The Football League Run-in: Which Teams Are Likely to Reach the Promised Land?
April 13, 2017
As the football season comes to a close, there is still plenty to play for in both the Premier and the Football League. This is particularly true in the Championship, where the title, automatic promotion spots and final play-off places have yet to be decided.
With promotion to the EPL worth up-to £200 million to clubs over several years, the battle for a coveted place in the top six is likely to reach fever pitch in the weeks ahead.
Brighton and Newcastle Will Duke it Out for the Title
Until recently, the battle for the Championship title included three teams, with Huddersfield competing hard with leaders Brighton and Rafa Benitez’ Newcastle side. The Terriers of lost three of their last four games since beating Brentford on 11th March, however, and while they have a game in hand on the top two they are unlikely to overhaul the 10 point gap that separates them from second place.
This leaves a straight shoot-out between Newcastle and Brighton, with the formers’ 2-1 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday having handed the Gulls a two-point advantage with five games to go. Brighton arguably have a tougher run-in however, which includes trips to Aston Villa and Norwich City (who recently put seven past promotion changing Reading). Newcastle also host play-off hopefuls Leeds next time out, however, so there are plenty of twists and turns to come in the title race.
Make no mistake; however, these two sides are well-placed to claim the automatic promotional slots and reach the EPL.
The Play-Off Race: Five Into Four Won’t Go
Huddersfield’s poor form has also helped the chasing pack to close the gap on the Terriers, with just five points separating the four play-off places between third and sixth. With seventh place Fulham just two points further back, there are five teams in realistic contention for a these positions and the race is set to reach further pitch in the weeks to come.
Third place Huddersfield have the comfort of a game in hand, of course, while they also know that nine points from their remaining six matches will guarantee them a play-off slot. Behind them, fourth place Reading had appeared to be coasting towards the play-offs on the back of three consecutive victories over March and early April (including wins against rivals Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday), before their momentum came shuddering to a halt after a shambolic, 7-1 thrashing at Carrow Road last time out.
Still, you would expect these teams to reach the promised land, while the same may also be said for fifth-place Leeds, who under Garry Monk have excelled and look a good punt in the football league betting stakes. After all, the Yorkshire club are just a single point behind Reading, while they have also won five and lost only two of their last 10 league matches. They also have a relatively simple run-in after they visit St. James Park next weekend, so are well-placed to achieve their aims.
This leaves sixth place Sheffield Wednesday and Fulham competing for the final play-off place, and what a fascinating battle this promises to be. Wednesday have flirted with a return to the EPL on several occasions since their relegation back in 2000, while Fulham are the league’s top scorers and capable of beating anyone on their day. To top things off, the two clubs are set to do battle on the final day at the season at Hillsborough, where the winner may very well take all and claim the final play-off slot.
The Bottom Line: Why the Owls Holds the Edge
Wednesday were mightily impressive in their 2-1 win against Newcastle, however, while they appear to be in slightly more consistent form as we head into the final straight. Given that they also hold a narrow, two-point advantage over Fulham and have a relatively easy run-in, they will hope to secure the final play-off slot prior to the Cottagers’ visit on 7th May.
One thing is for sure; the race for the Premier League is likely to grow increasingly frenetic as we approach the end of the season. This should not come as a surprise given the financial prize on offer, while we are sure to see several twists and turns over the next few weeks ahead.