Sky Bet Championship preview
Last weekend summed up the Sky Bet Championship perfectly with more drama, late twists, plenty of glorious goals and wonderful entertainment.
Nowhere was the spirit of the Championship showcased than in the games between Sheffield United and Millwall and Wigan Athletic against Norwich City.
Four clubs with very differing aims fighting with everything they had to get the points they so desperately needed. Players, managers and fans giving everything and putting everything on the line. That is replicated in every match and highlights why we are to lucky to be fans of Sky Bet Championship clubs and why it is such an amazing league to follow week in, week out.
In Sporting Life’s latest Championship Podcast we were joined by the former Norwich, Leeds, Reading, Bolton midfielder and Palace and Huddersfield coach Andrew Hughes, who summed the league up, saying “The coaching levels in the Championship have increased so much in recent years. The differing styles and high-level tactics make it one of the most entertaining, competitive leagues in the world. Literally anything can happen in this league and this season has proved it more than any.”
With Easter delivering 50% of the remaining four games, we can expect that drama, that entertainment and those nerves to continue. This is the time when things start to get settled – the potential, hope, expectation and fear can become reality – either glorious or painful.
Leaders Norwich City will be promoted if they win their matches against Sheffield Wednesday and Stoke City.
Sheffield United cannot afford anymore slip ups if they are to go up automatically, as they take on Nottingham Forest and Hull City. In fact, if they are beaten by Forest on Friday, then Norwich will be promoted with victory over Wednesday.
Leeds United know two victories over Wigan and Brentford, with the Blades dropping more than three points, will also see them up. But one thing we know is that the Bees love to beat Leeds at Griffin Park. You have to go back to 1950 for the last time Leeds were victorious at Brentford.
At the bottom Easter represents Bolton’s last chance to raise again. Ten points adrift they need two wins over Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers to have any chance of surviving. Otherwise Easter will see them relegated back to Sky Bet League One. Should they suffer defeat to Villa on Friday their demotion will be officially confirmed.
We now know James Shan will guide West Brom until the end of the season, and that focus is key for their promotion charge – Hull and Reading will present their challenges over the Bank Holiday weekend.
Reading have really impressed in recent weeks to slightly move away from the relegation zone thanks to excellent results against Norwich and Brentford, and that good form will be tested to the max against Bristol City and the Baggies.
Don’t write off Hull for a play-off push either, they are five points off the top six currently. Two statement wins over their promotion rivals WBA and the Blades would put them right in the mix.
Aston Villa are on their best run since 1975, having won eight on the bounce, and go into Easter flying. Facing sides at the bottom in Bolton and Millwall will present major challenges, with the Lions unbeaten against the Villans since 1990.
Derby have been great to watch at home in recent weeks – scoring 10 goals in two games – so QPR on Monday will need to be on their metal at the back. Birmingham away on Friday will be an interesting affair, with the Blues back in form with back-to-back wins and County not having won away in the league in 2019.
Middlesbrough have finally arrested their slide down the table and are just one point off the top six. Clashes with sides building for next season in Stoke and Nottingham Forest will truly show if they are back in form or not.
Bristol City have continued to go about their business quietly and successively as they hold on to the final play-off spot, victories over Reading and a Sheffield Wednesday side now preparing for next season would go a long way towards securing a top-six spot.
Back to the relegation scrap and Rotherham United’s fighting point at Stoke showed they will not give up on survival until the last second of the season. Swansea and Birmingham stand in their way of earning vital points over Easter.
Wigan were so good against the leaders, and arguably unlucky not to take all three points. So, they can take confidence into Easter. However, Leeds away looks a daunting assignment for a team that’s only won once away this season, so a derby with Preston on Monday might be their best chance of points to stay out of the drop zone.
Sadly, we said goodbye to Ipswich last weekend, a side that have been in the top two tiers since 1954. They will want to leave the league with their heads held high and with better performances of late they will continue to fight as they take on Preston and Swansea, two club who you’d expect to make promotion pushes next season.
With just seven points between first and third; six dividing third and eighth; five points separating ninth and sixth; and four points between 22nd and 19th, Easter will prove to be the defining period of this wonderful Sky Bet Championship campaign.
Listen to the latest Sporting Life Championship Podcast with special guest Andrew Hughes for FREE via iTunes, Soundcloud and Spotify here. Follow all the action from Sky Bet Championship on sportinglife.com with EFL previews, our live Match Companion Football blog and full video highlights from every match.
To see Sky Bet's odds for this weekend's games, click HERE