Derby County will be doubly determined to stay top of the Championship table when they visit Leeds United tomorrow night (19:45) as the final round of Football League fixtures for the calendar year kick-off.
Paul Clement’s Rams, who lead Middlesbrough by a single point at the summit following their rivals’ postponement on Boxing Day, are eager to carry their winning momentum into the New Year as Boro have a game in hand.
After comfortably defeating Fulham 2-0 at the iPro Stadium on Saturday; the league leaders head north to Yorkshire to take on Leeds, who salvaged a late 1-1 draw at Nottingham Forest yesterday thanks to Sam Byram’s fine effort ten minutes from time.
Having won five of their previous seven league outings; Derby will be favourites to snatch all three points at Elland Road, although Steve Evans’ Whites haven’t suffered a home defeat since his former club Rotherham United visited on November 21.
Runners-up Middlesbrough will be raring to go after their involuntary day off on Boxing Day; with Aitor Karanka’s men playing host to play-off hopefuls Sheffield Wednesday this evening (17:15).
The home side are in a rich vein of form having won five of their last six Championship fixtures, but more impressively they haven’t conceded a single league goal in over 547 minutes of play after six successive clean sheets.
The visiting Owls; who currently sit one point outside the top six in seventh spot, will test their resolve at the Riverside Stadium having defeated Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-1) and Birmingham City (3-0) convincingly in their previous festive fixtures.
Fellow automatic promotion hopefuls Hull City travel to newly-promoted Preston North End with the opportunity to climb back into the top two should they seal a large win over Simon Grayson’s side at Deepdale.
The hosts sit just four points above the bottom three after losing to Leeds and Huddersfield Town either side of Christmas Day, with no other team in the division scoring fewer home goals than Preston this campaign (8).
Meanwhile the Tigers have won their last three league encounters with the Lilywhites without conceding a goal, although they have never won four on the bounce against this afternoon’s opponents.
Former league leaders Brighton and Hove Albion will be hoping to halt their winless streak at the fifth time of asking when they come up against in-form Ipswich Town at the Amex Stadium on Tuesday night.
Three stalemates and one defeat in their last four outings has seen Chris Hughton’s side slump to fourth in the standings, with the Seagulls desperate to revive their home supporter’s faith in their promotion bid this season with a first win since December 5 (vs Charlton Athletic) on the south-coast.
However the Tractor Boys will be no pushovers tomorrow evening as Mick McCarthy’s men lie just seven points behind Brighton in sixth following a run of three victories in their last four league games, including Boxing Day’s last-gasp 2-1 win over Queens Park Rangers thanks to Luke Chambers’ injury-time header.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s men will be hoping to bounce back immediately after that setback on Saturday by climbing into the top-half of the table with victory over lowly Huddersfield this afternoon.
Ipswich’s snatch and grab win two days ago grounded QPR’s unbeaten streak of five league fixtures, although the Loftus Road outfit have been triumphant in four of the past five league contests with the Terriers, drawing the other.
If history is anything to go by; all signs point towards a home win as Huddersfield have never beaten QPR at their home ground (D2 L9) and have lost each of their past three visits there.
Meanwhile at the very bottom of the standings; Bolton Wanderers host Blackburn Rovers at the Macron Stadium, with the hosts desperate to toast a league win for the first time since September 12 (vs Wolves).
However Neil Lennon’s side have failed to score in their past two league meetings with Rovers and have only managed to draw eight of their 11 home fixtures this campaign, losing twice.
Although Paul Lambert’s visitors have lost each of their past five league trips to Bolton; their recent away record in the Championship, which includes three wins in their last five outings (D1 L1), suggests the momentum might be about to turn as Bolton continue to severely struggle at the foot of the standings, already seven points adrift of safety.
Second-bottom Charlton are at home to mid-table outfit Wolves this afternoon, with victory likely to be enough to lift the Addicks out of the bottom three in time for New Year’s Day.
But Karel Fraeye’s home side have tasted victory just once in their last nine league games against Wolves and have won just once in their last nine outings at the Valley this term (D4 L4).
Kenny Jackett’s men; who were thumped 4-1 by Sheffield Wednesday during their last away trip, redeemed themselves on Boxing Day with a fine 1-0 win over Reading, although Wolves still only sit 16th in the standings, closer to the drop zone (7 points) than the play-off places (9 points).
The last team heading into 2015’s final fixture in the bottom three is newly-promoted Bristol City, who are this afternoon’s guests at play-off chasing Burnley after back-to-back stalemates in the Championship.
The Clarets, who have won each of their past three league games with City, suffered their third defeat in five games after a thoroughly mauling to the hands of third-placed Hull on Boxing Day.
However Sean Dyche’s Burnley should keep hold of their play-off spot given the fact that the Robins are winless in their last four trips to Turf Moor, drawing twice and losing two, and Steve Cotterill’s side have failed to find the back of the net in four of their last five away games.
Birmingham City could move back to within a point of the top-six, if other results go their way, and of course they seal victory over Milton Keynes Dons at St Andrew’s today.
Saturday’s demoralising 3-0 loss to Sheffield Wednesday saw Gary Rowett’s men lose ground on the play-off chasing pack, although the Blues won the only previous league meeting between the two back in August, with strikes from Stephen Gleeson and Jacques Maghoma sealing a comfortable 2-0 away victory.
There is even more concern for Karl Robinson’s MK Dons, who pulled themselves a point clear of the relegation zone on Boxing Day due to Josh Murphy’s stoppage-time winner against Cardiff City (2-1), as they have not won away from home since the opening day of the season at Rotherham United.
The Millers themselves could move level on points with tomorrow’s opponents Fulham if they snatch victory at Craven Cottage.
Stuart Gray’s hosts are currently unbeaten in six league encounters with Rotherham; winning three and drawing three, although the Cottagers have kept just one clean sheet at home all season, the lowest total of any other Championship club.
Neil Redfearn’s visitors, who hover perilously above the dreaded dotted line due to their marginal better goal difference than Bristol City, have not scored on their travels since their 1-0 victory at Leeds back on November 21.
Reading and Brentford, 11th and ninth in the table respectively, will be looking to make further ground on the play-off pack when both sides collide at the Madejski Stadium this afternoon.
The Royals have lost back-to-back home league games against the Bees, 0-2 and 1-2, although they have never lost three on the bounce against today’s opponents in the Football League.
The away side’s only defeat in this fixture came back in August this year, when Reading striker Nick Blackman scored twice at Griffin Park to spearhead the Royal’s terrific 3-1 away victory.
And finally; Cardiff City will be determined to prove their play-off credentials to their home supporters tomorrow night when they take on Nottingham Forest after squandering the chance to move into the top six following back-to-back defeats either side of Christmas Day.
One-goal margin losses to Birmingham and MK Dons in their last two outings have seen Russell Slade’s Bluebirds drift four points below the play-off zone, although the hosts will be thankful of returning to the Cardiff City Stadium tomorrow as they haven’t suffered a league defeat on their own turf since September 15 (vs Hull).
Yesterday’s 1-1 draw at home to Leeds was a disappointment for Dougie Freedman’s men having taken the lead through Nelson Oliveira’s 17th minute opener, but the stalemate did extend Forest’s unbeaten run to six games, a positive patch of form that boasts three victories after moving up to 13th in the table.