Are Sunderland, Burton Albion and Barnsley heading for the drop?
Coming into the final ten games of the Championship season, the relegation picture in the league is still as murky as mud.
After 37 games have been played in the English second tier, there is still no indication of which sides will be exiting the Championship at the end of the season.
With 10 points separating the bottom seven sides and still nine games to go, there is still every chance that any of these sides could be relegated if things go wrong for them.
Currently, every side from Sheffield Wednesday in 17th to Sunderland at the foot of the table are fearing the worst. But which teams are heading down?
24th – Sunderland
Ever since Roy Hodgson put Harry Kane on corners during Euro 2016, Sunderland have been on a downward trajectory of epic proportions. Ever since that fateful England defeat to Iceland that saw Hodgson sacked, Sunderland lost Sam Allardyce and hired David Moyes who led the team to a hapless relegation.
This season Sunderland hired Simon Grayson from Preston and then gave him no money while selling every decent asset at the club. Grayson was ousted after a run of 16 games without a win as Sunderland sat miserably at the bottom of the table.
Chris Coleman was hired and seemed to turn the ship around. But a run of nine games without a win have left Sunderland bottom and four points adrift of safety. With nine games left to play that means they will need to match their seasonal win tally of five to stand any chance of survival. Simply put – that will not happen.
The most mind-boggling thing about Sunderland is that their squad looks good on paper. Lee Cattermole, Lamine Kone, Callum McManaman, Aiden McGeady, Darron Gibson, Paddy McNair, Bryan Oviedo and Ashley Fletcher represent a list of players surely capable of being more than Championship bottom feeders. It must be said, though: Sunderland have endured the worst goalkeeping in the league this season.
There are youth prospects coming through for Sunderland. Shining lights for the Black Cats include Joel Asoro, Ethan Robson, George Honeyman and Lynden Gooch who have all contributed well this season – a Sunderland rebuild in League One needs to be centered upon their impressive youth players.
Remaining games: Preston (H), Derby (A), Sheffield Wednesday (H), Leeds (A), Norwich (H), Reading (A), Burton (H), Fulham (A), Wolves (H)
23rd – Burton Albion
Nigel Clough ought to give himself a pat on the back for keeping Burton up last season and having them within touching distance of survival this season. The Brewers are just two points away from safety.
The main issue with Burton going into the final straight is their miserable looking fixtures list. Their next four games are against promotion contenders: Sheffield United, Wolves, Derby and Middlesbrough. If Burton lose these four games, then their favourable last few games may be moot as they could be almost down.
On the field, Burton’s failure this season has been compounded by their lack of firepower up front. Their 26 goals are the second fewest in the league and Lloyd Dyer is their top scorer with just five goals. Loan signing Darren Bent has yet to score since making the short move from Derby.
If Burton are to stand any chance of staying up, then they need to pick up a shock win over their next four games, then they need to rely on someone to score the goals. At the moment though it is difficult to envisage Burton having enough to stay up.
Remaining games: Sheffield United (A), Wolves (A), Cardiff City (A), Middlesbrough (H), Birmingham City (A), Hull City (H), Derby County (H), Sunderland (A), Bolton Wanderers (H), Preston (A)
22nd – Barnsley
When Paul Heckingbottom left Barnsley for Leeds just days after signing a new contract the Tykes were left in a difficult position. Since new boss Jose Morais was hired, Barnsley have picked up four points from a possible 15.
While Morais has an impressive coaching record – he was assistant to Jose Mourinho at Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Chelsea – there are those questioning whether he has the credentials to guide Barnsley to survival.
Barnsley are in a far better position than both Sunderland and Burton because they have a striker who can score goals. Ollie McBurnie has five goals in seven games since joining on loan which is mightily impressive since he plays for a struggling side.
The Tykes have tough fixtures coming up but their run in is not too bad. Bristol City and Sheffield United both travel to Oakwell and Barnsley finish their campaign at Derby. The pivotal clash to look out for is their home game against Bolton in mid-April.
Remaining games: Norwich (H), Millwall (H), Bristol City (H), Nottingham Forest (A), Sheffield United (H), Ipswich (A), Bolton (H), Leeds (A), Brentford (H), Derby (A)
21st – Birmingham City
Birmingham City have hired Garry Monk which could be a masterstroke. Monk did a great job at Leeds United last season and seemed to be the victim of a harsh sacking at Middlesbrough. The quality that Birmingham possess should be enough to see them over the line. That is why they should pip Barnsley to survival.
Remaining games: Hull City (A), Ipswich Town (H), Bolton (A), Burton (H), Bristol City (A), Wolves (A), Sheffield United (H), QPR (A), Fulham (H)
20th – Bolton Wanderers
Bolton have 36 points and are probably just three wins away from being safe. Phil Parkinson has worked wonders with his arms tied behind his back and his Bolton side have come into form since November after a slow start. More recently, Bolton have lost just one of their last five.
Remaining games: Aston Villa (H), Leeds (A), Birmingham (H), Derby (A), Millwall (H), Barnsley (A), Wolves (H), Burton (A), Nottingham Forest (H)
19th – Reading
Reading have been shocking this season after their wonderful run to the playoff final last season. Jaap Stam and his team have never got going this season and seemed to sleepwalk towards the drop. Recent results have not been great but the side are picking up draws which should be enough to see them over the line – just.
Remaining games: Wolves (A), Norwich (A), QPR (H), Aston Villa (A), Preston (H), Fulham (A), Sunderland (H), Sheffield Wednesday (A), Ipswich (H), Cardiff (A)
18th – Hull City
Hull City complete the three sides on 36 points and look like they should stay up quite comfortably. Nigel Adkins may not have been the appointment Hull fans wanted – especially after a slow start. But in recent weeks Hull have picked up some crucial results, including a 4-3 win against Norwich last weekend. Hull have quality all over the park which should see them finish comfortably above the drop.
Remaining games: Ipswich (A), Birmingham (A), Aston Villa (H), Wolves (A), QPR (H), Burton (A), Sheffield Wednesday (H), Bristol City (A), Cardiff (H), Brentford (A)
17th – Sheffield Wednesday
Sheffield Wednesday are the last side looking over their shoulder. The Owls have 38 points and are eight clear of the relegation zone but they have been hopeless compared to their usual high standards. Furthermore, they have just one league win in their last 13 games. That eight-point cushion should be enough to see them safe though.
Remaining games: Leeds (A), Preston (H), Sunderland (A), Fulham (H), QPR (A), Hull (A), Reading (H), Wolves (A), Norwich (H)
Who do you think will be relegated from the Championship this season?