The English Premier League often receives high praise and references as the best league in the world. There’s no doubting it’s entertainment value and high quality thanks to the vast array of talented players on show, but in terms of excitement and unpredictability, it’s understudy, the Football League Championship, is giving it a run for its money.
36 games into the season, and the race for promotion into the promised land of the top tier is proving quite astonishing. Well known as a division in which any side can beat any team on their given day, the Championship is well and truly living up to its billing.
With 10 games of the season remaining, there are as many as nine sides who can still harbour genuine hope of promotion, with two automatic positions, and four play-off places up for grabs. And just who will make the top six come May? It’s anyone’s guess.
The two automatic sports at the top of the table continue to change occupancy each week. Unlike previous years, there is no runaway leader of the division as Bournemouth, Derby, Watford and Middlesbrough remarkably find themselves level on 66 points a piece. And more remarkable still, Norwich who sit in fifth position, are just a point off top spot, something you won’t see too often in any league around the world so far into the season.
Just like us, the bookies are struggling to call it, with Bournemouth tentative favourites to win the division following an impressive 5-1 victory away at Fulham last week. With a home fixture against basement club Blackpool to come this weekend, they look a banker for another three points in order to maintain their position at the top. But with the crazy results this division can provide, nothing is a given.
Norwich have put together a fine run of form since the arrival of new boss Alex Neil, and with their strikers beginning to fire on all cylinders, are just behind Bournemouth in the betting to take an automatic spot. Looking for an instant return to England’s top division, they will be keen to build on their 4-1 over Millwall last weekend as they welcome fellow title chasers Derby County to Carrow Road on Saturday.
Steve McClaren’s side suffered play-off heartache last season, with a final defeat to QPR, and are well in the mix go one step better this season. Injuries to leading strikers Darren Bent and Chris Martin have seen them stutter in recent weeks, however, and they will have been left ruing their inability to close out a two-goal lead last week against Birmingham – they conceded two injury time goals in a 2-2 draw.
Another side right in the mix is Watford, who with the likes of Troy Deeney, Matej Vydra and Odion Ighalo, possess one of the division’s most lethal strike forces. After a hard-fought 2-2 at Wolves last weekend, they welcome Reading to Vicarage Road, and with the Royals potentially eyeing their upcoming FA Cup replay with Bradford, could take full advantage with another three points.
FA Cup giant killers Middlesbrough have been lurking around the top two for the majority of the season, but a few slip ups in recent weeks, have seen those sides around them close the gap. Also a team with plenty of talent in their squad, many fancy them to win the division, and they go back to the top by avoiding defeat to Ipswich in tomorrow’s early kick off.
Ipswich, currently sitting just a point and one place off the playoff spots themselves, will be hoping for a positive result from their trip up north. One of four sides who appear to battling it for the final play-off place; along with Wolves, Brentford and Nottingham Forest, they too still have plenty to play for, and the race for sixth spot looks to be heading down to the wire.
With all of the above sides still in with a realistic shot at promotion, this season’s Championship is proving to be one of the best we have ever seen. There’s still a long way to go as we reach the business end of the season and those involved will know a solid winning run in the next few games could be vital in their bid to achieve the ultimate goal. Some will be left celebrating, while others will be left disappointed after a tough campaign. But just who that may be, will take some guessing. It really is too close to call.