The Championship is officially half way through, with most sides having played 23 or 24 games depending on their fixture schedules.
Nothing however is ever decided after the midway point, and I still believe there will be plenty of twists, shocks and surprises come the end of the season in May 2017.
Although, many teams have shown their intent and its set to build a very interesting second half of the season.
As things stand, Newcastle United are top of the league, 1 point ahead of Brighton and Hove Albion who have a game in hand over the Magpies. The play offs are taken up by Reading FC, Huddersfield Town, Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday, with Derby County narrowly missing out.
What is interesting is that there is only 3 points in between 7th placed Derby County and 3rd place Reading so the play offs are set to experience numerous changes from now to the end of the season.
Enough stating the facts and standings, time to state who I believe will end up on their way to the Premier League come the 7th May 2017.
The Play Offs:
Aston Villa: Aston Villa have experienced a season with multiple high and lows, however Steve Bruce has been a revival at the club since replacing Roberto Di Matteo, and the Villains are currently six points from the play off positions.
I believe Aston Villa will achieve a play off place at the end of the season, as they have a very talented squad. Villa have an excellent defence with Tommy Elphick being the vocal point, excellent width with Jack Grealish and Albert Adomah, a strong midfield core of Mile Jedinak and Gary Gardener, and the striking options of Jonathan Kodja, Rudy Gestede, Jordan Ayew and Ross McCormack.
Aston Villa will challenge for the play offs, and I’d be very surprised if they do not make it in the top 6.
Leeds United have had many years of heartbreak of late, and have experienced managerial troubles only until recently this season.
Celino looks to finally of found his man in Gary Monk, who has had a fantastic start at Elland Road. Leeds are currently fifth, sitting on 42 points within the play offs, and are playing some brilliant football.
Chris Wood has been in fine form, Hadi Sacko was a superb summer signing and been a menace on the wings for oppositions. Charlie Taylor has also been an stand out performer for the Yorkshire outfit.
I believe Leeds could finally achieve the play offs position that they have wanted for a very long time, and under Monk, they have a very good opportunity of succeeding this season.
Many questioned the Royals decision to appoint Jaap Stam in the summer of 2016, questioning whether he has the experience to be a success at the Madejwski.
Stam, has had an excellent start as manager of the club, and his side play a very attractive style of football.
Currently on the date I’m writing this article, Reading FC are the best side I’ve seen so far at the DW Stadium against my beloved Wigan Athletic. Reading completely outplayed the Latics in a dominant 3-0 victory.
Reading FC are currently 3rd in the table, 8 points adrift from the automatics, and I firmly believe that they will comfortably be in the play offs in May.
Reading FC have a very solid defence, with Liam Moore and Paul McShane forming an impressive centre back relationship, and have talent going forward from players such as Gareth McCleary, Jon Swift and Yann Kermogrant.
I expect Reading to have no problems in achieving their aim of the play offs, and I believe the only downfall they may be can only be caused by themselves as they are a top quality side.
Derby County have had their fair share of heartbreaks over the years, however they have always been placed around the Play Offs consistently, and I expect this season to be no different.
Derby County were so close to achieving a return to the Premier League in 2013-14, but lost in the Play Off Final to QPR, due to a Bobby Zamora last gasp winner against the run of play( sorry Rams fans for mentioning that)
But, Derby County this season have added some real quality to their side. Matej Vydra is an excellent striker, especially if he can rediscover his form that he showed in his first initial loan spell with Watford FC. Scottish international Ikechi Anya was a great addition, as he is a very skilful player with a great showing of pace.
Derby County have a very well rounded squad, and are strong from the goalkeeper and former England international Scott Carson to attackers such as Tom Ince and Darren Bent.
Derby County struggled early in the season under Nigel Pearson who was replaced by Steve McClaren. Under McClaren, The Rams look a force to be reckoned with and are currently on an 11 game unbeaten run, sitting 7th in the Championship.
Derby do have the quality to achieve the play offs and I believe they are more than capable of gaining promotion to the Premier League.
Honourable mentions to Sheffield Wednesday, Fulham FC, Huddersfield Town and my personal dark horses Barnsley, as I also believe there is nothing stopping any of those teams from reaching the play offs. Just remember that I’m just a fan making predictions, it is more than likely that my predictions will be ridiculously wrong and everyone will mock me for them on the 7th May.
2nd Place: Brighton and Hove Albion
In the 2015-16 Championship season, fans of the football world saw arguably one of the greatest and exciting ends to the season to decide who will be promoted to the Premier League.
Middlesbrough hosted Brighton knowing that if they avoid defeat, they will be promoted automatically to the Premiership. On the other hand, if Brighton were to beat Middlesbrough, they will be promoted to the Premiership. If you can’t remember what happened, Middlesbrough are in the Premiership and Brighton are in my CHAMPIONSHIP predictions so you may have to go figure.
Brighton and Hove Albion have came out in the 2016-17 season, not feeling sorry for themselves and showing the intent that they will not make the same mistake of missing out on automatic promotion on the last hurdle once again. Brighton are currently second placed, one point adrift of first placed Newcastle United but they do also have a game in hand over the Magpies.
Brighton Albion have arguably the best centre back partnership in the Championship of Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy. Antony Knockaert is one of, if not the best winger in the division and Dale Stephens is a superb midfielder. I may have pointed out four key individuals, however Brighton is a team full of fantastic players managed by Chris Hughton, who I feel is one of the most underrated managers in England.
I believe Brighton, although they aren’t on the level of Newcastle, will be on their way to the Premier League as they are a sensational side who I rate very highly.
Champions: Newcastle United
The Magpies have been ever impressive under Rafa Benitez, and have been very dominant in the majority of games they have played in the 2016-17 season.
When my team Wigan Athletic hosted Newcastle live in front of the Sky camera’s, I was sat at the game with my Grandad, and admiring how good Newcastle were, and you could see the massive difference in quality of players. It was impressive on how easily Newcastle moved the ball around, and how clinical they were with their chances, as former Latic Mo Diame and Christian Atsu scored in a 2-0 Newcastle win.
You may just argue that Wigan are awful, and it’s easy for any team to look good compared to Wigan, but it has been the same case on every occasion I’ve seen Newcastle United.
Rafa Benitez reconstructed his Newcastle squad who I still believe are yet to reach their maximum potential of success as a team. One signing that is grabbing all the headlines is Dwight Gayle, who I believe has scored over 19 goals for the Magpies already, however signings such as Matt Ritchie, DeAndre Yedlin, Mohammed Diame etc, it just shows how much of a force Newcastle are.
People argue Newcastle have bought the league, but I think it is unfair to say as their players still need to perform to their highest possible standard to be successful as the Championship is a very tough league to get out of. At the end of the day, Newcastle may have the ability to spend money and buy high quality players, but in every game, it is eleven vs eleven, and it is anyone’s opportunity to win the game.
Newcastle United for me, will be the Champions come the end of the season. No team can come close in the division, the level of quality Newcastle possess is unmatchable. Newcastle United are the most well supported club in the league, and their vocal backing in numbers will play a big factor in the season.
I’m Shore the Geordies( please allow the poor pun attempt) will be returning to the Premier League as Championship winners in the 2017-18 season.
There you have it, these are my predictions on who will achieve the play off place positions and automatic promotion places come the end of the season. If you disagree with my predictions, they are my opinions so that’s that really.
Although anything can happen, and the Championship over the years has shown that it can be completely unpredictable on who will gain promotion.
I’d love to hear whether you’d agree with my predictions or believe I’m a complete fool and completely wrong. Feel free to send across your views and opinions @JayW2408 or @JayALLOUTATTACK
If you have enjoyed, I’m glad to announce that I will be making this article a two part special, with the second part predicting on who will be on their way to League One at the end of the season.
Thanks for reading, I really appreciate the support!
Written by Jay Whittle- All Out Attack