Derby County are one of the Championship's form sides and Jack Critchley believes that the Rams can continue their upward trajectory when they host Reading on Saturday afternoon...
"Despite the extended break, Derby's recent form is fantastic, and they've managed to take 10 points from their last five matches. They've scored 11 times in the process, with only high-flying Brentford proving more prolific during this period."
Derby to record back-to-back Championship victories
Derby [2.18] v Reading [3.7]; The Draw [3.5]
Despite spending the majority of the campaign rooted in mid-table, Derby County still have an outside chance of reaching the play-offs. Although their fixture list is far from straightforward, with games against Leeds, West Brom, Brentford and Nottingham Forest on the horizon, some supporters remain quietly optimistic about their chances of gatecrashing the top six this season.
Despite the extended break, Derby's recent form is fantastic, and they've managed to take 10 points from their last five matches. They've scored 11 times in the process, with only high-flying Brentford proving more prolific during this period. Last season, Derby's form was up and down throughout the entire campaign, whereas this time around, they've undoubtedly found their form since the turn of the year. Only Wigan can match their record of 24 points from 13 games so far in 2020, and Phillip Cocu's men will be feeling confident coming into this fixture.
Although they are yet to keep a clean sheet on the road this year, they are far more secure at Pride Park and haven't conceded more than one goal in a home match since September 28th. During that period, only Millwall have left the East Midlands with maximum points, with 50% of those visiting sides also failing to find the back of the net. Although circumstances are different this time around, they should still be able to continue their fine form at this venue.
Reading are 14th and have very little left to play for this campaign. Mark Bowen has successfully managed to steer them clear of danger, and although the Welshman is not universally loved by all Royals supporters, he deserves enormous credit for making his side much tougher to beat. Despite this, they've picked up just three victories since New Year's Day and they could be in for a difficult afternoon at Pride Park.
Bowen expressed his frustration at his team's poor decision making following their 1-1 draw with Stoke at the Madejski Stadium last weekend, although they did create plenty of chances throughout the 90 minutes. They will be without Lucas Joao on Saturday, with the former Sheffield Wednesday man failing to recover from the injury he picked up seven days ago.
The Royals have been a bit of bogey team for Derby in recent seasons, however, they could struggle this time around. With Wayne Rooney dictating play and young Louie Sibley oozing with confidence, the Rams should be able to collect all three points. The hosts are [2.18] on the Exchange, and look very backable on Saturday lunchtime.
Swans to come out on top against shot-shy Hatters
Swansea [1.74] v Luton [4.9]; The Draw [3.8]
Swansea are another side who have their eyes on the coveted final play-off spot, and following last week's comfortable victory at the Riverside Stadium, they now sit just a single point behind Preston. Steve Cooper's men couldn't have asked for an easier reintroduction to Championship life as they cruised to victory in Teesside. Admittedly, they didn't have to get out of second gear at any point, and had the match sewn up by the break.
The Welsh side have used the loan market effectively this season, and the temporary acquisitions of Conor Gallagher and Rhian Brewster have certainly helped to keep them competitive in the top half. They've lost just three times since Boxing Day as well as just one of their last seven, and will fancy their chances of collecting three points on Saturday lunchtime.
The hosts will also be buoyed by the news that Kyle Naughton, Mike Van Der Hoorn, Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge have extended their contracts with the club to allow them to play until the end of July.
Luton picked up a valuable point against Preston last weekend, although they did have to wait until the 84th minute to have their first shot on target. Although they managed to remain competitive throughout the 90 minutes, this is likely to be much tougher. Nathan Jones is still adjusting to life back in Bedfordshire, and although his side can perhaps count themselves as a little lucky last weekend, they have become much tougher to break down in 2020.
With the Hatters having failed to score in eight of their 19 away matches this year, they could struggle to find a way past a Swansea outfit who have sixth best home defence in the division. In-form Derby are the only side to have won at this ground since late-November, and I don't anticipate Jones' men adding their name to that exclusive list here.
Swansea are [1.74] on the Exchange, however, we can push this out to Evens by backing the Swans to win with over 1.5 match goals on the Sportsbook.
Wigan to put on another defensive masterclass
Wigan [2.78] v Blackburn [2.86]; The Draw [3.3]
Wigan sit top of the Championship form table, and although Paul Cook's men aren't completely clear of danger just yet, a couple more wins should be enough to preserve their second tier status. The Latics have kept five consecutive clean sheets, and looked extremely confident at the John Smith's Stadium last weekend. With six first team regulars still on the sidelines, they are only likely to get stronger over the next couple of weeks.
Their defensive solidity is admirable, and on average this season, they've given up an XG of just 1.28, which is less than high-flying duo West Brom and Fulham. Cardiff were the last side to breach the Latics rearguard back on February 15th, and Blackburn could find it tough to break down a back four which is likely to be expertly marshalled by Cedric Kipre.
Blackburn were the only home side to collect maximum points last Saturday, and Rovers' play-off ambitions remain firmly on track. Tony Mowbray's side are fairly tough to beat and have plenty of good young players in their squad. Although Bradley Dack is still a couple of months away from a return, the form of Ben Brereton and Adam Armstrong have helped Rovers remain efficient in the final third. The play-off hopefuls are the fifth highest scorers in the Championship and have only failed to hit the target on three occasions away from home this campaign and they will be confident of finding a way past their fellow north westerners on Saturday afternoon.
Using the Sportsbook Same Game Multi, we can get Wigan or Draw Double Chance and Under 2.5 Goals at around 6/5. This would have landed in five of the Latic's last nine home games and in four of their last five overall.
You can follow Jack Critchley on Twitter @jcritch7
Derby vs Reading - Derby Win @ [2.18] (Exchange)
Swansea vs Luton - Swansea Win and Over 1.5 Match Goals @ Evens (Sportsbook)
Wigan vs Blackburn - Wigan Win or Draw (Double Chance) and Under 2.5 Match Goals @ 6/5 (Sportsbook Same Game Multi)