With the halfway stage of the season fast approaching, many people will be placing their early bets on the potential promotion candidates and those who won’t avoid the drop zone. Whilst attention may be placed firmly on the upcoming Euros, the domestic picture is no less important, as many teams seek their places amongst the higher echelons of the English football game. How it will all play out is anyone’s guess, but here are my predictions for the final outcome:
Promoted - Norwich + Swansea
The Pukki party which we all revelled in last season has seen no sign of stopping in the second tier. Whilst many were surprised that Daniel Farke kept his job after the Canaries’ disappointing season back in the Premier League, that decision has certainly paid dividends and the boys in yellow are certainly flying high at the Championship summit.
Over in South Wales, the Swans are another former PL team looking very likely to return. With a refreshed squad built after last season’s playoff heartbreak, the Swans are highly fancied to go one better and ascend automatically.
Playoffs - Brentford (winners), Bournemouth, Watford, Stoke
The Bees certainly know how their way around the playoffs, even if it doesn’t mean winning them! They have an excruciating record - 9 playoff campaigns, including 4 final appearances, without winning a single one. Even without the famed BMW (Benrahma, Maupay, Watkins) front three, their replacements, especially Ivan Toney, have undoubtedly filled the void. Coupled with their new stadium, they should get past the three former PL teams, finally tasting playoff victory and becoming the newest member of England’s elite.
Relegated - Wycombe, Sheffield Wednesday, Rotherham
Managerless (at the time of writing) Wednesday are in a dire situation, off the field and on it. Whilst they now sit on a positive points tally despite starting with a deduction of 12 (halved to 6 mid-season), their hire-em fire-em management strategy implemented by Dejphon Chansiri has sought to derail the season even more. Perennial strugglers Rotherham have once again done little to save themselves, and despite the heroics of cult hero Adebayo Akinfenwa the comparative minnows in Buckinghamshire will wave goodbye to their first exploits in the second tier.
Top Scorer - Ivan Toney (Brentford)
Many people expected little of the frontman when he arrived from Peterborough at the beginning of the campaign, but he has continued the form superbly. No-one has scored more than him in all of English football this season - a worthy contender for the Championship Golden Boot.
Promoted - Lincoln, Hull
Best known for their exploits in the FA Cup as a then non-league team, reaching the quarter finals (the first time a non-league team had done so for over a century) and knocking out higher opposition thrice along the way, their remarkable rise amongst the public consciousness has continued in the league, and they can return to the second division for the first time since 1960. The Tigers on Humberside meanwhile can at least begin their journey back to the top table, after a wretched campaign last season.
Playoffs - Portsmouth, Ipswich (winners), Accrington, Peterborough
A tale of 2 halves: Portsmouth and Ipswich, former Premier League stalwarts, will continue their good form into the playoff period, at the expense of Charlton and Doncaster who will slip up, instead being joined by Stanley and the Posh, two unfancied teams at the start of the season who may now be daring to dream. Experience normally prevails however and the Tractor Boys, much like Hull, will right the wrongs of last season’s campaign and secure an instant return.
Relegated: Burton, Wigan, Swindon, Rochdale
A miserable campaign for the Latics, compounding off-field controversy with administrators still in charge with on-field woes that will see them drop into the fourth tier for the first time since Roberto Martinez’s playing days. Burton and Swindon will join them, along with Rochdale, a team whose 6 year stay in the third tier will end in agonising fashion as sides around them manage to pull clear.
Top Scorer - Joe Pigott (AFC Wimbledon)
Having made over a century of appearances at the Dons, he created history as the first player to score at their new Plough Lane home. Whilst his side may end up as mid-table finishers, on a personal level winning the League One Golden Boot would be a highlight in a career previously peppered with short loan spells around the country.
Promoted: Newport, Cheltenham, Carlisle
A much harder league to call at this juncture, it still looks very likely the Exiles will have enough in the tank to sustain a title charge and avoid any risk of more play-off heartache, having lost in the dying moments of extra time in 2019. Joining them will be Cheltenham, being in League One for the first time in a decade, and the boys in blue from the Cumbrian outpost of Carlisle, fending off current second-placed Forest Green to secure an automatic promotion berth.
Playoffs - Forest Green, Morecambe, Cambridge (winners), Walsall
With three teams on 31 points, the race for the four play-off spots takes as much skill in predicting as it does to win the lottery: Surprise candidates Morecambe (widely tipped for relegation at the start of the season) will enter the mix, along with Forest Green and current outsiders Walsall, but it will be the U’s that step up, with red-hot striker Paul Mullin further pulling them clear of the rest.
Relegated - Southend, Stevenage
Extremely fortunate not to be relegated at the end of last campaign, and only saved due to Macclesfield and Bury’s liquidations, Stevenage will endure another torrid year, and see non-league football for the first time in a decade. Joining them will be the Shrimps, another club ravaged by off-field issues and a threadbare squad - their first foray into the fifth tier for almost a century.
op Scorer - Paul Mullin (Cambridge)
The aforementioned Mullin currently sits 5 goals clear in the race for the Golden Boot, and certainly shows no signs of surrendering that lead. After disappointing goal returns for former employers Swindon and Tranmere, he has finally found his shooting boots, and could well trouble Tom Pope’s season record of 31 come the end of the campaign.
Written by Jude Horspool