The Championship promotion race - who'll make the cut?

On this day last year, Manchester City and Liverpool were both tied on 65 points, readying themselves for the title race of decade.

This season, City are languishing 22 points behind their competitive rivals, who will not only win the league by the end of the season, but may even write themselves into the history books with the most successful Premier League campaign of all time.

Yes, Liverpool are scintillating to watch. Yes, half of their team are battling it out to win Player of the Year. But as a football fan, it's hard to get to the end of February and be completely without a title race.

So I've been turning my attention more to the Championship in recent weeks, which is perfectly poised for an enthralling end to the season.

Only 10 points separate the top 6 teams in the division. Only 1 point separates the 4 teams currently in a playoff position. Even Millwall, who are placed in 11th spot, are only two wins away from finding themselves in 6th. With just under half the division fighting for promotion, it seemed fitting to predict how the final table might look at the end of the season.

So that's what I've done.

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6th - Cardiff City (ca. 72 points)

Aside from one bad day at the office, when they lost 6-1 to QPR at Loftus Road, Cardiff have managed to find some consistency over the last 10 games. In 2020, they boast a better record than both West Bromwich Albion and Leeds United who are placed 1st and 2nd respectively.

Although no Championship match-up can be written off as an 'easy fixture', Cardiff have a kinder run-in than the likes of Preston North End and Blackburn who currently sit above them in the table. The Bluebirds have only lost one game at home all season and have drawn 14 matches in total - more than any other side in the division.

If Cardiff City intend on making a playoff run, their first course of action is to be slightly more ruthless in their search for wins between now and the end of the season. Accumulating more draws than wins at the end of a season would likely see them just missing out.

However, with the defensive solidity and compactness at home and with seasoned Championship manager Neil Warnock at the helm, Cardiff may just have enough firepower to propel themselves into a playoff spot by the end of the season.

5th - Fulham (ca. 76 points)

After last season's relegation from the top flight, the Cottagers began the season hoping for a promotion run. The London club currently sit in 3rd position, 9 points behind the league leaders.

Despite Aleksandar Mitrovic's rampant campaign as top goalscorer so far with 21 goals, Fulham's promotion chase has been inconsistent as of late. Their disappointing 3-0 loss to Barnsley last weekend opitimised their unsteady form and, although it is foreseeable to see Fulham in the playoffs this year, they haven't quite ironed out the defensive frailties to gain automatic promotion.

Fulham's primary aim should be to keep their players healthy and find some consistency in terms of tallying points before the playoffs. Winning their home games and drawing their away games will stand them in good stead for those important playoff fixtures.

4th - Nottingham Forest (ca. 78 points)

Forest have made the Championship their home for over a decade now but this campaign may be the first step in awaking their sleeping giant of a football club. With a solid infrastructure, stadium and history, Nottingham Forest would be an attractive club for investors to take over if it made some noise in the Premier League. Making a late promotion run this season is crucial in the club's long-term aspirations.

Currently, Forest are sitting in 5th after having battled their way to a goalless draw with QPR. They are fortunate enough to have a relatively kind run of fixtures before the end of the season and if they can get the better of Fulham, Preston and Bristol City in those pivotal and crucial games, the Reds will definitely be in contention.

4th spot seems a likely endpoint to what has been a successful season so far.

3rd - Leeds (ca. 82 points)

Last season, Marcelo Bielsa's side finished 3rd in the Championship but failed to find their feet in the playoffs. This season, they are currently seated in 2nd and will be desperate to avoid the grueling pressure of the playoffs.

However, Leeds' form has been slipping of late, and despite starting the season stylishly, West Brom have since leapfrogged them and are now four points clear at the top.

Leeds will still continue to pick up points. Bielsa is an experienced coach who has proven the ability to see out close games. However, after collating a number 1-0 wins (like their victory against Reading this weekend), United have an inferior goal difference to both Brentford and West Brom, which may prove costly in the end.

If this prediction holds, let's hope that, for the sake of their fans, Elland Road is rocking after the playoff final's final whistle.

2nd - Brentford (ca. 83 points)

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Crowing the best defensive record in the division and the highest goal difference, Brentford have succeeded in finding the right blend between defensive brawn and freedom going forward. Their ability to score goals has been led by Ollie Watkins, who has already buried 21 Championship goals this season.

The tussle between Leeds United and Brentford will likely be very competitive between now and the end of the season. Both teams have the potential to finish the victors and gain automatic promotion in the all-important 2nd spot.

As both contenders have already battled it out this season, they must rely on their form against the other domestic sides to see them through; it may even end in a photo finish on the final day of the season.

1st - West Bromwich Albion (ca. 90 points)

After failing to bounce straight back into the Premier League last season, following their 2018 ejection from top flight football, West Bromwich Albion look to have found the right formula this campaign. The Baggies currently lead the league in goals scored, least losses accumulated and - most importantly - points. With four points clear, West Brom will continue their excellent run and lift the Championship trophy in May.

Although Fulham and Brentford are thankful for their rampant goalscorers (Mitrovic and Watkins), they have been rather reliant on them for putting the ball in the back of the net.

The league leaders should be praised for their team performances, particularly in attack. No player at West Brom has amassed more than 10 goals in the Championship despite the team scoring 62, the highest in the division.

This team-first mentality has fared them well so far and should continue to do so in the Premier League if they make it. Although promoted teams are grateful for their club owning a Jack Grealish or a Teemu Pukki, Sheffield United have proved that organisation, teamwork and togetherness is what helps you flourish in the Premier League. Slaven Bilić should look to replicate the Blades next season in his return to the Premier League.

Agree with the predictions? Comment and share your thoughts below!

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