With April fast approaching, many of the Championship clubs are still contemplating their plans to secure a prized place in the Premier League or avoid the drop down to League One as they prepare for the exciting end of season run-in.
Newcastle United and Brighton & Hove Albion have battled out the top two positions for much of the campaign and, with the finishing line coming in to sight, both seem set to clinch the automatic spots.
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With their Premier League pedigree, vast resources, top class manager and wonderful support, the Toon’s immediate return to the top table has been in little or no danger as they have often swaggered through the division.
Having finished in the top six in three of the last four seasons, getting over the finishing line might yet prove to be Brighton’s biggest problem. They do have the considerable incentive of returning to the top flight for the first time since 1983 and becoming the 48th club to play in the Premier League.
The surprise package has been Huddersfield Town and their inspirational boss David Wagner. Speaking after receiving his second manager of the Month award in February, the German coach said
“We enjoyed such good results because of the excellent, consistent level of performance from every player in the squad. That happens because of self-belief, trust in each other and hard work every day at the training ground.”
The Terriers lead the Play-Off pack with a couple of their Yorkshire rivals in hot pursuit.
What are the odds of fallen giants Leeds United ending their 13-year exile from Premier League? Garry Monk’s first season in charge has seen pride restored at Elland Road as the three-times champions strive to end their longest stay away from the top flight.
Sheffield Wednesday haven’t graced the Premier League since 2000 but the Owls came oh-so close last season before falling to a single wonder goal against Hull City in the Play-off final. Like Leeds, Wednesday can boast magnificent support and certainly won’t be lacking strong vocal encouragement over the closing weeks.
Reading are the non-Yorkshire contenders in the current Play-off quartet. Having embraced the demands of manager Jaap Stam, the Royals recent win at Sheffield Wednesday will undoubtedly be a terrific confidence booster should a return trip to Hillsborough be required in May.
A much shorter trip may be necessary though if Fulham fulfil their potential and become the most likely outsider to break in to the top six. Dubbed the Arsenal of the Championship, the Cottagers fluid passing style has quite rightly earned many admirers. Can they convert style into success?
Norwich City and Preston North End will harbour slim hopes of a late dash to glory.
There’s no hope of glory for Rotherham United as they should soon be put out of their misery at the bottom with confirmation of their demotion.
Wigan Athletic are in grave danger of an immediate return to League One. The threat is increased by a run-in that sees trips to Newcastle United, Brighton & Hove Albion and Reading.
Blackburn Rovers were heading for the Premier League title 22 years but now they are fighting to avoid a return to the third tier for the first time since 1980 as four teams are separated by only one point. The intended managerial bounce has happened with the arrival of Tony Mowbray as Rovers are unbeaten in the seven games under his charge.
Strongly vying for the title of former champions crisis club is Nottingham Forest. Long gone are the stable days of the Brian Clough era as Mark Warburton, following his controversial departure from Rangers, is their seventh manager since the Al-Hasawi family purchased the club in 2012.
With such a turnover of managers, Warburton’s choice appears surprising, but he explained:
“You have to take risks; you can’t always play safe – far from it. I’m confident we are moving forward and we have the support from the board we need to have.”
Such upheaval is in stark contrast to some 20 miles down the Trent where Burton Albion, led by Nigel Clough, are valiantly trying to survive their first-ever season at this level.
Two clubs who started the season as promotion contenders are now hoping their slide down the table has been halted.
Bristol City were in a Play-off place at the end of October but two wins and two draws from their last four games has kept the Robins out of the bottom three.
Birmingham City have suffered a similar slump since Gianfranco Zola replaced Gary Rowett in December although they do have a little breathing space, as do fellow strugglers Ipswich Town and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The Championship is widely recognised as the most competitive division in world football and there’ll be an array of crucial fixtures in each round of games to consider with NetBet up to and including the climax on Sunday 7 May.