Football League: Who will escape the Championship relegation battle?


LAST week, EFL connoisseur Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) analysed a Championship promotion race that is becoming closer than anticipated and this week, he returns to look at a dogfight equally enthralling.

Championship relegation battle: will Barnsley escape?


Why they will stay up

It seems hard to imagine the likes of Phillip Cocu and Wayne Rooney, such respected figures within the game, potentially working in League One next season.

Derby have bright, young talents like midfield controller Max Bird and aggressive wide forward Jason Knight, who represent encouraging components of the club’s plan to have a squad made up of 50% academy graduates next season.

They also have the likes of Martyn Waghorn and Chris Martin, who remain guaranteed performers at this level.

Why they might not

It has been a demoralizing season for Derby for reasons beyond the fact they are on course for their lowest finish since 2010-11 – Richard Keogh, Tom Lawrence and Mason Bennett’s well-documented behaviour was deplorable.

If the Rams are to go down, it will be due to a 21-point deduction, as threatened by the EFL –chairman Mel Morris has taken a defiant stance to give way to several legal battles.


It all hinges on the points deduction; 12 points or fewer and they will likely escape, but anything close to the mooted tally of 21 could be fatal.


Why they will stay up

There is a renewed sense of optimism around the Valley, now that East Street Investments (ESI) have taken over the club to bring an end to Roland Duchatelet’s ill-fated regime.

The Addicks were flying high in the Championship when possessing a fully fit first XI so, when Lee Bowyer can welcome the likes of Lyle Taylor, Josh Cullen and Sam Field back to the fray and introduce signings – he hopes to do both this month – we could see an upturn.

There is much to like about Charlton, who are rarely found wanting for effort or endeavour and do a lot of good things without the ball, whether that is pressing opponents aggressively in the first half of games or brave, last-ditch defending in second halves.

Why they might not

Charlton average 5.2 shots from inside the penalty area per game, which is the second-fewest in the Championship.

The Londoners rely on being clinical from a low volume of chances, which has proved unsustainable.

Connor Gallagher, the Addicks’ stand-out player in the first half of the season, has been recalled by parent club Chelsea and is now with Swansea.


Could get sucked into the dogfight and possibly go down, depending on the situation with Derby.


Why they will stay up

As Danny and Nicky Cowley proved at Concord Rangers, Braintree Town and Lincoln City, they are outstanding pragmatists.

The brothers bring a sense of elite professionalism to every club they take charge of and study their own players, as well as their opponents, in meticulous detail, which has brought them a lot of success in their careers.

The Cowleys have been backed to add an exciting young prospect in Emile Smith-Rowe and an experienced defender in Richard Stearman who, as suggested by an outstanding debut in the recent 0-0 draw with Brentford, could be the perfect foil for a more subtle operator in Christopher Schindler.

Why they might not

Relegation with 28 Premier League defeats was always likely to hurt Huddersfield, who have found it hard to arrest the slide.

They have started 2020 with losses to relegation rivals Barnsley and Stoke, conceding a combined seven goals in those games, which has dropped them back closer to the mire.


Might just stay up, with the help of the January additions.


Why they will stay up

The squad should be strong enough to do it.

Stoke possess a group with several experienced internationals including midfielder Joe Allen.

Up top, they have an exciting speedster in Tyrese Campbell, who loves to run in behind defences and a workhorse in Lee Gregory.

Plus, Michael O’Neill looks well-placed to stabilized matters, having done an excellent job over eight years with Northern Ireland.

Why they might not

They have struggled in the goalkeeping department this season, with Jack Butland failing to reach his expected standards.

There is also a certain amount of negativity around the club that comes with the mistakes the club – Tony Scholes especially – has made over the last three and a half seasons, especially off-the-field.


Michael O’Neill should keep them up.


Why they will stay up

Gerhard Struber.

Had the Championship season started when the German took charge at Oakwell, the Reds would be 16th.

The stats, which show Barnsley have taken the third most shots in the division all term – 14 per game on average – suggest that a resurgence was forthcoming, even when they were frequently losing.

The South Yorkshire outfit press with relentless tenacity and the diamond system, with Jacob Brown partnering Conor Chaplin up top and Cauley Woodrow dropping off to link play in midfield, is working nicely.

Why they might not


Barnsley’s high press can sometimes leave them vulnerable to counter-attacks and opportunistic balls in behind, as we saw in the first four months of the season.

They can be short of an organiser to make sure they stay tight, even when not imposing themselves on games.


There has been enough improvement from Barnsley under Struber to suggest they can yet beat the drop.


Why they will stay up

Wigan are not being outplayed.

Over the last eight games, the Latics have averaged 1.08 Expected Goals For (xGF) and 1.05 Against (xGF), giving them a Ratio (xGR) of 50.62% – the 12th-best in the division.

Plus, Paul Cook’s side have taken the lead in 10 of their last 15 encounters, which shows they are competing strongly in a lot of games.

The West Lancashire outfit have pace in Jamal Lowe, a forward in Josh Windass who loves to make bold runs in behind and a left-back in Antonee Robinson who makes powerful surges forward, and is starting attain more attention, having gone under the Reece James-enforced radar last term.

Why they might not

Wigan have scored just 25 goals all season, so while their energy and endeavour can give them some chances, they are not particularly refined in the final third.

Combine that with the fact they have taken just eight points from the aforementioned 10 games they have led in shows there are problems at both ends of the field.


Paul Cook’s side have shown the potential to recover the spirit of Wigan escapologists of yesteryear, but will most likely fall short.


Why they will stay up

Performances like the 3-0 home victory over Bristol City suggest there is at least some quality in this team.

The Hatters possess one of the division’s most creative players in Izzy Brown, who will hugely enhance their squad when fit.

The likes of Andrew Shinnie and Kazenga Lua Lua are good enough for this level.

Why they might not

The club were unable to directly replace Jack Stacey and James Justin, attacking full-backs who were so crucial to making the diamond system work last season.

James Bree and Luke Bolton have not looked anywhere near Stacey’s level at right-back while Dan Potts, the player Justin himself replaced in 2018-19, has hardly been the ideal replacement and that has undermined the whole system.

Luton, a non-league club as recently as 2014, have come a long way very quickly and with a squad used to playing at lower levels, they need the rare expensive investments they do make to pay off.

Unfortunately for them, goalkeeper Simon Sluga has made a lot of costly errors, thus far struggling to justify his status as the club’s record signing.


Luton keep giving soft goals away and are on course to have a defensive record worse, even, than that Rotherham side of 2016-17. May not quite be ready to compete at this level.

About Author

Gabriel Sutton is a freelance football writer and pundit with a strong passion for the EFL, possessing eight years of writing experience. Sees the value in lower league football.

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