Championship: Second tier heads for tense finale at top and bottom

Championship: Second tier heads for tense finale at top and bottom

28 March 2024 0 By Total Football News

With the final international break of the season behind us, the Championship returns for its run-in on Friday.

BBC Sport takes a look at how the league is shaping up, as the battles for promotion to the Premier League – and to avoid relegation to League One – both look set to go right to the wire.

Four for two at the top

Top of Championship table

The top of the Championship table has had an unusual look for the past 10 days after Leeds United knocked Leicester City off the summit by beating Millwall 2-0 in the final game before the international break.

Prior to 17 March the Foxes had ended every day in first position in the second tier since 7 October.

Admittedly Enzo Marseca’s men are only in second on goal difference, and do have a game in hand on the Whites, but their run of one win in five league games has given teams around them renewed hope of winning automatic promotion.

The mood caused by those results has been further darkened after they were charged with breaching profit and sustainability rules (PSR) last Thursday.

They have subsequently started “urgent” legal proceedings against the Premier League and English Football League (EFL) but, if found guilty of the charge, the Foxes could face a points deduction for next season.

Leeds boss Daniel Farke has seen his side overhaul the Tigers, having been 17 points behind them at the turn of the year.

The German is looking to win the Championship title for the third time and, with 12 wins and a draw from their 13 Championship matches in 2024, it is becoming increasingly hard to look past the Yorkshire side securing an immediate return to the Premier League.

Third-placed Ipswich Town are in the hunt for a second successive promotion, and their 6-0 shellacking of Sheffield Wednesday last time out means they start the sprint for home just a point behind Leicester and Leeds.

Southampton might be down in fourth but, with two games in hand on the top two, they will feel they could yet crash the party.

The Saints play all three of the teams above them in their final 10 games and will hope to take their promotion push to the final game, when they visit table-topping Leeds.

An epic battle to avoid the drop

Bottom of Championship table

Down at the foot of the table Rotherham United, with just three wins all season, are all-but relegated – the Millers’ fate could be sealed on Friday if they lose at Preston and other results go against them.

But the question of who will be joining them in League One next season is a long way off being decided.

Just five points separate 23rd-placed Sheffield Wednesday from 16th-placed Millwall, with all the strugglers having played 38 matches.

Neil Harris has won three of his five games since returning to the Lions last month, to move them away from immediate danger.

Blackburn Rovers, who boast the division’s top goalscorer in Sammie Szmodics, are one point and one place worse off but are in wretched form. Rovers have won just once in the league since 12 December and have to play the division’s top four sides before the season is out.

Plymouth Argyle and Stoke City sit a single point behind the East Lancashire side. Steven Schumacher left the Pilgrims to take over at the Potters in December but has found it heavy going, while replacement Ian Foster is having a tough time winning over the fans at Home Park.

Despite sitting in 20th the atmosphere is probably more buoyant around Queens Park Rangers than it is at many of the teams who sit above them. Marti Cifuentes has done a fine job since taking over in November and they have lost just one of their past six.

The R’s welcome fellow strugglers Birmingham City on Good Friday. Blues are now back under the management of Gary Rowett after Tony Mowbray was stood down until the end of the season on medical grounds.

Rowett, Blues’ fourth boss this season after John Eustace and Wayne Rooney were both sacked, will have his work cut out to maintain their second-tier status as he arrives off the back of five defeats in six.

Huddersfield Town occupy the final relegation zone berth, albeit they are only in there on goal difference. German gaffer Andre Breitenreiter got off to a good start with a win at Watford in his first match but they’re without a win in four now, and could do without a visit from FA Cup semi-finalists Coventry on Friday.

Wednesday did not put their first win on the board until 29 October, after a club record worst-ever start to a campaign. However, Danny Rohl has turned the team’s fortunes around on the pitch as well as endearing himself to the club’s fans, many of whom have spent the season protesting against owner Dejphon Chansiri.

Wednesday won four games in a row going into March, but Yorkshire rivals Leeds ended that run before Ipswich thumped them last time out. That means the Owls’ goal difference is comfortably the worst of the teams in the relegation dogfight.

Could that prove costly come 4 May?

Push for the play-offs

A split picture of Gabriel Sara, Liam Rosenior, Haji Wright and Ryan Lowe
Norwich midfielder Gabriel Sara, Hull City boss Liam Rosenior, Coventry striker Haji Wright and Preston manager Ryan Lowe all hope their side will be involved in the play-offs

With two of the play-off places to go to whichever of the top four fail to win automatic promotion, and fifth-placed West Bromwich Albion eight points clear of seventh, it looks like there is just one spot available for the end-of-season showdown.

Norwich City have the box seat as it stands – David Wagner’s men have scored eight goals without reply in their past two matches.

Hull City are three points behind the Canaries but do have a game in hand. Liam Rosenior’s side have stumbled of late, courtesy of four successive draws, but will not give up easily as they look to secure top-flight football for the first time since 2016-17.

Coventry City could yet end the season with a hat-trick of visits to Wembley. The Sky Blues, last season’s beaten play-off finalists, face Manchester United in the semi-final of the FA Cup next month – looking to reach the final for the first time since winning it in 1987.

That could present something of a logistical problem, though. The FA Cup final is scheduled to take place the day before the second-tier play-off final and Mark Robins’ men are four points off sixth, with a game in hand.

PrestonNorth End, the only team in the promotion equation never to have played in the Premier League, sit one point behind Coventry and now face four teams in the bottom half before welcoming Norwich on Saturday, 13 April.

Tenth-placed Middlesbrough and 11th-placed Cardiff City both have slim chances of making a late run but, seven and eight points off sixth respectively, will need to put together a run of wins and get numerous favours from elsewhere to take their challenge to the last day.

This article was originally posted on https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/68484886