Michael Carrick to mastermind a play-off final win for Middlesbrough, Norwich to slip out of the top six and Nigel Pearson to exit Bristol City.
Here are five things that will *definitely* happen in the rest of the 2022/23 Championship season.
Burnley and Sheffield United will get automatic promotion
Some more out there predictions are to come, but this is a pretty sure-fire call.
Burnley and Sheffield United have been in a league of their own this season. 11 points currently separate the Blades in second and Blackburn Rovers in third.
Vincent Kompany and Paul Heckingbottom have been revelations this term and their teams have scored the most, conceded the least and won the most games in the division.
The Championship is an unforgiving league and if either side take their spots for granted, it will not be long before they are punished.
But Burnley and Sheff Utd do not seem willing to let up and they are focused on returning to the Premier League.
Each team are on track to reach at least 90 points this campaign and they will be deserving of promotion if they continue their early-season form.
Middlesbrough will win the play-offs
Burnley and Sheff Utd were tipped as potential promotion contenders pre-season, and they were expected to be challenged by Middlesbrough.
Boro were managed by Chris Wilder at the time and they were active in the summer to build one of the best squads in the Championship.
The former Blades boss was anticipated to overcome a poor start to the season to mount a promotion push, but links to Bournemouth and a sustained run in the relegation places led to his dismissal.
Following a promising spell as Manchester United’s interim boss, Carrick was appointed as Wilder’s successor at The Riverside.
Carrick was calmness personified at Old Trafford and he has made a stunning start as Middlesbrough’s head coach.
Six wins in nine have lifted them away from relegation trouble. They are already up to sixth in the Championship and they appear primed to make one of the play-off spots their own.
Comparisons to Nottingham Forest are easy to make as Middlesbrough find themselves on a similar trajectory to Steve Cooper’s side last term.
Carrick has turned Chuba Akpom into a goalscoring phenomenon and they are suddenly looking like the team many expected them to be under Wilder.
As proven by Forest in 2021/22, momentum is often key in the play-offs and Boro having that behind them could well carry them all the way to a victory at Wembley.
Norwich City will miss out on the play-offs, even without Dean Smith
There is no doubt that a team of Norwich’s calibre should be in the play-offs at the very least.
But Smith’s ill-fated spell in charge of the Canaries dragged on too long and their poor form has left them playing catch-up.
With much of the season still to go, Norwich may already have to concede that automatic promotion is out of reach.
Instead, a more intense battle will break out with half of the division seemingly vying for the four play-off spots. Only seven points separate Blackburn in third and Swansea City in 16th. A frankly daft league is living up to expectations this season.
Blackburn, Sunderland, Watford and Middlesbrough are currently in the top six but the play-off contenders could well be completely different come May.
Predicting Norwich to miss out was largely based on the club continuing to blindly stick with Smith. The inevitable new manager bounce is primed to make me look daft here – unless they appoint Steve Bruce – but I’m going to stick with my guns and say that Norwich will miss out.
For a bit of fun, I’ll say the final play-off teams – in no particular order – will be Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Watford and West Brom.
Nigel Pearson will leave Bristol City
“Maybe it might be a good thing for us to play away from home. It was a game where we really needed the fans to get behind us.”
Sheesh. These are quotes from Pearson after Bristol City’s 2-0 home defeat against West Brom on Boxing Day.
The Robins returned after the World Cup break with a win over Rotherham. But they have followed that up with defeats against Stoke City and West Brom, then a draw at Millwall.
This form leaves them looking over their shoulders in 18th as they are just three points above the relegation places.
While the race for the play-offs is wide open, it is also anyone’s guess as to who will go down this season with six points between bottom-placed Wigan Athletic and Stoke in 17th.
The quality in the Championship is not what it once was and there is very little between any of the teams in the bottom half quality-wise.
After last season was a bit sh*t for the division’s lofty standards, fans of the second tier could be treated to a ludicrous end to this campaign.
Bristol City may end up on the wrong end of this entertainment, though a managerial change looks to be edging closer. The club have stagnated under Pearson and they now look to be on their way backwards.
The experienced boss never minces his words and with quotes like the ones above, he is not doing a great job of endearing himself to the club’s fans.
Bristol City have enough quality at their disposal to edge towards safety but they will bin off Pearson to help get over the line.
Reading will get relegated
It’s only right that I leave my boldest prediction until last.
Reading, a side 12th in the Championship after 24 games, to get relegated? I must be mad.
Their start to the season made for even better reading *ahem* as they occupied the top two after being heavily backed for relegation before the campaign got going.
It felt like only a matter of time before their bubble burst and they are now steadily dropping down the table.
Three wins out of their last five have eased their worries but I’ve never been sold on this squad or more importantly, Paul Ince’s credentials as a manager.
Despite their ostensibly safe position in the table, only ten points separate them and the bottom three. So a dire run of form would leave them looking over their shoulders.
With how close the Championship is this season, a current midtable club going into free fall cannot be ruled out and Reading are the prime candidates.
Feel free to come back here in five months and call me a fool if an Ince masterclass gets Reading promoted.
The ex-Blackburn boss being a Premier League manager in 2023 would be a mental concept. But frankly, nothing that happens in the Championship nowadays would surprise me.