Two down, one to go.
While Wolves and Birmingham can already start planning for next season in the Premier League, four teams have been left to duke it out in the Championship battle royale, otherwise known as the play-offs.
The shortest odds for promotion are currently reserved for Sheffield United (2/1), the Blades having finished the season in third spot in the league and chomping at the bit to return to England’s top flight. With the Carlos Tevez affair still spurring them on, Kevin Blackwell’s team can boast an impressive record of only one defeat and eight wins in their last 13 games of the season, as they head into their match-up at Preston on Friday night. (Full match odds here.)
But the two-legs against PNE should prove anything but easy for Sheffield United. Alan Irvine’s team are arguably the form team of the pack having won their last four consecutive matches, including a 2-1 win at Birmingham, to sneak into the final play-off berth on the last day of the season ahead of Cardiff. The bookies are currently offering odds of 3/1 that North End can finally end their top flight exodus.
Reading, at 5/2, are the Jekyll & Hyde choice. Throughout 2008 Steve Coppell’s charges looked nailed-on favourites to win automatic promotion. But ever since the start of 2009 fortunes changed for the worst with the Royal’s momentum and confidence being sapped rapidly dry on a week-by-week basis. Their final 20 matches of the domestic season saw them record six wins, six defeats and eight draws, and there is little to suggest that the Royals can find consistency at the money-time.
Which leaves the dark horses of the foursome, Owen Coyle’s Burnley, who are an attractive 15/4 to be celebrating at Wembley come the end of May. (Full match odds for Saturday’s Burnley-Reading match can be seen here.)
The Clarets proved their pedigree this season not only in the Championship, but moreover in the club’s brilliant Carling Cup run that saw them beat Arsenal and Chelsea on their way to the semi-finals, before being cruelly knocked out by Spurs in extra-time. With a side packed full of experience, and a spine including Steven Caldwell, Graham Alexander, Joey Gudjonsson and Robbie Blake, Burnley may just have the nous, style and temperament to be playing Premier League football next year.