Who is in pole position to win automatic promotion from the Championship?
The Race is On
The Championship has been as exciting as ever this season, with each of the top five teams in the division looking capable of gaining automatic promotion to the Premier League and as the race heats up, things will only become even more invigorating.
Norwich City and Leeds United appear to be the favourites to finish top, with both sides currently sitting on fifty-seven points and goal difference being the solitary separating factor between the pair.
Placed in third is Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United, three points behind the two team’s above and four clear of West Bromwich Albion and Middlesbrough in fourth and fifth respectively.
Based on form right now, Norwich City look most likely to end the season at the summit of the standings, however, with only seven points between fifth and top spot, anything can happen from now until the end of the campaign.
Who Can Hold Their Nerve?
Up until Christmas, Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United seemed certain to runaway with the Championship title, winning seven matches on the bounce between the beginning of November and Boxing Day.
Following “spy-gate”, their form has taken a coincidental dip and they have since been victorious in only three of their seven games succeeding their trip to Villa Park, losing the other four including their recent defeat versus Norwich City in a huge result for the visiting Canaries.
Norwich’s form has been impressive and they have been beaten once in their last fifteen outings, and despite six of those being stalemates that is still six points gained rather than six points dropped which could prove vital in their push for the title.
Sheffield United’s last away encounter saw them take a point from Carrow Road through an equaliser from Billy Sharp with little over ten minutes remaining, and having followed that up with a victory over Bolton Wanderers, the Blades should be brimming with confidence as they prepare for their upcoming tie with Aston Villa.
Only goal difference can keep Middlesbrough and West Brom apart, though it is the latter who have enjoyed the better results as of late being undefeated in their previous five Championship matches, winning three, one of which came at the Hawthorns, while West Brom’s past four matches have seen them beaten twice.
As Middlesbrough prepare to face Leeds on Saturday in what will surely be an enthralling contest we are forced to ask ourselves the question, who will hold their nerve and earn promotion?
Middlesbrough are the most recent of the top five sides to have been promoted to the Premier League as they last made their way to England’s top division in 2016 having finished the season in second place, while Norwich have also been promoted to the Premier League relatively recently, in 2014/2015, after winning the play-offs.
Leeds United have not earned promotion from any league since 2010 when they entered the Championship from League 1, and the Whites have not gone from the second division to the first division since before the Premier League began in 1989-1990. In spite of this, Bielsa’s men have been among the most well drilled and enjoyable side to watch during the course of 2018/2019, so will lack of experience in these situations matter all that much?
Similar to Leeds, Sheffield United haven’t seen themselves go up to the Premier League in over ten years, however they last bagged promotion in 2017 due to finishing first in League 1, while West Brom’s most immediate experience of entering a higher division came in 2009/2010 as they were runners up in the Championship.
At this time, Norwich City are undoubtedly the side in pole position to win the Championship as they are top of the tree and have recently beaten their biggest title rivals in Leeds United away from home.
That win alone should have momentum flowing through the squad and they may feel unstoppable, understandably so. Norwich also arguably have the most desirable run-in as they must play just one of the top five teams before the season’s end when they take on Middlesbrough in March, while Leeds, Sheffield United and Middlesbrough will play three fixtures versus the current top five before May, and West Brom are scheduled to face off against top five teams twice.
There is everything to play for and nobody is out of the fight just yet, so we recommend you strap yourselves in for what is expected to be a thrilling end to yet another fantastic season of Championship football.