Championship Analysis

The Championship Analysis: Gameweek 33


Cardiff are Premier League bound – But who is going with them?

Cardiff City have had a superb season thus far and following a 2-1 home victory over Bristol City this weekend, where new signing Fraizer Campbell netted a brace, the bluebirds seem destined for the premier league. Of course, there is increasing pressure on Cardiff every year as they seem to fall at the final hurdle in the play-offs after being in the automatic spots all season in recent times. Many critics will argue that their traditional end of season nerves will start to kick in and an end of season slump is inevitable, especially following their midweek 2-0 home defeat at the hands of Brighton. Despite this, I think Cardiff are too far ahead (8 points clear of third with a game in hand) and with time running out for the chasing pack, it seems unlikely that Cardiff will fail to reach the Premier League this time around.

The real intrigue in the Championship is who will finish in the second automatic spot. The race for second place is incredibly tight and it looks as though it may go down to the wire. Hull City currently lie in second place and after convincing home victories over Charlton and Blackburn this week, Hull seem credible candidates for the top flight. Hull are very good at the back and don’t concede a lot of goals and this is a recipe for success as the run-in begins.

In third place lie Watford, they are the form team in the top 6 and under manager Gianfranco Zola, The Hornets are playing some very expansive football. Watford have accumulated 13 points from their last possible 18 (W4 D1 L1) and following a week that consisted of away wins at Birmingham (4-0) and Ipswich (2-0), Gianfranco’s men look capable of surging into the second automatic space, especially with their squad influxed with loans from Udinese and their potent strike force of Troy Deeney and Matej Vydra. 
Crystal Palace are another team with aspirations of the Premier League this season. And following home wins over Middlesbrough and Bristol City, they will head into the run-in with renewed belief of reaching the promise land following a poor run of form over the Christmas period. Palace have made two astute signings in Kevin Phillips and Stephen Dobbie to strengthen their squad and with the emergence of the talented Johnny Williams look revitalised. Palace also have the leagues top scorer Glenn Murray at their disposal and the way they are playing at the moment, it would be hard to see them not coming very close in may. 
The final team in with a chance of grasping second place is Leicester City. On paper, Leicester probably have the best team in the league, but consistency has been a problem for them this season and following a week disrupted by the FA cup and a midweek home defeat to mid-table Charlton, their promotion bid seems to have stalled. Having said that Leicester have two games in hand and should they win those, they will be three points off of second place and with the likes of Nugent, Knockaert and new signing Chris Wood, the foxes will still fancy their chances of reaching the Premier League.
Whoever clinches promotion is sure to have earned it as the race for the top flight looks set for a very entertaining run in. 
Barnsley are resurgent 
Since parting company with manager Keith Hill at the back end of December last year, Barnsley have experienced a dramatic upturn in form. Following a run of 5 wins and 1 draw in their last 6 games, Barnsley have escaped from the clutches of the relegation zone and now look much healthier in 20th place under the regime of Gary Flitcroft. The Tykes have enjoyed another superb week, reaching the FA Cup Quarter-Finals with victory at MK Dons and then beating Wolves 2-1 in a relegation battle at Oakwell on Tuesday night. Chris Dagnall and Jason Scotland have been pitching in with goals for the Yorkshire men and their 9-game unbeaten run will look to continue as they head to Bristol City this weekend for another 6-pointer. Barnsley look a much stronger outfit now than they did a few months ago and confidence can do wonders in football. Barnsley will now be looking up the table trying to reach mid-table as opposed to looking over their shoulder at the terrifying relegation zone. This week has further enhanced Barnsley’s claim at avoiding the drop.
The Midlands teams are being dragged into a relegation battle
At the start of the season, nobody would have predicted Wolves and Birmingham City as two likely candidates for the drop. However, the two Midlands clubs look destined for a relegation battle following another week of turmoil. Wolves are on an appalling run of form having picked up only 3 points from a possible 18 and after taking the lead at Barnsley in midweek, slumped to another defeat and consequently have assumed their position in the relegation zone. Wolves are finding it hard to find wins at the moment and with so much change going on at the club, Dean Saunders has an enormous task on his hands to try and prevent a club that had Premier League status last season from dropping into League 1. 
Birmingham City will also have renewed relegation fears following a week which consisted of two home games and no goals. The blues were hammered 4-0 at home on Saturday by promotion chasing Watford and then Drew 0-0 at home on Tuesday with fellow relegation strugglers Sheffield Wednesday. There is a lot of pressure from fans at St Andrew’s and Birmingham manager Lee Clark knows his side need to improve if they are to avoid the drop but with problems off the pitch and reports of a behind the scenes rift with striker Nicola Zigic over his attitude, the focus may not be 100% on the task at hand.
You would expect both Birmingham and Wolves to have too much quality to end the season with the dreaded R word next to their name, but stranger things have happened and football is a funny old game. What is clear is that both squads need to pull together as a unit and start picking up points before its too late.

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