By Lee Dover | Championship
The Championship is one of the hardest leagues in the world to predict – a team fighting for promotion one month could be battling in the relegation zone the next. It’s also one of the most lucrative promotion races in world football with the top three joining the elite teams in the money factory of the Premier League come May.
Here we analyse who’s best equipped to go from wannabe’s to made men come May. Here’s the top six and their chances of promotion.
1. Leicester City
The Foxes are definitely the cream of the crop in the Championship at the moment, having navigated their way through choppy waters early on in the season.
Leicester looked about as comfortable on their travels as Lance Armstrong on a Tour de France reunion. They lost to Charlton Athletic, Blackburn Rovers and Wolves on the bounce after impressive home wins against Peterborough and Blackpool.
They’ve obviously been getting a rollicking on the training ground and have turned in impressive away wins over promotion rivals Middlesbrough and Huddersfield Town in recent weeks.
Manager Nigel Pearson has refused to take all the credit and believes that the club’s loyal fans have to be applauded.
It’s an expensive day out at home and away and we fully appreciate that, even more so in today’s climate when everyone is having to tighten their belts somewhat – it really highlights the commitment of fans to their clubs.
With a supportive fan base and seven-game unbeaten run the 3/1 in Paddy Power’s online betting about Leicester City to win the Championship and return to the Premier League for the first time since 2004 looks worth a punt.
2. Cardiff City
The Welsh side are the only side in the top six who have never tasted life in the Premier League and were scrapping it out in the old Division Three at the beginning of the new millennium.
But the Bluebirds means business this season and won their opening seven games at home this season. With form like this fans are optimistic that the New Cardiff City Stadium will be turned into a fortress and Cardiff will scale the dazzling heights of the Premier League.
It’s amazing to think that Middlesbrough were within a whisker of clinching the 2006 UEFA Cup.
The good times could soon be rolling around Teesside once more though, as Boro are on a four-game unbeaten run. One man who could well hold the key for the team’s promotion push is Ishmael Miller.
Netting Middlesbrough’s second in their 2-0 home win against Hull, Miller is confident that he is only just getting warmed up.
It’s taken a while to get off the mark so it feels good … You have to believe that once the first one goes in then you will get a few more.
If Miller can back up his lofty claims – he did score the goals which gained Tony Mowbray’s West Brom promotion a couple of seasons ago – then a repeat performance for Boro could be on the cards.
4. Crystal Palace
Eagles fans were shell-shocked by manager Dougie Freedman’s taking the reins at Bolton earlier this week. Palace had looked doomed for a drawn-out relegation battle when they lost their first three league games of the campaign against Watford, Bristol City and Middlesbrough.
But under Freedman’s guidance they then went on an unbeaten game run (six wins and two draws) before Freedman confirmed he was moving on to replace Eoin Coyle at Bolton Wanderers who dropped out of the Premier League last season.
Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish has been quick to calm the gathering storm though, telling BBC London 94.9:
Obviously it’s a blow but we’ve got to look forward. It’s a fantastic opportunity for somebody. It’s just [about] us finding the right man. We’ll need to sit down and think about what we want.
Palace will need to think very carefully about their next appointment if they are to continue their drive for Premier League promotion.
5. Blackburn Rovers
Blackburn Rovers’ woes have been played out in full view for the past 12 months and they’ll need to appoint a strong manager after Steve Kean’s departure last week.
Rovers looked to have overcome some of their on-field trouble with a five-game unbeaten start to the season, but they have since lost at home to Middlesbrough and Wolves, as well as frustrating draws with Nottingham Forest and Derby County.
A 1-0 win against Sheffield Wednesday has them back into the play-off spots the club really needs to put on a united front and get behind the new appointment if they have any hope of returning to the Premier League.
6. Wolverhampton Wanderers
The club sacked Mick McCarthy back in February when their top flight status was all but extinguished, with Stale Solbakken given the task of transforming the club’s fortunes.
Despite the overhaul he held onto striker Kevin Doyle – signed in 2009 – and he’ll be a vital asset now that he looks to have rediscovered his shooting boots.
His latest rescue effort came on Tuesday night, when he drilled in two goals in a 2-2 draw with Bolton Wanderers.
The brace ended an eight-match goal drought for the Republic of Ireland international, with Doyle telling the Express & Star:
To top it with a couple of goals is nice and hopefully I’ll get a few more in the next few weeks. That’s what usually happens with strikers. It would be nice if I could do the same again at the weekend.
Indeed, Wolves could be howling a much happier tune in the months to come with a prolific goalscorer back in excellent form.