We are entering the final stretch in the race for promotion to the Premier League. This is the point in the season where teams in the Sky Bet Championship can play themselves in or out of contention for a trip to the Promised Land. And with such a massive prize at stake, the pressure can soon take its toll on the contenders. Leading the way at the top of the league is Nigel Pearson’s Leicester City who have an impressive 13 point cushion between themselves and the first of the play-off positions. With a current run of 9 wins in a row they look like certain contenders for automatic promotion, and with a 10 point gap to the team in second place; they are clear favourites to win the league and return to the top flight after a ten year absence.

Pre-season favourites QPR are currently occupying the second automatic promotion position but are just three points clear of the third place team. Harry Redknapp is under pressure to deliver an instant return to the Premier League and the owners of the club will feel much happier achieving this via the automatic route, rather than suffering the anxiety and unpredictability of the play-offs. Burnley are only 3 points behind QPR and have lost just 3 games all season. If they can maintain their current form and convert a few more draws into victories, they could steal that coveted second place from the West London team. Derby County are just a point further back and are also contenders for second place finish. Steve McClaren’s team are the league’s leading goal scorers but they have also conceded more goals than any other team in the top half of the table. This cavalier approach could be their undoing when it comes down to the wire.

McClaren’s former team Nottingham Forest are coming up on the rails as a late contender for second place. With an 11 game unbeaten run, Billy Davies and his team are piling on the pressure on the teams above them. The final play-off position is currently occupied by Reading but it is conceivable that any of the teams in the top 12 could push themselves into contention with a good run of games.  Wigan are a good outside bet for a play-off spot having lost just 1 of their last 9 games. They are currently in 10th place and 7 points behind Reading, but they are ahead of the Berkshire club in the current form table – based on the last 10 games – and also have games in hand.

Ipswich are in 7th place but are 12th in the current form table with just 3 wins in their last 10. Blackburn are another team that will be hoping to push for a play-off position but they will need a slight improvement to their current form if they are going to sneak into 6th place.

Final Championship top 6 predictions: Leicester (Only a disastrous run of form can deny the Foxes top spot and a return to the Premier League) Nottingham Forest (Billy Davies and his men are on a roll and could build up just enough momentum to snatch the second automatic promotion place) QPR (After a strong start to the season, Harry Redknapp’s team may have to settle for the play-offs) Burnley (A steady season and a solid defence should help Burnley to a comfortable fourth place finish) Derby County (Steve McClaren has the experience to guide the Rams to a play-off spot) Wigan (Uwe Rosler could give his rejuvenated Wigan team the chance of an instant return to the Premier League with a strong finish to the season) To be promoted to the Premier League: Leicester Nottingham Forest Burnley So who will the promoted teams replace in the Premier League? There are still 11 teams that could realistically face relegation this season but Fulham are clear favourites to go down having lost 17 out of 24 games already this season. Remarkably the Londoners have only drawn 1 game this season, and while other teams around them have improved, Fulham have got even worse as the season has progressed. Out of the other candidates; West Ham, Crystal Palace and Sunderland have all improved recently and should be able to avoid the drop but Cardiff City still look to be in danger with just 2 win in their last 13 games. Aston Villa and Stoke keep picking up enough points to stay out of the bottom three and Norwich have lost just 3 out of their last 10 games; this should be good enough to avoid the drop and that leaves us with just 3 other candidates. Hull City and Swansea are both enduring bad runs of form at the moment and are just 2 points away from the bottom three while West Brom are still just a point above the drop zone. The Baggies have only lost 9 games all season but have managed just 4 wins. The figures suggest that they are a tough team to beat but they will be hoping new Coach Pepe Mel can add enough flair to their play to get a few more wins under their belt. Swansea also have a new boss at the helm and Gary Monk will have to act quickly to prevent the current slide of the Welsh club. They have some quality players but they need to regain some of the team spirit that has been lost this season. If they can achieve this, then they should survive. Hull have lost 4 out of the last 5 and have been dragged into the relegation conversation after spending most of the season in mid-table. In fact, with just 1 win in their last 11 games, Steve Bruce’s men are currently the most likely of the remaining teams to occupy the final spot in the bottom three. Premier League relegation predictions: Fulham Cardiff City Hull City

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