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The Championship: A Four Horse Race?

Twenty five games gone in the Championship season and things are hotting up in the race for promotion to the promised land.

Southampton, West Ham, Middlesbrough and Cardiff are pulling away from the rest of the league at the top of the table with a six point gap down to fifth placed Reading.

Its shaping up to be an intriguing fight for the two automatic promotion spots as we move towards the business end of the season.

Long term pacesetters Southampton have seen their lead at the top wiped out at the beginning of 2012 and are in somewhat of a slump having won just once in their last six matches although they still sit top on goal difference.

Having also seen their incredible home run bought to an end by Bristol City in their final game at St Mary’s of 2011 the cracks are starting to appear in their bid to end their six year exile from the top flight.

Nigel Adkins will need to address his teams worrying away form which has seen them win just three times on the road losing five, one more than 12th placed Leicester City.

A comforting thought for Saints fans however is that despite their sides stuttering form no team has yet to really take advantage with closest rivals West Ham struggling themselves of late.

The Hammers took only four points from their five games in December due in part to an injury crisis which saw them without eight first teamers in the recent 2-1 defeat to Derby.

The January transfer window will almost certainly see the eastenders bring in new recruits as owners Gold and Sullivan desperately seek to earn promotion back to the premiership at the first attempt.

A striker is top priority as Big Sam looks to reduce the burden on top scorers Carlton Cole (8) and Kevin Nolan (7) who have been short of support from other areas of the side.

The Irons have the best defence in the league although the possible sale of James Tomkins would be a major concern to all the clubs fans and once again give West Ham the tag of a ‘selling club’.

One club that is determined not to sell anymore is third placed Cardiff, the bluebirds will be working hard to hang on to key man Peter Whittingham amidst interest from the Hammers.

The Welsh side are flying high having suffered only one defeat in their last fifteen matches in all competitions and finally look capable of going all the way after being the divisions nearly men under previous boss Dave Jones.

A 3-1 win over Reading in their last outing put them just two points off the summit and Malky Mackay’s side are cranking up the pressure on the top two with their relentless consistency which has seen them lose just four times so far, two defeats less than the teams above them.

Tony Mowbray’s Middlesbrough have also lost only four times although one of those came last time out in a crushing 3-0 defeat to Blackpool, not the way boro fans would have hoped to start the new year.

The riversiders are however very well placed to mount a serious challenge for the title in the second half of the season but seven draws at home so far has slightly hindered their surge up the table.

Another slight concern is that the goals of top scorer Marvin Emnes have dried up with the dutchman not finding the net since November 1st, a problem Mowbray might look to solve by signing a forward on loan in January.

The rest of the league are in danger of losing touch with the top four as they pursue a place at England’s top table and one of the chasing pack will have to put together a consistent sequence of results to get anywhere near the Championship front runners.

Greg Styles @gstyles19

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