With Newcastle United crumbling to a 3-1 defeat to Ipswich Town, the race for automatic promotion has suddenly opened up once again.
Here I’ll take a look at the contenders for the final automatic promotion space.
2nd Place – Newcastle United – 85 Points – 3 Games Left
Rafa Benitez’s side shook off some surprising defeats to emerge as expected promotion frontrunners this season, but have slipped behind Brighton in recent weeks, with The Seagulls becoming the first club to secure promotion to the Premier League next season.
With Reading and Huddersfield gathering momentum in recent weeks, Newcastle’s generous run-in could be what sees them over the line at the end of the season.
The Magpies host Preston and then head away to Cardiff before returning home on the final day of the season to face Paul Heckingbottom’s Barnsley side.
Realistically Newcastle would be safe with a single win considering the poor goal differences of Reading and Huddersfield, but the job certainly isn’t done yet.
3rd Place – Reading – 79 Points – 3 Games Left
Jaap Stam’s plucky Reading side have arguably been the surprise package of the season, and have bounced back perfectly from a 7-1 thrashing at Norwich with back to back wins over Aston Villa and Rotherham United.
With the explosion of Joseph Mendes onto the scene up top added to Yann Kermorgant and Lewis Grabban hitting rich veins of form at just the right time, Reading may well have found the goals they’ve been lacking this season.
Their +2 goal difference means they realistically need to make up 7 points on Newcastle to have any chance of promotion, but they have the momentum heading into the final 3 games of the season.
The Royals are also blessed with a run-in that includes Nottingham Forest, Wigan and Burton Albion, which you wouldn’t rule them out of picking up 9 points from however a shaky 2-1 win over lowly Rotherham gives some cause for concern.
4th Place – Huddersfield Town – 78 Points – 4 Games Left
Blessed with a game in hand, a victory over Slavisa Jokanovic’s Fulham side would reduce Newcastle’s cushion to just 4 points, and blow the automatic promotion race wide open.
This is easier said than done though, with Fulham displacing Leeds to claim a spot in the top 6, and on a rampant run of form themselves.
The goals have dried up a little for Nakhi Wells and Elias Kachunga, but Colin Quaner has struck form of late, and the Target Man could be key to a successful automatic promotion bid for David Wagner’s side.
Wolves, Birmingham and Cardiff is a kind but potentially dangerous run-in against three sides who have endured disappointing season. Wagner’s side will have to be careful not to underestimate their opposition
Whilst form of late has been incredibly shaky, Newcastle United possess quality that can’t be matched in this division, and should have the quality to pick up at least 4 points from a possible 9.
If they do slip up then both Reading and Huddersfield could potentially pick up maximum points with their remaining fixtures.
7 points looks too steep to overcome for Jaap Stam’s men, but with a game in hand, Huddersfield might just have enough about them to push themselves over the line.
In my opinion however Newcastle will pull through and secure that automatic promotion spot, but impressive end of season momentum would give Reading and Huddersfield an excellent chance in the Play-Offs.