At the start of the New Year, there were many football fans predicting 2017 would be Newcastle United and Brighton and Hove Albion’s time to storm the top two places in the Sky Bet Championship.
Both sides have sat comfortably in the top-two for large parts of the season, exchanging places at the top of the table weekly as Rafa Benitez and Chris Hughton eye a league win.
However, over the past few weeks, cracks have appeared to show in both the Toon’s and the Seagulls’ armour, perhaps opening up more of a balanced race towards the proverbial Promised Land.
Magpies boss Rafa Benitez was reportedly unhappy with the club’s transfer activity during January, with the Tyneside titans failing to add to their current squad.
The former Liverpool and Real Madrid coach has also suffered another blow, with top scorer Dwight Gayle currently unavailable due to a hamstring injury.
Brighton, meanwhile, are second in the Championship table, one point behind leaders Newcastle, but have suffered a disappointing week.
Chris Hughton’s men suffered promotion failure last season, losing out on a top-two finish to Middlesbrough on the final day of the season, before losing to Sheffield Wednesday in the Play-Off semi-finals.
This season could see a repeat with the current play-off occupants playing some excellent football, and keeping up the pressure on the top-two.
Jaap Stam’s Reading side recruited well in January, securing the services of Reece Oxford from West Ham along with Lewis Grabban from Bournemouth.
The Royals currently sit third in the Championship table, just five points behind Brighton, and seem ready to swoop in should the top-two begin to drop points as they continually improve under the Dutchman.
Perhaps the team most likely to catch Newcastle or Brighton is David Wagner’s Huddersfield, who have just come off the back of a terrific week.
The Terriers entertained Brighton and Leeds United at the John Smith’s Stadium in the past week and recorded 3-1 and 2-1 victories respectively, putting themselves right into contention after somewhat of a wobble.
Huddersfield were surprise pacesetters at the start of the campaign, but many expected them to fall away over the course of the season, something that is yet to happen, with Wagner’s side seemingly finding another level.
Two other Yorkshire clubs are in not too far behind. Leeds United are on course for their highest finish in over a decade as they look for a return to the top-flight for the first time since 2004.
Whites’ striker Chris Wood has netted 18 league goals this season, only Newcastle’s Gayle has scored more and Garry Monk’s word at Elland Road deserves many plaudits, considering the state of the club prior to his arrival.
Monk’s side have played great football at times this season and face four of the top six between now and the end of the season, indicating it would be ridiculous to rule them out of promotion at this stage.
Sheffield Wednesday are the side currently occupying the final Play-Fff spot, and narrowly missed out on promotion last season in the play-off final.
Carlos Carvalhal’s side recruited well during the January transfer window, securing the services of Sam Winnall and Jordan Rhodes.
Their new recruits, added to their past experiences make them a dangerous side to face and add much-needed goal threats as games begin to open up with so much to play for at this stage of the campaign.
Norwich, Derby and Fulham are in hot pursuit of the Play-Off places, and will look to take advantage of any slip-ups from the top-six.
Both Newcastle and Brighton have shown they are not invincible in the Championship and with many of the chasing pack not dropping points, the race for promotion to the Premier League is still wide open.
Football League World readers… Who do you think will secure promotion from the Sky Bet Championship this season? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!