This year’s nPower Championship season has been one of the closest of all time, and Saturday’s action will be intense as we go into the final game of the 2012/13 campaign with promotion and play-off places still up for grabs and any two of six teams still facing the drop into League One.
First of all a big congratulations must go to Cardiff City. Following several seasons on the brink of promotion with failed play-off campaigns, the Bluebirds finally earned their place amongst the elite for the first time in their history at the end of a turbulent season and will come face to face with their Welsh rivals Swansea in the big league next term.
Elsewhere the battle for the second automatic spot is still very much alive with current occupants Hull City and their rivals Watford locked in a final day showdown. With The Tigers going down 2-0 to relegation threatened Barnsley at the weekend and Gianfranco Zola’s Hornets being victorious at Leicester 24 hours earlier, just one point now separates the two. Therefore a win at home to already champions Cardiff City will confirm Hull’s return to the Premier League after two years away while anything less and they will have to rely on a slip-up at Vicarage Road where Watford entertain lacklustre Leeds.
Fight for Play-Off Places
Brighton with 72 points are the only team besides either Hull or Watford to be guaranteed a place in the end of season lottery that is the play-offs. Crystal Palace (69) and Bolton Wanderers (67) currently make up the top six but could lose out to either Nottingham Forest (67) or Leicester City (65). The Eagles could have sealed their own destiny on Tuesday, however a goalless draw against struggling Millwall wasn’t enough and they require a victory to make complete sure on Saturday, their visitors though are Peterborough United who also need all three points to ensure they stay in the Championship. Last season’s relegated team Bolton are in the final play-off spot albeit on goal difference only, therefore their derby encounter against Blackpool holds even more significance than normal. If the Trotters slip up at home and drop points then either Nottingham Forest or Leicester will be looking to pounce. However, the added spice to the occasion is that the two teams meet at the City Ground so only one, and not both, can extend their season.
Battle to Avoid Relegation
At the basement end of the table there will be even more last day drama. Bristol City said goodbye to the Championship officially a couple of weeks ago but the other two spaces in the trap door are still wide open. As we approach the final game any two of six teams can still be mathematically relegated none more so than another team who last season were competing in the Premier League, Wolverhampton Wanderers. Last Saturday was a disastrous day for Wolves, along with a 2-1 home defeat to Burnley all other results went against the Midland club and it has now left them requiring somewhat of a miracle to escape. They currently hold 23rd position and are three points adrift, therefore only a win is acceptable when they travel to Brighton and only good enough if both Barnsley and Peterborough return from their travels empty handed.
Barnsley – who gave themselves a real chance with a fine 2-0 win over Hull last week – are the final team currently in the relegation zone, but only on goal difference and the Maths when it comes to the Tykes is easy. On 54 points they face a Yorkshire derby against Huddersfield Town, the irony with this game is that although the Terriers look safe enough in 18th and on 57 points their goal difference is only worsened by Bristol City, therefore although a draw would be enough to secure Championship football for another season whereas defeat would see them drop below their Yorkshire rivals thus meaning Barnsley would then be guaranteed safety. The Tykes on the other hand could survive with a draw depending on Peterborough’s result away at Crystal Palace but will definitely be condemned to League One with anything less.
Peterborough travel to Crystal Palace also requiring a win, failure to do so could still guarantee their future in the second tier provided they match Barnsley’s result and Wolves do not win by more than four goals.
The other two teams still scrapping for survival are Sheffield Wednesday and Millwall. The latter would need a four goal swing to go against them if they claim a point against Derby County in order for that to not be enough, while Sheffield Wednesday who are at home to Middlesbrough definitely need a victory to seal their status. A 1-0 defeat at the hands of Peterborough in their last outing puts them only one point above their conquerors and again they have a worse goal difference meaning that defeat coupled with a draw for the Posh would see the clubs switch places, however if they did lose it would still see them safe if Barnsley fail to win.
Whatever happens at the weekend it is sure to be a fascinating day of football and if all the above statistics and possible outcomes is confusing, here is the complete bottom half of the table as it stands: