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Our look at the battle for the play-offs in the Sky Bet Championship
Our look at the battle for the play-offs in the Sky Bet Championship

The battle for the play-offs in the Sky Bet Championship is wide open with nine teams realistically in the running for the three spots remaining.

We'd expect to see Leeds or Sheffield United finish in third this season after narrowly missing out on automatic promotion. In our look at the title race, Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds would be the ones having to settle for the play-offs.

West Brom are incredibly likely to join them given their current ten-point gap, it would take a huge collapse for the Baggies to miss out on the top-six altogether.

Below them, just five points separates six teams, with Nottingham Forest and Hull both remaining within a couple of victories of jumping into the promotion places.

As stated (as a bit of a disclaimer) in the previous pieces, this is a prediction based on what we know with eight games remaining. A lot changes between now and May and teams can hit form, while also finding results hard to come-by despite looking strong at the moment.

There's also the fact that football is sometimes, in the nicest possible way, odd. A team who have struggled for 40 games can suddenly grab victories in their last six as they look to battle the drop - while teams at the top can feel the pressure with the intensity of the chasing pack.

Therefore, the situation could be drastically difference when it comes to opposition as the games tick away. Despite that, based on what we've witnessed in the 38 games so far, we can try and create a judgement on what results we could see.

Here, our Sky Bet EFL man Tom Carnduff gives us his predictions.

Aston Villa boss Dean Smith
Aston Villa boss Dean Smith

Before we kick things off, a look at how the table currently stands so we have a clear picture of the relegation battle...

Current table

4. West Brom - 67pts

5. Middlesbrough - 58pts

6. Aston Villa - 57pts (+14)

-----------------------------

7. Preston - 57pts (+8)

8. Derby - 56pts

9. Bristol City - 55pts (+7)

10. Sheffield Wednesday - 55pts (-3)

11. Nottingham Forest - 54pts

12. Hull - 51pts

Matt Phillips celebrates after equalising for West Brom at Birmingham
Matt Phillips celebrates after equalising for West Brom at Birmingham

Eight games remaining

  • West Brom - Birmingham (H)
  • Middlesbrough - Norwich (H)
  • Middlesbrough - Bristol City (H) - GAME IN HAND
  • Aston Villa - Blackburn (H)
  • Preston - Reading (A)
  • Derby - Rotherham (H)
  • Bristol City - Sheffield United (A)
  • Bristol City - Middlesbrough (A) - GAME IN HAND
  • Sheffield Wednesday - Stoke (A)
  • Nottingham Forest - Swansea (H)
  • Hull - Ipswich (A)

A potential for Middlesbrough to move ahead in the race for the top-six with their game in hand being played here. They can grab a point against high-flying Norwich while home advantage should give them the edge against an out-of-form Bristol City side. Aston Villa, West Brom and Derby should all secure three points with home games against teams in the bottom-half of the division. Stoke have done little to inspire which will play into Sheffield Wednesday's hands, while Forest will capitalise against a Swansea side who are hit-and-miss. Ipswich may be bottom, but Hull's away form could mean they suffer another defeat here. Preston should get past a relegation candidate in Reading given the form they find themselves in.

Table

4. West Brom - 70pts

5. Middlesbrough - 62pts

6. Aston Villa - 60pts (superior goal difference)

-----------------------------

7. Preston - 60pts

8. Derby - 59pts

9. Sheffield Wednesday - 58pts

10. Nottingham Forest - 57pts

11. Bristol City - 55pts

12. Hull - 51pts

Steve Bruce won his first game in charge of Sheffield Wednesday
Former Villa manager Steve Bruce is now in charge of Sheffield Wednesday

Seven games remaining

  • West Brom - Millwall (A)
  • Middlesbrough - Swansea (A)
  • Aston Villa - Sheffield Wednesday (A)
  • Preston - Sheffield United (H)
  • Derby - Brentford (A)
  • Bristol City - Wigan (H)
  • Sheffield Wednesday - Aston Villa (H)
  • Nottingham Forest - Rotherham (A)
  • Hull - Reading (H)

A tricky away tie for West Brom as they go to Millwall, although they will emerge with a narrow victory. Middlesbrough could drop points away at Swansea while Aston Villa's trip to Sheffield Wednesday has all the potential for a draw. For Preston, title-chasing Sheffield United are the visitors but Deepdale will be where they'll gain the majority of their points - and they should grab one here. Brentford are capable of beating Derby at Griffin Park as Bristol City bounce back from a disappointing seven days with a win over Wigan. Nottingham Forest drop points at Rotherham while Hull return to winning ways with a home game against Reading.

Table

4. West Brom - 73pts

5. Middlesbrough - 62pts

6. Aston Villa - 61pts (superior goal difference)

-----------------------------

7. Preston - 61pts

8. Derby - 59pts (superior goal difference)

9. Sheffield Wednesday - 59pts

10. Nottingham Forest - 58pts (superior goal difference)

11. Bristol City - 58pts

12. Hull - 54pts

Preston come up against Leeds
Preston come up against Leeds

Six games remaining

  • West Brom - Bristol City (A)
  • Middlesbrough - Bolton (A)
  • Aston Villa - Rotherham (A)
  • Preston - Leeds (H)
  • Derby - Blackburn (A)
  • Bristol City - West Brom (H)
  • Sheffield Wednesday - Nottingham Forest (H)
  • Nottingham Forest - Sheffield Wednesday (A)
  • Hull - Wigan (H)

West Brom face another tricky away tie, but one where they could leave empty-handed as Bristol City aim to stay within touching distance of the top-six. Middlesbrough will have little issue at Bolton while Aston Villa could fall victim of Rotherham's efforts at the New York Stadium. Leeds may well snatch a point at Preston and Derby should beat a Blackburn side who have fallen out of the promotion picture, despite being close to the play-offs in January and February. Sheffield Wednesday see victory over Nottingham Forest and Hull can grab another home victory against Wigan, who have a poor away record this season.

Table

4. West Brom - 73pts

5. Middlesbrough - 65pts

6. Aston Villa - 62pts (superior goal difference)

-----------------------------

7. Preston - 62pts

8. Derby - 62pts (superior goal difference v Sheffield Wednesday)

9. Sheffield Wednesday - 62pts

10. Bristol City - 61pts

11. Nottingham Forest - 58pts

12. Hull - 57pts

Adam Reach celebrates after scoring against Leeds
Adam Reach celebrates after scoring against Leeds

Five games remaining

  • West Brom - Preston (H)
  • Middlesbrough - Hull (H)
  • Aston Villa - Bristol City (H)
  • Preston - West Brom (A)
  • Derby - Bolton (H)
  • Bristol City - Aston Villa (A)
  • Sheffield Wednesday - Leeds (A)
  • Nottingham Forest - Blackburn (H)
  • Hull - Middlesbrough (A)

Hull's winning run comes to an end away at Middlesbrough, while Preston also see their good form halted away to West Brom. Aston Villa can get the better of Bristol City while Derby will have little issue at Bolton. Sheffield Wednesday are capable of stealing a point at Leeds if they are still in the running for the play-offs while Forest return to winning ways with a game at home against a mid-table Blackburn side.

Table

4. West Brom - 76pts

5. Middlesbrough - 68pts

6. Aston Villa - 65pts (superior goal difference)

-----------------------------

7. Derby - 65pts

8. Sheffield Wednesday - 63pts

9. Preston - 62pts

10. Bristol City - 61pts

11. Nottingham Forest - 58pts

12. Hull - 57pts

Nottingham Forest beat Sheffield United in November
Nottingham Forest beat Sheffield United in November

Four games remaining

  • West Brom - Hull (H)
  • Middlesbrough - Stoke (H)
  • Aston Villa - Bolton (A)
  • Preston - Ipswich (H)
  • Derby - Birmingham (A)
  • Bristol City - Reading (H)
  • Sheffield Wednesday - Norwich (A)
  • Nottingham Forest - Sheffield United (A)
  • Hull - West Brom (A)

Victories for West Brom and Middlesbrough here with home advantage against two sides who don't travel well. Aston Villa will become the latest promotion hopeful to pile the misery on Bolton, while Preston will have little problems as Ipswich visit Deepdale. A potential banana skin fixture for Derby away at Birmingham, although Bristol City will beat Reading at Ashton Gate. Sheffield Wednesday have the potential to grab a point from title-chasing Norwich, although Nottingham Forest will likely suffer defeat at Bramall Lane

Table

4. West Brom - 79pts

5. Middlesbrough - 71pts

6. Aston Villa - 68pts

-----------------------------

7. Preston - 65pts (superior goal difference)

8. Derby - 65pts

9. Sheffield Wednesday - 64pts

10. Bristol City - 64pts

11. Nottingham Forest - 58pts

12. Hull - 57pts

Celebrations for Frank Lampard after Derby's win at Wigan
Celebrations for Frank Lampard

Three games remaining

  • West Brom - Reading (A)
  • Middlesbrough - Nottingham Forest (A)
  • Aston Villa - Millwall (H)
  • Preston - Wigan (A)
  • Derby - QPR (H)
  • Bristol City - Sheffield Wednesday (A)
  • Sheffield Wednesday - Bristol City (H)
  • Nottingham Forest - Middlesbrough (H)
  • Hull - Sheffield United (H)

Another victory for West Brom which would secure their spot in fourth after they go to Reading. Forest could get the better of Middlesbrough with the game being played at the City Ground while Aston Villa beat Millwall with little issue at Villa Park. Another point for Preston away at Wigan, while Derby beat QPR who will be long safe from relegation by this point. Sheffield Wednesday can beat Bristol City, while Hull manage to secure a point against Sheffield United due to that strong home record.

Table

4. West Brom - 82pts

5. Aston Villa - 71pts (superior goal difference)

6. Middlesbrough - 71pts

-----------------------------

7. Derby - 68pts

8. Sheffield Wednesday - 67pts

9. Preston - 66pts

10. Bristol City - 64pts

11. Nottingham Forest - 61pts

12. Hull - 58pts

Nigel Adkins: Recognition for the 53-year-old after an impressive month with Hull
Hull boss Nigel Adkins

Two games remaining

  • West Brom - Rotherham (H)
  • Middlesbrough - Reading (H)
  • Aston Villa - Leeds (A)
  • Preston - Sheffield Wednesday (H)
  • Derby - Bristol City (A)
  • Derby - Swansea (A) - GAME IN HAND
  • Bristol City - Derby (H)
  • Bristol City - Millwall (A) - GAME IN HAND
  • Sheffield Wednesday - Preston (A)
  • Nottingham Forest - QPR (A)
  • Hull - Swansea (A)

Questionable timing of the games in-hand for Derby and Bristol City here, essentially playing their owed games on matchday 45-and-a-half. That said, Derby could see little return with Bristol City capable of victory in their meeting and a point expected away at Swansea. For City, their extra game will also see a draw as they go to Millwall. West Brom earn a win over Rotherham, who should confirm their safety by now due to a defeat for Reading away at Middlesbrough. Aston Villa get a draw away at Leeds while Preston earn victory over Sheffield Wednesday at Deepdale. Hull and Swansea ends with a point for both sides and Nottingham Forest are beaten by QPR in a game that has little impact for both teams.

Table

4. West Brom - 85pts

5. Middlesbrough - 74pts

6. Aston Villa - 72pts

-----------------------------

7. Preston - 69pts (superior goal difference)

8. Derby - 69pts

9. Bristol City - 67pts (superior goal difference)

10. Sheffield Wednesday - 67pts

11. Nottingham Forest - 61pts

12. Hull - 59pts

Celebrations for Aston Villa at Norwich
Celebrations for Aston Villa at Norwich

Final game

  • West Brom - Derby (A)
  • Middlesbrough - Rotherham (A)
  • Aston Villa - Norwich (H)
  • Preston - Brentford (A)
  • Derby - West Brom (H)
  • Bristol City - Hull (A)
  • Sheffield Wednesday - QPR (H)
  • Nottingham Forest - Bolton (H)
  • Hull - Bristol City (H)

Three teams still in the running but Villa can secure victory over title-winning Norwich on final day to spoil the party slightly. Dean Smith's men will know how crucial a win is here and are capable of doing it at home. Derby should be held by West Brom while Rotherham can also grab a point against Middlesbrough. It's worth backing Preston for victory at mid-table Brentford as they go into it knowing that they need all three points on offer. Bristol City and Hull will also see the points shared given the game is being played in East Yorkshire. There's final day victories for Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest with relatively easy home games.

Final table

4. West Brom - 86pts

5. Aston Villa - 75pts (superior goal difference)

5. Middlesbrough - 75pts

-----------------------------

7. Preston - 72pts

8. Derby - 70pts (superior goal difference)

9. Sheffield Wednesday - 70pts

10. Bristol City - 68pts

11. Nottingham Forest - 64pts

12. Hull - 60pts

Nottingham Forest celebrate Yohan Benalouane's goal against Derby
Nottingham Forest celebrate Yohan Benalouane's goal against Derby

What if history repeats itself?

What if we see a repeat of results in the reverse fixtures? The points return being the exact same as it has been against teams in these final eight games.

It would present us with a remarkably close finish to the season with three teams finishing on 71 points. A season's worth of work would come to an end for Derby by a margin of three goals.

They've scored more than Middlesbrough but the three goals more conceded would be the difference between making the play-offs and missing out.

Nottingham Forest's high-scoring games will be of benefit to them and they'd actually get a better place in the post-season competition thanks to that superior goal difference.

Forest would also be the team to benefit the most if it played out like this, gaining 17 points from a possible 24. West Brom would also get 16 points, more than enough to wrap up fourth place.

Despite being two points away now, Bristol City would finish seven points adrift with a return of just nine points from 24. Hull would gain three more victories and a draw.

Below those three teams, poor first-halves of the season will cost Sheffield Wednesday, Aston Villa and Preston - who would all have too much to do at this point.

As predicted in our look at the title race, Leeds would finish third - meaning the play-off semi-final fixtures would be Leeds v Middlesbrough and West Brom v Nottingham Forest.

Final table

4. West Brom - 83pts

5. Nottingham Forest - 71pts (+15)

6. Middlesbrough - 71pts (+11)

----------------------------------------------

7. Derby - 71pts (+8)

8. Sheffield Wednesday - 66pts

9. Aston Villa - 65pts

10. Preston - 64pts

11. Bristol City - 64pts

12. Hull - 61pts

Fulham won last season's Sky Bet Championship play-off final
Fulham won last season's Sky Bet Championship play-off final

What are the odds?

West Brom are fancied for success with EFL title sponsors Sky Bet, although Leeds and Sheffield United are a short price with one of those two expected to finish in third.

Top-six finish (odds via Sky Bet)

  • West Brom - 1/100
  • Middlesbrough - 4/9
  • Aston Villa - 6/5
  • Bristol City - 11/4
  • Derby - 11/4
  • Preston - 3/1
  • Nottingham Forest - 10/1
  • Brentford - 14/1
  • Sheffield Wednesday - 16/1
  • Swansea - 28/1
  • Hull - 66/1
  • Birmingham - 80/1

To win the play-offs (odds via Sky Bet)

  • West Brom - 10/3
  • Leeds - 4/1
  • Middlesbrough - 5/1
  • Sheffield United - 6/1
  • Aston Villa - 13/2
  • Bristol City - 14/1
  • Derby - 16/1
  • Preston - 16/1
  • Norwich - 25/1
  • Brentford - 40/1
  • Nottingham Forest - 50/1
  • Sheffield Wednesday - 66/1
  • Swansea - 100/1
  • Hull - 250/1

Odds correct at 1355 GMT (20/03/19)

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