There’s no doubt that the eyes of the football world will be on the Champions League this week, but there are two massive games at the top and bottom of the Championship that can go a long way towards settling the promotion and relegation battles in England’s second tier.
Hull have taken advantage of Middlesbrough’s blip in form to storm clear at the top of the table, and they will be aiming to stretch that lead when they welcome Brighton to the KC Stadium. The Seagulls led the way for a long time in the Championship after a record-breaking unbeaten run, but they hit a wall in December and embarked on an eight-game winless streak. They’re back in business now after four wins in a row, and Chris Hughton’s men are suddenly only three points behind Hull at the top. In fact, there are just eight points separating the top six, and this league title looks set to go to the wire.
At the opposite end of the table not many would have predicted a Blackburn v Fulham fixture to be a relegation six-pointer, but that is exactly how it’s turned out ahead of Tuesday night’s encounter. Rover’s run of just one win in the last ten league games has seen them slip to 19th in the table just five points above the drop zone. Fulham meanwhile, have had a torrid season which has seen them struggle to keep their heads above water and they occupy 18th position, just one place and one point above Blackburn. With the bottom three far too close for comfort, this is a huge fixture for both teams as they look to claw their way to safety.
Hull v Brighton
We’ll start with Hull, who are beginning to show the quality that kept them in the Premier League previously, and at -115 with BetVictor are a good bet to get the better of a resurgent Brighton.
The Tigers have always been there or thereabouts in this season’s promotion battle, but while Brighton and Middlesbrough have looked capable of running away with it at times, it’s Steve Bruce’s men who have timed their run to perfection to lead the way as we enter the business end of the campaign. They’ve won seven of the last eight games, with five league victories and FA Cup wins over Bury and Tuesday’s opponents Brighton. The only blip was a 1-0 away defeat at Burnley – another side who are right up there challenging at the top. They also have the best home record in the division with 11 wins from 14 games in front of their own fans, and a very impressive goal difference of 30-6.
Brighton’s capitulation over the Christmas period came as something of a surprise after playing with such consistency up to that point, and the run of eight without a win (5 defeats, 3 draws) saw them bow out of the FA Cup and drop away from the top of the table. However, a 1-0 win away at Blackburn saw the tide turn and they’ve racked up a four-game winning streak with consecutive victories against Huddersfield, Brentford and Bolton. It’s been an impressive return to form but it should be noted that three of those rivals are struggling near the foot of the table, while Brentford have been woefully out of form in recent weeks. Hull are a very different proposition and will test Brighton’s new-found confidence to the full. One of the under-pinning virtues of Brighton’s early-season form was their resilience on the road, and although they’ve drawn 9 of the 14 matches they’ve played on their travels, they’ve only been beaten once away from the south coast – a 2-0 loss at Rotherham in January.
This promises to be a hard-fought game, but Hull’s home record and their Premier League quality should just tip the balance in their favour.
Blackburn v Fulham
Blackburn v Fulham was a Premier League fixture not so long ago, and few would have predicted that both would be fighting to avoid the drop to League One in 2016. However, that is how it’s panned out and both teams will view this game as one of the most important so far this term. With both likely to go in search of three points Over 2.5 goals looks a very fair bet at +115 with William Hill, BetVictor and Coral
Blackburn boss Paul Lambert has warned his players that their failure to win in the last nine has drawn them into a relegation battle, and Saturday’s 2-0 home defeat to Hull has left them nervously looking over their shoulders. They still have a five-point cushion over Rotherham in 22nd place, and the two games in hand they have over most of their rivals could be crucial. One of those games is on Tuesday night against Fulham, and Lambert will be asking his players to cement just their fourth win in 14 home games this season. Prior to the weekend defeat they had at least put together a run of two cup wins and two league draws, and Fulham are by no means in the same class as the Tigers.
The Cottagers were an outside tip on this website for relegation, and that outcome is looking more and more likely as they continue to struggle to put together any kind of consistent run. The 3-1 victory at west London rivals QPR was a huge boost at the weekend though, and that should have lifted the spirits around Craven Cottage. It was still just their 2nd win in 16 Championship games though, and there’s no evidence to suggest they will suddenly go on a winning run now. Goals have been the key issue this season and they’ve failed to keep a clean sheet in all of those 16 games. On the plus side they look very dangerous at the other end, and the 47 goals they’ve scored is the divisions joint-third best record.
Three of the last four meetings between these two have had three or more goals, so better than even odds on a repeat is decent value.
Hull to beat Brighton
Tuesday 16th February, 19:45 GMT
Blackburn v Fulham Over 2.5 goals
Tuesday 16th February, 19:45 GMT
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