This year’s race for promotion from the English Championship is looking very close with many teams fighting it out for a place in the Premier League next season. In one of the hardest to call leagues in the world, here’s a mid season look at the teams pushing for the automatic places and some picks for the play offs.
Sean Dyke has become known as the Jose Mourinho of the championship as he pushed Burnley beyond the call of duty as they sit at the top of the pile. Almost half way through the season and the Clarets have 43 points, having lost just two games. They had a racing start to the campaign but they have slowed down in their last 10 games having won just four yet this only includes one defeat. Danny Ings has been the side’s goal threat with 13 goals, one of which he added on the weekend in the side’s 2-1 win over Blackpool at Turf Moor. Typically if you are top at Christmas then you are in strong contention for the title but with only one point separating them from the play off places it will be interesting to see if Dyke’s men can hold it together over the busy festive period.
Queens Park Rangers:
QPR are the favourites for promotion this year and have lived up to expectations running just a point of the pace. Harry Redknapp has removed the dead wood rotting at the club including Christopher Samba, Jose Bosingwa, Ji Sung Park and Djibril Cisse. The squad is filled with young talent including Danny Simpson, Charlie Austin and Spurs loanee Tom Carroll. In particular, Austin has had a very impressive season as he stands as the league’s third top goal scorer. What makes Redknapp’s side so strong is the collection of young and experienced players who know what it likes to play in the Premier League which will make them a much more stable side next year. Joey Barton, Richard Dunne and Nedum Onuoha are all key players who he will need to hang on to in January. One more, the club has the money to make further investments in the next transfer window and by bringing in players now, the club can begin to gel a bigger squad needed for the Premier League next season.
Leicester are another side who are backed by wealth and for the first time in almost a decade, the Foxes look like potential promotion contenders. Like Rangers, Nigel Pearson has a great depth of experience including Paul Konchesky, Sean St Ledger and Gary Taylor Flethcer. David Nugent, who has always been a striker with potential is enjoying his most fruitful spell as he now has 39 goals in his Blues career. This is certainly a different picture to a few seasons ago under Sven where Vassell was leading the attack. Unfortunately they are quite inconsistent with results lately but they are right at the top in touching distance of Burnley and they have some big games coming up including Reading on Boxing Day as well as Derby and Leeds just after the New Year which will be pivotal games for the club.
Derby and Leeds:
Both Derby and Leeds look like strong contenders for automatic promotion. Derby are on an incredible run of form at the moment, currently on a seven game win streak, just two points off second. Craig Martin and Craig Bryson have been remarkable in front of goal with a share of 20 goals between them. County’s midfield is filled with strong playmakers including Will Hughes and Jeff Hendrick. Leeds are quite far off with 34 points but are still in the hunt for a spot in the top two. What makes United so strong is the presence of Ross McCormack upfront. He leads the chase for the golden boot with 16 goals and is on the score sheet week in week out. McDermott has also nurtured Sam Byram who is a promising full back being watched in the Premier League. After guiding Reading to the top division two years ago, fans at Elland Road can’t be blamed for being hopeful.
Below the top five, there are at least 10 teams who could arguably push for the play off places. Just slightly off the pace, sides like Reading, Nottingham Forest and Brighton all have strong enough squads to put together a run that catapult’s them further up the table. A successful January transfer window and the addition of a few choice players for Ipswich, Blackpool, Blackburn and Wigan could also put them into contention. Come May only three teams will be celebrating promotion to England’s top table but which three will it be?
Post by Richard Waterhouse