Firstly, congratulations to Roberto Di Matteo and his West Brom side who clinched the second automatic promotion berth and will be once again in the top flight next season. The sound coming from West Brom fans is that they’re desperate for their team to spend money and cement their place in the Premiership, as in previous seasons West Brom have been considered as the team ‘too good for the Championship – not good enough for the Premiership’. Albeit, many would of argued in the previous season when they did go down, they ill-deserved their fate as many met their style of football and mentallity favourably. Early rumours coming out of the club suggested that the Albion would be looking to invest heavily this summer but this may no longer be the case, as instead the chairman, Jeremy Peace, is hoping for sensible purchases. Next season will be an interesting one for the Baggies and they have added to the recent success of other clubs in the area such as Villa, Birmingham and Wolves.
Now that the two automatic places have been decided, that leaves only four more promotion places and in truth only one of those spots will see a team thrust into the top tier as the Championship playoffs draw ever closer. Nottingham Forest are guaranteed a place in the final four and look odds on to finish top and play the team who finishes fourth in the play off section. Forest’s amazing home form and mid-season unbeaten run made them hopeful of obtaining automatic promotion, but I’m sure no fan would have complained at the start of the season if they knew their side would be finishing in 3rd!
Cardiff city also look odds on to play in this season’s play-off semi finals and surprise package Leicester, who are looking for back-to-back promotions, are also in a strong position. The final play-off spot looks less certain however and although Swansea have a slim advantage and sit on the right side of the line, Blackpool and Middlesbrough are snapping at their heels. Outside of that, there is Bristol City and Sheffield United, but with only three games to go their challenge appears to be over. So in my opinion, there is one more play-off place that can really be contested.
Swansea have an all Yorkshire run in for the remainder of the season:
Swansea V Barnsley
Sheffield United V Swansea
Swansea V Doncaster Rovers
These are all tricky ties and although all three of these teams have little competitive to play for, they will be keen to put in the performances towards the end of the season as the opening of the transfer market draws closer. Swansea have been picking off 1-0’s and a lot of draws this season, but with teams motivated behind them they’ll need to give it their all if they want to make it to the play-offs.
Blackpool have two tough games coming up too, but luckily for them they are both at home:
Blackpool V Nottingham Forest
Peterborough United V Blackpool
Blackpool V Bristol City
Forest and Bristol City are two tough oppositions and Bristol City, who sit behind this pack of three, will still be keen to test out whether or not they can reach the play-offs and if by chance they do make it to the run in, that final game of the season could be massive.
Finally, Middlesbrough will need to dig deep and they could most definitely do with winning every single one of these games despite how tall an order it may be:
West Brom V Middlesbrough
Middlesbrough V Coventry City
Leicester City V Middlesbrough
That final game, against Leicester, is such a tricky game and one that few teams would look forward to due to the Fox’s dominance at home games. As well as this, Leicester are not too far away from the chasing pack and could be sucked back into a battle, meaning this could also be an interesting final day tie with everything to play for. It is also hard to say whether a newly promoted West Brom will be a good thing or a bad thing, as players may be in a more relaxed mood but the pressure is off them and they can play with more freedom. ‘Boro need to go for that game and make it competitive as possible, as that is the last thing the Albion will want.
In my opinion these final few games are tricky for every side and it’s going to come down to which team wants it more. If I had to chose one run in, I’d probably go for Swansea’s, with all due respect to those teams, it’s a more balanced fixture list and you would be hoping to challenge for points there, whereas Blackpool play Nottingham Forest and ‘Boro have two daunting away tasks. But like I said, they’re all difficult fixtures and it’s hard to say which team can gain an edge from the games they have. Swansea are looking good to take that final place, but in the Championship you cannot rule anything out.