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Six into one: pros and cons of runners for last play-off spot



The first three Championship play-off semi-finalists are almost set but that final spot could go to one of six teams. Let’s run them down.


Sheffield United – 6th (43 played, 66 points, GD +11)

Why they will
The obvious: they are in pole position. Nobody could have foreseen that when Slavisa Jokanovic left Bramall Lane in November after a miserable start to the season – even fewer when Paul Heckingbottom was announced as his permanent successor. The Blades have gone back to basics while getting the best out of on-loan talisman Morgan Gibbs-White since the manager change. The run-in looks favourable, too, with out-of-form Cardiff and QPR to come before hosting Fulham on the final day, who will likely be too p*ssed to care.

Why they won’t
This will become a running theme here of sides who just don’t seem to want to go up, but Sheffield United are on a bad run. In fact, the Blades are in their iffiest spell since Heckingbottom took charge, winning just two of their last eight games in the league. The push that took them from lower mid-table into the upper echelons of the Championship table has levelled out. It’s touch and go whether three more games of the same sort of results will be enough to hold out. Plus, Fulham are that good they could beat most teams in this division even when half cocked.


Millwall – 7th (43 played, 65 points, GD +6)

Why they will
Banter. What do you mean, that’s not a good enough reason? Fine, fine. They have the least expectation of anyone on this list. In fact, we could go all the way down to Blackpool in 16th and not find a club less anticipatory of being in the top six. At no stage this season have Millwall finished a game week in the play-offs, but we all know it is only where you end up after 46 matches that matters. They also have some really good goalscoring and creating performers. Tom Bradshaw is averaging one every other game while Jed Wallace and Benik Afobe have been delicious. Those key players could be the difference makers. Also, Birmingham and Peterborough are ripe for maximum points before hosting a Bournemouth side who could well have nothing to play for come the final day of the season.

Why they won’t
Unlike every other side on this list, Millwall have not flirted with the idea of promotion once this season until now. The lack of expectation upon their shoulders is never a bad thing, but there is reason for that. They are by some distance the lowest scorers of these six contenders with 48 goals. Their recent slips have also come against teams they would have hoped to beat – defeat to Stoke and a draw at Preston spring to mind – so that kind end to the fixture list isn’t a gimme just yet.


Blackburn – 8th (43 played, 63 points, GD +8)

Why they will
Because we have seen how capable they are of putting together a run of results, as per the stupendous form in the final two months of 2021 which saw them go from being humiliated by Fulham to nearly catching up with the Cottagers. 2022 has been nowhere near as kind to Tony Mowbray’s side. They have scored the fewest goals of any Championship club this calendar year, but still have the capabilities to pick up the points needed to make it into the top six. Ben Brereton Diaz’s injuries have wrecked his campaign, yet Rovers are far from a one-man team. Tyrhys Dolan, Sam Gallagher and Reda Khadra are all capable of chipping in, too. Given some – definitely not us – predicted Blackburn to go down, they can defy expectations once again.

Why they won’t
Only Birmingham, Barnsley and Peterborough have collected fewer points in 2022, while no team has scored as few as their 10 goals since New Year’s Day. They have been in genuine relegation form for half of the season and could yet play in the Premier League next campaign. God bless the Championship.



Middlesbrough – 9th (42 played, 63 points, GD +8)

Why they will
Chris Wilder. If anyone can inspire some magic, it is the Middlesbrough manager, save for those lockdown-inspired nine months of drudgery at Sheffield United. A season that was meandering under promotion expert Neil Warnock was breathed into new life when Wilder went Riverside in October. Middlesbrough also hold the advantage of having played one game less than the other five contenders; it is still in their hands to make sixth place their own. And all four remaining fixtures are against teams with nothing but pride to play for.

Why they won’t
Chris Wilder. He’s always been something of a prickly fellow to say the least, but his refusal to deny those links to Burnley are slightly worrying, particularly with Boro suffering from their worst run of form since he arrived. Their last four games have brought just one point and no goals. It will take a far more impressive return over the final four games of the season to extend their campaign for at least another two.

Very telling that Chris Wilder’s agent is more interested in calling out Simon Jordan than giving clarity to the thousands of Boro fans who are worried their relatively new manager is going to jump ship 4 games from the end of the season. This situation reeks to high heaven #utb https://t.co/UMECvGkhhF

— Neil Grainger (@GraingerNeil) April 19, 2022


QPR – 10th (43 played, 63 points, GD +3)

Why they will
Well, they’re still in the race for it. But as promised, QPR are another chaser of sixth place who have not had the form to match such lofty ambitions. The first half of the season and a little bit beyond saw us questioning when the momentum would inevitably run out. Equally as obviously, once we all got aboard the QPR bus, the wheels came off. Notice the waffling prevents us from having to come up with reasons why QPR will get the final spot because it really feels like they won’t. Stoke, Sheffield United and Swansea is a triple S threat which should provide four or five points on paper…

Why they won’t
…but converting paper to pitch hasn’t been QPR’s best suit for some time and anything less than seven points is unlikely to be enough. Even the perfect nine would represent maybe a 50/50 chance if we’re being generous. Players in hot pockets of form like Luke Amos and Chris Willock offer hope, but the win over Derby felt like too little, too late for a club who let a good opportunity slip them by from February onwards. Still, stranger things have happened.


Coventry – 11th (43 played, 62 points, GD +2)

Why they will
Perhaps not this strange. It would take a monumental effort to see Coventry get that last play-off place, but they have already exerted themselves beyond all reasonable expectations. They almost certainly won’t go up, yet this has been an incredible first season back in their own city for a plethora of reasons already. Given their penchant for last-minute winners this season, it wouldn’t be too earth-shattering to see them make their way in with the last kick of the game.

Why they won’t
Quite simply, the points gap is almost too big to bridge with three games remaining (and four in Boro’s case), but the number of teams separating Coventry from the coveted sixth spot is the biggest obstacle. Five teams are better placed, though none of them can lay claim to having had a more miraculous season than the Sky Blues, for whom the future is looking bright. Don’t be surprised to see them higher up in this conversation again next season.


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