Welcome back to another blog on ‘A Groundhoppers guide to the pyramid’, where today we are taking a close look at step two on the pyramid, the Championship.
As Liverpool wrapped up the Premier League title with an astonishing seven games left to play this week, England’s top flight only really has the relegation battle to be decided. Of course there is still the battle for European football, but I find that very anticlimactic.
But in case you didn’t realise, we are in for one of the tightest finishes of all time in the Championship, so maybe this will divert your gaze elsewhere this weekend.
Quite incredibly, after 38 games, there are just four teams in the Championship who are more than three points above relegation, and more than three points off the play off spots. This means that 20 teams all have something to fight for going into these final fixtures!
In this article I am going to address the Title race, play off race and relegation battle to preview what is to come in the Championship.
TITLE RACE/ RACE FOR AUTOMATIC PROMOTION
In all honesty, it doesn’t really matter who wins the Championship title, barring a bit of extra prize money and a trophy. Premier League football is all that matters, and if you’ve finished in the top two, then you’ve won that but the race for the top two has certainly ramped up, especially after Brentford’s win last night.
West Brom and Leeds are currently joint leaders, both sitting on 71 points. The teams tailing them, and quite frankly the only teams with any hope of catching them are Brentford and Fulham, who are five and seven points away from the top two as things stand.
But here’s the exciting bit, Fulham travel to Elland Road today, in a clash that could either see Leeds take a huge step towards promotion, or Fulham close the gap on the top two to just four points.
Both Fulham and Brentford are looking very comfortable in the play off spots, but the chance to secure automatic promotion is on the table, so they will no doubt be pushing towards that in the coming weeks.
Form has been thrown out of the window since the league was suspended, so Fulham will fancy their chances up in Yorkshire. But if Leeds win, they will certainly be favourites to lift the Championship title, which is currently on a knife edge.
THE PLAY OFF RACE
For me, there are very little things that are more exciting in football than the Championship play off race. Every single year there is drama and the final placings and teams in the play offs are rarely decided before the final day of the season.
This year, it is certain to go down to the wire.
As aforementioned, Fulham and Brentford don’t really need to be looking over their shoulder. I say this but it’s the Championship so literally anything could happen, but Fulham are seven points ahead of seventh place, so they should only need a few more wins to secure their spot.
The other two teams currently in possession of the final play off spots are Nottingham Forest (61 pts) and Preston North End (57 pts). You can bet that from now until the end of the season, this will change pretty much every week.
Cardiff (57), Blackburn (56), Swansea (56), Bristol City (55), Millwall (54) and Derby (54) are the six teams chasing the final play off spots. So that means that eight teams (nine if you include Fulham) are all vying for two play off places, it really is exciting!
Form is basically out of the window at this point, so to try and give you an accurate depiction of who may be up in the top six at the end of July, I have ranked each of the eight teams in terms of who has the easiest and who has the hardest fixtures…
Here is the table of average league positions of opponents in their last eight games (starting with the lowest average league position, in theory the easiest set of fixtures).
- Millwall (11th)- Avg pos of opponent = 16.8
- Bristol City (10th)- Avg pos of opponent = 12.8
- Nottingham Forest (5th)- Avg pos of opponent = 12.75
- Cardiff (7th)- Avg pos of opponent= 12.75
- Blackburn (8th)- Avg pos of opponent= 12.3
- Swansea (9th)- Avg pos of opponent= 12.1
- Preston (6th)- Avg pos of opponent= 11
- Derby (12th)- Avg pos of opponent= 6.75
So Millwall clearly have the easiest set of fixtures, they face just two of their play off rivals and six opponents in the bottom half of the table. But the South Londoners probably have the weakest squad of the play off hopefuls, they’ve made it this far though so they’ve definitely got a chance!
Derby are facing an uphill battle, facing six teams who are currently sat above them in the table, while Cardiff and Nottingham Forest look strong shouts with a decent set of fixtures, and the benefit of already being in good positions.
But of course this is all speculation, who knows what will happen, but I for one am excited to see how this play off race unfolds!
It is hard to say that a team is relegated with eight games to go, but it is certainly looking perilous for Luton and Barnsley. Luton are five points away from safety, while Barnsley are four away, and they are now in a position where they cannot allow the gap to widen, otherwise they will be down.
So it is last chance saloon for those two, but another six teams are also in the midst of this relegation dog fight…
Currently occupying the final relegation spot is Hull City (41), then Middlesbrough (41), Huddersfield (42), Charlton (42), Stoke (43) and Wigan (44) join them in the fight to stay up.
To see the amount of points a team may need to stay up this season, I looked at the points tally required to stay up from the last ten seasons, and worked out the average. It appears that 45 points will almost always secure you safety, but this season I think every team must be looking at 52 minimum.
Hull City are currently in the last relegation spot, with 41 points so four wins will take them to 53. Of course the figure may end up being lower than 52, but I think to completely guarantee safety, the sides need to be looking around that area.
For me, barring a miracle, Barnsley and Luton are gone, but it is honestly too tight to call for the other six teams.
Middlesbrough have just appointed Neil Warnock though so they will be confident of picking up some vital points, meanwhile Wigan and Stoke will know that a couple of wins will lift them much closer to safety. The sides actually meet on Tuesday, so look out for that one!
For me, it is Hull, Charlton and Huddersfield that have the most to worry about, and come the end of the season I expect one of those sides to sit in the relegation zone. But I’m sure I will be proved wrong…
I am so excited to see how the Championship plays out! The only thing for sure is that we are going to see twists, turns, drama and emotion.
I hope this preview has whet your appetite for Championship football this afternoon, Stoke v Middlesbrough, Leeds v Fulham and Preston v Cardiff are the picks of the day for me, they are the key games in the three sections of the league now!
Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it! Follow @GroundhoppersG1 for more content on the football Pyramid, enjoy your Saturday!