With leaders Leicester City and Burnley comfortably in command of the Championship’s invaluable automatic promotion places, the struggle for an all important play-off position has significantly intensified.
Far from secure, current play-off hopefuls Derby, Queens Park Rangers, Nottingham Forest and Reading will all be anxiously looking over their shoulders as the chasing pack bites mercilessly at their heels with less than 12 games to go. And as the season draws ever closer to its uncertain conclusion, we assess the chances of the teams eagerly contesting the increasingly coveted spots.
Wigan- Arguably in the strongest position to usurp a place in the top six, in-form Wigan pose an undeniable threat those currently occupying the play-off spots. Wigan boast an impressive record of seven consecutive wins in all competitions; including a prominent 2-1 FA Cup victory against Premier League giants Manchester City and 4-1 annihilation of promotion rivals Nottingham Forest away at the City Ground. Combine such potent form with the two games in hand they have over Reading and Nottingham Forest, and they already have one foot in the play-off positions. New manager Uwe Rosler seems to have reinvigorated a Wigan side whose Premiership confidence was crushed in last season’s unforgiving campaign.
Brighton & Hove Albion- In a similarly threatening position to Wigan, slow starters Brighton have surged resiliently to eighth place and currently sit just three points beneath the play-off positions with an important game in hand. The January departure of star performer and Scotland international Liam Bridcutt to Sunderland has done surprisingly little to undermine their Premier League ambitions, and an impressive return of 13 points from their previous six fixtures has firmly cemented Albion’s pursuit of promotion. The introduction of on-loan Manchester United and England U21 striker Jesse Lingard further strengthens the merits of their ambitious 2013/2014 campaign.
Ipswich- After a remarkably consistent and perhaps surprising season so far, Ipswich find themselves a favourable 4 points shy of the play-off positions. And whilst they cannot be dismissed from the race just yet, it must be conceded that an undistinguished yield of two wins, two draws and two losses from their previous six games somewhat dampens the extent of their threat to the likes of QPR and Derby. The long-term injury of leading goal scorer David McGoldrick has severely inhibited their prospects and revealed an alarming shortage of goals without his presence being replaced. What will make or break Ipswich’s season are their crucial next four encounters: daunting consecutive meetings with Wigan, Brighton and Derby before a visit from Nottingham Forest on 29 March.