They say that nothing is guaranteed in football, but if you were to take a quick glance at the tables in the Football League, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the champions had already been crowned in all three divisions. One team in each tier appears to have timed their push just right and barring a collapse between now and May, all three look set to be cracking out the champagne very shortly.
After a disastrous 2009 which saw them relegated from the Premier League, Newcastle have bounced back and look set to make their return at the first attempt to the promised land. Despite having flattered to deceive for many years in the top flight, relegation came as a shock to many. The club was long held in the same guise that Leeds once were, a side seemingly too good to suffer the drop. Relegation was confirmed following a torrid season both on and off the field, and with so much uncertainty in the board room, a period of rebuilding in the Championship seemed on the cards. Few could have predicted that they would have made such a strong push for a quick return.
The fighting spirit on Tyneside was illustrated in Andy Carroll’s late equaliser this weekend at neighbours Middlesbrough. The form table going into this encounter suggested that Chris Hughton’s side would make light work of their rivals from the Riverside, but an exciting match was played out and many would suggest that Middlesbrough were unlucky to come away with just the point. It is the sign of a championship winning side if points can be won in a game that aren’t deserved, and late goals are testament to a hard-working team ethic. This is what has seen the Magpies rise to the top. At present they lead West Brom by 4 points and hold a game in hand. In this form, who would bet against them taking another three points and taking the Championship crown sooner rather than later?
Despite all of the early talk and promise of Leeds in League One, the Yorkshire side have fallen away of late in their quest for a return to the second tier. Their loss at Southampton at the weekend will have served little to boost morale at Elland Road. Paul Lambert’s Norwich side now lead the pack, 7 points ahead of Leeds and twelve points better off than Charlton in the playoff places. Can anybody stop the Canaries?
We are all familiar with the woeful start that they made to life in League One, but we all knew that this was just to be a blip. The side that were humiliated 7-1 at home to Colchester was not the real Norwich City. Lambert has more than steadied the ship since his arrival and has put the Carrow Road side on a fine run of form which has seen them play some decent football and become very difficult to beat. A victory away at Huddersfield at the weekend is indicative of just how far they have come. The Terriers played some of the best football this writer has seen this season. Indeed, they played the opposition off the park that day with quick passing and relentless drive which saw them run out easy winners. For Norwich to have beaten this side on their travels so convincingly is no mean feat.
So with a comfortable lead and those behind them struggling to find any form, is their any chance that Norwich can be stopped? This writer would suggest not, and that the Canaries already have one hand on the trophy.
The situation in League Two is arguably that little bit more delicately poised, although this is due to the number of postponements suffered in the basement division. Rochdale currently head the pack, an astounding 9 points clear of nearest rivals Bournemouth. However, Notts County have three games in hand on the leaders owing to the winter weather as well as their cup success this season. It is of course a big ask, but should they win these fixtures, they would be just three points behind Dale at the top.
Every expert in the country will tell you that they would rather have the points already on the board than have games in hand, but it shows that Rochdale’s current lead gives a bit of a false impression on the way things stand. County are more than capable of taking 9 points from these three games and really putting their name back in the promotion hat. Only time will tell of course, but Rochdale still look well set for the title.
There is still plenty of football to be played, but with the season approaching the final furlong, it seems that we may already know our champions. Newcastle, Norwich and Rochdale have played fantastically well all season, and should the final fixtures pan out as expected, they will all be worthy winners.