Championship Preview: Holloway's high-flying Crystal Palace host former club Blackpool

The Eagles have soared into the automatic promotion places under the 49-year-old, as he looks for revenge against his former club with Wilfried Zaha lining up in his potent attack
The undoubted highlight of the Championship weekend sees Ian Holloway's Crystal Palace play host to his former club Blackpool as the Eagles look to keep the pressure on at the top of the league and the Tangerines try to get their play-off push back on track.

Holloway left Bloomfield Road for Selhurst Park in November, shortly after blasting Blackpool chairman Karl Oyston's decision to keep him on a rolling contract, despite taking the club to the Premier League.

Palace had made a fine start to the season under Dougie Freedman, before he left for Bolton, and the former QPR boss has kept the ball rolling in south London, with the club currently sitting second behind Cardiff in the league.


Crystal Palace

Nottm Forest
Sheff Weds

Cardiff (Fri)

Bristol City
Hull City
The key to the Eagles success this term has been an attacking trident of Glenn Murray, Yannick Bolasie and England new-boy Wilfried Zaha.

The Ivory Coast-born Zaha has dazzled many with his tricky feet and direct running, but it is Murray that has finished off the chances, he has netted 17 already this season and has scored nine goals in just six matches since Holloway's arrival at the club.

Recently speaking on his central striker, the boss said: "I'm thoroughly enjoying what I'm seeing.

"He's a fantastic footballer, his football brain is as good as anybody I've worked with.

"He's very, very clever, I love clever footballers and I'm thoroughly enjoying that and this group deserve all sorts of credit."

The Tangerines have dropped off badly since a good start under Holloway and, after a run of just two wins in their last 10 games, sit 12th in the table, five points off the top six.

Despite that, they have one of the division's brightest prospects in Tom Ince. The winger has 13 goals already this term and has been linked with a £7 million move back to former club Liverpool in recent weeks.

He told the club's official website: "We’ve got a massive game next week away at Palace, that won’t be easy but this result had given us a springboard to push up the table now.

"We know that the league table doesn’t mean anything right now. It’s all about just trying to stay in contention and picking up as many points as you can.

"When the league heats up in February and March, that’s when we’ll be looking to hit top form and get right in the mix."

Many of Michael Appleton's squad will be itching to beat their former boos, but a player that was brought in after Holloway's departure possibly has the most to prove.

Wes Thomas was signed by Appleton from Bournemouth, but has had to work his way back into league football after being released by QPR, then managed by Holloway, when he was a youngster.

After making two appearances from the bench, Thomas made his first start for Blackpool against Peterborough last week, also scoring his first goal, and is desperate to keep his place in the XI on Saturday.
The former bricklayer was lethal earlier in the season, hitting 17 goals in his first 14 league games. However, he has stalled in recent weeks and has scored just once in his last five appearances. Burnley travel to Nottingham Forest on Saturday and Austin will need to be on form as the Clarets chase a play-off place.
Glenn Murray has scored the goals, Wilfried Zaha has the international recognition, but the former Plymouth man should not be overlooked. The winger is being eyed by Democratic Republic of Congo for their Africa Cup of Nations squad in January after several eye-catching displays at Selhurst Park.
Manchester United, Chelsea, Barcelona - just some of the club's chasing a deal for the 17-year-old playmaker. After a handful of games last term, he has become a first-team necessity for Nigel Clough this season, with an on-pitch maturity and passing creativity beyond his years. Hughes has already made his bow for England Under-21s and will again be key for the Rams when they travel to Leeds on Saturday evening.

"Ian Holloway is the one who released me when I was at QPR, so Saturday is a game I'm really looking forward to," Thomas told the Blackpool Gazette. "It's my chance to show Holloway I'm back."

Elsewhere, table-topping Cardiff travel to Blackburn on Friday night, looking to extend their lead over the Eagles to four points overnight.

The now oddly-nicknamed Bluebirds picked up 10 points from a possible 15 in November, despite a number of injuries and boss Malky Mackay is looking to push on with several key men returning to the fold.

"I was delighted to get Ben Turner and Andrew Taylor back, they are two big players for me," the Scot told reporters. "And I was delighted to get Jordon Mutch back on Sunday.

"I had Don Cowie and Kevin McNaughton back on the bench as well. So to have them back and [Craig] Noone back for Friday night, after coming through a period in November where we were ravished by five or six first players missing, gives us great hope."

Rovers have dropped out of the play-off spots since Henning Berg replaced the much-maligned Steve Kean, winning just one of the Norwegian's seven games in charge, and the former defender has urged greater composure, after drawing 1-1 with neighbours Burnley last week.

"We got caught a little bit too much," he said. "We didn't find the right balance between when to be direct and when to keep it and use the spaces.

"I think that is always the difficulty sometimes for players to find that right balance but that is something we'll work on."

In the hunt for the play-offs, fifth-placed Hull City travel to sixth-placed Watford with the Hornets seemingly hitting their straps in recent weeks, scoring four in each of their previous two games.

Gianfranco Zola's side, comprised of several loan stars, struggled in the early weeks of the season, but have gelled recently and are unbeaten in seven as they have crept into the top six.

The Tigers have spent much of the campaign bouncing between fourth and sixth, with Steve Bruce's 3-5-2 formation proving difficult for many to break down.

Only five of their games so far this term have been settled by more than one goal so expect a tight one at Vicarage Road.

At the other end of the table, Sheffield Wednesday and Bristol City square off looking to boost their own survival chances, while also dragging their opponents further into the relegation mire.

The Owls have lost six consecutive games, but manager David Jones remains positive, speaking after his side's defeat to Cardiff last week he told BBC Radio Sheffield: "You couldn't fault anybody out there, they all worked their socks off, they all tried to do the right things."

The Robins have the joint-worst defensive record in the league and have picked up just four points from the last 30 available to them.

Just above the drop zone, Midlands rivals Wolves (17th) and Birmingham (19th) will meet with both sides enduring desperately disappointing campaigns.

Both sides were expected to challenge at the top this season, but neither Stale Solbakken or Lee Clarke have been able to boost their clubs since arriving in the summer.

Wolves broke a nine-game winless run against Bristol City last time out, while the Blues have won two, drawn two and lost two in their last six and will hope the goals of Marlon King, joint fourth in the scoring charts with 12, can result in added consistency.