It’s a bit of an odd weekend in the nPower Championship: there are only four league games, six clubs are involved in cup ties and ten sides have the weekend off, which might be an advantage considering there’s a full programme next Tuesday.
Three of the four games will affect both ends of the table – QPR’s lead is back to five points after they beat Coventry City for the second time in a month, but as Norwich are the only other side in top six to have a game this weekend, the Canaries have an opportunity to close that gap. Possibly the most significant results in the last week were Nottingham Forest’s wins over Derby and Bristol City – they’re now in fifth place with at least one game in hand over the other sides in the top six – and Cardiff’s entertaining 4-2 win over Watford.
The weekend fixtures start on Friday night when Barnsley travel to Millwall for the first time in nearly a decade. The Tykes picked up their first away win since November when a brace by new signing Danny Haynes enabled them to win at Doncaster for the third consecutive season; the Lions have won their last four league games at the New Den and will be looking to continue that record in order to keep up with teams ahead of them.
Hull host QPR on Saturday afternoon and although the Tigers haven’t lost at home to Queens Park Rangers since 1970, this game has low scoring draw written all over it. Norwich’s trip to Crystal Palace may not be as straightforward as it looks: the hosts have won seven of the last ten league games at Selhurst Park, but the Canaries have won three of their four away games at the current bottom six and the incentive of an automatic promotion spot could tip the balance in their favour.
Game of the week is Scunthorpe v Preston. Both teams earned a valuable point last weekend: the Iron drew at home to Burnley and kept a clean sheet at Glanford Park for the first time since September and yet another late equaliser – this time from Billy Jones – helped Preston nick at a point at the Riverside. However the form book doesn’t favour Preston: the Lillywhites haven’t won at Scunthorpe since Feb 96 and the hosts have only lost once in their five games against the bottom six this season.
It’s a shame to relegate the FA Cup to a footnote, but apart from the once in a lifetime opportunity to see Leyton Orient play in a game with Welsh commentary (S4C’s ‘Sgorio’ show is showing their game against Swansea at 12:50pm on Saturday) the only real interest in this season’s competition is guessing which team will get the furthest.
On paper, Burnley, Reading and Swansea look as if they have the best chance but they’re all playing teams from lower divisions who were supposed to have been cannon fodder in the third round. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of team Alex McLeish selects for Coventry’s visit to Birmingham: having reached the Carling Cup final on Wednesday evening, the Blues might decide that Premiership survival is a priority. The most competitive tie looks as if it’s Brighton’s trip to Watford, but I think the best chance of an upset could be if Nottm Forest can stop West Ham winning on Sunday afternoon as the Hammers won’t relish a replay at the City Ground.
The only big move in the transfer market so far this week is Kris Commons’ move from Derby to Celtic – the striker was out of contract at the end and was joint third in the goal scoring table before his departure with 13 goals, nine goals more than Tomasz Cywka. Presumably Nigel Clough will be signing a striker to replace Commons, but if he can find another player who can score exactly one third of Derby’s goals he’ll be doing well!