By Rakesh Chapaneri
For those who don't know, the Championship is the second tier of English football, from which three teams get promoted to the English Premier League. They are replaced by the last three teams (those who get relegated) who go down to the Championship.
At this point, seven matches remain before the places are decided.
The top two teams from the Championship get automatic promotion to the EPL, while the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th teams have a play-off battle whose winner becomes the third team to get promoted.
As the 2011/12 Championship season prepares for an exciting finale, here's a look at the top five candidates hoping to reach the upper echelons of English football.
So far the most consistent and free scoring team in the Championship, Southampton are aiming to re-establish their Premiership status after a seven-year wait.
They are currently sitting top of the Championship, winning eight of their last 10 games and boasting 72 goals in 39 matches thanks to the league’s leading marksman Ricky Lambert (28 goals).
Currently nine points clear of 3rd placed West Ham United, their final six fixtures on paper seem a little tricky, with a local south coast derby and the visit of fellow title contenders Reading still to play.
However with experienced and talented players like Morgan Schneiderlin & Richard Chaplow in their team, I cannot see them slipping up.
Reading have to be the most improved team of the Championship so far picking up 25 points out of a possible 30 since the turn of the year.
Sitting in 2nd spot, manager Brian McDermott has surely made the most astute January transfer signing in veteran striker Jason Roberts, giving them pace in abundance. Along with wingers Jimmy Kebe and Jobi McAnuff, they are always a threat on the counter attack, with most teams failing to combat this explosive attacking quality.
Their remaining half a dozen fixtures sees them at home on three occasions against Leeds United, Nottingham Forest and Crystal Palace. For me that should be enough for them to secure the 2nd automatic spot for promotion. However with West Ham breathing down their necks, the crucial games will be away from the Madjeski Stadium against fellow promotion chasers Brighton, Southampton and Birmingham City.
Prediction: 2nd (Automatic promotion)
West Ham United
West Ham were odds-on favourites to win the Championship before a ball was even kicked back in August, however of late they have struggled finishing teams off, drawing far too many games, and in turn losing ground on Southampton and Reading.
Their squad boasts great quality with proven Premiership experience with the likes of Kevin Nolan, Carlton Cole and John Carew. But big Sam Allardyce is still unsure of his best XI, and that has showed in recent games.
Because of this quality, they still have a great chance of 2nd place, 4 points behind Reading with a game in hand. However I think they may lose out and have to settle for a Play-Off spot, and with that disappointment in mind, I can see them getting to the final and losing.
Prediction: Play-Off Final (Runners up)
Brighton have been the surprise package of the Championship so far this season. Manager Gus Poyet has done a remarkable job leading his team from League one last year, to now being on the brink of securing a Play-Off spot.
Inspired signings such as Craig Mackail-Smith, former Valencia winger Vicente and the young raw talent of Kazenga Lualua makes them a real threat for anybody.
Remaining fixtures will be tough; they host Reading, Birmingham and Watford at home, with a momentous visit to Upton Park against West Ham in-between. But I can see them holding on tight to their current play-off spot.
Prediction: Play-Off’s (Semifinal)
Considering Birmingham City lost most of their squad in the summer since being relegated last year, Chris Houghton has done a great job bringing in decent replacements on a shoestring budget.
Currently sitting in 6th spot, having played more games than any of their rivals due to their Europa League exertions, they still have a fresh looking team and are my tip to win the Play-Off battle.
Sought after winger Nathan Redmond is no doubt going to be a future star, he has been likened to Arsenal’s Oxlade-Chamberlain, possessing great pace, vision, finishing ability and always a keen eye to pick out top goal-scorer Marlon King. The sky is the limit with where this team can go.
Prediction: Play-Off Winners- promotion to EPL
Rakesh is a music producer residing in the UK. He also has a big passion for football, creative arts, and new technology. You can check out some of his music here.
Updated Date: Mar 27, 2012 18:24:14 IST