Premier League promotion could be worth up to £200 million if new clubs manage to stay in the top flight for more than one season. Maybe that’s why the likes of Brighton, Burnley and Middlesbrough don’t seem to be letting their foot off the gas in recent weeks.
The trio of clubs are embroiled in a fascinating race for automatic promotion from the Championship and separated by a matter of points at the table summit. And with just four games left, it’s still not clear which pair will get their mits on a hugely valuable golden ticket to the Premier League promised land.
Who’s your money on? Here’s how Marathonbet assesses the situation at the top…
BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION – 33/50 to win promotion
The Seagulls have never soared as high as the Premier League, which is why they are third-favouites with Marathonbet to win promotion. They made the Championship play-offs in 2014 but bottled the occasion when going down 6-2 to Derby County on aggergate in the semi-finals. Things look to be different this time round, however.
After a bitterly disappointing season last term, where the club narrowly avoided relegation under Sami Hyppia, seasoned Championship gaffer Chris Hughton took over the reins this campaign and transformed the team. Albion kicked off the season by going on a 21 game unbeaten run in the league before being chinned 3-0 at home by Middlesbrough.
That defeat was the start of a mini-slump for the south coast club and they went to lose three of their next four games. But rather than losing steam completely, Hughton’s lads toughened up and have now lost just once in their last 17. They face Boro in what could potentially be a promotion decider at the Riverside on the very last game of the season.
KEY MAN: 16 goal hitman Tomer Hemed has to win this accolade thus far but Anthony Knockaert and Lewis Dunk are also in the mix.
MEMORABLE MOMENTS SO FAR: The 21 game unbeaten run at the start of the campaign sent fans into a promotion frenzy. A late Sidwell winner at Nottingham Forest kept the Seagulls in the hunt on April 11 and subsequent 5-0 and 4-0 wins against Fulham and QPR respectively have ensured Brighton are hitting form at just the right time.
WHAT IF?: Albion conceded a last-minute equaliser to Burnley at the Amex on April 2. With the promotion race so close, it could prove costly come the end of the season.
REMAINING FIXTURES: Charlton (away), Derby (home), Middlesbrough (away)
MIDDLESBROUGH – 2/25 to win promotion
Boro must have been hurting after suffering defeat at the hands of Norwich in last year’s Championship playoff final at Wembley. To come back again this season and do it all again – albeit in stronger fashion – is testament to Aitor Karanka and his squad.
The table toppers have conceded just seven goals at home all season and made the Riverside a formidable place to visit. They’ve also kept a clean sheet in just under half their entire schedule so far. But they’re not out of the woods yet and could easily be caught by Burnley and Brighton if their last three games of the season don’t go to plan.
KEY MAN: Boro’s strong defensive record hasn’t been achieved by chance. At the centre of defence Daniel Ayala has led the team into battle and ensured the hatches at the back are watertight. He’s also contributed three goals to the cause – including a vital winner against Nottingham Forest in September.
MEMORABLE MOMENTS SO FAR: Smashing Brighton 3-0 in their own back yard was a significant statement of intent from the Boro boys. Not only did it confirm the team’s promotion credentials, the victory was also significant because it ended the Seagulls’ 21 game unbeaten run. Same again at the Riverside on May 7?
WHAT IF?: Like Brighton, Boro were also victim to a late Burnley equaliser most recently on April 19. The damage was done deep into the fourth minute of injury time when an important three points away to their promotion rivals looked secure.
REMAINING FIXTURES: Ipswich (home), Birmingham (away), Brighton (home)
BURNLEY – 27/100 to win promotion
Relegated from the Premier League last season, Burnley have been last-gasp heroes this campaign. They’ve won a massive 14 points from goals scored last ten minutes of games and are a team that just does not give up. Important last-minute equalisers against Brighton and Middlesbrough, as mentioned, have given the team real confidence in the promotion run-in.
They’re currently on a 20-game unbeaten run in the league and arguably have the easier run-in than their other two promotion rivals. They can go top of the league when travelling away to Preston tomorrow (Friday) but could be pegged back when Middlesbrough and Brighton play their games on Saturday.
KEY MAN: Sam Vokes has popped up with important goals and netted 14 times up until this point. But strike partner Andre Gray has 24 goals and eight assists to his name to win himself the accolade of Burnley’s most important player.
MEMORABLE MOMENTS SO FAR: There have been a host of late equalisers and winners but perhaps this week’s 94th minute goal against Boro is the most important. Defeat would have left the Clarets in third place and left trailing Brighton with just three games to go. But a last-minute strike from Michael Keane ensured Burnley kept their fate in their hands.
WHAT IF?: Burnley have lost just five times this season but also drawn a number of games they should have arguably won. A trio of draws in March and April against Wolves, Brighton and Cardiff – two of which were at home – left fans frustrated.
REMAINING FIXTURES: Preston (away), QPR (home), Charlton (away)