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Championship Correspondent Emyr Price on why there's two positions they're all watching: sixth and 22nd...
Whisper it, but it looks like there might be some semblance of order at the business end of The Championship. And it’s only February.
What on earth is going on?
With the heavyweight pair of Newcastle and West Brom exchanging jabs without seeming able to land a knockout blow, Nottingham Forest wait quietly in third, counter-attacks at the ready.
Further back, the Welsh duo of Cardiff and Swansea sit fourth and fifth, with a six-point advantage over seventh-placed Sheffield United.
Crucially they each also have a game in hand over Kevin Blackwell’s boys, offering the potential of a hefty extra buffer.
If the Blades are to slice into anyone's play-off place, it should be sixth-placed Leicester - but they've played two games more than the Foxes.
It’d be foolish to claim that at this season’s conclusion the top five will be as it is now.
After all, there's sure to be some up-a-ladder-down-a-snake type shenanigans over the next few months.
But the clubs currently sitting pretty at the top have remained there or thereabouts for some time now. You get the feeling they will probably stay the course.
The much-coveted sixth place is still well and truly up for grabs however: and it’s very much a lucky dip with five or six teams hoping to emerge from the bran tub that is mid-table.
A point behind Sheffield United, Gordon Strachan’s Middlesbrough could have turned the corner at last, and the unlikely trio of Barnsley, Watford and Blackpool are still within spitting distance of sixth.
Preston, too, could well make a late-season dash into the knockout lottery, while Bristol City and Coventry are only a good week away from the play-offs.
But however tight it is at the top, it’s at the bottom where it’s pin the tail on the donkey time.
Well, for that third relegation spot anyway.
It’s a tale of two P’s at the foot of the table with Peterborough and Plymouth both looking as if they have given up the ghost already.
The only consistency displayed by the Posh and the Pilgrims has been extreme travel sickness coupled with the inability to score more goals than the opposition when on home turf.
But who will join them in English football’s third tier next term?
You could make realistic cases for 10 different clubs, including some big hitters – clubs who would have been eyeing much better things but now find themselves looking nervously over their shoulders.
Reading, for example, have fallen from grace quite spectacularly in recent times. They find themselves in the dreaded drop zone.
Blame that revolting away strip, I say.
Only two points ahead of Brian McDermott’s men is the managerial swap-shop that is Queens Park Rangers.
They looked set fair to launch a serious promotion assault earlier in the campaign under Jim Magilton, but whatever did or didn’t happen between him and Akos Buzsaky in the inner sanctums of Vicarage Road seems to have put paid to their season.
Crystal Palace have also been hobbled by off-field problems, in their case a 10-point penalty moving them from play-off hopefuls to relegation battlers.
And Ipswich and Derby – both relatively big Championship names – have been struggling for most of the season.
It’d be a huge surprise if any of the five mentioned clubs tasted the bitter pill of demotion, especially given the fact there are more likely candidates in a similar situation.
Scunthorpe, for instance, have never been able to pull away towards safety and the Iron will have to use all of their, erm, mettle to retain their Championship status.
Yorkshire is well represented in the Championship mire.
Sean O’Driscoll’s Doncaster – easy on the eye, but not too clever at accumulating points – could do with remembering that football is a results business after all.
A few boring 1-0 wins would be most welcome at the Keepmoat.
Meanwhile Hillsborough is no longer the daunting fortress it once was – in fact, only Plymouth have lost more times on their own patch this term than Sheffield Wednesday.
Alan Irvine’s stewardship should see them right though. Just.
As you were for the top six, with Newcastle leapfrogging the Baggies at the top – but it’s heartbreak for Reading as they face the prospect of sliding from Premier League to League One in the space of three seasons.
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i think scunthorpe to go down with posh and the janners.
play offs to be as it is only blackpool sneak in ahead of leicester.
cardiff-swansea play off final anyone? the grudge match to end them all (:
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