Over the years there has always been the statement that whoever is at the top – or bottom – at Christmas goes on to win the title, get promoted, relegated. To be fair it can be a useful guide, and history is normally fairly accurate.
This year could prove no different with some obvious candidates in the EFL Championship for those categories. If last year’s table is anything to go by then there are some similarities. Runaway leaders, close race for playoff places, and relegation certainties. Or so it seemed…
Burnley were the standout side last year and won the league with considerable ease. This time last year they had amassed 47 points, having lost only twice, and led Sheffield United by three pints, who were five points clear of third. This season has Leicester City in prime position and in fact, are dominating even more than Burnley did, with 58 points despite losing three times. Ipswich Town are on their tails at 52 points, and an even greater margin to the playoff spots, seven points.
This suggests that the two currently occupying the automatic places, and entry to the Premier League, should remain as they are.
Blackburn Rovers, Watford, Norwich City, and Queens Park Rangers held the playoff places at Christmas last year. None of those sides are in the top six this time around. The team that gained promotion, Luton Town, were down in 15th position. However, they were only four points adrift.
This year’s festive table has Leeds United and Southampton both chasing the top two, and in doing so are only two points off the total that Burnley had twelve months ago. The standard is so high that it would be hard to not see both teams get into the playoffs this coming May.
West Bromwich Albion and Hull City are in the other places, but they are looking over their shoulders. It wouldn’t be too far a stretch to see the team, like Luton last year, in 15th make a run. That team is Coventry City. They of course lost out last time in the playoff final and sit on the same number of points as the Hatters a year ago.
No Festive Cheer
Down in the relegation zone Blackpool, Wigan Athletic, and Huddersfield Town were adrift at Christmas 2022. The Terriers staged a remarkable escape, seven points from safety when Santa arrived, and gave them the gift of Championship survival. Blackpool and Wigan did drop though.
This time it would be a Christmas miracle if Rotherham United were to retain their Championship status. On 13 points they are nine points from safety. QPR and Sheffield Wednesday are also in danger.
Reading fell instead of Huddersfield, largely because of their points deduction. Stoke City and Millwall are the teams that are closest to the trip on the trap door this year and will be very wary of how the form of Wednesday in particular is bringing them closer to the pack. Maybe a team could freefall from a position of relative safety now, could Birmingham City be in danger?
The Christmas and New Year period is one of two that often shake and shape up the table. The other being a congested Easter timetable. Looking for comparisons to last year, it does seem the odds are very much in favour of Leicester and Ipswich going up, but it would be a brave pundit to suggest that Rotherham can pull off a Huddersfield-like escape.