The final action of the Sky Bet Championship in 2023 takes place on Friday night when the entire division are on show as a frenetic festive period in the second tier continues with the third round of games out of four.
Although the entire division is in action on the one day two of the matches have been shifted in terms of kick off time so that they can be shown live on TV and the other games should get lots of updates within the coverage.
Friday’s fixtures are as follows: (7.45pm unless stated; UK TV in brackets)
Southampton v Plymouth Argyle (6pm – Sky Main Event & Sky Football)
Birmingham City v Bristol City
Cardiff City v Leicester City
Coventry City v Swansea City
Huddersfield Town v Middlesbrough
Hull City v Blackburn Rovers
Ipswich Town v Queens Park Rangers
Millwall v Norwich City
Preston North End v Sheffield Wednesday
Rotherham United v Sunderland
Watford v Stoke City
West Bromwich Albion v Leeds United (8.15pm – Sky Main Event & Sky Football)
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The TV cameras will be focusing on the race for automatic promotion on Friday evening and it begins with the closest challengers to the top two on show when Southampton play host to a Plymouth Argyle side who are yet to register a Championship win on the road. When they are done the attention will head to The Hawthorns as the two sides immediately below Southampton meet when fifth placed West Bromwich Albion host fourth placed Leeds United. The top two are also on show with Leicester City looking to maintain their six point lead at the summit when they head to Wales to face Cardiff City while Ipswich Town in second will look to keep the chasing pack at bay when they host QPR.
Best of the Rest
At the other end of the table the bottom two will be looking to avoid being at the foot of proceedings heading into 2024. Rotherham United sit bottom and they play host to a very in and out Sunderland side while Sheffield Wednesday cross the Pennines to Deepdale to take on Preston North End. Elsewhere, Huddersfield Town will look to keep the bottom three a suitable distance away from them when they host Middlesbrough while Millwall, Birmingham City and Stoke City will look to pick up a valuable win against Norwich City, Bristol City and at Watford respectively.
I’ll go with a couple of bets over the course of the evening with the first of them coming from St Andrews where even though Wayne Rooney might get it right in time, if he is given it, there are few signs that he is anywhere close to getting it right at the minute and his Birmingham City side look vulnerable to a Bristol City who are improving under Liam Manning. I’m certainly not surprised that a much more progressive coach is getting a tune out of a young and talented squad but I am a little surprised that the improvement has come about so quickly. Bristol City went to Watford and won 4-1 on Boxing Day, a third win in succession, and now they will have the top six firmly in their sights. Birmingham lost to a poor Stoke side on Boxing Day and Rooney confessed he’d have changed all 11 players at half time if he could. That isn’t a recipe for success 72 hours later so I’ll take the Robins but given the frantic period and games coming thick and fast I’ll take the draw out of the equation for a little bit of extra assurance.
The other bet I like comes at Portman Road where I expect Ipswich Town to get back to winning ways when they host a QPR whose squad isn’t really big enough for them to be making too much in the way of rotation. Ipswich don’t have that to worry about as they have a good squad and although they go into the match without a win in three, it should be said they have drawn with Norwich City in a derby and held the leaders Leicester City in a match where they were probably the better team in that span. QPR are also winless in three and have lost all three matches with defeats to Sheffield Wednesday and Millwall particularly not great ones. Ipswich are a formidable outfit at home with only Leeds leaving Suffolk with three points. I think the Tractor Boys get back to winning ways in style here.
Back Bristol City (0AH) to beat Birmingham City for a 3/10 stake at 1.81 with Bet365
Back Ipswich Town (-1AH) to beat QPR for a 3/10 stake at 1.87 with Bet365