Championship play-off race too close to call

It is mathematically possible that any one of 7 teams could occupy the 3 remaining Championship play-off places come the end of the regular season on May 4th. Watford have secured their place in the play-offs, but the three teams below them in the table, Brighton, Crystal Palace and Bolton have not yet made their position in the play-offs safe. Leicester and Nottingham Forest are in 7th and 8th respectively and both still have a chance of finishing in the top 6, whereas Charlton and Birmingham are realistically out of the running.

All the teams from 4th place down to 10th have just 2 games left to play except for Crystal Palace, who face Millwall on April 30th in a re-arranged match. If the Eagles win, it could shore up their place in the play-offs, but that depends on how they do on Saturday against Blackburn, but having a game in hand this close to the end of the campaign gives them the best possible chance of protecting their play-off place.

Brighton are currently in 4th place with 69 points, 4 more than 7th place Leicester. They have to play a rejuvenated Leeds United side on Saturday though, a game that will not be easy for Gus Poyet’s team. The Seagulls have only won 3 out of their last 10 games, but an emphatic win over Blackpool last Saturday will have given Poyet’s team the encouragement they need to get the points in the final two games of the season.

Although they have only picked up 14 points out of a possible 30 in their last 10 games, Brighton are not the team looking the least likely to be able to hold onto their place in the play-offs. Crystal Palace have picked up 5 less points than the Seagulls in their last 10 games and their form will have to pick up if they are to keep their place in the Championship’s top 6.

Bolton Wanderers have hit a patch of form recently, with 7 wins in their last 10 matches. Their good form may have come as a surprise because when Dougie Freedman took over as manager, the team were close to the relegation zone and he has to be commended for the way he has pulled the Trotters up from the dangerous position they were left in by Owen Coyle. Their last two games of the season are away to champions Cardiff and at home to relegation threatened Blackpool, so 4 points is probably the most that they can expect from those games, but Bolton did beat the Welsh side in November, so they know what it takes to beat the Bluebirds.

Nigel Pearson’s Leicester are in 7th place and have only won one match in their last 11, which is worse form than already relegated Bristol City. For their last two games, the Foxes have Watford at home and Nottingham Forest away, which are two of the most difficult that Pearson could have asked for. If their current form continues, it looks unlikely that Leicester will put themselves back into the play-off places, which they have looked secure in for most of the season.

Nottingham Forest have been revitalized under new boss Billy Davies. The fans’ favourite led the team to 6 Championship wins on the bounce from 19th February to 16th March, but the Midlands team hasn’t won a game since then. Millwall away and Leicester at home are the final two tests for Forest this season, so 6 points looks achievable but they may have to rely on other teams slipping up.

Although it is mathematically possible for Charlton and Birmingham to get into the play-off places, it looks unlikely that either of them will. Both teams will have to win their remaining 2 matches and then rely on the teams above them losing their remaining games. Charlton have a goal difference of 3, so they could sneak into the top 6 if the teams above them lose by enough goals and the Addicks win both of their games by enough. Birmingham’s goal difference is -4, so unless they can pull off a miracle in both games that they have left, they will be spending another season in the Championship.

Thomas Baxter