Championship leaders Fulham secured automatic promotion to the Premier League after easing to a 3-0 victory over Preston on Tuesday. Bournemouth look highly likely to join the Cottagers in the top flight next season, as they are clear of the chasing pack and they have games in hand.
That leaves the teams below them to scrap it out for playoff places. This article explores how the playoffs work, the teams that stand the best chance of success and some key historical trends that can guide us.
Championship Playoffs Format
The teams that finish third, fourth, fifth and sixth in the Championship table go into the playoffs at the end of the season. The third-place team takes on whoever finishes sixth in one semi-final, while the teams that end up fourth and fifth in the standings meet in the other semi-final.
The semi-finals take place over two legs, so each team plays at home and away. The team that scores the most goals on aggregate over both legs advances to the final. If they cannot be separated, a penalty shootout is used to determine which team progresses.
The final two teams left standing face one another in the playoff final at Wembley. It is billed as a £170 million game, because any team that reaches the Premier League earns a huge financial windfall. That normally results in a ferociously competitive final. If the score is level after 90 minutes, the game goes to extra-time and then penalties. The team that prevails will be playing Premier League football next season, while the losing team is left crestfallen.
The Battle for Playoff Places in 2022
Huddersfield, Luton and Nottingham Forest look nailed-on for playoff places. They are third, fourth and fifth respectively in the table, and it is hard to see them being overhauled. Forest are four points clear of Sheffield United, with two games in hand, and their recent form has been superb.
Sheff Utd are clinging onto sixth place, but they are just one point ahead of Millwall, and three clear of Blackburn, Middlesbrough and QPR. Boro have a game in hand, so they could draw level with the Blades if they win it. They looked highly likely to clinch a playoff place a few weeks ago, but Chris Wilder’s men have taken just one point from their last four matches, so they need to turn things around sharpish.
The bookies make Sheff Utd the narrow favourites to make the playoffs, ahead of Middlesbrough, while Millwall, Blackburn and QPR are considered outsiders in the spread betting.
The Football League First Division was rebranded as the Championship at the start of the 2004-05 season. Since then, 17 teams have been promoted to the top flight via the playoffs. The team that finished third in the table won the playoffs eight times, including Brentford last year.
The team that finished fourth has been promoted on three occasions. Four teams finished fifth and went on to win the playoffs. Just two teams – Blackpool and West Ham – ended up sixth in the table and ultimately won the playoff final. That does not bode particularly well for whoever snatches sixth place this season, but it does look good for the team that finishes third.
Who Will Reach the Premier League in 2022?
Momentum is another key consideration at this time of year. Nottingham Forest have won six of their last seven matches, and they have only lost once in 12 games. However, that defeat did come at the hands of promotion rivals Luton on 15th April.
Over the past 12 games, Nottingham Forest have earned more points (27) than any other team in the Championship. Huddersfield are next with 24, ahead of Luton with 23, while Fulham and Bournemouth have only secured 22.
Yet Huddersfield and Luton have started to run out of steam, with each team winning just three of their last six games. Sheff Utd’s recent form is poor, with only three wins in their last 10 matches.
Things are looking even bleaker for Middlesbrough, who have lost five of their last 10. Blackburn have gone well off the boil, with only nine points from their last 10 matches, and no team in the division has a worse record than QPR over the last 10 rounds of fixtures.
It suggests that Forest are the team to beat. They have a strong record both at home and on the road, which augurs well for the playoffs. Steve Cooper’s men have also impressed against Premier League opposition in the FA Cup this year, beating Arsenal and holders Leicester before eventually suffering a narrow defeat to Liverpool.
However, they are winless in their last four meetings with Luton. On a brighter note, they have won two of their three games against Huddersfield this season. The Terriers took four points off Luton this season, including a 2-0 win earlier this month, so they would not fear a showdown with the Hatters in the playoffs. Huddersfield and Sheff Utd also have recent Premier League experience, whereas Luton and Nottingham Forest do not.
The bookies make Forest the favourites, ahead of Huddersfield and Sheff Utd, while Luton are the outsiders. Yet it is very tight, so we could be in for a wild few weeks.