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Brentford maintained their recent good run of form with a 3-2 success over Middlesbrough last weekend and although they were held to a 1-1 draw with Leeds at Griffin Park on Tuesday, they are still in the thick of the championship promotion race.
The London club now travel north to Birmingham with the hosts showing improvement and putting daylight between themselves and the relegation zone. Three straight league victories means the Blues are certainly well on course to finish in the top half and they also remain in the FA Cup.
Former Brentford forward Scott Hogan is on loan at St Andrews from Aston Villa and he has made a cracking start, contributing a goal in each of his first three appearances. Birmingham will therefore provide stern opposition for Brentford but with the visitors using their deadly counter-attacking style to good effect on many occasions on the road, I feel they can notch another victory .
A new year has brought fresh hope for Sunderland, and the club have started to climb the table. Lynden Gooch, Charlie Wyke and Chris Maguire have all played influential roles in the revival and the Mackem’s have only suffered defeat once in their last twelve League One outings, currently finding themselves in fifth position, just five points off the summit.
The Black Cats head to Oxford on Saturday with the hosts one of the clubs still involved in the promotion race, despite slipping badly of late. United were recently challenging for the title and playing some eye-catching football, but they were arguably done no favours in the domestic cup competitions, having enjoyed long runs in both with games against Manchester City and Newcastle twice distracting them.
The loss of key players Tarique Fosu Henry and Shandon Baptiste to Brentford was also a body blow for manager Karl Robinson and results in the league dipped with just one victory from seven since the turn of the year. With so many in form clubs above them, the ‘U’s now face a battle to even make the playoffs and it’s hard to envisage they will have any joy against high flying Sunderland.
The League Two title race is also a fascinating contest with only six points separating the top four clubs. It’s hard to imagine the eventual winner not coming from that group, with current long-term leaders Swindon hanging on at the summit.
The Robins have a strong and powerful front line full of options now that they have retained Jerry Yates and Eoin Doyle, and also bought Hallam Hope from Carlisle. Over thirteen thousand witnessed the 3-1 win over promotion rivals Exeter recently and the club are within striking distance of returning to League One. They have a reasonable set of remaining fixtures and with three of their next four at the County ground will expect to remain top.
Next up, they host Scunthorpe who have endured a difficult campaign and arrive under the leadership of caretaker manager Russ Wilcox. He stepped up recently from the U23 team to take over the reins when Paul Hurst was dismissed. The Iron were expected to be challenging at the top end but preserving their league status and building for next season is now their goal. They have just two victories in their last nine league outings which doesn’t give them much hope of stopping the rampant Robins.
Spurs defeated Manchester City on home soil in their latest PL match whilst a dramatic success over Southampton in the FA Cup took them into round five. They are still chasing London rivals Chelsea for a place in the top four and have closed the gap to just four points now.
Despite the loss of star forward Harry Kane, Tottenham have seen Lucas and Son step up to fill his boots and both have played crucial recent roles. A trip to Villa Park gives them a good opportunity to keep in the race with the Midlands club battling to stay above water at the bottom. A defence that has leaked 47 top-flight goals leaves them vulnerable, and Spurs can take advantage. here.
Arsenal are battling to remain in the top half and find themselves ten points adrift of fourth-placed Chelsea. It’s very surprising the Gunners have tasted victory on only six occasions in the PL this season, and thirteen draws have really derailed their hopes. They will expect a maximum return at home to Newcastle however, although the visitors have moved clear of the relegation zone thanks to a recent unbeaten four-match run.
Victory over Oxford in the cup gives fans a fifth-round tie away at West Brom to look forward to and a good run there coupled with another season of safety in the top flight should ensure relative calm in the North East.
It’s vital that Arsenal now start to put a number of wins on the scoreboard. Three consecutive home games and a fixture list that looks relatively soft in the next six weeks, should help them quickly move towards the top six and possibly beyond.