EFL lover Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) shares his thoughts on Wednesday night's best Championship fancies.
Nottingham Forest v Aston Villa | Wednesday 13th March 2019, 19:45 | Sky Sports
When Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa met at Villa Park for the reverse fixture, they played out a 5-5 draw – but subsequent events mean both teams are likely to be more solid than they were back in late November.
Firstly, a sound defensive display meant Aston Villa were narrowly deserving of Sunday’s Second City Derby victory at Birmingham.
It was never likely to be a case of them playing their best football, just because the inevitable tenacity of their opponents meant they would be under a lot of pressure for long spells, especially away.
The task, therefore, was firstly to keep their shape amid that barrage of pressure and they did that well; Kortney Hause looked composed at the back, Tyrone Mings was dominant and Glenn Whelan did a good job of protecting the duo.
Secondly, it was about showing their quality when the moment came and, in Jack Grealish, they had a man capable of doing just that – despite everything he had to face on an intimidating day.
The hugely influential Grealish has now scored two goals in as many games and, crucially, the Villans have kept successive clean sheets for the second time this season.
When Grealish plays, Villa concede on average 1.09 goals per game which shows how his intelligent use of the ball not only helps his team going forward, but also makes it harder for the opposition to form attacks of their own.
Nottingham Forest’s defensive stabilisation, meanwhile, has been largely down to the change of manager.
The Reds had conceded 31 goals in their first 27 league games; not a bad record necessarily, but one could not help thinking that ball-winner Jack Colback had been doing a lot of work to shield suspect individual defenders.
Since O’Neill took charge, they have conceded nine in nine but crucially, look stronger at the back with January recruits Alexander Milosevic and Yohan Benalouane making sizeable impacts, with the latter scoring the only goal of the recent East Midlands derby.
Going forward though, they are not quite as controlled in possession as they were under Aitor Karanka and that has slightly hindered them going forward, especially Lewis Grabban, who has only scored once since the mid-January regime change.
There is reason to think, therefore, that on the visit to Trentside, the Villans can record three consecutive league clean sheets for the first time since April.
Birmingham v Millwall | Wednesday 13th March 2019, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Although Millwall have reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, something is not quite right about them this season in terms of their Championship campaign.
When they were at their best in the second half of 2017-18, they were far more proactive: we would often see Jed Wallace bursting down the right within the first minute, then George Saville breaking into the box to support Steve Morison and Lee Gregory.
This season, that same intensity has not been there.
Rather than playing with a high line and being strong in the challenge, Millwall have been standing off their opponents too much and their defending, as well as much of their performance, in Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Bolton was far too passive.
Part of the problem is the overreliance on an aging Steve Morison.
When he comes off the bench, there tends to be an increase in intensity because Morison will charge back, put challenges in and set the tone – he understands what it means to play for the Lions.
At 35 however, ‘Moro’ cannot do that job for 90 minutes which is why, whenever he has started, his influence has been minimal – and there does not appear to be a younger player in this squad who can do what he does, not just as a target man but as a figurehead.
If Millwall were producing their current performance levels under Steve Lomas or Ian Holloway, the manager would likely come under a lot more criticism but Neil Harris’ legendary status – as well as, perhaps, the cup run – means we are dealing with roughly a 50/50 split rather than widespread mutiny.
There are no such question marks over Birmingham City boss Garry Monk, who is currently on course to deliver a top half finish despite off-field constraints.
Blues produced a tenacious display in Sunday’s Second City Derby, even if they lost 1-0 to Aston Villa.
The combination play between Lukasz Jutkiewicz and Che Adams did not quite come together for various reasons, but the front two showed a certain persistence.
Jutkiewicz managed four shots, two on target, won 18 aerial duels and took 53 touches, which was the third-most out of all 11 players who started for Birmingham – it’s rare for a striker to have such a prominent a role in general play.
The former Burnley man’s season appears to be going in cycles: there was the first two months, when he was winning all his duels and doing a lot of good work for the team without quite getting the breaks.
Then, he had an October and November purple patch when he found that extra bit of confidence to take shots early, meaning he bagged nine goals in a nine-game sequence.
After that, fatigue briefly set in but the last few games, including the performance against Villa, hints at a potential return to form and, against a Millwall team seemingly happy to allow crosses into the box, the front-man could have some joy.
Nottingham Forest v Aston Villa – Aston Villa to keep a clean sheet (14/5 BoyleSports)
Birmingham City v Millwall – Lukas Jutkiewicz to score anytime (5/2 Betfair)