We’re into the home straight in the EFL Championship, with just six games left for sides to salvage something from their seasons. Leeds and West Brom remain firmly in the box-seat for promotion, but can’t rest easy with Brentford making their presence felt.
The relegation zone seems to be a game of pass-the-parcel at the moment with Stoke City the latest side sleepwalking into danger when the music stopped after the midweek action.
It’s starting to get tense – here are our Championship predictions for the weekend ahead…
Championship Predictions – Weekend Preview
The Championship Promotion Race
Leeds Utd, eh. You can always rely on the leaders not to make life easy on themselves. The slick 3-0 win over rivals Fulham looked to have set Marcelo Bielsa’s side well on their way to a hassle-free end to the season, but that was followed by an uninspired 1-1 draw at Elland Road with lowly Luton.
In truth, every extra point is useful at this stage as games run out – provided Leeds can maintain their healthy buffer over Brentford. However, Leeds fans wouldn’t be wrong to take a sharp intake of breath looking at this week’s fixtures.
The Bees are flying since the restart and host crisis-club Wigan, while Leeds travel to a well-drilled Blackburn side. With off-field distractions impacting the Latics, it’s not impossible to see Brentford sitting just three points behind the current leaders after this weekend. With goal difference very much on the Bees’ side, nerves would be jangling in Yorkshire if that came to pass.
Leeds’ major flaw has been missing chances to put games to bed this season – Bielsa will be hoping his side are at their clinical best during a weekend that could turn the promotion race on its head.
Second place West Brom will be on a watching brief on Saturday as they return to Hawthorns the following day against struggling Hull City. The Baggies found their shooting boots again in midweek with a thumping 3-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday but could find the Tigers more tenacious than first anticipated after Grant McCann’s side finally ended their own barren run with a win against Middlesbrough.
The Race For The Play-Offs
Wins for Brentford, Fulham and Nottingham Forest in midweek look to have virtually wrapped up three of the play-off spots – unless any of those teams can force their way into the automatic promotion reckoning – so that leaves a cluster of teams fighting it out for that final sixth spot.
Neil Harris’ impressive start at Cardiff shows few signs of abating, and the Bluebirds look to be in the box seat heading into the final six games. A 0-0 draw with Charlton checked some of their recent momentum, but they can regain the initiative in the play-off hunt with a win in the Severnside derby against off-colour rivals Bristol City.
From nowhere, Wayne Rooney-inspired Derby County now look the principal danger after moving to within one point of the play-offs after five league wins in six. The Rams will be hoping England’s record scorer brings his big-game experience to the Brian Clough Derby as they take on local rivals Nottingham Forest.
The Championship Relegation Battle
The EFL Championship was also hit by the sobering news this week that Wigan Athletic have become the first club to be hit by the Covid crisis as the Latics entered administration. The Latics are the form team in the division but are facing the prospect of a 12-point hit which would see them drop to the bottom of the table.
Paul Cook’s side will be looking for a morale-boosting win against high-flying Brentford to at least keep them in the reckoning should the worst happen, but even if it does the Latics might have a fighting chance given few teams are showing genuine signs of pulling themselves away from danger.
Charlton, Hull City and Huddersfield have all done a shift in the panic zone in recent weeks before being shocked back into life, and now it’s the turn of Stoke City to show they have the character to turn things around.
A limp 3-0 defeat to Wigan was perhaps the low point of Michael O’Neill’s reign so far, and they face a massive six-pointer against fellow strugglers Barnsley on Saturday. The Tykes have hauled themselves back into contention since the restart, and know they can pile some serious pressure on Stoke here, with the Potters facing a tough run-in.
Bottom side Luton remain four points adrift but have noticeably improved since the second coming of Nathan Jones. Reading at home looks a must-win, with just six games left for the Hatters to claw back their current deficit.
Championship Predictions – Gameweek 41
Friday 3rd May
Charlton 1-1 Millwall
Saturday 4th May
Derby County 1-1 Nottingham Forest
Blackburn Rovers 1-2 Leeds Utd
Brentford 2-0 Wigan Athletic
Bristol City 1-1 Cardiff City
Fulham 2-1 Birmingham City
Huddersfield Town 0-0 Preston
Luton Town 1-0 Reading
Stoke City 0-1 Barnsley
Sunday 5th July
Swansea City 2-2 Sheffield Wednesday
Middlesbrough 2-1 QPR
West Brom 3-1 Hull City