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Promised Land: Analysing The Top Three As Promotion Race Heats Up

As the Championship season begins to reach the business end, three teams are fighting for automatic promotion places and a ticket back to the Premier League.

Only four points separate Norwich City in 1st and Sheffield United in 3rd, while Leeds United sit in 2nd two points below the former and two above the latter.

But who has the upper hand in the race for automatic promotion?

With just ten games to go, we analyse all three teams and see who will rise and who will fall in the Championship promotion picture.


Norwich City

How They Currently Stand:

After victory against Millwall over the weekend Norwich City stayed two points clear of Leeds United at the top of the Championship table, and four points clear of Sheffield United in third.

Daniel Farke’s side have won their last four games and are the division’s in-form team over the last six, picking up 13 points from a possible 18.

With just two losses in their last 24 league games and currently possessing the league’s top scorer in Teemu Pukki, Norwich are unquestionably the team to beat.


Their Run-In:

vs Hull City (H)

vs Rotherham (A)

vs Middlesbrough (A)

vs QPR (H)

vs Reading (H)

vs Wigan Athletic (A)

vs Sheffield Wednesday (H)

vs Stoke City (A)

vs Blackburn (H)

vs Aston Villa (A)

The Canaries have the distinct advantage of not having to play either Leeds or Sheffield United, in their last ten games while the Yorkshire duo face off on Saturday at Elland Road.

They only face one of the current top six, in Middlesbrough away, but the likes of Hull City, Sheffield Wednesday and Aston Villa are all in and around the playoff picture.

Reading, Rotherham and to a lesser extent QPR are all fighting for survival and could prove to be challenging games, but given Norwich’s form, they should sweep those three aside.

Overall, it’s about as nice a run-in as any promotion chasing team could hope for.


Key-Man – Teemu Pukki

Norwich have quality throughout and Argentine creative midfielder Emi Buendia could be crucial in their run-in, but the importance of the goals of Teemu Pukki cannot be understated.

24 in the league, has seen him propel Norwich towards promotion and himself to the top of the goalscoring charts.

The Fin can score out of nothing and in the tighter games, his clinical ability could be crucial.

Predicted Finish

Given Norwich City’s current form and favourable run-in, it’s incredibly difficult to see them falling away from the top spot in the Championship.

It’s likely that they maintain their quality and go up as champions.


Leeds United

How They Currently Stand:

After a challenging spell in January which saw them lose four out of six games, Leeds United have bounced back somewhat and find themselves two points behind Norwich in 1st and two points above Sheffield United in 3rd.

Leeds bounced back from a loss to QPR a number of weeks ago to defeat West Brom and Bristol City and insert themselves right back into the promotion race.

Under Marcelo Bielsa, United play some of the division’s best football, and with Kemar Roofe struggling with injuries, have managed to supplement his goals thanks to Patrick Bamford.

Their Run-In

vs Reading (A)

vs Sheffield United (H)

vs Millwall (H)

vs Birmingham (A)

vs Preston (A)

vs Sheffield Wednesday (H)

vs Wigan (H)

vs Brentford (A)

vs Aston Villa (H)

Two Yorkshire derbies are far from ideal for Leeds, but having them both at Elland Road is a massive plus, given Bielsa’s side have the best home form in the league over the last ten games, picking up 24 points.

Away trips to Birmingham and Preston, something Sheffield United also have to do, will be tricky ties, while Millwall have notoriously given Leeds problems over the years.

The game against Sheffield United will certainly be the biggest tie as a win would extend the gap between them and their Yorkshire rivals in third.


Key-Man – Pablo Hernandez

At 33 years of age, Pablo Hernandez has been a revelation for Leeds United this season.

Bielsa’s side lost the creativity of fellow Spaniard Samuel Saiz in January but in his absence, Hernandez has stepped up to become the main man for Leeds.

The former Swansea man has a knack for popping up with important goals for the Yorkshire side when they need them most, and his eight goals and 11 assists have been a crucial part of Leeds’ promotion push.

He’s a man Marcelo Bielsa must keep fit at this crucial stage of the season.


Predicted Finish – 2nd

Leeds have a tough run-in but Bielsa’s men have already proven that they can stay the course when faced with adversity.

The Sheffield United game will be crucial, but given that it’s at home and the experience of their highly respected manager, it should be a second-place finish and a return to the Premier League at long last for Leeds.


Sheffield United

How They Currently Stand:

Third in the table and just two points off second-placed Leeds United, Sheffield United’s 2-0 win over Rotherham at the weekend extended their run to eight league games unbeaten.

The Blades’ solidity throughout the season has kept them in touching distance of the top two and their current run has them as one of the division’s top contenders for promotion.

Defensively they have conceded the second lowest goals in the league behind Middlesbrough and in Billy Sharp they have one of the football league’s finest strikers.


Their Run-In:

vs Brentford (H)

vs Leeds United (A)

vs Bristol City (H)

vs Preston (A)

vs Birmingham (A)

vs Millwall (H)

vs Nottingham Forest (H)

vs Hull City (A)

vs Ipswich Town (H)

vs Stoke City (A)

The Blades probably have the toughest run-in of the three teams in promotion contention but the standout fixtures is unquestionably the tie with Leeds at Elland Road.

Should they and their Yorkshire rivals win in midweek, then Chris Wilder’s side will know that a victory over the Whites will see them jump a point clear in second, but defeat will see them five behind the automatic promotion places.

United are only behind Norwich in form over the last six games, but both Preston and Brentford, whom they face in the space of four games, have picked up 22 points from their previous 10 games.

If they can negotiate the next four and still be in contention, then their final six, barring a tricky trip to the KCOM, look manageable on paper.


Key-Man – John Egan

An absolutely incredible piece of business from Sheffield United, who picked up John Egan for four million pounds from Brentford, the Irish international has been excellent all season.

The heart of a defensive unit alongside Chris Basham and Jack O’Connell, Egan has been a key component in United’s solidity at the back.

Wilder’s men face some tough games in the run-in and the goals of Billy Sharp and the influence of Oliver Norwood will certainly be huge, however, Egan’s assurance at the back could be key during the last ten games of the campaign.


Predicted Finish – 3rd

The next four games are very tough for the Blades and given they’ve only picked up nine points from their last six away games in the league, they’ll be underdogs ahead of their trip to Elland Road.

They’ll continue to challenge, but they may be the losers in this three-horse race.


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Author: Oisin McQueirns

Oisin McQueirns is a digital journalist at Pundit Arena. Massive fan of Leeds United, Ric Flair and Trusting The Process. Contact him here