All the talk amongst followers of English football over the last few weeks has focussed on the Premier League. That is no surprise, of course, as bosses scramble to find a way to bring fixtures back during the coronavirus emergency.
Some of the top leagues in Europe, including the top divisions in Holland and France, have already ended their campaigns but the German Bundesliga is back, and that gives hope to the Premier League. The general feeling at present is that sport in the UK is finally heading down the road to recovery, although we still have a long road ahead.
There are other competitions in England just as keen as the Premier League to return, however. This includes the Championship. This league is, traditionally, one of the most competitive in Europe and this season is no different. When the second flight does return, there will be the usual clamour for points as sides target promotion and race to avoid relegation.
The season is 37 games old
As is stands, the English Championship is 37 games old. There’s plenty to play for across the division, with titles still to be won and promotion to the Premier League hanging in the balance. A season consists of 46 games before teams finishing third, fourth, fifth and sixth enter into a playoff. The winner of that extended season will join the champions and runners up in being promoted to the Premier League for next season, replaced by the bottom three finishing teams in the top flight.
Just one-point separates Leeds United in first and West Brom in second. Fulham in third are currently seven points behind the leaders and, due to how competitive this league is, that suggests the Londoners have little chance of winning the title. They are six points behind West Brom and automatic promotion, but even that seems like a bridge too far at this stage of proceedings. That means it is likely Fulham are playing to hold their position and end as the highest-ranking side in the playoffs, giving them a better draw.
Between Fulham in third and Preston North End in sixth, the difference is eight points. The Cottagers can start to plan for the extended season, knowing they will have to fight tooth and nail if they are to make it to the Premier League promised land. There’s all to play for in behind Fulham, however. Brentford in fourth have 60 points on the board and Bristol City in seventh (currently outside of the promotion playoff places) have 55 points. To make matters even more interesting, Preston in sixth are only three points ahead of Swansea in 11th.
Race is on for sixth
The race is on to join Fulham in the playoffs, it would appear. Brentford and Nottingham Forest have done a fine job so far and have a cushion over the chasing pack, knowing a top-six finish is theirs to throw away. That could still happen, of course, but you’ve got to guess these clubs will have enough about them to hold onto their position between now and game 46. If we continue with that way of thinking, we have a race for sixth place and the final playoff spot.
Preston are clinging onto it at present but, when heading into lockdown, they had lost three games on the bounce and looked there to be shot at. Their lead is a fragile one, one point better than Bristol City, who have drawn each of their last two following a disappointing run of defeats. Between Preston in sixth and Queens Park Rangers in 13th, six points is the gap. That means any one of eight teams could gate crash the party and force their way into the top six.
The eight teams involved lack consistency, but that only makes things more competitive. They are just as likely to go on a winning run and breath new life into their season as they are to suffer a string of defeats. Playing out the remaining fixtures behind closed doors won’t help the cause either. At this time of year, the support of fans helps drive teams to find the extra needed to turn one point into three, especially for those playing at home. With that advantage gone, we should see more visiting teams take points from the home of their rivals.
Lions one of the form sides in the league
Looking at the recent form of teams involved in the Championship playoff push, we note a real lack of consistency, which is certainly worrying. The top two sides in the league have won at least two of their last five – Leeds, for example, is on a winning run of five – but between Brentford in fourth and Bristol City in seventh a team hasn’t won more than one of their last five.
Further down the pecking order and Millwall have taken eight of the last 15 points available to them and that makes The Lions one of the form sides in the division, certainly of those involved in the playoff race. The Londoners went into lockdown unbeaten in three, following two draws with a victory. They were lucky to escape relegation to League One last year but could be playing Premier League football in just a few months. Millwall are two points behind Preston and the top six.
Another team to keep a close eye on when football resumes are the Blackburn Rovers. They may be down in 10th but the Ewood Park side still have plenty to play for. Their season stats read 14 wins and 11 draws against a dozen defeats. That seems like the stats of a midtable side, but they are finishing the season with a flurry. Blackburn have suffered just one loss in their last five league games, winning one and drawing the other three. They are three points behind Preston and, if they are able to come back strong from lockdown, Rovers may have every chance of making things interesting.