EFL Reporter @simgholam
Sky Bet EFL: Five things to look out for this weekend
Bristol City facing toughest test in the Championship, crunch time for Ipswich and Mansfield's patience being rewarded.
Last Updated: 15/12/18 1:17pm
We cast our eye over five things to look out for in the Sky Bet Championship, League One and League Two this weekend.
Big test for Bristol City
Bristol City tend to win or lose games in clumps so recent results suggest that Lee Johnson's side are back on an upward trend.
The Robins snuck all three points at Birmingham last weekend to make it seven points from nine, and fans will be hoping this is the start of a run back up towards the play-offs.
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Four straight wins in August and September had seen Bristol City right up in contention, but just two wins followed in the next 11, including four straight defeats at the end of that run, to see them fall to lower mid-table.
This time last year Johnson's men were third in the table and days away from a historic victory over Manchester United in the Carabao Cup. Since then it has been a tough 12 months of downward form and key players departing.
The toughest challenge currently in the Sky Bet Championship awaits as leaders Norwich visit Ashton Gate, live on Sky Sports Football. It is a prime opportunity for Johnson to prove they can mount a top-six push this season and silence the doubters.
Ipswich reaching crunch time
For all of Paul Lambert's optimism results simply haven't been good enough at Ipswich.
Two respectable draws to kick things off have been followed by four straight defeats and the Tractor Boys are now seven points adrift at the bottom of the table and a further point off safety.
Their last two games, at Nottingham Forest and Stoke, have been tough but Saturday's game is eminently winnable and three points are essential.
Wigan are without a win on the road since beating Stoke in August, and have picked up just a point on their travels in eight games since, and even that was against struggling Bolton.
Victory would bring Ipswich back to within touching distance of the pack, while defeat will leave them even further behind with a daunting run of games against Sheffield United (home) and QPR and Middlesbrough (both away) over Christmas.
A promotion six-pointer at Villa Park?
For the first time this season the top two in the Championship are starting to pull away from the rest of the pack. Heading into the weekend Norwich are a point clear of Leeds, who are in turn five clear of third.
It has left the likes of Sheffield United, Derby, West Brom and Middlesbrough, who currently occupy the play-off spots, with a little bit of work to do if they want to keep pace, and it also means any clubs further back need to be virtually infallible over Christmas to give themselves any kind of a chance.
Two clubs who currently fall firmly into that realm are Aston Villa and Stoke, who meet at Villa Park on Saturday. Both have overcome poor starts to the season - with one parting company with their manager - to start climbing the table, and both need to go on a big, big run to have any real hope of automatic promotion.
Villa are 10 points behind Leeds but they face Marcelo Bielsa's side next weekend and that gap could potentially be either four or 16 by Christmas.
At any other time Stoke would probably be happy with a draw on Saturday, but if the gap grows any bigger than it will likely be a play-off push at best for the pre-season favourites. You feel as though a win is essential for both.
Championship fixtures (Sat 3pm KO unless stated)
Clarke and Bristol Rovers part ways
Bristol Rovers became the latest club to part ways with their manager this week, as Darrell Clarke departed after more than four years at the club.
It has been a difficult season for Rovers, who find themselves occupying the top spot in the relegation zone heading into the weekend, four points adrift of safety. Coach Graham Coughlan will take charge of Saturday's game against Sunderland.
There seemed to be a genuine reluctance to have Clarke leave, but even he admitted last week that he was "underachieving as a manager" at the Memorial Stadium, having previously won back-to-back promotions from the National League.
"I think this as close to mutual as you are going to get," said Darren Ferguson, who was a guest on EFL Matters on Thursday. "Normally mutual means you've been sacked, it's as simple as that.
"He knows the club well, he got back-to-back promotions, and I think his statement after the 4-0 defeat to Doncaster said a lot. It's probably just a means to an end for both."
League One fixtures (Sat 3pm KO unless stated)
Mansfield's patience rewarded
Too many draws were holding back Mansfield at the start of the season but now they have started turning more of them into wins to firmly establish themselves as contenders for automatic promotion.
In fact, the Stags are currently on the longest unbeaten run of any side in the Football League, having now gone 13 without defeat. The fact Bury and Oldham have the next best records in League Two, and both have been unbeaten in just five games, further highlights how impressive their form has been ahead of their trip to Forest Green on Saturday.
Flitcroft's failure to steer Mansfield into the play-offs last season saw him come under scrutiny, but the club's patience with him appears to have paid dividends. Something the manager clearly appreciates in a changing world.
"Everyone wants things instantly now," Flitcroft told the BBC this week. "You can put a box set on and watch it for 10 hours instead of waiting for a week for the next episode. You used to have to chat a bird up but now you can just swipe left or right on Tinder. It's the way life is. Nobody's got any patience anymore.
"There's no respect for building or time. People just want things now. When I was learning to drive I worked in a factory to save up for my car and for driving lessons but people get them given as Christmas presents now. The world has changed, life has changed and everyone wants things instantly and when they don't get it they chuck their toys out of the pram."
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