So as the football season reaches what’s commonly known as “the business end”, as clubs focus on the last 10 or so games to cement their position for promotion, try and escape relegation, or try and focus the players away from their forthcoming holiday and to keeping on playing to the maximum even though there’s nothing left to play for. We thought it was worth looking back at our pre-season predictions, made on the first day of the Championship campaign back in August.
Champions: Manchester City
As we write, City are a goal down at Goodison, and with Manchester United having a home fixture against a demoralised Reading this afternoon, the reigning champions could find themselves fifteen points off the top spot with just nine games left. Even taking into account United’s capitulation last season, it looks like the trophy is staying in Manchester, but with United. In our defence, we did believe that City had to strengthen, and in terms of first choice players, they haven’t really been that busy compared to previous years.
Rest of Top Four: Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea
We could end up correct about the top four, but certainly Spurs, and as an outside bet, Everton and Liverpool could end up having a say. We reckon Spurs will get third, with the other teams slugging it out for fourth spot. Looking at our outsiders, it’s taken Liverpool longer than we expected to get going, and Newcastle haven’t really performed until Alan Pardew got busy in the transfer market in January.
Relegated: West Bromwich Albion, Norwich City, Reading
Ok, we were way out with West Brom, but to be fair we’re delighted that a decent coach like Steve Clarke has made the successful step up and kept the team improving. We were also impressed with the way the club dealt with Peter Odemwingie’s petulant behaviour in January. Norwich had a sticky start, but Chris Hughton didn’t panic and has brought the team to relative safety of lower mid table. A couple more wins and they should be fine. Reading however look like, along with QPR, the most likely of the bottom teams to go down. They just haven’t been strong enough or consistent enough to survive, and the sacking last week of Brian McDermott smacked of panic measures. We’re not big fans of QPR here, and they could be in all sorts of trouble if they do, as expected, end up back in the Championship next season. The final club to slip through the trapdoor could be one of about four clubs. Wigan look like they might be showing their traditional springtime return to form, so it’s a tricky one to call between them, Villa, Southampton, and Sunderland. We think the Wearsiders could be dragged into the battle, and may be the traditional “thought they were safe but…” team.
Champions: Bolton Wanderers
Promoted: Cardiff City
Although they could sneak into the play offs with some decent form of late, it’s been a season of struggle initially, with the sacking of Owen Coyle resulting. With a large contingent of Championship club supporters writing for Each Game As It Comes, we should know better. Although to be fair, we did tip Cardiff for promotion, which seems the least they will get. We reckon they’ll hang on for the title, with the second spot going to either Hull or Watford.
Play-Offs: Leicester City, Leeds United, Middlesborough, Brighton & Hove Albion
Leicester and Middlesborough have done their best since the turn of the year to ensure they spend next year in the Championship, despite very promising starts. Leeds have struggled for any sort of consistency, which is vital for success in one of the most inconsistent leagues there is. Brighton are fighting for 6th place with the revitalised Forest and Bolton. We haven’t forgotten the surprise package of Crystal Palace, who may still sneak an automatic spot, but we think they’ll be in the end of season lottery with Brighton, Leicester, and one of Hull or Watford.
Relegated: Barnsley, Bristol City, Ipswich Town
The bottom three are currently all locked on the same points and the same number of games. Barnsley’s recent run has seen them just sneak out of the bottom three, just behind Ipswich who had a shocking start and have only really recovered thanks to some good work by new manager Mick McCarthy, but could still get dragged back in. City have struggled all season, and we think they will be one of the unlucky three, along with the poorly managed Wolves, and one of either Barnsley and Peterborough.
Champions: MK Dons
Promoted: Swindon Town
After a mixed start, followed by a strong pre Christmas, our prediction looked good, however the Dons have slipped back to sit solidly in mid table. It’s so tight in the top 7, that Swindon could still realistically finish champions or miss out altogether. The pantomime involving Paulo Di Canio probably hasn’t helped, but we can’t help thinking the recruitment of Kevin McDonald might prove to be a shrewd move. As it is, Doncaster have recovered from a disastrous season last campaign, and look a good bet to bounce back, with Sheffield United in a good position to join them.
Play Offs: Brentford, Crawley Town, Scunthorpe United, Sheffield United
Brentford have done well in the FA Cup, pushing Chelsea, and have been around the top six for most of the season. We reckon they will hang on to one of the play off spots. Crawley are with MK Dons firmly entrenched in mid table, so we were way off with that one, but not as far as we were with Scunthorpe, who look like slugging it out with Oldham for the final relegation spot. We think Brentford and Swindon will be in the play offs, joined by two of Tranmere, Yeovil and Bournemouth.
Relegated: Portsmouth, Walsall, Hartlepool United, Doncaster Rovers
Walsall have more interest at the other end of the table and are a good outside bet for the play offs, whereas Doncaster look favourites for automatic promotion. Portsmouth have predictably struggled, and look likely with one of our other tips, Hartlepool, to ply their trade in League Two next season, that’s if they survive as a club at all. Although they currently have a couple of games in hand, Bury’s form does nothing to suggest they will escape, and the final spot looks to be between Oldham, Scunthorpe and Colchester. Oldham’s cup heroics might have distracted them, but you kind of hope for their sake they can raise their game to similar levels for the cup finals that await them. And they do have the games in hand as well, so we think they’ll just about have enough to get out of trouble, which is bad news for the Iron.
Champions: Bristol Rovers
Promoted: Gillingham, Southend United
So we need to brush up on our League Two. Until John Ward’s return to the Memorial Stadium, Rovers looked more likely to exit the league in the other direction, however they now have a nice buffer between them and the bottom, certainly enough to survive. Maybe next year for them. Gillingham were a good call, with Martin Allen’s side well clear and good bets for the title, which we think they will win. Burton Albion and Port Vale are in good positions to join them, although Rotherham and Northampton may still fancy their chances with games in hand on the teams above them. Southend are a little off the pace, but could still be outside bets for the play offs.
Play Offs: Bradford City, Cheltenham Town, Chesterfield, Wycombe Wanderers
So is one out of four any good? No? So Cheltenham could be our only play off prediction that we get right. We obviously saw the potential in Bradford of course, but their energies seemed to have been focused on the League Cup, with the incredible achievement of reaching Wembley. Exeter are five clear of Fleetwood in eighth place, although the Lancastrians have a game in hand. We think the top seven will be good for the final positions.
Relegated: Barnet, Burton Albion
Another total misjudgement, with Burton more interested in the other end of the table. Barnet have had an interesting season with Edgar Davids taking charge, but have continued to struggle. It could be any two of seven to go, we worry for Plymouth, not only if they do go down, but how good a position they will be in to return. Barnet might just have enough to hang on, with perhaps Accrington the most likely to drop out of the league.
What do you think? Let us know your thoughts!