[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s the Championship enters its fourth weekend, it is already shaping up to be just as close and intriguing as last season when the title, play-off spots and relegation places all went down to the wire in a climatic ending. The quality of football continues to improve on an annual basis, with a number of eye-catching deals across the board making the division even more difficult to call. It has transformed into a league where any team can beat anyone on their day, with even the recently relegated Premier League teams finding it difficult to pick up points in the opening weeks.
There are a number of stand-out fixtures at both ends of the Championship table this weekend, and although it may take until Christmas to get a clearer picture as to who will finish where, it takes a brave fan to predict the winners from some rather interesting fixtures. Bristol City beating Middlesbrough and Charlton scoring a 98th minute winner against Hull are to name two examples of the unpredictable qualities of the Championship that have already come to the fore this season, with many twists and turns undoubtedly set to follow as teams hope to follow in Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich’s foosteps up to the top flight.
Sheffield Wednesday v Middlesbrough
Middlesbrough, who Coral have rated alongside Derby as the Championship favourites, suffered a surprise 1-0 defeat at home against recently promoted Bristol City, and their chances of bouncing back to winning ways will not be made easier by a trip to Sheffield Wednesday. Aitor Karanka’s side have drawn both their away games so far this season, but with the likes of Stewart Downing, Diego Fabbrini and Christian Stuani in good form, 6/5 ultimately reflects the quality that many expect to shine through at Hillsborough.
However, Sheffield Wednesday are somewhat of an unknown quantity under new manager Carlos Carvalhal who has signed a number of Portuguese players, including Marco Matias who scored a goal of the season contender at Leeds in their recent 1-1 draw. They comfortably beat Middlesbrough 2-0 on home soil last season and can be backed at 23/10 to repeat the same feat, although as they currently share the same league record (1 wins, 2 draws, 1 defeat), 9/4 for the draw may stand out.
Wolves v Charlton
Many fancied Wolves to be amongst the promotion contenders this season, but consecutive defeats against QPR and Cardiff have left Kenny Jackett with work to do at Molineux. He will welcome playing in a stadium where Wolves are extremely difficult to beat and enjoyed an excellent record at last season, but high-flying Charlton are likely to test their resolve.
Guy Luzon’s men are enjoying an excellent start to the season with two wins and two draws from their first four fixtures, with victories over Queens Park Rangers and Hull proving their have quality at their disposal. Having home advantage may explain why Wolves are valued at 4/5 to take all three points, but with Charlton the in-form team going into the game, 15/4 for an away victory represents excellent value.
Ipswich v Brighton
First meets second at Portman Road, with Ipswich and Brighton making excellent starts to the season and both currently sat at the summit with ten points apiece. The Tractor Boys appear to have been galvanised by the heartache of losing in the play-off semi-finals to local rivals Norwich, with two injury-time goals at Brentford on the opening day preventing Ipswich from making a 100% start to the season. Three straight victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Burnley and Preston have put Mick McCarthy’s men on top, but they will face a real test in the form of Chris Hughton’s Brighton in the stand-out fixture of the Championship weekend.
The Seagulls have flown out of the traps with strong victories against Nottingham Forest, Fulham and Blackburn, and although they exited the Capital One Cup in mid-week against League One side Walsall, Brighton could be the team to keep an eye on this season. Ipswich are backed to make home advantage count at 11/10, while Brighton are 13/5 to come away from East Anglia with all three points.