• Nathan Smith


THE CHAMPIONSHIP – Derby County vs Rotherham United (16th January – KO 3pm)

It has not been an easy time for Derby County on and off the pitch in recent weeks, as they had a big COVID-19 outbreak before their FA Cup game against Chorley meaning they had to field a youth team for that game, and news broke recently that Derby have struggled to pay their players in full. Things may be on the up for Derby in terms of securing the takeover and the permanent appointment of Wayne Rooney as manager, but they may have to let some players go before that happens. It will be interesting to see what team Rooney is able to field a week removed from the Chorley game.

Rotherham United are currently second bottom of the league and Paul Warne will be desperate to stop his side getting relegated from the Championship yet again. However, with only one win in their past eight league games, form will need to improve for the Millers if they want to have a chance to beat the drop. An extra time defeat to Everton, where they pushed the Toffees to their limits, shows signs of improvements, but they will need to start getting wins on the board soon.

It might still be too early to call games ‘six-pointers’, but this game has a lot of implications on the relegation battle as Derby look to avoid heading back into the drop zone, while Rotherham look to head out.

LEAGUE ONE – Swindon Town vs Doncaster Rovers (16th January – KO 3pm)

Swindon Town bounced back from their humbling 4-1 defeat to MK Dons by claiming a superb 3-2 victory away at play-off chasing Ipswich Town. John Sheridan will certainly by hoping for more of the same, especially from Scott Twine, who scored an absolute wonder goal at Portman Road. Currently sitting in 22nd, Swindon are only one point away from Rochdale in 20th so if they can start to put together a good run of form, Sheridan may find his side out of a relegation battle entirely.

After having their four-game winning streak halted by Shrewsbury Town, Doncaster Rovers bounced back with a 1-0 FA Cup upset against Championship side Blackburn Rovers. Sitting in fourth place, Darren Moore’s side have been prolific in front of goal this season, having found the net 32 times, which is level with all three teams above them, and one below Charlton who have scored the most. Things may be harder without midfielder Ben Whiteman, who left for Preston this week.

This will be a tough game for Swindon, but if they play like they played against Ipswich, they will have more than a fighting chance. Moore will also be looking for more of the same, as Doncaster look to put the Shrewsbury defeat in the past.

LEAGUE TWO – Newport County vs Salford City (16th January – KO 3pm)

Arguably the best cup team in the EFL, Newport County showed the world once again they can go head-to-head with Premier League sides on their day and were unlucky in their penalty shootout defeat to Brighton. That was their first game since Boxing day, after having to postpone two home league games due to an unplayable pitch, and Cheltenham moving their game for the FA Cup fixtures. While impressive in the cups, it has been a slight dip for Newport in the league, as they have lost their top spot and will be hoping to end their five-game winless run.

Salford have gone slightly under the radar since Richie Wellens appointment, but they have quietly put together an automatic promotion push that finds them currently in fifth. This of course should be expected, Salford have the players to go for promotion but two consecutive defeats prior to their game against Scunthorpe may have had fans worrying, but the Ammies got back to winning ways with a late Ian Henderson goal settling the game. While not the most convincing win, it keeps Wellens side in the mix ahead of their trip to Rodney Parade.

These two sides met just over a month ago, resulting in a 1-1 draw with a 94th minute penalty from Newport’s Josh Sheehan cancelling out Tom Clarke’s first half goal. This match could also be described as a ‘six-pointer’, but maybe it is still too early.

WILDCARD – Blackburn Rovers vs Stoke City (16th January – KO 3pm)

Blackburn Rovers shot a rare blank at home to Doncaster in the FA cup, succumbing to a 1-0 defeat, but they will look to get back to their entertaining ways against Stoke City. Having scored 38 goals, a total that only Bournemouth can match in the Championship, Rovers certainly know where the back of the net is. They owe a lot of this to Adam Armstrong, who has lit up the Championship this season and the thought of a returning Bradley Dack in the same team as him and Harvey Elliot may be enough to cause some defenders nightmares.

While Stoke City were demolished by 4 goals to nil against Leicester City in the FA Cup, this has been their best season in the Championship since their relegation in 2018. Michael O’Neill has made Stoke a tougher side to beat, with similarities to the Stoke most will remember under Tony Pulis. It has not been easy for the Potters in recent times, with a win over Blackburn being their only win in their last seven games in all competitions. Stoke only had one shot on target that game, with that shot being Nick Powell’s seventh minute winner, and they will be hoping to get the win in more convincing fashion this time round.

Stoke clearly had a game plan in their previous game against Blackburn, but will they be able to sit back and soak up the same amount of pressure as they did previously? Who knows, but if Blackburn can strike early, this may turn out to be an exciting game.