The Race for Automatic Promotion

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MiddlesbroughIt’s a tense time at the top of the Championship, as Middlesbrough cling on to its tenuous lead and a crowded field of contenders battle for those coveted automatic promotion spots. Eighth place Wolves sit just 11 points from the top, making for a fierce battle ahead in the latter part of this season.

Fourth place Ipswich have the Premiership in their sights, but with Bournemouth and Derby ahead, and Watford, Brentford and Norwich all snapping at their heels, this contest looks like it could be heading for a nail-biting photo finish.

All of which makes the race for promotion something of a horse race, with all the thrills and excitement of the Punchestown Gold Cup betting odds and horses.

Mick McCarthy’s side will be looking to consolidate their 2-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday and will try to regain the momentum they had built up at the end of last year, when they enjoyed a run of 11 games without defeat before the new year. Their recent opponents Fulham are languishing in the bottom third, but the Tractor Boys surely can’t take anything for granted when the race is this tight.

League leaders Middlesbrough may be currently riding high on their five consecutive wins, nine games since their last defeat when they played host to Ipswich. Still, that’s got them no more than one point clear of the Cherries and the Rams, so they’ll need a huge amount of momentum to hold on to the top spot for long.

Second-place Bournemouth may still be ruing that tragically missed penalty at troubled Leeds last month, and last weekend’s meeting with Derby did nothing to resolve matters, delivering a stalemate that leaves the teams separated by goal difference alone.

Watford got the better of Brentford, helping them keep a one point lead within the play-off zone, whilst Norwich’s thrashing of relegation-zone Blackpool this month leaves them just two points adrift. For eighth place Wolves there’s still everything to play for, with their recent 2-1 loss to Reading the only blemish on an otherwise undefeated run over the past few months.

Looking ahead to the weekend, Mick McCarthy has expressed total support in his players for their trip to Craven Cottage, and whilst Luke Hyam and Alex Henshall are both still out with injuries, the Blues are optimistic that David McGoldrick could make a welcome return to the squad. There’s also the buzz around new signing Dylan Connolly, who will be making the trip to Fulham with the team this week, and has his sights firmly set on the first team.

Bookmakers William Hill have Ipswich on a respectable 3/1 odds for promotion this year. However, with joint second place teams Derby and Bournemouth both on odds of 4/7, those looking to the betting world for a bit of insight or prediction may be disappointed. Whatever happens between now and May, there’s sure to be plenty of thrills and excitement as the Premiership contenders enter the final straight.

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