Championship promotion race: who will go up?

The Championship promotion race is fascinatingly tight this season – but who will go up? We take a look at the main contenders.

West Bromwich Albion

Why they can go up:

Unlike last season, when West Brom had lots of individual quality but lacked coherence in their attacks, they now have the same individual quality and they are banded by clearer patterns of play. The key to this has been the bargain £2.5 million signing of Romaine Sawyers, who offers himself in deeper areas and will knit play together.

Why they might not:

Some might ask questions of the defence, with a meagre two clean sheets in 12 games – Sam Johnstone has still made more saves than any other goalkeeper in the Championship, too.

Verdict:

They look shoe-ins for the top six.

Nottingham Forest

Why they can go up:

Organisation. Forest have conceded just 10 goals in 12, thanks to Brice Samba’s strong shot-stopping, plus the centre-back pairing of Joe Worrall and Michael Dawson, providing the perfect blend of youth and experience, as well as the protection of Ben Watson. Further forward, they have an athletic midfielder in Samba Sow, with the capacity to attack directly and use the wide areas with pace.

Why they might not:

The Reds have arguably ridden their luck in certain games, such as the 1-0 wins over Barnsley and Brentford, as well as the 3-2 victory at Stoke. They can leave themselves short of a touch of control in central areas when they are not able to attack as directly as they would ideally like.

Verdict:

May narrowly miss out on the top six.

Preston North End

Why they can go up:

North End threaten through direct, transitional attacks, with the pace of Tom Barkhuizen and the movement of Sean Maguire. In the last two seasons, they have perhaps been short of a creative midfielder who can unlock deep-block opposition but Daniel Johnson, who has been moved into a more advanced role this term, could represent a valid solution.

Why they might not:

Short of a complete striker. David Nugent might not be able to play 90 minutes for 35+ games, Jayden Stockley lacks mobility, Barkhuizen and Maguire are arguably best-used out wide and Louis Moult is out for the season. Might have a better chance had they been willing or able to lure Jordan Hugill back in the summer – they need a jack-of-all-trades up top.

Verdict:

If North End made the Play-Offs, it would be one of the stories of the Championship season. It should not come as a surprise though, because they have been on the fringes for the last three seasons.

Swansea

Why they can go up:

Swansea play an enterprising style of football, with excellent spatial awareness and fine co-ordination of movement. Kosovan magician Bersant Celina is a real asset, as is reborn striker Borja Baston while behind defensive leader Mike van der Hoorn, goalkeeper Freddie Woodman has produced some crucial saves.

Why they might not:

The Swans have needed Woodman more than they might have liked; the 22-year-old has made 19 stops from inside the penalty area – only four goalkeepers have made more. That would suggest that Steve Cooper’s side are allowing their opponents high-quality opportunities, but certain defensive glitches have been masked due to Woodman’s heroics – which may prove unsustainable.

Verdict:

The squad might not quite be ready for promotion, but if they were to make the Play-Offs, that would be a strong indication of progress.

Leeds

Why they can go up:

They have been arguably the most impressively-performing team in the Championship, because they have had huge amounts of control in almost every game; in fact, the only one in which they did not deserve to win was the 1-0 loss at Charlton. The additions of Helder Costa and Eddie Nketiah have given them more depth than we saw last season, too.

Why they might not:

Part of the reason Norwich won the title last season was because their fans are typically more patient and able to hold onto a wider perspective. That is not to say that Leeds fans do not do those things but, because there is an overwhelming demand for such a grand, historic club to get back into the top flight, the expectation may have affected the composure of players at crucial moments over the last three seasons. Additionally, fans of other clubs apart from Ipswich were reasonably content to see Norwich do well last season, whereas Leeds are perceived as more of a threat and can therefore become pantomime villains, which feeds into the “falling apart” narrative.

Verdict:

Champions – but they may need to win a lot of games between now and February to avoid a shaky Spring.

Bristol City

Why they can go up:

Bristol City have progressed as a club every season and a continuation of that trend would see a top six finish. The Robins are now strong in the press and possess tactical adaptability, which was not necessarily the case two years ago. Adam Nagy looked a key midfielder in August but, when he picked up an injury, Han-Noah Massengo stepped up which shows they have the depth.

Why they might not:

Their main front-man for the season looks likely to be Famara Diedhiou. The strong Senagelese striker brings a lot of qualities, but has only scored 13 goals in both 2017-18 and 2018-19. The midfield will have to chip in. Need to bounce back quickly from the poor performance last time out at Luton, where they lost 3-0.

Verdict:

Automatic promotion – this would be among our left-field Championship tips.

Fulham

Why they can go up:

No team in the Championship has a front-three that spells more danger than Fulham’s trio of Ivan Cavaleiro, Anthony Knockaert and Aleksandar Mitrovic. Energetic, attacking midfielder Bobby Reid has lifted the Whites from the bench at times this season, too.

Why they might not:

Critics of head coach Scott Parker might suggest his team is too passive and pedestrian. They have played 578 short passes so far this season, more than any other team, but some of those could be sacrificed in order to get the ball into the front trio earlier.

Verdict:

If Fulham find themselves in the Play-Offs, they are likely to be most confident of securing promotion.