With the return of the Premier League all confirmed and written in the diary, the Championship took its turn on Monday to announce the dates and times of the remaining games.
From the 20th June, the 24 teams will once again take to the field, providing no more outbreaks of COVID-19, starting with third place Fulham playing host to the previously free-scoring Brentford in fourth.
League leaders Leeds will head to Wales to face Cardiff on the 21st, while near the bottom of the table Hull play host to Charlton in a crucial match for both teams survival prospects.
Charlton’s task will be made more difficult with top striker Lyle Taylor, deciding not to play the remaining games to guarantee he avoids injury before a potential “life-changing move” in the summer.
Also in the vicious fight to avoid the drop are Luton Town and Barnsley, both of which sit six and seven points off of safety, respectively.
Luton made their task even more arduous during the break when they re-hired manager Nathan Jones who led them from 2016-2019 before departing to try his luck at the helm of Stoke City.
His first task will be to beat sixth-placed Preston on the opening day, who themselves are desperate for points in the final matches with conceivably eight teams in the hunt for the play-off spots.
There’s promotion potential for Bristol City, Millwall, Blackburn Rovers and even Swansea City in 11th who lie just three points off sixth spot.
The middle-of-the-pack teams from 12th to 17th look safe already with the scrap for points at the bottom looking difficult, which will be not a bad result for teams like Reading who entered the season with the assumption that they might still be fighting for survival right to the last whistle.
With the games quickly upcoming and with a lot to catch up on, I asked fellow Golear writers Alfie House (Bristol City fan) and Sophie Reynolds (QPR fan) some quick questions about who’s been good up to now, and who to look out for in the last fixtures:
Who’s been the best player in 2019/20?
Alfie: … “I think I’d have to say, Ollie Watkins, from Brentford because he’s played up top for them, a brand new position almost and he’s scored loads of goals. He’s been part of a Brentford team that have ultimately always looked like they might go up, the whole season they’ve been there in the play-offs. It’s such a dynamic attack with Mbuemo and Benrahma, and Watkins is a big part of it.”
Sophie: … “I think Ollie Watkins at Brentford has been the player of the season, he has proved his ability playing in all three front positions this season and in different combinations, his goal-scoring ability can’t be questioned, and he is set for big things.”
Which teams are going to take those all-important automatic promotion places?
Alfie: … “It has to be Leeds and West Brom for me. They just genuinely are the two best teams, they’ve got a good points lead, and I don’t think, with not many games to go, that there is any chance that it will be overtaken.”
Sophie: … “Leeds and West Brom now have to go up automatically, I know Leeds are known for bottling it as they did last year finishing in third, however apart from West Brom who are one point behind them, everyone else is at least seven points behind them so as long as they start this next period strong, they should be fine.”
Who’s been the surprise team of this season?
Alfie: … “I think it has to be Preston North End. When they came up from League One a couple of years ago they weren’t that good, only like mid-table and now all of a sudden they’re in sixth with the same players mostly. People like Paul Gallagher who’ve just been loyal to the club and are now really performing, it's quite impressive.
Sophie: … “Hull, but not in a good way! They have just performed progressively worse as the season has gone on. Around Christmas, they were looking think they were going to challenge for one of those play-off places or at least finish mid-table like they did last season, but then they lost Jarrod Bowen, and find themselves two points off the relegation zone, having not won since January.”
Which team do you think can make a last-ditch run at the play-offs following the COVID break?
Alfie: … “Swansea are definitely one of those but I’m going to have to give my biased answer, I think Bristol City really have a chance at being in there. Benik Afobe, our top striker who rejuvenated the club at the start of the season, is coming back from an ACL and there seems to be a lot of support around him. He plays really well with one of our other players called Kasey Palmer who hasn’t been able to play to his best because without Afobe I don’t think. We’ve got all our big defenders back fit so I think we can hit the ground running with a good tactical, focused manager.”
Sophie: … “QPR, and I’m not just saying that because I support them. If you look at how they were playing before the virus brought the league to a stand-still, not losing in their last six games, they were actually getting better results than the teams above them in the play-off positions! Yes, they are six points off playoffs and realistically I don’t think they’ll do it, or actually whether it is the right year for them to go up, but I think they are going to come out and give it a very good go.”
This article was written exclusively for golear.co.uk