WE already know that Brighton & Hove Albion will become the 48th club to play Premier League football following their promotion from the Championship on Monday.
And this week PREMIER LEAGUE WEEKLY drops down a division to see which two other clubs will be joining Brighton, and the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and the two Manchester clubs in August.
Games left: Preston h), Cardiff a), Barnsley h).
WHEN Newcastle won at Brighton and Huddersfield in the space of four days at the start of March, automatic promotion looked guaranteed. But just two wins from the eight games that have followed means there is still work to be done for Rafa Benitez’s team. They have been favourites to go up all season and that remains the case despite ten defeats during the campaign and in Matt Ritchie and Jonjo Shelvey, they have two of the best players outside the Premier League.
ONE point from their last three games is a major case of the wobbles. The feeling is Newcastle haven’t generally been as convincing after Christmas but have done enough to stay ahead of the pack. With three matches to go, they still have a healthy cushion and favourable fixtures and it might only take one victory to get over the line. If they somehow fail to make the top two, Benitez would have a huge task to raise morale for the play-offs.
Games left: Nottingham Forest a), Wigan h), Burton a).
NO ONE expected Reading to be in this lofty position so late into the season. But they have been in the play-off positions since the end of October, so this is no fluke. Jaap Stam has brought classic Dutch football to Berkshire and he is doing a great job with an unheralded group of players. Despite a successful campaign, the club’s Thai owners are looking to sell the club, so that situation is not ideal.
THEY may be in third place at the moment, but I don’t think anyone expects Reading to make a late dash for automatic promotion. They need three wins, Huddersfield to drop points and Newcastle to pick up fewer than two points for that to happen. The Royals will be underdogs in the play-offs whoever they face and will prefer that status. But they have suffered some major off-days this season, like losing 5-0 at Fulham and 7-1 at Norwich, and that capacity to explode could count against them.
Games left: Fulham h), Wolves a), Birmingham a), Cardiff h).
HUDDERSFIELD have provided a breath of fresh air to the Championship. Whatever happens, David Wagner’s men are on course for the club’s best ever season since they were last in the top flight in 1972. Wagner has been an inspired appointment by club owner Dean Hoyle. A close friend of Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, the German has brought that same brand of high intensity football to West Yorkshire with great success.
THE Terriers could still nick the last automatic spot from Newcastle but like the Geordies, they too have lost momentum with three defeats in their last six games. Wagner has built a fine young side, full of energetic players who have had a fearless approach all year. They have also been the masters of tight matches, with 21 of their 24 wins being by a single goal. Holding their nerve under pressure would be vital in those post-season games.
Games left: Derby h), Ipswich a), Fulham h)
LAST year’s beaten play-off finalists are coming on strong as the season draws to a conclusion. Sheffield Wednesday have overcome the disappointment of losing to Hull at Wembley and are mounting another strong promotion push. Four wins in a row have them in their highest position of the season but they cannot afford to rest now, especially with that game against Fulham looming on May 7.
IT can be hard to bounce back from narrowly missing out on promotion, so Carlos Carvalhal deserves credit for galvanising his team. Wednesday have never been in the mix for a top-two spot, so it’s been all about the play-offs. If they get there, they’ll feel confident of going one better 12 months on. Beating Newcastle home and away in the league was a sign of a side comfortable in the big-match occasion. That experience could be invaluable if they are in there with three other rookie teams in the play-offs.
Games left: Huddersfield a), Brentford h), Sheffield Wednesday a).
FULHAM have been reborn this season under Slavisa Jokanovic. After two poor campaigns following relegation from the Premier League in 2014, there has been a spring in the step in this corner of West London. Their football is the best in the Championship, they are the top scorers in the division with 78 and scouts are queuing up to watch 16-year-old left-back Ryan Sessegnon.
The Cottagers have been on a very strong run with 30 points from their last 15 games which has lifted them into the final play-off spot. But two very difficult away fixtures remain as well as a local derby and they will almost certainly need something from that match at Wednesday to make the play-offs. Craven Cottage is a wonderful place to watch a game of football, but it might just be too soon to expect Premier League teams to be returning in August.
Games left: Burton a), Norwich h), Wigan a).
IT has been uplifting to see a revival at one of the giants of English football this season in Leeds, where Garry Monk has certainly enhanced his managerial reputation. A mid-table finish at best was expected, but the 28 goals of top scorer Chris Wood have made a huge difference. However, has the season hit the skids at the wrong time? Four points from five games now has them outside the play-off spots on goal difference and that home defeat to Wolves on Easter Monday was a real shock.
The last-day clash at Hillsborough between the two sides immediately above them could be the lifeline back into the top six. Leeds have certainly over-performed with a small squad and those exertions could be starting to catch up with them. Even if they make the play-offs, they would have to overturn a woeful history where memories of painful final defeats to Charlton, Watford and Doncaster would come flooding back for supporters.
Stat of the Day
56.3% – IN the Premier League era, the percentage of newly promoted clubs that have successfully avoided relegation in that first season after going up.
Adam’s Saturday Scores
Bournemouth 2 Middlesbrough 0
Hull 1 Watford 0
Swansea 1 Stoke 1
West Ham 1 Everton 2