The Championship play-off race is often an exciting and tense part of the season; with the teams involved often having to fight for their place right up until the final kick of the regular season.
As we enter the final full month of the English football calendar, it is looking this campaign is going to be no different.
So, we are left with two questions – which four sides are going to make it into the play-offs? And who will be walking away from Wembley Stadium in May, with the ultimate prize of reaching the Premier League?
Huddersfield Town – Current position: 3rd, 71 points
David Wagner’s men have enjoyed a tremendous season so far and find themselves at the top of the play-off pile. Although not too far behind the automatic promotion places currently occupied by Brighton and Newcastle, it may prove too high a hurdle for the Yorkshire outfit. However, Huddersfield are the form team in the league since the turn of the year and while the Terriers are the lowest scoring side out of any of the play-off contenders – they have one of the tightest backlines in the division and it has seen them put themselves in a great position. A tough fortnight awaits though as they face both Norwich and Preston who will be desperate to make up ground on the play-off sides and these few games could prove telling as to where they finish in the promotion mix.
Projected finish: 3rd, 89 points (Play-off runner-up)
Leeds United – Current position: 4th, 69 points
Leeds appear to have moved away from their ownership troubles and are now making the headlines for much more positive reasons. Gary Monk’s side have the best defensive record in the league outside the top two, and a healthy goal difference to show for it. In addition to having a strong defence, Leeds have the Championship’s top goal scorer Chris Wood in the ranks. The New Zealand international is currently side-lined with an injury but will return before the end of the season and his inclusion could play a pivotal role in any success that Leeds will have this season. A crunch game on 1st April against Reading will be crucial in deciding where these teams finish the campaign. A trip to Elland Road for a play-offs match will be a fearsome prospect for whichever side faces Gary Monk’s men and the backing of the fans could be a big boost for the players in these high-pressure fixtures.
Projected finish: 4th, 84 points (Play-off Winner)
Reading – Current position: 5th, 67 points:
Much like Leeds, Reading have managed to leave a couple of poor seasons behind them and have gone on to have a very successful season under manager Jaap Stam. The Royals have had a slight blip in form as of late and will be hoping that they can win the massive game against Leeds at the Madejski Stadium on 1st April. Jaap Stam’s men have gone through a huge transition period since the Dutchman arrived in the summer and while they have found goals slightly difficult to come by at times this season; the team has a solid foundation and a philosophy that the players have all bought into. The main factor that will play into Reading’s hands is that they on paper have the easiest run in of all the clubs fighting for the play-off places, which should see them finish in the top six.
Projected finish: 5th, 83 points (Play-off Semi-finalist)
Sheffield Wednesday – Current position: 6th, 62 points
The Owls have pulled together an immensely talented squad for this season and, under Carlos Carvahal, have found themselves right in the mix once again in the Championship run in. A 2-0 loss at home to rivals Reading prior to the international break would have stung, but fixtures against Barnsley and Rotherham provide a great chance for Wednesday to bounce back. Carvahal’s men have prided themselves on not conceding many goals this season and the defence will certainly be tested as tough games against free-scoring Newcastle and Fulham on the final day await the Owls.
Projected finish: 7th, 73 points
Fulham – Current position: 7th, 61 points
Fulham are the highest scoring side out of the current play-off contenders, thanks to thrashing several teams at Craven Cottage this season. Slavisa Jokanovic’s men have a pretty tough final eight games this season – but a 3-1 win at St. James’ Park over league leaders Newcastle will have lit a fire under the Cottager’s play-off campaign. It has shown that they are more than capable of fighting with the biggest teams in the division and will hope to still have the momentum after their players return from international duty. Fulham could cause real issues for whichever side they face should they get into the play-offs, but a likely 6th place finish could see their opponent being too strong over two legs.
Projected finish: 6th, 75 points (Play-off Semi-finalist)
Norwich City – Current position: 8th, 57 points
Norwich have endured some tough points at times this season but are still in play-off contention despite having caretaker manager Alan Irvine at the helm since the dismissal of Alex Neil earlier this year. The Canaries have rediscovered some form and the likes of Cameron Jerome, Steven Naismith and Wes Hoolahan are great players but a run-in that pits Norwich against six sides chasing promotion in the last eight games might be enough to see them fall short of the top six on this occasion.
Projected finish: 9th, 67 points
Preston North End – Current position: 9th, 57 points
Perhaps the ultimate dark horses in this season’s promotion mix. The Lancashire club have fired themselves up the table thanks to the likes of Aiden McGeady who has rejuvenated his career with Simon Grayson’s side. It would a great result for the Lilywhites to creep into the play-offs but you would have to say that they would struggle against many of the other contenders across two legs. A tough run of games through April may dent any chance of reaching the top six as every point will be massive as the campaign reaches its climax.
Projected finish: 8th, 70 points
At this point of the season, every game is a cup final for teams at both ends of the table. It is part of what makes the Championship one of the most exciting and competitive leagues in the World. It remains to be seen what will happen as this season draws to a close and it is likely that there will be a number of twists before the final ball is kicked in May, but while the final outcome is unclear; it is certain that it will be a thrilling finish to the Championship campaign with the ultimate prize of promotion to the Premier League up for grabs.