The Return of the Championship: A Run-Down of Every Club With Something to Play for in the Final 9 G

Just when you thought the Championship couldn’t get any more utterly bonkers - we have a three-month break and each club embarks on a nine-game mini season which will ultimately decide their fate.

It seems like a lifetime ago since we were treated to the rollercoaster ride that is England’s second tier - but never fear.

Here’s your rundown of every club whose remaining fixtures will determine which league they’ll be plying their trade in next season, and how the unprecedented-footballing hiatus could affect their campaign.

The Promotion Candidates

The automatic promotion places look to be sewn up, but neither side currently occupying them has been faultless this season, offering hope to those still in touch, while the final play-off spots are still up for grabs.

Leeds United - Current Position: 1st

Could Marcelo Bielsa finally be the man to take Leeds back to the Premier League?

Surely they’ve done it this time. Right?

After looking odds on for promotion, the perennial nearly-men looked as though they were throwing it away (again). After seven consecutive victories, Marcelo Bielsa’s men began to crumble around Christmas time with just two wins from 11.

However, five wins on the bounce without a single goal conceded prior to the three-month hiatus has seen them go seven points clear of Fulham in third. Bielsa’s tendency to overwork his players saw Leeds fall away towards the end of last season, so the break should be just what his side needed to finally see them return to the Premier League.

West Bromwich Albion - Current Position: 2nd

Will Bilić be smiling come the end of the season?

Despite sitting in the automatic promotion places, West Brom have themselves endured a rocky campaign at times.  

The league’s postponement could have come at the perfect time for Slaven Bilić’s men. The Baggies were in poor form having failed to win in their previous two outings, and the recess has allowed key players like West Ham loanee Grady Diangana and Ahmed Hegazi to regain fitness.

Six points clear of Fulham with games against the Cottagers and fourth place Brentford to come, West Brom’s destiny is in their own hands, and they should have enough firepower to see them back in England’s top tier next season.

Fulham – Current Position: 3rd

Parker has done a fantastic job at Fulham

Little has been made of the job Scott Parker has done at Fulham, but in truth he’s been superb. It’s easy to point to the mega-money signing of Aleksandar Mitrović and conclude that the club should be challenging for promotion, but Parker has had to pick up a side bereft of confidence following their poor Premier League showing, as well as contend with the departure of Ryan Sessegnon.

Six points off the automatic spots, the Cottagers still have four of the five other teams in the top six to play, meaning there could yet be a twist in the tale.

Brentford - Current Position: 4th

Automatic promotion may have slipped away from Thomas Frank's men

After three wins from their opening 11 games, Brentford looked more likely to be in a relegation scrap than the fight for promotion.

Their form since then has been fantastic, though the 5-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday last time out did end a run of five without a win. Thomas Frank’s side have arguably the easiest run in of the promotion contenders, though the ten-point gap between them and West Brom will likely be a bridge too far. A play-off spot beckons, and the top scorers in the division will take some stopping.

Nottingham Forest - Current Position: 5th

Michael Dawson's decision on whether to extend his Forest deal could be crucial

One of the season’s surprise packages, Forest welcome back trio Samba Sow, Nuno Da Costa and Tiago Silva from injury ahead of the restart.

However, the news isn’t all positive for Sabri Lamouchi. The club are still awaiting updates on whether Michael Dawson and Jordan Smith will join Sammy Ameobi in extending their deals beyond June 30. If a compromise can’t be reached, Forest could be short of bodies as the season reaches its climax.

Preston North End - Current Position: 6th

Are Alex Neil's side buckling under the pressure?

Having worked wonders this season, Alex Neil is in danger of seeing his side slip out of the play-off places. The club were enduring their worst run of the calendar year prior to the break, losing three on the bounce.

The postponement has allowed Tom Bayliss and Billy Bodin to regain fitness having originally been ruled out for the remainder of the season, though Neil has confirmed Louis Moult will play no further part. With Tom Clarke and Paul Gallagher still yet to agree renewed deals beyond June 30, Preston’s season is in grave danger of unravelling.

Bristol City - Current Position: 7th

Nahki Wells sends the Bristol City crowd wild with his goal against Fulham

A sickness bug threatened to derail Bristol City’s promotion push before the break, as the club had just 12 fit senior players at one point. The virus undoubtably affected their form as they went five without a win.

The Robins are back to full health as they kick off the remainder of the season just one point off the play-off spots.

Millwall - Current Position: 8th

Gary Rowett's men could be set for a late charge on the play-off spots

Millwall sit just two points off Preston, and with none of the top nine teams to play in their remaining nine fixtures, they’re in with a great shout of finishing in the top six.

If they do reach the play-offs they’ll need to improve in front of goal; only four teams have scored less in the league this season than Millwall

Cardiff City - Current Position: 9th

Lee Tomlin will be vital if Cardiff are to reach the play-offs

Three of Cardiff’s first four fixtures back see them face fellow promotion hopefuls Leeds, Preston and Bristol City.

Neil Harris’ men have leaked goals this campaign, with only Bristol City conceding more in the top half. Despite the three-month break, the Bluebirds are still without Jazz Richards, Greg Cunningham and Isaac Vassell. Cardiff will do well to remain in touch with the pack with key injuries and a tough fixture list to come.

The Relegation Scrap

With Barnsley and Luton seven points and six points adrift respectively, they’re looking condemned to life back in the third tier. However, the final relegation spot could go to any of about five teams.

Stoke City - Current Position: 17th

Joe Allen is expected to miss the rest of the season through injury

Despite holding onto a number of Premier League players when they dropped into the Championship, Stoke have endured a few shocking seasons.

The club have picked up since the arrival of Michael O’Neill, though still sit just three points above the drop. The three-month hiatus hasn’t allowed for the return of midfielder Joe Allen, a huge loss as they scrap for survival.

Huddersfield Town - Current Position: 18th

Danny Cowley has got his work cut out to avoid relegation

Another club struggling to adapt to life back in the Championship. The Cowley brothers have steadied the ship since their arrival, though they still sit three points off the drop.

While Andy King has committed to the club until the end of the season, no fewer than eight senior players could still be departing on June 30. If the club can’t agree new deals, they’re in danger of back-to-back relegations.

Middlesbrough - Current Position: 19th

Ayala will be a big miss for Boro when he departs on June 30

Jonathan Woodgate’s maiden season in management has not gone to plan, and the news that Daniel Ayala would not be extending his deal past June 30 was not what the Boro boss needed. They’ll need to shore up defensively without their best defender if they’re to stay up.

The return of Patrick Roberts from injury could be huge for the Teessiders who have struggled for creativity.

Wigan Athletic - Current Position: 20th

Paul Cook is confident deals can be agreed with Wigan's out-of-contract players

With 12 players soon to be out of contract, Wigan are the hardest hit in terms of contract expirations of the teams looking to avoid relegation.

Paul Cook has revealed he’s confident deals can be agreed with most, though it’s an added issue the club could do without as they sit just two points above the drop.

Hull City - Current Position: 21st

Marcus Maddison will not remain at Hull beyond 30 June

Hull confirmed recently that Eric Lichaj, Jackson Irvine, Stephen Kingsley and Marcus Maddison would all be departing the club prior to the season’s conclusion.

The club can take solace in the fact their destiny is in their own hands, with games against most of their relegation rivals to come, though the loss of a number of senior players will come as a blow.

Charlton Athletic - Current Position: 22nd

Bowyer's side have struggled to adapt to life in the Championship

Having worked wonders in getting the club promoted, Lee Bowyer has struggled in his maiden campaign in the second tier.

Charlton currently occupy the final relegation spot, having suffered damaging defeats to Middlesbrough and Huddersfield prior to the break. With a daunting fixture list ahead of them, Bowyer’s men could well be back in League One after just one season away.

Propping up the table are Luton and Barnsley, who are very much adrift and looking likely to drop into League One.

Source : 90min