Before becoming a Sports Journalist for Free Super Tips, Aaron spent three years studying Sports Journalism at the University of Sunderland while taking in the Black Cats' 'glory years' under Martin O'Neill. Now back in Northern Ireland he turns niche stats into predictions for FST, while he's one of the few people on this island who is equally comfortable at Windsor Park and the Aviva.
With only a few games left this season, the playoff fight in the Championship is tighter than ever. While the top two and bottom three are almost sorted, we still have a battle on our hands as three sides look to keep their promotion ambitions alive.
It seems almost certain that Norwich and Sheffield United are going up automatically. That leaves Leeds to join West Brom and Aston Villa in the playoffs. However, the final slot is between Derby, Bristol City and Middlesbrough. With less than two weeks to go, there’s only a point between the trio. Here we’re looking at who has the best chance to finish sixth, while we’re asking if any of them can actually get promoted.
Remaining Fixtures: Bristol City (A), Swansea (A), West Brom (H)
It took late drama to get Derby back into the top six. Of the trio, they were the only side who pulled off a victory on Easter Monday. They scored twice in the last minutes of their clash with QPR to win 2-0, which has lifted them back into the playoff spots on goal difference. That was a massive boost to boss Frank Lampard, who knows that the top six has to be his minimum requirement this season.
The Rams were sixth last season, so they aren’t exactly moving forward if they hold on to their current position. However, they don’t need to be too preoccupied with the bigger picture right now. Securing their playoff place is the main aim, but it seems like this weekend’s clash with Bristol City at Ashton Gate will be the big decider. Their game in hand over Middlesbrough could also be crucial, so they are the favourites at 6/5 with Betfair.
Remaining Fixtures: Reading (H), Rotherham (A)
A rotten run of form has taken Middlesbrough from playoff certainties to seventh place. They were heavily odds-on not too long ago, but they’ve lost seven of their last 10 matches to slip down the table. The latest of those was Monday’s 3-0 hammering at Nottingham Forest. That was a real missed opportunity, with Forest struggling for form themselves.
Now Boro have just two games left, so they need help elsewhere. They really need their two rivals to draw on Saturday, but even that won’t put their fate in their own hands. Tony Pulis has built a functional outfit who aren’t really suited to chasing sides above them, they have clearly gone with a side to grind towards the top two. However, they haven’t been able to hack the pace, while they are now 5/2 with Coral to even get into the top six.
Remaining Fixtures: Derby (H), Millwall (A), Hull (A)
The Robins have won 18 games this season, with seven of them coming in a stretch between Boxing Day and Valentines. They managed only four wins between mid-September and Christmas, while they’ve claimed just four victories in the last two months. Despite that, they remain in the mix with three games to go.
Bristol City could be about to steal a march on their rivals this weekend, with Derby the visitors to Ashton Gate. The only issue is that the Robins have claimed the majority of their points on the road this season, which could leave them vulnerable in that decisive game. On the bright side, the meeting with Derby is the best way to warm up for the playoffs, a winning that would be a real springboard for the run-in. Ahead of that game, Lee Johnson’s men sit out at 9/4 with BetVictor to make it into the top six.
Can They Win Promotion?
The playoffs are always fertile ground for a surprise, but could this season see a distant sixth place side take the last promotion spot? It would be a real shock in a season which has given us two sides worthy of the top flight fighting for second. With West Brom more than capable on their day and with Aston Villa looking in excellent shape, it’s going to be tough getting into the Premier League through the back door.
However, of the three Bristol City seem like the side who could just strike it lucky and sneak in there. Their strong away results this season are a definite plus, while they are the kind of side who enjoy bursts of great form. If they land one of their purple patches in the last weeks of the season, then they’re a serious contender. However, the bookies don’t quite agree, as Bristol City are out at 20/1 with bet365 to go up, which is the biggest price of the lot.
It feels like the opposite can be said for Middlesbrough. Not only has their inconsistency blown a strong position for them, but they just don’t look suited to the playoffs. Tony Pulis came up short when he took on Villa in the semis last season. We think it’s all or nothing for his men, as they aren’t really built to go all out to win these crunch fixtures. Despite that, they’re 16/1 with Coral to go up.
The same could be said for Derby’s form, as they have won back to back games just twice the first international break in September. They lack any real style and rely too much on Harry Wilson, which isn’t likely to play to well when he could be crowded out of big games. The Rams may be priced at 10/1 with BetVictor to go up, but their season so far leaves us thinking that the Robins would be the most competitive of the trio.
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