The Championship play-offs are fast approaching and seven clubs can still dream of Wembley glory heading into the final day of league action on Monday.
Luton Town and Middlesbrough have come up short in the race for automatic promotion but their places in the play-offs are already secured. This leaves five clubs – Coventry City, Millwall, Sunderland, West Brom and Blackburn Rovers – to battle it out over the remaining two spots in the top six during the final round of fixtures.
As a neutral, there are reasons why I should (and shouldn’t) want these seven teams to reach the Premier League. Millwall p*ssing off Jurgen Klopp, ‘tinpot’ Luton alongside the big boys, Michael Carrick vs Man Utd and more selling points are below…
The Hatters’ rise from League 2A alongside AFC Bournemouth and Rotherham United (if you know, you know) to the top echelons of the Championship has been extraordinary.
While Bournemouth reached the top flight with plenty of financial backing, Luton have gradually progressed while adhering to a restricted budget. If they earn promotion, this immense achievement would give clubs of a similar ilk a formula to follow, with Rob Edwards’ side proving that money isn’t the be all and end all.
Luton would be given the underdog treatment if they made it into the Premier League and neutrals will lap that up. They would have a lot of fun while they are up there and rightly so.
But their budget means the task of keeping the Hatters up would be an enormous one for Edwards. Not just that, with Bournemouth pretty much safe, we can’t have a second ‘tinpot’ club with a 10-11k seater stadium in the league alongside the Cherries. The snobbish big clubs won’t take to it so it absolutely cannot be allowed.
Boro looked like being dragged into an unexpected relegation fight following their dismal start to the season under Chris Wilder but Michael Carrick has superbly guided them away from the mire and into a promotion battle.
It is only a matter of time before Carrick becomes a Premier League manager and promotion this season would top off a stunning debut season in management for the Man Utd legend. As football fans, we love a good narrative and the Middlesbrough boss returning to Old Trafford as an opposing manager is a solid one I can get behind. Not quite as enticing as Vincent Kompany vs Man City, but still lovely.
Middlesbrough are hoping to repeat Nottm Forest’s feat of winning the play-offs after overcoming early-season relegation fears. Steve Cooper’s side are in danger of an immediate return to the Championship and the worry for Boro would be that they will likely be in a similar position next season.
You want promoted clubs to come up into the Premier League and compete right away and Boro would be playing catch-up while walking the fine line between trusting your promotion heroes and signing too many replacements. Carrick would need to strike the right balance or they risk slipping into a miserable relegation fight in the league above.
The Sky Blues have been away from the Premier League since 2001 and their off-the-field woes have prevented them from challenging for a return up until now.
Promotion back to the top flight would be a wonderful example of a club overcoming great adversity to achieve the unthinkable and after all Coventry’s fans have gone through, they deserve time in the light and a year in the Premier League would afford them that.
Mark Robins is a criminally underrated manager. His work at Coventry has largely gone under the radar and there are few managers outside the Premier League who deserve an opportunity in the big time more than the ex-Man Utd striker.
Viktor Gyokeres will be in the top flight next season if Coventry are promoted or not. He is set up to be a Premier League breakout star and it would be wholesome if he achieved that with his current club rather than a different bottom-half outfit.
Coventry getting promoted would be a favourable outcome but a concern is that they would be in a similar boat to Luton and if they are simply cannon fodder for their Premier League rivals, it could do damage to the good vibes.
While promotion for Coventry would be feel-good, the prospect of Millwall in the Premier League fills me with glee.
Firstly, regular league games between Millwall and West Ham are tough to say no to; these meetings surely have peak Premier League drama (and policing) written all over them.
Then there is the fact you just know Jurgen Klopp will despise it when Millwall – who will have evolved into a new version of prime Stoke City and Burnley – sh*thouse their way to a 1-0 victory over his beloved Liverpool. I can almost hear his tiresome post-match comments already.
As fun as this would be, Millwall feel like part of the furniture in the Championship and it would be as if the league was missing its soul if they moved to a new home. But they are perhaps the least popular promotion candidate in the opinion of Premier League clubs and that is largely why it needs to happen.
The Premier League has been a fantastic watch this season but it is lacking *proper* derbies that still have spite about them. That would be fixed if Newcastle and Sunderland reunited and, given the trajectory each club is heading, this derby should be given new life.
Also, it is 15 years since Tony Mowbray was a Premier League manager and his recent work at Blackburn Rovers and Sunderland warrants another crack at the top flight. The 59-year-old’s softly-spoken nature would be welcomed alongside his outspoken rivals.
Back-to-back promotions for the Black Cats would be a brilliant achievement after spending four seasons in League One. But if this happens, the step up to the Premier League may come too soon and their grand return would more than likely end in a whimper. For Sunderland’s long-term status, a second season in the Championship before promotion back to the Premier League would be more suitable.
The same can really be said for the Baggies, who have taken great strides forward under Carlos Corberan after they finally parted company with Steve Bruce.
Like Middlesbrough, West Brom were looking over their shoulders in the bottom half earlier this season but the ex-Huddersfield boss has them moving in the right direction. Under Marcelo Bielsa’s disciple, they are not the Baggies of old and they would be returning to the Premier League with a fresh outlook, under the guidance of a progressive manager.
But I cannot be the only one who has got quite tired of having West Brom in the Premier League. They have flip-flopped between divisions frequently over the past 20 years and it’s time another team (Coventry, Luton or Millwall) were given a go.
In recent seasons, Leeds United and Nottingham Forest have been welcomed back into the Premier League with open arms and the same treatment would be given to Blackburn, who have been away from the top flight for far too long.
Though like Leeds and Forest, their comeback could underdeliver. Rovers have flattered to deceive at various points this season and their squad would require a major facelift to make it up to standard for the Premier League.
And with Chile international Ben Brereton Diaz penning a pre-contract agreement to join La Liga’s Villarreal, they are already going into next season weaker whether they are in the Premier League or Championship.