As the Championship season rolls on to a conclusion, Gabriel Sutton preview’s this weekend’s big games from the Championship Gameweek 43.
Brentford to win to nil
Derby v Brentford
Brentford overturned an early deficit in midweek when they came from behind to beat Charlton 2-1, with two goals in the final 15 minutes, extending their winning run to six games.
The Bees did not defend their penalty area as well as usual for the goal, where Ethan Pinnock was guilty of a lapse to allow the opposing striker a free header – they needed David Raya to be on his toes on another occasion in that first half too – but after five consecutive clean sheets, we can treat those two moments as anomalies rather than signs of things to come.
Thomas Frank’s side found their rhythm after the break, too, when the additions of Emiliano Marcondes and Henrik Dalsgaard lifted their game.
Marcondes, a forward by trade who has been used as a dynamic, attack-minded midfielder this term, also made a difference from the bench in the 2-0 win at Fulham in their first game back and is starting to look like an important member of the squad.
Marcondes symbolizes a key strength of Brentford, which is their players’ ability to dovetail responsibilities seamlessly.
Players who one would perceive to be very technical can do some crucial defensive work, support the press or run in behind, while players one would think are very athletic are showing great vision.
Bryan Mbuemo, for example, is primarily a quick, powerful, right-sided forward who loves to drive into goalscoring areas to curl shots with his left foot – and yet, the Frenchman also displayed the subtlety of vision against Charlton to spot one or two perfectly weighted through balls for other players to utilize their pace, which shows Frank is finding new levels in his players.
— Pontus Jansson (@PJansson5) June 30, 2020
The fluency and dynamism in this Brentford side was not evident in Derby’s display last time out at West Brom, where they looked one-paced and fell to a 2-0 defeat.
The Rams have a lot of technicians in their side, beyond Wayne Rooney: Max Bird recycles the ball well, Graeme Shinnie can play his way out of tight areas, Chris Martin can drop in to link play and even Matthew Clarke, at centre-back, is tidy on the ball.
The problem for Phillip Cocu’s side is that aside from Jayden Bogle, who gave them some attacking thrust from right-back, all of the players who could help the technicians by either pressing with energy, injecting some pace to the team or simply making bold runs into advanced areas are unproven youngsters like Morgan Whittaker, Lee Buchanan and Jason Knight.
That is partly because Martyn Waghorn is suspended – he would be pushing into goalscoring positions from the right channel to create space for others – Tom Lawrence has been a miss too while teenage talent Louis Sibley is now banned, so Cocu’s troops could look disjointed once again.
Brentford and Derby are both possession-based sides but the fundamental difference is that Brentford have the right equilibrium to their attacking play – and that could become apparent on Saturday.
Both teams to score
Blackburn v West Brom
Blackburn showed great spirit on Tuesday night to keep their Play-Off hopes alive with a 3-2 win at Cardiff.
Tony Mowbray’s side twice went behind to the Bluebirds and although they were unlucky to be trailing at the interval, they upped the tempo and intensity in the second half with Lewis Travis and Bradley Johnson pressing well from midfield.
The hero in chief for Rovers, though, was Adam Armstrong, who looked a real livewire down the left, created a gilt-edged chance for Ryan Nyambe in the first half, assisted the second equalizer and executed a delightful first-time chip to win the game.
Armstrong certainly has potential to cause problems for West Brom, although the Baggies beat Derby 2-0 last time out, thanks to goals from Grady Diangana and Dara O’Shea who, though a centre-back by trade, has taken to playing at right-back admirably.
Slaven Bilic’s side had 41% possession but, after more of an end-to-end 4-2 win over Hull previously, their victory was comparatively comfortable in nature – they took 18 shots to four and managed seven shots on target, denying their fellow Midlanders a single one.
— The Baggies Bible (@TheBaggiesBible) July 8, 2020
It was an intriguing decision from Bilic to play Grady Diangana on the right of the attacking quartet, when he has done most of his damage this season on the left, but it worked a treat: the West Ham loanee looked more inclined to break inside into goalscoring positions, as we saw for the opener.
For that goal, he latched onto a delightful through ball from Kamil Grosicki who, since the restart especially, has joined Matheus Pereira in being a key creative influence.
Although West Brom are top of the league, nine places and 21 points better off than their opponents, Rovers could be on the offensive for large periods here because they need another victory to maintain their hopes of reaching the Play-Offs.
With Pereira’s vision, Grosicki’s flair and Diangana’s pace, though, Albion can cause problems in transition.
Hull Draw No Bet
Hull v Millwall
Millwall’s Play-Off hopes took a massive hit in midweek with a 2-0 home loss to Middlesbrough.
The commonly accepted take is that the Lions, though brilliant without the ball, are not good enough in possession to reach the Play-Offs.
It’s not as if Gary Rowett has not tried to address the lack of quality on the ball, though: since the restart, he has twice started their two most technical midfielders in Shaun Williams and Ryan Woods at the expense of arguably their best, Jayson Molumby.
Fit-again attacking midfielder Ben Thompson is a fantastic talent, too, while Jed Wallace was the first Championship player this season to get into double-figures on both goals and assists.
The biggest issue for Rowett to fix this summer is the lack of width, because last time out he started a narrow front-three of target man Matt Smith, Wallace and Thompson, which meant there was more onus on the wing-backs to get forward and be productive.
Mahlon Romeo, being very athletic and direct, can do that to an extent from the right but left wing-back Murray Wallace is a centre-back by trade and does not offer anything beyond the half-way line.
Shane Ferguson can be a touch more productive in terms of deliveries but he is unlikely to break into the final third with too much intent, so this is an area Millwall will have to strengthen over the summer in order to make their 5-2-3 a better rounded system.
The Queen at Millwall today… 🤣 pic.twitter.com/dtzOnDJKUT
— The Away Fans (@theawayfans) June 30, 2020
The current issues could be problematic on Humberside, where Hull are fighting to retain their Championship safety.
The Tigers produced a spirited second-half display in Wednesday’s 2-1 loss at Bristol City, where they finished the match with double their opponents shot count and were the better side between both boxes.
Unfortunately for Grant McCann, his side displayed weak defending for Famara Diedhiou’s opener for the visitors and their finishing lacked conviction.
While neither of those problems are by any means minor, it will encourage McCann that his side are not getting too much wrong structurally and perhaps this time, they might be able to put themselves on the right side of fine margins.
Preston to win
Preston v Nottingham Forest
Nottingham Forest’s faint hopes of automatic promotion vanished after a 1-0 home loss to Fulham last time out.
Throughout the season, a lot of the Reds’ play has gone through right-siders Matty Cash and Joe Lolley – there has been a significant reliance on Cash’s driving, overlapping runs from right-back as well as Lolley’s winding runs in from the flank and sweet left foot.
As we saw on Tuesday, though, Lolley was forced off at half-time with a knock from the first half and Cash didn’t get opportunities to push on until his ally was off the field – when Cash and Lolley are not clicking simultaneously, Forest look ordinary.
The Midlanders look secure in their place in the top six, though, whereas forthcoming hosts Preston North End have work to do to get back into the Play-Off places after poor form in the second half of the season.
They kept their chances alive in the last 15 minutes of their previous game, which saw the Lilywhites overturn a one-goal deficit at Sheffield Wednesday to win 3-1.
Alex Neil has taken some criticism since the restart, but he deserves a lot of credit for his decision to play three-at-the-back at Hillsborough, as well as his substitutions.
The front-three of Brad Potts, Scott Sinclair and Jayden Stockley went riot in the final 15 minutes with the latter involved in all three goals.
— Preston North End FC (@pnefc) July 9, 2020
Stockley is known for being an aerial specialist and while he did produce a lovely flick-on and knock-down for Sinclair and Potts’ goals, he also produced a delightful, low, first-time strike into the far corner – something some would not have presumed him capable of.
This victory, combined with Cardiff’s home defeat to Blackburn and Derby’s loss at West Brom, puts North End back in business and that could significantly influence the momentum of this game.