Promotions, relegations in the EFL: The current state of play
By Dan Long
Last Updated: 12/03/19 6:22am
Who will get promoted? Who will be relegated? With less than two months of the season to go, we take a look at the state of play in the EFL...
As mesmerising as it was to watch Wolves blitz the second-tier last term, it's been a breath of fresh air to have a genuine title race unfold this time around and with the majority of sides still having 10 games to play, as cliched as it sounds, there is still everything to play for. Realistically, there are three contenders for the title: current leaders Norwich, Leeds and Sheffield United. It took two months of the season for the Canaries to move up the gears and establish themselves as promotion candidates, but they are cruising under Daniel Farke at present, having won four games on the spin to sit two points clear of previous champions-elect Leeds, who have stuttered since the turn of the year, having lost four of their 11 league fixtures.
It's Chris Wilder's Blades who are the dark horses, though. In just their second season back in the division after six League One campaigns, they have been a mainstay of the top six since September and have recorded a remarkable five clean sheets in their last five games. This Saturday lunchtime sees Leeds host Sheffield United at Elland Road in a game live on Sky Sports. It's the final time this season that any of the top three will pit their wits against one another, with a victory for either side potentially pivotal heading into in the final stretch of the title race.
Equally as interesting is the battle for a berth in the end of season lottery that is the play-offs. At the time of writing, just 18 points separate managerless West Brom in fourth from 18th-placed QPR, meaning, mathematically, there are still 14 clubs in with a shout of the final three spots. Arguably, Preston's form warrants one of those. Back in October, they were bottom of the division, yet their current run of form - in which they have lost just once in 12 - has seen them creep to 10th, four points behind sixth-placed Derby.
Championship top seven (as of March 11, 2019)
In terms of relegation, any three of the bottom six sides face the daunting prospect of the drop and, despite their spirited 1-1 draw with West Brom at the weekend, Ipswich appear doomed, with Paul Lambert's side being 12 points adrift of safety. Aside from that, the remaining five of the bottom six are separated by seven points, with Bolton seemingly keen to put aside their off-field problems to escape relegation by the skin of their teeth for the second season running.
While Nathan Jones has suffered a tough start to life as Stoke manager, his former employers Luton have continued to flourish since his departure in January. In fact, they have enjoyed a seamless transition since former manager and chief recruitment officer Mick Harford replaced him on a caretaker basis; the Hatters have not lost a single league game since October and they have topped the division since the end of January. Hot on their heels are high-flying Barnsley, who sit three points behind with a tally of 73 points, while Sunderland sit third, having drawn a league-high 15 games during a season in which stability is the order of the day.
For so many months, however, it looked as though Portsmouth would lead the charge for a return to the Championship, having occupied top spot from late September through to mid-January. Kenny Jackett's men started 2019 with a 2-1 win over struggling AFC Wimbledon, yet followed that up with three successive defeats and five successive draws. Their fading automatic promotion hopes suffered a further blow on Saturday evening, too, as Charlton moved eight points clear of sixth-placed Doncaster with a 2-1 win over Pompey at The Valley.
But if you thought the Championship drop zone was a little crowded, the relegation picture in the third tier is still less than clear cut. Former Brentford boss Wally Downes has given AFC Wimbledon a fighting chance at survival, having overseen three wins in the last six, though the Dons remain rooted to the bottom, seven points from safety. Additionally, few can currently count themselves safe, with just five points between 12th-placed Wycombe and Oxford, who sit fourth bottom, though that could become clearer with two matchdays in five days this week.
League One top seven (as of March 11, 2019)
Already eight points above the threshold that guarantees automatic promotion at the conclusion of the League Two season, it's surely only a matter of time before Danny Cowley's Lincoln add a first Football League division win to their trophy cabinet, having won Division Three in 1975/76. Second-placed Bury may have something to say about that, though Mansfield and MK Dons remain locked in a battle for the third and final automatic promotion spot.
The play-off race makes for interesting reading, with Tranmere, Colchester, Carlisle, Exeter and Forest Green all in with an equal chance. Tranmere have flitted in and out of the top seven throughout the season, but prolific striker James Norwood - who has already scored 24 league goals, matching last season's tally of 23 - has five goals in his last six games, with Micky Mellon's side on a run of four straight victories.
At the foot of the table, the future appears bleak for two giants of the game. Sol Campbell knew he was taking on a difficult task when he was appointed Macclesfield manager in late November, yet though he's been in charge for five of their seven league wins, the early season struggles mean, unless the Silkmen reduce the six-point gap that separates them from safety, they will be a non-league team come the summer. A point behind them are Notts County, the oldest professional club in the world, facing the very real threat of relegation from the EFL for the first time in their entire history.
League Two top eight (as of March 11, 2019)