Who takes the last Championship play-off spot?
Odds and preview of the Championship play-off battle
We’re at the business end of the Championship season, and with five of the top-six spots accounted for, three teams go into the final three games clinching on to hope on securing the final play-off spot.
Just one point separates Derby County, who currently occupy sixth on 67 points, and Bristol City who are down in eighth on 66. Middlesbrough sit between the pair, also a point back from Derby on 66, despite having played a game more.
After battling it out since August, it all comes down to the final handful of games to see who is still in with a shot of top-flight football next season.
Norwich City look almost certain of a top-two finish and the other three play-off spots will be taken up by Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion and one of either Leeds United or Sheffield United.
We take a look at the form and fixtures of the three teams fighting it out to keep their ambitions alive.
Unbeaten in their last three, notching two wins in the process, Frank Lampard’s Derby County are the ‘form side’ of the three contenders.
An injury-time double from Harry Wilson gave the Rams another crucial three points in their fight for Premier League football, beating Queens Park Rangers 2-0 at Pride Park after a resilient and spirited performance from the West London side.
A 2-2 draw away at Birmingham City is the only blot on their copybook from the last three matches, but coming from behind twice showed Derby have a backbone and the fighting spirit needed to make it out of the Championship.
It’s a tough run in for the Rams, with all three of their remaining games coming against sides in the top 10.
May’s fixtures pit them up against Swansea City, who still have the faintest outside chance of making the play-offs, and West Bromwich Albion, who will be looking to remain in fourth spot, or pip Leeds United to third if they slip up in their remaining two fixtures.
Before that, Lampard’s side face their biggest test of the season. On Saturday, they’re away at play-off rivals Bristol City in a match that could be the decider for that final top-six spot. If Derby can take the three points, they’ll claim the breathing space they need, three clear of Boro, and four clear of Bristol City
The Rams currently boast a superior goal difference to their rivals too, though not by much. They’re on +11, with Boro back on +6 and Bristol City on +7.
Our traders have Derby down as favourites to take the final top six place, with the Rams coming in at 11/10 to secure a play-off spot.
After six consecutive defeats during March and the beginning of April, Middlesbrough’s form had picked back up, winning their next three without conceding.
That was until they travelled to Nottingham for an away game at the City Ground, where a relatively poor Nottingham Forest side tore Boro apart, and Tony Pulis’ men fell to a 3-0 defeat.
The ‘secret’ to the recent success for Boro is their defence. Pulis has got the best out of an average defensive back like to claim three clean sheets in a row, despite being dominated on the stat sheets.
In each of their three recent wins, they saw much less of the ball than the opposition, even against already-relegated Bolton Wanderers. Boro scored four goals from 10 shots on target, with a further 37 shots being blocked or going wide of the mark.
Out of the three play-off candidates, Middlesbrough have the easiest matches remaining on paper, but football matches aren’t ever won on paper.
They’re up against Reading on Saturday afternoon, a side who have recently regained a bit of form in their late battle for Championship survival. With the Royals six clear of the drop zone with six to play for, they won’t roll over and give Pulis’ side the three points.
On the final weekend of the season, Boro travel to South Yorkshire where they’ll compete with Rotherham United at the New York Stadium.
Depending on other results, the Millers could have already been relegated to League One, so would have nothing but pride to play for. Though again, Pulis’ side need to avoid complacency and stick to their own game.
Boro are third-favourites to take sixth. They’re priced at 5/2 for the play-offs despite their favourable fixtures.
From late November to mid-February, Bristol City went on an incredible 13-match unbeaten run, including a seven-game win streak.
That came to an end against league leaders Norwich City at Carrow Road in late February, and their form has tailed off since.
They have recently picked up impressive wins against play-off rivals Middlesbrough and West Bromwich Albion, and put a dent in the title credentials of Sheffield United for good measure, but the Robins are without a win in their last three.
With one point from a possible nine in their last three games, they’ve let go of their grip on sixth place and are now outsiders to claim the final play-off spot, though Lee Johnson has worked miracles with the Bristolians before, famously beating Manchester United last season.
This weekend’s fixture against Derby County is crucial for the Robins’ hopes of a play-off spot. Lose that, and it’s all but guaranteed that they’ll miss out on a top-six finish.
A draw at home to the Rams wouldn’t be the end of the world for Johnson’s side, but they’ll still have it all to do. Providing they can avoid defeat against Derby this weekend, their remaining two fixtures would give them a better chance of a play-off spot than Derby.
Their next fixture would be Millwall away. The Den is never an easy place to go, and with Millwall looking to secure their second-flight future too, they’ll be as resilient as ever with their cauldron-like atmosphere giving the Lions a 12th man.
They’ll end the season on the road too, with a tricky away trip on Humberside. The Robins take on Hull City at the KCOM Stadium. They’ve been in freefall recently, losing their last three, and with nothing to play for it could be looked at as a dead rubber by Hull boss Nigel Adkins, though they’ll want to give their fans a home win to cheer at the end of the season.
Bristol City sit just behind Derby in the pecking order with our traders, as they’re 2/1 to claim the final play-off spot.
Swansea City are back in 10th spot at present, but with a game in hand and four wins from their last five, our traders are offering 25/1 on an unlikely charge for sixth.
View the latest Championship odds at Coral.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.