The Championship makes its return this weekend and Jack Critchley believes that Preston can continue their upward momentum against Birmingham...
"Preston have an excellent home record this season and have suffered just two defeats in front of their own fans so far. High-flying duo Fulham and West Brom have both dropped points at this ground and they will not make it easy for this weekend's visitors"
Blues to slip to yet another defeat in Lancashire
Ryan Lowe has ordered his side to 'keep it simple' this weekend. The Liverpudlian has made an excellent start to life at Deepdale, although the former Bury boss was left disappointed by his side's FA Cup exit last weekend. He suggested that his team 'complicated things' by playing risky 30-yard passes and he'll be keen to get back to basics in training this week. Despite his frustrations, Lowe has overseen back-to-back wins in the Championship with his side showing tremendous spirit to come back from a goal down against Stoke.
Overall, they have an excellent home record this season and have suffered just two defeats in front of their own fans so far. High-flying duo Fulham and West Brom have both dropped points at this ground and they will not make it easy for this weekend's visitors.
Birmingham have a poor record at this venue with the Blues having won just two of their last 16 visits. Lee Bowyer's team are struggling for form and having failed to score in seven of their last nine away games, they could struggle to break down PNE's rearguard. Only five sides have scored fewer away goals than the visitors and having conceded 11 times in their last four Championship outings, they also need to tighten up at the back.
Although defender Teden Mengi has joined on loan from Manchester United, Brum still need to bring in reinforcements this winter and they desperately need to add some creativity to their squad. Until then, they look likely to struggle and are unlikely to get anything from this contest.
Recommended Bet: Back Preston to beat Birmingham @ 2.021/1
Rams to frustrate the Blades
Although there is still plenty of work to do, Derby County have given themselves a fighting chance of clinching survival this season. Wayne Rooney has worked miracles at Pride Park and with experienced defender Curtis Davies suggesting that the former striker's relatability has helped to galvanise the group, you wouldn't bet against them beating the drop. However, too many draws have hampered their progress this season with 11 of their 25 matches ending all-square. They've lost just twice at home and are unbeaten in four coming into this fixture. Despite their lack of numbers, the Rams are playing with bundles of spirit and determination and they will be competitive throughout the 90 minutes.
Sheffield United are on a terrific run of form and this has enabled Paul Heckingbottom's side to put themselves back in the play-off picture. The Blades have won four consecutive matches, however, they've played just twice since November 28th and they may be a little slow out of the blocks here. With just one away defeat since the beginning of October, the Blades are fancied to continue their fantastic run of form here. However, this is one of the trickiest grounds to visit and they may come unstuck here.
Recommended Bet: Back Derby Draw No Bet @ [7/5] on the Sportsbook
Fulham to ease to victory at the Cottage
Prior to Tuesday evening, Fulham had been struggling for firepower, however, the Cottagers bounced back in style at the Madejski. Marco Silva's side had scored just three times in their previous five matches, however, they confidently dispatched of Reading and notched up their second 7-0 away victory of the campaign. Fans will have been pleased to see Aleksandar Mitrovic return to form and there were also impressive performances from Harry Wilson and Kenny Tete. The hosts have struggled for goals at home in recent weeks, however, Tuesday night's performance suggested that their mid-season blip is now firmly behind them.
Bristol City managed to frustrate Fulham during their recent FA Cup tie, however, the Robins may struggle to get anything from this weekend's clash. Nigel Pearson's side won four of their first six away games, however, they've subsequently been defeated in five of their last six and have conceded 2+ goals in each of those six encounters. Only Cardiff and Peterborough have shipped more away goals and only QPR have seen a higher proportion of their matches on the road contain 3+ goals (83%).
Recommended Bet: Back Over 3.5 Goals in Fulham vs Bristol City at 2.486/4
Terriers to stifle the Swans
Huddersfield are the division's form side and the Terriers have been quietly climbing the Championship table since late November. Their improved displays have been built on defensive solidity, although the form of Sorba Thomas has also enabled them to put together an eye-catching unbeaten sequence. The Welshman's pinpoint accuracy has also helped the West Yorkshire side to become a genuine threat from set-pieces and they should be able to cause problems for the visitors this weekend. They've kept back-to-back clean sheets coming into this contest and Carlos Corberan side's are playing with plenty of confidence.
Swansea have played just two Championship matches since the beginning of December and as a result, they haven't tasted victory since November 24th. Russell Martin's side are aesthetically pleasing, however, that hasn't neccessarily translated into results. The loss of Ethan Laird is a blow, and although they asked plenty of questions of Premier League opposition in the FA Cup, they are struggling to hit the heights of mid-October. Their away form has been troublesome and they've conceded an average of 1.73 goals per game on the road so far.
Recommended Bet: Back Huddersfield to beat Swansea 2.77/4
Boro to ease to victory against hapless Reading
Chris Wilder has overseen a complete transformation at the Riverside and the upturn in form has left Boro fans genuinely believing that their side can reach the play-offs this season. They have added to their squad this week with the arrival of Folarin Balogun and Caolan Boyd-Munce and the latter is already off the mark having notched in last weekend's FA Cup victory. The Teessiders have yet to play a Championship match in January, however, they look extremely efficient and have conceded just a single goal in their last five outings.
Reading fans are beginning to nervously glance over their shoulders. The Royals are hovering precariously close to the relegation zone and their midweek 7-0 hammering at the hands of Fulham will have done little to improve the confidence amongst supporters. Although they've been stretched and hampered by injuries this season, Veljko Paunovic's side have been poor and the under-fire boss must find a way to turn things around. There is clearly a lack of confidence within the squad and this is far from an ideal fixture for the struggling visitors.
Recommended Bet: Back Middlesbrough to Win and Over 1.5 Goals @ [7/10] on the Sportsbook Bet Builder
Millwall and Nottingham Forest to exchange blows
There's not been a huge amount to say about Millwall's season so far. The Lions are roughly where we expected them to be; sitting midtable and occasionally flirting with the play-offs. Gary Rowett must be commended overseeing the club's progress and for working with a relatively small squad. However, some Lions fans have become increasingly exasperated by their side's inability to build on a lead and a number of supporters have bemoaned the fact that they sat back and invited pressure against Bristol City a fortnight ago. At home, they have suffered just two defeats and have already taken points off high-flying duo Bournemouth and Blackburn (both games ended 1-1).
Nottingham Forest may still be on a high after knocking Arsenal out of the FA Cup last weekend, however, Steve Cooper must ensure his side are fully focused on their domestic duties. The Tricky Trees have uncharacteristically fired back-to-back blanks and need to get back to winning ways in order to reignite their play-off ambitions. Their recent defeat to Middlesbrough was their first away loss mid-August and they are likely to be competitive throughout the 90 minutes. Although they have been defensively robust on the road, Millwall have netted in 91% of their home matches this season and should be able to find a way through.
Recommended Bet: Back BTTS in Millwall vs Nottingham Forest @ 2.0421/20
Posh and Coventry to share the points
Although Peterborough's struggles on the road have been relatively well-documented this season, Posh have also been incredibly tough to beat on their own patch. Darren Ferguson's side have conceded just 11 times here with only Fulham and West Brom having shipped fewer home goals so far. Although they've only kept three clean sheets so far, they have managed to take points off both Huddersfield and Bournemouth. They have added a new goalkeeper to the squad this week and although rumours of Jonson Clarke-Harris' departure have been dismissed, there is expected to be plenty of upheaval at the club over the next couple of weeks.
Coventry secured a much-needed victory in the FA Cup last weekend, however, the Sky Blues' form has been less than satisfactory in recent weeks. Mark Robins' side have failed to pick up maximum points since November 6th, although despite this, they've been priced up as the favourites for this clash. Away from home, they've netted just nine times which is fewer than struggling duo Birmingham and Reading. Nevertheless, they are unbeaten in their last four away games and have suffered just four defeats on their travels so far. The Sky Blues don't win many on the road, but they are unlikely to go down without a fight.
Recommended Bet: Back Draw in Peterborough vs Coventry @ 3.45
Low-scoring 90 minutes in West London
QPR can be pleased with their season so far and Mark Warburton has done a fantastic job in West London. January has the potential to be a testing period for the Rs with the loss of both Ilias Chair and Seny Dieng, although the latter's absence has been partially offset by the arrival of David Marshall. Curiously, they've won each of their last three away games by a 2-1 scoreline, however, they've failed to score in each of their last two matches at this stadium. Although they are generally considered to be an entertaining outfit, the home fans have been starved of drama in recent months with their last six home games containing a total of just nine goals.
West Brom have addressed their lack of cutting edge by recruiting Orlando striker Daryl Dike. The 21-year old enjoyed a prolific spell at Barnsley last season and is clearly relishing the chance to link up with Valerian Ismael once again. WBA have created numerous chances this season and their xG numbers have reflected this, however, they have failed to stick the ball in the back of the net. Their away games have been relatively low-scoring affairs with just 13 goals notched so far, and this is likely to follow suit.
Recommended Bet: Back Under 2.5 Goals in QPR vs West Brom @ 1.774/5
Points shared at Oakwell
Barnsley have become much tougher to beat under Poya Asbarghi and although they are still deeply entrenched in a relegation battle, there have been slow signs of improvement. Although their topsy-turvy FA Cup clash with League Two Barrow understandably concerned supporters, the form of Carlton Morris has given them hope. The Tykes have drawn three of their last five matches, including their last two at this venue and they will look to frustrate the visitors once again.
Blackpool picked up a much-needed victory against Hull at the beginning of the month, however, the Seasiders crashed out of the FA Cup last weekend and saw both Keshi Anderson and James Husband pick up potentially costly injuries in the process. Neil Critchley's side were the only side to complete their full set of festive fixtures and as a result, they have played far more games than the majority of the sides around them. They've lost each of their last three away from home and will be looking to avoid yet another reverse away from Bloomfield Road.
Recommended Bet: Back Draw in Barnsley vs Blackpool @ 3.39/4
You can follow Jack Critchley on Twitter @jcritch7
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