Championship play-offs rundown: The race for the Premier League

Bournemouth and Watford have already secured themselves top-flight football next season but there are still four teams who hope to join them come May 25th. Here George Rinaldi looks at who could be a Premier League side next campaign . . .

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3rd – Norwich City (86pts)

Season review

Supporters of the Canaries would have been disappointed with a third-placed finish had someone proposed it at the start of the season.

However, following a rather mediocre start to life back in the second tier of English football, and sitting 11th at the start of December, Norwich fans have gladly accepted that finishing just three points shy of the automatic places is no easy feat.

Key player: Cameron Jerome

A man who already knows the Premier League well, Jerome has the capacity to score the goals to not only take them into the Premier League, but stay there. He has bagged 18 this season and will look to extend that tally over a possible extra three games.

Bought for £1.5million when he left Stoke City following an unspectacular loan at Crystal Palace, the Englishman has been an absolute steal.

Survival chances in the Premier League

Norwich are arguably the best of the four teams in the play-offs, having been the only relegated side to have secured a good finish.

The squad is ageing, however, with the majority over 25 years old, so a significant dip in the transfer market for some young and hungry players to join is vital.

Form: W25, D11, L10

Fixtures:

[A] Ipswich Town – 1st Leg | Saturday 9th May | 12.15pm K.O.

[H] Ipswich Town – 2nd Leg | Saturday 16th May | 12.15pm K.O.

Head-to-head v Ipswich Town since 1992: P31, W16, D4, L11.

 

4th – Middlesbrough (85pts)

Season review

Middlesbrough would have expected to finish in the top two come May but a fourth-placed finish is nothing to be ashamed of. Unlike Derby County, Boro managed to maintain their top-six position comfortably, having not fallen out of the play-off spots since October 6th.

They managed to score four or more goals in four matches this season, despite the fact they netted the overall least amount of goals out of the play-off sides – 68. Incredibly, three of those four games were against Brentford, Norwich, and Ipswich.

Key player: Patrick Bamford

The Chelsea loanee just cannot stop scoring. He scored 17 league goals over the campaign, and funnily enough, netted his first of the season against Brentford in a 4-0 win at the Riverside.

He has only netted a brace on one occasion, but his ability to pop up with a goal every 2.7 games will prove vital in Boro’s Premier League ambitions.

Survival chances in the Premier League

It has been a while since supporters have seen Middlesbrough grace the top flight, although it feels like only yesterday they defeated Manchester City 8-1. They are a mixed group of players in varying ability, alongside a manager who has never worked in the Premier League.

The defence conceded just 37 goals, so the outlook is good in terms of keeping clean sheets, but Aitor Karanka will be hoping Chelsea loan out Bamford for one final season.

Form: W25, D10, L11

Fixtures:

[A] Brentford – 1st Leg | Friday 8th May | 7.45pm K.O.

[H] Brentford – 2nd Leg | Friday 15th May | 7.45pm K.O.

Head-to-head v Brentford this season:  [H] 4-0 Win, [A] 1-0 Win.

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 5th – Brentford (78pts)

Season review

Alongside Wolves, the side from west London exceeded expectations following promotion from League One but were able to pip Kenny Jackett’s side on goal difference to secure a play-off place. Arguably, Brentford’s 4-0 win over Wolves was the decider in a frantic final day that saw Derby – who had occupied a top six position for seven consecutive months – drop out, and the Bees took full advantage.

Manager Mark Warburton was told he would not be managing the club following the close of the season but has been superbly professional in guiding Brentford to this stage.

Key Player: Alex Pritchard

The 22-year-old has been the star performer for the Bees this season, continuing his impressive growth since his time at Swindon Town.

With 12 goals to his name, Pritchard has proven he can perform at Championship level. His place in the PFA Team of the Year and as Brentford’s Players’ Player of the Year showcases the recognition he deserves for this season.

Survival chances in the Premier League

Many will see Brentford as the possible pushovers in the league should they go up but promoted sides usually make significant efforts to remain in the top flight.

Alan Judge will be vital in maintaining the flowing passing football the Bees now play but it is unknown whether Tottenham Hotspur will be willing to loan Pritchard out again. Also, they will have a manager in charge who will only have the summer to get to know the players.

Form: W23, D9, L14

Play-Off Fixtures:

[H] Middlesbrough – 1st Leg | Friday 8th May | 7.45pm K.O.

[A] Middlesbrough – 2nd Leg | Friday 15th May | 7.45pm K.O.

Head-to-head v Middlesbrough this season: [A] 4-0 Loss, [H] 1-0 Loss.

 

6th – Ipswich Town (78pts)

Season review

Ipswich have been competing at the top for most of the season and ended up finishing in the final play-off spot. It seemed as though they would drop off the chasing pack following a winless run of four games in March.

However, four wins in the final run-in, coupled with an important draw away at Wolves, saw them secure a chance at grabbing that final promotion place into the Premier League.

Key player: Daryl Murphy

Who else? The Irishman finished as the Championship’s top scorer by some distance, scoring 27 goals in the process.

At 32 years old, it seemed the striker would play the final years of his career in the second tier but his return of almost 40 goals in the last two seasons could see him taste Premier League football again.

Survival chances in the Premier League

Ipswich have a mixture of both ageing and young players, with a few already with Premier League experience. One of those is Christophe Berra at the heart of the Tractor Boys’ defence, having played for Wolves under Mick McCarthy in the top flight.

McCarthy’s knowledge of the Premier League with both the former and Sunderland could see a strong hard-working side scrape survival at the first time of asking.

Form: W22, D12, L12.

Fixtures:

[H] Norwich City – 1st Leg | Saturday 9th May | 12.15pm K.O.

[A] Norwich City – 2nd Leg | Saturday 16th May | 12.15pm K.O.

Head-to-head v Norwich City since 1992:  P31, W11, D4, L16.

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