The 2018/19 EFL Championship season has been a thrilling, roller coaster ride, but with just five rounds remaining it appears that Norwich City are very much destined for promotion to the Premier League.
Daniel Farke’s Canaries have been a cut above in England’s second tier. Their 2-2 draw with Reading last night may have broken a run of eight straight wins, but consider that they have lost just one league match since the turn of the year and enjoy a six-point advantage over nearest chasers Leeds United. City also be regarded as the most improved team season on season, having already claimed 25 more points (with five games to spare) than they managed in 2017/18.
Three more wins from their remaining matches should guarantee Norwich a place in the top two of the division and thereby secure automatic promotion. Farke will certainly want to have the Championship title sewn up before they play away to Aston Villa on the final day of the regular season on May 5 – comfortably their most challenging remaining fixture.
One of the major driving forces behind Norwich’s campaign has been Finnish striker Teemu Pukki, who was recently named the Championship Player of the Season. He has netted 26 goals and edged fellow nominees Billy Sharp (Sheffield United) and Che Adams (Birmingham City) to the prestigious award.
The big question is: who will join the Canaries in flying up to the elite division? It will be either Sheffield United or Leeds United. The latter, managed by Marcelo Bielsa, looked to be on course to win the Championship but a major wobble in form around the New Year (three straight losses to Hull City, Nottingham Forest and Queens Park Rangers) hit them hard and opened the door for Norwich to assume ascendancy.
The Whites are regarded very much as a club which should be in the Premier League, given their history and strong support base, but in the Championship your reputation counts for nothing: all progress must be earned with blood, sweat and tears.
The notion of hard, grinding work is not foreign to Sheffield United, though Chris Wilder’s ‘Blades’ have played some fine football this season and would certainly be worthy of a Premier League place should they join Norwich in the top two.
The two hopefuls have run-ins of similar difficulty, though Leeds (who hold a one-point lead over Sheffield) do have one particularly tough match remaining: a home clash with Aston Villa on April 27.
With one of the Whites or the Blades set to be present in the playoffs, the identity of the three remaining teams is the next major issue. Currently, positions four through six are take up by West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa and Bristol City.
The Villains, inspired by the prolific scoring form of Tammy Abraham and the midfield mastery of Jack Grealish, are the form team of that group, racking up seven consecutive wins. They too are regarded as a club which should be in the top flight, and momentum appears to be on their side.
However, Middlesbrough, Frank Lampard’s Derby County, Hull City and even Sheffield Wednesday are also in with a shout of claiming a playoff berth, and the battle for a one-in-four chance at the Premier League will go all the way to the final day of the regular season on May 5.
Down at the bottom of the log, Ipswich Town are all but sure to drop to League One, while Bolton Wanderers’ dire form on the field is mirrored by their financial and administrative catastrophes off it, and Rotherham United complete the bottom three.
Yet Reading, Millwall and Wigan Athletic can all consider themselves very much within danger and must finish the season strongly to remain out of the red zone.