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Championship Promotion Race: In Their Own Words - Part One

What do fans of Reading's promotion rivals make of the 2016/17 season so far, and how do they see it ending? We sat down (figuratively) to see what they think.

Brighton & Hove Albion v Huddersfield Town - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Brighton and Hove Albion, 1st, Jason Thackeray, @BHAFConlyathome

You're heading into the second half of the season top. After three playoff appearances in the last four seasons, could this finally be the season you avoid the 'lottery' and reach the promised land?

I really hope so for the players, the manager and Tony Bloom. I enjoy the Championship as a league but it’s not financially sustainable and last season was heart breaking. Hughton deserves to manage at the highest level and we’ll lose players like Dunk and Knockaert if we don’t go up this time round.

I don’t want to count any chickens but our position is obviously the best of the teams in the league at the time of writing. We don’t seem to know how to lose. Fulham played us off the park for 70 minutes at theirs and we still beat them 2-1. I really started to believe as we shuffled out of the Putney End, still singing but with voices going. If this isn’t our season I fear we’ll never do it.

Glenn Murray is a player all Reading fans will know (and perhaps wish we had!) - how important has he been to your success so far?

His goals, particularly at home, have been pivotal but he offers a great deal else. Decent in the air, holds the ball up well and makes perfect runs. He’s the number nine we’ve been missing.

What (if anything) needs to be done to strengthen the team in January?

Another forward with pace to compete with Baldock. Otherwise just don’t sell. We have two quality players for every other position.

What have you made of Reading under Jaap Stam?

I must confess I’ve not seen much of you. From what little I have you look hard to beat. You’re having a cracking season and should comfortably reach the playoffs.

Where do you think you'll finish come May?

It’s got to be top two! If we blow it from here it will be a massive disappointment and I’m not sure I could take the playoffs again. However, the only thing that’s currently certain is we’ve survived relegation!

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Newcastle United, 2nd, Mark Jensen, @NUFCTheMag

How's the season going? Are Magpies fans happy to be firmly in the promotion race (unlike the other relegated sides), or disappointed not to be running away with the league?

A bit of both really. At times looked like Newcastle were going to run away with this league and then others (seven defeats so far - only four in entire last promotion season of 2009/10) have shown a vulnerability. Fans maybe hoped/expected to be roughly where we are in the table but maybe not the highs and lows - only one draw so far.

Dwight Gayle... just how good has he been for you so far? (Though Royals fans aren't his biggest fans after that disallowed Superman goal!)

Gayle had scored the previous game against Huddersfield (after penalty was saved) but the free-kick he scored against Reading (first of two goals in that 4-1) was the start of his and our season really. To have scored more (19) goals than anybody else in top four divisions tells it all. Though as you indicate, away fans think he has a tendency to accidentally 'stumble'.

What - if anything - needs to be done in January?

Things have gone a little flat recently and Shelvey's suspension has compounded that, the team finding it a bit harder to break defensive teams down.A couple of players to provide creativity and/or goal threat are generally felt to be needed and somebody to play with Gayle and another to play midfield are widely expected to be set to arrive.

What have you made of Reading under Jaap Stam?

TBH I don't really watch that much of other Championship games, though obviously take more and more interest in results of teams sticking at the top. Whilst I thought Stam was embarrassingly over the top when he claimed Reading deserved to win at St James Park, his confidence in himself and the team don't look misplaced, with being a fixture in the top three for so long despite little money spent.

Where do you think you'll finish come May?

Top two I believe and would be nice to think another significant winning run will come along now to ease any potential nerves. However, no chickens are being counted just yet.

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Huddersfield Town, 4th, Scott Castle, @Terrier1987cas

Back in August you said you weren't going to get carried away with the hype... but now, with Huddersfield sitting 4th in January, are you getting excited about the idea of promotion?

I'd obviously be lying if I said I wasn't excited, but at the minute I think it's more excitement about what's happening with the club in general rather than the prospect of promotion.

If we manage to remain the playoffs I'd be delighted but I wouldn't be disappointed if we miss out as long as we keep performing the way we are - it's been a superb season for us regardless.

As you mentioned it was a big summer of change for the Terriers, which has been the most important signing for you so far?

Our defence has been an issue as long as I can remember, so the reinforcements brought in over the summer were an obvious help (although I'm still not 100% comfortable when any team goes at us).

The best signing we made has got to be Aaron Mooy. He's creative going forward but keeps us ticking over and completely dictates the tempo of a game, meaning we tend to have more possession than the opposition which obviously helps our defence.

Anything that needs to be done in January to cement your promotion push?

We really need a striker in case Nahki Wells gets injured. At the minute he's our only out and out striker so it's essential we get someone in who can not just replace him if needed but compete for his place. There are lots of rumoured targets at the minute so hopefully at least one is true.

David Wagner has been linked with a number of high profile jobs recently, just how important has he been for Huddersfield so far?

He's the heartbeat of the club. He's created a philosophy both on and off the field that everyone connected with the club has bought into. In my life I've never known everyone be as behind a manager as we are behind Wagner. Turning down Wolfsburg only increased everyone's love for him! I genuinely think if we lose him he'll be impossible to replace.

What have you made of Reading under Jaap Stam?

You seem to be a bit like us - not beating teams comprehensively week in week out but managing to get the job done. Stam definitely seems to have taken to the job well and you're punching well above your weight similar to us. I'd like to see you stay up there, just not at our expense!

And finally... where do you think you'll finish this season?

I'll say 9th. I'm a natural pessimist and for some reason I just feel we've got a wobble in us before the end of the season that will cost us. I really hope I'm wrong because if we go up it will be a massive thing for not just the club but the town as well, and our chairman Dean Hoyle really deserves it for everything he's done for us.

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Leeds United, 5th, Johnny Wakefield, @ThruItAllLUFC

In August you said you were dreaming of a play-off spot... Now into January and Leeds sit fifth. Think you can push on and cement your place in the 'lottery'?

I do. I think in August those dreams were the sort of dreams every fan dreams… of course I want to make the play-off, of course I want promotion. But coming into 2017, it turns out those dreams might be turning into reality for Leeds United.

We’re playing great football, together as a unit, built on a strong defensive core and the occasional attacking threat. If we can add some more firepower in January, I think top six is a definite possibility instead of a dream. I’ll even put us ending the year in third.

The managerial merry-go-round at Leeds has been well documented over the last few years... have you finally found your man in Garry Monk?

God, I hope so. It has been a tough few seasons on the managerial end at Elland Road, but as long as someone else doesn’t swoop in and take him away from us, Monk has given Cellino/Radrizzani zero reasons to let him go.

Our new owner said this week that giving him a new contract is a top priority, and I have to hope he sticks around for the long-term.

What needs to be done in January to really push on? Could it be as much about keeping Charlie Taylor, as bringing in anyone new?

As I said earlier, I think Leeds have to add another attacking threat. Chris Wood leads the club in goals with 16 goals across all competitions, and I believe our second place goal scorer has four or five. We need depth at the forward position, but we could also use a striker with some creativity on the ball: Wood just knows how to be in the right place at the right time.

Otherwise, I think we’re strong. Some have called for a new keeper to replace the error-prone Rob Green, or defensive depth especially if Charlie Taylor leaves, but I think he’s going to stay. Goals are my priority for January.

What have you made of Jaap Stam and Reading so far this season? Of course, the Leeds fans made their opinions well known at Elland Road in December!

Ha, that December game was something wasn’t it? I think all that matters is the score at the final whistle, and to that end, Reading have had a fantastic first half of the season, really similar to ours.

Your goal differential of +4 would bother me, but I appreciate a club that can control possession as well as yours does. You’ll be in the thick of the play-off hunt tie the end, but I think we'll clip you by May.

Where do you think you'll end up come May?

Give me promotion or give me death. I want to say otherwise, but again with the goal differential, I think Newcastle and Brighton are Premier League clubs in the Championship this season (I predicted them to take the top two slots in our preseason rankings).

Then, it all comes down to the crapshoot of the play-off. Leeds fans will be heartbroken if this squad can’t finish the job at Wembley: the players themselves have really awoken the passion at Elland Road again. But like I said, the play-off is a crapshoot.

I think the answer to that question may arrive this month though: the transfer window dealings of Cellino/Radrizzani and on your end as well could play the deciding factor come May.

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Sheffield Wednesday, 6th, Joe Crann, @YesWeCrann

With Wednesday coming so close to promotion last season, and finding themselves in the Playoff places now, is it a matter of when, not if, the Owls will return to the top flight?

I’d like to think it’s a when, that’s for sure!! I think we’re building a really good platform for ourselves and with the financial muscle we have now I do think it’s a matter of time to be honest.

When we spoke in August, you said Steven Fletcher and Almen Abdi could be important signings this season. How well have they done for you?

Fletcher has done ok, he’s added a little bit of firepower but hasn’t really flown yet. Abdi has struggled but he’s a quality player and should still come right. Might get a chance now Kieran Lee just got ruled out for the season.

What (if anything) needs to be done to strengthen the team in January?

We’ve got a relatively strong squad to be honest. They might look for a Lee replacement and a striker - everybody always wants a striker - but I don’t think we’ll be too busy.

What have you made of Reading under Jaap Stam?

I think the league table pretty much speaks for itself doesn’t it? He’s done great with your boys and got you performing above everyone’s expectations. I’d expect someone like him to tighten your defence up a little bit though, he can’t be happy with the amount of goals conceded.

Where do you think you'll finish come May?

Tough question really because obviously I want us to go up! There’s a section of our fans that think automatic promotion should be a given after last season, but I’d be happy with top six again to be honest. I think we’ll come 5th or 6th.

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Keep your eyes peeled for part two, coming soon...