How will the Championship promotion race unfold?
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
With the international distractions almost over, thoughts can return to the business end of the Championship campaign and the challenge that awaits Norwich City.
The division’s dominant leaders head into their final eight matches in a position of comfort that most Canaries fans couldn’t have imagined even in their wildest dreams on the back of a brutal Premier League relegation.
Ahead of Friday’s trip to out-of-form Preston they sit eight points clear of nearest rivals Watford and 14 ahead of third-placed Swansea, although the Welsh side do have a game in hand on the top two, as do fourth-placed Brentford a point further back.
For the Swans that’s a trip to survival scrappers Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday, April 13 and for the Bees it’s also a team in the relegation battle, with Paul Warne’s spirited Rotherham squad heading for west London on Tuesday, April 27.
Norwich are unbeaten in 10 after their recent nine-game winning streak, so it would take a real downturn for two teams to haul them back to the play-off positions.
Watford are clearly capable of making the title race interesting though, having also won nine of their last 10 and only lost three of their 18 matches since Xisco Munez arrived as manager in December, conceding just 11 goals and scoring 32.
Those games in hand for Swansea and Brentford mean the Hornets’ six-point cushion still looks precarious but the chasers had stumbled slightly ahead of the international break.
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The Swans have lost four of their last nine, including at Bournemouth and at home to local rivals Cardiff ahead of the two-week breather. The Bees have also lost four of their last nine, drawing at Derby and at home to Nottingham Forest prior to the break.
It's Watford that appear to face the toughest run-in though, with the current league position of their remaining opponents averaging out to ninth, followed by Norwich (11th), Brentford (13th) and Swansea with the potentially easiest fixtures (15th).
The second-placed Hornets still have to come to Carrow Road and go to Brentford, as well as hosting Reading and Swansea on the final day.
It’s not an exact science, of course, but I’ve studied the top four’s remaining fixtures and offered a prediction on how many points will be achieved – with the assumption that Barnsley and Reading will find it difficult to catch Swansea and Brentford now.
The current top four have largely been the dominant forces, with Reading and Bournemouth falling away from the top-two pace but Barnsley surging into the mix after a superb run of form since January.
I also asked colleague Connor Southwell for his thoughts and offered City fans on Twitter the chance to make their predictions, which we’ve averaged out from the responses.
While those points predictions do vary a fair bit, the outcome largely remains the same; that the current top four will maintain their positions until they cross the finish line.
Yet during this of all seasons, when squads have been pushed to their physical limits by a congested schedule, the impact of tired minds and bodies could well mean there are some surprising results laying in wait.
Fri, April 2 – Preston (A)
Tues, April 6 – Huddersfield (H)
Sat, April 10 – Derby (A)
Sat, April 17 – Bournemouth (H)
Tues, April 20 – Watford (H)
Sat, April 24 – QPR (A)
Sat, May 1 – Reading (H)
Sat, May 8 – Barnsley (A)
Opponents’ average current position: 11th
Dave’s prediction: 14 points – 1st on 97 points
Connor’s prediction: 15 points – 1st on 98 points
Fans’ average prediction: 15 points – 1st on 98 points
Fri, April 2 – Sheff Weds (H)
Mon, April 5 – Boro (A)
Fri, April 9 – Reading (H)
Sat, April 17 – Luton (A)
Tues, April 20 – Norwich (A)
Sat, April 24 – Millwall (H)
Sat, May 1 – Brentford (A)
Sat, May 8 – Swansea (H)
Opponents’ average current position: 9th
Dave’s prediction: 18 points – 2nd on 93 points
Connor’s prediction: 14 points – 2nd on 89 points
Fans’ average prediction: 17 points – 2nd on 92 points
Fri, April 2 – Birmingham (A)
Mon, April 5 – Preston (H)
Sat, April 10 – Millwall (A)
Tues, April 13 – Sheff Weds (A)*
Sat, April 17 – Wycombe (H)
Tues, April 20 – QPR (H)
Sat, April 24 – Reading (A)
Sat, May 1 – Derby (H)
Sat, May 8 – Watford (A)
Opponents’ average current position: 15th
Dave’s prediction: 17 points – 3rd on 86 points
Connor’s prediction: 14 points – 3rd on 83 points
Fans’ average prediction: 17 points – 4th on 86 points
Sat, April 3 – Huddersfield (A)
Tues, April 6 – Birmingham (H)
Sat, April 10 – Preston (A)
Sat, April 17 – Millwall (H)
Tues, April 20 – Cardiff (H)
Sat, April 24 – Bournemouth (A)
Tues, April 27 – Rotherham (H)*
Sat, May 1 – Watford (H)
Sat, May 8 – Bristol City (A)
Opponents’ average current position: 13th
Dave’s prediction: 15 points – 4th on 83 points
Connor’s prediction: 11 points – 4th on 79 points
Fans’ average prediction: 19 points – 3rd on 87 points
(* game in hand)