It’s been a thrilling season in the Championship, but it’s far from over yet. While Wolves have all but mathematically sealed the second-tier title, the playoff positions are far more contentious – and it’s almost customary for one club outside the top six to sneak into it at just the right time to make the off-season showdowns.
So ahead of a batch of midweek fixtures that sees fourth face second, Aston Villa vs Cardiff, ninth host sixth, Sheffield United vs Middlesbrough, and first play fifth, Wolves vs Derby, Football FanCast have a simple question; which club could sneak into the top six, and which club could fall out of playoff reckoning? Our experts have their say below…
“I’m going with the obvious. After a being in the top two midway through the campaign, Derby are on their annual season slide, so I can see them finishing as low as 8th-10th. Millwall are the team to watch and have a ridiculously good recent home record. After a shaky start to the season, Neil Harris’ men could in fact be the team to sneak into 6th place.”
“I genuinely think Millwall have got a great chance of breaking into the top six in the Championship.
“Neil Harris has guided the Lions to a sensational 15-game unbeaten run and you just get the feeling the south London club could sneak into the coveted play-off spots.
“What I like about Millwall is they will stick to a 4-4-2 formation week in, week out, and Harris will rarely deviate from that – on top of this, the personnel within that 4-4-2 remain the same virtually every single match-day. Every Millwall player knows their job and they are a tough, resilient Championship outfit that never go down without a fight.
“I have major question marks over Derby County. Yes, they’ve won their last two matches and have a game in hand, but the Rams just never seem to deliver when it’s needed most. Gary Rowett’s men also have some very tough fixtures coming up in the handful of matches that remain, with Wolves, Cardiff, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough still to play. Their recent shock 4-1 home defeat to lowly Sunderland just summed up Derby’s inconsistencies. You need momentum at this time of year, and Derby are stuttering to the finishing line.”
“Derby’s win over Bolton saw them stop an abysmal run of no wins in nine. That, however, was a victory over a team in serious relegation trouble, and so can hardly be called a turnaround in form. Indeed, with Wolves to come this midweek it could be a return to the grind for Derby.
“Gary Rowett’s side still have Cardiff, Middlesbrough and Aston Villa to come after that, too. On current form, you’d have to say Derby’s run-in should give Millwall hope that they can overhaul the Rams and grab an unlikely play-off spot.”
“For me, if anyone, it’ll be Millwall that sneak into the top six and that is certainly something few would have expected at the start of this season. Momentum is key in the Championship when you’re going for the play-offs and the Lions have it with them more than those below. They’ve addressed their away form and combined it with a formidable streak at the New Den so if anyone gets in I think it’ll be them.
“That said, it’s tough to pick a side that will drop out. Fulham and Aston Villa won’t be going anywhere – the former could make the top two for sure – whilst I think Derby have enough quality and power to keep their place in the top six, even if their run-in is quite tricky. If any side drops out, then, I could see it being Middlesbrough. They’ve underachieved this season and should really be further up in the table than they are with their squad. Their next four games are against play-off rivals and so they are in the most precarious position.
“However, without wanting to sound too boring, I think the top six will remain as it is just about. Middlesbrough host Millwall at the end of the month and I’d expect the winner of that to make the play-offs. Boro, having home advantage, should take it.”
“As things stand, it’s difficult to point your finger at any team other than Derby County for the one team in real danger of falling away from playoff contention. They’re on a dismal run of form and have a really tough run-in, but we all know the Championship is capable of whipping up a few surprises at this stage of the season, so I wouldn’t write them off just yet. While Millwall are the form team heading in to the final few weeks, Brentford are also in some good form and could be considered outsiders for a playoff spot – it may be a bit of an ask for them to gain five points on the leading pack with just five games to go, but stranger things have happened in that league.”