As Championship football takes a month-long hiatus for the World Cup in Qatar, an intensely close race for promotion is beginning to take shape. Burnley hold a slim lead atop the table on 41 points, three clear of Sheffield United. However, neither Burnley or Sheffield can rest on their laurels and expect to secure automatic promotion, with a number of teams hot on their heels.
With each team still to play at least 25 fixtures this season, let’s take a look at the top five contenders for automatic promotion at the time of writing.
For those following the football odds, Burnley and Sheffield United are favoured to secure promotion at 4/11 and 2/3 respectively, while Norwich City are tipped to sew up the third spot at 7/4.
As mentioned, the Clarets are sitting in pole position after 21 matches – with 11 wins, eight draws and two losses thus far. Their results were a mixed bag to kick off the season, with an opening day win over Huddersfield Town, before succumbing to a loss to Watford and a further three draws with Luton Town, Hull City and Blackpool.
They will however take plenty of confidence from their final month-and-a-half leading up to the World Cup break, winning five from six. If they can carry that momentum into the second half of the season, promotion looks likely.
Sitting within striking distance of Burnley’s lead atop the table, Sheffield United have had a similar campaign to the league-leaders – with their season taking a little while to kick into gear. The Yorkshire outfit struggled for consistency in the opening couple of months of the season, before hitting their straps in October and November. Having won four of their last five, of which includes a 5-2 thumping of Burnley – the Paul Heckingbottom-managed side will be hoping those notable wins can help them hold on to automatic promotion once we reach the business end of the season.
While the Blue and Whites will be pleased with their third-place position in the table, their inability to secure many significant wins this season should be a cause for concern. With 2-1 and 3-0 defeats against the Blades, along with a 3-0 thumping at the hands of Burnley – Blackburn are going to need to show a little bit more if they’re to be considered legitimate threats for a top-two finish as we head into 2023.
That being said, overanalysing Blackburn’s losses to teams above them in the table could be somewhat harsh, as they’ve shown in strong wins over fourth-placed Watford and sixth-placed Millwall that they’re far from flat-track bullies.
Watford’s season has been a bizarre one, with exceptional victories over the likes of Burnley, Sheffield United and Norwich City, to coincide with disappointing and untimely losses to the likes of Blackpool and Coventry. With the 20th-placed Hull City and cellar dwellers Huddersfield the Hornets’ first two fixtures after the World Cup break – it’s a golden opportunity for Slaven Bilic’s men to solidify their spot in the top four or even leapfrog Blackburn.
While nine wins, seven losses and five draws isn’t quite the embodiment of consistency – the fact that Norwich City still manage to sit fifth in the table demonstrates just how competitive Championship football is. Just nine points adrift from league-leaders Burnley, they have a number of tough fixtures awaiting them in December and early January – with Swansea, Blackburn, Luton and Watford all difficult match-ups. If they can jag some good results during that period, it could prove crucial in the context of Norwich’s season and their tilt at promotion.