Weekend Championship preview: Newcastle look to stretch their lead at the top

The 2016-17 Championship season has already thrown up some enthralling games this term and the action returns this weekend with a number of exciting fixtures.

The battle to win promotion to the Premier League and ensure a bumper payday is eagerly contested on a perennial basis and this campaign looks set to be no different.

After a slow start Newcastle United look the side most likely to win the division with Rafa Benitez’s men top of the table with 34 points.

The Tyneside outfit pulled off a major coup in convincing the distinguished Spanish coach to stay at St James’ Park and their elaborate expenditure in the summer transfer market is paying dividends.

Newcastle recorded a 2-1 win over Preston North End last time out and are on a run of seven consecutive victories currently.

As such, the North East outfit are heavy favourites to beat a struggling Cardiff City side at home on Saturday, with the division’s top scorer Dwight Gayle hoping to add to his tally of 11 strikes for the campaign.

Huddersfield Town are surprisingly one of Newcastle’s closest rivals currently and sit in second, with a potential to close the gap with a win over Birmingham City.

Their trip to face sixth-placed Bristol City in Saturday’s late kick-off is arguably one of the games of the round, with Chelsea loanee Tammy Abraham impressing for the hosts.

Aston Villa have been buoyed by the appointment of Steve Bruce and despite their current position of 15th, should not be written off.

The relegated side will hope to bounce back to the Premier League at the first time of asking and although they have work to do, Bruce has inherited a squad full of experience and ability; a home clash with Blackburn Rovers is an opportunity for another three points.

Norwich City are moving along nicely and sit in fourth place ahead of the weekend’s clash with Leeds United, with manager Alex Neill keeping the majority of the squad that played in the Premier League last season.

The division contains plenty of big clubs that are desperate to make it back to English football’s elite.

Former Premier League teams Nottingham Forest and QPR meet at the City Ground on Saturday, while Sheffield Wednesday will look to push into the top six with a win over Ipswich Town.

Elsewhere, Wigan Athletic host fifth-placed Reading and London rivals Brentford and Fulham are set to meet.

This season’s Championship looks set to be as tightly contested as any campaign in the recent memory, with some scintillating action ahead this weekend.

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