Which promotion contender has the easiest run in?

Well, it’s getting closer now.


The end of the season is fast approaching and the Championship, as usual, is far from settled. There are eight teams looking worriedly at the relegation zone and there are nine teams eyeing up the promised land of the Premier League.


Norwich seem to have tied up top-spot, with a run of seven wins on the bounce leaving them ten points clear of second-placed Watford. Bigger collapses have happened before.


Swansea and Brentford both have the opportunity to move above Watford if they each win their game-in-hand. Barnsley and Cardiff have both made a late charge for the playoffs, heaping pressure on Reading and Bournemouth, so who will triumph?

I've taken a look at the run-in to try and work it out using both a scientific method and our own intuition. See our work below and let us know if you agree:


Norwich City


Current position: 1st

Average position of opponents: 13th

Points gained in reverse fixtures: 20 (1.8 points per game)

3 (Sheffield Wed), 3 (Forest), 3 (Blackburn), 1 (Preston), 3 (Hudds), 0 (Derby), 0 (B’mouth), 0 (Watford), 1 (QPR), 3 (Reading), 3 (Barnsley)

Projected points: 96

Projected position: 1st


Norwich have been outstanding this season and show no sign at all of stopping. With the quality in their side and the club’s masterful use of the transfer market, it is no surprise to see them so far in front at this stage of the season.


The real test will come next season though. Will Norwich be able to make the leap into the Premier League successfully this time around? Or will we see more of the serial yo-yo club that we have come to know and love.


Second Tier Pod Prediction: CHAMPIONS


Watford


Current position: 2nd

Average position of opponents: 11th

Points gained in reverse fixtures: 18 (1.6 ppg)

0 (Cardiff), 3 (Rotherham), 3 (Birmingham), 1 (Wednesday), 3 (Middlesborough), 0 (Reading), 3 (Luton), 3 (Norwich), 1 (Millwall), 1 (Brentford), 0 (Swansea)

Projected points: 84

Projected position: 5th


A mixed start to the season under Vladimir Ivic has been somewhat saved by the impressive returns under Xisco Munoz. Watford find themselves in second place for good reason and, having only lost one game of the last five, they seem likely to carry that on.


Their season will come down to the last two games, with matches against Brentford and Swansea likely to settle the question of the second automatic promotion place and, considering their very questionable record against other top teams in the Championship this season, I’m inclined to say that it will be the playoffs for the Hornets.


Second Tier Pod Prediction: 3rd


Swansea City


Current position: 3rd

Average position of opponents: 14th

Points gained in reverse fixtures: 22 (1.8 points per game)

3 (Luton), 1 (B’mouth), 3 (Cardiff), 1 (Birmingham), 3 (Preston), 3 (Millwall), 3 (Wycombe), 0 (QPR), 1 (Reading), 0 (Derby), 3 (Watford), 1 (Wednesday in-hand)

Projected points: 88

Projected position: 2nd


Swansea’s late push to reach the playoffs last season was absolutely unbelievable and Steve Cooper has only built on that success. The former England youth manager rode his luck in the early stages of last season but has gone from strength-to-strength since.


He has found a way that he wants to play, has found a formation that suits that style and has discovered a perfect balance of youth and experience. An over-reliance on Andre Ayew might be a tiny bit of an issue in the next few years but he has shown no signs of slowing down for now and their form, on the whole, has been top-tier as well.


Their game in-hand over Watford will be key and if they win that game against Sheffield Wednesday then they are odds on for promotion. That’s the way that I’m leaning.


Second Tier Pod Prediction: 2nd place - Automatic Promotion


Brentford


Current position: 4th

Average position of opponents: 14th

Points gained in reverse fixtures: 22 (1.8 points per game)

1 (Blackburn), 1 (Derby), 3 (Forest), 3 (Huddersfield), 0 (Brum), 0 (Preston), 1 (Millwall), 3 (Cardiff), 3 (B’mouth), 3 (Rotherham), 1 (Watford), 3 (Bristol City)

Projected points: 85

Projected position: 3rd (by goal difference)


How frustrating will it be for Brentford if they miss out on promotion again?! Their style of football is exciting and enthralling and the quality of Ivan Toney, Bryan Mbuemo and Vitaly Janelt should be showcased in the top division and yet, the inconsistency shines through.


An awful run a few weeks ago has given Thomas Frank’s team an almighty task, both mentally and in real terms. With only two wins from five games, it is squeaky bum time for the Bees. I don’t think that they’ll make the automatic places, but they’ll get their chance in the playoffs.


Second Tier Pod Prediction: 4th


Reading


Current position: 5th

Average position of opponents: 11th

Points gained in reverse fixtures: 25 (2.2 points per game)

3 (Forest), 0 (Brum), 3 (QPR), 3 (Barnsley), 3 (Derby), 3 (Watford), 3 (Cardiff), 3 (Luton), 1 (Swansea), 0 (Norwich), 3 (Huddersfield)

Projected points: 85

Projected position: 4th (by goal difference)


I honestly don’t know what to think about Reading. They were overperforming heavily early on in the season and I didn’t expect them to stick around at the top of the league, but here they are, 30 games later.


The Royals have one of the toughest run-ins though, playing four of the top six teams as well as the high-flying Cardiff, before the end of the season and I still find myself questioning their ability to stay in the top six.


The games against Barnsley and Cardiff will be vital for Reading’s season and I hate to say it - and hope that I am proven wrong - but I don’t think that the Royals will be able to stick around considering the form of the teams behind them. Things look good for next season though.


Second Tier Pod Prediction: 7th


Barnsley


Current position: 6th

Average position of opponents: 14th

Points gained in reverse fixtures: 16 (1.4 points per game)

0 (Bournemouth), 3 (Wycombe), 3 (Wednesday), 0 (Reading), 0 (Luton), 0 (Middlesborough), 1 (Coventry), 3 (Hudds), 3 (Rotherham), 3 (Preston), 0 ( Norwich)

Projected points: 74

Projected position: 7th


It has been a great season for Barnsley, compare it to the miraculous survival of last season and it is a completely new situation for Valerian Ismael’s team.


The club invested heavily in youth talent last season and it is the same young group that almost got them relegated last season that might just take them up this season.


The addition of Daryl Dike has been a major success and Barnsley are another team that have really discovered form since Christmas. I think that their form carries them over the line this season... but to promotion? That’ll discuss that later.


Second Tier Pod Prediction: 5th


Bournemouth


Current position: 7th

Average position of opponents: 13th

Points gained in reverse fixtures: 21 (1.9 points per game)

3 (Barnsley), 1 (Swansea), 1 (Middlesborough), 3 (Blackburn), 3 (Coventry), 3 (Huddersfield), 0 (Norwich), 1 (Millwall), 0 (Brentford), 3 (Wycombe), 3 (Stoke)

Projected points: 77

Projected position: 6th


I really don’t know what to think about Jonathan Woodgate’s Bournemouth side, there simply haven’t been enough games to give a proper analysis yet and such is my genuine confusion about where they will finish, that it has changed with the injury is Lewis Cook.


Cook is an England International who still has a bright future ahead of him and he has been a massive player for the Cherries this season. I am judging Bournemouth’s chances based on the quality of their squad rather than their performances under Woodgate and I think that the loss of Cook will be too big to overcome.


A disappointing eighth place for Bournemouth.


Second Tier Pod Prediction: 8th


Cardiff City


Current position: 8th

Average position of opponents: 13th

Points gained in reverse fixtures: 16 (1.4 points per game)

3 (Watford), 3 (Stoke), 0 (Swansea), 3 (Forest), 0 (Wednesday), 1 (Blackburn), 0 (Reading), 0 (Brentford), 0 (Wycombe), 3 (Birmingham), 3 (Rotherham)

Projected points: 70

Projected position: 8th


I wrote a piece on Neil Warnock earlier this season as an ode to the old-school style of English manager and the success of the two of them is a testament to everything that makes the Championship great and their rise up the table since the appointment of Warnock’s mate Mick McCarthy has been spectacular.


I don’t see them slowing down when I look at the quality of their upcoming opponents. Cardiff fans will owe McCarthy a massive debt of gratitude if he does take them up.


Second Tier Pod Prediction: 6th


Who will win the playoffs?


We’ll do a much longer piece on this when we get to that actual stage of the season, but if the playoff lineup is the same as what I have mentioned above, I’m inclined to back Barnsley.


It has been a very long season in the second tier of English football and the fitness of the Barnsley squad might just give Valerian Ismael’s side an advantage.


By Theo Hewson-Betts | @thewsonbetts

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