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Championship: Reading face crunch Barnsley clash

The international break has merely added to the tension as one of the most exhausting Championship campaigns in recent history nears its dramatic climax.

The battle to make the Championship play-offs is turning into a thriller with up to a dozen clubs still harbouring hopes of getting automatic promotion or, at worst, nicking a play-off spot.

The action at the bottom of the table, however, is even more serious, with tier-two survival on the line and it's also a lot more clear-cut.

Four teams find themselves on the brink, only three can go down and this weekend features a match which will have a big influence in shaping the final outcome.

Is Dann the crown jewel in Royals' survival bid?

One of the most absorbing stories of the 2021-22 Championship season has been watching Wayne Rooney strive to keep crisis-club Derby County in the division.

Docked points, haemorrhaging players and with takeover talk clouding Rooney's impressive first full season in management, the Rams are bottom but not quite broken.

They need wins, however, and they need them fast starting at home to Preston North End, a match where they get a 7/4 quote. Win that and they would leapfrog Peterborough United if Posh in turn can't land 15/4 odds at home to Middlesbrough.

In fact, Derby could even jump two places to 22nd if they win and Barnsley lose in an absolutely monumental showdown at home to Reading - the one side who each of the bottom three realistically think they can overhaul.

As it stands there is five points separating Paul Ince's Royals from Barnsley a place below them and surely an away win for Reading would sap all the fight out of the trio of battlers below them.

It's 5/4 the Tykes, 23/10 Reading and 23/10 the draw, and for Barnsley to land the odds and do themselves (and the two below them) a massive favour, they need to find the net - and that's been a colossal struggle, especially at home.

No side has scored fewer home goals than Poya Asbaghi's and their Swedish gaffer sounded downbeat this week about a possible return for either of his preferred frontmen, skipper Cauley Woodrow or Victor Adeboyejo, who have both been out for a while.

Ince knows the importance of not losing this, hence the idea of bringing veteran Scott Dann back into the fold as part of a back three.

The 35-year-old defensive warrior has missed Reading's last two - yet those last two yielded a 1-1 draw at Bournemouth and 1-0 win over Blackburn Rovers.

Would Ince really want to tweak that much after those superb results?

Hoops hoping to stifle Mighty Mitro

Fulham won West London bragging rights in October when they battered QPR 4-1 at Craven Cottage, a match in which, inevitably, Aleksandar Mitrovic shone.

The strapping Serb scored twice that day and has gone on to amass a record-breaking 35 goals for the runaway leaders. He's 5/6 to find the net at anytime in the return game, and this is a fixture which produces goals and lots of them.

Ten of the last 11 league showdowns between these neighbours and rivals have produced three goals or more. It's 8/11 they go over 2.5 between them once more.

Clearly, it's a match which is of more significance to Rangers, who have lost valuable ground at the worst possible time.

Mark Warburton's men are now a massive 25/1 for promotion after winning just two of their last ten and slipping to eighth in the table, and they are 15/4 to beat Marco Silva's pace-setters.

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Championship - Football: Terriers enjoying life under Corberan

Afobe aiming to join 100 club

Millwall frontman Benik Afobe is one away from a century of senior goals and how the Lions could do with their Congolese international hitting three figures at Luton Town.

Losing a game at this stage of the season is costly, losing two in a row potentially calamitous and that's the fate Millwall are hoping to avoid at Kenilworth Road after losing their game before the break, 2-0 at Stoke.

Afobe is 3/1 to score any time for a Millwall side who get a 13/5 price to win at high-fliers Luton, who are 6/5 to get the three points which woul cement their third place in the table.

The Hatters are 4/11 to finish in the top six and 9/2 to get promoted and their record in World Cup years is noteworthy, having made the National League play-offs in 2010 and won promotion in both 2014 and 2018.

Little to play for in Cardiff?

One of the few matches in the Championship this weekend with little on the line is between Cardiff City and Swansea City, except, of course, that it's a match which means the world to both sets of supporters.

There will be no love lost even if the stakes are lower than usual with 17th-placed Cardiff rated 13/10 shots to beat the 23/10 Swans, the side immediately above them in the table.

This is a match between a Cardiff side who have trailed at half-time in home matches a Championship-high ten times, against a Swansea side who have trailed at half-time in away matches a Championship-hight ten times. Go figure.

There's also a huge Midlands derby on Sunday when ex-Blues' boss Steve Bruce returns to Birmingham City, with West Brom hoping to make it five unbeaten with the Baggies.

They've not lost any of their last ten showdowns with their local rivals and are 21/20 to prevail at St Andrew's.

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