I always enjoy this time of year. Especially when it comes to discussing football with fans of Premier League clubs.
“Oh, thank God the schedule has slowed down somewhat, I’m exhausted from all the non-stop football over the Christmas period,” says Paul from Southampton.
Absolutely none of it, pal.
The very best thing about the Championship is that, if you win it, you know you’ve won it. It’s 46 games of non-stop psychological burdening due to the sheer amount of games you have to play in that period.
And you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way. Christmas never fully ends in England’s second tier.
Let’s take a look at Friday’s night’s entertainment and turn it profitable, shall we?
Trying to explain Middlesbrough’s run of form given their early-season exploits seems an impossible task. While it seemed that Jonathan Woodgate’s defensive resolve was about as effective as his surname would be in a firestorm, that form has completely flipped on its head.
Some of the wins have been scalps, too. Winning away to Preston and to West Brom while not conceding a goal is quite something, but then they went and gave up two goals to a very goal-shy Derby County.
My explanation for this weird turn of events? Law of averages. Somewhere in the bizarre universe where Championship football has a linear, defined narrative, exists a need to restore order and never let any sides build up any sort of momentum.
Fulham keep the ball better than any side in the league. This one’s penciled in as a home win and the Boro formline will be one of the post-season’s anomalies that everyone’s stumped by.
So, the possession-based giant that are Fulham are now without their star forward in Aleksandar Mitrovic.
While he’s central to how they play, it could lend some much-needed game-time for Aboubakar Kamara to play through the middle. The biggest issue Fulham found was that teams would play high against them, and Craven Cottage’s pitch is small.
More often than not, Fulham pumped balls into the box from wide and depended on the luck of a bounce from the initial clearance. Now, with Kamara playing centrally, teams can no longer afford to play offside or they’ll be burned.
With more space to operate in in midfield, Fulham will be at their blistering best and given the severe lack of mobility in that Boro backline, he’s likely to net.
The away side will want to sit in and figure out how Fulham are going to approach this one, while Fulham will probably be asking themselves the same question.
I fancy this to be goalless at the break, but for the price, I think we’re in good shape to suggest there’ll be more goals in the second half once both teams settle into their patterns of play. There’s also normally more added time in the second half.
*Prices correct at time of publication