The Championship makes its long-awaited return after more than three months away and there are some absolute crackers coming up on Saturday. With no competitive fixtures for more than 100 days, and hardly any friendlies in the interim, you might as well throw the form book out the window for this weekend.
Instead, it is better to focus on which clubs stand to benefit from an elongated break and which clubs have been able to bring previously injured players back to match fitness during the COVID-19 pandemic. With that in mind, here are some of our tips for the first fixtures of the rescheduled Championship campaign.
If any club desperately needed a three-month break from football, it was Hull City. The Tigers had not won any of their last 11 games before the season was halted and lost their last four. That run, precipitated by the loss of Jarrod Bowen in January, has seen them slip to 21st in the table, just two points ahead of Saturday’s opponents Charlton.
Hull have lost club captain Eric Lichaj and vice-captain Jackson Irvine over the three-month period but it’s hard to tell whether that’s much of a loss based off their recent performances and the Tigers’ have been able to nurse a number of key defenders back to fitness during the break.
Charlton, meanwhile, have had to contend with unsettling rumours that manager Lee Bowyer may depart the club to take the Birmingham job and, while they would have fancied their chances of winning back in March, it may be a different story now.
Like Hull, the three-month hiatus couldn’t have come quickly enough for Nottingham Forest. The promotion-chasing Reds had won just one of their last six games and had been embarrassed at home by Millwall in the last game before the break.
With a trip to a Sheffield Wednesday side that had trounced them 4-0 at the City Ground on the horizon, things were threatening to unravel for Sabri Lamouchi’s side, but the break has afforded them the chance to regroup and make a final assault on the league summit.
Automatic promotion looks highly unlikely and the battle for Forest now centres around securing a play-off spot. They need to beat the likes of 15th-placed Sheffield Wednesday if they want to secure a top-six place and they should approach Saturday’s game with fresh energy and vigour.
Depending on the result in the Fulham v Brentford game earlier in the day, West Brom can take a giant stride towards returning to the Premier League with victory over Birmingham.
Birmingham have endured a particularly turbulent break, with the club hunting for a new manager and preparing for a misconduct hearing in recent weeks. Although City avoided a second points deduction in two seasons, the distraction can’t have helped players and staff prepare for the return of Championship football.
West Brom, on the other hand, should be champing at the bit. The Baggies can leapfrog Leeds at the top of the table with a win on Saturday and put pressure on their title rivals ahead of a tricky trip to Cardiff on Sunday.
Relegation-threatened Luton were one club that could have done without the break. Their 11 points from six games in February and March more closely resembled the form of a promotion-chasing side than it did a side currently sitting in 23rd and they could have done without losing that momentum.
They would have additionally fancied their chances of beating a Preston side that had lost each of their last three games and were nervously looking over their shoulder at a cluster of teams just outside the play-offs.
Now, however, Preston have had time to compose themselves, while Luton have been stripped of a home backing for what is a crucial game. It could be a massive win for Preston’s play-off hopes.
All four of these selections in an acca comes in at just over 17/1 with Paddy Power.