Championship: Could another 'big-hitter' be relegated from the division?

Stoke City midfielder Sam Clucas
Stoke City are unbeaten in their past three games but still remain in the thick of the Championship relegation fight

It is early March and the Championship is most certainly entering its "business end", with a potentially pivotal weekend on the way for teams at the bottom of the pile.

Six of the current bottom seven clubs face each other on Saturday and the congested nature of the bottom third means plenty of twists and turns could occur before 2 May.

After two "big-hitters" dropped down to League One in the past two seasons in the shape of Sunderland and Ipswich Town, could another club with a rich history of top-flight achievements follow them?

How does the table look?

Championship bottom six

With each club having 10 games left to play, Luton Town, Barnsley and Middlesbrough occupy the relegation spaces, but that situation could be very different come Saturday once the results are in from these three key fixtures:

  • Charlton Athletic v Middlesbrough
  • Stoke City v Hull City
  • Wigan Athletic v Luton Town

To add to the intrigue, those games could also have a big impact on the shape of the table just above.

Championship relegation fighters

Just four points separate the six teams between 17th and 22nd, with four of those clubs - Stoke, Middlesbrough, Hull and Huddersfield - having played Premier League football at some point in the past four seasons.

Huddersfield, who are 17th and four points ahead of Middlesbrough, were there as recently as last season.

Which teams are under pressure?

As the old cliche goes, the Championship really is a division where anyone can beat anyone. But it can also be one where dips or upturns in form can see teams either plummet or climb the table rapidly.

A glance at the form guide for the bottom eight gives an insight into who is feeling the pressure and which clubs are giving themselves a fighting chance of survival.

Jarrod Bowen celebrates
Hull beat Stoke in December with two goals from the now departed Jarrod Bowen

Hull and Middlesbrough find themselves in absolutely identical form since the turn of the year. Both are winless in their past 10 Championship fixtures since winning on New Year's Day.

Hull are entering a crucial week, with Saturday's trip to Stoke followed by a home game against Charlton on 14 March.

The Tigers have felt the effect of losing the combined goals of Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki in January's transfer window, with Bowen having scored twice when they beat Stoke in the corresponding fixture in December.

Middlesbrough head to The Valley on Saturday to take on a Charlton side who have lost back-to-back games against Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield.

Woodgate and Bowyer
Former Leeds United team-mates Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer are both trying to pull away from the relegation zone

After his side's 2-2 draw against Nottingham Forest on Monday, Boro boss Jonathan Woodgate spoke about how chairman Steve Gibson's support has been invaluable in his first season in management.

"I've got a chairman who is with me all of the way and that's fantastic," he told BBC Radio Tees.

But Woodgate also needs the fans behind him as Boro face the prospect of back-to-back away trips to Hull and Stoke later in March.

"I understand they're not going to be happy about certain things," he added. "But they need to look at the bigger picture and look at us fighting to stay in this league. We all need to stick together."

Woodgate's first task sees him come up against his former Leeds team-mate and now Charlton manager Lee Bowyer. The Addicks have lost their past two games but have also picked up vital wins at Nottingham Forest and against Luton in recent weeks.

The next couple of games are also looking crucial for Bowyer's side, who are a point above Boro, as they travel to Hull next Saturday.

Who is looking upwards?

Sam Morsy
Wins at both Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion in the past month have reignited Wigan's survival chances

While some teams are struggling to find wins, others are seemingly picking them up with ease.

Wigan are among the Championship's form sides with three wins in a row. The Latics have recently had victories at Leeds and West Bromwich Albion, the current top two.

Paul Cook's side still have a stiff task on their hands though, despite having gone from second from bottom in mid-January to two points clear of the bottom three going into this weekend.

Another side trying to keep their survival dreams alive are Wigan's opponents on Saturday, Luton.

The Hatters have won three of their past five but, like Barnsley, they are still five points adrift of safety.

Also looking more upwardly mobile are Huddersfield. Back-to-back wins against Bristol City and Charlton have given them a four-point cushion over the bottom three, but their next two fixtures see them head to Elland Road to take on Leeds before hosting Wigan on 14 March.

Is there room for another twist in this tale?

More teams could potentially find themselves drawn into the relegation picture before the end of the season.

Sheffield Wednesday and Derby County currently find themselves out of immediate danger in mid-table, but both have potential disciplinary sanctions from the English Football League hanging over them.

If clubs are found to be in breach of league regulations, points deductions could follow.

Derby are under scrutiny regarding an alleged breach of spending regulations, while Wednesday's charge relates to the sale of Hillsborough to owner Dejphon Chansiri. Both clubs deny the charges.

Birmingham, who were docked nine points last season for breaching profitability and sustainability rules, were also in a similar position after being charged again in January with breaching rules in relation to a business plan imposed by the EFL last season, which the club denied.

However, on Friday a misconduct charge was dismissed by an independent disciplinary commission, meaning they will avoid a second points deduction, pending any appeal by the EFL.

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