Written by Sam Greasley-Machin (@Greasley_Machin)
The Championship play-offs, the world’s richest game – with a chance to enter the promised land of Premier League wealth.
To say there is plenty at stake is an understatement: it’s the be all and end all, and can really break the team that falls short for the following season.
While 2020 has been very different to most years, there is no change to the play-off format – unlike the leagues below in which places were decided on a points per game ratio.
Leeds and West Brom occupy the top two automatic spots and with their sheer calibre it’s hard to see either side dropping out with Brentford the closest team to them being only five points the Albion with only six games remaining.
Currently making up the quartet in the play-offs, in addition to the Bees, is Fulham, Nottingham Forest and Cardiff – by a point. Whilst Derby, Preston, Swansea, Blackburn, Millwall and Bristol City breath down their necks just outside the converted top-six by a matter of four-six points respectively.
Unfortunately there won’t be any outlandish predictions because looking ahead the run of fixtures suits the current top six.
Brentford and Fulham are just too good to drop out of the play-offs, the sheer quality in their sides should be more than enough to see them over the line and Nottingham Forest are not too fair off either in terms of squad quality and more so depth.
Neil Harris’s Cardiff are coming into a decent run of form which has been the story since the former Millwall boss took to the helm in South Wales.
Derby are another team coming into some good form with four wins on the bounce. However looking ahead the Rams have a mammoth task having to play six teams currently above them in the division so play-offs looks.
A task too big especially with star player Tom Lawrence suspended after receiving a red-card for his clash with Reading’s Matt Miazga after their victory over the Royals – meaning the Rams will have to look elsewhere beyond scoring outside the box finnesses with Lawrence, although they’ll the cultured right-boot of Wayne Rooney may help them pick up the slack.
Preston are the other real contender but their form is beyond abysmal for a play-off chasing side, which is similar story for the teams just outside the top-six.
Bristol City are in a diabolical form with only Hull conceding more than them in recent games. Fixtures favour neither side with PNE having to face three of the play-off competitors and Bristol City four in their remaining matches.
Tony Mowbray’s Blackburn look like they’re beginning to falter having lost games against both relegation battlers Barnsley and Wigan since the restart. While Swansea have dropped points to Millwall and Luton.
The side at the New Den are a force to be reckoned with, especially at home, but looking at their side they just don’t appear to have the quality needed to clinch a top six place – although fixtures certainly play in their favour having to play only one team in the top half, in Blackburn, so on that alone could make them the dark horse in the race.
Without coming across as a bit of a ‘Michael Owen’ and stating what seems to be obvious, my play-off prediction is that the current standings are very much reflective of how it will end up, with perhaps Milwall pipping Cardiff to the last place as the solitary difference.
Next week we’ll assess which one of those teams might clinch the play-offs with plenty of attacking quality to choose from.