BBC Sport football

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

Related BBC sites

Page last updated at 06:27 GMT, Friday, 2 May 2008 07:27 UK

Championship's day of destiny

By Paul Fletcher

West Brom fans celebrate promotion (left) while Southampton fans come to terms with their relegation in 2005
West Brom are celebrating, but Southampton are hoping to avoid relegation


The regular Championship season comes to an end on Sunday on what promises to be a day of high drama.

Promotion, play-offs and relegation - issues have yet to be decided at both ends of the table.

Of the 24 teams in the Championship, 14 still have something to play for.

All 12 fixtures kick-off at 1400 BST - and an agonising, nail-biting 90 minutes lie in store for thousands of supporters.

AT STAKE ON SUNDAY

Let's start with promotion.

It will take something truly extraordinary to prevent leaders West Brom from sealing their return to the top flight after a two-year absence.

Tony Mowbray's team would have to lose and third place Hull City defeat Ipswich by 13 clear goals, combined with Stoke taking a point or more off Leicester, to prevent the Baggies from going up automatically.

Stoke City, meanwhile, will end their 23-year top-flight absence with a draw against Leicester, while Hull will snatch second if they defeat Ipswich and the Potters lose.

606: DEBATE
BBC Sport's Tom Fordyce on the nightmare of relegation

Stoke or Hull will compete in the play-offs if they fail to seal automatic promotion. Bristol City are also guaranteed a play-off place, while Watford, Crystal Palace, Wolves, Ipswich and Sheffield United could all make the top six.

Down at the bottom there is an almighty dogfight to avoid the third and final relegation place.

Colchester and Scunthorpe have already been relegated but five teams are in danger of joining them.

Southampton are currently in 22nd spot, but just two points separate them and Leicester, Sheffield Wednesday, Coventry and Blackpool.

Of these five teams only Blackpool, promoted from League One last season, have not played Premier League football.

MATCH OF THE DAY - STOKE v LEICESTER
Sunday's sell-out at the Britannia Stadium has become the biggest fixture of the Championship season.

This match pits a team on the cusp of the Premier League against a club in grave danger of slipping into the third tier of English football for the first time in their history.

A Stoke fan watching his team
Sunday's match at Stoke is sure to be a tense affair

Stoke have never been in the Premier League but are on the verge of reaching the top flight after holding their form over recent weeks, winning their last three games.

The Potters defeated Colchester on Saturday and, at one point, were five minutes from promotion before Hull grabbed a late winner against Crystal Palace.

The only goal at Colchester came from Richard Cresswell, a striker who once played Premier League football at Leicester.

"Fingers crossed we can do the job," said Cresswell of the fixture against his former club.

"It's going to be a massive game, a full house and both teams will be fighting for a win."

The match is being described in Leicester as the biggest in the club's history.

With the looming prospect of the Foxes hosting League One football in their 32,500 capacity Walkers Stadium you can see why.

Leicester lost 3-1 at home to relegation rivals Sheffield Wednesday last Saturday. Victory would have guaranteed safety.

Afterwards manager Ian Holloway kept his players in the dressing room for an hour before emerging to describe the result as the worst of his career.

Holloway, the club's sixth manager since Milan Mandaric took over as chairman in February 2007, must ensure his players do not dwell on defeat to the Owls.

"There will be loads of Stoke fans ready for a party - they need a point for promotion, but I'm sure they will be going for all three," he wrote in his weekly column for BBC Sport.

"So we have to upset their party, if we get a win it almost guarantees we stay up. I know that looks a tall order, but it's fact.

"It is not over until it is over, and it ain't over yet."

Holloway and Stoke boss Tony Pulis are firm friends who met while on the playing staff at Bristol Rovers.

Holloway is Godfather to Pulis's son Anthony, but sentiment will count for nothing on Sunday.

"Once the whistle goes, we will be in our two corners fighting for the three points," said Pulis. "But before and after the game, we will be friends."

It is possible that both managers could end the day happy as a draw could be enough for both teams.

It will certainly guarantee promotion for Stoke, while a point could be enough for Leicester to stay up if Southampton lose to Sheffield United.

A TOPSY TURVY SEASON

Watford manager Aidy Boothroyd recently described this season's Championship as "much of a muchness".

Or to put it another way, in the words of Wolves boss Mick McCarthy: "The league is so topsy-turvy that I don't know what will happen come the last game of the season."

It is easy to see why they feel that way.

Wolves boss Mick McCarthy
McCarthy has been left confused by results this season

West Brom, for example, can win the title with 78 points, while a team could be relegated with 53 points.

In other words, 25 points over a 46 game season could be the difference between promotion as champions and relegation.

Even if West Brom win at QPR to seal the Championship title with 81 points it will still be the lowest total since the system of three points for a win was introduced in 1981.

Sunderland won the title with 83 points in 1996 and again last year with 88 points.

In the 11 intervening campaigns nobody won the title without crashing through the 90-point barrier.

And in all of that period no team has gone down with 53 points.

Millwall were relegated with 52 points in 1996 but as few as 43 points would have kept your club up in 2006 and 2007.

It is not just the incredibly low spread of points between top and bottom that makes this season's Championship so compelling, but also the way in which fancied teams have struggled while unheralded teams have succeeded.

The obvious exception are leaders West Brom, who were widely tipped for promotion and have duly delivered while playing attractive, attacking football.

The presence of Stoke, Hull and Bristol City immediately beneath them is as unexpected as it is refreshing.

Nobody thought at the start of the season that they would have such an impact, with the Tigers and the Robins a relatively short price for relegation.

606: DEBATE

In contrast, pre-season favourites Charlton are nestled in mid-table while the likes of Watford, Wolves and Sheffield United have yet to secure a play-off place.

The relegation of both Colchester and Scunthorpe does not rate as a major surprise but, unless Blackpool join them, the third team to go down will rate as a major casualty.

Southampton, Leicester and Coventry all average more than 19,000 and play at relatively new stadiums.

Likewise Wednesday have a high average, more than 20,000, and are a club with a Premier League past.

But all have endured boardroom instability and, with the exception of the Owls, a change of manager this season.

For all of them relegation on Sunday would be a disaster.

THE PLAYERS' VIEW

QPR midfielder and coaching assistant Gareth Ainsworth gives his thoughts on this season's Championship.

This season's Championship has been the tightest division I have ever played in.

Gareth Ainsworth in action for QPR
Ainsworth is an experienced Championship performer

When we secured safety a couple of weeks ago I think we were the only team that could not go up or down.

The fact that several teams face the possibility of relegation with 52 or 53 points is incredible.

Then there is the possibility of a team making the play-offs with a total in the sixties, which again is something nobody would have thought at the start of the season.

I think that this year organisation has played in a very big part in how well teams have done, perhaps more so than tactics and trying to play good football.

Leicester, Coventry and Southampton are teams that you would have expected to see in or around the play-offs

QPR midfielder Gareth Ainsworth

I'm glad that West Brom are up there because they are a pure football team but then again I'm glad that the likes of Stoke, Hull and Watford are up there with their organisation, determination and desire.

In my opinion the Baggies have the best chance of surviving in the Premier League because you do need to play more football in the top flight.

I think West Brom and Stoke will go up automatically but it is difficult to say who will be champions.

We could have a big say at QPR as we play West Brom on Sunday and it will be a totally different game to the 5-1 defeat we suffered at the Hawthorns.

I think the fixture between Stoke and Leicester sums up the Championship.

It is between two clubs at totally different ends of the table but you cannot say for sure what will happen.

Having said that, in my opinion I don't think Stoke will lose and so gather at least the point they need to secure promotion.

Leicester, Coventry and Southampton are teams that you would have expected to see in or around the play-offs.

That they have struggled is testament to how difficult it is in the Championship.

I have played in all three Football League divisions plus the Blue Square Premier, and the Championship is undoubtedly the hardest.

Trying to win promotion from it is a really hard struggle.

Gareth Ainsworth was talking to Paul Fletcher.




The Coca-Cola Football League Championship Table
30 January 2010 19:21
    P GD PTS
1 Newcastle 27 27 56
2 Nottm Forest 28 23 52

3 West Brom 27 26 50
4 Cardiff 27 22 45
5 Swansea 27 3 42
6 Sheff Utd 27 4 41

7 Blackpool 27 10 40
8 Leicester 26 2 39
9 Middlesbrough 28 7 37
10 Bristol City 27 -4 36
11 Preston 26 -2 35
12 QPR 27 -4 34
13 Doncaster 26 -1 33
14 Coventry 28 -8 33
15 Barnsley 26 -8 33
16 Scunthorpe 27 -13 33
17 Watford 26 -6 32
18 Derby 28 -11 32
19 Sheff Wed 28 -12 31
20 Crystal Palace 27 2 30
21 Ipswich 27 -8 29

22 Reading 27 -16 26
23 Plymouth 26 -14 24
24 Peterborough 28 -19 18

see also
Ian Holloway column
02 May 08 |  Football
Chiles on Championship promotion
02 May 08 |  West Bromwich Albion
West Brom 1-1 Southampton
28 Apr 08 |  Championship
Mowbray wants Championship title
28 Apr 08 |  West Bromwich Albion
Colchester 0-1 Stoke
26 Apr 08 |  Championship
Potters want the title - Coates
30 Apr 08 |  Stoke City
Lawrence ready for biggest game
29 Apr 08 |  Stoke City
Hull 2-1 Crystal Palace
26 Apr 08 |  Championship
Leicester 1-3 Sheff Wed
26 Apr 08 |  Championship
Owls boss in rallying cry to fans
28 Apr 08 |  Sheff Wed
Holloway challenges Foxes players
29 Apr 08 |  Championship
Championship chargers
03 Mar 08 |  Championship


BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.