Championship Preview – High-flying Southampton and Derby do battle and new-look Doncaster look for Friday night delight against Leeds

Saturday sees the resumption of the Championship season following the international break. In what is quite possibly the most exciting fixture of the round of games, table toppers Southampton travel to high-flying Derby County, with just three points separating the two teams in the upper reaches of the division. Derby performances have dropped in recent weeks, with some reasonably fortuitous results based on their on-pitch efforts. With the prolific Rickie Lambert, and his band of marauding attacking talents heading north from Southampton, Derby will no doubt have to up their game in order to get a result at Pride Park. Nigel Clough’s side have based their success this season on a variety of sources. In the likes of Hendrick and O’Brien, Derby have successfully integrated a new generation of talent, as well as bringing in the likes of Jason Shackell to sure up a previously leaky defence.

In Friday night’s early game, there is a battle of Yorkshire pride where Dean Saunders’ rejuvenated Doncaster side, who have been bolstered by the arrival of Chris Kirkland on loan, welcome under-performing Leeds United to the Keepmoat Stadium.

Manager-less Bristol City face mid-table Peterborough United on Saturday, and just a – stone’s throw across the Severn estuary – Cardiff City welcome Paul Jewell’s big spending Ipswich. Both sides will be hoping to break into the play-off spots from ninth and tenth respectively.

Also manager-less Nottingham Forest go on the search of points following a lean start to the season with a visit to also struggling Coventry City. Forest have installed former manager Frank Clark as new chairman, and the man who managed Forest in Europe will be hoping to bring some of the same success to his new role.

Mid table warfare is set to break out in the North West, with Eddie Howe’s improving Burnley side playing host to a Reading side still suffering from a play-off hangover, and treading water half way down the table.

On the south coast Steve Cotterill’s Portsmouth outfit welcome Barnsley with future of the Pompey boss in serious doubt given an alleged approach from Nottingham Forest for his services. Further down the coast, Brighton’s Amex Stadium is the venue for Hull City’s visit, with Gus Poyet’s side hopeful of returning to their rich vein of form. Craig Mackail-Smith returns from international duty against the world’s best, Spain, and Brighton fans will be hoping that he will return with some international flair in his locker.

The capital will play host to two major Championship games this weekend, with both Watford and West Ham welcoming visitors to their respective homes. West Ham will be hoping that their players have ignored the furore surrounding the Olympic Stadium debacle and can continue to impress on the pitch. Crystal Palace face just a short journey across the city and a little further North to Watford, where Sean Dyche has impressively added Michael Kightly to his squad on loan. Kightly could be the creative difference between failure and success, and Crystal Palace will have to keep up their good form to keep him quiet. West Ham welcome Ian Holloway’s Blackpool, who sit in seventh place preparing to make their assault on the top positions.

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