The Weekly Gab: Who goes up from the Championship?

“The promotion picture really does look like anyone’s game.” - Is this the most open Championship season we've ever seen? Gab Sutton discuss the promotion picture and shares his predictions...

Gab Sutton

If we’re being honest, the Championship had been losing some of it’s magic in previous seasons.

Sure, Barnsley, Huddersfield and Luton had gained play-off spots against the odds, but the automatic promotion races had lacked variety.

Norwich, Watford, Bournemouth and Fulham have taken five of the last nine available promotion spots, bouncing back at the first time of asking on four of those occasions.

In each scenario, the club in question has brought a huge budget down from the Premier League and been able to retain the top performers, which has given them a significant head start.

This year, however, there isn’t the same threat of dominance.

If one team is to pull away from the chasing pack, the likeliest candidate is Burnley, who look the best-coached of the obvious promotion contenders.

Joining them from the top flight though, are Norwich and Watford, who are facing the biggest questions to date under their respective regimes.

The Canaries did win six league games in a row at one stage, and they possess some star individuals in Andrew Omobamidele, Marcelino Núñez and Teemu Pukki, which may be enough to see them into the Play-Offs.

They do not, however, have a clear playing identity, or look capable of creating chances organically, as opposed to moments of individual brilliance, or persistence combined with opposition mistakes.

Watford, meanwhile, were boosted by the 4-0 victory over Luton and they too have a few strong performers like João Pedro and Yaser Asprilla.

But despite that, the Hornets have looked disjointed and imbalanced for much of the campaign.

Another likely contender in Sheffield United are now winless in six and pre-season favourites Middlesbrough hoping Michael Carrick can haul them further from the drop zone first and foremost.

Therefore, the promotion picture really does look like anyone’s game.

Then again, it’s hard to see Blackburn and Reading sustaining their current performance.

Rovers are second after three straight wins – which is hugely impressive given how thin their squad is – but to stay there they’ll need a level of consistency from their youngsters that may be unfair to expect.

The likes of Ash Phillips and Adam Wharton have started nine league games between them already and are hugely talented.

But they’re also only 17 and 18 respectively and, while their reliance on academy could be massively beneficial long-term, it’s not ideal in a would-be promotion race.

Paul Ince has done far better as Royals boss than many assumed, with the side many tipped for relegation sitting proudly in eighth at this stage.

However, the acid test will be trips to Burnley, Luton and Watford within their next four games and meetings with Swansea and Norwich in the space of three days over the festive period.

Talking of the Hatters, they are arguably improved from last season’s side, mainly thanks to the addition of Carlton Morris.

They will feel that they have created enough chances to have scored more than 20 goals, and if you’re being picky, they’ll want more productivity from midfield.

At the same time, Nathan Jones’ side currently find themselves outside the top six due to the progress made by several teams who had been mid-table fodder in 2021-22, including Swansea.

Russ Martin has had a whole summer to prepare his side for his extreme, possession-heavy style this time around – rather than just a week last season – and he is seeing the benefits.

It’s six wins in seven for the Swans – the most recent and satisfying of which being the 2-0 victory over foes Cardiff – which has lifted them to fourth and three points off the automatic promotion spots with a game in hand.

Swansea have a favourable run of fixtures ahead of them, too – they don’t face current top 10 opposition until after the month-long break.

Also in form are Millwall with four wins in as many league games, with Gary Rowett’s side much improved after the shift from 3-5-2 to 4-2-3-1.

Shaun Hutchinson has re-established himself in one of the best defensive pairings in the Championship with Jake Cooper.

With the Lions sitting in sixth spot and unbeaten in five games, they have a great chance to consolidate their play-off position with fixtures against Huddersfield, Birmingham, Hull and Preston to come prior to the break.

And what about leaders QPR?

Mick Beale was heavily linked with a move to Wolves, but the head coach confirmed his intention to stay the morning after the 3-0 win over Cardiff, which was since been followed by a 2-1 victory over Wigan.

The Rs have been in good form despite the absence of star man Chris Willock, and with the attacking midfielder expected to be back from a hamstring injury for Friday’s trip to Birmingham, they will only get stronger.

The race for the automatic spots could be far tighter and between more teams than has been the case in previous seasons, which is what makes it so exciting.

My prediction?

Burnley to win the title, a Beale-inspired QPR to get second and Swansea City, Millwall, Norwich City and Sheffield United to make the play-offs with the latter going up via them.

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