While it has long been assumed that the runaway leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers will claim the Championship crown this season, the teams set for the drop into League One are not yet set in stone.
Here we take a look at which teams are flirting dangerously with the prospect of sinking into the lower echelons of the English game. Who is destined for the third tier and which teams are most likely to evade relegation?
The Premier League’s famous points tally required for survival is the magic 40-point mark, but sides in the Championship need to push further past this in their 46-game season. In fact, in England’s second division, sides who want to stay to fight another campaign need to aim to accrue 50 points over the course of the term.
Over the last 20 years, the average number of points needed to finish in 21st place in the Championship is 49.4. So any team that hasn’t reached this mark yet could be considered to be a relegation contender. This means that Hull City, Reading, Bolton Wanderers, Birmingham City, Barnsley, Sunderland and Burton Albion are among the sides most likely to battle it out until the final day of the campaign.
The bookies are predicting that the Tigers and the Royals will stay in the division, and the other teams will tussle to avoid slipping down into the mire of third-tier football.
Which teams are doomed?
Burton Albion are almost certainly destined for the drop, and would need nothing short of a miracle to pull themselves up from the foot of the table. To make the average points total required for survival, Nigel Clough’s charges would need to win every remaining fixture. For a side with a -42 goal difference and only seven wins after 39 games, this is surely an impossible feat.
The Brewers have enjoyed an emphatic rise up the tiers of English football, after having been in the Football Conference less than ten years ago. Albion may have been punching above their weight in the Championship for the past two seasons, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see them back up there again in the years to come.
Sunderland have pulled off some great escapes in the past, but even this one is surely out of their reach. After relegation from the top flight at the end of the 2016-17 season, the Black Cats have sunk like a stone into the murky depths of the wrong end of the Championship.
Simon Grayson was unable to do anything with the depleted squad he inherited and lack of transfer budget, while the Yorkshireman’s replacement, Chris Coleman, hasn’t fared much better. Grayson’s win percentage at the Stadium of Light was 16.7, while the Welshman’s record after 23 games was 21.7. Even if the Northeast side have a massive upsurge in form for the season run-in, they face runaway leaders Wolves on the final day of the campaign. It isn’t looking good for the 2014 League Cup finalists, and they may be about to drop down to the third tier for the first time since the 1991-92 season.
Who will evade the drop?
While it’s unlikely that any bettor would go against Sunderland and Burton Albion for relegation, the third spot could be up for grabs. Barnsley, Birmingham City and Bolton Wanderers look set to scrap to evade that third ticket into League One.
The Tykes have had a fairly tumultuous season, which wasn’t helped by the loss of promising manager Paul Heckingbottom to Leeds United in early February. Former AEK Athens manager Jose Morais took over on February 16th, but only presided over one victory in his first nine games at the helm. The fact that this new appointment didn’t spark an upsurge in the team’s performance has left Barnsley with an uphill struggle going into the final stages of the campaign. If the Yorkshire club had sprung to life under the Portuguese then some may have predicted a great escape, but their lack of results this season make the chances of clawing out of the bottom three fairly slim.
Birmingham’s season started off with such promise, and they were early favourites for promotion under the management of Harry Redknapp. But since summer, things have been spiralling out of control for the Midlands club. The former Tottenham Hotspur manager brought in 13 new players in the transfer window, but failed to get the new additions clicking on the pitch. With only one win from the first eight matches, the 71-year-old was sacked as manager and replaced by Steve Cotterill shortly afterwards. The former Bristol City manager was also dumped five months later and replaced by Garry Monk, adding to the turmoil and lack of stability at St Andrew’s.
Monk’s appointment has seen a slight upturn in form for the Blues, at the most crucial part of the campaign. If the former Swansea City manager can keep them up, he could end up building a strong team as he did at Leeds United. The Englishman certainly has enough experience at Championship level to guide Birmingham to safety.
Bolton could also be considered relegation candidates, but they would need to slip up badly and have the teams below them hit form to fall into the bottom three. After coming up from League One last season, the Trotters had a dismal start to the campaign losing all but two of the first eleven games. Phil Parkinson managed to get his team clicking, though, and the newly promoted side made a strong recovery towards the end of 2017. They would be quite unlucky to go down now.
In the past, there have been some seriously fierce relegation battles in the Championship, which haven’t been decided until the final day of the season. This year, the situation at the bottom of the table has looked fairly clear for some time. Of course, there is still more than enough time for a few upsets…