With the 2020-21 Sky Bet Championship run-in set to get underway, we take a look at the run-ins of nine teams in realistic mathematical contention for promotion.
From blockbuster six-pointer showdowns to potentially dangerous clashes against clubs fighting for survival, this season’s run-in promises to be explosive as Norwich bids for a second Championship title in three seasons.
Watford and Bournemouth meanwhile are chasing an automatic return to the Premier League, whereas Brentford look to avoid potentially joining any of Swansea, Barnsley, Reading, Cardiff and Middlesbrough in the play-offs after losing last season’s Play-Off Final.
A lot therefore lies at stake for all nine teams as we analyse their individual run-ins plus predict their points haul from remaining games, beginning with league leaders – Norwich.
Norwich (83 points)
Norwich enter the run-in with a 14 point advantage over third-placed Swansea with eight matches left, which I can see them at least holding if not extending with nine points from their next three matches.
Bournemouth and Watford at home back-to-back though will be massive for Norwich because if they can defeat at least one of those two clubs, I think automatic promotion will be assured with title then being sealed either away at QPR or at home to Reading.
As for their final game away at Barnsley, I expect them to go there looking to end this season on a high with momentum to take up with them into the Premier League, but if the Tykes need a win to seal a play-off spot then I can see a potential defeat if field an understrength team.
I am therefore expecting Norwich to take 17 points from their last eight games of this season because I can see one defeat coming at some point, particularly given that they are against four of their top six rivals in their final five matches.
Prediction = 17 points
Watford (75 points)
Although Watford currently holds a six point advantage in second ahead of Swansea, they certainly have a difficult run-in with five of their promotion rivals coming in their last eight games, on top of a Hertfordshire derby and clash against a relegation battling Sheffield Wednesday.
Now looking at the order of those games, Watford probably cannot afford two defeats in their first four run-in games otherwise they could find themselves dragged right back into the mix because I feel like a defeat at Norwich will be likely given the Canaries’ quality.
Millwall meanwhile should be a solid banker of three points unless pressure creeps into this Watford team, because their last two games against Brentford and Swansea could well be crucial to whether they go up automatically or face the play-offs.
Swansea at home on the final day in particular could well be massive if it to decide who gets promotion, especially if Brentford win their penultimate clash to put themselves right in the mix too.
In summary, I think that Watford could get at least three wins whilst Reading and Swansea might get draws at Vicarage Road, with the Middlesbrough, Norwich and Brentford away trips potentially proving key in terms of results to Watford’s promotion hopes.
I am therefore going to go for 14 points from their eight run-in matches because I can see two slips up potentially away from home, given their shaky form on the road compared to their strong home form and strong away opposition in coming weeks.
Prediction = 14 points
Swansea (69 Points)
Currently six points adrift of Watford, Swansea need to hit the ground running because they have the most favourable run-in out of the top four.
In fact, I can see 12 point coming from their four home matches alone whereas if they can get at least four points from away trips to Birmingham and Millwall, they could afford to push for draws at Reading and Watford.
This is the Championship though where surprise defeats lie around every corner but I just can’t see Swansea slipping up until potentially the final day where a draw might be enough for promotion if can win at Reading to give themselves a strong points haul heading into the final day.
Prediction = 18 points
Brentford (68 points)
Having hit a slump since mid February, Brentford really need another fierce unbeaten run to boost their promotion hopes given their poor play-off record.
Huddersfield however has been quite a hoodoo for the Bees so if they can clear them with a win, they should be able to push on and get 12 points from their next four games ahead of hosting Cardiff at home.
That game followed by a trip to Bournemouth to me feels like a make or break pair for Brentford’s run in because if they can stay fit and take wins from both matches, they will certainly be confident heading into their last two home games against Rotherham and Watford.
My concern though is that the Bees have a habit of slipping up when we least expect them to against relegation battling opposition at home, so beating Rotherham will be crucial because if they can take at least one point off Watford then anything is possible at Bristol City on the final day.
There however will certainly be twists but if Thomas Franks’ Bees bring their A game, at least 18 points could be possible as can see defeats potentially coming against Cardiff, Bournemouth and Watford but go unbeaten until end of season then 20 points should be a good bet with draws in their three toughest games.
Prediction = 20 points
Barnsley (64 points)
Good Friday’s clash against Reading is a six pointer for Barnsley because if they can defeat the Royals, I can see them finding a way to win five of their next six against largely mid-table teams with a potential draw against Middlesbrough too.
Should that be the case then I think Barnsley will be assured of a play-off spot come the final day and can rest their key men against Norwich if necessary, although Huddersfield can be a challenging place to visit so a point there will be a solid return.
Lose to Reading then they will probably need to win two of their next three to maintain their gap over those just behind them, including Boro who are the only club amongst those chasers that the Tykes will face in their run-in.
I am therefore going for a haul of 17 points from their last eight games of this season if beat Reading on Friday because I can see them taking wins from four of their following six games plus two draws if can grind out points against Boro then Huddersfield.
Prediction = 17 points
Reading (62 Points)
With only six points separating sixth-placed Reading to Middlesbrough who sit ninth, Veljko Paunovic’s Royals need a win at Barnsley on Good Friday to potentially build a gap in the play-off race.
Clashes against Derby, Luton and Huddersfield look in my opinion like Reading’s best bets of finding nine points because I would write off their penultimate game at Norwich due to the Canaries’ superior quality.
Away trips to Barnsley and Watford plus home games against Cardiff and Swansea however are going to be crucial and if they can find at least four points from those games, they should have enough to pull together around 15 points.
I however think 13 points would be their best bet given how tough their run-in looks with five of their eight games against fellow top eight teams.
Prediction = 13 points
Bournemouth (59 points)
With nine run-in games, Bournemouth definitely cannot afford any Coronavirus or weather related postponements otherwise their run in could look very congested come late April.
Bournemouth are also currently three points off sixth-placed Reading but face a tough start to their run-in with Middlesbrough then Blackburn, so really need at least one win to give them belief for later games because they should easily find at least seven points from their following four games.
Brentford at end of April will however be the acid test for Bournemouth’s play-off prospects, because I can see them realistically entering that game with eight points and their final two games should yield six further points.
If they win against Brentford then I can see them taking 18 points from their nine remaining matches with just one defeat away at Norwich, but defeat to Middlesbrough, Norwich and Brentford would likely be fatal to their play-off hopes.
Prediction = 18 points
Cardiff (58 points)
Cardiff will be relishing this run-in because I can see them claiming at least four points from their first three matches as well as from their latter three games but Reading and Brentford away will be major tests.
If Cardiff can pull through those two games with at least one win then with 12 points from four home games plus draws at relegation battling Sheffield Wednesday plus Birmingham, I can see the Bluebirds claiming 17 points from their last eight games.
Prediction = 17 points
Middlesbrough (56 points)
Heading into this run-in with a six point deficit to sixth-placed Reading who occupy the last play-off spot, Middlesbrough need a good start to their run-in but have lost their last three trips to Bournemouth yet have taken eight points from last four home clashes against Watford.
On that note, they need to realistically avoid defeat in those two games and claim four points to get their run-in off the ideal start before ending their away hoodoo in Barnsley, because I can see them winning each of their last five matches against mid-table or relegation opposition.
I therefore think that if they can find five points from their first three games and take wins from their last five providing they avoid any silly defeats, they could very well be in the mix for a play-off spot.
Prediction = 20 points
How could Final Standings Look?
With points predictions for all nine teams now made, here is how the table could look come the conclusion of the final day.
Norwich would be promoted as champions whilst that final day clash between Watford and Swansea could well be defining as to who claims promotion, which I think the Hornets will edge with a draw given their home form
Brentford meanwhile should have enough quality in them if can keep Ivan Toney fit to finish third ahead of Swansea with Barnsley finishing ahead of Bournemouth, who would edge Middlesbrough out of the last play-off spot by a single point.
Reading and Cardiff would also miss out by narrow margins, although the Royals’ run-in looks tough so eighth would be a solid finish but ultimately disappointing, whereas Cardiff’s mid-season slump will cost them if these points projection proved true.
Either way, the battles for second and play-off positions definitely don’t look over yet and both battles could boil down to the final day in an unmissable 2020-21 Championship run-in.