The Championship: Eight into three just won't go in the race for promotion to the top-flight

The battle for Premier League riches is tighter than ever with so many clubs in the hunt going into the double-fixture Easter weekend. James Mariner runs the rule over the contenders

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The Independent Online

Bournemouth

Form guide

The Cherries’ season has a fairy-tale feel, after they almost dropped out of the Football League six seasons ago. Unbeaten in six and strong at home, where they have lost just once since September.

How have the squad coped?

Have led league for long spells and overcome blips in form and the losses of Elliot Ward and Dan Gosling. Top scorers while sharing goals around, with four players in double figures, led by Callum Wilson. They play an attractive, high-tempo passing game.

Remaining games

Things look very promising. T0day’s trip to Ipswich is their hardest game, with their final six against teams with nothing to play for. Will benefit from loan signing Kenwyne Jones.

Are they ready to go up?

The small ground, rapid rise and lack of star names suggest not but Eddie Howe’s side have revelled in proving expectations wrong.

Watford

Form guide

After a chaotic start, when a new manager appeared almost every week, they settled down as Slavisa Jokanovic steadied the ship. Only three defeats since mid-January, though all against promotion rivals.

How have the squad coped?

Benefited from loan signings again with Matej Vydra – they may have the best forward line in Vydra, Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo. Heurelho Gomes has impressed in goal after moving from Spurs.

Remaining games

Tend to come unstuck against promotion rivals and that does not bode well over a crucial Easter when they visit Derby on Friday night and host Middlesbrough on Monday. Final five games are encouraging.

Are they ready to go up?

With volatile owners and a tendency not to follow one good campaign with another, they could do with stability if they gain promotion. Keeping hold of Deeney and tying Vydra down would be key.

Middlesbrough

Form guide

Momentum generated by five straight wins in the new year has dissipated. Disappointed at Bournemouth and Daniel Ayala’s injury is another negative. Wins over Ipswich and Derby provide hope.

How have the squad coped?

Rock-solid defence that has ceded less than a goal a game. Chelsea loanee Patrick Bamford has led the way up front with 14 goals; Grant Leadbitter has excelled in midfield.

Remaining games

Trips to Watford and Norwich in next fortnight are vital after they lost three in four away. Wolves’ visit stands out.

Are they ready to go up?

Like Derby they have a top-flight stadium and players with Premier League experience, but losing Bamford may prove too much to overcome.

Norwich City

Form guide

Fell away after a strong start before a remarkable transformation under Alex Neil with six straight wins.

How have the squad coped?

Cameron Jerome has fired up front with 18 goals, assisted by Bradley Johnson and Wes Hoolahan. They miss Lewis Grabban after ankle surgery.

Remaining games

Visit of Middlesbrough is tough but Neil will look to beat Brighton, Sheffield Wednesday and Bolton before then.

Are they ready to go up?

Managed to keep the majority of the side that just failed to stay up last spring. Jerome, Johnson and John Ruddy have top-flight experience.

Derby County

Form guide

Came so close to promotion last May and for long spells this season they swept all before them. Two wins in two months has let others catch up.

How have the squad coped?

Suffered badly with the losses of George Thorne, John Eustace and latterly Chris Martin. Loan arrivals of Jordan Ibe, Tom Ince and Darren Bent perked the squad up briefly.

Remaining games

Reasonable run-in apart from visits from Watford and Brentford. A winnable last four may avert more play-off misery.

Are they ready to go up?

Last season’s near miss became a source of inspiration and manager Steve McClaren continues to impress. But dependence on loan stars is a concern.

Ipswich Town

Form guide

Veteran Mick McCarthy has moulded the Tractor Boys into an industrious, gritty outfit. One defeat in four months could not be sustained but successive wins before the break kept them in the mix.

How have the squad coped?

Cheaply assembled but injuries to David McGoldrick and Noel Hunt have cost momentum for a side that likes to go on runs. The division’s leading scorer, Daryl Murphy, has been struggling with two goals in his last eight games.

Remaining games

They welcome the leaders today with Bournemouth taking only two away wins in six. A trip to Wolves on 18 April a potential play-off decider.

Are they ready to go up?

McCarthy has twice taken teams up into the Premier League and knows what is required to last the distance.

Brentford

Form guide

Surprise package after coming up from League One. Bemusing decision to part company with Mark Warburton this summer has yet to derail the campaign. Questions remain about the back line with two clean sheets in 13 games.

How have the squad coped?

Spurs loanee Alex Pritchard and Spaniard Jota have shone in a goal-laden midfield. Andre Gray is the main provider up front, with Scott Hogan having suffered an ACL injury.

Remaining games

A trip to Fulham may present problems and Derby must also be visited. Sheffield Wednesday, Bolton, Reading and Wigan offer encouragement.

Are they ready to go up?

Pure speculation, given the departures of Warburton and loan players. The Bees could be better served by consolidating. Awful play-off record.

Wolves

Form guide

Also chasing back-to-back promotions. They recovered from a dire pre-Christmas run and have scored 15 goals in the last five at home.

How have the squad coped?

Bakary Sako and Nouha Dicko are a powerful combination up front. Signing Arsenal’s Benik Afobe was a masterstroke.

Remaining games

Tricky weekend away at in-form Nottingham Forest and then at a Leeds side with three defeats this year. A trip to Middlesbrough looms as well.

Are they ready to go up?

As with Brentford, probably too soon to go up again. They have stabilised well since successive relegations and, with a refurbished Molineux, would be fancied next season.

Leading championship standings and Easter weekend fixtures

P/W/D/L/F/A/Pts

B’mouth 39/21/10/8/82/40/73

Watford 39/22/6/11/78/46/72

M’brough 39/21/9/9/59/30/72

Norwich 39/20/10/9/76/43/70

Derby 39/19/10/10/69/43/67

Ipswich 39/19/10/10/59/43/67

Brentford 39/20/6/13/64/52/66

Wolves 39/18/11/10/56/45/65

Fixtures (3pm unless stated)

Today Brighton v Norwich, Derby v Watford (7.45), Fulham v Brentford, Ipswich v Bournemouth (5.15), Middlesbrough v Wigan, Nottingham Forest v Wolves

Monday Bournemouth v Birmingham, Brentford v Nott’m Forest, Huddersfield v Ipswich, Norwich v Sheffield Weds, Watford v Middlesbro’ (12.30), Wigan v Derby, Wolves v Leeds (5.15)

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