There are five games remaining in the Championship, with everything to play for in the promotion hunt.
Futbol Callander takes a look at every club who could likely make a bid for a Premier League place.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. The Championship promotion hunt may be reaching its climax nearly three months later than usual, but everything is still to play for as sides in the second tier vie for the most lucrative promotion in world football.
Leeds United are one point worse off than after 41 games last season, but without a runaway Norwich City this season and without Sheffield United breathing down their necks, Marcelo Bielsa’s side top the Championship after a 3-1 win at Blackburn secured a playoff place.
Many fans enjoyed seeing the Whites collapse to playoff defeat to Derby last season, but it seems that, with a six-point gap back to third-placed Brentford, it’s only a matter of time before Elland Road hosts top-flight football for the first time since 2004.
Two playoff-chasing sides stand between Leeds and the Premier League, as they visit Swansea City and Derby County on matchdays 43 and 45 respectively. They host struggling Stoke City on Thursday, Barnsley next Wednesday, and Charlton Athletic on the final day which, on paper, makes for a favourable run-in.
West Brom sit just a point behind Leeds and are of course the side most likely to pip them to the title should the Peacocks drop points in the remaining games.
The Baggies have taken seven points from a possible twelve since lockdown, starting slowly with a 0-0 draw at home to Birmingham and a significant 1-0 loss to Brentford.
Since then, they’ve beaten Sheffield Wednesday 3-0 at Hillsborough and defeated Hull City, who are certainly not safe yet, 4-2 at the KCOM on Sunday.
Slaven Bilic’s side have, in theory, a more difficult run-in than Leeds, facing Derby, Blackburn and Fulham, along with a visit to Huddersfield and hosting QPR on the final day.
They know that a win over seventh-placed Derby will put them on 80 points and secure at least a playoff finish, but having tasted playoff defeat to rivals Aston Villa last season, they will want to put their position beyond doubt as soon as possible.
Brentford come into the run-in with comfortably the best goal difference in the Championship after four wins from four after lockdown. The Bees have flown up the playoffs with wins over Fulham and West Brom, also dismantling both Reading and Wigan 3-0.
They sit five points behind West Brom with 15 available, and 11 ahead of Derby, meaning Thomas Frank’s men will likely need two wins to secure a playoff place. Fortunately, matchday 43 sees them travel to Pride Park on Saturday, meaning a point against the Rams should guarantee a top-six finish.
Besides Derby, Brentford host Charlton on Tuesday, Preston a week later, and Barnsley on the final day. The Tykes will likely already be relegated by that point, and Frank’s side have a winnable visit to Stoke City on matchday 45.
On current form, and considering their remaining fixtures, you could certainly make a case for Brentford catching West Brom in the remaining games if the Baggies drop points. They’ve been one of the most eye-catching sides to watch this season, with a neat passing style and much has been made of their Moneyball-esque transfer approach.
Fulham have restarted their promotion hunt disappointingly since football returned. Scott Parker’s side lost to Brentford and Leeds consecutively, and though the Cottagers have overcome QPR and Birmingham since, they have to face three of the top six in the remaining five games.
Added to their Brentford and Leeds defeats, Fulham will have faced the other five top-six sides in their final nine games. They travel to the City Ground to face Nottingham Forest at Tuesday teatime, and host Cardiff City on Friday.
They are seven points away from securing a playoff place at time of writing, but four points from their next two games would all but secure a top-six finish.
Their final three fixtures see Fulham travel to West Brom, host Sheffield Wednesday and visit Wigan on the final day. The Cottagers’ final two games certainly appear winnable, with Wigan threatened by a 12-point deduction and possible relegation after calling in administrators last Wednesday.
Nottingham Forest have had a solid restart, and are unbeaten in their four games back.
Last-minute equalisers have denied Forest wins at both Sheffield Wednesday and Derby, but home wins against Huddersfield and Bristol City have buoyed Sabri Lamouchi’s side ahead of a mixed run-in.
The Reds host Fulham on Tuesday and visit Preston on Saturday, two games which could shape Forest’s push for a playoff finish. Four points from those games could make the final three matches a little more comfortable, as seventh-placed Derby sit seven points behind at time of writing.
Forest host Swansea on matchday 44, before visiting Barnsley next Saturday and host Stoke City on the final day of the season. Lamouchi’s men will hope to have guaranteed a playoff finish before then but, being seven points clear of Derby with 15 remaining, two poor results may put their hopes in the balance.
They sit on 68 points from 41 games, two more than saw the Reds finish ninth last season. Derby snuck into the playoffs in sixth place last season with 74, and sixth again with 75 points in 2017/18. Fulham finished sixth with 80 points in 2016/17, though Newcastle won the title with 94 points and 93 were needed for automatic promotion that season.
Cardiff City sit just inside the playoffs in sixth place, following wins over Leeds, Preston and Bristol City and a draw at home to Charlton.
The Bluebirds host Blackburn on Tuesday evening, and travel to Fulham on Friday in likely their most difficult game of the five that remain. Neil Harris’ side also host Derby on matchday 44 which may be a ‘playoff six-pointer’. The Rams find themselves three points behind Cardiff at time of writing, and a win for either side could have a huge impact on who makes the final playoff place.
Matchday 45 sees them travel to Middlesbrough to face their former manager Neil Warnock, who took the Bluebirds to the Premier League in 2017/18, and is now tasked with keeping Boro in the second tier after Jonathan Woodgate’s dismissal.
They host relegation strugglers Hull City on the final day, a potentially favourable fixture if they need a win to secure a playoff place. However, should the Tigers be relegated before then, they might play without pressure and give Cardiff more cause for concern.
Derby County sit just outside the playoffs in seventh, and have had an excellent restart. Philip Cocu’s men have taken ten points from a possible 12 since football returned, only denied by Nottingham Forest in the East Midlands Derby.
The Rams were third in the Championship form table between Christmas and early March, only behind Forest and Fulham. Since football returned, they have moved to the top of the form table since Christmas with three wins and a draw.
They visit West Brom at teatime on Wednesday, host Brentford on Saturday and then comes the big one. Cardiff City away.
If the Rams win at Cardiff City Stadium, they might overtake the Welsh side depending on results in the two games between now and next Tuesday.
However, next Saturday Cocu’s side host leaders Leeds on matchday 45, by which time the situation could be very different for both sides. The Peacocks might already have secured promotion by then, but Derby will likely still be in a dogfight to finish sixth for the third time in as many seasons.
They visit St Andrews on the final day to face Birmingham City, and will hope to have a playoff place in the bag to take the pressure off. The Blues should now be safe, especially with potential 12-point deductions hovering over both Sheffield Wednesday and Wigan, both directly above them.
My final Championship playoff prediction:
- Leeds United
- West Brom
- Nottingham Forest
- Derby County