With just a handful of games to go in the Championship, league leaders Brighton & Hove Albion and second place Newcastle United look to be on their way up, barring a catastrophic collapse from either side; therefore, the focus must shift to the clubs aiming to secure a playoff place. Huddersfield Town, Reading, Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday currently occupy third to sixth ahead of the round of Good Friday fixtures, and it is these four clubs who the bookmakers are favouring to cling on in there until the close of play in May.
However, with Fulham just two points shy of sixth place, and Derby County and Preston both on the up, could punters cash in on the possibility of a late assault on the top six? Last year’s beaten playoff finalists Sheffield Wednesday look to be the club most in danger. The Owls are currently 4/11 with William Hill to cling on to their playoff spot, but Fulham appear to be breathing down their necks and look good value at 11/8 to sneak in at the last minute. Likewise Derby (20/1) and Preston (50/1), with both clubs finding form at just the right time.
As for which team will triumph in the lottery of the playoffs and ascend to the top table of English football, the bookmakers are currently siding with Huddersfield; however, should Fulham sneak in there, odds of 5/1 could be enough to tempt any bettor.
Sheffield United’s victory over Northampton Town on Saturday was enough to propel the Blades into the Championship at the sixth time of asking, leaving just one automatic promotion spot remaining in League One. With just four games to go, second place Bolton Wanderers will fancy their chances of bouncing straight back up, especially given their seven-point advantage over the chasing field. Should that be the case, that would leave the likes of Fleetwood Town, Bradford City, Scunthorpe United and Millwall to battle it out for a playoff spot.
However, there are a whole host of teams just waiting to take advantage of any slip ups, with recently displaced Southend United, Bristol Rovers and Rochdale all within just a few points of one another. That said, Millwall’s late spurt could be enough to see them over the line, and Scunthorpe, despite their alarming slump, should have enough in the tank to finish in the top six. Southend are still being tipped by the bookies to overthrow Millwall, meaning the team from the Den are available at odds of 17/10 heading into the home straight.
At 3/1 William Hill, Bradford are the favourites to return to the Championship after more than a decade away. The Bantams have lost just six games to date and have proved to be a hard team to break down, conceding just 39 goals in 42 matches. The smart money looks to be on Fleetwood though, with the Trawlermen excelling under the guidance of former Leeds and Wigan boss Uwe Rosler - 7/2 with Sky Bet.
Doncaster Rovers wasted no time in wrapping up their return to League One after just a year away. Donny look all but certain to be joined by the south coast duo of Plymouth Argyle and Portsmouth, with the pair well clear of the sides below. The pressure would then be on a number of teams to show they have what it takes to land a playoff spot. Unlike in the Championship and League One, the margins are tight, with the teams from fourth and tenth separated by just six points, meaning any sort of dip in form could well be punished. Luton Town and Stevenage look to be in the safest positions, but Exeter City and Carlisle United could yet find themselves under threat.
The queue to join the playoff party is ever growing, with Blackpool, Cambridge United and Colchester United all eager to creep in the backdoor. Even the likes of Wycombe Wanderers, Accrington Stanley and Mansfield Town could all spring a late upset. Despite being four points adrift of sixth place, Stanley look to be the side in form following a run of 13 games without defeat, and at 25/1 with William Hill some punters could be enticed. Should the Lancashire side achieve their goal, out-of-form Carlise look to be the side most likely to make way.
With so many teams vying for a playoff place, it’s anyone’s guess who will succeed at Wembley on May 28th. Both William Hill and Sky Bet are tipping Luton to win out, while odds of 13/2 on a promotion party in Blackpool look rather good. Again though, it could be little Accrington at 50/1 who prove to be the answer to many bettors prayers.