Promotion and Relegation Races Head to the Wire in EFL Championship
The party has already started on the south coast, with Brighton clinching promotion to the Premier League last week and needing one more win to secure the title, but the Championship promotion and play-off picture is still wide open.
Newcastle United are still hot favourites to join Brighton in automatic promotion, but Rafa Benitez’s side have hit a brick wall in recent weeks.
The Magpies have picked up just one point from their last three games, a loss at Sheffield Wednesday, draw with Leeds United and loss at Ipswich Town. As any a fan of watching the World’s Strongest Man on TV will attest, you know all about momentum and when that 10-ton truck stops moving, it’s not going to restart.
Six points from their final three games – Preston (home), Cardiff (away), Barnsley (home) will guarantee Newcastle promotion, four points will probably get the job done, but they are looking shaky at the moment and you would not fancy them if they did drop into the play-offs.
Huddersfield Town and Reading are the two sides lying in wait to pounce should Newcastle come off the rails completely, but their focus should be on the play-offs.
Huddersfield had the best chance to overhaul Newcastle, but they have lost three of their last six games and it is Reading who are carrying momentum. The Royals had their lull through February and March, winning just two of an eight-game spell, but they have racked up 15 points from their last six games and are on the charge. They will be feared in the play-offs and can be backed at 5.00 for promotion.
It’s a battle between Yorkshire and London for the two remaining play-off berths. With three games of the season left to play, Sheffield Wednesday and Fulham occupy the two spots – with Leeds United outside on goal difference.
Fulham are the side who have emerged from a seemingly hopeless position to make a late play-off rush, and those sides are often the ones to be feared. After winning their first two games of the season, they went on a run of one win in nine and were flirting with relegation. They’ve been transformed by manager Slavisa Jokanovic and can be backed at 4.30 to gain promotion. But they have to get into the play-offs first and do not have an easy run-in. They travel to Huddersfield on Saturday and end the regular season with a trip to Sheffield Wednesday.
Leeds are on the outside looking in after a poor recent run of results, a home loss to Wolverhampton Wanderers on Easter Monday was a hammer blow to Garry Monk’s men, but they have three games they will start favourite in and nine points will get them into the play-offs.
Brighton aside, Sheffield Wednesday are the most in-form team in the division right now, with four wins in a row, and they have their play-off position in their own hands given they face Fulham at home in the final game of the season on May 7th.
The Owls host Derby County on Saturday and can be backed at 1.80. With Derby’s season already run, take Wednesday to roll them over and make it five on the spin. Steven Fletcher has been in good goalscoring form of late, with three goals in his last three games, and he looks a decent option to net the game’s opening goal.
The relegation picture is somewhat murky, with any of seven sides still fighting for survival. Rotherham are already down and Wigan Athletic look destined to join them in League One next season.
The final relegation spot is currently occupied by Blackburn Rovers, but five other teams are not mathematically safe. Realistically, it’s likely to boil down to a battle between Blackburn and Nottingham Forest, who are separated by a point. The odds are stacked against Rovers, they are 1.65 to go down, while Forest can be backed at 4.00.
Harry Redknapp’s Birmingham City are hovering two points above Forest with a markedly inferior goal difference. They could be dragged into the mire at the weekend, as they face a Second City derby with Aston Villa. Redknapp has been brought in with the sole purpose of keeping the side in the division and his experience can keep them in the division.
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