HomeSport NewsA closer look at the four-way automatic promotion race in the EFL...

A closer look at the four-way automatic promotion race in the EFL Championship

The battle for automatic promotion to the English Premier League (EPL) shows no signs of easing up. In fact, what looked like being a two-horse race has recently become a four-horse race. Leicester City and Ipswich Town had opened up a seemingly unassailable lead in the top two positions but have been reeled in by Southampton and Leeds United since the festive period.

With just over a third of the 2023/24 EFL Championship season remaining, it’s time to assess the promotion credentials of the teams at the summit of the table.

Leicester still lead the way

Enzo Maresca’s Leicester City are still firmly in the driving seat to win the Championship title. With 66 points from 28 games, the Foxes are seven points ahead of second-placed Ipswich and eight clear of third-placed Southampton. When you consider Leicester and Southampton are averaging similar points-per-game totals of late, it’s hard to see the Saints being nine points better than Leicester between now and May.

Leicester could have made it a ten-point gap between themselves and Ipswich, but the Tractor Boys snatched a last-gasp equaliser at the King Power Stadium. The draw for Ipswich helped them leapfrog back over Southampton into second place.

City are missing several players on African Cup of Nations (AFCON) duty, so if Maresca’s men can maintain their position by mid-February, they should be a shoo-in for the top two.

Newly promoted Ipswich still clinging to second spot

12 months ago, Ipswich Town looked like being the team most likely to drop out of the League One automatic promotion race. The Suffolk side then embarked on a remarkable run, finishing the season on 98 points which was only enough to finish runners-up to champions Plymouth. Unlike Plymouth, Ipswich have maintained their momentum and their suffocating, high-energy style has translated very well to the EFL Championship.

Just three defeats in 28 Championship games demonstrates what a tremendous job Ipswich boss, Kieran McKenna, has done with Town. In what many describe as the toughest league in the world, to lose just three games as a newly promoted outfit is unprecedented. Nevertheless, squad depth is being tested to the limit right now, thanks to an injury to first-choice striker, George Hirst. Savvy recruitment will be vital in the weeks ahead to maintain their top two status.

Their season run-in looks relatively kind, having already played Leicester and Leeds twice, with Southampton coming to Portman Road in April.

Southampton’s club record unbeaten run is changing the narrative

Southampton recently smashed a club record dating back 103 years by going 21 league games unbeaten. The Saints’ comfortable 3-1 away victory at Swansea saw Russell Martin’s side break the record and heap pressure on second-placed Ipswich.

The form of Southampton has seen most sportsbooks side with the Saints, leapfrogging Ipswich as the second favourites to win the Championship this term. Russell Martin’s men are priced at +700 to win the title with Betano’s football betting markets covering futures and individual matches, while Ipswich’s price has drifted out to +850 despite their impressive fightback to draw at Leicester.

The fly in the ointment for the Saints is their upcoming run of fixtures. They’ve enjoyed a very favourable run of games since the autumn and their run-in is packed with six-pointers against the likes of Leicester, Ipswich, Leeds, West Brom and Coventry.

Leeds remain outsiders due to their inconsistent nature

On the face of it, Leeds United are the most dangerous of the four teams at the top of the EFL Championship. They have the players with the most individual flair and brilliance. The likes of Georginio Rutter and Crysencio Summerville can create something out of nothing. However, they are also capable of blowing up and having off days.

Manager Daniel Farke has won two Championship titles as manager of Norwich City. Although a title tilt looks unlikely at present, they’ll still feel they have enough Premier League quality, such as former Chelsea youngster Ethan Ampadu, to go toe-to-toe with Ipswich and battle for the second automatic promotion spot.

The very fact Ipswich are even in this conversation is testament to how well they’ve done to ruffle the feathers of the three teams coming down from the EPL with tens of millions in parachute payments. The football neutral would surely like to see the fairytale of back-to-back promotions achieved at Portman Road.


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