Champions Leeds Utd can sit back and enjoy the ride on the final day of the EFL Championship season, but it’s going to be a tense evening for almost two-thirds of the division on Wednesday night as promotion, play-off and relegation matters finally get settled.
Will there be any major surprises as the season wraps up?
We’ve made our final set of Championship predictions…
The Championship Promotion Race
EFL supporters have had their fun, but for one year at least, we won’t be hearing “Leeds are falling apart again…” ringing out from pubs and living rooms across the country.
The Whites finally put 16 years of hurt to bed last weekend as they were rightly crowned Championship winners after an exceptional run of form since the restart, winning six of their eight fixtures, and can now steal a march on the rest of their promotion rivals as they begin their summer planning.
That leaves just one automatic promotion spot to fill and it’s now a three-horse race after a late surge from Scott Parker’s Fulham in recent weeks. The Cottagers now find themselves with nothing to lose as they travel to Wigan, as very much the outsiders to nab second spot, but can still capitalise if West Brom and Brentford both continue their last-minute nerves.
In truth, with favourable looking home games, it realistically looks to be between one of the immediate two below Leeds that will secure the final automatic spot, with the Baggies hosting mid-table QPR and Brentford taking on Barnsley in their final ever game at Griffin Park. The Bees’ assignment could be trickier with the away side still fighting for their lives after being Nottingham Forest to avert relegation last weekend.
All three sides gunning for promotion might welcome the lack of crowd noise – given the confusion that can sometimes reign when waiting to hear on results elsewhere.
Prediction: West Brom to be promoted.
Two of West Brom, Brentford or Fulham will have to shake off the disappointment of missing out on instant promotion by this time next week, but it’s still not entirely clear which two sides will be joining them in the dreaded lottery that is the play-offs.
Nottingham Forest fans will be hoping that much-admired boss Sabri Lamouchi doesn’t regret his somewhat dubious decision to rest several key players against Barnsley last week. The Tykes’ last-minute win now leaves Forest suddenly looking vulnerable on the final day after weeks of looking every part an assured play-off contender.
A point would make absolutely sure for the Tricky Trees, but they take on a Stoke side that could be dangerous on the final day given the Potters’ recent improved form and the fact Michael O’Neill’s side are playing with the pressure off.
A complete collapse from Forest looks a long shot, but it could set up the tantalising possibility of a South Wales derby for this year’s play-off final. Both Cardiff and Swansea will be fighting it out on the final day to secure one of the final play-off berths, and both could still make it should Forest lose and ship a few goals in the process.
However, it looks more likely to be a sixth-place shootout between the South Wales pair, with Cardiff facing a Hull side looking resigned to the drop, and Swansea heading to an unpredictable Reading.
Prediction: No late movement – Nottingham Forest and Cardiff to hold firm.
The Championship Relegation Battle
Off-field drama is likely to leave the relegation battle unresolved even by the final whistle on Wednesday night, but that doesn’t mean plenty of fans up and down the country won’t be hiding behind the sofa as events unfold.
With most clubs in the bottom third of the table dogged by inconsistency, it always looked as if the relegation race would go all the way to the final day. Perhaps fittingly, the wildly unpredictable 2019/20 EFL Championship is ending with every relegation-threated side’s survival hopes still effectively ‘in play’ heading into the final game. Middlesbrough and Birmingham fans can’t quite relax just yet, but barring an unlikely set of results on Wednesday, safety still looks within reach even if both sets of fans would have preferred to avert last day nerves.
Bottom side Hull City are praying for a miracle, given only a win and a remarkable goal difference swing can see them avoid dropping to the third tier for the first time since 2005, but there looks to be a realistic path to survival for every other side down there.
Charlton’s paper-thin grasp on 21st spot looks vulnerable to a challenge from the sides beneath them in the relegation zone. The Addicks will be hoping the Leeds celebrations have taken their toll as they make the daunting trip to Elland Road.
Barnsley’s narrow path to survival relies them on bagging a shock win at top two contenders Brentford while also relying on results falling their way elsewhere. Of the current bottom three, that leaves Luton the side looking most likely to mount a last-gasp great escape.
Nathan Jones has re-installed the confidence that saw the Hatters romp to back-to-back promotions during his previous reign, and the Hatters look capable of pulling out the result they need against a Blackburn team already planning for next season.
Predictions: Luton survive; Charlton, Barnsley and Hull to drop… court cases permitting.
Championship Predictions – Gameweek 46
Birmingham 1-2 Derby County
Brentford 3-1 Barnsley
Bristol City 1-0 Preston
Cardiff City 2-0 Hull City
Leeds Utd 2-0 Charlton
Luton Town 2-1 Blackburn Rovers
Millwall 2-0 Hudderfield
Nottingham Forest 1-0 Stoke City
Reading 1-1 Swansea City
Sheffield Wednesday 1-2 Middlesbrough
West Brom 2-0 QPR
Wigan Athletic 1-1 Fulham