Championship Promotion & Relegation Watch
We have officially reached the midpoint of the season in the Championship, so I figured it was as good a time as any to update our look at the top and bottom of the league table.
As a reminder, the top two teams automatically qualify for promotion to next year’s Premier League, while the next four clubs compete for one spot in a two-round playoff. Last season, Wolverhampton Wanderers won the Championship, Cardiff City finished second, and Fulham earned promotion through the playoff (after finishing third during the season).
Since the last time we looked at the Championship, not much has changed. The top six clubs remain the same, though the order has been shuffled around a bit. Expanding the look a bit beyond those six clubs, eight of the top ten clubs are the same as well, with Birmingham City and Stoke City finding themselves just outside that last playoff spot.
Fighting for Promotion
The top of the league entered the the halfway point like this:
The top three clubs have opened up more than a game lead over the rest, so let’s talk focus our discussion on them again.
Leeds United was three points behind Norwich City the last time we looked at this, but has gone 6-0-0 since to reclaim the top spot. In fact, the three clubs currently at the top all have extended unbeaten streaks that have helped separate them at the top of the league.
Norwich City is currently in the midst of a 12-match unbeaten streak (9-3-0) including yesterday’s results on Boxing Day. Leeds United is unbeaten in seven now (7-0-0), a streak that began after a defeat at the hands of West Bromwich Albion, which started West Brom on their current 6-2-0 stretch to reach this point.
Last Season’s Results
Perhaps more shocking, however, is their placement at the top of the league, at least based on last season’s results. Leeds United and Norwich City finished 13th and 14th, respectively, in the Championship last season, while West Brom was relegated from the Premier League following a last place finish, ending a eight season stretch in the top tier.
Their performance thus far in the Championship should not be indicative of potential performance in the Premier League next season, should they be the ones to earn promotion. Two of the three clubs promoted from the Championship last season – Cardiff City and Fulham – have spent most of the season in the bottom quarter of the league and could come back down. The other promoted club, Wolverhampton Wanderers – who thoroughly blitzed the Championship last season – has been maddeningly inconsistent all season.
Battle at the Bottom
At the other end of the table, the bottom three clubs face relegation to League One. Last season, Barnsley, Burton Albion, and Sunderland found themselves at the bottom of the table, and have found some level of success in League One this season. We are half a season away from knowing if the clubs will make a return to the Championship, so in the meantime, let’s see who looks most likely to potentially join them in League One next season.
The bottom of the Championship table currently looks like this:
Four of the five clubs remain the same from last time, with Rotherham United joining the relegation party and Hull City playing themselves close to the middle of the table. For the three clubs in the red, however, it’s been a season spent at or near the bottom of the league table.
Since our last update, the bottom three clubs have combined for one victory, with Ipswich Town (1-1-4) picking up the victory for the group. Millwall boasts a 0-3-3 record, while Bolton Wanderers went 0-2-4. This level of “success” is expected from bottom clubs, but if any of the clubs wants to avoid relegation, they definitely need to improve. That said, both Millwall and Bolton opened up the second half of their schedule with victories on Boxing Day, so we’ll have to wait and see if it was the start of a trend or just favorable matchups.
Last Season’s Results
It’s not all that shocking to see Bolton Wanderers again in the relegation zone. They finished last season in 21st place, only two points clear of relegation. But the other two clubs likely entered the season expecting more from this one, and have thus far disappointed.
To see Millwall in this position is kind of shocking. They finished last season in 8th position, only three points (and +10 in goal differential) behind Derby County for the final promotion playoff position. But a lot of that success was built during the second half of the season, as they only had 26 points at the midpoint last season. To reach that point this season, they would have to have a second half equivalent to what Leeds or Norwich have done in the first half this season, which just doesn’t seem terribly likely.
Ipswich Town is also much worse than they were last year. At this point last season, they were 11-3-10 and in 10th place. They then stumbled a bit down the stretch, only winning six more matches and ending the season in 12th. So they are just a little worse this season to say the least. It would take a pretty substantial stretch to match last season, and moderate success to get the points necessary to avoid relegation, so I’d put it at better than 50% that they are heading down to League One after the season.
We’ll take another look again after the January transfer window closes and the clubs gear up for the stretch run, and then every month or so after leading to the end of the season. Will a club clinch relegation before Easter? Will one of the top clubs continue to separate themselves from everyone else? Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
Until next time…