It’s been another difficult season for the Robins, who currently sit at the bottom of table with their six year stay in the Championship now facing its biggest threat. The year started badly after manager Derek McInnes was sacked following a humiliating 4-0 defeat to Leicester in January, which saw them slip to the foot at the table. They have improved under new boss Sean O’Driscoll, particularly at Ashton Gate, where they have won four out of five matches. However, it is City’s away form that is an on-going problem, as they have lost 12 times on the road this season and claimed just 12 points. But with O’Driscoll at the helm and proven goalscorers such as Steve Davies in their ranks, survival is by no means beyond City. Upcoming fixtures with fellow strugglers Wolves and Sheffield Wednesday are simply must-wins games.
The 2009 play-off winners have had a steady season, despite having to come to terms with former manager Eddie Howe’s shock return to Bournemouth in October just under two years after they recruited him from the Cherries. The appointment of former Watford manager Sean Dyche has proved a shrewd one, as he has built on his solid start to management at Vicarage Road and led the Clarets up the table away from the relegation zone. Although holding onto star striker Charlie Austin, who has over 20 goals already this season, who has been vital and they may be in danger of becoming a one man team, a play-off spot is still a possibility. However, given their own unpredictable form and the form of those around them, it might take a very strong finish to the season.
After threatening for so many years and three failed play-off campaigns in the past three seasons, the Welsh outfit finally look on course to join fellow south Wales side Swansea in the Premier League. Malky Mackay’s men have been leading the way in the Championship for some time now and will be desperate to avoid any late season slip ups. Their home form has proved vital in their success so far, having suffered just two defeats on their own soil this season. They must continue to make the Cardiff City stadium a fortress to maintain their title push. This is particularly due to the likes of Hull, Crystal Palace, and particularly Gianfranco Zola’s free scoring Watford currently challenging them for the two automatic promotion places. Automatic promotion will be a must this season given their recent fortunes in the play-offs and the inevitable late season dip in form that would see them surrender their place at the top of the table.
After storming to the League One title last year, the Addicks look set to establish themselves in the Championship for another season. This is despite some poor form at The Valley, where Chris Powell’s side have just four victories so far; the joint worst in the division with Wolves. However they have redeemed themselves slightly with some impressive form on the road, though, with seven victories; only the current top three have won more. However, with home ties against lowly Wolves and Bristol City still to come, there is still time to turn this form around. For now, it is vital the London side stick with Powell and take their time in their pursuit of a return to Premier League football, and not make any rash or unnecessary decisions which has cost them in the past.
Eight years after relegation at their first attempt from the Premiership, this is the Eagles’ best chance to return to the top flight since that heart breaking season. After years of languishing towards the wrong end of the table, Palace have been impressive all season. The departure of Dougie Freedman to Bolton in October could easily have derailed their promotion charge, but the appointment of Ian Holloway, who led Blackpool to the top flight three years ago, has proved a masterstroke as they continue to keep the pressure on high flyers Cardiff and Hull. While Manchester United bound Wilfred Zaha has grabbed many of the headlines, huge credit must go to strike partner Glenn Murray, who is the top league scorer in the country this season with 28 goals. With many of their remaining games are against teams in the bottom half of the table, Palace must surely be confident of claiming an automatic promotion spot. Although it could all come down to how Cardiff and particularly in form Watford fare in these last two months.
It’s been a familiar story for Nigel Clough’s side this season as they seem destined for yet another mid-table finish. Mid-table is a term that has come to define the Rams in recent seasons, although they should have been in no rush for a promotion push following their humiliating spell in the Premier League in 2007-08. While they have achieved some impressive results, notably their 1-0 away victory at fierce rivals Nottingham Forest, it is Derby’s inability to build on results like these and string a decent set of results together that seems to hold them back. Their recent policy of allowing proven goalscorers such as Steven Davies and Theo Robinson to leave also seems questionable. However, with some solid home form and no real threat of relegation, perhaps building momentum in the Championship is the best way forward after their fateful one season stay in the top flight.