Championship expert Jack Critchley believes that Swansea can reaffirm their play-off credentials this weekend when they host struggling Derby...
"Prior to last weekend, Derby's home form had been fairly respectable, however, they've been largely inept on their travels this season. Only four teams have collected fewer points on the road this campaign, with the East Midlands club having notched just 15 times on the road so far"
Swans' firepower to cause problems for the Rams
Although Rotherham's midweek defeat to Brentford has given them a little extra breathing space at the bottom of the Championship table, Derby are still fighting for their lives. Colin Kazim-Richards gave the hosts the lead at Pride Park last weekend, however, a couple of defensive lapses allowed towering striker Lukas Jutkiewicz to condemn the Rams to a fifth consecutive defeat.
Prior to last weekend, Derby's home form has been fairly respectable, however, they've been largely inept on their travels this season. Only four teams have collected fewer points on the road this campaign, with the East Midlands club having notched just 15 times on the road so far. Although they've conceded far fewer away goals than Huddersfield, Wycombe and Sheffield Wednesday, their lack of potency remains a significant concern.
Wayne Rooney is struggling to get the best out of his squad, although injuries and suspensions haven't helped matters. Fans have complained about the club's 'lack of identity' under the former Everton striker, and although it's far too late in the day to undergo a major stylistic overhaul, the inexperienced coach must find a way to drag the Rams across the finishing line.
Rooney opted to take his players to South Wales for a few extra days in order to help them acclimatise to their surroundings. Team bonding and additional training sessions appear to be on the menu, and a change of scene may just help to lift the malaise which has been hanging over the squad since mid-February.
Across the last four matches, Derby have averaged an xG of just 0.80 per game and creating chances has become a major issue for the shot-shy Rams. Notwithstanding Tom Lawrence's penchant for a speculative effort, very few of their players are showing an appetite for shooting, with the likes of Jason Knight, Max Bird and Kamil Jozwiak all displaying moments of hesitancy when finding themselves in promising positions.
Swansea confirmed their place in the Championship play-offs following Sunday's 2-2 with Reading at the Madejski. Steve Cooper's side have won just two of their last nine matches, however, they'd accumulated more than enough points during the first half of the campaign to cement a place in the top six. The Welsh side will be looking to take some momentum into the play-offs, and they still have the potential to finish third or fourth in the table
Andre Ayew wasn't expected to play last weekend, however, the striker put in a superb performance and was involved in all of Swansea's best moments. Cooper's squad isn't the largest, and he is unlikely to rotate ahead of this contest. Their form is far from inspiring, however, they have scored 2+ in four of their last five matches. With the Rams having conceded eight times in their last three away fixtures, backing Over 1.5 Swansea goals at 31/20 on the Sportsbook appears to be the best option.
Bees and Hornets to cancel one another out
Watford have secured promotion back to the Premier League at the first time asking, and although he is blessed with a hugely talented squad, Xisco Munoz must take enormous credit for turning things around in Hertfordshire. Although Norwich are expected to clinch the Championship title, there is still an outside chance that Watford could pip them to top spot next weekend.
Their success has been built on extremely solid foundations and they have conceded just 28 times in their opening 44 matches. They are exceptionally well-organised and the partnership of William Troost-Ekong and Francisco Sierralta has flourished during the second half of the campaign. They've been breached just twice in their last seven outings and curiously, both goals have been scored in the 78th minute.
However, at the other end of the field, the club possess enough quality to hurt the opposition, with the likes of Ismaila Sarr and Joao Pedro providing some much-needed firepower. Midfielders Tom Cleverley and Will Hughes have also benefited from the recent formation change, with Dan Gosling also providing some Championship know-how in the centre of the park. Andre Gray has shown some flashes of quality from the bench recently and he may have done enough to earn a start this weekend.
The Hornets have done the double over leaders Norwich this season, and they also held this weekend's opposition to a 1-1 at Vicarage Road in mid-December. They are extremely tough to beat, and despite having already clinched promotion, they are unlikely to take their foot off the gas here.
Brentford will compete in the play-offs for the second successive season, and Thomas Frank will be hoping to take some momentum into the end-of-season showdown. The Bees have been difficult to beat all season, and have lost just one of their last 13 matches. Although the goals have dried up, they are extremely tough to breach and despite having played seven times in April, only Huddersfield and Cardiff have managed to find a way past David Raya.
Last weekend's 1-0 victory over in-form Bournemouth was a significant step forward for the West Londoners, and fans will be pleased to see Bryan Mbeumo back amongst the goals. The Frenchman set extremely high standards last season, and although he's largely failed to live up to them this time around, he's now netted three times in his last five appearances.
Both of these teams are unlikely to give much away, and they've lost just 15 times between them this season. The pair played out a 1-1 draw earlier in the campaign and it wouldn't be a surprise to see a similar outcome here. It is 3.259/4 to end all-square on Saturday afternoon and that appears to be the best option.
Stoke's winless run to continue
Stoke are firmly entrenched in midtable, however, their current form is extremely worrying. Since the turn of the year, the Potters have picked up just five victories, and have netted just 22 times. Micheal O'Neill has struggled to unlock his side's attacking potential, and the absence of Nick Powell has further hindered their progress in the final third.
Admittedly, the Staffordshire side have scored three times in their last two matches, however, they've failed to pick up maximum points since the beginning of April and fans will be hoping that the Northern Irishman is allowed to boost his striking options this summer.
O'Neill still has plenty of credit in the bank and helped the club avoid a potentially embarrassing relegation at the end of last season, however, he's struggled to take them to the next level and if he makes a slow start to the 2021-22 campaign, goodwill is likely to be in short supply.
The hosts have a 9-5-8 record at this ground, however, they've failed to win any of their last three home matches, and they have been far from aesthetically pleasing during the second half of the campaign. Although Tyrese Campbell's season-ending injury proved to be a pivotal moment, O'Neill should have had enough resources at his disposal to manage without the lively striker and he has struggled to find a way to replace the 21-year old's goals.
QPR have enjoyed a tremendous 2021 and they have the fourth best form in the division since New Year's Day. Mark Warburton continues to outline the importance of ending the season strongly and his side appear to be firing on all cylinders. Although they were defeated by high-flying Norwich last weekend, they missed a penalty and created numerous chances against Premier League-bound opposition. Lyndon Dykes has been in superb form and he's already netted six times in April.
The visitors have moved into the top half of the table, and fans are likely to be feeling optimistic ahead of next year. Although a number of loan players may not be retained this summer, Warburton has created a blueprint of how he wants his side to play, and they should be able to pick up another three points this weekend. QPR are 3.052/1 on the Exchange and look worth backing on current form.
You can follow Jack Critchley on Twitter @jcritch7