creditable 0-0 draw at Deepdale. It wasn't a vintage performance from the West London outfit but they are now unbeaten in each of their last five matches and have avoided defeat in eight of their last nine outings.

Mark Warburton was pleased with his side's display, and praised his team's defensive strength. They haven't suffered an away defeat since December 5 and have conceded just four times during that run. They've conceded 18 times on their travels this season, although just over a third of those goals were shipped in September and October. With two games in hand on the majority of the teams around them, a late play-off push isn't out of the question.

The R's defensive numbers had started to improve throughout December, although the January additions have helped improve their attacking output and taken them to the next level. Stefan Johansen has added some class to the midfield, whilst Sam Field's energy and Charlie Austin's know-how and finishing ability have also proved extremely beneficial.

Warburton also has plenty of options on the bench with the likes of Albert Adomah, Chris Willock, Charlie Kelman and Macauley Bonne all available if the boss decides to freshen things up this weekend.

QPR's recent form has been fantastic and at 2.707/4 on the Exchange, they look good value against the division's worst home performers.

Brentford to secure consecutive home victories

Brentford 1.8910/11 v Stoke 4.77/2; The Draw 3.65
Saturday, 15:00

It has been a poor February for Brentford but the Bees managed to bounce back on Wednesday night with a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Sheffield Wednesday. Admittedly, the Owls were extremely limited, and the West Londoners weren't at their swashbuckling best, but it was an important result for Thomas Frank and his side.

The Dane admitted that his team required a scrappy goal to get their heads in front, but they capitalised on hesitant defending and never looked back. Even without the division's top goalscorer Ivan Toney, Brentford still managed to create chances and although the striker is still struggling to shake off an ankle injury, he may be able to play some part in this fixture. Marcus Forss may also return following a bout of concussion.

Despite their recent wobble, the Bees' home form is extremely impressive, and only Barnsley and Preston have left this ground with maximum points so far this season. They've netted 13 times in their last four outings and they are the joint-highest home goalscorers (32) alongside Watford.

The club were renowned for their defensive solidity last season. Prior to Wednesday's victory, however, they'd conceded six times in their previous three matches at the Brentford Community Stadium. Winston Reid's arrival looks to be an extremely savvy piece of business, and the Kiwi was justifiably voted man of the match in midweek. He won 94% of his aerial duels against the Owls, and Ethan Pinnock clearly benefitted from having a calm and experienced head alongside him.

Reid has struggled with injuries throughout his career, and if he can be carefully managed throughout the remainder of the season, he could be a real asset.

Stoke were comprehensively outplayed by Barnsley on Wednesday and fans were unhappy with Michael O'Neill's tactics. The energetic Joe Allen was replaced by the slow and methodical Jon Obi Mikel and that resulted in a laboured performance by the Potters. The Ulsterman was also criticised for his changes with Tashan Oakley-Boothe and Sam Vokes offering very little from the bench.

They've won just three times since the start of October and each of those victories have been in Staffordshire. Away from home, they are winless in eight, and have failed to score in 50% of those games. Although Nick Powell is thriving in the number 10 role, the rest of the XI haven't been able to provide much cut and thrust in the final third, and they could struggle to break down Brentford's new-look defence.

Brentford are short enough at 1.8910/11 on the Exchange, but with Stoke's struggles on the road, they should have enough to secure back-to-back home victories.

Bluebirds to continue their play-off push at the Riverside

Middlesbrough 2.6413/8 v Cardiff 32/1; The Draw 3.39/4
Saturday, 15:00

Middlesbrough were incredibly hard to beat at the Riverside at the beginning of the season, and Neil Warnock had created a team who were difficult to score against. They conceded just three times in their opening 10 home matches on Teeside.

However, complacency has crept in, and Boro have now conceded 13 goals in their last six matches and haven't kept a clean sheet here since mid-December. Admittedly, they've hosted a high-quality level of opposition during that run, and free-scoring Brentford have accounted for four of those goals. Nevertheless, it is a concerning trend which needs to be addressed.

In midweek, they conceded three times inside the opening 45 minutes and were left chasing the game. They did find the back of the net in the second half after the damage had already been done.

Warnock's side have been frustratingly inconsistent this season, and their play-off dreams may be drifting away. They may have lost just one of their opening 11 fixtures but they've been defeated in five of their last eight and this appears to be yet another tough assignment.

The Mick McCarthy revolution continued in midweek as Cardiff beat fellow play-off hopefuls Bournemouth at the Vitality. The Bluebirds have won six in a row coming into this game, and although their remarkable run of form will inevitably come a halt at some point, they should be able to extend it this weekend. Keiffer Moore made a nuisance of himself yet again, and his performance was capped with another goal. Harry Wilson and Perry NG were also excellent throughout.

The Yorkshireman admits that he's pleased with the turnaround in South Wales but he's refusing to get carried away and wants to keep his players focused throughout this extremely hectic period.

The visitors have scored 15 goals in their last six, and netted exactly two goals in each of their last five away games. With Boro's defensive problems mounting up, it could be worth backing them to continue this trend. Over 1.5 Cardiff team goals is available at 2/1 on the Sportsbook and looks superb value.

You can follow Jack Critchley on Twitter @jcritch7

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