This season has been one of the most captivating in Championship history, with the lead changing hands on an almost weekly basis as the top sides meet in crucial games.
Now that the campaign is entering its final throes, who is likely to come out on top – and who will be left to duke it out in the dreaded play-offs?
Current Position: 1st
Next Five Games: Brentford (A), Notts Forest (A), Blackburn (H), Wolves (H), Fulham (A).
The Cherries took advantage of Derby and Middlesbrough’s weekend participation in the FA Cup to climb back to the top of the table – although they looked less than convincing in their 1-1 stalemate with Huddersfield.
They are the country’s top scorers; notching a whopping 65 goals in 31 games. Teams that score an average of two goals a game tend to go places….and Eddie Howe and his men will be hoping that their destination is the Premier League.
Happily for the south-coast outfit goalscoring isn’t a burden on just one player as can often be the case. Callum Wilson has netted 15 times this season, but he’s ably supported by Yann Kermorgant, Marc Pugh, Brett Pitman, Harry Arter and Matt Richie – all of whom have bagged six or more.
Their recent form has been good but not spectacular; with three wins, two draws and one loss in their last six games; now is the point of the season to be pressing the accelerator rather than coming to a grinding halt.
They can’t win promotion in the next five games, but they can certainly blow their chances; and Bournemouth’s upcoming fixtures look threatening – particularly the trips to surprise package Brentford and form team Notts Forest. The next couple of weeks could shape whether or not they’ll live up to their early season promise.
Current Position: 2nd
Next Five Games: Birmingham (A), Leeds (H), Bolton (H), Sheff Wed (A), Millwall (H).
One team in hot pursuit is Middlesbrough. Currently sitting top of the form table – with five wins out of five – the Boro are going through the gears at just the right time.
Like Bournemouth, finding the net isn’t a problem, and the load tends to be shared; Kike, Patrick Bamford, Lee Tomlin and tireless midfielder Grant Leadbitter have all scored six or more this campaign.
But it’s their defensive record that shows off their biggest strength; conceding on average just 0.66 per game. Alongside their exceptional form on home soil – two losses in 15 – you would surmise that Aitor Karanka’s men are going to be there or thereabouts come the end of the season.
With a run of five games from which they should take a minimum of ten points, they may be about to return to the Premier League after a six-year absence.
Current Position: 3rd
Next five games: Rotherham (A), Sheff Wed (H), Charlton (H), Fulham (A), Brighton (A).
After such a good showing during the 2013/14 season, many observers feel that it is imperative for Derby County to achieve promotion this time around. With a revitalised coach in the much-maligned Steve McClaren, and a talented squad of young players and experienced heads, it feels like the next few weeks are of incredible importance to the Rams in maintaining their upward curve.
Derby were roaring during the first half of the season, and at times looked unstoppable. A poor November derailed the promotion train, but they appear to be back on track in 2015, and have only dropped four points this calendar year.
While 16-goal Chris Martin is the catalyst, the loan signings of Darren Bent and Tom Ince should provide fresh impetus just when it’s needed.
It’s the tricky trio of Norwich away, Middlesbrough at home and Watford away in late March/early April that is likely to decide the Rams’ fate.
Next five games: Norwich (H), Rotherham (H), Leeds (A), Fulham (H), Wolves (A).
When we think about Watford in 2015 we think of two things: goals and managerial turbulence. Of the former, they have blasted 14 in their last five games and 63 in total – only Bournemouth have scored more in the Football League.
Of the latter, well, they’re onto their fourth manager of the campaign now, but seem to be finding some stability under Slavisa Jokanovic. The Hornets have won seven of their last ten games – which is certainly promotion form – and in Odion Ighalo they boast the county’s most in-form striker; the Nigerian having notched 12 goals in his last ten appearances.
Factor in their impressive home record (they’ve won every game at Vicarage Road in 2015), and you could certainly expect Watford to make a late assault on ascension.