Championship Promotion & Relegation Watch
Note: It’s the homestretch across the English Football League, with most teams have 10 or fewer games remaining. Throughout the week, and through the rest of the season, we’ll be taking a look at the top four tiers of English football. Up next is the Championship, tier two in the EFL.
The Championship joins the Premier League on an international break this week, with league action resuming on 29 March with a match between West Bromwich Albion and Birmingham City. With all Championship clubs eliminated from the FA Cup – it was a good fight Swansea City and Millwall – we should have full weekend slates from here on out, with midweek matches to help the clubs with fewer than 38 matches played currently to catch up.
The regular season concludes on 5 May, and it could be a day full of action that matters, especially if it comes down to goal differential to clinch a playoff spot. 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 (currently 7th in the Premier League) won the Championship, Cardiff City (18th) finished second, and Fulham (19th) earned promotion through the playoff (after finishing third during the season).
Since the last time we looked at the Championship, there has been some big moves by some clubs outside of the top six. Five of the top six clubs from Boxing Day remain the same, though the order has been shuffled around a bit. We also have four new clubs in the top ten…though the bottom five is nearly the exact same.
Fighting for Promotion
Through action on 16 March, here’s what the top of the Championship table looks like:
The top three clubs have all created some separation from the rest, so I anticipate that two of those three will earn the automatic promotion – my quick back of the envelope math has Norwich City (95 points) and Sheffield United (93 points) claiming the spots. Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion, then, seem to be locked into the top two playoff positions. It’s the battle below them for the other two spots that are most interesting.
Of the teams here, only Derby County has performed worse on a per match basis (1.21 points per match) since Boxing Day than Middlesbrough (1.36 ppm). Should this poor performance continue, I believe it opens up an opportunity for another couple of clubs to fight for those last two playoff spots.
Dark Horses Stalking
Preston North End has averaged 1.93 points per match since Boxing Day while going 8-5-2 over those 16 matches. They’ve also managed to swing their goal differential from -3 to +8 during that time, boosting their chances of winning on a tiebreaker should it come down to that.
Bristol City has also made a move up the table, improving from 13th place to 9th over the past 15 matches thanks in part to a 7-3-3 record (1.85 ppm). While they find themselves out of the playoffs at the moment, continuing along at that pace over their remaining 10 matches – two matches more than most clubs – could find the Robins in the playoffs.
Most clubs currently at the top of the table were last in the Premier League while it was the Premier League, and six clubs – Norwich City, Sheffield United, Leeds United, Middlesbrough, Aston Villa, and Sheffield Wednesday – were all charter members when the league started in 1992-93. Preston North End and Bristol City, however, have never played in the Premier League, last making an appearance in the top tier of English football during the 1960-61 season (Preston) and 1979-80 season (Bristol City). Achieving the pinnacle in English football for either club would be amazing for them and their fanbases, and making the playoffs would be the first step.
Battle at the Bottom
At the other end of the table, the bottom three clubs face relegation to League One. Last season, Barnsley (currently 2nd in League One), Burton Albion (11th), and Sunderland (3rd) found themselves at the bottom of the table and have had mixed results on the season, though Barnsley is currently in position to return to the Championship as things stand right now.
The bottom of the Championship table currently looks like this, nearly identical to how it looked at the end of December:
The five clubs are all the same from the last look, with only a little shuffling among the five of them. Millwall, perhaps buoyed by their success in the FA Cup – they lost in the quarterfinals on penalty kicks to Brighton & Hove Albion of the Premier League – have the largest points per match (1.29) of the five clubs and have moved out of the relegation zone, though they are only one point clear at the moment.
Ipswich Town has pretty much been on the bottom all season, and while they’ve been able to find more points recently – they’ve actually gained more points than Bolton Wanderers over the past 2+ months (9 to 8) – it was too little, too late. They’re all but assured of being in League One next season, which would be their first trip down to what is now tier three since 1956-57! Quite a fall from a club that finished 12th last season, let alone a club that was in the Premier League as recently as 2002.
Bolton is a different story, obviously. We are potentially two weeks from the end of one of the founding members of the Football League way back in 1888. Besides having to worry about relegation – which seems like a foregone conclusion at this point – they need to find a buyer and settle the clubs debts by 3 April, otherwise a “winding-up order” could be issued and one of the longest tenured clubs in England could all but disappear.
We’ll be back in a couple of weeks to update the standings, especially if some clubs start clinching “at least the playoffs” or whatever else over the next few weeks. The only clubs officially eliminated from playoff contention at this point are Ipswich Town and Bolton Wanderers, but I also don’t think Rotherham United or Reading are going to on an eight match winning streak while every club above them loses.
Until next time…