The Championship Returns – Part 1

The Championship has returned to action across England, and the top league of the English Football League – the Premier League is technically separate from the EFL – is hoping to complete its season over the next month behind closed doors, instead of simply determining final results by using the points per match (PPM) solution that League One and League Two decided on previously.

It’s likely to be a mad dash to the finish, both for the clubs pursuing promotion to the Premier League, as well as those looking to avoid relegation to League One. We’re going to take a quick look at where all 24 clubs stand at the moment and what will likely happen over the remaining eight matches of the season.

So as to not make this post unwieldy, this is part one of three throughout the rest of the week leading up to this weekend’s slate. You can find Part Two here and Part Three here. Be sure to check back to see how we think your club will fare through the remainder of the season.

Team Statistics as of matches played on June 20. Strength of Schedule (SOS) is the average current table position of their remaining opponents. Bolded opponents are currently in the promotion zone.

Barnsley

Current Position: 23rd (9-10-19), 37 points, -19 goal differential

Remaining schedule (SOS: 5th [11.125]):
Home: Millwall, Blackburn Rovers, Wigan Athletic, Nottingham Forest
Away:  Stoke City, Luton Town, Leeds United, Brentford

Barnsley returned to the Championship this season after last season’s second place finish in League One. The Tykes will have their work cut out for them to extend the stay beyond this season.

They find themselves seven points behind Middlesbrough and the safety of 21st place. They are also on their second manager this season after sacking Daniel Stendel way back in October when they were in… 23rd place. Gerhard Struber hasn’t been able to quite right the ship, but they have won four of their past six matches, including at QPR when action resumed this past Saturday.

Can they continue these winning ways? The next five weeks will be critical, as they conclude the season with three matches against clubs currently in the top five. Last season’s 21st place team, Millwall, needed 44 points to avoid relegation. I don’t see Barnsley getting there, so they have to hope that someone above them falters a bit more down the stretch.

Final Position Prediction: 22nd-24th, relegation back to League One.


Birmingham City

Current Position: 16th (12-12-14), 48 points, -9 GD

Remaining schedule (SOS: 16th [13.625]):
Home: Hull City, Huddersfield Town, Swansea City, Charlton Athletic, Derby County
Away: Fulham, Stoke City, Preston North End

The Blues finished last season in 17th place. They are currently in 16th, so a light improvement but likely not where they thought they would find themselves at this point in the season. They are 0-5-1 in their previous six matches, having not won since February against Barnsley.

They are likely safe from relegation for another season, though I don’t see them moving up far enough to compete for a playoff spot this year. They are nine points behind Preston North End in sixth place, and would also have to overcome an unfavorable goal differential to break any ties. That said, they do have a fairly favorable schedule remaining, with five matches at home and only three matches remaining against clubs in the top ten. One of those matches will be against Preston in the penultimate match of the season, so a favorable record to that point could see them directly playing for the playoffs directly.

I don’t think they will get close enough, the Blues followers can dream, as well as hope for a strong finish to take into next season.

Final Position Prediction: 13th-15th, solidly in Championship next season.


Blackburn Rovers

Current position: 8th (15-11-12); 56 points, +9 GD

Remaining schedule (SOS: 11th [12.375])
Home: Leeds United, West Bromwich Albion, Reading
Away: Wigan Athletic, Barnsley, Cardiff City, Millwall, Luton Town

Blackburn Rovers should compete for a playoff spot down the stretch thanks to their favorable schedule. However, they are one of only two clubs that have to face off against both of the top two clubs (West Bromwich and Leeds United), which could make things a bit more treacherous. That said, both of those matches will be played at Ewood Park, where Rovers are 9-8-3 this season with a +10 GD. Whether or not that will help them remains to be seen however.

The remainder of the road heavy schedule seems to be relatively easy, with only a match at Cardiff City against clubs currently in the top ten of the league. Even if Rovers drop both matches against the top two, expect them to pick up ground elsewhere.

Final Position Prediction: 6th-8th, fighting for playoff position.


Brentford

Current position: 4th (18-9-11); 63 points, +33 GD

Remaining schedule (SOS: 17th [13.75]):
Home: West Bromwich Albion, Wigan Athletic, Charlton Athletic, Preston North End, Barnsley
Away: Reading, Derby County, Stoke City

With a favorable schedule down the stretch, including five of eight at home, as well as their league-leading goal differential, the Bees are solidly in position to make the playoffs for a spot in the Premier League next season. The toughest match is their next one, as the host West Brom on Saturday. The clubs played to a 1-1 draw in West Brom in December, so expect some fireworks as action shifts to Griffin Park. The Bees are 10-5-3 at home this season, with a +21 GD while surrendering less than a goal per match.

Otherwise, only Preston is currently in the top 10 among the remainder of their schedule, so Brentford should maintain position if not slightly improve. I don’t think they’ll quite catch Leeds United in second place – they are currently eight points back – but they could overtake Fulham for the first seed in the playoffs.

Final Position Prediction: 3rd-4th, solidly in the playoffs.


Bristol City

Current position: 10th (15-10-13); 55 points, -4 GD

Remaining Schedule (SOS: 14th [12.875]):
Home: Sheffield Wednesday, Cardiff City, Hull City, Stoke City, Preston North End
Away: Nottingham Forest, Middlesbrough, Swansea City

Heading into action this weekend, Bristol City is only two points behind Preston North End for the final playoff position, albeit with a moderate goal differential to overcome. But they also enter this weekend winless in their past six matches, including its loss to Blackburn Rovers last Saturday as play resumed.

Still, the Robins have a favorable record down the stretch, with matches against four of the five clubs between them and the playoffs. A win, or even a draw, last Saturday would have improved their position even more, but now there is a little extra ground to make up. The extra home match down the stretch may not be as much help as for some other clubs, as Ashton Gate Stadium has not been as friendly as this season (7-5-6, -2 GD), but they definitely control their own fate based on who they are playing.

A finish is line with last season’s 8th place is likely in the card, with the Robins falling just short of the playoffs yet again.

Final Position Prediction: 8th-10th, four or five points out of the playoffs.


Cardiff City

Current position: 7th (14-15-9); 57 points, +4 GD

Remaining Schedule (SOS: 12th [12.625])
Home: Charlton Athletic, Blackburn Rovers, Derby County, Hull City
Away: Preston North End, Bristol City, Fulham, Middlesbrough

The Bluebirds only trail Preston North End by one goal in goal differential, and they get a chance to get back in playoff position with a match this Saturday in Preston. The clubs played to a scoreless draw when they met in Wales back in December, and with the Bluebirds tied for the league lead in draws on the season, it’s very possible that it could happen yet again. Nevertheless, if either club takes all three points, they would get a massive leg up and likely find themselves squarely in the playoff hunt.

Cardiff City finished 18th in the Premier League last season, two points away from freedom, and would like to make a stay in the Championship a short one. Otherwise, they’ll begin looking to next season in the Championship again with fellow Welsh club Swansea City.

Final Position Prediction: 6th-8th, either barely in the playoffs or barely out.


Charlton Athletic

Current position: 19th (11-9-18); 42 points, -9 GD

Remaining Schedule (SOS: 4th [10.5])
Home: Queens Park Rangers, Millwall, Reading, Wigan Athletic
Away: Cardiff City, Brentford, Birmingham City, Leeds United

After gaining promotion via the League One playoff last season, Charlton Athletic is probably about where they were expected to be at this point in the season. But they face one of the more difficult schedules down the stretch in the league, so we may get to the middle of July with the Addicks fighting to stave off relegation.

They returned to play with a 1-0 victory at Hull City, snapping a three-match losing streak. But with four away matches against top ten clubs, they really need to find points at home because of their previous struggles away from The Valley this season (4-4-11, -11 GD). That home slate starts this weekend against QPR, a club they came from behind to draw 2-2 in the earlier match this season.

Final Position Prediction: 19th-21st, safe from relegation but not by much.


Derby County

Current position: 12th (14-12-12); 54 points, +1 GD

Remaining Schedule (SOS: 1st [6.875])
Home: Reading, Nottingham Forest, Brentford, Leeds United
Away: Preston North End, West Bromwich Albion, Cardiff City, Birmingham City

The Rams made the playoffs last season, and were hoping to return this season on their way to the Premier League. But a brutal record down the stretch – the hardest based on their remaining opponents’ current positions – could prevent them from matching last season’s strong showing.

The Rams face five of the top six clubs down the stretch; they only avoid current third place squad Fulham along the way. Their “worst” opponent is Reading, who are currently 14th but only eight points out of the playoffs. The good part about facing seven clubs above you in the standings is that it is easier to surpass them with a victory. But the reverse is also true, and a stumble this weekend against Reading could find the Rams in a hole that will only be more difficult to recover from.

Final Position Prediction: 9th-11th, the schedule is just too hard; better luck next year.


We’ll be back tomorrow with a look at the next eight clubs. Be sure to come back to see what we think of your club’s prospects.

Until next time…

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