good morning good morning
The international break is finally over, and how lucky are we for it to coincide with the end of the month.
You know what that means - It’s time for your EFL Championship roundup. But this month’s edition is just as much a lookahead as it is a roundup, considering that by April 30 much of the promotion, playoff and relegation race could be settled.
There are only 10-11 games remaining for these clubs, and the margin of error couldn’t be slimmer. Aside from Burnley as champions, everything else is up for grabs. Sheffield Unted’s lead on second place has slipped to six points and they are now being chased by Middlesbrough and Luton.
We have seen some gap being built between the promotion and non-promotion spots. As of this writing, sixth-place Millwall are seven points ahead of Preston (in 12th).
On the bottom side of things, QPR’s horrid run continues and they are truly in the relegation race. Just six points above the drop for now. So let’s take a long look at as many clubs as we can and where things stand:
RACE FOR AUTOMATIC PROMOTION: Sheffield United (70 Pts, +25 GD), Boro (67 Pts, +27 GD), Luton Town (64 Pts, +11 GD)
Sheffield United are in the middle of what could be the biggest bottle job the Championship has seen in the last four years. When they haven’t been knocking Tottenham out of the FA Cup, Sheffield have lost to fellow Premier League hopefuls Millwall, Boro, Blackburn and Luton as their gap on the third spot has narrowed to three points.
Meanwhile, Michael Carrick’s Middlesbrough have been climbing up the table after a rather favourable fixture list. But hey, 13 points out of 15 is good form regardless. In that stretch Chuba Akpom has scored four goals to bring his tally up to a Championship-leading 24 on the season. A hot striker heading into the final run of games is a striker you want to have.
Then there is Luton Town, the minnows of Football League who may soon be splashing in the gargantuan television revenue the Premier League promises. There’s still a long way to go. Rob Edwards continues to do terrific work since joining the side who boast the second-best away form in the league. They have only lost twice this year (against West Brom and Burnley). But I reckon they don’t have any simple fixtures coming up, as all but two matches will be against a club fighting for the playoffs or staving off relegation.
Automatic promotion contenders’ run-ins:
2. Sheffield United: at Norwich, Wigan, at Burnley, Cardiff, Bristol, West Brom, Preston, at Huddersfield, at Birmingham
3. Boro: at Huddersfield, Burnley, at Bristol City, Norwich, Hull, at Luton, at Rotherham, Coventry
4. Luton Town: Watford, at Millwall, Blackpool, at Rotherham, at Reading, Boro, at Blackburn, Hull City
RACE FOR THE PLAYOFFS: Blackburn Rovers (61 Pts, +1 GD, 37 MP), Millwall (60 Pts, +8 GD), Norwich (57 Pts, +11 GD), Coventry (57 Pts, +10 GD), West Brom (55 Pts, +8 GD, 37 MP), Watford (55 Pts, +5 GD), Sunderland (53 Pts, +7 GD)
This is where the Championship gets very competitive, very exciting and very confusing. I count seven clubs that are competing for two spots with eight games remaining. Some of these clubs have been inside or hovering around the playoffs all season (Blackburn, Millwall, Norwich), some have surged up the table after slow starts (Coventry, WBA) and two others now find themselves on the outside (Watford, Sunderland).
So how did we get here and where do we go?
It’s the parity of the league, simple as that. There isn’t a whole lot that separates Blackburn from Sunderland. Watford at 10 are the biggest surprise considering the talent that dropped down with them this year. Millwall and Coventry, meanwhile, have slowly been establishing strong squads the last two or three seasons. A season without at least the playoffs would be a disappointing one.
Blackburn are perhaps the most mercurial of the lot. I wavered on their odds two roundups ago, but they’ve won five of six games in a stretch that also included an FA Cup run. Meanwhile, Coventry are on a nine-game unbeaten run powered by striker Viktor Gyokeres.
And Norwich City are on a three-game winless run (two points out of nine).
As for Watford? Well, they’ve sacked Slaven Bilic.
There isn’t any predicting on where these seven clubs will stand at the end of 46 matches played. I tried twice and so far am mostly wrong. But I will say I am keeping my eyes on Millwall and Coventry.
Playoff contenders’ run-ins:
5. Blackburn: at Birmingham, Norwich, at Huddersfield, Hull, Coventry, at Preston, Burnley, Luton, at Millwall
6. Millwall: at West Brom, Luton, at Hull, Preston, Birmingham, at Wigan, at Blackpool, Blackburn
7. Norwich: Sheffield, at Blackburn, Rotherham, at Boro, at QPR, Swansea, WBA, at Blackpool
8. Coventry: Stoke, at Swansea, Watford, at QPR, at Blackburn, Reading, Birmingham, at Boro
9. West Brom: Milllwall, at Rotherham, QPR, Stoke, at Blackpool, Sunderland, at Sheffield, Norwich, at Swansea
10. Watford: at Luton, Huddersfield, at Coventry, Bristol, Cardiff, at Hull, at Sunderland, Stoke
11. Sunderland: at Burnley, Hull, at Cardiff, Birmingham, Huddersfield, at WBA, Watford, at Preston
THE RACE FOR RELEGATION: QPR (42 Pts, -21 GD), Rotherham (40 Pts, -10 GD, 37 MP), Cardiff (39 Pts, -13 GD, 37 MP), Huddersfield (36 Pts, -21 GD), Blackpool (35 Pts, -18 Pts), Wigan (31 Pts, -26 GD)
The bottom three has been pretty solid for most of the season, but QPR’s wretched form threatens to see the former league-leaders crash out of the Championship and into League One.
QPR have accumulated 12 points out of a possible 66 since October. Michael Beele is long gone, but QPR’s worries started even before he abandoned the ship. This club can go down. Perhaps most embarrassing of all was a 6-1 defeat to Blackpool.
But seven points above the drop is a big enough cushion for now, especially considering how the bottom three clubs are struggling to pick up the points. Even Neil Warnock’s appointment doesn’t seem to have made much of a difference.
Elsewhere, it appears very possible that Blackpool and Wigan will return to the third tier of English football.
Relegation contenders’ run-ins:
19. QPR: at Wigan, Preston, at WBA, Coventry, Norwich, at Burnley, at Stoke, Bristol
20. Rotherham*: at Hull, WBA, at Norwich, Luton, Burnley, at Bristol, Boro, at Wigan
21. Cardiff City*: Swansea, at Blackpool, Sunderland, at Sheffield, at Watford, Stoke, Huddersfield, at Burnley
22. Huddersfield: Boro, at Watford, Blackburn, at Swansea, at Sunderland, at Cardiff, Sheffield, Reading
23. Blackpool: at Preston, Cardiff, at Luton, Wigan, West Brom, at Birmingham, Millwall, Norwich
24. Wigan: QPR, at Sheffield, Swansea, at Blackpool, at Stoke, Millwall, at Reading, Rotherham
*Abandoned Rotherham-Cardiff fixture from 30 March to be replayed
Fitzie’s track of the day (and Ghost!’s from Thursday): The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future, by Los Campesinos!
And now for your links:
Alasdair Gold with a long read on Fabio Paratici and his ban from football
Dan KP: Spurs begin Cristian Stellini mini-era with hands already tied
Premier League rejects Netflix approach for documentary
Manchester United owe nearly £1bn in gross debt and other fees