Rating the 2021 Championship play-offs hopefuls
Unusually for the Championship, typically one of the most dramatic leagues in the world, the promotion picture is clear with two rounds of games still to go. Last year, Nottingham Forest lost their place in the top six amid scarcely believable scenes as Swansea City snatched it away from them in the dying seconds of the campaign. This time, automatic promotion back to the Championship has already been sealed by league leaders Norwich City and second-placed Watford with a couple of fixtures remainin The identity of the quartet of teams that will compete in the Championship play-offs in 2021 has also been set, though there will be some jostling for position and home advantage in second legs to come. So how are their chances?
Championship play-offs 2021 contenders
It was play-off heartbreak for Brentford against Fulham at Wembley last season and, once again, they have failed to capitalise on a strong position by losing form at the wrong time.
The Bees were sitting pretty at the top of the table in the middle of February but they then lost their next three games in a row to hand the advantage over to their rivals.
While Thomas Frank’s side are now on a nine-game unbeaten run, just three of those matches have been won. Goals have dried up – aside from a recent 5-0 win away to Preston North End – with Brentford scoring more than one goal only twice in their last 10 Championship fixtures.
The league’s top scorer, Ivan Toney, has netted 29 times for the Bees but just one goal in his last six games means his form has dipped at an inopportune moment. Are nerves striking again or can they finally secure promotion via the 2021 Championship play-offs?
Bidding to join Norwich and Watford in returning straight back to the top-flight are Bournemouth, who had to cope with the loss of Eddie Howe after the long-serving manager’s departure.
If the Cherries are able to complete the set by triumphing in the 2021 Championship play-offs, it will make history as the first time that each of the relegated trio have then earned promotion in the following season.
Bournemouth initially put Howe’s assistent Jason Tindall in charge but he was replaced by Jonathan Woodgate in February as their promotion charge began to stutter.
A recent run of seven straight wins built up momentum at Dean Court but defensive issues remain for Bournemouth, who have only kept two clean sheets in the past two months.
The Swans sneaked into the play-offs last season only to miss out to Brentford in the semis. Steve Cooper’s men saw their top-two hopes fade in March when they embarked on a terrible run of four successive losses – with no goals scored in any of them – but they are recovering.
A lack of firepower is likely to be the primary concern for the Welsh side. They are the lowest-scoring side in the top six after 44 games have been played.
With Swansea coming towards the end of their third season since being relegated from the Premier League, their parachute payments will dry up if they miss out on promotion again. Former England Under-17 coach Cooper – who won the World Cup with the Young Lions – is sure to be in demand regardless of how the season ends for Swansea.
Barnsley needed a miracle just to survive last season – a last-minute winner against the promotion-chasing Bees on the final day securing their second-tier status – but now, just a few months on, they are three games away from earning promotion to the Premier League.
The Tykes have not experienced life in the elite since 1997-98 and they are likely to be the neutrals’ favourite in the 2021 Championship play-offs due to their comparatively tiny budget and underdog status.
Barnsley have taken a ‘Moneyball’ approach in recent years and their embrace of data and analytics is paying off spectacularly. Few expected them to be in the mix for promotion when boss Gerhard Struber left to join MLS side New York Red Bulls last October.
Valerien Ismael was brought in as the head coach after Struber’s surprise departure and the hard-pressing tactics the Frenchman has continued have taken the Championship by storm.
The January capture of American forward Daryl Dike has been key to Barnsley’s success, with the 20-year-old having hit nine goals in his 17 appearances since making the move to Yorkshire. If Dike can fire Barnsley to promotion, it will undoubtedly be one of the stories of the season.
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