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Boxing bonanza

The four Championship teams we will see in action on Boxing Day have plenty of reasons to be cheerful.

Last Updated: 24/12/13 at 12:36 Post Comment

McCormack: the Leeds hotshot will be in action against Blackpool

McCormack: the Leeds hotshot will be in action against Blackpool

Blackpool, who host Leeds in our first encounter, may have lost four games in a row but remain in striking distance of the play-offs despite having a wafer-thin squad, and can call upon a jewel in Tom Ince.

Leeds' future, meanwhile, looks as bright as it has done for some time, with the Whites being led by a fantastic manager in Brian McDermott, having a talented and developing squad and potential investment, and turning Elland Road into a fortress.

Nottingham Forest are faring well under the man that never went away, Billy Davies, and have a mercurial midfield, plus QPR have a Premier League squad and will only get better as the season progresses.

Here's my take on how the clubs might fare on the day after Christmas...

Blackpool v Leeds

I think most people will class Leeds as favourites for this one with United on a solid run and Blackpool on a poor one, suffering from injuries - Gary MacKenzie and Isaiah Osbourne have been out, while Barry Ferguson and Craig Cathcart have just returned - and showing a lack of discipline.

The Tangerines had three players sent off against Yeovil, and since being mauled by in-form Derby haven't really recovered as far as results are concerned, but they have shown a terrific attitude in defeats to high-flying QPR and Burnley.

Blackpool dominated QPR for an hour, while Ince was inspirational against Burnley, so even though they are down to the bare bones, the Lancastrians are proving very dangerous what with their willingness to attack.

The Seasiders have only been beaten twice at Bloomfield Road this term - by Ipswich and QPR - and Ince has put in some brilliant individual performances; the youngster has been outstanding, showing real appetite for the game and no glimpses of a 'big-time Charlie' attitude.

However, when you look at the squad, you wouldn't think they were in the Premier League as recently as two or three years ago as the options for Ince Senior are minimal and things will be difficult against Leeds.

McDermott's charges have hit the lofty heights of fifth because their home form has been absolutely outstanding; they are seven unbeaten at Elland Road, following five consecutive wins and two recent draws.

United haven't got the greatest record away or against top-half teams, but Ross McCormack is something special, having scored 17 goals this campaign and 11 in his last eight games.

The Scot is justifying Leeds' decision to give him a new contract and I'm sure they will resist any urge to sell him in the January transfer window, but they will be disappointed that Dexter Blackstock, an old-fashioned centre-forward, has got injured.

I said Leeds needed a quick centre-half and they have since brought in Scott Wootton and Marias Zaliukas, while I have been impressed by Alex Mowatt in a strong midfield that also contains Rodolph Austin and Luke Murphy.

Brian has an experienced bench, too, with the likes of Michael Brown, Michael Tonge and El-Hadji Diouf, and if there is real investment into Leeds - and that is a big if - one or two additions could make a big difference to where the Whites end up.

Nottingham Forest v QPR

Forest have a tremendous midfield - Andy Reid, Henri Lansbury and Radoslaw Majewski are top drawer and they have added to that with Nathaniel Chalobah - while they have recorded three consecutive clean sheets, too, earning two draws and a win.

Young Jamaal Lascelles has come in and down remarkably well at the back - he is big, strong, athletic, aggressive, and loves to head the ball - but they are missing Mr Consistent, Chris Cohen, who would be in any Forest starting XI.

Forest, Derby and Leicester have the extra pressure in the promotion race as they fighting it out with East Midlands rivals, but I think Davies' men - and Leicester for that matter - will improve, and so will Jamie Paterson, who has flourished since joining Forest from Walsall.

The Reds are better away from home - as they were last term - and that may be a slight worry for Billy, with his side perhaps not handling playing in front of the numerous and vociferous Forest fans as well as they might.

A real goal scorer would certainly help them.

QPR could take advantage of Forest on Boxing Day as they are very tight and very organised - but they have problems themselves with strikers out and their form not as sensational as it was at the start of the season.

I think Harry Redknapp may go for it at The City Ground and play Junior Hoilett and Matt Phillips on the wing with Niko Kranjcar in the hole behind Charlie Austin, but Alejandro Faurlin, who makes everything tick in midfield but is out long term with a cruciate injury, could be a massive miss.

Some people have also said to me that Harry seems underwhelmed by the Championship but I just think that he understands the competitive nature of the division and knows that even though QPR have a stellar squad, things won't be easy.

In the first 10 games, the Hoops won eight and drew two, while in the last 11 they have won four, drawn four, lost three, and when you are playing Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday - and not used to it - it can affect you.

So this is a vital game for both teams and, therefore, a fascinating fixture.

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