Breaking Down the 2012/13 npower Championship Promotion Battle

Greg LottContributor IApril 17, 2013

Breaking Down the 2012/13 npower Championship Promotion Battle

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    It is the most valuable prize in world football. A huge bounty that will reduce grown men to tears. The goal, the dream, the promised land. It is, of course, promotion to the English Premier League.

    As we enter the business end of the season, the margin for error becomes eradicated. One error, one slight mistake, and promotion dreams can be shelved for another year.

    With just three games to go in this season's competition, there is all to play for. A goalless draw against Charlton Tuesday night finally realized perennial contenders Cardiff’s dream.

    Second-placed Hull also look well set with a six-point buffer over the chasing pack with just nine to play for.

    The promotion places, however, are the traditional dogfight. Six teams all have realistic ambitions of claiming one of four spots for the elite top flight shoot-off.

    Here we analyze the contenders and pretenders.

Cardiff

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    Fixtures

    Burnley (A), Bolton (H), Hull (A)

     

    Why they can do it

    Cardiff have been the class act in the Championship this season. The pace-setters from start to finish, they fully deserve the promotion that has just eluded them in recent seasons.

    Having featured in the playoffs in each of the previous three seasons, losing to Blackpool in the 2009/10 final, Cardiff fans have suffered heartache before.

    Now, with three games of the seasons to go, their fans can enjoy their fixtures free of pressure, with the prize secure.

    Cardiff’s success means that there will be two Welsh sides in the English top flight for the first time—they'll join Swansea City in the Premier League. 

Hull

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    Fixtures

    Bristol City (H), Barnsley (A), Cardiff (H)

     

    Why they can do it

    With a six-point lead over nearest rivals Watford, Hull are in an enviable position. With the easiest remaining games of the promotion chasers, the Tigers go into the final few fixtures knowing that four points will guarantee their top-flight return.

    Hull have competed in the second tier ever since their relegation in the 2009/10 season.

    Unlike Cardiff, Hull have been confined to relative obscurity in seasons past. Under Steve Bruce this season, however, the club have undergone a renaissance, placing themselves firmly in promotion contention.

    Essentially speaking, a victory in their next game at home to lowly Bristol City would secure the Tigers promotion, with Watford facing a trifecta of difficult games.

    It is hard to envision any other eventuality.

Watford

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    Fixtures

    Blackburn (H), Leicester (A), Leeds (H)

     

    Why they can do it

    Realistically, Watford are looking at no more than a guaranteed playoff berth. 

    After an unbelievably successful season—with a relegation battle was the initial expectation—Watford, and the Championship’s player of the year, Matej Vydra, have come just short of automatic promotion.

    The blueprint looked unfeasible. A team consisting heavily of on-loan players from parent clubs Udinese and Granada, it seemed an outlandish proposal. Yet Watford have surprised many, playing among the most exciting football in the division as they trailblazed an unlikely promotion path.

    With their young, exciting squad a match for anyone on their day, if Watford can turn it on in the playoffs they will be a fearsome adversary.

     

    Why they can’t do it

    The Hornets are in a bit of a slump. Without a win in their last three and with only one in their last seven, it is not ideal playoff preparation.

    Is it possible that their young cosmopolitan squad has lost its edge?

    After slipping out of the automatic picture after their slump, their bad form could be exploited by their rivals.

Brighton

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    Fixtures

    Blackpool (H), Leeds (A), Wolves (H)

     

    Why they can do it

    Over the last three months Brighton have been the division's form side. From a mid-table position, Gus Poyet’s men have asserted their claim for promotion at only the second attempt.

    Having only been promoted to the second tier at the beginning of last season, Brighton’s strong showing this term is very impressive. With a brand new modern stadium and one of the country’s most exciting young managers at the helm, the ingredients for success are all there.

    Automatic promotion is impossible, but the side would have to suffer a spectacular derailing to miss out on a coveted playoff spot.

     

    Why they can’t do it

    Over the past month or so Brighton have played out far too many draws.

    With debatably the weakest squad of the promotion contenders, having only been in the division two seasons, Brighton may get found out when the chips are down.

    This is new territory for this Brighton squad and its manager, and in the pressure cooker of Wembley Stadium all it takes is for one to crumble.

Crystal Palace

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    Fixtures

    Leicester (H), Blackburn (A), Millwall (A), Peterborough (H)

     

    Why they can do it

    With a relatively desirable run-in as well as a game in hand over their rivals, Crystal Palace are in an enviable position.

    In Ian Holloway the club have a manager who has already presided over a successful playoff campaign (Blackpool in 2009/10). Holloway’s pedigree will be crucial for Palace if they are to have a truly mad May.

    In Glen Murray and Wilfried Zaha, the Eagles have one of the division's most clinical strikers as well as the division's most exciting player. In Zaha, who has agreed to join Manchester United next season, they have a young man who, on his day, is unplayable at this level.

     

    Why they can’t do it

    Goalscoring at Selhurst Park has reached endemic levels. A dramatic slump of no goals in their last five matches has vetoed automatic dreams.

    Although their playoff berth is probably not under threat, if the misfiring strikers and leaking defence (Which has conceded three goals or more three times in their last five), don’t pull it together, it will be heartbreak for Palace again.

Leicester

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    Fixtures

    Crystal Palace (A), Watford (H), Nottingham Forest (A)

     

    Why they can do it

    Big bucks Leicester have one of the most enviable squads in the division. Backed by rich Thai investors, the Foxes can call on the likes of former England internationals David Nugent and Paul Konchesky.

    When they turn up, Leicester can beat anyone in the division with their attractive passing style.

    However, after a dramatic slump since February, when at least a playoff spot seemed assured, Leicester are now scrapping for their lives.

    Currently in sixth after their first win in 10 games against Bolton on Tuesday, Leicester have the advantage of knowing their fate is in their own hands.

    Two wins will probably be enough to seize the sixth automatic spot, also facilitating the momentum for playoff success. In addition, with by far the best goal difference of those around them, Leicester have an extra safety blanket.

     

    Why they can’t do it

     Leicester have the hardest run-in of any of the contenders. The impressive win against Bolton on Tuesday was the first of their four final games, which are all against teams in the top eight. 

    A team of ridiculous inconsistency, heartbreak would be a familiar story after being nearly-men for each of the last three seasons.

    The team at manager Nigel Pearson’s disposal is good enough to be promoted without question. Yet with a terrible knack of conceding critical late goals could it be desolation yet again for the Foxes’ fans?

Bolton

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    Fixtures

    Middlesborough (H), Cardiff (A), Blackpool (H)

     

    Why they can do it

    Prior to their defeat by Leicester on Tuesday, Bolton were on a great run of form. Under the guidance of former Palace boss Dougie Freedman—a dynamic that will provide an interesting sub-plot to any potential playoff meeting—the Trotters have gone from strength to strength.

    Whilst strongly considered for promotion at the start of the season, Owen Coyle failed to get the most of his charges, with them languishing towards the foot of the table when he was sacked in October.

    For a while, Freedman to struggled to get to grips with the squad, before their revival began in earnest after Christmas.

    If they recover from their blip at Leicester, they could well sneak into the playoffs in the final few games.

     

    Why they can’t do it

    A defeat to a promotion rival at this stage can be disastrous. A win at Leicester, with Forest losing, would have moved Bolton three points clear of the chasing pack and essentially ended the Foxes' hopes.

    By losing, Bolton have created a situation in which their fate is no longer in their own hands. It will be interesting to analyze the ramifications of this defeat in three weeks' time.

Nottingham Forest

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    Fixtures

    Barnsley (H), Millwall (A), Leicester (H)

     

    Why they can do it

    Of the three apparent contenders for the sixth playoff spot, Forest have the easiest run in. A home game to Barnsley is a very attractive fixture at this stage, although Millwall is never an easy place to go. The standout game, however, looks set to be possibly the game of the season.

    In all likelihood the final playoff spot could be decided in a direct shoot-out between bitter rivals Forest and Leicester. This is not just any rivalry, though, this is hatred. A Midlands divide with boiling animosity waiting to explode. This match could be the touchpaper—the spark that lights up the league.

    It is a tantalizing prospect.

     

    Why they can’t do it

    After successive defeats, Forest’s fate, like Bolton’s, is no longer in their own hands. They could well go into the game against Leicester needing a win. 

    In such a pressure-cooker environment and with so much on the line, they could have asked for a far, far easier game. There would be a huge amount to gain, but a loss would be endemic.