As the 2023-24 Championship promotion race enters the home straight, the character of the runners suggests we could be set for a photo-finish.

There are intriguing races within the main race and some mouth-watering must-win head-to-head duels ahead, the proverbial six-pointers.

Who will blink first? Who will stumble before the finishing  line?

Nerves are jangled. The tension is palpable. It’s squeaky bum time.

Automatic promotion

Leicester City continue to lead the race out on their own in front with a nine-point cushion.

However, the Foxes’ lead, while handy, is no longer as impregnable as it seemed earlier in the campaign. Enzo Maresca’s side will be wary of their bunched-up pursuers – Leeds United, Ipswich Town and Southampton, who are separated by just two points.

Leeds United, second in the table by virtue of a vastly superior goal difference over Ipswich, have their noses in front and their fate in their own hands. It’s a good position to be in at this pivotal stage in the campaign.

Southampton are two points further behind after two defeats in three matches halted their charge up the table. Despite the damaging defeats, the first to end a 25-match unbeaten run in all competitions, the Saints are still very much part of the automatic promotion equation.

The play-offs squabble

Fifth-placed West Brom, 12 points adrift of Southampton in fourth, have left themselves with too much to do to force their way into the automatic promotion narrative. Realistically, the Baggies target’s is a play-off spot.

Effectively, there are two play-off berths still up for grabs. The other two will go to the dropouts from the race for automatic promotion.

West Brom and Hull City, fifth and six respectively and separated by just one point, will do well to fend off a whole host of other play-off hopefuls.

A mere six points separate fifth and ninth. With no less than 39 points still on offer, even the likes of Middlesbrough (13) with a game in hand and 10 points adrift of the final play-off spot will not be giving up the ghost.

The battle for the play-off places could go down to the wire.

The six-pointers

From now on every fixture involving direct rivals is a six-pointer.

Two six-pointers stand out in Round 34, one in the battle for automatic promotion and the other in the fight for the play-off places.

On Saturday second-placed Leeds United host leaders Leicester City. Elsewhere, Hull City (6th) will welcome fifth-placed West Brom to the MKM Stadium, with just a point separating the two sides.

The outcome of the clash at Elland Road will not decide the two sides’ promotion destinies, but it will impact their respective causes significantly.

Leeds United need the points more than Leicester City. A win for Daniel Farke’s men will put their promotion destiny in their own hands. Defeat would open the door for Southampton and Ipswich Town, who continue to confound doubters.

Leicester City on the other had can afford to lose and still retain their place at top with a handy six-point lead. However, if the visitors were to triumph, they would tighten their grip on top spot and canter into the distance towards promotion.

Can Leeds United set a successful trap for the Foxes and plant seeds of doubt in the leaders?

Ode to Tractor Boys

Ipswich still refuse to go away, looming ever so large in the leaders’ rear-view mirrors and fending off pursuers.

Each time we think the Tractor Boys are finally about to drop to their level the Championship newbies find a new gear. It would be unsporting to begrudge them the season they have had.

It’s small wonder that manager Kieran McKenna is attracting covetous glances from top-flight clubs. The Northern Irishman has built a squad with self-belief and determined to prove that they are not just a flash in the pan.

Ipswich will be there and thereabouts when the season concludes.

Small margin of error

We are getting to a stage where slip-ups could prove costly, dealing mortal blows to ambitions. Experience and momentum will be key.

Expect more twists and turns in this intriguing Championship tale.


I'm Barrie Jarrett, born in Leeds, lived over a decade in South Africa, CEO And Co Founder of Planet Sport Limited and Planet Bet Limited.

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