Recently, we wrote an article giving our predictions on who we thought might win the tussle in the battle for promotion. That being said, it is only right that we now provide some insight in regards to what we think might happen down at the bottom end of the table.
Every season there are sides that get sucked into the relegation battle somewhat unexpectedly, and this year has proved to be no different. The costs of relegation are clear, particularly in terms of finances for the owners but most significantly in terms of the pain and heartache that it causes supporters.
With 8 games to go, there are still plenty of points to play for and there is still a number of concerned clubs who will be looking over their shoulders as they sit precariously above the drop-zone, but the real question here is who possesses the quality and the togetherness to fight their way to survival? We take a look at the league’s bottom six clubs in an attempt to assess who we believe will be playing in England’s third-tier come August, 2018.
Sunderland: (Current Position: 24th | Our Prediction: 24th)
Unfortunately, things look pretty bleak for the Wearside club. They haven’t won in their last 6 Championship outings, with their last league win dating back to the 20th January. They currently sit bottom of the pile, 5 points from safety, and it is difficult to see how they can turn it around.
The appointment of Chris Coleman hasn’t had the desired effect, with the Welshman winning only 4 of his 18 matches in charge. Coleman’s stock was high following his success with the Welsh national side. That being said, his record as a club manager leaves something to be desired, and for us, there are serious question marks over whether he was ever the right man for the Sunderland job.
On the pitch they simply aren’t good enough. Defensively, their organisation is poor, they aren’t solid enough, and they are conceding far too many goals. At the other end of the pitch they can’t get their key players firing. Ashley Fletcher was brought in on loan at the end of the window as the man to fire them to safety, but with no league goals to his name it looks unlikely that he can fulfil that role.
Ultimately, Coleman is fighting a losing battle, and it is difficult to envisage his side picking up anywhere near enough wins to save themselves from relegation.
Burton Albion: (Current Position: 23rd | Our Prediction: 23rd)
Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion may find themselves playing League One football next season (lionofviennasuite.co.uk)
In some respects, Nigel Clough and Burton Albion deserve significant credit for staying in the Championship for as long as they have. The budget at Clough’s disposal is laughable compared to most other Championship clubs, meaning that he has had to be astute in the loan and free-agent market.
Whilst in previous seasons he has been able to do this to great effect, this season looks a step too far for the Brewers. Whilst they still have rivals Birmingham, Bolton, Hull and Sunderland to play, they are also still to face high-flying Cardiff, Middlesbrough, Derby and Preston on the final day. With only one league win in their last six outings, it looks as though there simply isn’t enough time for Clough to turn this one around.
Birmingham City (Current Position: 22nd | Our Prediction: 20th)
Gary Monk’s Birmingham beat Hull 3-0 in a crucial relegation clash on Saturday (© bcfc.com)
Only a few weeks ago Birmingham looked dead and buried. A 0-2 defeat at the City Ground against Nottingham Forest left the Midlands club in the relegation zone, two points behind Barnsley who had a game in hand.
It was at this point that the club decided to relieve manager Steve Cotterill of his duties, following a poor run of just 6 league wins in 24 matches.
Garry Monk has since been appointed, and despite only 1 victory in his first three matches, he looks the most capable of the managers who are stuck in the relegation fight.
Their 3-0 victory in their last match against Hull was a professional and decisive one, and with Barnsley losing 0-2 at home, the momentum now looks in Birmingham’s favour.
Equally, Monk looks as though he may have restored some of the confidence in record signing Jota, who scored two goals in his last outing. During his time at Brentford he proved that he could be a match winner, and he could turn out to be vital to Birmingham’s cause as they look to beat the drop.
They’ve proven this weekend that they are capable of beating the teams around them, and if they can perform to that standard consistently over the next 8 games, they should be able to secure their place in the Championship for next season.
Barnsley (Current Position: 21st | Our Prediction: 22nd)
Barnsley fans will be hoping Oli McBurnie’s goals can keep them above the drop-zone (© barnsleyfc.co.uk)
After losing the bulk of his promotion-winning squad, Paul Heckingbottom endured a difficult end to his Barnsley reign, and José Morais’ fortunes have been not too dissimilar, with the Portuguese manager winning just one of his seven games in charge to date.
Saturday’s defeat to in-form Millwall means the South-Yorkshire side are level on points with 22nd place Birmingham City, who themselves put Hull City to the sword with an unexpected 3-0 victory.
Morais seemed a somewhat strange appointment, when perhaps going after an experienced Championship campaigner such as the much sought-after Mick McCarthy would’ve been a wiser call, and the Portuguese’s record to-date reinforces this. Ultimately, the fact that Morais has failed to turn Barnsley’s fortunes around to this point indicate to us that they may drop into the bottom-three come the end of the season.
However, the January acquisition of Oli McBurnie has proved a shrewd piece of business for The Tykes. The on-loan Swansea forward, recently called up by Scotland, has bagged 6 goals in 9 appearances, and his continued form will be vital if José Morais’ side are to maintain their Championship status, particularly with the club’s top-scorer Tom Bradshaw having gone 15 games without a goal.
Tykes fans must hope that Reading continue to falter, and Birmingham City fail to build on their 3-0 win over Hull on Saturday if they are to have any chance of beating the drop. Similarly, they can draw positives from the fact a number of the sides they face between now and the end of the season have little or nothing to play for.
Reading (Current Position 20th | Our Prediction: 21st)
Despite an extremely poor season, Reading should have enough about them to beat the drop (© inyourarea.co.uk)
Last season’s Play-Off finalists Reading have endured a disastrous campaign. A side many tipped to be a shoe-in for a Play-Off push this season, The Royals have failed to put any kind of form together throughout the season, and sit just 3 points above the relegation zone heading into the International Break.
Despite maintaining much of last season’s squad, as well as making a number of acquisitions, including the likes of Vito Mannone, Sone Aluko, Modou Barrow, and Chris Martin, Reading have looked a shadow of their former selves, with defensive fragility met simultaneously with a severe lack of creativity.
Moreover, Jaap Stam’s relationship with the Reading faithful has deteriorated to the point where even if they do stay up, it is unlikely that he’ll be able to remain in the hot-seat ahead of next season. Stam has suffered heavy criticism for Reading’s lack of creativity, and worsened matters when he launched an attack on the level of support at the Madejski, citing that his sides are better off playing away from home.
Whilst no side is too good to go down, we believe The Royals will have just enough about them to maintain their Championship status, with other sides, such as Barnsley and Burton Albion, likely to fall in their wake. However, with one win in their last twelve outings, and difficult games against Fulham, Aston Villa and Cardiff City to come, nothing is guaranteed.
Whatever the case, serious questions have to be asked come-summer over what has been a truly disastrous season for Jaap Stam and Reading.
Bolton Wanderers (Current Position 19th | Our Prediction 18th)
Against all odds, Phil Parkinson appears to have guided Bolton to safety (© theboltonnews.co.uk)
Bolton fans would’ve bitten your arm off if you’d offered them 19th with 8 games to go at the start of the season. A side tipped by many to finish bottom this season has to this point, under the guidance of Phil Parkinson, defied the odds.
Even with the sale of top-scorer Gary Madine to Cardiff City in January, Bolton have continued to pick up important points, and their 1-0 win over automatic promotion hopefuls Aston Villa on Saturday means The Trotters have lost just one of their last six outings, and perhaps more importantly sit 6 points above the relegation zone.
Crucially, Parkinson’s side face Birmingham City, Barnsley and Burton Albion in their remaining fixtures, meaning survival is very much in their own hands. Victory in any of these games could widen the gap between themselves and the relegation zone, and Bolton will be hoping Adam Le Fondre can build on his recent goals against Aston Villa and Reading.
Where Bolton have thrived, particularly in the latter part of the season, is in their difficulty to beat and their ability to grind out results, and we believe they have demonstrated enough in recent games for us to consider them capable of avoiding the drop this season. If they do so, Phil Parkinson deserves enormous credit.
By Charlie Ibbotson & George Roberts