It has finally come to the most exciting point of the year for football fans throughout the country. With just a few games left to be played across the Football League, it promises to be a fascinating few weeks with plenty of scores to be settled across all three leagues. In this article we will look at the current state of play in the Championship.
The race for promotion
Wolves capped off a spectacular season by confirming promotion at the weekend. Nuno Santo’s team have taken the Championship by storm this season, scoring a hugely impressive 78 goals in the process. The West Midlands side are likely to confirm themselves as Champions when they visit Bolton Wanderers this weekend.
The race for the second automatic promotion spot promises to be an enthralling spectacle. Fulham leapfrogged Cardiff two weeks ago after the Bluebirds slipped up against Wolves and Aston Villa, however Slaviša Jokanović’s side fell to a last minute equalizer against Brentford on Saturday, which allowed Cardiff to move back into an automatic promotion spot.
Neil Warnock’s side will fancy their chances of reaching the Premier League as they hold a crucial game in hand over their promotion rivals, however they still have to face potentially tricky trips to Derby County and Hull City. Their other two games are clashes with Nottingham Forrest and Reading at the Cardiff City Stadium.
Fulham have been on a remarkable run of form since the turn of the year and are currently unbeaten in their last 21 league games, winning 16 of them. However, after last weekend they no longer have their fate in their own hands. The Cottagers’ could face the prospect of having their promotion hopes derailed when they visit in-form Millwall on Friday.
Aston Villa will be waiting in the wings if Cardiff and Fulham fail to capitalize on their remaining fixtures, however Steve Bruce’s side look to have left themselves too much to do and will in all likelihood have to settle for a position in the play-offs. Villa’s remaining games include trips to Ipswich and Millwall as well as a home game against Derby.
The battle for the play-offs
The race for the final two play-off positions is likely to go right down to the wire with seven clubs all in with a chance of making it to the end of season lottery.
Middlesbrough and Millwall are in the driving seat at the moment but neither side can afford to slip up. The two sides will face off against each other at the Riverside next weekend in what promises to be a crucial game. Tony Pulis’ side will also have to travel to Pride Park before facing Ipswich at the Riverside in their final game of the season.
Neil Harris’ Millwall also face a tricky run-in, having to go up against automatic promotion contenders Fulham and Aston Villa in between their trip to the Riverside.
Seventh-placed Derby have suffered a huge set back in recent weeks after falling to defeat in their last two league games. Gary Rowett’s side still hold a crucial game in hand over their play-off rivals but will need to quickly return to the kind of form they demonstrated at the start of the season if they are to make an inroads into the play-off positions. The Rams have the perfect opportunity to do so when they face Middlesbrough at the Riverside on Saturday.
Alex Neil’s Preston have reversed a run of three straight defeats by securing crucial wins over Leeds and QPR. The Lillywhites are now three points off the play-off positions and will have to take the majority of points on offer against Norwich, Sheffield United and Burton if they are to force themselves into the play-off picture.
Sheffield United’s run of just one league win in their last six games has also left them three points behind the play off positions. Chris Wilder’s side play Birmingham, Preston and Bristol City in their final three games.
Finally, it may be a long shot but Brentford and Bristol City are still just about in with a chance of making a very late surge towards the play-offs.
The battle at the bottom
Sunderland’s relegation to League One looks to be all but confirmed with the Black Cats now winless in four games and six points adrift of safety. Chris Coleman’s side have one final chance to re-ignite a survival bid when they face fellow strugglers Burton at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.
Saturday’s game also promises to be a crucial fixture for Nigel Clough’s Burton who are also rapidly running out of time to launch a push for safety. The Brewers then come up against 20th placed Bolton next weekend in a potentially vital game at the Pirelli Stadium, before finishing their season at promotion chasing Preston.
Despite holding a crucial game in hand, Barnsley still face a real fight if they are to retain their Championship status for another year. José Morais’ side drew with Bolton in a dramatic game at Oakwell last weekend and now find themselves two points adrift of safety. The Tykes are still to play Brentford at home and face trips to Leeds, Nottingham Forrest and Derby.
Birmingham and Bolton are both two points above the drop zone but will not be resting on their laurels. Gary Monk’s Birmingham still have to play promotion chasing Fulham and Sheffield United, while Phil Parkinson’s Bolton will be nervously looking over their shoulders after losing four of their last five league games.
Finally, Paul Clement’s Reading look to have successfully avoided the relegation dog fight but with just five points separating themselves and the drop zone, the Royals will not be able to rest easily just yet.