Fulham may be cruising into the Premier League but NINE other teams are fighting for promotion from the Championship, with Bournemouth being hunted down for that last automatic spot and Luton aiming for their first taste of the Premier League
- The Championship is perhaps the toughest division in the world to escape from
- This season, as many as 10 different teams are fighting for the Premier League
- Fulham are flying high at the top while Bournemouth are also in automatic spot
- However, below them a host of sides are battling it out for a place in the top six
- Likes of Huddersfield, Nottingham Forest and Luton are gunning for Wembley
‘The Championship is probably the hardest second division in the world.’
Who said that, you ask? It was none other that Pep Guardiola, the king of winning trophies. He knows exactly how difficult it is to achieve success in football. He is also absolutely correct.
With 46 matches to play and the dreaded play-offs at the end of the season, the second tier is one of the toughest divisions to escape. Many clubs have tried, failed, and then plummeted down the ladder into mediocrity.
It is unforgiving and takes its toll on a whole squad. But the reward for promotion is enviable riches, and the play-off final, held at Wembley every campaign, is the most lucrative match in the world because it is worth £170million to the winners.
This time around, high-flying Fulham are nailed-on to escape that dogfight. They are sitting in first place, 10 points ahead of second, and could even go up this weekend.
As for the rest, they are braced for a flurry of games and drama before the curtain comes down and teams are left to lick their wounds or party the night away.
Here, Sportsmail takes a look at the promotion and play-off picture as it stands…
Fulham are top of the Championship and are destined for a Premier League return this year
Top scorer: Aleksandar Mitrovic (38)
The champagne has surely already been popped at Craven Cottage. Fulham have led the way at the top for most of the season, and will wrap up promotion soon.
They could bounce back to the big time this weekend, with two victories over Derby and Preston guaranteeing them a spot in the top two.
Even a loss against Wayne Rooney’s men may not be enough to stop the celebrations should Nottingham Forest fall at Luton.
Marco Silva’s side may have slipped up to Coventry last time out in a major shock, but they will certainly be playing Premier League football again next season.
April 15 – Derby (A)
April 19 – Preston (H)
April 23 – Bournemouth (A)
April 26 – Nottingham Forest (H)
May 2 – Luton (H)
May 7 – Sheffield United (A)
Aleksandar Mitrovic has scored 38 goals so far to fire the club (almost) back into the big time
Top scorer: Dominic Solanke (25)
Despite their inconsistencies, Bournemouth have flitted in and around the automatic promotion spots for most of the season – although their form has stuttered recently.
It is their superb start, then, that set them in good stead. The Cherries went unbeaten for their first 15 league games, and have steadily built on that.
Importantly, they score plenty of goals, although their defensive vulnerability at times has seen them slip up for some surprise results.
Stringing together two promising results during this busy period will surely see them home and dry, and earn them a spot back in the top flight.
April 15 – Middlesbrough (H)
April 18 – Coventry (A)
April 23 – Fulham (H)
April 26 – Swansea (A)
April 30 – Blackburn (A)
May 3 – Nottingham Forest (H)
May 7 – Millwall (H)
Bournemouth, despite their inconsistent form as of late, occupy the final promotion place
Top scorer: Danny Ward (13)
Having been Marcelo Bielsa’s assistant at Leeds, Carlos Corberan knows all about high-octane football. That is exactly what his side have served up this season.
Suddenly, almost out of nowhere, they have become contenders for automatic promotion, having shrugged off the stuttering first season under their manager.
Recent wins over Hull and Luton have seen them cling onto third, and picking up six more points should seal them a play-off spot at the minimum.
They may even be aiming for more, although Bournemouth hold two games in hand on them and are already four points adrift in second.
April 15 – QPR (H)
April 18 – Middlesbrough (A)
April 22 – Barnsley (H)
April 30 – Coventry (A)
May 7 – Bristol City (H)
In third are Huddersfield, with Carlos Corberan’s side serving up high-octane football for fans
Top scorer: Brennan Johnson (15)
It has been a remarkable turnaround for Nottingham Forest under Steve Cooper.
When he took the reins at the City Ground in September, they were rooted bottom of the table and had axed Chris Hughton. Now, they are set to finish in the top six.
Notably, they also hold two games in hand on the teams around them and, if they win both while Huddersfield slip up, could even move up into third spot.
They enjoyed a superb run in the FA Cup too and, despite facing Fulham and Bournemouth soon, they will be confident in their hopes of reaching Wembley if they have to settle for the play-offs.
April 15 – Luton (A)
April 18 – West Brom (H)
April 23 – Peterborough (A)
April 26 – Fulham (A)
April 30 – Swansea (H)
May 3 – Bournemouth (A)
May 7 – Hull (A)
Nottingham Forest have been in inspired form under Steve Cooper and rose into fourth spot
Top scorer: Elijah Adebayo (16)
They may have hit a bump in the road recently, but Luton are still enjoying a remarkable season, especially considering their lowly budget.
Nathan Jones has rubbed people up the wrong way with his passionate celebrations, but there is no denying that his superb coaching has breathed life into this charge.
Next up for them is Nottingham Forest, a six-pointer in the play-off tussle.
A victory will settle their nerves, with Fulham to come in their penultimate game. They have worked hard to get here, and will not want to collapse just before the line.
April 15 – Nottingham Forest (H)
April 18 – Cardiff (A)
April 23 – Blackpool (H)
May 2 – Fulham (A)
May 7 – Reading (H)
Luton have hit a bump in the road recently, but have been resurgent enough this campaign
Top scorer: Billy Sharp (15)
Spearheaded by the evergreen Billy Sharp and enjoying a bounce under Paul Heckingbottom, there is no reason Sheffield United can’t finish in the play-offs.
Slavisa Jokanovic’s tenure was ill-fated from the start and the surprise promotion of their current manager from his role with the U23s was initially poorly received.
He deserves credit, however, for inspiring a turnaround which has helped United into the top six. Their formidable form at Bramall Lane has brought the fans back onside.
Last time out, they were irked by their draw with Bournemouth, but dominated the promotion favourites. Repeat performances will set them in good stead.
April 15 – Reading (H)
April 18 – Bristol City (A)
April 23 – Cardiff (H)
April 29 – QPR (A)
May 7 – Fulham (H)
Sheffield United are another side to have risen up the table under boss Paul Heckingbottom
Top scorer: Ben Brereton Diaz (20)
Despite their dip in form in recent months, Blackburn still remain firmly in the top six picture. However, earlier this season they had been sat inside the play-offs.
Their recent run of just one win in five typifies the inconsistent nature that has threatened to derail their bid, but they do have a favourable end to the campaign.
As it stands, Tony Mowbray and Co are two points adrift of sixth.
However, with the pressure now firmly on, they will need to claw together a string of victories in order to ensure they keep their shot at Wembley glory alive and kicking.
April 15 – Peterborough (A)
April 18 – Stoke (H)
April 25 – Preston (A)
April 30 – Bournemouth (H)
May 7 – Birmingham (A)
Despite being outside of the play-off spots, Blackburn Rovers remain firmly in contention
Top scorer: Matt Crooks (9)
Take a bow, Chris Wilder. In the same vein as Steve Cooper, the former Sheffield United boss has helped inspire his Middlesbrough side up the table.
Before him, they were floundering under Neil Warnock.
None of their players have scored 10 goals or more in the Championship, but they do have a nice spread of marksmen and have also tightened up at the back.
If they can continue their strong form at the Riverside Stadium (which has albeit taken a hit with back-to-back losses), they may well be able to force their way into the top six.
April 15 – Bournemouth (A)
April 18 – Huddersfield (H)
April 23 – Swansea (A)
April 27 – Cardiff (H)
April 30 – Stoke (H)
May 7 – Preston (A)
Middlesbrough transformed themselves from strugglers to banging on the play-off doors
Top scorer: Benik Afobe (11)
At the start of the season, even Millwall fans would likely have been surprised by a play-off charge come May. However, that scenario is now within their reach.
Not burdened by lofty expectations, Gary Rowett’s side remain in the edge of the scrap for the top six. Currently, they sit in ninth, four points adrift.
Their hopes were very much kept alive after they thumped Barnsley 4-1 at a raucous Den, following their disappointing three-game winless streak.
With the likes of struggling Peterborough, Hull and Birmingham still to come, Rowett will surely be telling his squad that they are still capable of an unlikely top-flight bid.
April 15 – Preston (A)
April 18 – Hull (H)
April 23 – Birmingham (A)
April 30 – Peterborough (H)
May 7 – Bournemouth (A)
They may have flown under the radar, but Millwall and Gary Rowett are also able to break in
Top scorer: Viktor Gyokeres (16)
Their victory at Fulham spoke volumes: Coventry aren’t giving up without a fight.
Boss Mark Robins is doing a truly superb job at the Midlands outfit, after guiding them into the second tier and then ensuring they would remain there.
And instead of them glancing nervously over their shoulders, they have instead placed their sights upwards – with six points between them and the play-offs.
They face tricky tasks against Bournemouth and Huddersfield in their run-in but, even if they were to fall out of contention, this has been a super season for them.
April 15 – Birmingham (A)
April 18 – Bournemouth (H)
April 23 – West Brom (A)
April 30 – Huddersfield (H)
May 7 – Stoke (A)
Mark Robins and Coventry are enjoying a remarkable season, and they are six points adrift
WHO WILL GET INTO THE PLAY-OFFS?
It is very hard to look anywhere other than the teams already occupying the top six.
Huddersfield and Nottingham Forest have enjoyed superb form in consistent batches this season, which should see them take third and fourth respectively.
In fifth, Luton do look vulnerable after not winning in their last three, but they should score enough goals to fire them to enough points to get them into the play-offs.
Sheffield United are level on points with the Hatters and could feasibly move above them – and it seems unlikely that the teams below them will overtake in that final place.
Share this article
Source: Read Full Article