In a league which is renowned for anybody being able to beat anybody and the enormous riches that come with promotion to the Premier League, clubs struggling to stay in the Championship know that remaining above the line this season could be the catalyst for something brighter next term.
So those sides in danger of League One football next season will all be determined to ensure that it is any three sides other than themselves that plunge into the third tier. One of them will almost certainly be Peterborough United, whose fourth manager of the season, Gary Johnson, has the final few games of this season to assess his inherited squad ahead of next term. Plymouth Argyle have struggled all season and the appointment of former playing hero Paul Mariner as manager has produced an upturn in performances that has unfortunately not been matched by results. A lack of cutting edge in the final third has been the recurring theme of a disappointing nine months, which has left Argyle with the worst home record in the division. Middlesbrough’s 2-0 win at Home Park on Easter Monday could easily have been a microcosm of their season. A penalty missed at 1-0 down deprived them of the chance to build on the success at Doncaster two days earlier. Their game at Watford now takes on must-win proportions and one gets the feeling it is their last realistic shot of being alive come the final day of the season. Alan Irvine’s Sheffield Wednesday currently hold the third undesired place beneath the trapdoor, having failed to build on an initial run of good results following his appointment in January.
Once again, goals have been in short supply with Bristol City the latest side needing to strike only once to take the points on Monday at Hillsborough. More often than not, Irvine’s side has looked organised if nothing else, so one gets the feeling that results are going to be grinded out and their survival, if achieved, will be on the final day of the season (when they host Crystal Palace.) Watford were unlucky to concede a late goal against promotion certainties West Brom on Monday. This has increased the significance of the already mentioned encounter with Plymouth. Home form is going to be critical for them and they will not have been helped by the injury to Tom Cleverley which deprives them of arguably their most potent attacking threat. Most neutrals will hope that Crystal Palace survive as it would represent something of a triumph over adversity given their 10 point deduction for going into administration. Darren Ambrose’s goals from midfield have been vital and a couple more may well see them safe. Scunthorpe United will be hoping a their home form ensures their first survival in the second tier for 46 years. The dead ball skill of Grant McCann and the goals of Gary Hooper will be heavily relied upon by the Iron in the next month or so.
Having appointed Neil Warnock with a view to longer-term success, QPR will be equally desperate for the four points that would probably ensure safety. One gets the feeling the hoops will be looking to draw a line under a traumatic season and move forward next term. Preston North End and Derby County are not out of the woods just yet either. Darren Ferguson and Nigel Clough can at least take comfort from the fact that their more illustrious fathers had struggles at clubs before achieving great success themselves. However, better will be expected from both come August.