As usual the Championship is living up to its reputation of being a difficult division to escape from. Championship player of the year Rickie Lambert’s goals should be enough to see Southampton repeat Norwich’s feat of last year with two successive promotions to return to the Premiership. If they do as well as Norwich have done this season, their fans will be delighted, and after a career of finding the goal regularly in the lower divisions it will be interesting to see how Lambert copes with the step up.
The second automatic place is between Reading and West Ham. Although at the moment they are six points clear, Reading could be feeling West Ham’s breath on the back of their neck after this weekend when they have to visit Southampton, and West Ham entertain Gus Poyet’s highly regarded Brighton at Upton Park. However after that Reading face Nottingham Forest and Crystal Pace at the Madjeski stadium, two highly winnable games. With West Ham’s dire recent home form of no wins in the last 5 home games suggesting that they are feeling the pressure of many fans’ expectation of automatic promotion and lack of belief in having Sam Allardyce as manager, I suspect Reading will do just enough to take the second spot. With Birmingham a shoe in for fourth place, realistically the fifth and sixth places are open for a battle between Brighton, Cardiff, and Blackpool. Middlesborough have a good outside chance with a relatively easy run in, but recent poor form of no wins in the last 8 games has probably done too much damage for too their campaign.
Blackpool, under Ian Holloway’s skilled stewardship, have recently hit good form and they are likely to make the playoffs, Cardiff, like last season, are having a few end of season jitters, but with a run in that pits them against teams who have nothing left to play for, they will likely gather enough points to see off the challenge of a Brighton team whose attractive football keeps on attracting the plaudits. After gaining promotion just last year Brighton fans should not be too disappointed, and if they hold onto their manager Gus Poyet, next season should be a season to look forward to.
In the play offs then with Birmingham and West Ham likely to finish third and fourth, thus avoiding each other, it is not too hard to imagine a Birmingham versus West Ham play off final. With the two teams desperate to retrieve their Premiership status at the first attempt it is likely that we will see a closely fought play off final that could be a classic. I suspect Sam Allardyce and West Ham’s experience will win over the day, but, whatever the outcome, Birmingham’s Chris Houghton will be able to feel proud of what he has achieved with a squad that went under some severe pruning after relegation last year, and they too can look forward positively to next season.