Just like the bottom of the Premier League (which became even more congested this week), the top of the Championship presents a tangled mess of possibilities. With two automatic promotion spots on the line and playoffs for the next four, no one seems to want to grab hold of a position. Every time it seems a club is having a small run of form then results go against them (exhibit 1: Leeds losing to Sheffield United) and they slip back to the pack.
So lets go ahead and look at the teams and I’ll freely admit this is a mixture of fact, opinion and deep seated bias.
Queens Park Rangers:
For the purposes of this article I’m going to assume they will not be deducted 10 points and drop back into the pack. More than anyone, QPR have made the most of their chances. They have not been perfect, slipping up on a regular basis but they have been more consistent than anyone else. I used to go watch QPR as a youngster, plastic pitch and all, they had a nice stadium that was easy to get to. I’m not sure we need another London team in the Premier League but I think we’re going to get one. QPR were a top division fixture when I was a child and it will be nice to see them back.
QPR’s position leaves only one automatic promotion spot which no one seems to want to own.
What about the other promotion contenders?
Another club I always considered a top flight team. A few weeks ago Norwich were powering their way through the division but recently became unstuck, winning a few games but dropping points against Preston, Doncaster and Leeds before another string of wins sees them rise into second. Unlike QPR, Norwich just do not have the look of a team that will be able to hold their place in the Premier league. They look pretty safe for at least a playoff position but there are no guarantees for the automatic spot. April 9th’s clash with, currently, third place Swansea will be significant but other than that they have a, relatively, straightforward run in. You can buy tickets to Norwich City matches on TixDaq.
It would have been nice to see both Welsh teams promoted but right now that’s looking less likely. Of the two of them Swansea had been the most consistent. But recent results, until this weekend’s win against Nottingham Forest, have been poor. Swansea have a solid core to the team but again don’t appear strong enough for the Premier League to me. While only playing Norwich of their direct competitors they still have a tough run in against teams who will be fighting for playoff spots.
Cardiff, as a team, trouble me. A lot of their success has been based on loan players such as Craig Bellamy, and recently, Aaron Ramsey. It’s hard to see them maintaining this in the Premier League. Early in the season they seemed shoe-ins for promotion but have dropped away badly with only their recent win against Swansea keeping their pride and chances intact. Right now they are 4 points off the automatic promotion spot and 6 points safely into the playoff positions. Of course, last year’s disastrous Wembley defeat at the hands of Blackpool will surely haunt them. This weekend they dropped points to a late goal from playoff chasing Millwall after twice being ahead. They have one of the more straightforward run-ins fixture wise, but with teams like Preston and Derby picking up surprise points regularly nothing can be taken for granted.
Leeds are currently in 5th place, 6 points off the auto spot and 4 points into playoffs. As a young child I rebelled against my Man Utd loving family and became a Leeds supporter but by the early 90’s they became the enemy. Right now I feel sorry for them and would like to see them return to the Premier League. Recent results have not been great, getting only four wins from the last 10 games and this weekends loss to local rival, cellar dwellers, Sheffield United was a disaster. Leeds have a pretty tough remaining fixture list and will do well to stick in the playoff positions
Sixth place and six weeks off being run away promotion definites. It’s not that long since Forest were challenging QPR for top spot. Forest are a team that people of my age remember as a European Cup winning powerhouse so it would be nice to see them at the top of the pyramid again. Their next game, after the international break, against Leeds will be a big one. Defeat could well see them drop out of the playoff spots. Seven points off auto promotion with 4 teams above them makes that an unlikely proposition at this point. Quite remarkably Forest have not won one of their last 7 games. Prior to that they beat Cardiff and held QPR to a draw. Who knows what team will show up for the rest of the season, which presents them with a tough few games over the next month.
The Chasing Pack:
Forest currently have 60 points, 7th place belongs to Reading with 57 but then down to 13th position has 54 points, this makes things very open. All of the chasing teams have shown flashes of power and dramatic failures. If you take away the first 10 games, Leicester City would be in an automatic promotion spot yet recently have dropped key points. Millwall and Reading both look strong, with the latter undefeated in the last seven with only defeats against the top three teams in their last 25 games. Watford have had some very strong periods this season but this weekends defeat at Middlesbrough was poor. Hull and Burnley are the quiet but steady teams who have surprisingly risen into contender positions, though both have had some recent disappointing results. Finally there is poor old Portsmouth. It’s quite amazing what they have achieved with such a threadbare squad and making up points and places just seems too much to ask.
The next 4 weeks will clarify the picture greatly but, in my opinion, the problem for almost all the teams, with perhaps QPR being the exception, is that they are not as good as the teams that will be relegated by a long measure (perhaps they are better than Wigan). Teams such as Wolves, West Brom, Blackpool and many others who may be relegated play better football and are better teams than these challengers. It’s a tough one because you have to play a certain way to get out of the Championship, but that very same way rarely is successful once you reach the top flight.
Please provide your opinions in the comments.