The second tier of English football is widely regarded as the most exciting in Europe, and that has been further enhanced by this pulsating season. The battle to stay in the Championship is looking as though it will once again go down to the wire.
Blackpool and Wigan Athletic will have to produce something extraordinary in the final few months of the season if they are to preserve their Championship status. The former are nine points from safety after what can only be described as a dreadful season. Yet, two wins in their last four, in a season where they’ve only won four times collectively, has given the Tangerines and manager Lee Clark a glimmer of hope that they could defy the odds and haul themselves above that dotted line.
For all of Blackpool’s struggles, Wigan are not much better off (only two points, in fact). A team widely picked to be challenging at the right end of the league, Malky Mackay possesses a squad packed with Premier League and Championship quality, yet are seemingly unable to get the right results on the pitch. A total of four league wins so far is just not good enough, with the Latics likely in need of nine wins from their last 18 matches to get them to 50 points, the usual safety mark in the Championship.
With the likelihood that both Blackpool and Wigan will be playing their trade in League One next season, a number of teams above them are desperately seeking to avoid that feared final place. Millwall are current occupants of the final relegation spot, partly down to a run of five consecutive defeats over the Christmas period. However, Ian Holloway’s side have picked up four points from their last two games, including a 1-0 victory at Nottingham Forest last weekend, giving the Lions belief that they can stay in the division.
Caretaker manager Nathan Jones got last year’s sixth place side out of the bottom three before Hughton’s arrival, and the former Newcastle manager has built upon this by keeping the Seagulls floating above the bottom three
Brighton are a place and two points above the drop zone after two wins in four under new manager Chris Hughton, who took over from the sacked Sami Hyypia at the end of 2014. Great work from caretaker manager Nathan Jones got last year’s sixth place side out of the bottom three before Hughton’s arrival, and the former Newcastle manager has built upon this by keeping the Seagulls floating above the bottom three. Yet, they will have to improve on a dismal home record – three wins from 14 – if they are to stay clear of relegation.
Last year’s League One play-off winners Rotherham United sit a point and a place better off than Brighton, an area of the league table in which they have spent the majority of the season. Despite only six wins this campaign, 12 draws have helped Steve Evans’ side stay out of the bottom three. If they can start combining those draws with a few more wins, the Yorkshire outfit should complete their season objective by staying in the league.
Only two points separate Leeds United in 19th and Nottingham Forest in 12th, with all eight teams in that bracket onto at least their second manager of the season. Leeds’ recent back-to-back wins over Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield Town and Bournemouth have given Neil Redfearn’s side some much needed breathing space, as off-the-field issues continue to blight Elland Road. However, they are unbeaten in the league in 2015, and if they continue to pick up points, pressure will increase on the sides below them.
Charlton Athletic have only lost seven times all season, but the League’s draw specialists (15) will need to start turning those ties into wins if they want to avoid getting dragged into the relegation battle. They are just a point better off than Leeds, although the Addicks haven’t won in the league since a 1-0 win over Reading in November. That dismal run will need to end soon.
Six teams are on 34 points, seven clear of danger, including the recently-relegated Cardiff City and Fulham. The Bluebirds – back playing in blue after owner Vincent Tan reversed his decision to change the home strip from blue to red – have been around the mid-table positions all season. Three defeats in their last three have likely put pay to their play-off aspirations. Although, the lingering threat of relegation is there, increasing the pressure on manager Russell Slade.
Fulham have had a vastly contrasting season to their Welsh rivals, with Felix Magath leading them to just one point from their opening seven Championship games and sinking them to the bottom of the table. Things have drastically improved, though, under new manager Kit Symons, with that very real threat of relegation back in September now significantly less of a danger. The play-offs are probably too far away, but a solid end to the season will put them in good shape for a promotion push next season.
Bolton Wanderers were another team that started the season slowly, until the arrival of Neil Lennon in October. They were bottom when the former Celtic boss took over but have lost just four league games since his arrival, propelling them up the table and seemingly out of trouble. One win in five games might be of slight concern, but their admirable performance in defeat to Liverpool in the FA Cup last week will give Lennon hope that more league wins are on the way.
After the start they had, it’s plausible that Forest fans would have expected play-offs as a minimum this season
It has been an extraordinary season at Nottingham Forest, with the Midlands outfit racing to the top of the league back in September and not losing a game until their 2-1 defeat to Cardiff in October. However, since then, it has all gone downhill. Manager Stuart Pearce was sacked last week after just three wins in 21 league matches. They sit 12th but a mammoth 13 points off of the play-off positions. After the start they had, it’s plausible that Forest fans would have expected play-offs as a minimum this season.
Huddersfield Town and Reading have also had indifferent seasons, currently sitting just seven points above the drop zone. The former saw manager Mark Robins resign after their 4-0 defeat to Bournemouth on the opening day of the season, before Chris Powell took over at the John Smith’s Stadium at the beginning of September. Since then, the Terriers have been flirting with the lower ends of the division, although with strikers in the form of Nahki Wells and Harry Judd, they should have enough goals in the team to stay up.
The Royals have also changed their manager this season, after Nigel Adkins departed back in December to be replaced by Steve Clarke. They have struggled with consistency and leaking goals all season, coming to head in a 6-1 defeat to Birmingham City in December, Adkins’ final game. Former West Bromwich Albion boss Clarke seems to have solidified the backline, with three clean sheets in their last four league games. They are another team that know a few more wins would ease their relegation fears.
The Championship is once again beautifully poised going into the final months of the season. With Wigan and Blackpool seemingly gone, it remains to be seen who will be joining them. Millwall and Rotherham are the favourites, but it only takes a few bad results for those teams above them to get dragged into the mix.
Images: birminghammail.co.uk, skysports.com
21-year-old Ameri-Czech student of Politics & Economics at the University of Nottingham. Sports Editor @impactmagazine. FFC worshipper. European.