Saturday, February 15
Sky Bet Championship
Birmingham City v Brentford – St Andrews
Promotion-chasing Brentford will face a tough examination of their credentials when they head to in-form Birmingham City on Saturday.
The Bees remain nicely placed following a midweek draw with Leeds United at Griffin Park. However, they face a resurgent Blues outfit who have won three on the bounce, with striker Scott Hogan – on loan from chief-rivals, Aston Villa – netting three in as many matches.
Speaking to BBC Radio London after that midweek stalemate, Brentford chief, Thomas Frank, explained: “It was a fair result, a very even game with very few chances, unbelievably intense, in terms of the duels, the high pressure at both ends.
“I should have done the substitutions 10 minutes earlier, but it’s always easier to think about that afterwards. I’m a big believer in the two new signings from Oxford [Shandon Baptiste and Tariq Fosu] but it was such an intense game and different to other Championship games. Not that they’re not intense, but it’s about the style of play from Leeds.
“I think we went toe-to-toe. It was an even game, I’d have liked us to have more of the ball and be better on the ball, but we weren’t today.”
Charlton Athletic v Blackburn Rovers – The Valley
Charlton will be brimming with confidence for the visit of Blackburn Rovers after a Lyle Taylor’s first-half strike was enough to see off high-flying Nottingham Forest at the City Ground during the week.
The goals ended the ‘Addicks run of twelve matches without an away win. “Saturday after the Stoke defeat I said – that won’t happen again,” boss Lee Bowyer told BBC Radio London.
“I know the group I have and that wasn’t like us but tonight was the way we can play.
“From start to finish we were better than them, they created the odd chance here and there but they’re a good side. Not many teams have taken four points from Forest this season, let alone come here and got three. It should have been more [goals], we should have won by more.
“We’ve been in every game away from home except the weekend just gone. We’re now three points nearer to the target of staying up that we need. People wrote us off and said we’ll go down, but I believe in this group of players and they keep fighting and I keep pushing them. With our fans behind us, we’ve got a good group here.”
Charlton faces a Rovers side heading to the capital off the back of a comfortable 3-0 victory over Hull City at Ewood Park. The East Lancashire side are currently three points outside the play-off places, having won three of their last five league outings.
Fulham v Barnsley – Craven Cottage
Fulham go again after missing a midweek opportunity to move into the automatic promotion places following a controversial draw at Millwall.
Aleksandar Mitrovic’s early goal was cancelled out by Dadi Bodvarsson’s suspiciously looking off-side strike. Nevertheless, the Lions certainly deserved their share of the spoils.
Speaking to BBC Radio London, Cottagers boss, Scott Parker, explained: “We found it quite difficult in the first half; we didn’t really put our mark on the game.
“I think their goal is clearly offside and after that, it just felt like that moment rattled us a little bit.
“It is what it is. I wouldn’t have thought you would need VAR for that decision tonight.
“I’ve just seen it back, I just honestly don’t understand. We can’t dwell on that.
“We hit the bar, we huffed and puffed and it didn’t go our way at times.”
Fulham now face a Barnsley side nine points adrift at the bottom following their defeat to Birmingham.
Preston North End v Millwall – Deepdale
Millwall faces a huge challenge at in-form play-off contenders, Preston. However, the Lions will have taken heart from a gutsy display against capital rivals, Fulham, on Wednesday evening.
Boss, Gary Rowett, offered BBC Radio London and honest assessment from that encounter with the Cottagers, particularly over the Lion’s controversial equaliser from Dadi Bodvarsson, which appeared to have been plundered from an off-side position.
“I watched it again and it’s so difficult. If the linesman flags straight away, we can all debate it and then he’s probably going to give offside because of that initial reaction,” Rowett explained.
“But when you watch it back, you just can’t tell who’s touched it and if you can’t tell who’s touched it, you can’t be sure it’s offside.
“It’s such a difficult one and I don’t know the answer. I don’t know, genuinely, but I was pleased with our reaction.”
Host’s Preston won 2-0 at Stoke during the week. They currently occupy sixth place, just three points off the automatic promotion places.
Queen’s Park Rangers v Stoke City – The Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium
Rangers will be looking to put further daylight between themselves and the bottom three when Stoke City head to Loftus Road.
The R’s ended a run of three successive defeats with a goalless draw at Swansea on Tuesday evening, leaving boss, Mark Warburton, with mixed feelings: “We’ve come to a tough venue against a very good opponent, restricted them to no shots on target, dominated long periods of the game, had numerous chances ourselves and you’ve got to get a clean sheet,” he told BBC Radio London
“But we’re leaving here with a sense of disappointment that we didn’t get all three points.
“All credit to the players, they looked strong they looked solid, the unity was there, they defended the goal well with passion, moved the ball forward quickly.
“I thought we looked very good at times, but it’s about putting the ball in the back of the net.”
Stoke – under the management of one-time R’s player, Michael O’Neil – are currently one place above the relegation zone. However, their form has picked up under the Northern Irishman, with three wins and a draw from their last six suggesting they will be a tough nut to crack.
Sky Bet League One
Rotherham United v AFC Wimbledon – New York Stadium
Glyn Hodges has called for more of the same when his AFC Wimbledon side head to top of the table Rotherham United.
The Dons played out a hard-fought goalless draw with Ipswich Town at the Kingsmeadow Stadium on Tuesday, leaving the boss in little doubt they would have to replicate something similar to get anything from the long trip to Yorkshire.
“We showed character and resilience,” he told www.afcwimbledon.co.uk.
“To a man, they worked their socks off. The subs came on and made a contribution, everyone fought and stood up to it. There were some top performances. Though it wasn’t one for the purists, it was a more satisfying game because it was like a war of attrition.
“We are showing signs that we can play our football, that we can match teams with our play, as we have some good players.
“This was another sign that we can mix it up, it was a physical battle and we are probably going to have something similar on Saturday with Rotherham.
“We just have to stand up, show that character and resilience again, stick together as a team, and hopefully, we’ve got enough.”
Rotherham have won three on the bounce and head the table by a point from Peterborough. Meanwhile, Wimbledon are currently one place and six points above the dropzone in twentieth.
Sky Bet League Two
Cheltenham Town v Leyton Orient – Whaddon Road
Improving Leyton Orient have tasted defeat just once in their last six league outings. However, they face a stiff test against play-off hopefuls, Cheltenham Town at Whaddon Road.
Cheltenham currently occupies seventh place. Ruben Reid’s goal enough to see off Carlisle United at Brunton Park last time out. Nevertheless, O’s boss, Ross Embleton admitted he was surprised by the consistency of the Gloucestershire outfit but was clearly full of admiration for Michael Duff’s side.
“Very much so and I’ll be totally honest, I didn’t expect to see that when we played them at the start of the season,” Embleton told www.leytonorient.com.
“Incredible amount of respect for the way they have gone about it this season. They’ve really grabbed hold of the opportunity this year and made a really good impression.”
Sunday, February 16
Aston Villa v Tottenham Hotspur – Villa Park
Tottenham head to the West Midlands looking to record their third successive Premier League victory and close the gap on those occupying the top four places.
Jose Mourinho’s side could be boosted by the return of Welsh international defender, Ben Davies, who has been out since November with ankle ligament damage following an innocuous coming together with West Ham’s Michail Antonio.
Speaking to www.tottenhamhotspur.com after training on Wednesday, Davies said: “I feel good.
“It’s been a tough one, difficult not to be involved but look, it happens in football, and you have to be ready when you come back.
“I want to be part of the group but unfortunately in that first game against West Ham I had that taken away from me. I feel ready now and I can’t wait to get back out there.”
Host’s Aston Villa have one eye on the Carabao Cup final. However, they currently sit precariously above the relegation zone by a single place and a point after winning just one of their last four league matches.
Arsenal v Newcastle United – The Emirates Stadium
Arsenal return to action following their mid-season break to Dubai and Spanish fullback, Hector Bellerin explained the benefits of the Gunners ‘warm-weather’ training trip.
“For us, it’s very important that, when you’ve had so many games, to have a break like this to recharge our batteries and also have some team bonding,” the 24-year-old told www.arsenal.com.
“Everything about it is really positive, I’m happy and all the boys are really happy as well. After the staff came in it’s also a chance to get together, not just with the people you play with, but with the people you work with every single day. Overall it’s been very good.
“We’re very grateful that Emirates arranged for us to come here and have these amazing facilities. This is the second time I’ve come here and last time I came I was going through my rehab, and they made it really easy for me to get better. It is also great to train with this great weather and with people around us, and everything is taking place for us.
“It’s not a holiday, we’ve come to work and they’ve made it very good for us to be here and also to enjoy our time.”
The Gunners have drawn each of their last four league matches and are currently floundering in tenth place. They face a Newcastle side, two places below them on goal difference, who have largely impressed under the guidance of Steve Bruce.
Monday, February 17
Chelsea v Manchester United – Stamford Bridge
Chelsea skipper, Cesar Azpilicueta, offered an insight as to how the Blues would utilise the winter break ahead of a return to action against Manchester United at Stamford Bridge.
Speaking to www.chelseafc.com, the Spaniard explained: “At the top level you need a high level of fitness, but also on the mental side you need to be focused and concentrated.
“With this break, we have the chance to switch off for a few days and get some fresh air. Then we will come back, do some work, and kick on for the last three or four months of competition with the power of the break behind us.”
The break has allowed time for some of Frank Lampard’s injury-hit squad to recover with both Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Christian Pulisic back in contention. Meanwhile, Lampard could stick with goalkeeper, Willy Caballero, after Kepa Arrizabalaga – the World’s most expensive stopper – was dropped for the draw at Leicester City last time out.