Mark Langdon's weekend football betting tips, odds & accas
Plus thoughts on Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo
Preston v Birmingham
Just six points separates 12th-placed Birmingham from the playoff spots in the Sky Bet Championship so many teams are heading into the final nine matches with their seasons still alive and Preston look ready to propel themselves into the mix at Deepdale.
Ninth-placed Preston are two points off Derby in sixth and have been one of the form teams over the past couple of months as their bad run of injury luck cleared just in time for a late push.
Manager Alex Neil has long maintained that Preston were in the top-six hunt and so it has proven with their last league defeat coming on New Year's Day. They have seven wins in their last ten, a run that includes consecutive away successes at Blackburn and Middlesbrough.
Alan Browne is doubtful but Darnell Fisher, Tom Barkhuizen, Brad Potts and Tom Clarke should all return, while Callum Robinson and Louis Moult are also nearing their comebacks, which will be a huge boost to Neil for the run-in.
Birmingham have lost their last three matches without scoring and there is plenty going on off the pitch that seems to be a distraction judging by the poor performance in Wednesday's 1-0 loss to Millwall.
1pt 21-20 general
Grimsby v Northampton
It's seven unbeaten for Northampton and Keith Curle can lead the Cobblers to a fifth triumph in a row at Grimsby.
West Ham loanee Joe Powell's superb late strike beat Newport on Tuesday, although it was a deserved success after Northampton forced six shots on target to County's zero.
Northampton have won the shot count in each of their last six matches, which suggests their good form is sustainable.
They have lost only two away matches since the start of December and Grimsby's recent performances have been below par. They have lost to Cambridge, Crawley and Tranmere this month.
Northampton draw no bet
1pt 8-11 general
Villarreal v Rayo Vallecano
It has been a turbulent season for Villarreal but things are beginning to look up after they sealed a place in the Europa League quarter-finals and a home date with Rayo Vallecano offers the Yellow Submarine a clear opportunity to pull away from La Liga relegation trouble.
Javier Calleja was sacked as coach only to return seven weeks later, yet despite that chaos Villarreal will be hoping the "too good to go down" tag applies to them.
Pablo Fornals should be featuring for a club higher up the league and Carlos Bacca, who scored in Thursday's win over Zenit, is a class act when in the mood.
Rayo have had a tough run of fixtures, which helps to explain their six-match losing sequence. It includes defeats to Barcelona, Getafe and Atletico Madrid, but they could be running into Villarreal at the wrong time.
Villarreal -0.75 on Asian handicap
1pt 13-16 188Bet
Weekend football accumulators
It has been a tough period for Birmingham on and off the pitch and this third game in a week, following defeats to Aston Villa and Millwall without scoring, could be too much for Garry Monk's men.
Scunthorpe could make life tricky for Pompey at Fratton Park and the hosts look short enough given they have won only three league matches in 2019 and all of them were against the bottom six.
West Ham 4-7, Luton 4-11, Bury 4-7, Villarreal 8-13 general
Both teams to score
Burnley 4-5, Brentford 8-15, Sheffield Wed 10-11 general
Thought for the week
Cristiano Ronaldo was the star turn in this week's Champions League, scoring a hat-trick in Juventus's 3-0 win over Atletico Madrid, to deliver properly for the Italian side in Europe for the first time since arriving in Turin.
It could be argued that he has been overused by coach Max Allegri and at 34 he should have been kept back in some of the more mundane Serie A fixtures to go all guns blazing for Europe.
Ronaldo has failed to start four matches for Juventus this season and he has now scored seven times in the fixtures after a break.
You often hear of horses going well fresh and Ronaldo possibly needs that to peak in the biggest games at this stage of his career.
With Juve out of the Coppa Italia and 18 points clear in Serie A, Allegri will be able to hold Ronaldo back for the Champions League, which could be bad news for their quarter-final opponents Ajax.
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