The Championship season has entered its second half, and the four teams at the top have now created a small gap from the chasing pack. They are battling it out to secure an automatic promotion place and avoid the competitive play-offs in the Championship. The promised land of the Premier League is nearing ever closer for at least two of these teams; which of Fulham, Bournemouth, Blackburn Rovers and QPR will reach their Garden of Eden through the automatic promotion spots?
The club are currently on track to achieve their pre-season goal of winning the league and being promoted automatically. Following their relegation last year, the investment in their squad during the summer and with the appointment of Marco Silva, many had Fulham as favourites to get promoted, and the team have shown many were right to back them. Fulham have bought into Silva’s attacking approach, scoring 70 goals in 26 games (27 goals more than the next most potent attack) in the league, while also boasting an impressive defensive record. The experience of players such as Aleksandar Mitrovic, Tom Cairney and Tim Ream in achieving promotion twice already with Fulham will fill the squad with confidence that promotion is very achievable.
The team will also look to the hunger and desire of Harry Wilson and Ivan Cavaleiro to push the club to the title on top of a promotion. The fans will look at the results and performances this season and be incredibly confident about their chances of promotion back to the Premier League; they will hope to build on their two relegated seasons from the top division in the last three seasons.
Similar to Fulham, Bournemouth were among the favourites to achieve promotion at the start of the season and are living up to those expectations. The club would have been disappointed with their sixth-place finish in the Championship and failure to get promotion last season. To rectify that poor campaign, the club built upon its young dynamic squad with the signing of experienced hands in Gary Cahill, Ryan Christie and Robbie Brady, but more importantly, they poached Scott Parker as their manager from their promotion rivals Fulham. Parker has delivered what was expected of him following his appointment; as a promotion winner with Fulham, he has brought about better performances and results so far this season for the Cherries.
The team will look to Dominic Solanke to provide the goals in their promotion push, having scored 19 goals so far this season and hoping Mark Travers can continue to keep the ball out of the net, building on his nine clean sheets so far. Bournemouth’s fans would have been incredibly encouraged by their early form in the season, however, their recent form of two wins in their last eight games leaves a lot to be desired. The club needs to improve on this current form to achieve automatic promotion from the Championship or they will soon be competing for promotion through the play-offs.
The Premier League champions of 1994/95 will look to return to the top division for the first time in 10 years following their relegation in 2012. The club have struggled in the years following their relegation, even dropping to League One. However, there is a sense of optimism around the club due to their performance this season. Blackburn were not expected to be fighting for promotion at the start of the campaign, with many touting the club to finish comfortably in the lower half of the table come May. Given the sale of their talisman, Adam Armstrong, and the limited investment in the squad during the summer many fans could not have envisaged the impressive results they’ve seen this season.
However, with a clinical striker in Ben Brereton-Diaz, an inspired leader in Darragh Lenihan and future talents in Lewis Travis and Tyrhys Dolan, the club are currently on the hunt for an automatic promotion finish. Their current form since their embarrassing 7-0 defeat to Fulham in November has been magnificent; going 10 games unbeaten (winning eight of them) until their defeat during the week to Hull, which they will hope is a blip. The club are the underdogs in the fight for automatic promotion due to their dependence on Brereton-Diaz’s goals, with many believing their battle would be over if he was sold in the transfer window. Blackburn will give it their all to achieve promotion in the Championship this season as they have not been this close under Tony Mowbray, and with many key players out of contract in the summer, they might not be this close again anytime soon.
Queens Park Rangers
QPR are currently four points from third in the Championship, and with their game in hand, they are outside contenders for the automatic promotion places. Similar to Blackburn, not many had them down as contenders for a high finish, with many believing that QPR would finish mid-table and possibly gain a surprise play-off place. The club recruited many players for the season but spent just under £2 million in the summer on experienced Championship players such as Charlie Austin, Andre Gray and Stefan Johansen; along with determined youths in the likes of Conor Masterson and Andre Dozzell.
Under the stewardship of the experienced Mark Warburton, the squad has gained results due to their ability to come back from losing positions and their strong goalscoring ability, being the fourth most potent attack in the league thanks to their wealth of options in this department (three players currently on six goals). Warburton likes to dictate possession and break teams down with short passing while utilising the flanks in their attack.
The team are currently on a three-match winning run, and if this persists, they are well within the running for automatic promotion. Their fans will look to taste Premier League football again after their last appearance in 2013, with many wanting to correct the terrible experience of their previous campaigns in this division. This season could be a great chance for them to reach the top flight again, and they will look to seize the opportunity.
Promotion to the Premier League is the dream for most clubs in the football pyramid and these four sides are incredibly close to achieving that dream. By the 7th of May 2022, we should know who will grace the division through the automatic positions. The favourites for the promotion places will be Fulham and Bournemouth, however, you can never rule out any side in the Championship, just look at Derby as they fight to survive despite their setbacks.
The current form would encourage Blackburn fans dreaming of an automatic promotion and worry those that support Bournemouth, and if such form continues, we could well see the blue and white of Blackburn back in the Premier League next season. QPR will know they have an outside chance, however, under the management of Warburton only a fool would rule them out entirely. Warburton would not be shocked if he witnessed Blackburn finishing second in the season with Fulham winning the league and Bournemouth achieving promotion through the playoffs, however, he will try to make sure that does not happen at all costs.
Written by Brendan McGilligan
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