Earlier this week I wrote an article on Bournemouth and their charge for promotion to the Premier League from the Championship.
The Cherries are now second in the league and the fight for the big money promotion is now tighter than ever.
The finish line is close for the Championship’s top teams and it is now down to four teams for the automatic promotion places.
Middlesbrough went top of the table last night with a crucial 1-0 victory over rivals Norwich on Friday night, after Alexander Tettey scored an own goal.
Watford host Birmingham at Vicarage Road on Saturday and a win will move them above Borough. Bournemouth will go back to the top of the table with a victory over Bolton at Dean Court.
The favourites for promotion this season is Bournemouth. Norwich and Borough also have pretty comfortable fixtures, although the Canaries trip to relegation-threatened Rotherham, who are still not mathematically safe could be a difficult one.
There is currently just two points that separate fourth-placed Norwich from league leaders Middlesbrough. Any of the top four sides could claim promotion this season and it could go right down to the wire. The league is so tight and today’s games could prove crucial in the final reckoning.
The rest of the campaign will be crucial for the future of the top four clubs. Promotion would mean big money television revenue and a chance to improve their teams for the long-term. The importance of that money is hard to play.
Three out of the four promotion contenders have appeared in the Premier League in recent years and will be looking to enjoy that experience once again.
Middlesbrough were the most successful in their stint in the top-flight qualifying for European football and even making the UEFA Cup final in 2006 under Steve McClaren.
Borough may have been beaten in the final by Spaniards Sevilla, but the north east club have enjoyed a roller coaster ride in the last two decades.
They have struggled to earn promotion since relegation from the Premier League in 2009, but former-Real Madrid star Aitor Karanka looks to finally have Borough ready for a return to the top-flight.
Norwich were only relegated from the top-flight last season and struggled to find their form in the second tier in the early part of the season. However, under Scottish boss Alex Neil the Canaries have found their form.
The defeat against Borough on Friday could just be the deciding factor in the race for promotion. How they respond to that defeat could be crucial for the Canaries.
Watford are a club who seem to be good at earning promotion, but cannot seem to survive when they get to the top-flight. The Hornets have short affairs with the Premier League. However they cannot seem to ever nail a more long-term arrangement.
Ironically the only team never to have experienced top-flight football Bournemouth look like the most assured in the race for promotion. The Cherries story may be one of a fairy tale, but in reality they look like they are a determined well-drilled team that plays good football.
If Eddie Howe’s team are promoted they will instantly be made favourites for a quick return to the Championship.
This season’s race for promotion is one of the most exciting and close in recent Championship seasons. This is not a season were one team have dominated the title race, or stood out.
Whichever of the two teams miss out on automatic promotion will then have to attempt to lift themselves again for the play-offs, which so often fails to happen.
The Championship is a strong league and all four promotion contenders will be confident of staying in the Premier League, even if the bookmakers make them favourites for promotion.
The Premier League may be lauded as one of the most entertaining leagues in European football, but the Championship is not a bad back-up.
Who will win promotion to the Premier League this season?
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