Ranked

The Championship play-off candidates - ranked

Ross Jackson
Mar 6, 2021, 8:00 PM GMT
Mick McCarthy's arrival has breathed life into Cardiff's season
Mick McCarthy's arrival has breathed life into Cardiff's season / Cardiff City FC/Getty Images
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The finish line is in sight.

With roughly a quarter of this season's Championship fixtures to play, this is the stage of the campaign where we really find out what teams are made of.

Norwich's superb recent form means promotion back to the Premier League looks as inevitable as their relegation the following season, but the remaining automatic promotion spot and the four play-off spots are still up for grabs.

We've listed all the teams currently in and around the top six, ranking them by their likelihood of finishing in the play-offs and factoring in which side we believe will seal that all important second automatic promotion place.

8. Middlesbrough

Neil Warnock
Neil Warnock's side have struggled with consistency all season / Stu Forster/Getty Images

It's just not been consistent enough from Middlesbrough to believe they have a genuine shout of finishing in the top six.

Quality wins over Reading and Swansea (earlier in the season) have been marred by home defeats to strugglers Birmingham and Rotherham.

Neil Warnock has undoubtedly steadied the club since his arrival last year, but a place in the top six looks to be a bridge too far.

7. Bournemouth

Jonathan Woodgate
Jonathan Woodgate will take charge of Bournemouth for the remainder of the season / Alex Pantling/Getty Images

Going head to head with Boro is the manager who they sacked less then 12 months ago.

Jonathan Woodgate has done a good job since he was handed the reins following Jason Tindall's departure, but the goals look to have dried up a little for the Cherries when compared to their free-scoring displays early on in the season.

Woodgate's side have managed just seven goals in their previous seven games and they're in danger of slipping out of the top six having spent the majority of the season there.

6. Barnsley

Cauley Woodrow
Cauley Woodrow's goals have helped put Barnsley in the mix / James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Even the most ardent Barnsley supporter would have struggled to predict a promotion push this season without a wry smile appearing on their face.

Valerien Ismael has absolutely transformed the Tykes' season since his arrival last October, and with seven consecutive league wins they're now well in the mix.

It's tough to see them maintaining anywhere near that kind of form for the remainder of the season, and the real test is going to come when they eventually drop points.

5. Swansea

Steve Cooper
Steve Cooper's men shouldn't need to worry about a play-off place / Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Swansea? Fifth? Calm down Swans fans, the reason they're so high up on our list is because they should win automatic promotion.

Steve Cooper has done unbelievably well since being appointed Swansea manager in 2019, suffering back-to-back league defeats just twice in nearly two years.

In a season where there aren't any real stellar Championship sides, being steady and consistent is enough to see you in with a shout of promotion, and the Swans look good value for a return to the top flight.

4. Cardiff

Mick McCarthy
Cardiff were languishing in mid-table prior to McCarthy's arrival / Cardiff City FC/Getty Images

The big dog is back in town!

Cardiff were going absolutely nowhere under Neil Harris, with five straight league defeats all but condemning them to another season in the second tier - then came along Mick McCarthy.

The veteran tactician has picked up seven wins and four draws from his 11 games at the helm, and suddenly the Bluebirds are back in the mix.

The likes of Sean Morrison and Kieffer Moore are perfect for McCarthy's style of play, and the former Republic of Ireland boss is getting the absolute best out of those available to him.

3. Reading

Lucas Joao
Lucas Joao has been on fire for Reading this season / Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Reading have been one of the best sides to watch in the league this season, but they've suffered a number of dips in form which have cost them a shot at automatic promotion.

The Royals lost four games in a row early on in the season and have only just recovered from a dip which saw them lose four out off five games in February.

Nevertheless, they've got some really exciting individuals in their side and they should have the quality to hang on for a play-off spot.

2. Brentford

Ivan Toney
Ivan Toney has enjoyed a great season in the Championship / George Wood/Getty Images

Brentford fans must be feeling like they're just not destined for Premier League football.

Having scored the most and conceded the second least in the league last year they still couldn't make their way up to the top tier, with Thomas Frank's side suffering play-off final heartbreak at the hands of Fulham.

The Bees embarked on a 21-game unbeaten run earlier season, but just as they looked like finally making it over the line the wheels have fallen off again.

A play-off spot is assured but they'll struggle to continuously replace all their best talents that get picked off if they don't achieve promotion soon.

1. Watford

Troy Deeney
Troy Deeney has struggled with injuries this season / Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Watford were many people's pick for Championship winners having kept hold of the majority of their squad following relegation last season, but inconsistency has cost them dearly.

The Hornets have got the individuals to beat anyone on their day, but the club's refusal to allow a manager any real time in the job means they've struggled to settle into a system.

Of course, there's still a chance they could finish in the top two, but with Swansea looking solid, Watford are likely to have to make do with the lottery of the play-offs.

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