With just 10 Championship games left the race for promotion is tighter than EVER – with only 15 points separating Michael Carrick’s revived Middlesbrough in third and 13th-placed Bristol City… but who will secure a spot in the Premier League?
- Burnley have the best attack, defence, and are yet to be beaten at Turf Moor
- More than half of the Championship has a chance of promotion this season
- Chuba Akpom is thriving in a deeper role for promotion-chasing Middlesbrough
With just 10 games to go in the Championship, the race for Premier League promotion is entering the final lap with 13 teams arguably in with a shout of of going up in an incredibly tight contest.
Just 15 points separate Middlesbrough in third and Bristol City in 13th, which highlights just how close the battle for the play-offs has been this term, with only seven teams finishing within a similar margin last season.
Burnley have led the division since the end of October, but with Sheffield United beginning to falter in second, Michael Carrick’s side have the chance to snatch the second automatic promotion spot from under their noses.
Luton Town, Blackburn Rovers and Millwall currently sit in the other three play-off spots, but with the chasers keeping up the pressure there is every chance that any one of Norwich, West Brom, Coventry, Sunderland, Watford, Preston or Bristol City can make the cut.
Here Sportsmail takes a look at the battle for promotion from the Championship as we enter the final stages of the English second-tier with just 10 more games to play.
Burnley are currently 13 points clear at the top of the Championship with 10 games left to play
Bristol City are in 13th but still have a chance of making the play-offs just nine points from Millwall in sixth
Automatic promotion – 1. Burnley (80 pts), 2. Sheffield United (67 pts), 3. Middlesbrough (63 pts)
In a season where over half the division have a chance of going up, the one thing that looks nailed on is Burnley’s instant return to the Premier League. Vincent Kompany has turned the Clarets into a near unrecognisable outfit in 2022-23, bringing silky, free-flowing football to Turf Moor to brilliant effect.
Burnley are unbeaten at home, have scored more than any other side and kept the meanest defence throughout the competition – Kompany looks destined to reach the Premier League after just one season coaching in English football.
An FA Cup quarter-final tie with former club Manchester City and a reunion with Pep Guardiola – while also seemingly written in the stars – is a well-earned reward for a brilliant campaign at the helm.
Sheffield United were only three points off Burnley at the turn of the year, but have since faltered with only two wins in their last six, with defeats against promotion rivals Boro (3-1), Millwall (3-2), Blackburn (1-0) and Luton (1-0). They may have also reached the FA Cup quarters, but the goals are drying up in the league.
And the bad news for the Blades is that six of their final 10 games come against sides also battling for promotion, meaning Paul Heckingbottom’s side have work to do if they are to earn the promotion that their form over the first 30 games of the season has shown them deserving of.
Middlesbrough have cut the gap to four points, having trailed the Yorkshire outfit by 14 points on January 1, but Sheffield United will be hoping to use the memories of play-off defeat against Nottingham Forest on penalties last term to incentivise a return to form and seal a second-place finish.
Vincent Kompany’s side have the meanest defence and are the top scorers while maintaining an unbeaten record at Turf Moor
Sheffield United were three points behind Burnley at the turn of the year but poor form has left them looking behind rather than in front
Boro have been the surprise package of the Championship this season, and if Vincent Kompany doesn’t win Manager of the Season – which he probably will – then nobody has a better shout than Michael Carrick.
When the ex-England star took over his side were in 21st and falling towards League One. Fast forward less than five months and they are close to returning to the Premier League for the first time since 2016-17. It’s no wonder he has been linked with top-flight roles such as at former club West Ham.
Chuba Akpom’s 22 goals have fired Boro into contention for automatic promotion, and with only two league defeats in 2023 – and 17 goals in their last six – they have become the league’s top scorers on the road.
Although still in third place, Carrick’s side look to have at least sealed a play-off spot, with their eyes now set on reeling in Sheffield United and going one better with a confirmed spot in next season’s Premier League
Hull (A), Sunderland (H), Middlesbrough (A), Sheff Utd (H), Reading (A), Rotherham (A), QPR (H), Blackburn (A), Bristol City (A), Cardiff (H)
*Bold – opposition currently in top six
2. Sheff Utd
Norwich (A), Wigan (H), Burnley (A), Cardiff (H), Bristol City (H), Huddersfield (A), West Brom (H), Preston (H), Birmingham (A)
Stoke (H), Preston (H), Huddersfield (A), Burnley (H), Bristol City (A), Norwich (H), Hull (A), Luton (A), Rotherham (A), Coventry (H)
Michael Carrick has guided his in-form Middlesbrough side to third in the Championship table
Championship top scorer Chuba Akpom has 22 strikes for Boro this season and has been crucial to their charge
Play-off contenders – 4. Luton (60pts), 5. Blackburn (58 pts), 6. Millwall (57pts), 7. Norwich (55pts), 8. West Brom (54 pts)
Luton Town’s own transformation in the last ten years has seen them rise from the National League into contention for the top-flight in successive campaigns. Only once in the last decade have they failed to better the previous season’s finish, and by that trend the Hatters are set for a spot in at least the top four.
No side has conceded fewer goals away from home (15) than Rob Edwards’ side, but perhaps crucially only three sides in the division have won fewer games at home (six), with five ties at Kenilworth Road still to come at a crucial stage of the season.
Just two points behind Luton, Blackburn Rovers will face the Hatters in the penultimate game of the season in what could be a crucial clash for both sides with Middlesbrough making the trip to Kenilworth Road the week before in a precarious run-in for Luton. And Rovers have themselves been in equally good form with just two losses in 2023.
But Jon Dahl Tomasson and Co are another team with a chalk-and-cheese record; the joint best defensive record at home (13 conceded) but only four teams have lost more often on the road (10 defeats). Ben Brereton has only scored twice since October, but a return to form could prove the difference for his side
Rob Edwards was sacked by Watford in September but has taken Luton up to fourth place
Carlton Morris (L) is the Hatters’ top scorer this season with 15 goals in the Championship as well as five assists
Only four more away days to come for Rovers, but crucially they close out the season with home ties against Burnley and Luton before a trip to Millwall, who are just one point behind and set for their best finish since 2017-18 as they occupy the final play-off spot ahead of the run-in.
After a slow start, with four wins from 10, the Lions have worked their way up the table for a chance to reach the Premier League for the first time thanks to 26 goals combined from Tom Bradshaw and Zian Flemming.
Just outside the play-off spots and only one win away from a top-six spot are Norwich and West Brom. Norwich’s tendency in recent years to carve through teams in the Championship seems to have hit resistance, after just 16 wins from 36, while West Brom have struggled to bring three points back to the Hawthorns with only five wins on the road – half that of Luton.
The two are due to meet in the penultimate game of the season in a game that could potentially see one side knock the other out of the running for a play-off spot, but both clubs are continuing to keep the pressure on those just above them in the table, with nine points separating eighth-place West Brom and Boro in third.
4. Luton Town
Bristol City (H), Sunderland (A), Watford (H), Millwall (A), Blackpool (H), Rotherham (A), Reading (A), Boro (H), Blackburn (A), Hull (H)
5. Blackburn Rovers
Reading (H), Birmingham (A), Norwich (H), Huddersfield (A), Hull (H), Coventry (H), Preston (A), Burnley (H), Luton (H), Millwall (A)
Swansea (H), Huddersfield (H), West Brom (A), Luton (H), Hull (A), Preston (H), Birmingham (H), Wigan (A), Blackpool (A), Blackburn (H)
Huddersfield (A), Stoke (A), Sheff Utd (H), Blackburn (A), Rotherham (H), Boro (A), QPR (A), Swansea (H), West Brom (A), Blackpool (H)
8. West Brom
Cardiff (A), Millwall (H), Rotherham (A), QPR (H), Stoke (A), Blackpool (A), Sunderland (H), Sheff Utd (A), Norwich (H), Swansea (A)
Ben Brereton Diaz is Blackburn’s top scorer this season but only has two goals since October
Zian Flemming (second left) is Millwall’s joint-top scorer with 13 in the Championship this season
Outsiders – 9. Coventry (53 pts), 10. Sunderland (52 pts), 11. Watford (51 pts), 12. Preston (50 pts), 13. Bristol City (48 pts)
Behind those six sides come those with an outside chance at making the play-offs – just five points separate Coventry in ninth and Bristol City in 13th, who are therefore only nine points from the final play-off position.
Coventry are in the strongest position to leapfrog Norwich and West Brom, with Mark Robins’ Sky Blues unbeaten since February 11 and able to call upon Viktor Gyokeres’ 17 goals and seven assists as they prepare for a late surge in the run-in. But poor away form and 11 draws from 36 look set to prove fatal in their search for a play-off spot.
Right behind Coventry are Sunderland, who have only just returned to the division after a League One play-off win last term. It is unlikely they will make it two play-off campaigns in a row after a run of five games with just one win, despite the work of United loanee Amad Diallo.
Viktor Gyokeres’ goals are Coventry’s best chance of making up the deficit and finishing in the play-offs
Manchester United loanee Amad Diallo has eight goals and two assists for Sunderland this term
Slaven Bilic became Watford’s second managerial casualty of the season earlier in March
There is little to pick between the next two sides, Watford and Preston, with Watford just a point ahead with both sides on 13 wins, but while the Hornets have only one win in five, Preston are unbeaten in the same period although three have resulted in draws.
Preston have the worst goal difference of any side in the play-off conversation with -6, something that could come back to haunt them. In much the same way, Watford’s lack of patience with Edwards – who has taken Luton up to fourth – and Slaven Bilic this season looks set to ultimately cost them.
And bringing up the rear of the pack of ‘outsiders’ is Bristol City. The Robins are nine points from Millwall, and would need a Herculean effort to overcome that deficit in just 10 games while also relying on the six other sides ahead of them dropping points, but it is still possible. Unlikely, but possible all the same.
Nahki Wells is the league’s joint-ninth top scorer, and youngster Alex Scott is shining in the starting XI, so Nigel Pearson has plenty at his disposal, but their 12 draws are bettered by only one team, and just four wins on the road in 2022-23 ended their genuine hopes of promotion some time ago.
9. Coventry City
Wigan (A), Blackpool (A), Stoke (H), Swansea (A), Watford (H), QPR (A), Blackburn (A), Reading (H), Birmingham (H), Boro (A)
Sheff Utd (H), Luton (H), Burnley (A), Hull (H), Cardiff (A), Birmingham (H), Huddersfield (H), West Brom (A), Watford (H), Preston (A)
Birmingham (H), Wigan (H), Luton (A), Huddersfield (H), Coventry (A), Bristol City (H), Cardiff (H), Hull (A), Sunderland (A), Stoke (H)
Rotherham (A), Boro (A), Blackpool (H), QPR (A), Reading (H), Millwall (A), Swansea (A), Blackburn (H), Sheff Utd (A), Sunderland (H)
13. Bristol City
Luton (A), Swansea (A), Reading (H), Stoke (A), Boro (H), Watford (A), Sheff Utd (A), Rotherham (H), Burnley (H), QPR (A)
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