Football League Friday: The Championship's day of destiny

 

With an automatic promotion spot, play-off places and league safety all up for grabs, it promises to be a typically dramatic end to the Championship season.

So competitive is the division that no fewer than nine of Saturday's 12 final-day fixtures have something riding on them.

Fans at grounds up and down the country are sure to be monitoring radios, mobiles and tablets as they search for that piece of news that could mean the joy of promotion for some and the pain of relegation for others.

With that in mind, BBC Sport has teamed up with the Football League Show's Steve Claridge to try to predict how it might all pan out.

RACE FOR THE PREMIER LEAGUE

Steve Bruce

Setting the scene: Victory over champions Cardiff at the KC Stadium will see Hull join the Bluebirds in the Premier League next season. But if the Tigers slip up then Watford can take advantage.

If Hull draw then victory over Leeds at Vicarage Road will send the Hornets up. And if Steve Bruce's side lose then a draw will be enough for Watford by virtue of their superior goal difference.

Decisive final-day fixtures

  • Bolton v Blackpool
  • Brighton v Wolves
  • Crystal Palace v Peterborough
  • Derby v Millwall
  • Huddersfield v Barnsley
  • Hull v Cardiff
  • Nott'm Forest v Leicester
  • Sheffield Wednesday v Middlesbrough
  • Watford v Leeds

Claridge's verdict: "It's a difficult one to predict. Having the champions Cardiff at home is not the ideal game for Hull because they're playing the best team in the league.

"It all depends which Cardiff turns up because they have nothing to play for.

"If they turn up with no pressure on them and play to the best of their ability, then it could be a long, hard afternoon for Hull.

"On the flip side, if Cardiff are on their holidays then it could be the ideal game for Hull, who know they have got to beat them to get promoted. If that does happen then Hull will win.

"Watford are at home to Leeds and I think they are likely to get the job done, knowing what they have got to do.

"They know that if they win they have an outside chance of going up."

INTO THE PLAY-OFFS

Ian Holloway

Setting the scene: Whichever of Hull or Watford misses out on automatic promotion is guaranteed third place and will join Brighton in the play-offs.

Four other teams - Crystal Palace, Bolton, Nottingham Forest and Leicester - are fighting it out for the two other places.

Palace and Bolton, currently fifth and sixth, are favourites and the Eagles know victory over Peterborough will guarantee their play-off place, while a draw should be enough for Ian Holloway's men.

However, defeat for Palace will see them miss out if Bolton and Nottingham Forest both win.

A victory should also be enough for Bolton to ensure they finish in the top six, unless Nottingham Forest win by four more goals than they do.

Thoughts from the camps

Bolton boss Dougie Freedman told BBC Radio Manchester: "We've been in this position for the last three months, having to win games of football, so the lads are very comfortable about what they've got to do on Saturday. We've prepared and we know what we're going to do."

Leicester manager Nigel Pearson told BBC Radio Leicester: "There will be no holds barred in this game and the added spice is that it is a local derby. The fact that both sides need to win it puts added pressure on the game - there is no doubt about that. It now comes down to who copes with it best on the day."

Forest midfielder Andy Reid told BBC Radio Nottingham: "Games don't come bigger than this - it is a massive game, in front of what is going to be a full house against our local rivals. It's an anxious kind of feeling you get leading up to a match like this - a feeling that you can't wait to get out on the pitch and get started."

A point will only do for the Trotters if Forest draw with Leicester at the City Ground, but a defeat for Bolton would mean they miss out as they would be overtaken by either Billy Davies's side or the Foxes.

Claridge's verdict: "There are four teams chasing two spots and, looking at the table, I think goal difference could play a part.

"I saw Crystal Palace play at Millwall on Tuesday night and they didn't play well. They're not in great form but they should get the job done against Peterborough.

"A play-off place is also Bolton's to lose and they know that if they win then in all likelihood they will be in the play-offs.

"If Palace and Bolton miss out then they will be kicking themselves, but it's great that the fixture computer has thrown Forest and Leicester together on the final day of the season when they will both be hoping to sneak in.

"Overall, it's not been a great league this year. It's been a bit like the Premier League in that there's been one outstanding team.

"The sides at the top have not been as good as normal and the sides at the bottom have been better than they usually are and that's made it fantastically exciting."

FACING THE DROP

Darren Ferguson

Setting the scene: Bristol City are already down and are likely to be joined by Wolves, who must beat Brighton, hope Barnsley and Peterborough both lose and enjoy a five-goal swing in goal difference to stand any chance of avoiding a second successive relegation.

Barnsley, who start the final day in the drop zone, will guarantee their survival with victory over Huddersfield as they would finish above the Terriers.

Victory for fourth-from-bottom Posh would also see them stay up, but draws for both them and the Tykes would leave them vulnerable depending on each other's results.

Sheffield Wednesday must win their game to guarantee survival, while Millwall and Huddersfield are safe if they avoid defeat.

But failing that, any of the sides could potentially be sucked into the drop zone depending on results elsewhere.

What those involved say

Barnsley boss David Flitcroft told BBC Radio Sheffield: "It's the biggest game of my career. If we go down then it is on my shoulders and people could lose their jobs. I'm finding it difficult to comprehend that."

Peterborough boss Darren Ferguson told BBC Radio Cambridgeshire: "It is a game where I have to be aware of other results. Generally in these games other scores get across to the players. The position we're in is one I wanted to be in. If we win the game we're OK. That's all we've got to focus on."

Wolves boss Dean Saunders told BBC WM: "I don't think anybody expects us to come out of this weekend intact. I've seen a lot in football and I've got to believe that's going to happen [Peterborough losing heavily], and that we'll win at Brighton and Barnsley get beat too, as, if I don't think that's going to happen, the players won't."

Claridge's verdict: "I don't think Wolves have a chance of getting out of trouble, not at Brighton. The Seagulls don't just play nicey, nicey stuff, they're difficult to play against and can grind it out on occasions.

"If Wolves are to save themselves then it will take some goals and I can't see it happening.

"What has happened there beggars belief. They've got themselves into a right pickle and people will be shaking their heads for a long time to come.

"As for who joins them, Millwall have not got an easy game at Derby but I think it's between Peterborough and Barnsley and could come down to goal difference.

"Peterborough lost their first seven games and have done a remarkable job to take it to the last day. They are capable of getting something at Palace.

"But I can't see Barnsley winning at a Huddersfield team who have been playing well recently, won some big games and who need a result themselves to be sure of survival because their goal difference is worse than everyone else's.

"I think Peterborough and Barnsley will both get draws on Saturday and that will send Barnsley down on goal difference."