Lampard rebuffs curse talk

Frank Lampard has dismissed talk of February being a curse for Derby County as he looks for his side to jump back into the play-off places.

The Rams boss has been frustrated of late as a run of one win in four matches so far this month has resulted in them dropping into seventh place below an in-form Bristol City outfit.

The poor results are a stark reminder of last season when an eight-match winless run, which started in February, almost cost Derby a top-six finish and in 2017 a run of seven games without a win resulted in them sliding down to 11th place at the end of the season.

Lampard was not at the helm then and he is confident that the current crop of players will return to winning ways soon, starting with Wednesday's visit of struggling Millwall to Pride Park.

Lampard, who is set to be without Mason Mount and Tom Lawrence for the game against the Lions, said: "I don't like the talk, I don't like the idea of any month being a curse.

"The more you look at it the more you give yourself a feeling it'll happen again. I don't entertain it.

"I entertain we have 15 games left, whatever month or day it is, and we have to tackle them head on and have a positive mindset.

"I have no thoughts or opinion on months or whatever, I'll banish talk of that for now."

Lampard is looking forward to facing Millwall as he looks for his players to bounce back from Saturday's 2-1 FA Cup fifth-round defeat at Brighton.

He added: "The clarity is good, we didn't want to get knocked out but we have to accept it. We can focus on the job in hand.

"We're out of the play-off spots but to a degree it's in our hands because it's about how we tackle these 15 games."

Derby, who are 11/2 to be promoted this season, are 21/20 to beat Millwall and jump back into the play-off places, while the visitors are 3/1 to come out on top and the draw is 5/2.

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Parkinson hails Pukki quality

Bolton Wanderers head coach Phil Parkinson believes table-toppers Norwich City have the best striker in the Championship in the shape of the in-form Teemu Pukki.

Pukki netted twice on Saturday as the Canaries swept to a 4-0 victory at the home of the Trotters, with the three points taking City back to the Championship summit, two points ahead of Sheffield United and Leeds United.

And Parkinson was in no doubt about the quality of both Pukki and the rest of the Norwich side.

He told reporters: "When you have a goalscorer of that quality you have got a great chance. He is the best in the division.

"We got beat by a very good side. They were right at the top of their game, but we can do much better.

"Some of their goals and approach play were of Premier League calibre, not top of the Championship."

Former Brondby frontman Pukki has scored 23 goals in 30 Championship appearances so far this season and has found the net on each of his last six outings.

A delighted City head coach Daniel Farke added of his star performer: "It was a sign today of why Teemu is so important.

"Of course his goals were crucial, but also how he works for the team in terms of pressing and how he assisted for the second goal was for me a world-class assist."

Norwich are back in action next Saturday when they play host to Bristol City, with the Canaries 19/20 to win the game at Carrow Road and 23/10 to have to settle for a draw.

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Bowen focused on Tigers fight

Hull City forward Jarrod Bowen says his immediate focus remains on trying to help the Tigers secure a return to the Premier League.

The 22-year-old is reported to be attracting interest from a number of top-flight clubs, having scored 16 goals in 32 Championship appearances for City so far this season.

However, Bowen says he will try to ignore the rumours swirling around his future, with Hull currently in 11th place in the Championship table, seven points adrift of the play-off places.

He told the Hull Daily Mail: "There's always going to be rumours and that shows you're doing well, you just have to forget about those rumours.

"It's surreal when you see your name being linked with those big teams, but that just shows how well I'm doing. Sometimes I have to pinch myself.

"When you see your name linked with these Premier League clubs, that's where everyone wants to play, but my loyalties lie with Hull City and my aim is to get this club back into the Premier League."

Next up for the Tigers is a tough trip to Griffin Park to take on Brentford a week on Saturday, with the Bees having only lost once in their last nine league outings.

Hull are 66/1 to be promoted this season, with West Brom priced at 6/4 and Derby County 9/2.

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Vrancic injury blow for Canaries

Championship leaders Norwich City will be without key midfielder Mario Vrancic for up to three weeks because of an ankle ligament injury.

The 29-year-old Bosnia international has played a huge part in helping Daniel Farke's men reach the top of the table this season, but he is facing a spell out after suffering the ankle problem in Sunday's 3-0 East Anglian derby win against Ipswich at Carrow Road.

It was feared that Vrancic could face a longer spell out at the time he picked up the injury so Farke will possibly be relieved that he is only set to be absent for around three matches.

The first will be Wednesday's trip to face a Preston side, who are now unbeaten in five games, at Deepdale.

The Canaries know a win is required to at least maintain their two-point lead over second-placed Leeds United, but Farke is expecting a "difficult" night in Lancashire despite his side being undefeated in their last 13 away league matches.

He said on the club's website: "We've played lots of big games recently, emotional games, but to go to Preston who play with lots of aggressiveness and at a high intensity will be tough.

"They want to push for the play-offs and will be highly motivated. Ipswich was exhausting and Preston have had one day more to recover. It is a big test."

Farke added: "We've been mentally strong and consistent on the road this season. We are so together, even when we are losing and we always believe we can score."

Norwich, who are 5/4 to win the Championship this season, are available at 2/1 to win on Wednesday, while Preston are priced at 29/20 and the draw is 5/2.

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Bielsa urges perspective in defeat

Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa says his players must refocus on the task in hand after surrendering top spot in the Championship to Norwich City.

The Whites were beaten 3-1 by the Canaries at Elland Road on Saturday and lost top sot on goal difference as a consequence, but Bielsa says that there is no reason to panic.

And the Argentinian is even more keen to keep things steady with United as their next assignment is a trip to fellow promotion hopefuls Middlesbrough next Saturday.

Bielsa told reporters: "We still need too many chances to score and we need to be much more clinical. We did not make our possession count.

"We have now lost the previous defensive solidity and that is down to me, not the players. I feel deeply responsible.

"We need to be better in possession. We lost the ball at key times for the first two goals we conceded and it has cost us a defeat.

"We have to keep this defeat in perspective and maintain our focus. We have another big game next weekend at Middlesbrough and we will prepare thoroughly for that."

Leeds United are available at 1/2 to gain promotion this season, while they are 7/4 to win the Championship title.

The Whites last played in the English top-flight during the 2003/04, when they were relegated alongside Wolves and Leicester City.

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Karanka makes Forest exit

Nottingham Forest have parted company with head coach Aitor Karanka, with the club just outside the Championship play-off places.

The 45-year-old took charge at the City Ground in January 2018, having previously guided Middlesbrough to promotion to the Premier League in 2016.

Karanka started his senior coaching career as an assistant at Real Madrid, the club where he spent five years as a player, in between two spells with Athletic Bilbao.

A short statement from Forest confirmed: "Aitor Karanka has asked to be released from his contract as the manager of Nottingham Forest Football Club.

"The club have agreed to this request and the terms of departure have been agreed. Both parties wish each other every success for the future and there will be no further comment from either party."

Forest, currently seventh in the table, have only won one of their last six Championship games, but that victory came last time out when they saw off table-toppers Leeds United 4-2 at the City Ground.

Following that, what turned out to be Karanka's last game in charge came in a 2-0 FA Cup third round defeat at Chelsea.

The Midlanders are back in action on Saturday when they travel to lowly Reading, with the visitors side 6/5 to win the game, while the draw is priced at 12/5 and a 1-1 final scoreline is available at 5/1.

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Jones relishes Potters chance

New Stoke City manager Nathan Jones hopes to be able to make a big impression with the Championship club, having been chosen to succeed Gary Rowett.

Jones admits he took a difficult decision to leave Luton Town, where he had been in charge for three years – having guided the Hatters to promotion to League One last season.

This term they are well on course to gain a second successive promotion, as they currently occupy the second automatic promotion place, behind Portsmouth.

And Jones has confirmed that he had previously turned down several offers from Championship clubs, but felt that his latest opportunity was the right one to take.

He told his new club's official website: "I have had other opportunities in the Championship before with numerous clubs, but none of those were of the stature and standing of Stoke City.

"This is a club with wonderful tradition, it has a Premier League structure in every regard, barring the league this year of course.

"I believe I am an appointment for the long-term here. I want to win games and I want to instil a culture and a philosophy that people are going to really get behind and be proud of.

"Along the way there will be some ups and downs, hopefully plenty of ups, but when we get our philosophy implemented and get working with the players, I'm sure they're going to respond."

Stoke currently stand in 14th place in the Championship table, eight points adrift of the play-off places.

They are next in action on Saturday when they head to Griffin Park to take on Brentford, with the Potters 2/1 to win the game and 9/4 to secure a draw.

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Moore happy to secure Holgate

West Bromwich Albion boss Darren Moore expects loan signing Mason Holgate to be a more than useful addition for the second half of the Championship season.

The 22-year-old defender has moved to The Hawthorns until the end of the current campaign, having not featured for parent club Everton since mid-September.

However, Moore is in no doubt that Holgate will prove himself to be decent signing for the Baggies, who are currently in third place in the Championship standings after mounting a nine-game unbeaten run.

He told the club's official website: "I tried to bring Mason into the squad in the summer, but at that stage Everton were not willing to release him.

"I want to get our business done as early as possible and this is a good start. First and foremost he is a good, good player. He is quick, agile, athletic and comfortable on the ball.

"He will compete for the right-back and central defensive positions. His enthusiasm to come also impressed me – he wants to play and I believe he is going to be a good addition for us."

Meanwhile, the Baggies have also extended the stay of veteran defender Tyrone Mears until the end of January.

The 35-year-old joined the Baggies in late August, having spent the last two and a half years in the United States and has since made appearances for Albion.

West Brom are 10/11 to gain promotion this season, while they are 4/1 to claim the Championship title.

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Karanka bemoans future uncertainty

Aitor Karanka blamed Nottingham Forest's 1-0 defeat at struggling Millwall on the speculation over his future as manager.

The Spanish tactician is believed to be in danger of being axed at The City Ground with some reports suggesting he would be replaced if Forest failed to win at The Den on Saturday.

And, Karanka felt that was on the minds of his players in the first half of the game when Ryan Tunnicliffe fired the Lions into an early lead.

Forest improved after the break, but they could not find an equaliser and now sit 10th in the Championship, six points adrift of East Midlands' rivals Derby in the final play-off place.

Afterwards, Karanka said: "The way we approached this game and what happened in the last 24 hours, I was a little concerned with what happened to the players because the first half we were not ourselves.

"We didn't play with our intensity. We tried to do things we don't know what to do. We didn't play.

"The last 24 hours it wasn’t the best atmosphere to prepare for a game. Maybe when I played 15 years ago you could arrive to this game without listening to anything. We already knew what was going on. I felt the players were a little bit down before the game.

"I hope we can recover quickly mentally because on Tuesday we have another challenge."

Forest, who are 14/1 to be promoted this season, host leaders Leeds United on New Year's Day and are 21/10 to bounce back with a win. The Whites are 13/10 to pick up the three points and the draw is 23/10.

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Surgery keeps Hemed sidelined

Queens Park Rangers will be without loanee Tomer Hemed for at least another month, after the striker underwent surgery to repair a hernia.

The 31-year-old Israel international frontman, who is currently on a season-loan loan from Brighton & Hove Albion, has scored three times in 14 Championship appearances so far this season.

However, he has not featured since the 3-2 home defeat to Hull City on the first day of December and has now been ruled out for at least another four weeks.

R's boss Steve McClaren told the club's official website: "Tomer has had a little operation, a routine one in terms of a hernia.

"It can take anything from four to six weeks. Hopefully it'll be nearer four than six."

Meanwhile, McClaren has challenged his side to continue their fine run of recent form, which has seen them win three Championship games in a row to roar into play-off contention.

However, he is aware that they will need to do so without midfielder Massimo Luongo, who is off to the Asian Cup to feature for Australia.

McClaren added: "We've got injuries and Luongo now goes for a month. We're going to miss him.

"He quietly goes about his business, does his job very effectively without people really noticing and we'll see how much we miss his presence in midfield."

QPR are available at 20/1 to gain promotion this season, with Aston Villa priced at 3/1 and Derby County 7/2.

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