Championship run-in: Southampton join top three in race for automatic promotion

By Sports Desk April 15, 2024

The battle for automatic promotion to the Premier League took a series of fresh twists over the weekend as the contenders endured differing fortunes.

Leaders Ipswich, second-placed Leicester and Leeds in third are separated by just two points with the Foxes having played a game fewer, while Southampton, who have two matches in hand on both the Tractor Boys and United, lie six points further back.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at the remaining weeks of an increasingly tense Championship run-in.

Ipswich (1st, played 43, 89 points, +32 goal difference)

Run-in: Hull (a), Coventry (a), Huddersfield (h).

Ipswich’s unlikely tilt at back-to-back promotions has hit the buffers in recent weeks after a remarkable run of nine wins in 10 Championship outings was brought to an end by derby rivals Norwich.

A 1-0 defeat at Carrow Road on April 6 has been followed by home draws with Watford and Middlesbrough and Town must rediscover the form which earned manager Kieran McKenna the accolade of Championship Manager of the Season on Sunday evening if they are to reach the top flight.

However, all three of their remaining opponents still have something to play for with Hull and Coventry on the fringes of the play-off race and Huddersfield battling desperately to avoid the drop.

Leicester (2nd, played 42, 88 points, +41 goal difference)

Run-in: West Brom (h), Southampton (h), Preston (a), Blackburn (h).

Once seemingly certain to return to the top flight after a single season in the wilderness – Enzo Maresca’s side were 17 points clear of Leeds – Leicester have suffered a crisis of confidence just at the wrong time.

A 2-1 home defeat by Middlesbrough on February 17 launched a run of 10 league games culminating in Friday night’s 1-0 reverse at Plymouth which has seen them lose six times and collect just 10 of the 30 points available.

Their fate, however, remains in their own hands and with three of their last four fixtures taking place at the King Power Stadium – perhaps the most significant of them Saints’ visit next week – they will hope they can make home advantage count.

Leeds (3rd, played 43, 87 points, +42 goal difference)

Run-in: Middlesbrough (a), QPR (a), Southampton (h).

Like the two clubs immediately above them in the table, Leeds have suffered a wobble at the most inopportune moment.

The 2-1 defeat at Coventry on April 6 was their first in the league since the turn of the year and having seen Sunderland leave Elland Road with a point three days later, Daniel Farke’s men lost on home soil for the first time this season on Saturday when Sammie Szmodics fired Blackburn to victory in West Yorkshire.

Monday’s trip to Middlesbrough is followed by another away fixture at QPR before Southampton head north for a final-day clash which could have a major say in the promotion race.

Southampton (played 41, 81 points, +27 goal difference)

Run-in: Preston (h), Cardiff (a), Leicester (a), Stoke (h), Leeds (a).

Southampton’s bad patch arrived in February, when they lost to Bristol City, Hull and Millwall either side of a 2-0 success at West Brom in the space of 12 days.

A run of four wins and only one defeat in their last seven games, including Saturday’s last-gasp 3-2 victory over Watford, has edged them back into the hunt, but points on the board in the latter stages of a season are precious and Saints are playing catch-up.

Russell Martin’s men face difficult trips to Leicester and Leeds, but their cause will be forlorn if they slip up in theoretically less taxing encounters with Preston, Cardiff and Stoke.

Related items

  • Man City 'head and shoulders' above all teams in Premier League era, says James Man City 'head and shoulders' above all teams in Premier League era, says James

    Manchester City's current crop stand "head and shoulders" above all other teams in the Premier League era after winning four straight titles, says the club's former goalkeeper David James.

    City became the first team in English top-flight history to win four successive titles on Sunday, a 3-1 win over West Ham ensuring they pipped Arsenal by two points.

    Huddersfield Town (1923-1926), Arsenal (1932-1935) and Liverpool (1981-1984) all won the old First Division three times in a row, while Manchester United achieved the feat twice in the Premier League era (1998-2001 and 2006-2009).

    Pep Guardiola's men ended the campaign with a nine-match winning streak, while they are now unbeaten in their last 35 matches across all competitions (29 wins, six draws), the longest such run ever recorded by a Premier League team.

    They have the chance to make more history on Saturday, as they can clinch unprecedented back-to-back league and FA Cup doubles against Manchester United.

    For James, who spent two years with City between 2004 and 2006, Guardiola's champions have cemented their legacy as the Premier League's finest.

    "They're up there. The fact they've broken the record means that no one's done better than them over that period," he told Stats Perform.

    "From the moment they first won that Premier League title to now, they have been head and shoulders better than anyone else. 

    "It's thoroughly deserved and one of the funny things that I love is the way they celebrate. You would think after four in a row that it would be, ‘okay, lads, let's get back in and worry about the FA Cup on the weekend'. They celebrate like they haven't got another match! 

    "This is a group of players and staff who are all with each other, all behind each other, all enjoying all these moments. 

    "I can't think of a team who's had that much dominance over that period of time. They just keep breaking records, don't they?"

    Over the last four seasons, City's total of 359 Premier League points are 49 more than anyone else, while they have averaged 2.4 points per game and won 73.7 per cent of their league matches.

    While James does not feel City's class of 2023-24 have been quite as relentless as 2022-23's treble winners, he says they always seemed to be in control in the run-in.

    "I think it's interesting when we look at the whole season, because I don't think there's been a spell where City have absolutely smashed teams," James said. 

    "I've followed a lot of the games this season where they've won but haven't been overly impressive, especially compared to last season. 

    "But in a way, I could detect from the beginning of the season there was something different about the way Pep was approaching it. I don't think it was all the guts and thunder of last season. 

    "They always had it under control and it was just like a Mo Farah finish, they put the afterburners on at the end."

  • Postecoglou confident Tottenham players will enjoy controversial Australia trip Postecoglou confident Tottenham players will enjoy controversial Australia trip

    Ange Postecoglou believes his Tottenham players will enjoy the experience of facing Newcastle United in Melbourne, despite the post-season trip attracting fierce criticism from some quarters.

    Spurs face Newcastle at Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday, just three days after they rounded off their Premier League season with a 3-0 win at Sheffield United.

    The trip has been strongly criticised on player welfare grounds, with former Newcastle striker Alan Shearer describing it as "madness". 

    Last year, a report from global players' union Fifpro warned fixture congestion was at "dangerous" levels and said more must be done to protect players.

    Despite the negativity surrounding the fixture, Postecoglou believes his players will relish walking out at Australia's most iconic sporting venue.

    "I said to the lads, 'I know it's a long way but I think you'll enjoy playing at the G'," Postecoglou said at a press conference on Tuesday.

    "It's not easy because we played Sheffield on Sunday afternoon and we basically got straight on the plane to come out here.

    "So we all lost Monday from our lives, but we're here now and hopefully when the boys walk out tomorrow night and there's 80,000 people at the 'G', the rest of it is irrelevant, and I'm sure they are looking forward to it."

    Sunday's win at Bramall Lane ensured Tottenham finished fifth in the Premier League table, securing Europa League qualification for next season.

    Postecoglou does not think fixture congestion will hamper them in 2024-25, saying the absence of European football set Spurs back in their first campaign under him.

    "That's the reward for finishing strong this year so I think we're looking forward to that," he said.

    "It's another challenge for us and we'll be ready for it. I think not having European football this year cost us a bit in terms of our development.

    "This club deserves to be in Europe and hopefully we can make an impact next year."

  • Salah hints at Liverpool stay, pays tribute to Klopp Salah hints at Liverpool stay, pays tribute to Klopp

    Mohamed Salah has hinted he will still be a Liverpool player next season while paying tribute to departed manager Jurgen Klopp.

    Klopp's nine-year reign on Merseyside came to an end with Sunday's 2-0 win over Wolves, with Liverpool ending his final campaign at the helm third in the Premier League.

    Arne Slot was subsequently confirmed as his successor on Monday, but doubts have been raised as to whether Salah would play under the Dutchman.

    Salah's form dropped off alarmingly in the second half of the campaign and he became involved in a public bust-up with Klopp last month, heightening speculation that he could depart as he enters the final 12 months of his contract. 

    However, Salah seemed to rule out that prospect as he vowed to lead Liverpool to more silverware next term, after their efforts in 2023-24 only amounted to February's EFL Cup win. 

    "We know that trophies are what count and we will do everything possible to make that happen next season." Salah wrote in a post on X.

    "Our fans deserve it and we will fight like hell."

    Alongside an image of himself with Klopp, he wrote in a separate post: "It was great sharing all those trophies and experiences with you over the past seven years. 

    "I wish you the best of luck for the future and hope we meet again."

    Salah scored 18 Premier League goals in 2023-24, making it the least prolific campaign of his seven-year stint at Anfield.

    Fourteen of those goals came before he went to the Africa Cup of Nations with Egypt in January, where he sustained a hamstring injury that troubled him throughout the second half of the campaign.

    Sunday's victory over Wolves represented Salah's 250th Premier League appearance for Liverpool.

    His overall tally of 223 Premier League goal involvements for the Reds (155 goals, 68 assists) are the second-most by any player in their first 250 appearances for a club in the competition, with Thierry Henry managing 243 for Arsenal (171 goals, 72 assists).

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.