Championship fans up and down the country were today (June 8) given a huge boost of excitement with the EFL announcing the restart schedule released – along with confirmed TV selections.
The journey will continue for Sky Bet Championship clubs with the action kicking off again on Saturday 20 June. They couldn’t have gone for a juicier opening fixture with promotion contenders Fulham & Brentford clashing in front of the Sky cameras for a West London derby.
So with just nine games remaining, who is in the running for promotion and relegation? Let’s break it down and give a final prediction of what could go down starting with the relegation candidates.
We all know what gruelling and outright horrible season the Championship can be for clubs. It is 46 games of tough, physical games of football and we would usually be talking of these remaining nine games as the last hurdle, but truthfully, with the break, everyone has now had, anything could happen. Even more, than it usually does. Seriously, the Championship has become even more unpredictable – let the party begin.
Last term, 44 points renewed Millwall’s Championship status and the year before that, 43 points kept Bolton up. Yet with 27 points still up for grabs, Hull City sit one place out the drop zone on 41 points which makes you realise we could be in for a much higher points total to guarantee safety.
So who are all the teams in the relegation run-in? I suppose this is almost impossible to pinpoint with the dramatic changes this league can produce but all the way up to seventeenth spot we have Stoke City who are just three points adrift. Below them are Huddersfield, Middlesbrough Wigan and Hull. The drop zone meanwhile contains Charlton, Luton, and Barnsley.
Given the number of ridiculous results that the Championship can produce I almost feel it a pointless exercise to start analysing the run-ins that the teams have but some crucial relegation clashes are coming up – one of them being Hull vs Middlesbrough.
The Yorkshire derby (I’m sorry) has been selected for Sky coverage on Thursday 2 July and could play a pivotal part. The Tigers made a terrible gamble in January by selling their dynamic duo of Jared Bowen and Kamil Grosicki to West Ham and West Brom respectively and it’s fair to say it couldn’t have gone worse for them.
At one stage it looked like Hull might be in for a fairly stable season but since Christmas, they have picked up just eleven points from a possible forty-two, including heavy defeats in the last two outings to Leeds and Stoke.
Elsewhere, the pandemic couldn’t have come at a worse time for Wigan Athletic who were in the form of their lives and picked up huge wins over the current top two, Leeds and West Brom. It’s a huge fight meanwhile for Barnsley, who, despite some half-decent form themselves, are still bottom of the pile and seven points adrift. Gerhard Struber has not done a bad job with the Yorkshire club but the sheer awfulness of their start to the season before he took charge in November means that it still hasn’t been enough.
Charlton Athletic have been hit with a huge blow, which has been a big talking point ahead of the restart with several players including top scorer Lyle Taylor, refusing to continue. Taylor (30) is out of contract and states his physical health as reasons for not agreeing to a temporary extension as he doesn’t want an injury to prevent him from a move next season.
Even with Taylor’s goals, Charlton are two points deep in the relegation zone and without them, you do wonder where the results are going to come from. Below the Addicks, we have Luton Town who for most of the season have just looked a little bit out of their depth. It would be a shame for Luton to go down as their epic rise, fall and rise again has been a great story. Do they, however, have enough to stay up?
Huddersfield and Stoke may be living life dangerously sitting just three points clear, but the misfortunes of Charlton and Hull I think will keep them safe enough and out of the equation. Huddersfield will, however, have crucial games against Wigan and Luton, meanwhile Stoke will have to fight off tough opposition with three of the top six still to play.
21: Charlton Athletic (Survived)
22: Hull City (Relegated)
23: Barnsley (Relegated)
24: Luton Town (Relegated)
So on we go to the epic prize that is the Premier League. Once again this is going to be a tough one to predict and it really wouldn’t shock me if a team I mention in this somehow ends up in a relegation scrap. This division is mental, it really is.
With just six points separating sixth and thirteenth – don’t shoot me if I end up getting this horrifically wrong.
I reiterate that form could completely go out the window with the big break that we have had and the run-ins could make no difference whatsoever but nonetheless, we’ll start with the current top two.
Leeds and West Brom have looked the best bets for promotion for a lot of this season and six points currently separates West Brom from Fulham in third with Leeds one point ahead of Albion in first. Both have had their bad spells this season and at one point it seriously looked like both Fulham and Brentford could take up the top two spots.
Before the pandemic, however, Leeds were in tantalising form winning their last five games and conceding no goals in the process. For West Brom, it was a little more up and down drawing away to Swansea and losing at home to Wigan but the Baggies did register big wins over Preston and Bristol City before that.
With Brentford ten points behind West Brom, we have to suggest at this stage that Fulham are the main contenders to challenge the top two.
However, a reminder that Fulham do host Brentford in the first game back and an away win for the Bees could give them a very good argument that they are still in the mix. Thomas Frank’s side will then have to face West Brom immediately afterwards at home so those two games perhaps could give us a good idea?
In that same game week, Leeds will host Fulham in what could also prove to be huge. My word I have missed this barnstormer of a league!
We must also not forget Nottingham Forest who sit level with Brentford in fifth, however, since their big home win over Leeds back in February, the form for Sabri Lamouchi’s men has been very up and down. They were shocked at home to Charlton and since been well beaten in their last game at the hands of Millwall. Forest have been crying out for Premier League football even longer than Leeds but still strike me as a team that is developing under Lamouchi.
There is no doubt that Lamouchi has transformed Forest into a much better side than we have seen over the years and for that reason, in my opinion, it puts him in the running for manager of the year. Should they, however, fall short this season they’d have to be big favourites next year.
Four points behind Forest in sixth we have Preston where thankfully we can now just be talking about who is going to take that spot come July. Not that I should completely disregard Preston ploughing through everyone in nine games and go up as champions but let’s just pretend that isn’t possible. Alex Neil is another manager who has done a tremendous job this season, turning Preston from a mid-table team to a side that is mounting a promotion challenge.
They do, however, face stiff competition from Bristol City, who are just a point behind The Lilywhites, while Millwall and Cardiff are just two points adrift. Oh, but then we have Blackburn, Swansea and Derby who are also very much in contention…I give in, please no one shoot me for this prediction.
To make matters more difficult these are all teams who’s form has been very inconsistent, I mean that’s probably why they are where they are. I do make a strong case for Gary Rowett’s Millwall though, who, since Rowett’s appointment I’ve identified as dark horses for promotion.
Rowett has had a lot of talk about him since his shock departure from Birmingham as to how good a coach he is and it did not go well for him at Stoke. At the time it looked a risky decision to take the managerial role at The Den, given that the previous season Millwall had very narrowly escaped relegation and were sat in seventeenth spot at the time of his appointment.
The Lions though have lost just five league games in his 23 game tenure and with just two points separating them and Preston they do look a good bet. Bristol City meanwhile were in very bad form before lockdown and despite that potentially making no difference anymore, they aren’t a team that has struck me as one that would maintain a spot in the playoffs. I would also say similarly with Guy Mowbray’s Blackburn Rovers, who have been in and around the mix for a while now and for a long time topped the form table, but ultimately I see them coming short.
Swansea and Derby are interesting ones because the Swans were at the top end of the table for a while before Christmas but a bad run of form led to their slip down the table. They are a young footballing side that given time under Steve Cooper, they could be well in the mix next season.
Derby, on the other hand, have had a very eventful season. The signing of Wayne Rooney in January to the sacking of captain Richard Keogh. Focusing on the football, they’re a team that has tried to play out from the back under Phillip Cocu but just haven’t done it that well. Their fortunes have however recently changed and the results have started to come, which has led to them being back in the mix but I think it will be too little too late for them.
1: Leeds (Promoted)
2: West Brom (Promoted)
4: Brentford (Promoted via Playoffs)
5: Nottingham Forest