Championship gears up for a bumper weekend

Alex Neil Norwich Sky Bet

With the promotion and relegation battles far from sorted out, this weekend sees the pressure cranked up again in some key clashes.

The Sky Bet Championship has more than delivered this season, with the make-up of the top six re-positioning itself after every round of games, and the picture at the bottom seeing several teams unable to drag themselves away to safety.

Most teams now only have five games remaining and with so many teams involved in the battle at the top and bottom of the table, this weekend's fixtures yet again show some fascinating match-ups.

Friday night sees league leaders Bournemouth travel the short distance across the south coast to Brighton, where Chris Hughton finds his side in relative safety, nine points above the drop zone. Eddie Howe's Bournemouth, however, will be looking to build on an unbeaten run of eight games, but while they look one of the more convincing promotion candidates, the top four are still only separated by two points.

The other clash on Friday night is a key relegation encounter, with Gary Caldwell taking charge of his first game as Wigan Athletic manager at Fulham. Kit Symons' team have never got going this season, and while they are a comfortable eight points above Millwall - who occupy the last relegation position - and nine above opponents Wigan, they know a win will keep their destiny in their own hands. Wigan, meanwhile, haven't won in the last four games, but will be buoyed by the fact that their last six wins - stretching back to August - have all been away from home.

Saturday sees a fifth versus seventh clash as Derby County take on Brentford at the iPro Stadium. Crucially, Derby recorded a first win in eight games on Easter Monday with a 2-0 victory at Wigan, and with their injured strikers returning, won't have given up on an automatic promotion place, which they are currently five points shy of. Brentford have once again slipped out of the top six, having dropped two points at home to Nottingham Forest this week.

Elsewhere, second-placed Norwich City travel to Bolton Wanderers looking for a fourth consecutive victory and their East Anglian rivals Ipswich Town entertain the already-condemned Blackpool. A resurgent Wolverhampton Wanderers will also be looking to continue their find recent form when they travel to local rivals Birmingham City.

The last two of the eight promotion contenders are involved in key encounters that will also affect the bottom of the table. Watford recorded a crucial 2-0 victory over Middlesbrough on Monday and they now face a short trip to Millwall, who sit seven points from safety with games running out. Finally, Middlesbrough themselves entertain Rotherham United, who are keeping Millwall at arms' length in the relegation fight. Aitor Karanka's 'Boro, however, have lost crucial games to promotion rivals in recent weeks and sitting in fourth place, can't afford another slip-up.

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