This Championship season is turning out to be one of the best in recent history, with four teams now looking favourites to making a return to the big time. Being in the two automatic promotion positions and winning three play-offs games come May mean a return to the greatest and most exciting league in the world.
Every season favourites are established by bookmakers to which teams are the bankers to see off the competition and achieve promotion back to the Premiership, alongside netting two lucrative television deals. This season the favourites have underperformed and astonishingly are fighting to keep their Championship status and not get relegated down to League 1.
Blackburn, Wolves and Bolton, who were all relegated from the Barclays Premier League in the 2011/12 season alongside Blackpool and Birmingham have struggled this season and Wolves astonishingly are currently only above the drop zone on goal difference.
This season four teams have a realistic chance with ten games remaining to gain promotion to the Premier League they are Cardiff, Hull City, Watford and Crystal Palace. All expect Cardiff have experienced Premiership football, but could again be in a familiar position to somehow mess up that opportunity and keep their reputation of not reaching/losing in the play-offs, like they have for the last few seasons.
Cardiff are currently five points clear at the top of the Championship table, six above third placed Crystal Palace, but it was ten just three games ago, sparking fears that the dreaded reputation was again surfing it’s ugly head.
The squad they have is arguably better than some in the Premiership with the likes of Craig Bellamy, Peter Whittingham, Fraizer Campbell and Jordan Mutch etc. and should really be able to see out the remaining games and be at least the play-offs come April. Plus in manager Malky Mackay, who has Premiership experience with Watford as caretaker manager in 2008, should be able to add some reinsurance and advice to his playing squad to see out the remaining games.
Next come Watford, who were in the Premiership last in the 2006/07 season. Charismatic Italian manager Gianfranco Zola has with the help of owners, the Pozzo family, who own Italian Serie A side Udinese and Spanish team Granada, loan no less than ten signings from them both. All loans are in regulation with Football League rules and have seen Zola’s team cement a place in the top four and currently sit 3rd 2 points behind Hull, who are in the last automatic promotion position.
The most influential of those loans has been Czech Republic international Matej Vydra, on loan from Udinese. He currently has 20 goals in the League, only bettered by Glen Murray (29), Charlie Austin (23) and Jordan Rhodes (22) and is attracting interest from clubs in the Premiership and across Europe.
Alonside Vydra, they have experienced heads such as ex Arsenal keeper Manuel Almunia and Fitz Hall who have surely helped reassure most of the young loan signings including Ikechi Anya, Almen Abdi and obviously Vydra to keep up the momentum and try and gain automatic promotion or a place in the play-offs at the very least.
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