We now stand less than four weeks away from the end of the regular Championship season and things are getting closer to being wrapped up in both the race for automatic promotion and the playoffs.
With all teams playing twice over the next seven days, plenty could be decided by this time next week, or perhaps things will get even tighter...
Automatic promotion chasers
Norwich City need just one more win to confirm their promotion to the Premier League and host Bournemouth on Saturday night. A point would also be enough for the Canaries if Brentford drop points earlier in the day against Millwall.
Eight points behind the runaway leaders, Watford are in prime position to follow them in making an instant return to the top flight, as they have a seven point advantage over third-place Swansea City. Brentford are two points further back in fourth but have played a game less.
The Swans and the Bees have both got back to winning ways in the last week, and their places in the top six seem in little doubt.
5th - Bournemouth
- Games played: 41 / Points: 71 / Goal difference: +26
- Average position of remaining opponents: 10th
- Next matches: Norwich City (A), Millwall (A)
How quickly things can change. A week ago, Bournemouth were seventh but after two wins - including in their game in hand against Huddersfield - they are fifth with a grip on a playoff spot. Jonathan Woodgate’s side have now won five consecutive games, hitting form at the right time. But what will give Reading optimism is their next three fixtures.
This weekend Bournemouth travel to Norwich, who will be eager to wrap up promotion, before they face another tough away test at a Millwall side who have taken points off all the top eight sides this season apart from Swansea. Then they host Brentford. Things could very well change quickly again.
6th - Barnsley
- Games played: 41 / Points: 71 / Goal difference: +10
- Average position of remaining opponents: 16th
- Next matches: Coventry City (A), Huddersfield Town (A)
The Tykes got past a potentially tricky test against Middlesbrough last weekend, as second half goals from Alex Mowatt and Daryl Dike secured a 2-0 win. Now Valerien Ismael’s men have a favourable run of fixtures as they look to make their spot in the top six safe: they face Coventry City, Huddersfield Town and Rotherham United in their next three games - all sides placed no higher than 19th.
If there is hope for Reading to cling on to, it’s that these teams are just as in need of the points as they desperately fight for survival so might not be as easy to beat as expected. You only need to look at the way Barnsley themselves ended last season when they were battling to beat the drop.
7th - Reading
- Games played: 41 / Points: 66 / Goal difference: +11
- Average position of remaining opponents: 9th
- Next matches: Cardiff City (H), (Luton Town A)
It’s fair to say the last week couldn’t have gone much worse for Reading. Defeat to Watford, combined with wins for Bournemouth and Barnsley, means that the Royals are now five points behind the top six with five games left to play. You would think that Veljko Paunovic’s side will have to win at least four of those to reach the playoffs, and certainly take all three points against Cardiff City on Friday night.
While Reading must focus on themselves, victory against the Bluebirds would of course place pressure on their rivals the following day. In the words of Tom Holmes: “we had a fantastic start to the season, so let’s look to emulate that and have a fantastic end to the season too”.
Cardiff City drew with Blackburn Rovers last weekend and defeat to Reading would end their incredibly slim playoff hopes for good. Meanwhile, the teams placed 9th to 12th - Millwall, Middlesbrough, Queens Park Rangers and Stoke City - all lost last time out to shut the door on any fairytale late run.