It’s been yet another helter-skelter season in the Championship, and we have one more set of twists and turns to look forward to on Sunday. We have five huge games - with big implications at both ends of the table - to take a look at on what should be a tense finale.
Cardiff City v Reading (12:30pm)
The mission is simple for Cardiff. Win against Reading and they’re promoted. Many predicted them to stutter in their penultimate game against free-scoring Hull last weekend, but showed they can handle the pressure when it matters, and this one should be no different.
It would take a remarkable set of results for Reading to be relegated this weekend, and with Cardiff desperate for a Premier League return, the home win looks a dead cert at 1/3. But that price isn’t going to be bet that provides you with beer funds for the Bank Holiday weekend, is it? 23/20 for the Bluebirds to win to nil is much more like it. Reading are in shocking goal scoring form, having only bagged in one of their last four games, and go into this one on the back of 3-0 and 4-0 thrashings against sides in mid-table.
Calum Paterson is the man with the goalscoring touch for Cardiff. His five goals in thirteen games is an impressive return for a defender-turned box-to-box midfielder, and he’s 15/8 to score in a Cardiff win.
For those of you who predict plenty of nerves in south Wales, then may I point you in the direction of what looks like a very interesting bet of Cardiff to win after going behind. A nervy start by the hosts could easily result in a Reading goal that would spark Neil Warnock’s side into action, and they should have more than enough to get past a shoddy away defence over 90 minutes. That bet pays out at a huge 17/2.
Birmingham v Fulham (12:30pm)
That win for Cardiff should put pay to any chances Fulham have of securing automatic promotion to the Premier League. They will probably have to settle for the play-offs, but that won’t stop them stretching their unbeaten run to an amazing 24 Championship games at St. Andrews.
Birmingham City are Fulham’s hosts, and Garry Monk’s new manager bounce has fallen flat in recent weeks. Three successive wins and clean sheets from mid-March has been followed up by a run of just one win in five and no defensive shutouts, so the Cottagers will be licking their lips at the prospect of banging a few goals in here. Fulham to score at least two in this one is 4/6 with Ladbrokes.
However, this Fulham side is one that always gives the team opportunities. Sure, their style of play is pleasing on the eye, but possession-based sides like Fulham tend to leave themselves exposed on the break at times, so over 3.5 goals at 7/4 with Paddy Power looks a decent shout if Birmingham can get in on the goal-scoring act.
Word travels fast on the last day of the season, so if Cardiff get ahead early on in their game against Reading (Cardiff are 5/1 with Coral to score inside ten minutes, by the way), then Fulham heads may well drop. Birmingham, meanwhile, need a positive result to ensure their Championship status for next season. A draw will probably do the trick, thanks to Blues’ goal difference, and the score draw likes a very juicy bet indeed at 18/5 with Coral.
Preston v Burton Albion (12:30pm)
This one is tough to call.
Preston need a win to stand any chance of getting in the play-offs, while three points for Burton would give them a great chance of survival at the other end of the Championship. One thing that can be said about North End is that they aren’t the biggest scorers in the division, which could prove vital when they’re chasing a victory in the dying moments of the season. With 55 goals in 45 games, they are among the lowest scorers in the top half of the division.
Goals aren’t exactly Burton’s forte either. A measly 24 strikes in 45 is a dismal record, so Ladbrokes’ 23/20 for under 2.5 goals in this game looks like the thinking-man’s bet.
This game is way trickier than it looks for Preston. Burton go into this one on the back of three successive Championship wins, and last week’s 2-0 victory over fellow-strugglers Bolton Wanderers capped off a fine fortnight for Nigel Clough’s side. The pressure is on for Alex Neil’s Lilywhites to start on the front foot in this one, and that may well play into the hands of a Burton side that love to soak up pressure away from home.
Depending on other results, a draw could even be enough for the Brewers, and I think they would make a great bet to get the job done. Preston away isn’t the perfect fixture to end the season for Burton, but it is by no means the toughest attack they will have come up against this season. The Burton/draw double chance is a great price at 7/5 with Paddy Power, but if you’re feeling extra-brave, get on the stalemate at 14/5 with William Hill.
Derby County v Barnsley (12:30pm)
This match-up at Pride Park sees two sides with their destiny well and truly in their own hands.
A draw for Derby means they are safely in the play-offs, while Barnsley will be safe if they can match Burton’s result at Preston. On first glance, a draw would probably suit both sides down to the ground. You can get 14/5 with Coral for this one to end all-square.
Approach this one with caution if you’re thinking about backing the Rams. Two years ago they just needed a win against struggling Reading to secure a play-off place, but capitulated to a 3-0 defeat that fits well with the choking narrative that has plagued them since their 1-0 play-off final defeat to QPR in 2014. Could the ghost of Bobby Zamora return in the form of a Barnsley victory here? 4/1 with William Hill for a south Yorkshire haunting is pretty tempting…
This game represents an intriguing clash of styles. Barnsley favour a cavalier approach with a young side that likes to get forward, while the Rams are the polar opposite. Gary Rowett’s team likes to sit back and soak up pressure before springing counter-attacks on their opposition. Those styles, plus the delicate balance this game finds itself in, you would think both teams scoring is nailed on at 8/13 with Ladbrokes.
Bolton Wanderers v Nottingham Forest (12:30pm)
Bolton have got themselves in a right mess, haven’t they?
After a run of five unbeaten games saw them pull away from the relegation places in March, you would’ve been forgiven for thinking they were on the brink of securing safety. How wrong you would’ve been. Two goals and six defeats in their last seven games has left Phil Parkinson’s side a point behind Barnsley with a much worse goal difference. Only a win will do when Nottingham Forest visit the Macron Stadium.
As far as games go where victory is a must, Nottingham Forest at home is a pretty fortunate fixture for Bolton. Forest are amongst the worst travellers in the Championship. The Reds have scored just once in their last five away games, but Bolton are by no means great goal scorers on their home patch. Wanderers have gone scoreless in each of their last three games - which all ended in defeat – so a “No” in the both to score market for this one looks a solid bet at even-money with William Hill. If you want to hedge your bets slightly, get on under 2.5 goals at 10/11 with the same bookie.
Bolton are the side with something to play for, so we’ve got to be looking at the bets that favour the home side. I fancy them to get the victory they need against a relatively blunt Forest outfit, so stick your neck out a bit and go for the value bet of a Bolton win and clean sheet double at an appetizing 21/10 with Coral.
Tip of the Day: A draw in the Derby-Barnsley game will probably do the trick for both sides’ causes on the final day, and looks a decent price at 14/5 with William Hill.
Championship Treble: £10 on Leeds, Bristol City and Fulham returns nearly £100 with Coral.