EFL Championship: The fight for promotion and battle for survival
We are now approaching the business end of the campaign and, once again, the Championship is massively hotting up. With just 12 games remaining, the table is unbelievably tight at both ends. The battle for promotion at the top realistically stretches right down to 11th-place, with only seven points separating Millwall and sixth-placed Preston, who currently occupy the final play-off place after 34 games.
At the bottom it’s a similar affair. Luton Town are currently rooted to the foot of the table, though the Hatters are only six points from safety and could easily change their fortunes with a solid run of form. Barnsley and Wigan make up the rest of the bottom three as things stand but, just like Luton, are both within touching distance of Huddersfield, Middlesbrough and Stoke - each of whom are still in grave danger of facing the drop come the beginning of May.
So, who’s in contention to achieve automatic promotion in three months’ time, which sides are in with a real shout of obtaining a space in the elusive play-off spots at the end of the season, and who will be relegated when the final ball is kicked on May 2nd?
There’s a familiar sight at the top of the Championship at the moment, with renowned ‘yo-yo’ club West Brom currently leading the pack on 66 points. Slaven Bilić’s side have been emphatic throughout the whole campaign, and their knowhow on how to get out of this incredibly demanding league continues to shine through.
Having dropped out of the Premier League back in 2018, the Baggies came close to bouncing straight back up to the top-flight last term when they finished fourth in the second-tier. They faltered in the play-offs, however, losing to eventual winners Aston Villa, which meant that their hopes of a return to the top-flight would have to be delayed for another season.
It looks as if they will go the distance this time around though, barring a monumental collapse in form from now until the end of the campaign. The West Midlands outfit are currently four points clear at the summit of the Championship as things stand, while they are nine points ahead of dropping into play-off uncertainty. You can get best-priced odds of 5/6 for West Brom to scoop the league title with William Hill, which is significantly higher than their current 1/10 price to finish second.
Leeds United are another side who have come close to promotion in recent seasons, but have ultimately fallen at the last hurdle. Like West Brom, the Whites made the play-offs last season but were knocked out by Derby - paying the ultimate price for falling out of the automatic promotion places late on, after looking as though they would win the title or at least finish second throughout the majority of the campaign.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side have been impressive once again this time out and enjoyed a terrific run of form prior to Christmas, winning seven games on the bounce. Indeed, the Yorkshiremen appeared to start cracking under pressure after the turn of the year, winning just one of their seven league games before their narrow 1-0 win over Bristol City last weekend.
Leeds repeated their exploits on Saturday with another slender 1-0 victory over Reading - a result which has given them some breathing space in second, ahead of third-placed Fulham who are now five points behind them following a 1-1 draw with Derby on Friday night. The Whites are 11/10 to win the league title ahead of West Brom as things stand, and as short as 1/ 6 just to achieve automatic promotion. Will they finally manage it this time?
One of the most exciting aspects about the Championship is the play-offs. Four teams will have the opportunity to gain promotion to the Premier League when the season draws to its conclusion in May, and currently there are as many as nine teams still in with a realistic chance of making the top six.
Fulham lead the way when it comes to the ‘best of the rest’ in the second-tier. The Cottagers are currently third on 57 points but will have aspirations of achieving an automatic promotion spot, so to avoid the complexities of the play-offs.
Scott Parker’s men are still in with a great chance of finishing in the top two should they start to pick up form, especially considering they have the league’s leading goalscorer to rely on in the form of Aleksandar Mitrovic up front.
Currently, Fulham are 11/1 to achieve automatic promotion, while they are 16/5 to win the play-offs. If you’re feeling optimistic, you can get the Cottagers as high as 50/1 to win the league, though that does look extremely unlikely at this stage.
Brentford are one of the most exciting sides in this season’s Championship. The free-scoring Bees have netted 56 goals in 34 games this term - second only to current leaders West Brom who have 62 to their name - and possess a really talented, young squad which have all massively impressed this time out.
Players like Ollie Watkins - who has just one less goal to his name than Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic with 22 - and Said Benrahma have both lit up the division since August, and could well be the reason that Brentford earn promotion to the Premier League for the first time in their history.
Led by an extremely talented manager in Thomas Frank, Brentford look good value to finish the campaign in the top six, and will have a fantastic chance of winning the play-offs if they do enter them. The west London outfit are just 1/20 to make the top six, while they are 15/8 to win the play-offs with Betfair.
Behind the top four, Nottingham Forest, Preston, Bristol City, Blackburn, Swansea, Cardiff and Millwall are all separated by just seven points and, with 36 points up for grabs from now until the end of the season, each of those teams still stand a chance of breaking into the coveted play-off places. Cardiff could be worth keeping an eye on at 6/1, in our humble opinion.
As previously mentioned, the situation at the bottom is just as tight as it is at the opposite end of the table, with as many as eight teams still in danger of facing the drop down to League One. Luton currently occupy bottom spot on just 30 points, alongside Barnsley and Wigan, who sit in 23rd and 22nd on 31 and 34 points respectively.
The situation is a perilous one for those clubs, though hope is not lost and a solid run of form could see each of them hauled out of the danger zone. Huddersfield are just a point ahead of Wigan in 21st (on 36 points), so could easily drop into the bottom three if their poor form persists and results elsewhere work against them.
Meanwhile, Middlesbrough (37 points), Stoke (37 points), Charlton (39 points) and Hull (41 points) are the other club’s in immediate danger at the moment, while the likes of Reading and QPR are both not yet completely safe but they do have a slight cushion on the rest of the threatened pack, sitting on 42 and 43 points respectively.
At the minute, it is difficult to look past Luton being relegated. The Bedfordshire club have simply not been good enough this term, conceding a staggering 69 goals - considerably more than any other side in the division (QPR have conceded the second-most with 58). Ultimately it is Luton’s defensive frailties that will cost them this season, unless Graeme Jones’ men can turn it around in the remaining stages of the season.
Barnsley looked doomed only weeks ago but after winning their previous two games against Fulham and Middlesbrough, their fortunes look like they may be turning. The Tykes face Hull, Reading, Cardiff and QPR in the upcoming three weeks, and should they manage to collect at least 10 points from those games, they’ll stand a fantastic chance of survival.
The same can be said for Wigan, who have now lost just one of their last six games after a miserable period throughout the back end of 2019, where they took only five points from a potential 30 on offer. With this in mind, backing the Latics to stay up at 17/20 could be a decent bet.
Odds for relegation
Luton - 1/10
Barnsley - 4/11
Wigan - 1/1
Huddersfield - 11/4
Charlton - 10/3
Middlesbrough - 6/1
Stoke - 8/1
Hull - 12/1
*Odds and information in this article correct as of 25.02.2020 - 2pm