Championship winners & losers: Vardy parties as Prem-bound Ipswich condemn Leeds to play-offs

Lewis Oldham
Championship winners losers
Jamie Vardy, Crysencio Summerville and Kieffer Moore.

With the Championship top two all but set, Leicester City and Ipswich Town are big winners while losers Leeds United are condemned to the play-off lottery.


Championship Winners

Leicester City and Ipswich Town
Two rather massive midweek games in the Championship justified our decision to delay the publication of this column as the promotion picture looks far more settled after Leicester City and Ipswich Town won their away games at Preston and Coventry City.

A 4-0 win for QPR at Loftus Road on Friday night confirmed Leicester City’s promotion back to the Premier League at the first time of asking so Enzo Maresca’s side were rightly in a jubilant mood when they visited Deepdale on Monday night.

Thirty-seven-year-old Jamie Vardy – who has proven this season that he still has a lot to offer and will surely pen a contract extension – scored a brace against Preston to take his league tally for the season to 18 in 34 appearances as Leicester recorded their 31st Championship victory of the campaign.

The run-in has been nowhere near as smooth for Leicester as they would have initially expected, but their squad is immense for this level and Maresca deserves credit for galvanising his players following a fair few on and off-field speedbumps to – as most onlookers expected in pre-season – get promoted back to the Premier League.

As for Ipswich Town, they are on the brink of joining Leicester City in the Premier League with Kieran McKenna’s team (assuming Leeds United beat Southampton) needing just a point on the final day against League One-bound Huddersfield Town to secure the runners-up spot.

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Ipswich’s rise under McKenna has been nothing short of remarkable as they have amassed 93 points in two successive seasons to move within touching distance of a return to the Premier League.

It was always going to take a phenomenal feat for a team to separate relegated trio Leicester, Leeds United and Southampton at the summit amid their overwhelming financial might and Ipswich have outclassed two of those three for much of this season.

The Tractor Boys were showing signs of slipping into the play-offs during the final few months of the season as Leeds and Southampton went on prolonged unbeaten runs, but the two giants have slipped away during the run-in to hand McKenna’s men a free run at second place.

Towards the end of a 46-game slog in the Championship, the cream always rises to the top and Ipswich showed immense cojones on Tuesday night to win at Coventry City, a team who have beaten Leeds and Leicester at home this season.

The story of Ipswich’s expected Premier League return is perhaps not as heart-warming as Luton Town’s last season, as their low point was far more severe. But you would be hard-pressed to pick out back-to-back promotions as ludicrously impressive as the one masterminded by McKenna.

READ MORE: The two records which prove why four Premier League teams should be relegated for Leeds and Saints


Sheffield Wednesday
The Championship Manager of the Year award is presumably heading McKenna’s way but Sheffield Wednesday’s Danny Rohl certainly has a case of his own.

The Sheff Weds job was a poisoned chalice when Rohl arrived to replace his predecessor Xisco Munoz, whose winless reign left the South Yorkshire outfit as heavy favourites for relegation. To add to their woes, controversial owner Dejphon Chansiri sparked a huge divide at Hillsborough.

Chansiri has regularly antagonised Wednesday supporters this season and the vast majority in the stands want him gone after he contributed to the building of what is – on paper at least – one of the worst squads in the Championship this season.

Rohl – a managerial novice who has a good reputation as a coach – inherited a broken club, but he and his coaches have got the absolute maximum out of a limited squad to perform a sensational great escape.

A similar level of feat has been achieved by Marti Cifuentes at QPR – who also looked a sure-fire bet for relegation earlier this season – but Rohl’s squad is far weaker than the one his rival has been working with at Loftus Road.

Frankly, Sheff Weds have no right to be in the conversation to stay in the Championship, but thanks to Rohl, here we are and they need a point (at most) at Sunderland on the final day to avoid relegation after two straight wins added to their ongoing five-game unbeaten run.

Further questions lie ahead for Sheff Weds and you could not blame Rohl if he decides to walk away in the summer given the situation in the posh seats. But before self-inflicted misery, the young manager and his squad deserve their flowers.


Championship Losers

Birmingham City and Huddersfield Town
The two victims of Sheff Weds’ resurgence are Birmingham City and Huddersfield, who head into the Championship final day on Saturday as favourites to join Rotherham United in being relegated to League One.

For Huddersfield Town, relegation back to League One has been a long time coming as their surprise third-place finish under Carlos Corberan in 2020/21 provided misleading respite. Including this season, four of their last five years in the Championship have involved a fight at the wrong end of the table.

With a win over Ipswich Town and a massive goal difference swing required to give Huddersfield any hope of survival, their luck finally appears to have run out.

In the long run, this will do Huddersfield good as relegation will afford batsh*t owner Kevin Nagle a much-needed opportunity to overhaul their squad in the league below and eventually bring the good vibes back to The John Smith’s Stadium.

For Birmingham, they are in a perilous position after being held to an unhelpful 1-1 draw at Huddersfield at the weekend and they must beat play-off chasing Norwich City on Saturday to give themselves any chance of survival.

The task of beating Norwich is not impossible while nearest rivals Plymouth Argyle host another play-off hopeful in Hull City, but Birmingham head into the final day in the relegation zone as a punishment for their American owners making a comedy of errors during their first season at the helm. 

Relegation for Birmingham would not be the same level of long-term disaster as it would be for certain rivals as, given their immense wealth, they would be fancied to buy the League One title next season. But their slump post-John Eustace is a terrible look and major lessons must be learned from this campaign even if they somehow save themselves on the final day.

📣 TO THE COMMENTS! Who will get relegated from the Championship this weekend? Join the debate here.


Leeds United
It’s been a rough few weeks for Leeds United…

Their stunning unbeaten start to 2024 and a few slip-ups from Ipswich Town opened the automatic promotion door, but Daniel Farke’s side have fallen apart when it mattered most.

READ MORE: Cheer up Leeds, the Premier League is a dysfunctional, uncompetitive, mockery of a competition

Their 4-3 win over Middlesbrough on April 22 felt huge at the time; it followed a run of three games without a win but this victory left them one point clear of Ipswich, who still had a game in hand.

That game advantage meant the race for second place was slightly in favour of Ipswich, but Leeds had the chance to pile the pressure on McKenna’s side last Friday when they travelled to face QPR. But unfortunately for them, they blew it.

QPR have been a team reborn since Cifuentes broke their players free of their Gareth Ainsworth-enforced shackles and they clinically did a job on a misfiring Leeds United side to record a survival-clinching 4-0 victory.

As mentioned above, Leeds need to beat Southampton and receive a huge favour from Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield Town at the weekend to pip Ipswich Town to automatic promotion, so Farke’s side are likely to end up in the play-offs despite finishing on 90+ points.

Hitting the 90-point mark is usually a ticket to promotion in the Premier League so Leeds United can be forgiven for feeling hard done by.

Leeds would enter the play-offs as the best team but this route to promotion is a lottery and quality alone is not enough to see you past your three rivals. Following their miserable end to the campaign, Farke may find it difficult to lift his side from the canvas for the play-offs but if they do fall short, it’s alright; the Championship is more fun than the Premier League anyway…

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