THE BIG MATCH
Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough have the opportunity to strengthen their respective promotion credentials when they meet at Selhurst Park on Saturday.
The Eagles come into the fixture sitting fifth in the table, four points behind the automatic promotion places and six clear of the closest Play-Off challengers Brighton and Hove Albion, while Middlesbrough are one place and two points behind them.
Ian Holloway's men have only registered two wins in their last 11 league outings, but they come into the game on the back of two positive results - they followed a 2-1 home victory over Charlton Athletic with a 2-2 draw last Friday night at Watford having been two goals behind heading into the final 25 minutes.
Manager Holloway wants his side to use their last couple of results as a starting block to get back in the swing of things, telling the Croydon Guardian: "We've got to get used to winning again, I know it sounds strange.
"I believe that little negative period that everybody has in the season is well and truly over.
"We've dominated both of our last games in the second half and we could have ended up scoring five or six goals in that time.
"We've got two home games now [against Middlesbrough followed by Bristol City on Tuesday] and I want six points. I know the fans want six points."
Middlesbrough, meanwhile, have been in free-fall since the turn of the year, losing five successive league games before a narrow 1-0 win over Leeds United at the Riverside Stadium on Tuesday night, thanks to a Curtis Main strike brought that sequence to an end.
Like Palace, Tony Mowbray's men have been much stronger at home having lost nine of their 15 away matches, but defender Andre Bikey believes there is enough quality in the dressing room to turn their form around.
The 28-year-old told www.mfc.co.uk: "Now I hope that the bad run is over. We know the target. We know what we have to do.
"We beat Crystal Palace before [2-1 at the Riverside in August] and we can beat them there.
"Like I say to my team-mates every time, we can beat everyone. The last couple of games, we made mistakes.
"We gave away silly goals or made silly challenges. It can happen, but we're going to keep concentrating."
KEEP AN EYE ON
Hull City rose into the automatic promotion places on Tuesday night and will be aiming to strengthen their position when they entertain Charlton Athletic at the KC Stadium.
The Tigers have been a regular feature in the promotion places all season and their midweek win over Derby County was enough to lift them up to second.
On-loan Egyptian winger Ahmed Elmohamady was the hero for the Tigers, scoring the winner against the Rams three minutes from time, and that victory was their ninth in 15 home games.
Defender Paul McShane is expecting a difficult game this weekend, as he explained to www.hullcityafc.net: "Charlton are a strong side with some good, experienced players.
"They seem to be a strong, solid unit and that is what I remember about them from when we played them earlier in the season.
"They'll be well organised and it will be a good tough test."
Charlton are 15th in the table, six points above the drop zone and 10 adrift of the Play-Offs, but only leaders Cardiff City and opponents Hull have won more games on the road this term.
However, a slight worry for the Addicks will be their recent struggle to stop conceding late goals. The last five they have let in have all been scored in the final 15 minutes of games, and those goals have cost Chris Powell's men valuable points.
Powell believes his side have the ability to stop a strong Tigers outfit, though.
"We don't go in fear of any team," he commented to www.cafc.co.uk. "You've got to give them [Hull City] the respect they deserve. They have been decent at home all season and are a side that have been in the top six for a long time so far over the 31 games and they have got some match-winners.
"So they will be buoyed by the win against Derby and I'm sure they will be looking to do that. They have got another home game after us as well so I'm sure they will be looking to do their best to get maximum points, but it is up to us to stop that and I definitely think we can."
ELSEWHERE IN THE DIVISION
Fourth-placed Watford will be hoping to keep in touch with the top two when they travel to St Andrews to take on Birmingham City.
The Hornets are fourth in the table, level on points with third-placed Leicester City, who aren't in action, but could move to second with a win if the Tigers slip up. Lee Clarke's 16th-placed side will be no pushovers though, having draw and won twice in their last four games.
One place below Birmingham is Bolton Wanderers, and they travel to Nottingham Forest. The Trotters will be eager to build on their 2-1 victory against Burnley last time out, which was their first three-point haul of 2013.
As for Nottingham Forest, they find themselves nine points off the Play-Off places having lost their last three successive matches. Billy Davies, the man who led them to two successive Play-Off campaigns, is back in the dugout for the first time this weekend after he was re-appointed to replace the departing Alex McLeish.
Only Millwall and Wolverhampton Wanderers and amidst longer winless streaks than that of Forest. Millwall are not in action this weekend but Wolves take on Derby County. Dean Saunders is still in search of his first win as manager of the Molineux outfit and their poor run has left them way down in 21st and on the verge of dropping into the bottom three.
One of the sides chasing Wolves and safety is second-bottom Bristol City, and they visit league leaders Cardiff City in Saturday's early kick-off. The Robins have won three of their last four games to lift themselves off the bottom of table, and that run includes a 2-0 victory over manager Sean O'Driscoll's former employers Nottingham Forest.
They will find it difficult to improve their position this weekend, though, as the table-topping Bluebirds have the best home record in the npower Championship. Malky Mackay's men have failed to win just two of their 14 fixtures at the Cardiff City Stadium this term and have conceded just eight in the process.
The final match in the npower Championship this weekend sees Ipswich Town entertain Blackpool. The Tractor Boys went through December losing just one of their six matches, but have won just once since. That victory was a 4-0 mauling of Middlesbrough, but they followed that result with a loss to Blackburn Rovers on Saturday.
Similarly, Blackpool have won two of their last eight, but their wins have come in the last three games. If the 14th-placed Tangerines record another three points this time around, they could move as high as ninth in the Championship standings.
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