Championship 2019/2020: Battles at the top and bottom

This Wednesday sees the end of the 2019/2020 regular Championship season, with all teams having played all of their matches. Coronavirus saw that the season was protracted until now, virtually the end of July, but it has been worth the wait. We still have a lot to look forward to, and a lot of things still to sort out. With that in mind, I’ve put together this article with my thoughts and predictions for what I think will happen with regards to promotion and relegation.

The Fixtures

Championship 2019-2020 FIXTURES
Credit: BBC Sport.

Here is the full fixture list for Wednesday’s last round of this season. You can see how much there is still to be sorted out, and how many games have something riding on them. In fact, if we look at the list, only Bristol City v Preston North End is a free match.

To explain the key, GREEN STARS have a PROMOTION or PLAY-OFF-chasing team in that match, whilst a RED STAR has a RELEGATION-threatened team in that match.

What I will do now is to briefly go through what I think will happen on Wednesday night. My predictions are based on my own thoughts and the previous form of the teams involved and their opposition, but of course, in the Championship, anything can happen and anyone can beat anyone on their day.

Going up….

Let’s start at the top. Before we get into the nitty-gritty of it, here is what the table at the top looks like. I have only shown you the teams still in with a chance of getting into the play-offs, or who are already in the top 6, because everyone below this is out of the running for this season.

Championship 2019-2020 TOP
Credit: BBC Sport.

What each team needs:

Here, we can see how everything stands.

Leeds have obviously already gone up as champions, and congratulations to them, they have been very good this season. Even more importantly, they didn’t suffer the slip-up they had at this point last season.

West Bromwich Albion know that a win against Queen’s Park Rangers will seal a return to the Premier League for them after two years away from the top flight.

Brentford will go up in second place if West Brom lose or draw, and the Bees beat Barnsley.

Fulham are not out of automatic promotion contention yet, and if Brentford and West Brom both lose and Fulham win, then the Cottagers will gain an unlikely second place. However, given the huge difference in goal difference, it is more likely that Fulham will be in the play-offs.

Nottingham Forest need to get a draw against Stoke City, and they will seal their place in the play-offs. If they lose, then they risk slipping to sixth, although their goal difference compared to Swansea’s of +5 should keep them in the play-off positions even if they lose.

Cardiff City and Swansea City look likely to have a South Wales shoot-out to see who will get the final play-off position. It looks likely to be the Bluebirds, but a loss for them and a win for Swansea of more than 2 goals would see the Swans jump in at the expense of their rivals.

Predictions:

So now we have outlined how the table looks, and what each team needs, here’s what I think will happen.

West Brom play QPR, and this will not be an easy game at all. QPR are in good form, having won their last game, and having won 2 and drawn 2 of their last 5 games. Having said that, West Brom, or, more to the point, Slaven Bilic, will want to see a big response to the Baggies’ loss to Huddersfield Town at the weekend. I would expect him to get this response, and, even though we saw some signs of the pressure and expectation they are under to get second place, I think they will get the win they need and seal a return to the Premier League.

However, for me, West Brom need to win, because I also see Brentford beating Barnsley fairly comfortably, although the Tykes are fighting for their survival, so they won’t be easy. What makes me see a victory for Brentford is that they also lost at the weekend, against Stoke City, and they will also need a big reaction, which I think manager Thomas Frank will get.

Further down the table, Fulham should come through against Wigan, although it won’t be easy, because the Latics are in incredible form – unbeaten in their last 4 games. Also don’t forget that they will be fighting to get beyond 12 points away from the relegation zone, as they will lose 12 points at the end of this season for the club going into administration. That one will be a tight game, and could go either way to be honest.

Nottingham Forest should come through against already-safe Stoke, so that will ensure Forest’s place in the play-offs.

Cardiff face Hull at home and Swansea go away to Reading. Given the current form of their opposition, I would have to say Cardiff will get what they need to take sixth place, although something tells me it will be 1 point and not 3, because I just have a feeling Hull will fight with everything they have and steal something from the Bluebirds, given how desperate the Tigers are.

That would mean Swansea will not get the play-off place whatever happens. However, going up against a Reading side who have lost their last 2 matches, but were unbeaten in the 3 before that will not be easy, as the Royals have proven to be a different animal since Mark Bowen took over.

Going down….

Again, before we do anything, let’s have a look at the bottom of the table as it stands. We have only included the teams that have any chance of still going down – everyone above is safe from the drop for this season.

Championship 2019-2020 BOTTOM
Credit: BBC Sport.

What each team needs:

Huddersfield Town need a point to stay up for certain, although their goal difference means they are virtually safe already. They play Millwall away in their final game.

Middlesbrough are in the same boat as the Terriers, with their goal difference already meaning that, even if they are caught, they will stay up. However, getting a win at Sheffield Wednesday would mathematically seal survival.

Birmingham need a win, like Middlesbrough, and they play against Derby County in their final game.

Charlton Athletic need a win, and anything less and they risk slipping into League One, making an immediate return after just one season in the Championship.

Luton Town need a win against Blackburn Rovers, and to hope that Charlton fail to win against Leeds United.

Barnsley need to win, and hope that both Luton and Charlton lose their games, otherwise the Tykes will be returning to League One after just a single season in the Championship.

Hull City need to win their game against Cardiff, whilst hoping that Barnsley, Luton and Charlton lose their games (if one of them takes even a single point, Hull can’t stay up). However, it is very unlikely that they will stay up, as they need Charlton to lose heavily and for them to hammer Cardiff, because of the goal difference both teams have. Hull are on -27, whilst Charlton are on -11.

Predictions:

Let’s start by going through who will survive for definite.

Huddersfield will stay up for me, as will Birmingham (by the skin of their teeth, as they have been in free fall in the last few months).

That leaves a three-way battle between Charlton, Luton and Barnsley, because Hull are gone for me. They simply need too much to go for them, and, whilst there is nothing to say it won’t happen, it just seems too much to ask for. As mentioned above, they need a lot of things to go for them.

Charlton play Leeds, who could be in party attitude after their promotion, but I think Marcelo Bielsa will want his team to finish strongly, and get that last win as a farewell to the Championship. Charlton’s form in their last 5 games has been 2 draws in their last 2 games, but 3 losses before that. For me, I don’t see them getting anything against Leeds, unless they play well and Leeds don’t turn up.

That means that Luton have a chance of staying up, and I’m going to throw it out there: I can see Luton beating Blackburn. I just think that Blackburn’s form in recent games has been iffy, with them getting 2 wins, 2 draws and 1 loss. There is every chance they could slip up against a Luton side who are unbeaten in their last 4 games (2 wins and 2 draws), and have done so well since Nathan Jones came back in as manager. I think they will take 3 points against Blackburn, and stay in the Championship.

This would of course mean that Charlton and Barnsley would be relegated, if all of this happened. The Tykes go up against Brentford, who are fighting to get into the last automatic promotion spot, and I think that the Bees, with everything they have in their squad, will be too much for Barnsley.

As mentioned above, Hull are gone. Cardiff should beat them, especially since they will want to stop their South Wales rivals Swansea from sneaking into the play-offs at their expense. It has been a disaster of a season for the Tigers, and they will need to rebuild again in League One next season, with major works on the squad to bring in the players they need to make an immediate return. They won’t want to be like Sunderland, who are still in League One after their double relegation in 2017 (Premier League to Championship) and 2018 (Championship to League One).

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