Image Credit: LTFC Wellingborough
The Championship is back tomorrow when Brentford travel to Fulham for the midday kickoff. The second tier in England always tends to be the most exciting and unpredictable in the country and it shouldn’t be any different this year. To get you ready for Leeds, West Brom, Fulham and co battling for a place in the Premier League, let's look back the story so far from the second tier.
The Big Three
Unless one of the teams below goes on the run to end all runs. Then, there are realistically three teams left in the battle for promotion; Leeds United, West Brom and Fulham. Leeds currently sit top of the league after five straight wins without conceding. Writers around Leeds have also been praising the side for their level of preparation around the coronavirus and coming back (they had their first preparation meetings about COVID-19 in early January). Bielsa’s sides always gets off to a good start of the season and Leeds will be hoping that a good restart ends a 16 year exile from the top flight.
West Brom’s time outside of the top tier is much shorter and yet the fans will not be wanting that stay to end any less. The break could have come at a worse time for the Baggies. Not only were their biggest rivals for the title in their best form, but West Brom had been starting to struggle, notably with a loss to Wigan. Bilic’s side have shown that they’re good enough for promotion all season. Anything outside of the top two would be regarded as a failure.
Fulham have a bit of a gap to the top two, being six points behind West Brom and seven behind Leeds. There’s still work to be done but Scott Parker has a side that is capable. That works in his favour, Fulham’s schedule does not. Based on the games remaining, Fulham have by far the hardest run in of the top three. They have to face, among others:
- 4th placed Brentford
- 1st placed Leeds
- 5th placed Nottingham Forest
- 9th placed Cardiff
- 2nd placed West Brom
Of course each cloud has a silver lining and beating both Leeds and West Brom would make Fulham strong contenders for the title. I’m sure they would have still wanted an easier run in though.
The Play-off Battle
The best thing about the Championship, especially this season, is that almost every team in involved in something. The playoff battle involves the teams from 4th down to 13th. Apart from Fulham, the current sides occupying the play-offs are Brentford, Nottingham Forest and Preston. All sides have had impressive campaigns. Brentford want to leave Griffin Park the right way and have one of the stronger squads in the league on paper. Nottingham Forest are managing to work through the conflicts at the top of the club and Alex Neil at Preston is making a strong case for Manager of the Year. Outside of the playoffs, Bristol City are more than capable of a run into the top six, their game against Preston on the last day could be a shoot-out. Millwall, Cardiff, Blackburn, Swansea, Derby (so long as they don’t get a points deduction) and QPR are still all arguably in the battle, but to a lesser degree.
Every season of the Championship brings stories of certain teams bending the rules and/or getting into financial trouble. This time around it’s Sheffield Wednesday and Derby. The Owls and the Rams have both been charged for misconduct over the sale of their stadiums to their owners. A noted loophole that used to exist in the EFL’s Financial Fair Play rules. Neither of the cases are concluded but could cost both teams 21 points. Should they receive these deductions, Wednesday would then have 27 points and Derby would have 30, comfortably putting them last and 23rd in the table respectively. The deductions would definitely shake up the bottom of the table and would probably result in the very expensive stadiums of Hillsborough and Pride Park spending time in the third tier.
The Battle at the Bottom
The challenge to avoid League One is just as interesting as the battle to enter the Premier League. Barnsley and Luton have their work cut out but are not entirely out of it. Luton welcome back Nathan Jones after his disastrous spell at Stoke. Barnsley were starting to show signs of improvement under Gerhard Struber before the break. The situation at Charlton and Hull is more interesting though. The two teams with the two worst sets of owners in the league have had it tough. Charlton’s change of ownership is good, but their legal battles with their former executives are not, some demanding millions of pounds from the club. Lee Bowyer’s men are also not helped by the fact Lyle Taylor, Chris Solly and David Davis are refusing to play to help secure transfers in the summer (in their logic).
If Charlton’s situation is bad, Hull’s might be even worse. Their last win in the league came on New Years Day against Sheffield Wednesday and in the 11 games since they have picked up just two points. Not helped by the fact that they sold Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki in the January transfer window and really not helped by the loss of Eric Lichaj, Jackson Irvine, Stephen Kingsley, Marcus Maddison and Malik Wilks (once his loan ends). Hull might be two points clear of the drop, but look destined for League One than any of the three sides currently residing there. Don’t rule out Wigan, Middlesbrough, Huddersfield or Stoke from the drop either.
The only thing anyone can predict about the Championship is that nothing will be predictable. The nine game mini-season we are about to enter will be nothing like what the Championship has been before, and therefore, counter-intuitively, everything like the Championship has been before.