The race for automatic promotion is hotting up in The Championship and it seems that there are three main contenders battling it out for the coveted top two spots.
Pace setters Southampton have surprised many with their continued assault on the top of the league. On a few occasions they have faltered and it looked as if their red and white bubble was going to burst, only to see a gritty yet fluent team turn it around and continue the pressure on the other high-flyers. Nigel Adkins deserves huge credit for keeping the belief in a squad that must have to keep pinching itself whenever it catches a glimpse of the Championship table. They play good football, they have some outstanding players, but at the end of last season no-one realistically thought they would be talking about Southampton being in the top flight next season.
Currently in second place are West Ham, the team everyone predicted to go up and do so comfortably. Big Sam Allardyce has put great work to turn around a squad that finished stone last in the Premier League last season and, at his own admittance, was some way off mental and physical fitness when he took the reins. West Ham have had opportunities to run away with the league and although being in a strong position, there is still an element of doubt over their Premier League credentials. Some astute signings will definitely help their cause but their ill discipline and lack of goals is still a concern for the claret and blue army.
Reading are certainly the outsider of the trio having flown up the league with some mesmerising form. With a hungry and potent manager and a team that has gelled in quite remarkable fashion, it would be a bold man who would bet against the Royals sneaking past the leaders and causing a serious upset.
Birmingham, Leicester and Blackpool may have a chance but the play-offs will be a more realistic outcome given the intermittent form of all three sides.
So – who is going to be the first across the line to reach the Promised Land? My guess would be that West Ham, with their fairly tame run in, will finish the season in top spot. Their quality through the team and on the bench should see them home. For 2nd place, I will go out on a limb and suggest that Reading’s form makes them slight favourites over the effervescent Southampton. However, I am sure Adkins and his fiery striker Rickie Lambert would have something to say about that.
With West Ham facing Reading on the final day of the season, there could well be a few twists in the tale before the season is over.