Neither side to take local bragging rights on Saturday afternoon
Blackburn 2.588/5 v Preston 2.942/1; The Draw 3.412/5
After playing five times in 13 days, Blackburn Rovers manager Tony Mowbray allowed his players seven days rest ahead of a tough-looking game against Lancashire rivals Preston North End. The Teessider believes his squad should be suitably recharged ahead of this weekend's fixture as they look to preserve their eight-game unbeaten run at Ewood Park. Luton Town were the last side to leave this ground with all three points at the end of September with the likes of Derby, Brentford and Sheffield Wednesday all failing to take anything from their recent visits to this venue.
Since the loss of top goalscorer Bradley Dack, Rovers have taken just a single point from a possible nine and their failure to beat Birmingham on Boxing Day left many fans truly underwhelmed. The players have clearly been negatively affected by the former Gillingham's man absence, and outside of a rejuvinated Adam Armstrong, it's difficult to see where the goals are going to come from. The former Newcastle man has already bettered last season's tally, and the Newcastle-born forward is likely to be Blackburn's biggest threat in this contest.
Only four Championship clubs have taken fewer shots than Mowbray's men so far this season and a return of just three goals in their last four home matches perhaps suggests that they are struggling to create too many clearcut chances.
Preston have scored the fewest away goals in the second tier and have found the net on just seven occasions so far. The Lilywhites haven't been victorious on the road since the beginning of November although they arrive here unbeaten in two. Alex Neil's side put in a much-improved display at Elland Road, picking up a 1-1 draw against high-flying Leeds and they also managed to keep Cardiff City off the scoresheet three weeks ago.
This is a crucial game for PNE's play-off challenge and they can't afford to drop any more points this weekend. Just like the hosts, they've amassed just a single point from their last three games and recently drew blanks against both Reading and Middlesbrough. Worringly, they've netted just four times in their last 10 outings and they must rediscover their scoring touch if they harbour any hopes of bridging the two point gap between themselves and the top six. The signing of Scott Sinclair should add some much needed creativity to their squad, although the Celtic winger may take a few games to acclimatise to the second tier.
Five of Blackburn's six draws this season have arrived at home whilst Preston have been involved in four stalemates away from Deepdale so far. On current evidence, there is very little between these two sides and this contest has the potential to end all-square. The draw at 3.412/5 is extremely tempting and looks the best option in this all-Lancashire tie. Both of these sides are currently struggling in the final third and this is highly unlikely to be a high-scoring contest.
Much-improved Tykes to see off out-of-form Terriers
Barnsley 2.26/5 v Huddersfield 3.412/5; The Draw 3.613/5
Barnsley suffered their first defeat in six games at the beginning of the month as they were edged out by Derby at Pride Park. However, Gerhard Struber's men managed to bounce back with an FA Cup victory against Crewe last weekend. The Austrian boss has been superb since arriving in South Yorkshire with his favoured diamond system starting to pay dividends.
The Tykes haven't looked like relegation fodder in recent weeks and despite sitting second bottom of the Championship, they've given themselves a fighting chance of avoiding the drop this season. They've taken eight points from five matches with only seven sides boasting a better record during that period. Only Leeds and QPR have scored more goals during that time with Connor Chaplin and Cauley Woodrow both enjoying a mini-resurgence under the former Red Bull Salzburg boss.
Defending still remains issue with the hosts failing to keep a clean sheet at Oakwell since August 3rd. However, Struber has instilled a never-say-die attitude into his squad and their recent 1-1 draw against West Brom perfectly illustrated their new-found confidence. Despite falling behind early doors, they continued to create chances and were duly rewarded with a well-deserved last-gasp equaliser.
Danny Cowley has undoubtedly improved Huddersfield since arriving in West Yorkshire, although the former Lincoln boss has been hindered by a plethora of injuries to key players. He is likely to add to his squad during the January transfer window, as he looks to guide the Terriers into midtable obscurity. The former Premier League outfit have a five point cushion over the bottom three, although with Stoke and Wigan slowly finding form, there is still plenty of work to do at the John Smith's Stadium.
The visitors have won just one of their last five away games, a last minute smash-and-grab against Charlton, and have struggled to pick up points on the road in recent weeks. They possess a 3-3-6 record on their travels with each of their three away day successes ending 1-0. They are unlikely to keep a clean sheet this weekend and it's hard to imagine them taking maximum points from this clash with an ever-improving Barnsley side.
Conceding five goals against Stoke last time out was far from the ideal preparation for this fixture and too many avoidable defensive errors have proven costly in recent weeks. The hosts are still full of confidence despite starting 2020 with a defeat and they should be able to capitalise on the visitor's defensive fragility. Barnsley can be backed at 2.206/5 on the Exchange and this looks an extremely winnable game for the upwardly mobile Tykes.
Fletcher to continue his purple patch at the Riverside
Middlesbrough 2.166/5 v Derby 3.65; The Draw 3.45
It's been quite a fortnight for Jonathan Woodgate. The rookie boss was under a significant amount of pressure at the Riverside Stadium in mid-December, yet he's managed to successfully steer the Teessiders clear of the relegation zone courtesy of four consecutive league victories. The former defender also managed to earn an FA Cup replay against his former club Spurs last weekend and his side are suddenly playing with plenty of confidence.
Boro face a tough task against Derby this weekend with the Rams having seen off Crystal Palace in the FA Cup just six days ago. Phillip Cocu's men have also picked up back-to-back wins in the Championship and will fancy their chances of heading back to the East Midlands with a share of the spoils.
The visitors will have to keep a close eye on the in-form Ashley Fletcher this weekend. The former Sunderland striker now has eight goals for the campaign and he has found the net in four of his last five appearances. He scored a wonder-goal against West Brom at the end of December and won't be afraid to test the reflexes of Ben Hamer on Saturday afternoon. He is the joint-top goalscorer at the club and is averaging around 1.8 shots per game. Having replaced Britt Assombalonga as the main focal point in this side, the striker is likely to get plenty of service once again and should be able to continue his scoring streak against a Derby side who are yet to register a clean sheet on their travels.
He told the Teesside Gazette that he is the happiest he's ever been in his professional career and that he feels as though he 'can't miss' at the moment. The signing of Lukas Nmecha will add some competition for places and the striker must maintain his form in order to preserve his place in the starting XI.
The 24-year looks unstoppable on current form and he will be hoping to take his excellent goalscoring record into 2020. He is around 13/8 to score anytime on the Sportsbook and certainly looks worth backing once again this weekend.
You can follow Jack Critchley on Twitter @jcritch7