Its down to the wire in the Championship with only three matches remaining for most clubs. Sunderland (82 pts) continue to sit first in the table after their 2-1 win over QPR on the weekend. It’s not all sunshine and lollipops over on Wearside as it was announced that midfielder Graham Kavanagh will miss the rest of the season after suffering an ankle injury in training. Their remaining games are against Colchester, Burnley and Luton.
Birmingham (80 pts) moved back into an automatic promotion place with a 2-1 win over Southampton. Marek Saganowski’s late header came too little too late for the Saints whose promotion hopes suffered a blow as they now trail a playoff spot by six points. The Blues have a tougher schedule as they play Wolverhampton, Sheffield Wednesday and Preston to wrap up the season.
Sitting just behind Birmingham is Derby(78 pts) who saw their automatic promotion hopes dented with a 2-1 loss at Ipswich. Derby goalkeeper Stephen Bywater got into a bust-up with Ipswich’s Alex Bruce in the Derby penalty area and both were red carded. The pair have been charged with improper conduct by the FA after clashing again as they left the pitch. Derby manager Billy Davies was also sent off for the third time this season following the bust-up. Derby face Luton, Crystal Palace and Leeds in their final three fixtures. Losing Bywater for any of those matches would be a massive blow.
Also in the playoff picture are Preston(71 pts), West Bromwich(70 pts) and Wolverhampton (70 pts). Preston have a tough run-in with fixtures against Leicster, Plymouth and Birmingham. They also have injury concerns as midfielder Paul McKenna could be out for the rest of the season after picking up a groin injury in training.
West Brom stumbled again at home against Sheffield Wednesday dropping a 1-0 decision on a controversial Deon Burton goal in the 59th minute. West Brom keeper Dean Kiely felt he had saved Burton’s effort but the assistant referee ruled that the ball had crossed the line.
West Brom’s problems compounded in the dying seconds when Neil Clement and Darren Carter were both sent off. Clement was dismissed for headbutting Leon Clarke and could miss the rest of the season if punished by the FA. Carter quickly followed after being handed his second booking for a rash challenge as Wednesday were looking to run down the clock. West Brom are away to Burnley and Coventry before wrapping up the season at home against Barnsley.
Wolverhampton have hit an inconsistent patch with a win, 2 losses and a draw on Saturday against mid-table strugglers Crystal Palace. They’ve been poor defensively, as their -1 goal differential would indicate and their inability to keep clean sheets may haunt them down the stretch. They have Birmingham, QPR and Leicster to round out the season.
Stoke currently on 68 pts still have a shot at the playoffs. Stoke have home fixtures against Hull and Colchester before concluding the season away to QPR.
At the other end of the table things are also tight. Leeds picked up three precious points against Burnley this past Saturday, courtesy of a Matt Heath header in the 21st minute. There was some crowd trouble as this YouTube clip shows. Fan violence is a disturbing trend and I’ve been working on a longer piece that I will post to one of the many blogs I am writing for these days
Luton look certain to make the drop though not mathematically eliminated just yet. Southend United are also quite likely to drop though are only 4 points from safety at the moment. Still not safe are QPR, Leicster, Barnsley and Hull. It’ll be a tight race at both ends of the table and I’ll be following the action closely.
Who do you most want to go up to the Premiership and who are you shamelessly rooting for to be dropped?
My picks for automatic promotion are
5) West Brom
At the other end, I think it will be either Leeds or Hull that drop along with Southend and Luton.