Who will win Championship promotion?

Who's in form? Who's got the toughest run-in? We analyse the Sky Bet Championship promotion race and get the expert view of Ian Holloway.

The race for promotion to the Premier League is shaping up to be a cracker. After Hull's draw with Brighton in midweek, just nine points separate the top six with 15 games (16 for Middlesbrough) of the season to play. But which team will put their foot on the gas and who will flounder under the pressure?

Hull City's Abel Hernandez attempts an overhead kick
Image: Hull City's Abel Hernandez has scored 17 goals this season

Championship table

Team Points Goal difference
Hull 60 28
Middlesbrough 58 23
Brighton 57 10
Burnley 56 22
Sheff Wed 53 16
Derby 51 13
Birmingham 48 8
Ipswich 48 1
Cardiff 46 5

We examine the key factors that could determine who makes it to the promised land of the Premier League...

Toughest run-ins?

Burnley are the only team in the top six that have to play just two of their top-six rivals in the run-in (away at Brighton and home to Middlesbrough) while the rest have to face each other at least three times.

Sean Dyche
Image: Sean Dyche's Burnley have fewer of their top-six rivals left to play

Top six remaining fixtures

Hull Middlesbrough Burnley Brighton Sheff Wed Derby
Ipswich (a) Cardiff (h) Rotherham (h) Cardiff (a) Preston (a) Brentford (a)
Sheff Wed (h) Fulham (a) Nottingham F (h) Bristol City (a) QPR (h) Blackburn (h)
Birmingham (a) Blackburn (a) Bolton (a) Leeds (h) Hull (a) Wolves (a)
Brentford (h) Wolves (h) Blackburn (h) Preston (a) Rotherham (h) Huddersfield (h)
MK Dons (h) Rotherham (a) Fulham (a) Sheff Wed (h) Brighton (a) QPR (a)
Nottingham F (h) Charlton (a) Huddersfield (a) Reading (h) Nottingham F (a) Rotherham (a)
Middlesbrough (a) Hull (h) Wolves (h) MK Dons (a) Charlton (h) Nottingham F (h)
Bristol City (h) QPR (a) Brighton (a) Burnley (h) Huddersfield (a) Cardiff (a)
Derby (a) Huddersfield (h) Cardiff (h) Birmingham (a) Blackburn (h) Hull (h)
Huddersfield (a) Preston (h) Leeds (h) Nottingham F (a) Bristol City (a) Bolton (h)
Wolves (h) Bolton (a) Birmingham (a) Fulham (h) Ipswich (h) Charlton (a)
Reading (a) Burnley (a) Middlesbrough (h) QPR (h) MK Dons (h) Bristol City (a)
Leeds (h) Ipswich (h) Preston (a) Charlton (a) Derby (a) Sheff Wed (h)
Bolton (a) Birmingham (a) QPR (h) Derby (h) Cardiff (h) Brighton (a)
Rotherham (h) Brighton (h) Charlton (a) Middlesbrough (a) Wolves (a) Ipswich (h)
Reading (a) TBA

Although Hull have tricky trips to Middlesbrough and Derby, the Tigers must be looking at their final two fixtures with great optimism as they face Bolton (a) and Rotherham (h), who are currently in the relegation places.

Sticking with the final-day theme, one fixture to put in the diary is Brighton against Middlesbrough - that one could be massive.

Also See:

Average position of remaining opponents

Hull Middlesbrough Burnley Brighton Sheff Wed Derby
13.2 12.4 13.8 12.0 13.1 13.4

Burnley also hold a statistical advantage in terms of the average league position of their remaining opponents. Sean Dyche's men face teams with an average of 13.8 while Brighton, statistically, have the toughest run-in, taking on teams in an average position of 12.0. 

Form guide

It's not been a good start to 2016 for Middlesbrough or Derby. On January 2 they were first and second in the Championship, separated by just a point. But, between them they have picked up just six points from the last 36 on offer as Boro have missed out on the chance to open up a lead at the top and Derby almost slipped out of the top six altogether after sacking manager Paul Clement.

Manager Paul Clement of Derby County communicates to his players
Image: Derby have slipped down the table and sacked manager Paul Clement

While Boro and Derby have laboured, their rivals have taken advantage. Hull have won four of their last six to move top of the table, Brighton recovered from a losing streak around Christmas with four wins in a row, Burnley are unbeaten since Boxing Day and Sheffield Wednesday have climbed into the play-off places after taking 14 points from a possible 18 in their last six matches.

Promotion experience

Of the top six, it's Burnley and Hull who have the most recent experience of being promoted to the top-flight. The Clarets finished second in 2013/14 behind runaway winners Leicester while Hull were runners-up in 2012/13 behind Cardiff.

By contrast, both Middlesbrough and Derby have tasted play-off disappointment at Wembley in the last two seasons - Boro losing 2-0 to Norwich last year and Derby edged out by Bobby Zamora's late goal for QPR in 2014.

Middlesbrough's English midfielder Lee Tomlin (2R) reacts at the final whistle of the Championship play off final between Middlesbrough and Norwich City
Image: Aitor Karanka's Middlesbrough suffered play-off heartbreak at Wembley last year

Brighton have never been in the Premier League but their manager, Chris Hughton, won the Championship with Newcastle in 2009/10 and the Seagulls made the play-offs in 2013 and 2014.

Sheffield Wednesday had a spell in the top-flight between 1992/93 and 1999/00 but have no recent experience of competing near the top of the Championship, finishing 13th, 16th and 18th in their last three seasons.

Gary Hooper of Sheffield Wednesday is tackled by Samir Carruthers of Milton Keynes Dons during the Sky Bet Champions
Image: Gary Hooper's goals have fired Sheffield Wednesday into contention

"The teams with the advantage are the ones who have done it before," says former QPR and Blackpool manager Ian Holloway. "Brighton have a manager who has won the league, Ipswich's Mick McCarthy has won it twice while Burnley and Hull have done it recently.

"It really does help when you know what it takes in these last few months, where you need consistency and team spirit more than anything. You need to pull it out of the fire, when you are losing you have to get out of it together."

Impact of January signings

None of the top six have rested on their laurels in the last month as they have all dipped into the transfer market in a bid to strengthen their squads.

Middlesbrough added to their striking options with the capture of Jordan Rhodes from Blackburn while Sheffield Wednesday signed Aiden McGeady on loan from Everton and turned Gary Hooper's loan from Norwich into a permanent deal.

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Jordan Rhodes' first goal for Middlesbrough was a late equaliser at MK Dons

Derby brought in Nick Blackman, Abdoul Camara and Marcus Olsson, Hull added Nick Powell on loan from Manchester United, Steve Sidwell joined Brighton and Burnley signed James Tarkowski and Lloyd Dyer.

"Dyer is a fantastic signing, it might even guarantee them promotion," says Holloway, who took the 33-year-old on loan during his time with QPR.

"He is so enthusiastic. He is so quick and works so hard. He's a typical Burnley player who will work his socks off, do what the team needs and never give up."

Ollie's prediction

"It's all very interesting and there are some great battles to be had at the top.

I think Hull will get in the top two and Burnley could easily do it.
Ian Holloway

"I am confident putting Hull, Burnley, Brighton, Sheffield Wednesday and Middlesbrough in the top five. I think Hull will get in the top two, Burnley could easily do it, Boro can't score at the moment but they will be one of the top six.

"Sheffield Wednesday and Brighton will be in there and won't blow up, then you are talking Derby, Birmingham, Ipswich or Cardiff in a scrap for the last place.

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Hull were held to a 0-0 draw by Brighton on Tuesday

"For Derby it's about stopping the rot. I think the worst thing that happened to them was the chairman going into the dressing room and telling them how bad a draw with Reading was. It undermines the manager and now he's gone and they have given the job to an academy director. You have to be worried if you are a Derby fan because you have teams coming up behind you and the competition is so strong.

"Somebody needs the consistency to get the last spot but I think it's a case of 'watch this space'."

Betting 

Middlesbrough remain Sky Bet's even-money favourites to win the Sky Bet Championship after Hull (7/4) missed the chance to pull four points clear, with Aitor Karanka's men having a game in hand on their rivals.

Both sides are odds-on for promotion with the Football League sponsor, while Burnley are considered the main contenders from the chasing back at 11/10, with Derby (6/4), Brighton (9/4) and Sheffield Wednesday (100/30) following in the betting.

Ipswich are rated the most likely side to gate-crash the current top six's promotion battle at 12/1 to go up, with the Tractor Boys 9/4 to secure a play-off spot

Who are you tipping for promotion from the Championship? Leave a comment below or tweet us @SkyFootball.

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