Football League Expert & Columnist
Peter Beagrie previews QPR-Leicester and Millwall-Middlesbrough
'Twas the Saturday before Christmas and the football was fabulous. That's Peter Beagrie's hunch...
Last Updated: 18/12/13 11:57am
Matters at the top and bottom of the second tier will be addressed, with promotion-chasing duo QPR and Leicester meeting at Loftus Road at lunchtime, before struggling Millwall and Middlesbrough lock horns at The Den in the evening.
Peter Beagrie - who hasn't delved into his vessel of mulled wine and stash of minced pies just yet - will be an eager spectator, just as he is for all of Sky Sports' coverage of the Sky Bet Football League.
And ahead of the clashes in the capital, we asked the former Everton and Bradford winger to give his take on the teams involved and how he expects the matches to play out...
QPR v Leicester (12pm, Sat, Sky Sports 1)
QPR haven't been particularly free-flowing this season but their fans will be happy as long as they keep winning.
Their campaign so far has been reminiscent of their promotion season under Neil Warnock where they eked out results and, every now and again, cut loose with the talismanic talents of Adel Taarabt coming to the fore.
There is no Taarabt this time around but Rangers - who have had Andrew Johnson in and out due to injury and been missing Bobby Zamora since September - do have Charlie Austin and there is probably not a better man to rely on.
Much was made of the breakdown of his move to Hull because of a knee problem, but he is as strong as an ox, plays every game and doesn't miss a minute's training, so has proved a very shrewd acquisition for Harry Redknapp.
QPR also have vast experience at the back - Nedum Onuoha, Richard Dunne, Clint Hill and Benoit Assou-Ekotto wouldn't look out of place in the Premier League - but I think the guy that will take them to the Championship title is Matt Phillips.
I said several weeks ago that once he was fit and flying he would take the R's to another level and we have seen that in recent games, culminating in a fantastic performance against old club Blackpool in which he terrorised full-back Jack Robinson.
Phillips will be looking to cause more damage against Leicester on Saturday but the Foxes will think they can get some joy in their opponents' half due to the pace of Jamie Vardy, David Nugent and Lloyd Dyer.
Leicester have been better in the second half of games this season but against Burnley they were so quick out of the blocks and dragged the Clarets' big, solid centre-halves all over the place in a really high-octane start.
I think that's the way they have to approach the game against QPR, as not only will it give Redknapp's men something to think about, but it is also when Leicester are at their best as they pass the ball with a purpose and not for passing's sake.
I am expecting a cracking game at Loftus Road and I am delighted Nigel Pearson will be in charge of Leicester as there were murmurings that the board were considering making a change earlier in the season.
Nigel seems a more laid-back character these days, while I admire his bravery and the fact he makes positive changes when games are in the balance and tries to nullify his opposition by not taking away his side's attacking intent.
Leicester have made a great response to the heartache of losing to Watford in the play-off semi-finals last term, but they do have a very tough run of fixtures over the Christmas period with the QPR game followed by matches versus Reading (h), Bolton (h) and Millwall (a) and clashes against Derby and Leeds also on the horizon.
By mid-January we will know exactly where they stand.
Millwall v Middlesbrough (5.15pm, Sat, Sky Sports 1
I don't think it's a surprise that Millwall are down in the bottom eight and just four points off the relegation zone, but they do have some powerful players and will be viewing the festive fixtures, which include winnable games at Watford and Doncaster, as an opportunity to pull clear of danger.
Steve Lomas has changed the mentality of the fans around and they are not quite as vociferous in their discontent any more, particularly at home where they are unbeaten in seven matches since the 5-1 thumping at the hands of Derby.
Liam Trotter, a wardrobe in a Millwall kit, has been a star in the middle of the park, covering ground and popping up with a few goals, but the reason the Lions are struggling was evident against Blackburn as they lost 3-2.
The Londoners' back four has been culpable of many defensive deficiencies this term and that is a surprise when you consider they've got the likes of Paul Robinson, Alan Dunne and Mark Beevers, out-and-out defenders who like heading, kicking and getting to first balls.
Millwall would have conceded more than 40 goals but for 'keeper David Forde, though things are improving and they have taken some notable scalps at The Den and will be looking to build on that against Middlesbrough.
That will be easier if Steve Morison's strike partnership with Martyn Waghorn continues to flourish; it's a good pairing between an old-fashioned centre-forward and a lad with a low centre of gravity, good movement, and a great shot on him.
Only six teams have scored more goals than Middlesbrough, meanwhile, and you have seen a change in style since Aitor Karanka replaced Tony Mowbray as manager, with the team playing higher up the pitch and at a higher tempo.
If the likes of Marvin Emnes and Boro's two pace merchants on the wing, Mustapha Carayol and Albert Adomah, are on their game they will make things difficult for Millwall, but they have only taken one away point from the last 15 available and won just once on the road all season.
That makes you question the mentality of some of the players, even the experienced ones like Rhys Williams - who was linked with Liverpool at one stage - Jonathan Woodgate, George Friend and on-loan Norwich defender Daniel Ayala.
The Teessiders have a sieve-like defence and are conceding late goals and with Burnley and Reading to come at home, they need to readdress their away form and go all out for the win here, but if they can find the strength of resolve, I think they can do it.
Fortune will definitely favour the brave in this game.