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Plenty of twists and turns to come in play-off race

From next Saturday the race for the Championship play-offs is on.

Albion are in the pack, chasing with six others, and reporters of those clubs have collaborated to bring you a preview of the weeks ahead.

Team: Luton Town

Position: Fourth

Points: 64

Remaining games: 8

Reporter: Mike Simmonds

Remaining fixtures: Quite challenging but in a good way. We’ve got to play the teams around/near us in the table: Watford, Millwall, Middlesbrough and Blackburn. For me, we will get into those play-offs positions. To do that, I think it’s important for us to win our home games and beat the teams down the other end of the table: ie Blackpool, Hull, Reading and Rotherham.

What do you think will be required: I’ve got strong confidence we’ve got our spot in the play-offs, but to make it 100 per cent, we’ll need at least four wins. I also think a win against our rivals Watford will confirm their play-off push to be over.

What gives you the most confidence of a top six finish: The performances so far. Defensively we’ve been solid with Nakamba in the defensive midfield role, we’re scoring goals with Adebayo and Morris. Key players are also coming back from injuries making our squad very strong towards the end of the season. We’re in a much better position compared to last year.

What are the biggest concerns: If Lockyer or Morris get injured, I’ll be concerned. However, despite saying that, we’ve proven to still get results without them at certain points throughout the season. I actually don’t have many concerns.

Who’s your predicted top 6: Burnley, Middlesbrough, Sheffield United, Luton Town, Millwall, Coventry.

Team: Blackburn Rovers

Position: Fifth

Points: 61

Remaining games: 9

Reporter: Rich Sharpe

Remaining fixtures looking? Rovers will look to get the job done in their next six fixtures, as the final three are Luton Town (H), Burnley (H) and Millwall (A). Five of their remaining nine are at Ewood.

What do you think will be required? I think 73 should be enough, so another 12 points from nine games.

What gives you the most confidence of a top six finish? There has been a real upturn in performances in 2023, as well as a consistency in results that wasn’t there previously. Top scorer Ben Brereton looks rejuvenated after time out of the team, and Rovers’ home form has been excellent, with 13 wins in 18. It feels as though it will be in Rovers’ hands no matter what, given the four-point advantage, and with three of the teams directly around them still to play.

What are the biggest concerns? The failure to add further to the squad in January leaves them a little short of options, particularly in attack. They are also an inexperienced squad, and having missed out from a similar position 12 months ago that will be fresh in their minds. Any further injuries could leave them stretched, while they need to become more clinical at taking the chances they are creating. The goal difference is also the poorest in the top 10.

Who’s your predicted top six? Burnley, Middlesbrough, Sheffield United, Luton Town, Blackburn Rovers, Millwall

Team: Millwall

Position: Sixth

Points: 60

Remaining games: 8

Reporter: Rich Cawley

How are the final fixtures looking? Based on the league table, Millwall’s hardest away is the trip to West Brom, which is next up on their schedule. Still got top-six rivals Luton and Blackburn at home – the latter on the final day which could be a real nerve-shredder if both require points. On paper some of the other fixtures look okay but we all know the Championship doesn’t play nicely.

What do you think will be required? If a team gets 74 or 75 points they should have a good chance of getting over the line successfully.

What gives you the most confidence of a top six finish? That Millwall have pretty much been in and around the sought-after places for the majority of the campaign. In previous seasons they have tended to close the gap in the second half of the fixture programme and that gives less wriggle room as well as relying on others slipping up. They should have Billy Mitchell and Mason Bennett back from injury to boost their options after the international break. Zian Flemming has added extra quality and cutting edge in the number 10 role.

What are the biggest concerns? Tom Bradshaw. He’s been terrific, his goalscoring and displays leading to a Wales international recall. But if he was to suffer an injury then there isn’t really anyone who can spearhead the attack in the same way. The Lions don’t have the deepest squad to pick from and so injuries to their key players could have a really detrimental effect.

Who’s your predicted top six? Burnley, Sheffield United, Middlesbrough, Luton Town, Millwall, Coventry.

Team: Norwich City

Position: Seventh

Points: 57

Remaining games: 8

Reporter: Connor Southwell

How are the final fixtures looking? A tough run after the international break could define their fortunes. They host Sheffield United on April 1 before trips to Blackburn on Good Friday and Middlesbrough on April 14th.

What do you think will be required? They probably need to win over half of their remaining fixtures. Five wins would leave them with 72 points, which could be enough. 75 is usually the total that guarantees play-off football.

What gives you the most confidence of a top six finish? The strength of their squad feels like the obvious answer, but I would lean more into the sense of improvement that David Wagner has been able to cultivate since replacing Dean Smith in January. Prior to a tricky week before the international break, they had plenty of momentum.

What are the biggest concerns? The inconsistency within their performances and struggles to overcome adversity. No Championship side has made more individual errors leading to shots than City and there seems to be a brittleness to this group that has been exposed all season. Trips to top sides and play-off rivals await and their record against those around them is nothing short of dreadful – they will need to alter the negative narratives around them. Goals from strikers Teemu Pukki and Josh Sargent have dried up and creativity has been in short supply all season.

Who’s your predicted top six? Burnley, Middlesbrough, Sheffield United, Luton Town, Millwall, Coventry City

Team: Coventry City

Position: Eighth

Points: 57

Remaining games: 8

Reporter: Andy Turner

How are the final fixtures looking? Not too bad to be honest, with games against only two teams above them, albeit tough ones at Blackburn and Middlesbrough, before the end of the season but they kick-off after the international break with a home game against Stoke before facing Swansea (a), Watford (h), QPR (a) and Birmingham and Reading at home. The last day at the Riverside could be a huge fixture.

What do you think will be required? They probably need to win four or five of their remaining fixtures and pick up the odd draw to give them at least 72/73 points. A tough ask.

What gives you the most confidence of a top six finish? The Sky Blues have the momentum of a nine game unbeaten run and real belief among the players that they can make the final cut. They have team spirit in spades and that can go a long way in putting a run together, buoyed by amazing support from the Sky Blue Army who have been particularly instrumental in inspiring them to victory away from home in recent weeks. They also have one of the best strikers in the division in Viktor Gyokeres, one of the best midfielders in Gustavo Hamer and have kept an incredible 17 clean sheets so far – the most in the Championship.

What are the biggest concerns? The squad lacks strength in depth and City are missing key attacking midfielders Callum O’Hare and Kasey Palmer – both of whom are out for the season. They simply cannot afford to lose any more players to injury and a lot may depend on how leading 19-goal scorer Gyokeres performs in the final run-in. He’s been frustrated by being a closely marked man in recent weeks as managers have doubled up on him, as well as subjected him to roughhouse off-the-ball tactics. Coventry will be one of the underdogs to finish in the top six and it will take an almighty effort for them to succeed.

Who’s your predicted top six? Burnley, Middlesbrough, Sheffield United, Luton Town, Norwich, Blackburn

Team: West Bromwich Albion

Position: Ninth

Points: 55

Remaining games: 9

Reporter: Lewis Cox

How are the final fixtures looking? Mixed for Albion, but the real positive is that of the remaining four home matches, three of them see rivals in Millwall (April 1), Sunderland (April 22) and Norwich (April 29) visit The Hawthorns. Home form under Carlos Corberan has been almost flawless and the Baggies would back themselves to take points from rivals, beginning against the Lions. The final home game, against Norwich, could well have a lot riding on it. Five away games, where Albion have been dire of late, look OK, other than a trip to Bramall Lane.

What do you think will be required? Anywhere beyond 72 or 73 points and Albion - or whoever! - can count themselves very unfortunate not to have made the cut. Albion and Watford are the outsiders in this race, down in ninth and 10th with 55 points and have enough making up to do. Their game-in-hand, the aforementioned trip to Sheffield United, will be important, hopefully the Blades are distracted by the FA Cup. Any more than five wins and a few draws from the final nine gives a chance.

What gives you the most confidence of a top six finish? The general upturn under Carlos Corberan. It’s easy to forget Albion dropped to rock-bottom after his first game in late October. It has been some ride since, but hit bumps in the road in recent months. The Spanish head coach’s motivation, energy and attention to detail are huge. A couple of players returning from injury, goalkeeper Alex Palmer and centre-back Kyle Bartley, could be useful.

What are the biggest concerns? Away form. While The Hawthorns has been an incredible fortress – 10 wins and a draw from 11 with just one goal conceded – they have been hapless on the road. The Baggies lost five straight games on the spin and drew at Cardiff last week. That has to change.

Who’s your predicted top six? Burnley, Middlesbrough, Sheffield United, Luton, Norwich, Albion

Team: Watford

Position: Tenth

Points: 55

Remaining games: 8

Reporter: Andrew French

How are the final fixtures looking? When there were about 12 games to go, there was a graphic somewhere comparing the league positions of all the teams left to play for each club, and Watford had the apparently ‘easiest’ run-in. Having lost at QPR and then drawn with Wigan since makes a mockery of that reasoning! Of the eight games left, only two are against teams currently above the Hornets but one of those is next, and being away to Luton means any form goes out of the window. It’s a really bitter local rivalry, so much so that Watford fans going to the game HAVE to travel to/from Kenilworth Road by club coach in order to get their tickets. Chris Wilder had 11 games when he took over: four points from the first three isn’t going to cut it and he knows that, but with such a short space of time there’s a limit to the effect he can have.

What do you think will be required? If any team gets 73 points or more and doesn’t make the play-offs this season then they can feel a bit hard done by. In most seasons you need 75 or more – last time anyone crept in with less than 70 was in 2012/13, so Watford need at least five wins to have any hope really.

What gives you the most confidence of a top six finish? Two things – all the key players are fit (well they were before international duty) and Watford have been so inconsistent all season the law of averages says they have to find a winning run soon (yes, that’s the sound of straws being grasped). At one point earlier in the season there were 16 senior players ruled out, but the likes of Pedro, Sarr, Louza and Davis are all available and it’s fair to say this season the team has never really fired but they’ve also never really had a sustained period with everyone available. When Watford went up through the Play-Offs under Graham Taylor in 1998/99 they won seven of their last eight. It can be done.

What are the biggest concerns? Inconsistency. Only once this season have Watford won two or more games in a row, and that was at the end of October. In fact, they have seldom put two good performances together back-to-back. The record against other likely Play-Off opponents isn’t encouraging either: five wins from 13 games against the teams currently third to 11th.

Who’s your predicted top six? Burnley, Sheffield United, Middlesbrough, Blackburn, Luton, Norwich

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