Ranking Championship auto promotion candidates by how much we’d like them in the Premier League

Lewis Oldham
Championship promotion
Daniel Farke, Enzo Maresca, Kieran McKenna and Russell Martin.

It’s squeaky bum time in the Championship as only eight games remain of what’s been a typically frantic season of second-tier nonsense.

As is usually the case, it’s still all to play for up and down the division. Eight teams are fighting to avoid the two remaining relegation spots, while most of the top half are still dreaming of promotion either via a win at Wembley in the play-off final or by finishing in the two automatic promotion places.

At this point of the season, the Championship is typically split into several mini-leagues. Right now, we have the relegation mob, the play-off dreamers and the automatic promotion cohort.

The race for automatic promotion is usually dominated by one or two teams who are significantly better than the rest, but fans of the Championship have been treated to a four-team fight this time around.

Just like Rotherham United (for a far more miserable reason), Leeds United, Leicester City, Ipswich Town and Southampton have been in a different realm from the rest of the division as they look to seal automatic promotion to the Premier League.

So ahead of what is bound to be a breathless sprint to the final day on May 4, we have decided to rank the top four based on how much we’d like them in the Premier League.

A similar ranking of the confirmed play-off hopefuls will come down the line, but for now – from a purely selfish perspective – here’s how we’d like the top-two race to finish up…


4) Southampton
Saints have transformed under head coach Russell Martin to become a possession-orientated machine, which is prone to be caught out defensively on occasions.

Martin’s preferred style of play can look spectacular when it works, but at the same time, it can go badly awry. A common complaint of his Swansea City side was that while they were pretty on the eye, they lacked substance in attack.

This has been less of an issue at Southampton due to the abundance of attacking options at Martin’s disposal with proven Championship operators like Adam Armstrong and Che Adams, who have not hit the same heights in the Premier League.

While Martin’s system has been boosted by the Norwich City legend being able to call upon a squad of impressive quality for this level, this would not be the case in the Premier League and you get a whiff of Vincent Kompany’s Burnley from Saints.

Martin can get away with his narrow mindset to tactics at this level when the quality of his players is enough to tear through most opponents. But he would not be afforded that same luxury in the Premier League and the up-and-coming coach could get found out at the level above, just as Burnley and Kompany have this term with a similarly unspectacular top-tier squad; they would be at risk of going down with a whimper.

READ MORE: Ranking the relegation candidates by how much we’d like them to go down


3) Leicester City
This season’s Championship top four have been the outstanding sides of this campaign, but Leicester City had appeared set to run away with the title as Enzo Maresca’s side put forward a case to be the best team ever seen at this level.

Their recent slump in results has poured cold water on those claims and they are now at serious risk of missing out on automatic promotion completely.

Not too long ago, this would have been unthinkable but they have been usurped at the top by Leeds United, while a resurgent Ipswich Town and Southampton are hot on their heels chasing second place.

At the start of this season, I pointed out that novice boss Maresca would have to be seriously scrutinised if this Leicester City team failed to get promoted.

And while Leicester City’s dip in form is coming at an inopportune time, you would still have to fancy them to get over the line in some way.

Despite the Foxes arguably having a better squad now than the one that was ‘too good to go down’, future sanctions for allegedly following Everton and Nottingham Forest in breaching the Premier League’s Profit and Sustainability rules make the prospect of their return far less exciting.

This Premier League campaign is already being dubbed the ‘asterisk season’ and the last thing we want is for 2024/25 to be dominated by more financial issues and points deductions. If Leicester are thrown into the mix, that’ll likely be the case.

So with a points deduction and potential fire summer sale on the cards (plus the prospect of Maresca failing in the Premier League like Kompany), let’s keep Leicester in the Championship for another year.

READ MORE: Liverpool top the list of 10 best Premier League clubs to support in the last decade


2) Leeds United
Leeds United
fans clicking on this article would perhaps have expected their side to be ranked bottom. While this would be a surefire method to p*ss their supporters off, thankfully for them, we’re not *quite* that petty.

The West Yorkshire outfit would be welcome back in the Premier League. Their 2020 return was long overdue and their stint back in the big time was short-lived thanks to mismanagement behind the scenes.

Fast forward to now, 49ers Enterprises have gained full control of Leeds United following the ugly exit of Andrea Radrizzani and last season’s relegation allowed the club to offload a bunch of the deadwood and build from the ground up with several youngsters coming to the fore.

While Leeds United’s track record in the Premier League was dodgy at best, they have got pretty much every signing this season spot on.

If they manage to keep Crysencio Summerville and Archie Gray, they would certainly return to the Premier League as a side well-equipped to stay up and would *definitely* fare better than Burnley and Sheffield United have this term.

A concern to have with Leeds is not do with the players on the pitch. It’s actually head coach Daniel Farke, who has proven at Norwich City and Elland Road that he is a prime Championship specialist.

But like player equivalents such as Dwight Gayle and Cameron Jerome, Farke is yet to hit the same heights in the Premier League as his Norwich sides struggled to stay afloat following promotion; Leeds will be hoping that their boss has thrown away his yo-yo since leaving Carrow Road.


1) Ipswich Town
The Tractor Boys are top, obviously. I mean, how can they not be with their infectious feel-good rise under the ever-impressive Kieran McKenna?

McKenna-ball breathed life into Ipswich Town while they were floundering in League One and the good vibes have carried over into the Championship.

Ipswich are defying all expectations while being on track to seal back-to-back promotions as they are coming up against the might of three relegated Premier League teams boosted by parachute payments.

No matter what sport you are talking about, you’d have to be pretty curmudgeonly if you do not root for the underdog and while Ipswich invested heavily in January, they have not exactly broken the bank to be in the position they are in.

Former Manchester United coach McKenna is primed for big things however this season ends and he (along with his team, which is not littered with superstars) deserves immense credit for gatecrashing the automatic promotion fight.

Like Luton Town and Coventry City were last season, Ipswich are rightly the popular choice for promotion from the Championship.

At a time when the Football League pyramid is a hot topic, the success of Luton and Ipswich emphasises the need for such a structure in our game and the return of the fresh-faced Tractor Boys to the Premier League would see them stick it to the man and top off their remarkable rise under McKenna.