The regular season of the Championship draws to a close this weekend and what a final round of fixtures we have been left with. The automatic promotion spots may have already been decided but there is still one final play-off place to fight for as well as a relegation berth to be filled.
Nottingham Forest, Cardiff and Leicester have already booked their place in the end of season lottery, but Blackpool and Swansea are still chasing that final spot. As the table stands, Blackpool can be seen as favourites. The Tangerines currently occupy sixth place and have a far superior goal difference. They may only lead their Welsh rivals by a solitary point, but their better goal difference could well be a deciding factor. The reality of the situation is that only a win will do for the Swans.
So have the fixture Gods been kind to the promotion contenders? The simple answer to this is no. Both sides finish the league campaign at home against mid-table teams. While Blackpool are entertaining Bristol City, Paulo Sousa’s men will be doing all they can to take three points from Doncaster. Many would correctly argue that if you want to win promotion, these are matches that should be marked down as a certain three points but we all know that the reality of football is far from what is said or written off the pitch. Bristol City have performed admirably since their return to the Championship, only missing out on promotion to the Premier League themselves thanks to Dean Windass’ wonder strike for Hull City two years ago. Doncaster too are no push over. They have commanded respect since their elevation to the Championship, and it is almost incomprehensible that they only returned to the Football League a mere seven years ago.
The question is who will be left to fight another day in the play-offs. This writer would suggest Blackpool. It may be the easy option given their current standing, but despite a recent defeat to champions Newcastle, they have been in devastating form. Ian Holloway’s men have been comfortable winners over the Swans as well as play-off certainties Forest, and it is not hard to see why they are in contention. It is often true that the form team performs best in the play-offs too and so there could still be much to celebrate at Bloomfield Road in the near future. In truth however, the race for promotion seems rather uninteresting when compared to the almighty battle set to take place at Hillsborough this Sunday. The final relegation place will be filled by either Sheffield Wednesday or Crystal Palace. And who will these teams be playing on the final day? Why each other of course. From a neutrals perspective, it is a fascinating situation, and one which will capture the attention of the nation for 90 minutes on Sunday.
Palace of course would not be in this situation were it not for their points deduction following their administration. Once pushing for the play-offs under Neil Warnock, a season of unexpected highs appeared to be unfolding in South London. It seems now that 2010 could end with the ultimate of lows. Relegation is a distinct possibility, but even more of a concern is the potential of no Crystal Palace Football Club next season. The Eagles’ administrator has urged potential buyers to show their serious intentions sooner rather than later as there is the very real threat that they will not survive the summer.
Wednesday’s season too has been one of disappointment. The arrival of Alan Irvine in the managerial hot seat had sparked some optimism but with just one game left to play, only a win will do for the Owls. Wednesday are of course familiar with League One football but will not want to repeat the experience.So it all comes down to one match to decide the fate of these two sides. You just couldn’t write this kind of story. Who would have thought when the fixtures were first drawn that one of them would have carried this much significance? Wednesday’s recent history has been rocky, but should they fall they will find themselves capable of bouncing back sooner rather than later. The pitfalls of relegation for Palace on the other hand could carry dire consequences.
There has been talk that one potential buyer would not be put off a deal should the Eagles be a League One side next season. However, with the club’s future so unclear, now is the time for some good news for Palace fans. Now is the time for a deal to be done. Sunday’s match will not be one for the faint-hearted.