I think I would be among the majority when I say the automatic promotion places in the Championship will be filled by two of three teams at the end of the season.
For me it's between Southampton, Reading and West Ham for the automatic spots with seven more teams in the picture below them with a chance of making the play-offs.
There's three points between the top three and then a seven-point gap between West Ham in third and Middlesbrough in fourth. There's then just six points between Boro in fourth and Leeds in 10th.
So as we approach another crucial round of fixtures, let's take a look at the winners and losers in the top 10 from the last week...
1. Southampton (non mover)
Southampton have a 10-point lead over fourth-placed Middlesbrough, so I can't see them falling out of the top three. The big question is whether they will be able to hold off the challenge of West Ham and Reading to stay in the top two? They've got tough away fixtures against Millwall and Hull in the next two games and those matches could tell us a lot about the strength of their squad.
2. Reading (up one)
Any point is a good point at this stage of the season, as Reading proved with their draw at Doncaster. Their winning run came to an end, but the solitary point broke up the stranglehold that Southampton and West Ham have had on the top two places for much of the season. Alex Pearce's leveller could prove to be invaluable. They now face away fixtures against Barnsley and Peterborough.
3. West Ham (down one)
West Ham have a seven-point gap over Middlesbrough and I think that's too much for them to close, but there's no doubt Sam Allardyce's men have had a little bit of a wobble of late. They now have to play against a rejuvenated Leeds and then they face a pivotal game against Middlesbrough live on Sky Sports next Tuesday. It's too early to say that's a defining game because there's so many points still to play for, but it will have a huge bearing on their finishing position.
4. Middlesbrough (non mover)
I can't see Middlesbrough catching third-placed West Ham, but they have a massive opportunity in Tuesday's live fixture against the Hammers. I'll be at that game and I'm really looking forward to it because it will hold the key to Tony Mowbray's lingering hopes of securing an automatic promotion spot.
5. Brighton (up two)
Brighton are one of the sides that have benefitted the most in the last seven days and remain unbeaten in the league in 2012. Gus Poyet has gone on record and said "why can't Brighton be a Premier League club?" I like to see managers who aren't fearful of coming out and noting their ambition because it means he believes in his players. There's a lot of optimism and spirit there and it would be amazing to see the AMEX Stadium grace the Premier League. After Burnley and Blackpool they could be the next letter 'B' minnow to do it.
6. Hull (up three)
It's been a good week for Hull, who battered Cardiff, and it was particularly pleasing to see Aaron McLean used down the middle instead of out wide. Nick Barmby has seen in that game that he's not a wideman and his pace and power are better used down the middle. He played in his favourite position and that was a big win for Hull.
7. Cardiff (up one)
As I said last week, Cardiff need to regroup and refocus following their run to the Carling Cup final. Malky Mackay's side looked to have done just that with a win over Bristol City live on Sky Sports last Saturday, but a 3-0 home defeat to rampant Hull in midweek has damaged their hopes. They have home games against Burnley and Coventry this week and will be looking for a maximum points haul.
8. Birmingham (down two)
Chris Hughton's side were one of the biggest losers of the week. It was a case of Midlands misadventure for them in the 3-1 away defeat to Leicester and then they only managed a draw away to Coventry. They would have expected to take at least four points out of that, so just one point out of six has seen them spiral down the table.
9. Blackpool (down four)
When you play two games in quick proximity it's imperative to get points on the board because it's so easy to drop out. Blackpool suffered back-to-back defeats against Peterborough and Derby, which were two tough games. I was fearful for them against Peterborough because they're an expansive side who can hit you on the break - and that was the case. The 2-1 defeat to Derby then saw them tumble out of the play-off places.
10. Leeds (non mover)
I am drawing the line beneath Leeds and in my eyes they are the lowest-placed team who can get in the play-offs following their win over Middlesbrough. Leicester are in 11th and while I admire their attacking talents and their creativity in midfield, I think they've been poor defensively this year. Also they have been unable to put together a string of results on a consistent basis. I'm not convinced Leicester can launch an onslaught on the play-offs because the teams above them are more consistent.
Nott to be sniffed at
I'm sure lots of people thought the vidiprinter had broken when the half-time score came through from Charlton last Saturday. You'd never have thought Notts County would be 4-0 up away to the runaway League One leaders. That was a real freak scoreline and they managed to hang on for a 4-2 win. It shows that if you aren't fully focused then football can bite you on the backside, but I still can't see Charlton falling out of the automatic promotion spots. Then again, I wouldn't have predicted their last couple of results either!
Keith Curle deserves a mention for the magnificent job he is doing at Notts County.
It was a shock to see Martin Allen lose his job there in February, but Curle has made a huge difference. I'm sure he was given an insight into the club by his former boss Neil Warnock too, who enjoyed plenty of good times there. Curle has gone out as a manager on his own again and that shows his sense of ambition. The Charlton win was the fifth victory of his tenure so far and this has been a change for the better for the club because they've come from nowhere to find themselves in a play-off spot. What was looking like a season of mediocrity could turn into an exciting one for the fans.
Torquay have only recently come back into the league and were very disappointed to lose out to Stevenage in the League Two play-off final at Old Trafford last summer. They lost Paul Buckle to Bristol Rovers but despite the negativity at the start of the season they have shown plenty of strength and resolve to get into second place. They're sandwiched between Swindon and Shrewsbury, who have many more resources, but Torquay have a mixture of young and old players with a great attitude. If the season ended now they'd be absolutely delighted.
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John Carter (Birmingham City fan) says...
Reading and Soton for automatics, and although I'd love to see Birmingham get promoted, my money is on the team who just gets into the playoffs with a late surge - my money would be on Leeds.
Posted 11:32 19th March 2012
George Johnson (Southampton fan) says...
Southampton, reading & leeds to go up.. We have been there most of the season, cant really see adkins letting it slip. Leeds for the late push with warnock, they have a solid team..
Posted 09:49 19th March 2012
Ryan Mcginley (Birmingham City fan) says...
i like the way that birmingham are not really in the picture when they still have to play many of the teams around them at home, where they have only lost 1 all season. And everyone seems to forget the game in hand. Im also not quite sure how brighton can be considered as serious promotion candidates, they have a team of part time players, and would be relegated from the premier league straight away
Posted 19:29 18th March 2012
Chris Abbott (Southampton fan) says...
I may be a little bias but I think its a two horse race for the title, west ham are sliding and dropping points all over the place now! Reading are showing great form at the end of the season and are matching saints all the way but It could be decided when saints play reading mid April. Either way its going to be a tight run in but the true class of Southampton will surely shine through. I am amazed at people writing saints off, we have been top of the league for almost the entire season and that speaks volumes about the standard of football we play ! up the saints !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Posted 16:10 18th March 2012
Me Me (Southampton fan) says...
Saints and Reading to go up automatically and Brighton to go up through the play offs, sorry Hammers COYR!!!
Posted 23:20 17th March 2012
Al Henderson (Leeds United fan) says...
Loved the B-minnow line, but could you not have stretched it out to include Barnsley and Bradford?
Posted 20:35 17th March 2012
Luke Avery (Southampton fan) says...
Hahaha saints to win the championship reading in second. The reading game at st marys will allow us to pull clear. Another lambert hatrick. Good times. Ha ha
Posted 17:22 17th March 2012
Chris Smith (Southampton fan) says...
As a Saints fan, this season has been fantastic. Pre-season, a poll of the fans in the local paper had us finishing mid table, and Adkins himself targeted a top ten spot by January. So I guess you could say that we have over-achieved, by being top of the table for most of the season. Personally I have felt for a while that West Ham would drop out of the Automatic spots, and I thought that maybe Birmingham would grab an auto spot, along with the mighty Saints! However it looks like I was wrong, and a fantastic run by the Royals has placed them right up there. But why do I believe that Saints will go up? Saints have had one dodgy spell this year, and that coincided with a glut of injuries to key players, and few players left on the training field. These guys are all back now, and I can't see Saints loosing too many games. Away form this year has been relatively poor, but that recently has improved as well. We have also changed the way that we are playing, being more practical in our approach to the game rather than the free-flowing football that we played earlier in the season. The Saints squad was here last year, albeit in a lower league. The squad showed that they have what it takes to get promoted once, and that experience, and belief will, I believe, be enough to get them over the finish line in the top two. Will they win the league? Who knows; I just believe that it will take something special from two teams to keep the Saints from gaining promotion again.
Posted 12:15 17th March 2012
Press Box (Tottenham Hotspur fan) says...
West Ham & Reading will do the auto places.. Brighton v Southampton in the play off final. Brighton will win that 2-0. You heard it here first. I got it from mystic Meg !
Posted 00:08 17th March 2012
Ross Pizzey (Crystal Palace fan) says...
Although i think the estimation is right, dont rule out a late push from 12th place Crystal Palace.Super Zaha to the rescue!!!!
Posted 18:34 16th March 2012
Phil Hunter (Hull City fan) says...
I think there are some big twists and turns coming up in the Championship.... for me the 2 dark horses are Brighton and Hull. No one is talking about either of us.. We are both just quietly going along. The Tigers are unbeaten in 10. Despite thumping Cardiff 3-0 mant were talking about Reading "only" drawing with Donny on Tuesday night... Brighton are also doing the same... It is still far too early to call the places- Reading, Saints or West Ham may slump. Leicester may go on a run (they have a team that should be good enough to do it). All it takes is someone getting the right result (or the wrong one) and everything can change....
Posted 12:48 16th March 2012
David London (Reading fan) says...
Reading and West Ham to get automatic with birmingham or middlesbrough winning the playoffs!!! COYR
Posted 11:58 16th March 2012
Jordan Kinder (Peterborough United fan) says...
I think that the estimated promotion is probably about right, where do you think Peterborough United will finish this season after a good result against Blackpool?
Posted 20:02 15th March 2012
Josh Molloy (Blackpool fan) says...
Blackpool will get into play offs and once again go up to the premier league. Kevin Phillips to do it for the pool!!!!!!:)
Posted 18:23 15th March 2012
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