The final day in the Championship beckons on Sunday with five teams still in danger of going down while, at the top, Fulham are tipped to seal the second automatic promotion place ahead of Cardiff.
It’s been another topsy-turvy Championship campaign with unpredictable results ruining betting coupons most weekends. Wolves have ended up running away with the title despite few suggesting they would last summer, while Sunderland have suffered the embarrassment of going from the Premier League down to League One in successive years – a development not many predicted either back in August.
And while Wolves can plan for their top-flight return and Aston Villa and Middlesbrough know they are safely into the play-offs, it will be a nervy afternoon for nine clubs who are either chasing second place, the final play-off spot or hoping not to suffer the nightmare of a final-day relegation.
The battle to avoid the drop down to League One has gone right down to the wire for five clubs, highlighting the ridiculously competitive nature of the second tier as Bolton, Burton, Barnsley, Birmingham and Reading all sweat on their future.
Second-bottom Bolton have looked destined for the drop for much of the season after a dismal start saw them rock-bottom in the early months. An improvement under Phil Parkinson saw them move to relative safety but they have dropped off in recent weeks, winning just one of their last 12.
The Trotters host a Nottingham Forest side with little to play for and, with home advantage, they should do their bit at least and get three points, available at 20/27.
However, it still may not be enough. Directly above them, Burton go to Preston with the Brewers buoyed by beating Bolton just last week to significantly boost their survival chances.
Preston are looking for points too as they chase the last play-off spot but Nigel Clough’s men have momentum with two wins from two and they can dream of another huge three points, on offer at a very tempting 5/1, in this contest to possibly seal the great escape.
Barnsley are next in the standings, ahead of Burton only on goal difference, but they also face a tough test on the final day as they go to Derby, who must not slip up to seal their place in the play-offs.
With so much at stake for both sides, this could go either way but backing the Rams to edge it at 20/27 seems sensible – which would be a result that may confirm the Tykes’ relegation.
Out of all the sides battling at the bottom, Birmingham probably face the most difficult task as they entertain an in-form Fulham side.
The Cottagers have been relentless since the turn of the year and have not lost in the Championship since mid-December.
It will not be easy for them at a sold-out St Andrew’s but Slavisa Jokanovic’s men should have too much quality on the day and an away win is advised here at 20/27 to leave Blues relying on others to do them favours.
Reading’s unexpected slump down the table took a turn for the worse last weekend when they were humiliated 4-0 at home by Ipswich – a result boss Paul Clement admitted was totally unacceptable.
They too face a side chasing promotion in Cardiff but there must be a reaction from the Royals and they are tipped to get the job done by securing a point, on offer at 4/1, and end the Bluebirds’ automatic promotion hopes in the process.
The aforementioned five games will be the focus on Sunday as they’re the matches that matter in terms of relegation, the play-offs or automatic promotion, but there remain seven others to complete the fixture list with sides no doubt keen to sign off for the summer with victories.
However, with plenty of clubs without much to play for other than pride, it’s notoriously difficult trying to predict the outcomes on what could be a day of twists and turns, experimental sides and therefore even more unexpected results than normal!
One ‘banker’ on the final day, though, should be champions Wolves ending their mightily-impressive campaign in style with a win (4/7) at sorry Sunderland, who have lurched from one disaster to another this term.
Brentford (5/6) are also sided with to see off Hull as they chase a seventh-placed finish in what may prove to be Dean Smith’s final game in charge.
Bristol City, in 10th, take on a Sheffield United side just one place below them in a game that has all the hallmarks of an entertaining score-draw (3/1 Draw With Goals) at Ashton Gate.
Middlesbrough will want to take momentum into their play-off games and are tipped to come away from Ipswich with the points (1/1), while Leeds and QPR – who have both had disappointing campaigns – may be another that ends all square (53/20).
Millwall have been on a fantastic run but their bid for the play-offs has come up agonisingly short and, barring a highly unlikely nine-goal swing with Derby, the Lions will have to settle for a final-day win over Villa, available at 31/20.
This should not be sniffed at though and will only underline their fantastic progress in the Championship under Neil Harris.
Finally, Sheffield Wednesday host Norwich in a clash between two more sides that were tipped for promotion but have under-performed this term. The Owls can though at least end the season on a high with a home win (33/20) against the ailing Canaries.
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