Championship promotion race is closest in years with three teams struggling to reach finish line

Leeds United – Championship promotion race is closest in years with three teams struggling to reach finish line
Leeds United boast Championship player of the year Crysencio Summerville but their quest for automatic promotion has faltered over the past three games - PA/John Walton

This season’s exciting Premier League title race has been much discussed, but the chase for the automatic promotion spots in the Championship is shaping up to be just as dramatic.

With Leicester City, Ipswich Town, Leeds United and Southampton all vying for the top two spots with just three matches remaining, it is set up to be one of the most scintillating finishes England’s second division has ever seen.

Fourth-placed Southampton looked to be well out of the race just two weeks ago, having trailed the three front-runners by eight points.

However, none of the top three teams seem capable of pulling away, with all three repeatedly dropping points when it matters most, opening an unlikely window of opportunity for Southampton to sneak back into the mix.

Here Telegraph Sport evaluates each club ahead their final matches of the season.

Ipswich Town

A newly promoted side with a modest wage bill, Ipswich have been the surprise package in this season’s promotion race. The side coached by former Manchester United assistant manager Kieran McKenna are hoping to secure a Premier League spot for the first time since 2002.

Following an impressive run of nine wins in ten games, Ipswich looked in sublime form entering the run-in. But they have slumped at the wrong time, collecting just two points in their last three games, despite only conceding two goals.

Chance creation and efficiency in front of goal, which had been strengths all season, have turned into weaknesses.

In April, they were averaging 4.7 expected goals (xG) in four games, their second-lowest total for a month this season. April is also just the second month in which McKenna’s team have underperformed their xG, having scored 15 more goals than expected across the whole campaign.

Ipswich still have away trips to two teams with an outside shot at entering the play-off picture. On the last day, a home game to 22nd-placed Huddersfield looks favourable, but they currently sit just one point shy of safety and will not go down without a fight.

Upcoming fixtures

Hull (a) – April 27
Coventry (h) – April 30
Huddersfield (h) – May 4

Leicester City

It has been a strange campaign for Leicester City. Through the first 23 games, Enzo Maresca’s side were on course for a Championship record points total. Recently, they have been in relegation form, losing six of their last ten. Automatic promotion, which seemed a foregone conclusion not long ago, is now up in the air.

A deeper look at the numbers shows that the Leicester’s astonishing pace in the campaign’s first half was unsustainable. At Christmas, they had racked up 58 points in 23 matches, 12.1 more than their expected points (xP) total. Since, they have collected just 30 points in 19 matches, seven points less than their xP. Put simply, they are regressing to their true level.

Nevertheless, Leicester’s fall from grace has been remarkable. Just two months ago, they were enjoying a 12-point lead at the top of the table. Now, they find themselves in second (albeit with a game in hand) with two more teams close behind.

Promotion is particularly crucial for Leicester, given their financial woes. They recorded a loss of £89.7 million for the 2022-23 season and could face punishment for allegedly breaching Premier League and Football League rules.

With three home games left, and a good chance that neither Preston nor Blackburn will have much to play for, Leicester could well turn the tide and finish strong. They will be hoping that Jamie Vardy, who has eight in his last 13 appearances, comes up with the goods for them, as he has done so often.

Upcoming fixtures

West Brom (h) – April 20
Southampton (h) – April 23
Preston (a) – April 29
Blackburn (h) – May 4

Leeds United

Leeds were 13 and seven points behind Leicester and Ipswich, respectively, at the halfway mark of the season, but a 15-match league unbeaten run to start 2024 has propelled them back into automatic promotion contention.

However, just as their rivals slipped up, giving Daniel Farke’s side the chance to pull ahead, Leeds have themselves slumped, recording just one point from the last nine available.

The primary issue has been a faltering attack: In the month of April, Leeds have underperformed their xG by three goals (four goals from 7.0 xG), their worst underperformance of any month this campaign.

Star player Crysencio Summerville (17G, 8A), recently crowned as the division’s best player of the season, has been kept quiet. And Patrick Bamford, who scored 17 PL goals in 2020-21, has missed several big chances.

Crysencio Summerville
Crysencio Summerville has been scintillating form for Leeds this season, with 18 goals and nine assists - PA/John Walton

Leeds are still to play mid-table Middlesbrough and relegation-threatened QPR, before a potentially all-important home game against Southampton on the last day.

They will look to avoid a repeat of 2018-19, where then-Marcelo Bielsa’s team took just one point from the last three games, slipping from second to third, before eventually losing to Derby County in the play-offs.

Upcoming fixtures

Middlesbrough (a) – April 22
QPR (a) – April 26
Southampton (h) – May 4


Russell Martin’s side were not supposed to be in this race. After losing to Ipswich in the 97th minute on April 1, their dreams of reaching the top two looked to be squashed. At that stage, Opta gave them a mere 0.9 per cent chance of automatic promotion.

That number has since climbed to 7.7 per cent, before even accounting for their convincing 3-0 win over Preston.

At a time when the teams around them have crumbled, Southampton have stepped up. They have now won three straight games, scoring eight goals.

In that time frame, Che Adams alone has bagged as many goals as Ipswich, Leicester, and Leeds in their collective nine games combined: four.

With three remaining away games, including a mid-week trip to Leicester and an outing at Elland Road on the final day, Southampton undoubtedly have the toughest set of fixtures left. However, the games against their direct rivals offer them a chance to make up ground in the race for top two.

Upcoming fixtures

Cardiff (a) – April 20
Leicester (a) – April 23
Stoke (h) – April 27
Leeds (a) – May 4


Only one Championship team has ever racked up 90 points and not been promoted. This season, there could conceivably be two, which shows how special this campaign is proving to be, and how tight the margins are.

Opta’s model gives Leicester and Ipswich the edge in the fight for automatic promotion, but do not count Leeds and even Southampton out.

In the last three games, Russell Martin’s team have collected three more points (nine) than the three front-runners combined. It is up to the table leaders to prove their recent poor form is just a blip, or Southampton can and will capitalise.