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Breaking down the Championship play-off picture

With just seven matches remaining in the long and arduous Championship season, we here at Tribalfootball have broken down each contender for football's richest match.


Fulham

Form guide

Fulham have made a late surge into the play-offs and are third in the form guide from their last six games, picking up 14 points from a possible 16. They have been unbeaten in these as well, winning four and drawing two. Their last fixture was a 2-2 scoreline against QPR at home, where they disappointingly let slip a 2-goal cushion against their London rivals.

After the match manager Slavisa Jokanovic was displeased with the display of his players.

He said: "We cannot be satisfied because I am not here for fighting for some records, I am here to win the games, we didn't win today and I cannot be satisfied."

Run-in

Fulhum's next three fixtures are a tricky obstacle to overcome with their next fixture away to Norwich followed by Leeds and a trip to Sheffield Wednesday.

However, the remaining fixtures thereafter are perhaps more pleasing to the eye of Jokanovic, with their final two against strugglers Sunderland and Birmingham away in the last game of the season.

Summary

The addition of striker Aleksandar Mitrovic from Newcastle on-loan has worked wonders, with the big Serbian having smashed in 7 goals in 9 appearances for the side.

His goal scoring prowess could fire them to the play-off final, but a lack of depth in concentration, as they proved against QPR could cost them if they reach Wembley.

There is no doubt with Jokanoivc, who lead Watford to the Premier League in 2015, they have the added advantage of a manager with experience (like Aston Villa and Steve Bruce).

Prediction: Semi-finalists



Aston Villa

Form

After a good run of form the ex-Premier League side have stuttered, losing their last two.

They lost at home to QPR on the 13th March, and again 4 days later in their last Championship outing at Bolton. They will be hoping to recapture the form which has seen them firmly plant themselves in the playoff mix over the last couple of months.

Jack Grealish said last week in order to fulfil his potential he has to be playing in the Premier League.

The young 22 year-old winger told Sky Sports News:"For me to put myself up there, I need to be doing it in the biggest league, which is probably the Premier League.

"I'm enjoying myself what I'm doing but at the moment, there's only really one aim- to get the club back to the Premier League."

Run-in

Aston Villa have a number of sturdy fixtures ahead which will prove a stern test of their play-off credentials. The most notable games are at home to second-placed Cardiff (10th April), and another Villa Park setting against fellow promotion candidates Derby (28th April). Their last game is away to rejuvenating Millwall.

Summary

The signing of Robert Snodgrass on-loan from West Ham could be a promotion-changer ashehas already showed during his time at the club so far.

He scored an excellent late strike to secure all three points against play-off outsiders Sheffield United at Brammall Lane in January. He is a top-class player at this level, and he alone could make the difference to them going up.

However, they also have experience in John Terry, and players who know how to perform in this division - such as Albert Adomah and Conor Hourihane.

Steve Bruce has won promotions from this division more times than any other manager with four. So more than likely Aston Villa have the edge over all of their play-off rivals.

Prediction: Play-off winners.



Derby

Form

Derby have the worst form out of all the play-off contenders, winless in their last sixleague games, despite only losing seven all season so far.

Only Burton, Birmingham, Reading and Sunderland have worse records.

Their last game was a goal-less draw to Nottingham Forest on 11th March.

Run-in

Derby's next fixture is a favourable one at home to Sunderland (30th March), but they have Wolves (11th April, away), Middlesborough (21st April, home) and Cardiff City (24th April, home) all to play before the end of the season. Their last game is at home to Barnsley.

Experienced players Darren Bent, Jason Shackell and Chris Baird are all out of contract at the end of the season.

Summary

Although utilising the aforementioned experienced players, Derby have not possessed the energy and urgency to win games, particularly at home.

At times this season they have looked pretty ordinary, but nevertheless have the talent and young fresh blood to win them games, with Kasey Palmer being a prime example.

However, I feel they will fall short again if they do not put in a lively, energetic and exciting home performance in the semi-final.

Prediction: Play-off semi-final



Middlesborough

Form

Middlesborough are in a similar vein to Fulhum, undefeated in their last 6 with convincing home victories against Yorkshire opponents Leeds and Barnsley in the midst.

They have a goal difference of just +18, the lowest out of any of the top 6, which perhaps also shows one of Tony Pulis's main priorities since coming in as manager in December of 2017.

Run-in

Middlesbrough have a crucial home fixture against Wolves next , which could help decide their fate in the play-off picture, with them just a point ahead of Bristol City in sixth. They have another key game at Derby (21st April), before their final game at Portman Road against Ipswich.

Pulis recently spoke of the importance of leadership in the squad as quoted by The Northern Echo: "The squad is a really good group of players, a nice group.Cometh the time, cometh the hour, though.

"They have now got to show that as a group. Irrespective of what I do or anyone else,we have to get that now in the dressing room.They are the ones, the leaders in that group, they have to get everyone together and take it on."

Summary

Middlesbrough have a fired up manager who will do his best to get the team promoted at his first attempt. However, the feeling is that he is building a long-term project, and if they do not get promoted this year, they will in the next two to three.

Grant Leadbitter will be important as well as striker Patrick Bamford who scored a hat-trick against Leeds recently.

Prediction: Outside top 6



Bristol City

Form

Bristol City have had a mix run of results, with two wins and two losses in their last six.They had a good win against Ipswich at home in their last match, but also lost to Preston North End and Cardiff.

Run-in

They face Barnsley at home in their next game, followed by Brentford at home (2nd April), Millwall away (7th April), and Birminghamhome (10th April). Their last game could prove the most important as they play ninth placed Sheffield United.

If Bristol City do not get promoted, striker and top goalscorer Bobby Reid, who has scored 19 goals this season, could be on his way to the Premier League.

According to Bristol Post reporter Gregor there has been top division clubs wanting his signature: "I know there's been Premier League interest in Bobby. Premier League clubs interested in Championship's top scorer?

"It makes sense doesn't it? What eventually happens will come down to Bobby".

Summary

Bristol City proved in the League Cup they can play with confidence and without fear in the biggest games and against higher-ranked opponents.They knocked out Manchester United and had a more-than competent run-out against Premier League table-toppersMan City.

Theenergyyoungmanager Lee Johnson has brought into the team has been one of the key reasons why they have done well this season.

They play with style and confidence and it could take them into the play-offs and to the final.

Prediction: Play-off final



Preston North End

Form

Preston won their last game with a comfortable away to Sunderland, and have won 3 out of their last 6. They have won 15 games this season, drawing as many, and losing eight.

Run-in

They have a few crucial games coming up in their play-off bid, with a fixture at home to 5th placed Derby (2nd April),and away to Sheffield United ( 28th April) on the penultimate game of the campaign. Their final opponent of the season is at home to strugglers Burton on the 6th May.

In an interview with the Lancashire Post on the 26th March, manager Alex Neil explained his defensive structure and thinking when picking a team: "I try and look for in players an outstanding strength.

"Some players might be very good at most things but they tend to be 'jack of all trades, master of none' type of thing.

"If you can find someone's particular strength, you can balance it off with whoever you play next to them. Look at our defence – while Hunts is really dominant in the air, Ben Davies has the pace and covering ability, he is the perfect foil for him."

Summary

Alex Neil is another manager who knows what it takes to get team from promoted from the Championship, having guided Norwich to promotion from the play-offs in 2015.

However, despite new signing Billy Boden impressing and winger Tom Barkhuizen chipping in with a few goals, the loss of top scorer to Jordan Hugill to West could prove a factor.

Without a true, clinical and powerful goalscorer, it will be difficult for the Lilywhites to cause a threat in the play-offs.

Prediction: Outside of play-offs



Sheffield United

Form

Despite setting the Championship alight in the early part of the season, United have faltered in the second half, which has seen them fall out of a play-off spot.

They are unbeaten in their last three though, with their last win coming against Burton Albion on 13th March.

Run-in

Sheffield United are two points outside sixth place, but have a tough match away to Brentford next, before a crucial tie at home to Cardiff on Monday three days later.

Their last game is away to Bristol City which could well decide the fate of their ambitions.

Manager Chris Wilder has said in an interview with the Sheffield Star on 25th March that top teams have not found out their tactics: "We've not been 'sussed-out', that's nonsense. We've played well against some of the top teams, some of the division's in-form teams, which doesn't suggest that's the case does it?

"On the flip side, if you don't play well, if you can't pass it from 'a' to 'b' then that's not tactics.

"The preparation from the staff and the players, the desire of us all, is always the same. Individually and collectively, that's been the case all the way through."

Predictions

Experienced strikers Leon Clarke and Billy Sharp have scored a handful of goals this season, but the impressive start to the campaign has not been continued and consistency has been an issue.

It has still been a fine season back in the Championship, but they are unlikely to make the top 6.

Prediction: Outside top 6

Joe Baker
About the author

Joe Baker

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