Three from six will have to go - how the experts see the battle to beat the drop playing out
PUBLISHED: 06:00 28 February 2019
Journalists covering the six teams facing relegation from the Championship have their say on their side’s chances of beating the drop with 12 games remaining.
Wigan Athletic - 19th
Reporter: Paul Kendrick - Wigan Today
Run in: Middlesbrough (h), Derby (a), Reading (a), Blackburn (a), Bolton (h), Brentford (h), Bristol City (a), Hull (a), Norwich (h), Leeds (a), Preston (h), Birmingham (a), Millwall (h).
Verdict: With a five-point buffer over the drop zone, and three of the bottom six still to play - two of them at the DW - Wigan’s fate remains very much in their own hands.
They could and should be in an even stronger position, but failed to make the most of a numerical advantage for 65 minutes against rock-bottom Ipswich last weekend, and indeed only rescued a point in the dying seconds.
But after seeing his squad stripped to its bare bones through injury over the last few months, Paul Cook’s hand has been strengthened by the return of all his big guns in time for the run-in.
Latics have badly missed Nick Powell during his three months out, but his undoubted star quality is something the rest of the bottom six are unable to call on when inspiration is required. The incredible form of on-loan Chelsea right-back Reece James - a future England superstar - also gives great cause for optimism.
If Cook can solve the club’s woeful away record - one win on the road all season - and bring it more in line with their impressive results on home soil, safety should be achieved long before Millwall arrive in the north west on the final day. But this is Wigan Athletic...and nothing is ever done the easy way...
Predicted finish: 19th
Millwall - 20th
Reporter: Jake Sanders - Football.London
Run in: Norwich City (H), Bolton Wanderers (A), Birmingham (H), Leeds United (A), West Brom (H), QPR (H), Sheffield United (A), Brentford (H), Aston Villa (A), Stoke City (H), Bristol City (H), Wigan Athletic (A).
Verdict: Millwall looked to have turned a corner with the victory at Derby County last week, although the disappointing defeat at Hull on Tuesday night leaves them too close to comfort to the bottom three.
But their fate remains in their own hands – and despite a tough run of games in the next seven, I expect them to narrowly avoid the drop.
Neil Harris’ side have been averaging a point per game this term and if they continue that feat until the end of the season, they should be above the dotted line come May 5.
Predicted finish: 19th
Reading - 21st
Reporter: Jonathan Low - Getreading
Run in: Ipswich (a), Wigan (h), Leeds (h), Stoke (a), Preston (h), Hull (a), Norwich (a), Brentford (h), Bristol City (a), West Brom (h), Middlesbrough (a), Birmingham (h).
Verdict: The next two games against Ipswich and Wigan will go a long way to determining the outcome of Royals’ season.
Progress has been steady under Jose Gomes but results have failed to significantly improve with just two wins in his 11 games. Last weekend’s draw at home to Rotherham felt like a missed opportunity but summed up their season as well.
An ankle injury to key midfielder Andy Rinomhota has seen them struggle for physicality in that area and it was something which has been horribly exposed in recent weeks.
Man for man Reading arguably have a much stronger squad than the sides around them, but as a team they are simply not cohesive and are mentally weak.
The majority of their final six games are against sides likely to be battling for a top-six spot so they will be desperate to secure their status by then. Much like last season, Reading could well end up staying in the division by virtue of results on the final day or even on goal difference.
Predicted finish: 21st
Rotherham United - 22nd
Reporter: Paul Davis - Rotherham Advertiser
Run in: Blackburn (h), Sheffield United (a), QPR (a), Norwich (h), Derby (a), Nottingham Forest (h), Aston Villa (h), Stoke (a), Swansea (a), Birmingham (h), West Brom (a), Middlesbrough (h).
Verdict: Rotherham lack the spending power of bigger clubs in the division and are defying the odds simply by still being in the survival frame.
Their run-in is tough but they have shown all season that they’re capable of troubling sides higher in the table.
No team has better spirit or fitness and the Millers are a big side. They run hard and they’re quick to put the ball into the box. Set-pieces are their route to potential safety.
Too many chances have gone begging and that has led to too many draws.
Staying up is a huge challenge but no squad will give more of themselves in a bid to be a Championship outfit again next term.
Predicted finish: 21st
Bolton Wanderers - 23rd
Reporter: Marc Iles - The Bolton News
Run in: Swansea (a), Millwall (h), Sheff Weds (h), Wigan (a), QPR (a), Ipswich (h), Middlesbrough (h), Derby (a), Aston Villa (h), Blackburn (a), Brentford (h), Nottm Forest (a)
Verdict: Such has been the uncertainty off the field at Wanderers, the relegation battle has sometimes had to play second fiddle.
Attempts to sell the club look to be getting somewhere and may yet provide an unexpected boost. To use the old football cliché, new ownership would feel like a new signing.
Phil Parkinson’s side are well versed in scrapping at the foot of the Championship, which may count in their favour. The team’s lack of goals most certainly does not, in fact no team in the EFL has scored fewer.
The players have forged a strong bond in adversity but the manager’s pragmatic style is not proving popular among the fans, even if his options are severely limited.
A perilous financial situation may make any survival bid a moot one – the spectre of administration is still a looming scenario – but games against Millwall, Wigan and Ipswich will be the ones they have to win.
Predicted finish: 21st
Ipswich Town - 24th
Reporter: Andy Warren - East Anglian Daily Times/Ipswich Star
Run in: Reading (h), West Brom (a), Bristol City (a), Nottingham Forest (h), Hull City (h), Bolton Wanderers (a), Brentford (a), Birmingham City (h), Preston North End (a), Swansea City (h), Sheffield United (a), Leeds United (h)
Verdict: Ipswich Town have arrived in the Last Chance Saloon.
Paul Lambert’s arrival at the end of October has brought about a major upturn in mood around the club and some improved performances, but the results sadly haven’t followed.
A raft of January signings took a little time to gel and, while performances have been better in recent weeks, it feels like it’s too little, too late.
Sitting nine points from safety, Saturday’s visit of fourth-bottom Reading is truly a must-win game.
Win and the gap could be cut to six points and there will be a feeling that a miracle may just be possible. Even then, the chances of an Ipswich side who have won three games all season finishing above three other teams feels incredibly unlikely.
Lose, or even draw, and even the most optimistic will surely be accepting the Blues’ fate.
Predicted finish: 23rd